20 years of democracy: not yet Uhuru

by Jul 31, 2014Magazine

As we mark 20 years since the end of apartheid and the advent of democracy, there is a deep rupturing of the post-apartheid social consensus in the face of intensifying class struggle. The signals for its end are the Marikana massacre, the great mineworkers’ strike and farm workers’ rebellion of 2012/13, as well as the low intensity service delivery revolts that have spread to all corners of the country.

It’s not just the negotiated settlement that is rupturing but the legitimacy and effectiveness of the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance as the political guarantor of the 1994 compromise. As Numsa put it in their historic congress last year, ‘There is no chance of winning back the alliance to what it was originally formed for, which was to drive a revolutionary programme for fundamental transformation of the country’. The formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is the first significant break to the left of the ANC since 1994 and has captured the imagination of township youth. The decision by Numsa to effectively break the Alliance and set in motion a process that will see a recomposition of the workers’ movement as well as the formation of a workers’ party of some sort and these factors, together with the emergence of the AM CU as the dominant union amongplatinum workers, all point to a changing political situation.

Neoliberal continuity

At the root of this changed situation is the failure of the Zuma government to engineer a break with the Mbeki government’s neoliberalism and its complicity in corruption and cronyism. The adoption of the National Development Plan lays out a long term commitment to key principles of neoliberalism with its prioritisation of export-led growth, commitment to free markets, conservative macro-economic policies such as inflation targeting, fiscal austerity, low taxes on high incomes and privatisation. The same is true in respect of the adoption of employment schemes such as the ‘youth wage subsidy’ in the form of the Employment Tax Incentive Act and the emphasis on providing job opportunities as opposed to public investment programmes that can create decent work. They reinforce the neoliberal path that has been followed over the last 20 years, with such devastating consequences in respect of overcoming apartheid’s legacy of mass unemployment, inequality and rural underdevelopment. In the 20 years of ANC rule unemployment and inequality have increased. Unemployment, without the misleading role of official statistics, is as high as 40% when discouraged workers (those that have given up looking for work) and ‘homemakers’ are taken into account. And measured by the GI NI coefficient, SA has become one of the most unequal countries in the world. At least a third of the workforce has been informalised with people having few rights and being paid poverty wages. The rise of labour brokers has been crucial to this informalisation of the labour force and the holding down of wages. According to official statistics, in 2013 half of all employed workers earned R3 300 or less per month. Over the last 15 years, wages for the majority of workers have remained stagnant while profits have increased. It is only the top 10 per cent of wage earners who have experienced higher real wages. From 1998 to 2013, the already low wage share of the new wealth that is created every year in the private sector fell by seven percentage points, to 42%. In many sectors, notably agriculture, coal mining and platinum mining, the wage share of new wealth created each year stands at 30%. Mass unemployment together with stagnating wages have spawned a social crisis of frightening proportions. Horrific levels of rape, domestic violence, child and women abuse, crime, substance abuse and gangsterism are rooted in the levels of mass unemployment, poverty and inequality. Solidarity within working-class communities has broken down as the poor turn on each other to survive. So called foreign workers, who have been a major feature of South African capitalism from its origins, have borne the brunt ofthe collapse of solidarity. They are made the scapegoats for the failure of postapartheid capitalism to deliver a ‘better life for all’. Xenophobia is becoming deeply rooted in the consciousness of large sections of the poor and is a fault line that divides the working class to the advantage of capital and the state.


In the context of privatisation and outsourcing, the failure to redistribute wealth and break up the monopolies that control the South African economy also lie behind the rapid rise of rampant corruption. In this situation the state becomes the main vehicle for new class formation and accumulation by new elites. The ANC policy of Black

Economic Empowerment has given us the phenomenon of the tenderpreneurs, who are dependent on state patronage for economic advancement and accumulation. At the top of this policy, we see a process of ‘compradorisation’: the creation of a bourgeois stratum that is economically dependent on the support and successes of multinational companies and big private monopolies in retail, construction and banking. Corruption is located in this process of elite formation on both a grand and a local scale and the advance of crony capitalism is a major feature of the economy. Through crony capitalism, corruption filters through to all aspects of life. Everyone is desperate to escape the ghetto and puts up the ‘for sale’ board. The struggle for primitive accumulation often lies behind service delivery protests as aspirant elites manipulate the legitimate struggles of marginalised communities for decent services.

A new opening

The formation of the EFF, the crisis in Cosatu and the adoption by Numsa of a radical break with the Tripartite Alliance and the SACP opens a new period for the recomposition of the workers and social movements and for a renewal of left politics. We are now entering a period of heightened class struggle where workers and working-class communities have lost patience with the ANC government and the institutions of the Tripartite Alliance. Since 2009, there has been a dramatic rise in both workplace and community struggles. According to the Department of Labour’s 2012 Annual Report, ‘there has been a dramatic increase with the number of strikes in 2012 as compared to the previous four years. A total of 99 strike incidents were recorded in 2012 as compared to the 67 in 2011, 74 in 2010, 51 in 2009 and 57 in 2008’. There has also been an increase in the number of workdays lost to strike action. In 2010, largely because of the protracted public

sector strike, a staggering 20 million workdays were lost to strikes. In 2011 it was more than 6 million, rising to close to 10 million in 2012 when all the unofficial strikes are taken into account. Police statistics record an increase in the number of service delivery protests. According to the Social Change Research Unit of the University of Johannesburg, the protests spiked at 470 in 2012 – more than one protest every day – indicating that, at one level, protests have become normalised as part of the experience of local politics in South Africa; and, at a second level, that the levels of discontent with ANC (and DA) rule are increasing rapidly.

It is this rise in social discontent that forms the backdrop to the eroding of the ANC’s hegemony over the popular movement. The Marikana massacre was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The Tripartite Alliance was, for a considerable time, the shock absorber that was able to maintain political and social stability in the face of growing disillusionment and resistance to the settlement’s failure to redistribute wealth in any significant way. The alliance with a rightward-moving ruling party ensured that the mass formations in the Alliance acted to subordinate the day-to-day struggles and contained the formation of independent people’s organisations. Within the Alliance it is the SACP that has been the main instrument in subordinating worker and popular struggles to the rigid schema of the ‘national democratic revolution’. In practice this has meant the liquidation of independent working-class organisations and struggles in the consolidation of an imagined non-racial capitalism. This is now about to change as the SACP’s influence over a substantial part of the workers’ movement wanes. The game changers in the political situation are the tearing apart of Cosatu and Numsa’s break with the politics of the Alliance. The crisis in Cosatu, as we have indicated in previous issues of Amandla!, is not about the indiscretions of its General Secretary but about the struggle for Cosatu’s independence in the face of the ANC’s and SACP’s continuity with neoliberalism and crony capitalism. Led by Numsa, the alliance of the nine affiliates that is calling for a Cosatu special congress is increasingly coming into conflict not just with the current Cosatu office bearers, but with the leadership, firstly, of the so-called ‘workers’ vanguard’ – that is, the SACP, which believes in its inherent right to control Cosatu – and secondly, with the ANC, which expects Cosatu to be its labour desk

and its electoral cash cow. The probable re-suspension of General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and expulsion of Numsa make a split in Cosatu inevitable. The erosion of the Tripartite Alliance, a split in Cosatu and the formation by Numsa of a mass united front could create the space in which to rebuild the worker, community and youth alliance, which was so important in the struggle against the apartheid state. Community-based struggles have, in the past, been crucial in challenging state power. This is especially true when the youth, mobilised through student and community-based organisations, took action in solidarity with worker struggles. It is possible that a Numsa-led recomposition of the labour movement, with a commitment to independent, democratic, worker-controlled unions and a commitment to a renewal of democratic socialist politics, could provide a necessary pole for the rapid growth of a powerful mass movement able to challenge the neoliberal state. The next months will be formative in defining the political situation as we mark 20 years since the end of apartheid and the advent of democracy

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