Editorial : Polokwane to Mangaung: five wasted years: What prospects for the Left?

by Jan 21, 2013Magazine

amandla-28-editorialPolokwane has come and gone. Mangaung is upon us and the prospects for the left remains the same: quite dismal, at least inside the ANC, with its current power configurations. Talk of a 2nd transition or of a Lula moment conjure the illusion of a break with what’s gone before. It serves to create hope for change. Yet, with the ANC after 1994 the evidence strongly suggests that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

After Polokwane, everything was supposedly set for a rupture with the neoliberalism and AIDS denialism of Mbeki’s presidency. The so-called 1996 class project could now be dismantled and the new leadership could walk through the door to the redistribution of wealth. The initial signs looked hopeful. A treatment policy for dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic was put in place, anti-retrovirals were rolled out; a Department of Economic Development was established to drive a new economic policy centred on industrial development; promising statements were made about dealing with the crisis of local government and speeding up service delivery.

Since the 2007 Polokwane earthquake that dislodged the Mbeki regime, those offering a radical version of the strategy of National Democratic Revolution have very little or nothing to show. The Zuma period has been five lost years! Unemployment has increased, wages, especially outside of the public sector, have stagnated and the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. Vast areas of public service delivery lie in tatters leaving our children less numerate, less literate, less healthy and more hungry.

Corruption and the general looting of the state has made the real political party of the rich elite, Zille’s DA, more palatable for more people and not just so-called Whites and Coloureds. This is a tragedy. A DA government would not be neoliberalism lite, but would mean extreme free market policies including the privatisation of Eskom and other state utilities, labour brokering as the dominant form of employment, lower taxes for the rich, increases in VAT and a macro-economic policy that would make GEAR look positively Keynesian.

The worsening economic situation is for sure not the responsibility of the ANC government alone. The international situation remains unfavourable. The global economy is in the midst of its deepest and most enduring crisis since the Great Depression. Europe, South Africa’s biggest trading partner, is mostly in recession. Demand for South African goods and services is depressed and consequently jobs, especially in manufacturing, agriculture and mining are constantly under threat.

Furthermore, South African business is investment adverse. They are sitting on over R600 billion in cash reserves prompting Finance Minister Praveen Gordham to talk of an investment strike by big business. And when they do invest it is in capital intensive projects that deliver few jobs and even fewer decent jobs. While COSATU is correct to lash out at government for not banning labour brokers, it is South African business that has taken the legislative gap to informalise 40% of the work force through sub-contracting and labour broking.

Of course capital does not let itself be constrained where there are laws and regulations standing in the way of profit maximisation. Each year hundreds of billions of Rands are illegally exported from the country; minimum wage legislation is ignored, health and safety compromised, environmental legislation bypassed and climate change effectively denied.

But this is where the failure of the ANC does come in. They hold power in the state. Why is this power not used to stop these abuses? More importantly, why is the power of the state not used to ensure “a better life for all”? The answer lies in how the ANC has been consistently transformed into a party complicit with capital and big business not, as was hoped by many, an instrument to tame capital in the interests of the people – the 8 million with no jobs, the 12 million that earn less than R3500, the more than 2 million households the are homeless, the millions that remain landless, etc.

It is not as if the delegates fighting (even killing) to go to Mangaung are doing so because they want to right this injustice. They want a better life – not for all but for themselves. The way to prosperity runs through the ANC and then from the ANC to the state and from the state to the business deal, the kickback, the tender that is the reality of a predatory and pernicious capitalism. The factionalism tearing apart the ANC is not competing ideological currents: Marxist, nationalist, social democratic, liberal constitutionalism. The competing factions share the same motivation of greed clothed in nationalist and chauvinist garb.

The ANC of struggle and sacrifice is dying, deal by deal, tender by tender. The capitalist road the ANC embraced after 1994 has spawned the crass materialism so dominant in ruling class circles. Anyone familiar with history can point to the Indian National Congress of Mahatma Gandhi to see where Nelson Mandela’s ANC is headed.

What will it take to reverse these trends. Can the left do a “Polokwane” on Zuma. To ask the question is tantamount to answering it. The genie has been released from the bottle and will never be reigned in.

The problem for the ANC is that many progressive people are turning their back on the Movement. Many of these are thinking people not prepared to remain passive while the country is ransacked and sold out to the highest bidder as long as there is a BEE deal attached, as was the case with sell off of parts of Telkom. Millions will continue to support and vote for the ANC but the victors of Mangaung should take nothing for granted. Marikana and the subsequent mass strike on the mines and farms are a turning point. There is a new militancy amongst workers and the millions of unemployed are no longer prepared to be patient and passive. Protests and strikes are increasingly political and resemble the struggles of the late 1970s after the long hiatus following the banning of the ANC and other organisations in the 1960s.

A reorganisation and possibly a regrouping of forces for change may be on the cards. Not the “Anyone But Zuma” superficial and opportunistic block; instead change will be in terms of the radical transformation of the country built on the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor – reversing current trends.

For this to happen, many things have to change.

Firstly, breaking with the current trajectory of the ANC has to be understood not as the abandoning of the movement but its renewal and the rediscovery of the Freedom Charter and other radical impulses such as the 1969 Morogora Strategy and Tactics document; the role in advancing the 1976 student and worker uprisings; the formation of the United Democratic Front, COSATU and the many community and worker mobilisations of the 1980s that made Apartheid ungovernable.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, no mass alternative will emerge in this country if it does not connect with the immediate struggles and demands of our people for decent work, a living wage, provision of basic services, land and agrarian reform, against corruption and nepotism. These struggles must be deepened and the movements and activists undertaking them must be strengthened. Too often interventions from COSATU and other progressive forces take the struggle out of the hands of local activists. These struggles are then subordinated to a corporatist model of social consensus – as if tripartism of government, business and labour can get to the roots of the inequality crisis. The process of struggle is as important as the ends. As Che Guevara once said the new man (and of course women) are created in and through the struggle. That is when and where we overcome our prejudices and learn to overcome self-interest in favour of solidarity and collective solutions. This is where the politics of an injury to one is an injury to all is internalised and the cadres steeled.

Lastly, breaking with the current trajectory of the ANC does not mean the paralysis of marginalisation, i.e. the belief that outside of the ANC there is just isolation. Many progressives fear the COPE scenario. However, what must be understood is that COPE was an opportunistic break from the ANC that was happy to continue with the neo-liberal policies enjoying hegemony within the post-1994 ANC. There are much more exciting and vibrant initiatives to draw inspiration from. COSATU’s civil society conference of 2010 (even if it was short lived) shows the dynamism and the wide range of activists that can be galvanised for a popular alternative. The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) also shows the depth of support and popular mobilisation that can be achieved if the cause is just.

Marikana and now, the farm workers revolt, show that the ANC is facing a critical crossroad: business-as-usual is no longer compatible with the liberties won in 1994. But it is not just the ANC that faces this history-making moment: COSATU, the SACP and all progressive forces do so as well. The choice is repression or radical change.

The way forward is slogan-like: The struggle continues, our cause is just, another South Africa is possible, socialism is the future, build it now.

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