ANC moves further right

Expelled member of the South African Communist Party Dale McKinley looks back at the December 16-21 congress of the ruling party

Whose interests does the African National Congress serve? In the words of South African (and ANC) president Thabo Mbeki, "the question cannot be avoided for too long", especially in light of its recently concluded 51st Congress. It is a simple and straightforward question, but one that most South Africans have avoided for far too long. It is time to ask, explicitly - whose interests does the ANC serve? The genesis of a related, but differentially aimed kind of question arose during the political battles that were being waged between the ANC leadership and the so-called 'ultra-left' late last year. Obviously fed-up with the increasingly strident and confident leftwing critiques and public actions aimed at him and the party/government he heads, not to mention the embarrassment of being shown up publicly by left forces during the all-important World Summit for Sustainable Development, Mbeki, asked - "Whose interests do they [the ultra-left] serve?" Indeed, the question, and answer, had already been posed/provided by an earlier ANC political education unit paper that claimed the 'ultras' were "waging a counterrevolutionary struggle against the ANC [by] siding with the bourgeoisie and its supporters "¦ to confront the ANC and our democratic government". And so it was that Mbeki and the ANC leadership, like so many political zealots armed with a preordained understanding of who, and what, the real enemy of the 'revolution' is, marched into the organisation's 51st Congress. Using language more akin to that of a proto-fascist than the spokesperson of the 'people's party', Smuts Ngonyama captured the task at hand - "We will deal with any attempts and tendencies to hurt the ANC and each of its alliance partners ... we are in the process of cleansing each of the alliance partners of these tendencies". Not surprisingly, the "cleansing" of such "tendencies" outside the alliance was already well advanced. Once the congress got underway, it soon became clear, at the level of leadership, what was meant. Despite the opportunistic mea culpa politics of various leaders of the ANC's supposedly 'critical' alliance partners (the Congress of South African Trade Unions and especially the South African Communist Party), alongside their behind-the-scenes efforts to ensure sizeable 'left' representation on the ANC national executive committee, the 'left' was left out in the ANC political wilderness. The newly elected NEC is a who's who of Mbeki acolytes, almost all of whom are members of an emergent black bourgeoisie far removed from the working class interests of those they claim to serve. There was no room for any genuine working class leaders, having all been thoroughly 'cleansed' over the last several years. As to the outcomes of the much-publicised political and ideological 'debates' at the congress, they only serve to further confirm the ANC's abandonment of the interests of the majority of South Africans. For example, the answer as to who constitutes the main 'motive force' of the ANC's so-called 'national democratic revolution' is to be found not in pious rhetoric about the poor and working class, but in the ANC's approach to overcoming one of the most fundamental obstacles to socio-economic justice and equality in South Africa: apartheid-capitalist property relations. The ANC congress's answer that "deracialisation of ownership and control of wealth" is the key to addressing this obstacle fits in nicely with the building and consolidation of an emergent black bourgeoisie as the engine of change in the 'new' South Africa. Let's be honest - it will not be the interests of South Africa's poor and working class that will be served by a process of 'deracialisation' within the context of continued capitalist property relations. After all, since when has any emergent bourgeoisie made common cause with the poor and working class as a means towards committing class suicide? On the role of the state in effecting meaningful social and economic change within South African society, the congress provided further clarity as to the interests that the ANC seeks to truly serve. The core approach to the "restructuring of state assets" will remain one, as the relevant congress resolution so clearly states, of ensuring "the transfer of assets to the private sector". No mention here of the specific interests of the poor and working class: simply a naive addendum that the approach should "strengthen our developmental agenda". Ergo - when the "developmental agenda" itself is driven by a declassed 'deracialisation' that predominantly empowers a new black bourgeoisie, it should not be difficult to figure out whose class interests will be served by the ANC's approach to the "restructuring of state assets". Even the seemingly ideologically innocuous matter of a basic income grant, provided by the state, could not be endorsed by the congress after Mbeki made it clear in his presidential report that the ANC should not be party to giving "handouts to the poor". However, not a voice was raised during the congress when it came to the role of the state in continuing, and intensifying, the provision of public resource handouts, through fiscal and monetary policies inspired by Gear [the neoliberal 'Growth, employment and redistribution' programme - ed], to the emergent black bourgeoisie and corporate capital. Such reverse Robin Hoodism is obviously central to the "developmental agenda" of the ANC. No doubt, the representatives of those classes who had dished out R140,000 (£10,000) to "develop and build relationships with the ANC" at the congress were well enough pleased. When it came to addressing other key components of the ANC's stated programmatic commitments to serve the interests of the majority of South Africans (ie, the affordable and efficient provision of basic needs and services, such as water, housing, health and education), all that could be mustered were vague promises and calls to "accelerate and strengthen" existing approaches. Seldom has there been a better example of vacuous political-speak than that contained in the resolution on basic services, which "urged the government to make a deliberate effort to accelerate the social transformation programme through visible and purposeful funding mechanisms aimed at meeting the basic needs of all people with a sense of urgency". Given the fact that a record number of South Africans now find themselves in greater poverty, and ever increasing numbers are unable to afford and/or access such basic needs, despite the ANC's populist claims to the contrary, the ANC's status quo ante approach only further institutionalises the inherited class divide and continued privileging of the interests of the old, and new, elites. In his presidential report, Mbeki, in an apparent attempt to underlie the ANC's claims to be acting in the interests of the downtrodden, made an impassioned plea for the ANC to adopt a "new morality", which he euphemistically captured by reference to an "RDP of the soul". Since it has been clear for many years now that the RDP [the ANC's 1994 social democratic 'Reconstruction and development programme' - ed] resides in the same subterranean policy depths as the free lunch programme for poor schoolchildren, it is hard to imagine the real content of the morality to which Mbeki refers. Mbeki and the ANC need to be asked what kind of morality it is that encourages and celebrates the enrichment of a few at the expense of the majority and defends such as a 'right'; that effectively imposes a death sentence on the millions of poor with HIV-Aids, while calling for a "better life for all"; that facilitates the evictions of thousands of families from their homes in the middle of winter in the name of 'cost-recovery'; and that effectively supports the systematic oppression of Zimbabwe's people by rationalising it as "constructive engagement"? Try as it might - and it tried very hard at its 51st Congress - the ANC can no longer assume the mantle of the political, organisational and ideological champion of the majority of working class and poor South Africans through proclamations and appearances. While it might continue to get some serious mileage from its (relatively) recent past as a liberation movement, the contemporary absence of any major political competition and its ever-expanding network of patronage, the ANC will soon have to face up to its own objective and subjective realities. Those realities combine to show that the ANC is not, as it so proudly claims in its congress documents, a "disciplined force of the left organised to conduct consistent struggle in pursuit of the interests of the poor". Rather, the ANC has become an organisation fully committed to serving the interests of an emergent domestic black bourgeoisie as well as both domestic and international corporate capital. The ANC can throw as many labels and construct all the nasty epitaphs it likes, aimed at those who are willing to face up to such realities, but this will not make them go away. The ANC has made its choices and now it must live with them.