South Africa: Phase within phase ... but capitalism is the end result
Attempts to create a viable governmental alternative are in tatters, writes Peter Manson, leaving the ANC free to pursue the second phase of the national democratic revolution
Earlier this week, the date of the South African general election was announced: it will take place on Wednesday May 7. The ruling African National Congress will be seeking a fifth five-year term since the election of the first post-apartheid government in 1994.
It is likely that the ANC’s majority will be reduced, although it will almost certainly win more than 50% of the popular vote, but on a turnout that falls even lower than the 56% recorded in 2009. Despite the claims of the ANC and its main cheerleaders in the leadership of the South African Communist Party, disillusionment in the governing party has more and more been transformed into outright opposition. This has most clearly been expressed in the stance of the largest trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), in condemning the ANC (and its SACP apologists) for overt neoliberalism and holding to an anti-working class trajectory.
But it has also been demonstrated in the increasing number of often spontaneous ‘service delivery’ protests, numbering thousands every year, hundreds of them violent, as sections of the dispossessed, the unemployed and the shack-dwellers block roads, attack state premises and sometimes find scapegoats to turn their anger against. On February 10, two Lesotho nationals were burnt alive after it was claimed that they had shot two people.
And the police have often reacted with brutality - epitomised, of course, by the shooting dead of 34 striking miners in Marikana in August 2012. On January 31 even the SACP in Limpopo was moved to express its “shock and anger” at the shooting by police of “two unarmed and peaceful” people during a service delivery protest last month.
Despite all this, the ANC and SACP tops claim that South Africa has seen tremendous advances over the last two decades. For instance, at the end of January the Morning Star interviewed SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, whose duties as minister for higher education had brought him to London. According to Nzimande, “Over the last five years alone we have seen enormous gains for ordinary South Africans”. He lists improvements in life expectancy, combating Aids, education, the possible introduction of a new health insurance scheme and the provision of clean drinking water for 80% of the population.
However, the Star interviewer, a rather naive Ben Chacko, wonders: “But if such progress is being made, what does Nzimande make of the recent decision of metalworkers’ union Numsa not to campaign for the ANC in the next election or fund the party?” A good question, you might think. But Nzimande explains it all away by the fickleness of the union’s top bureaucrat: “Numsa’s official position has changed because its general secretary now supports that [ultra-left] trend.”1
And that supposedly explains why over 1,000 delegates at Numsa’s special congress in January voted unanimously to ditch the ANC; and why another eight of the 19 affiliates to the Congress of South African Trade Unions are in rebellion against the Cosatu leadership’s ANC loyalism (and why four of the seven regions within the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union have this week also come out against their national leadership’s support for the Cosatu bureaucrats).
Nzimande’s message - that of the “enormous gains” made, thanks to the ANC popular front - is, it goes without saying, also the theme of the ANC’s election manifesto. This document is entitled ‘Together we move South Africa forward’, subtitled ‘A better life for all’ (yes, very original) and dedicated, of course, to “Tata Madiba” - Nelson Mandela.
President Jacob Zuma in his introduction states somewhat vaguely: “The lives of our people have vastly improved and South Africa is a much better place than it was before 1994.” Continuing in this imprecise manner, he contends: “More of our people have been lifted out of extreme poverty; we have created more jobs than before; expanded social grants, housing and basic services to our people; and further improved access to better education and healthcare.”
It goes without saying that millions remain in “extreme poverty”, have no jobs, housing or social grants. Nevertheless, as the manifesto goes on to state, “Over the last 20 years, the first phase of our democratic transition, our people’s dignity has been restored. Non-racial majority rule, based on ‘one person, one vote’, has brought about government based on the will of the people” (my emphasis). The “national democratic revolution” (NDR) - a phrase that appears in the manifesto - is the basis upon which the ANC and its SACP partner cooperate: the former declares it is an end in itself, while the latter pretends it is “the most direct route to socialism”. And the SACP has (at first reluctantly) gone along with the notion that the NDR stage can itself be subdivided and its “first phase” has been successfully completed.
The manifesto continues: “Our struggle has now reached the second phase, in which we will implement radical socio-economic transformation to meaningfully address poverty, unemployment and inequality.”
Right, so it took 20 years to restore “our people’s dignity” - including that of the five million shack-dwellers, presumably - and now we are going to proceed to the “second phase” of the NDR, which involves “radical socio-economic transformation”. Sounds promising. And in fact, “The second phase of our democratic transition calls for bold and decisive steps to place the economy on a qualitatively different path that eliminates poverty and unemployment, creates sustainable livelihoods and substantially reduces inequality.”
However, the manifesto gives no hint of any time scale for this ‘elimination’ of poverty and unemployment. Neither are the means by which this transformation is to be pursued stated. When it comes to hard promises, all we have is the bullet point which reads: “Massively expand public works programmes to create six million work opportunities, many of long duration ...”
In other words, most of these “work opportunities”, which not even the ANC cares to grace with the word ‘job’, will be short-term. Similarly, over the next five years it will introduce programmes that provide “one million housing opportunities” (not ‘houses’, note) - for “qualifying households”. As for the rest, they will be provided with “basic services and infrastructure in all existing informal settlements”. Once again, very vague. And the manifesto repeatedly uses words such as “expand”, “strengthen”, “increase” and “accelerate” in relation to ongoing policies - which makes you wonder what the difference is supposed to be between the first and second “phase” of the NDR.
There are also pledges to take very tentative steps towards the eventual introduction of a basic health service “through the creation of a publicly funded and publicly administered [national health insurance] fund” and to “investigate the modality for the introduction of a national minimum wage”. At present there are a several legal minimum wage rates for various sectors and even for different localities. For instance, the hourly rate for some domestic workers is as little as R7.65 (42p). In comparison, lowest-rate farmworkers earn the princely sum of R11.66 (64p) per hour.
So how did this plan for the second phase of the “South African road to socialism” (the SACP’s term) come about? The manifesto is “the result of a wide consultation process”, including “workers, business, religious, youth and women’s organisations and several academics”, it proclaims.
So it is not only workers, the destitute and the homeless who will benefit. After all, the ANC aims to create “a democratic, developmental state” in partnership with “the private sector, organised labour and civil society”, and the document makes no secret of the fact that it is the “private sector” that will gain from many of the party’s policies.
The ANC will not only “build an extensive support network for small businesses and cooperatives”, especially “black-owned” small businesses. But also “We have set aside R2.7 billion [£150 million] for youth entrepreneurship loans and support.” That sounds like the kind of measure from which the expelled ex-president of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, benefited so profusely - and now Malema shows his gratitude by forming a new party to stand against the ANC (see below).
But it is not just small businesses that will be ‘supported’: the ANC promises to “deploy incentives and secure industrial financing for productive economic sectors”. And “The local electronics sector and emerging entrepreneurs will be stimulated as part of our efforts to support the manufacturing industry.” In fact, “We will integrate and align incentive initiatives such as the Manufacturing Competitiveness Enhancement Programme [grants to companies to expand and improve their facilities] and speed up the roll-out of the special economic zone incentive.”
In short, “We will create a climate for increased investment by the state, the local private sector and foreign investors in infrastructure and the real economy.” No doubt thinking primarily of those “foreign investors”, the ANC promises a “competitive exchange rate, stable prices and a well-managed government budget” - that last phrase is, of course, a euphemism for continuing cuts. And, by the way, talking about that “competitive exchange rate”, the rand is continuing to lose value. In 1994 a dollar would cost you R3.60, but today you have to pay R10.99. In other words, the rand has shrunk to less than a third of its former value.
At the centre of everything is the ANC’s ‘national development plan’. Although the party claims that the NDP “aims to eradicate poverty, increase employment and reduce inequality by 2030”, in reality it is a thoroughly neoliberal programme to continue the existing policy of privatisation and public-private partnership.
The SACP has expressed reservations about the NDP, but that has not stopped it from enthusiastically endorsing the entire ANC manifesto. In fact SACP government members have often been at the forefront of the drive to implement the anti-working class agenda of cuts and privatisation. Currently there are seven SACP ministers, including Rob Davies (trade and industry), Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (defence), Thulas Nxesi (public works), Ben Martins (energy) and Jeff Radebe (justice and constitutional development). Hardly minor portfolios. The other two government members are Nzimande and SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin, who is deputy minister for public works.
This week ‘comrade’ Davies was in the news, when he delivered the keynote address at the annual ‘Proudly South African’ Buy Local summit on February 10. The summit is “an essential tool to facilitate and influence interaction between small businesses/entrepreneurs and procurement decision-makers”. As its name indicates, Buy Local is an attempt to boost South African companies and “local procurement” through giving a helping hand to “entrepreneurs”. An ideal job for a ‘communist’, obviously.
1. Morning Star February 1-2.