South Africa: Time for a new democratic left party?
By Mazibuko K. Jara
October 30, 2009 -- Our country is in crisis. There is deepening inequality, many people live in permanent poverty and millions are unemployed for most of their adult lives. Women continue to suffer from social oppression, violence and poverty. The very ecological and biophysical conditions for our human existence are under threat.
Retrogressive ideologies in our society are gaining ground: we are going back to ethnic identity, we have retrogressive notions of womanhood, we have seen the rise in the power of undemocratic rule of unelected chiefs. The state is dysfunctional, corrupt and fraudulent. The state seems unwilling to confront the economic system that produces all these crises. Together, none of these socioeconomic problems can be addressed by a South Africa that reproduces capitalism. These problems require solutions that go beyond capitalist accumulation.
Is it correct to regard the Jacob Zuma-led African National Congress (ANC) as left? Whilst the Zuma-led ANC is much friendlier to the left than Thabo Mbeki's, neoliberal capitalism survives in South Africa.
As Karl Marx put it in his Critique of the Gotha Programme: "If capital remains the all dominating economic power, economic and political decision-making will necessarily operate within the strict limits and conditions imposed by it, no matter what one calls the society and no matter which persons or forms of organisation are nominally in control".
Capital acts through ANC
Zuma has not broken with Mbeki’s pattern of subordinating progressive reforms in favour of capitalist profitability. Lesson: left vulnerable to the inordinate power of capital in our society, a president (no matter who it is) is vulnerable and can become increasingly unaccountable to popular interests.
In protecting and advancing its interests, capital continues to act on and through the ANC-led state. Up to now, the South African Communist Party-Congress of South African Trade Unions strategy has been unable to dislodge capital from this position. Given the ANC’s failure to break with neoliberalism, then there is a serious challenge posed to the SACP’s and COSATU’s political will, strategy, capacity and ability to lead social mobilisation to secure a fundamental break with neoliberal policies.
No amount of alliance boardroom battles will lead to a systemic transformation of South Africa thereby addressing poverty, inequality and other social, economic and ecological ills of our country. The Polokwane revolution can go so far, and no further. This can be seen in how mooted policy changes remain largely within the framework that Mbeki had already put in place. No amount of alliance insider trading will change this.
Even if this were an option with reasonable prospects for success, there are serious questions about the SACP’s and COSATU’s policy capacity, political will and organisational ability to win in the boardroom. The post-Polokwane situation does not represent conducive political conditions under which it would be possible to win and secure a fundamental policy shift away from neoliberalism to even a social-democratic program, let alone thoroughgoing anti-systemic transformation.
Participatory socialist democracy
Yet South Africa is in desperate need of radical and transformative political and economic change, essential a participatory socialist democracy that goes beyond capitalism. Therefore, ``winning the soul of the ANC'' can no longer be the ultimate left strategy. If it has to have a future in South Africa, the left has to build a social base that can contest existing power relations, deepen democracy, challenge and transform the capitalist state we have, and win transformative economic and social policies. What is required is an organisational and political base that can challenge and transform power relations, deepen democracy, redistribute wealth, win transformative policies and sustainably nurture human life, the soil and nature. This huge challenge suggests that the time has come for a mass-based left pole in South Africa’s political scene. However, this is easier said than done.
How can democratic socialist politics be rejuvenated and pursued in today’s South Africa? Can poor and working people build a democratic left politics into a formidable counter-hegemonic political pole capable of challenging the circuits of inequality and unsustainability? Can we have a strategic new left pole in South Africa that is able to continuously and consistently organise poor and working people into a socially present, effective and organised voice and power? These are difficult challenges for any genuine left project that seeks a break with the limits imposed by the discipline of an ANC that is hamstrung by capital.
Key here is the patient, difficult and long-term work to build the social power, weight and voice of workers and communities over political, social and economic questions. This must include direct social mobilisation to challenge capital and build capacity for anti-systemic economic transformation. Instead of the usual sectarian attacks against “ultra-leftists”, the arguments put forward in this article are a serious challenge to the SACP and COSATU to critically look at themselves and reconsider many of their strategies and perspectives.
The future of a left project rests in the collective hands of workers, the dispossessed, the unemployed, the youth, women and rural people, as well as radical intellectuals. But only if they wrestle for power and the right to shape a new agenda rooted in the power of a gigantic movement resting on independent autonomous mass organisations of working people thereby giving meaning to the slogan “We are our own liberators”. This is a struggle of the long haul that requires a new left to boldly and realistically enter the political stage today.
[Mazibuko Jara is a member of the Amandla! editorial collective. He is also a member of the SACP and one of the conveners of the Initiative of the Conference for a Democratic Left. This articel first appeared in the October 30 Daily Dispatch.]
Mazibuko Jara: Do we need a new party on the left?
October 20, 2009 -- Rhodes University, Grahamstown -- "The left movement outside the South African Communist Party is weak, fragmented and disorganised", said Mazibuko Jara, former South African Community Party (SACP) spokesperson and editor of Amandla magazine during a public dialogue at Rhodes University on October 16.
"The majority of the people in South Africa still look up to the ANC as their only hope and anyone who wants to start a new left party must take this into account," he said.
According to Jara, a new left wing political party must try to mobilise as many people as possible and unite all the left organisations in the country. Jara, together with Vishwas Satgar, a former Gauteng provincial secretary of the SACP, are leading an initiative to establish a new left political party in South Africa because of the dissatisfaction with the SACP's leadership.
They are attempting to organise people at grassroots level to fight for a socialist agenda. Left-wing political organisations are opposed to economic policies which favour business interests and have been at the forefront of the struggle of the poorer sections of the society and workers trying to gain access to jobs and basic social services.
According to Jara the need to form a new left political organisation would not have arisen if the SACP had not abandoned its program of mobilising people on the ground and instead using the state as a means to organise people, as they have done since the alliance with the ANC.
He says a new left political party needs to ensure that it gets people more involved in the democratic process and educates people to shift their focus from protest politics by building the ability of the people to think and act for themselves.
He believes that the ANC is still facing the same crisis as before the Polokwane conference when the leaders of the ANC and its alliance partners -- the SACP and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) -- accused each other in the media of interference in internal affairs.
Satgar agreed saying that the "space for democratic debate in the SACP has been closed" and the state power debate for the SACP to contest elections was suppressed at the last SACP conference, despite the fact that it found favour with most of the delegates. "The new left political party would not be built around opposition to the ANC", he said.
Michelle Williams, a senior lecturer at Wits University made a comparison of the state of participatory democracy between South Africa and the Indian state of Kerala. "In South Africa decisions are only made and implemented by government, and the people are not actively involved in the process whereas in Kerala, India the people take an active part in government through their community, co-operatives and street organisations." She said that South Africa could learn from this state which has been ruled by the Communist Party of India and which succeeded to develop the state through redistribution and participatory democracy.
Jara and Satgar, who are leading the Initiative of the Conference for a Democratic Left will call a national consultative forum of all the left organisations early next year.[This article first appeared in Grocott's Mail Online.]
Sibusiso Ngalwa, Saturday Star, Johannesburg, 21 November 2009
A group of leftists - including influential former officials purged after they clashed with SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande - are planning to launch a breakaway party.
In a similar fashion to the way that the founders of the Cope served "divorce papers" on the ANC to form that party, the brains behind the planned venture say the governing party's promise of a better life has not materialised.
Under the banner of the Conference of the Democratic Left, the grouping comprises former Young Communist League leader Mazibuko Jara, community leader Trevor Ngwane and former SACP Gauteng secretary Vishwas Satgar.
But Jara yesterday denied wanting to launch a new party, although he did not rule it out.
"There is no such plan ... for now people are talking of a united front. Whether a political party emerges out of this, no one knows. It will take time, debate and convincing each other," he said.
The SACP, which described the group as those who lost debates internally, said the party has "always anticipated that this tiny minority will cause this drama".
"For years we have tolerated their disruptive behaviour and ill-discipline... If these characters... wish to leave, we advise them not to use the name of the SACP to achieve their narrow objectives," SACP spokesman Malesela Maleka said.
"Their planned 'Cope tactics' won't work on us; the sooner they and those who support them leave the SACP, the better. We will not be plunged into a crisis, it's good riddance," he said.
The ANC's Ishmael Mnisi said the governing party would not comment before a detailed briefing about the grouping.
The Saturday Star is in possession of a document distributed by the organisers, calling on interested parties to attend the conference, scheduled for March 20-22.
It is understood the conference would be a springboard for the establishment of a splinter party, contesting the SACP's socialist, leftist terrain.
But Jara is adamant theirs would not be an anti-ANC/ tripartite alliance initiative and ruled out co-operation with Cope. "Cope is a disaster, this is where I agree with the SACP; it's a right-wing spinoff from the ANC. Ours is about an anti-capitalist critique, and Cope is not about that.
"We are not going to go on a sectarian attack on the ANC... Yes, we are critical of the ANC and its approach and capitalist policies. (But) we are not going to impose ourselves unrealistically as if we are going to vanquish and replace the ANC," said Jara.
The document calls for a unity of purpose to deal with capitalism because "the promise of a better life for all (the ANC's slogan) has not been realised".
"As long as the ANC government refuses to confront capital and redistribute wealth, poor communities will continue to be downtrodden".
To get the ball rolling, a "convening committee" will be visiting communities, factories and farms to build momentum towards the conference.
"We need a people's conference, solidarity and a united front. What is envisaged is a process of bottom-up deliberation, debate in which voices from below shape outcomes and collective action. The organising of the conference is about creating local, provincial and a national (forum)," said the document.
"This is a conscious political initiative informed by a recognition that we all fought for the liberation of South Africa. The conference is an affirmation of democratic pluralism and is a process which seeks to elaborate political objectives, practices, alternatives and new ways of engaging in Left politics."
The group has been operating behind the scenes since after the 2007 SACP conference when those opposed to Nzimande were left out or were forced out of the party.
New life for the left?
MMANALEDI MATABOGE - Dec 03 2009 14:07
Ahead of the South African Communist Party (SACP) descending on
Polokwane to reassert itself as South Africa's leading party of the
left, a minority of its current and former members are exploring the
possibility of finding a new home, arguing that the goal of socialism
cannot be confined to the "sole wisdom" of the Communist party.
Organisers of the Conference of the Left, scheduled for March 2010, are
on a countrywide consultation mission to secure a minimum of 150 000
endorsements before next year's conference. Though the organising
committee did not want to admit outright that it was working towards
forming a new party of the left, all indications are that the conference
might culminate in the formation of a political party.
"There is no predetermined outcome," said a member of the organising
committee, Vishwas Satgar, who terminated his SACP membership in April
after running into trouble with the leadership.
Organisers hope to draw support from disaffected members of ailing
socialist parties and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.
"It is important to recognise that in the SACP, Azapo [Azanian People's
Organisation], PAC [Pan Africanist Congress] and Sopa [Socialist Party
of Azania], there are many genuine socialists, workers, radicals and
militants who support the broad goals we are putting forward," said a
leading member of the organising committee for the envisaged conference,
Mazibuko Jara, who is also an SACP member.
Satgar added that there were many disgruntled people within the ANC-led
tripartite alliance who have not been offered an alternative for a
socialist party. "The alliance did not split two-ways," said Satgar,
referring to last year's formation of the breakaway party, the Congress
of the People (Cope). "There is a third split, the silent people who are
firmly soul-searching and are trying to find a platform."
The idea is to do away with the old model of socialism that used the
Stalinist formula, said Satgar. "Our starting point is recognising that
those old models are in crisis. We want to get to the renewal of the
Satgar said the old left is Stalinist and manipulative, and had failed
to address real issues that affect the people, such as "the brutal
reality of hunger" linked to unemployment. The new left, he said, would
seek to fight the struggles that resonate with society. "With the old
left you capture the state first through the military or elections, and
then you change the society. With us it is not about the state. We want
to build power from below."
Jara said despite many socialists identifying with both the ANC and its
alliance partners, there was still space for a more united vehicle to
drive the improvement of people's lives. "Despite the massive support
that the ANC continues to enjoy, so long as it is unable to redistribute
wealth and structurally transform this economy, there will always be a
case for socialism and the organisation of political and social forces
to advance a socialist agenda."
During the same weekend as the SACP's special congress, supporters of
the democratic left will be holding a provincial inaugural meeting in
the Eastern Cape. A national meeting will be held in Cape Town the
The Young Communist League in Gauteng said the process of organising the
democratic left conference was "misconceived" and branded it a plan to
establish a "post- and pseudo-Cope anti-SACP left-wing formation".
Dispatch online, 14 December 2009
THE idea of a Conference of the Democratic Left (CDL) – a platform for dialogue for solidarity and mass action – was given a resounding endorsement by left-wing organisations yesterday.
At a meeting in Grahamstown, representatives of several organisations such as the Unemployed Peoples’ Movement (UPM), Rural Development Movement, Land Reform Investigation Movement and several others undertook to organise a provincial version of the CDL early in 2010.
The national CDL is scheduled to be launched in March next year and conveners are currently on a countrywide consultation mission.
The preliminary meeting in Grahamstown is understood to be the first of these in the province.
One of the CDL conveners, Mazibuko Jara, said he hoped the CDL would bring together a “weak and divided Left” and communities actively involved in struggle. It was hoped the conference would “build solidarity” in the Left.
He emphasised that the conference would not be about taking a “sectarian stance against the ANC alliance” or any other party.
“We are not against the ANC, but we won’t shy away from criticising the capitalist policies of the ANC. We want to build a united, anti-capitalist perspective and platform ... a non-sectarian, open-ended Left that tries to draw as many people as possible from various organisations onto a platform for political struggle.”
Jara carefully steered the meeting away from the idea that the CDL was a political party. He said that, at this point, they had “no idea” what form it would take. But there was a need for an “alternative political pole” in SA that would speak clearly for the poor and working people.
He said to move forward, the Left had to “unlearn” many of the “dogmas” and styles of politics of the past and learn a “new style” for a different anti- capitalist economic struggle.
Ayanda Kota from the Unemployed People’s Movement in Makana said changes in SA to date had been merely “cosmetic”. People from the former liberation movements had “shifted to the Right” and had become the “CEOs” who had been co-opted by the system and were “toeing a different line”.
He warned that change would not come without courage and pledged the UPM’s support for the CDL, whatever form it took. “The truth is we need an alternative. The CDL could not have come at a better time.”
Afterwards Jara, who said he was delighted with the outcome of the meeting, explained that he had found SACP’s Blade Nzimande and Young Communist League (YCL) secretary Buti Manamela’s recent statements about the CDL “disappointing”.
According to the Mail & Guardian, Manamela told an SACP conference that he was shocked Jara was still being kept a member of the party.
“(The organisers of the Democratic Left) are travelling the breadth and width of the country trying to pull together, with no support, this stokvel of theirs. We hang our heads in shame that he is from our ranks.”
Jara said the party “should not be threatened by the Left”. “Hopefully others will behave in more mature way.”
He added that the derogatory statements about the CDL were infantile and had been made out of “ignorance and paranoia”.
SACP seeks united front among the Left to effectively challenge capitalism
Mazibuko K Jara, Sunday Independent, Johannesburg, 20 December 2009
SOUTH Africa is in desperate need of a radical, transformative political and economic programme. How far did the Polokwane special congress of the SACP go to put South Africa on such a path? This programme rests on four critical conditions:
United, organised, strong and vibrant organisations of the people that are anti-capitalist, autonomous and independent.
A principled, progressive, pluralistic, tolerant and revolutionary political force of the Left untainted by corruption and the trappings of a capitalist state.
Agents of a revolutionary process who are conscious, capacitated and engaged in active struggle for thorough transformation and not beholden to any political elite.
Analytical work, social mobilisation and articulation of economic policy alternatives directed at private capital, given the multifold global crises facing capitalism.
While the focus of the media was on the debacle between Jeremy Cronin and Julius Malema, the SACP congress paid attention to some of the above questions.
However, in the SACP's formulations, the ANC and its government remain important in achieving these goals. This focus on the ANC and alliance debates is a fundamental flaw: it immediately takes away SACP energy from its paper commitments to mobilise and organise workers, as does its participation in a capitalist government that is cut off from mass struggles in communities and the workplace, which could potentially challenge the capitalist policies of the ANC.
This is not to ignore that the post-Polokwane ANC is understood popularly as being more progressive than the ANC under former president Thabo Mbeki.
These shifts notwithstanding, the ANC remains a political party and a government that is not about to fundamentally transform the capitalist structure and system of South African society. Indeed, it has put forward a massive social delivery programme that, if it succeeds, will change for the better socio-economic conditions of the majority of the people.
All this, the ANC assumes, can be delivered on the basis of a capitalist developmental state, a state that can play an effective role in growing the capitalist economy while also meeting social developmental goals.
This remains the fundamental approach of the ANC to economic policy. And the SACP and Cosatu have fallen short, and are incapable of transcending alliance boardrooms to build the mass power required to mark a break with the ANC's dalliance with capital.
The ANC cannot be ignored by any serious left project, nor can a serious left project be uncritical of the ANC, given its reluctance to challenge vested capitalist interests.
A new Left will have to work out strategies to smartly, wisely and effectively challenge pro-capitalist policies. This is possible on the basis of organised mass strength.
This is not easy, given that social movements are fragile and that the Left is weak, divided and ineffective. The vision of democratic socialist politics is an important starting point around which to rebuild a movement that can win immediate progressive demands, put forward pro-people policy alternatives and begin to challenge capitalism.
The Cronin versus Malema template is far from such politics. In fact, it has the effect of demobilising the very mass base that needs to organise itself to contest existing policies. It does not project a confident SACP that can forge and foster a bold, open-ended and far-reaching socialist project.
To begin this long and arduous path towards united anti-capitalist action by popular forces, we need a people's conference against capitalism. We need a process of bottom-up deliberation, and debate in which voices from below shape outcomes and collective action.
But such a conference cannot be an event. It must aim to create a united anti-capitalist front around a shared programme of action while preserving the autonomy of constituent organisations.
This challenges the broad Left to engage in such a process with modesty, conscious that it does not have all the answers to the complex challenges facing humanity - and conscious of the overwhelming reality of an ANC-dominated polity. This requires the Left to approach such a conference as one key moment in a longer process to build a vehicle for the self-organisation of the excluded, the exploited, the discriminated and poverty-stricken majority in South Africa who ultimately hold the power to radically transform South Africa along eco-socialist and participatory democratic lines.
This is a project about consolidating the anti-capitalist confidence, voice and solidarity of the exploited and oppressed. It is not impossible.
The big problems and crises we face present us with major possibilities. With massive resources, the bosses and their indunas are fighting an ideological battle to prevent any sensible, democratic debate within our country on economic policy evaluation and change.
Our problems are structural. We have to transform the systemic features of our capitalist economy. The big economic and social problems of our country cannot be addressed without a change in economic policy. Not without a new state that works for the people and challenges capital. And not without mass struggles.
The transformation of our economy and society critically requires popular anti-capitalist struggles that target both the state and capital. Many of the existing social movements and ongoing community protests hold the seeds of this. But they are not sufficient on their own.
We must build on these struggles to rekindle the kind of mass movement of the 1980s which brought apartheid to an end.
We must unite across townships, across political lines, across differences of the past. We can eventually unite all progressive forces among the poor and working class - not least those from social movements, Cosatu, the SACP - and many other progressive forces. This is what the envisaged conference of the Left is about - and not the self-serving SACP accusation that it is about building a "communist Cope" or a new left party. It is therefore time that debate over the conference of the Left moves away from this limited template.
Jara is a member of the SACP
Tuesday, 15 December 2009 06:31
Now the ANC also faces attack from outside its Alliance ranks
The march of the Left in South Africa is intensifying on all sides. Not
only is the ruling African National Congress (ANC) having to contend
with a growing and serious Left-versus-centre confrontation within its
own party and alliance ranks, as well as a bid by its left-wing allies
to strengthen their position, it now also faces an onslaught from a new
formation of left-wing organisations from outside its own ranks.
Nationally, a large number of left-wing organisations and communities
not forming part of the ANC-led alliance are to launch the Conference of
the Democratic Left (CDL) in March next year.
While that in itself could already present the ANC and the alliance –
consisting of the ANC, Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), SA
Communist Party (SACP) and the SA National Civics Organisation (Sanco) –
with a significant problem in the face of delivery failure and spreading
delivery protest riots, a similar provincial organisation is being
established with strong support in the backyard of the ANC and its allies.
A large number of organisations and communities on Sunday gave the idea
of a provincial version of the CDL in the Eastern Cape a resounding
endorsement at a first mass meeting to launch such an organisation there.
The CDL basically strives to bring together marginalised communities and
left-wing organisations on a single platform for solidarity, dialogue
and mass action. It is particularly the latter that should have the ANC
Disaffected and volatile communities that have recently increasingly
resorted to mass action to protest the lack of services and delivery in
townships around the country, as well as the failure of the ruling ANC
to improve the lives of its supporters in any significant way, could
provide fertile recruitment ground for the new movement.
Since the months leading up to the April general elections, the Eastern
Cape has increasingly become polarised, with centre-right political
parties hiving off a large part of the ANC’s previously guaranteed
support in the province. Now the non-alliance Left is also mobilising,
leaving in the middle an increasingly weakened and vulnerable ANC
currently in conflict with its own allies.
Traditionally, the ANC and its allies have enjoyed some of their
strongest, most unified support in this province. But no more.
Monday’s meeting in Grahamstown brought together representatives from a
wide range of communities and organisations such as the Rural
Development Movement and the Unemployed Peoples’ Movement, which
resolved to organise a provincial CDL early next year. The organisers
behind the national CDL movement are also currently on a countrywide
tour to consult with communities and organisations.
Two of the key organisers behind the movement – which seeks to establish
a new, unified and strong left-wing political party – are Mazibuko Jara,
former SACP spokesperson and editor of "Amandla" magazine; and Vishwas
Satgar, a former Gauteng provincial secretary of the SACP.
The two believe that a new left-wing political party is required to
mobilise the masses and unite all the left-wing organisations in South
Africa. This became necessary when the SACP, according to them,
abandoned its own programme of mobilising people at grassroots level and
instead has resorted – through its alliance with the ANC – to using the
state as a means to organise people.
Jara says President Jacob Zuma has not broken with former president
Thabo Mbeki’s “pattern of subordinating progressive reforms in favour of
capitalist profitability”. He says this points to the Left being
vulnerable to the inordinate power of capital, while a president, no
matter who it is, is vulnerable and can become increasingly
unaccountable to popular interests.
He further says: “There is a deepening inequality, many people live in
permanent poverty and millions are unemployed for most of their adult
lives. Women continue to suffer from social oppression, violence and
poverty. The very ecological and biophysical conditions for our human
existence are under threat. Retrogressive ideologies in our society are
gaining ground: we are going back to ethnic identity, we have
retrogressive notions of womanhood, we have seen the rise in the power
of undemocratic rule of unelected chiefs. The state is dysfunctional,
corrupt and fraudulent. The state seems unwilling to confront the
economic system that produces all these crises. Together, none of these
socio-economic problems can be addressed by a South Africa that
reproduces capitalism. These problems require solutions that go beyond
However, history does not favour the formation of new left-wing
movements in South Africa, with several past efforts having come to
naught. In addition, Jara and Satgar are aware of the problems they
face, with Jara saying “the Left movement outside the South African
Communist Party is weak, fragmented and disorganised", and that the
“majority of the people in South Africa still look up to the ANC as
their only hope and anyone who wants to start a new Left party must take
this into account”.
However, conditions in South Africa for a new left-wing formation may
presently be more conducive than ever before with rising discontent over
delivery, the absence of strong, clear and unified national political
leadership, and with the ANC being weakened severely and threatened from
Nonetheless, the SACP is concerned about the rise of the CDL. That much
is clear from the recent rather vitriolic attack on the CDL and its
leaders by SACP general-secretary and ANC national executive member,
Blade Nzimande, and Young Communist League (YCL) secretary, Buti Manamela.
Meanwhile, the CDL has gained prominence within marginalised communities
in recent months when its members were attacked by alleged ANC activists
in the offices of Abahlali baseMjondolo in Kennedy Road settlement in
Durban (during which several people were killed).
It has also successfully launched an interim branch in the Western Cape,
where its public meeting on the proposed new National Health Insurance
(NHI) was attended by activists from a wide range of organisations such
as the Cosatu-affiliated National Education, Health and Allied Workers’
Union (Nehawu), the Public And Allied Workers’ Union (PAWUSA), the
People's Health Movement, the Treatment Action Campaign, the Social
Justice Coalition, the Lorna Mlofana Campaign, the SA Medical
Association, the New Women's Movement, the Delft branch of Sanco, and