The crisis of the left in contemporary South Africa

Shack dwellers protest in Durban.

By Dale T. McKinley

The ideological, political, organisational and socioeconomic realities of contemporary South Africa do not paint a flattering picture for the left:

  • The neoliberal variant of capitalism is not only practically dominant but generally in a phase of ideological triumphalism, despite its recent setbacks;
  • The state has rapidly become the “public arm” of a slowly deracialising capitalist ruling class (both bureaucratic and corporate). The African National Congress (ANC), which is in political and administrative possession of the state, is under the effective control of this ruling class and is fully committed to serving its interests. Despite the more recent growth of a crisis of ideological identity and political division, the ANC's own leadership layers, as well as those of its Tripartite Alliance partners (the Congress of South African Trade Unions — COSATU — and the South African Communist Party — SACP) have become subagents of this class rule;
  • The socioeconomic position of the majority of people, but particularly that of the formal working class as well as those outside of formal capitalist employment, has worsened;[1]
  • Regardless of the growing legitimacy crisis of bourgeois democracy and its electoral system, no mass-based and national political/organisational alternative has arisen either in relation to participating within the system of bourgeois electoralism or in creating the conditions for an alternative system of democratic participation and process outside of and against, bourgeois-democratic electoralism;[2]
  • Despite their historical centrality to the struggle against apartheid as well as continued presence in both the ANC-led Alliance and independent sociopolitical struggles of the poor and the working class, left forces remain numerically small and politically weak, characterised by organisational sectoralism, disjointed resistance struggles and a lack of ideological confidence.

Besides the ongoing struggles of the organised working class for better living and working conditions, as well as those of new social movements and a wide range of community organisations around socioeconomic conditions of existence, the dominant form and content of left struggles since the late 1990s has revolved around issue-oriented social and political struggles such as those that focus on HIV/AIDS, privatisation, water, electricity, housing, the environment and so on.[3] While these struggles are, in and of themselves, necessary and important, they contain little in the way of grappling with the demands and actual forging of a meaningful strategy of the left that has the potential to change radically the organisational and political face of anti-capitalist politics and struggle in South Africa (and implicitly Southern Africa).

Simply put, left politics in South Africa has become ideologically balkanised and to a lesser extent strategically and politically de-classed. To make matters worse, much of the leadership of the left has descended into the age-old morass of personal egotism, power-mongering and political dishonesty and opportunism.

Roots of the crisis

When South Africa's first ever one-person, one-vote elections in 1994 resulted in an overwhelming victory for the ANC, the majority of South Africans understandably celebrated the arrival of a new democracy. After all, the ANC and its liberation-movement allies were now in political control of the state thanks to the votes of those who had, throughout South Africa’s modern history, been denied the right of institutionalised democratic participation simply because of their racial categorisation.

Accompanying this, however, there still remained a broad-based expectation among the black majority — and also among large sections of the left — that the new ANC state would immediately begin to pursue a more socialist, or at the least radically redistributive, political economy. The basis upon which such an expectation had been built derived from the militant, mass-based political and socioeconomic struggles that had been waged by unions and community organisations (and supported by more radical NGOs) since the mid-1980s, alongside the continued socialist rhetoric of the ANC itself.[4] As South African commentators Richard Ballard, Adam Habib and Imraan Valodia have put it, “As has happened so often in newly liberated countries, the euphoria of political transition led many to expect that the need for adversarial social struggle with the state was over.”[5]

Even if it had been long apparent that the ANC was never going to follow even a proto-socialist developmental path once in power, the bubble was clearly and publicly burst with the ANC state’s 1996 unveiling of the neoliberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) macroeconomic policy.[6] The organisational groundwork for this rightward ideological shift of the ANC had been laid soon after the ANC’s return from exile in early 1990. Instead of supporting and strengthening the plethora of community and civic organisations (along with progressive trade unions) that had formed the backbone of the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s, the ANC called on all civic and community structures to fold up and become part of ANC branches or to join the newly launched South African National Civics Organisation (SANCO), which, it was announced, would become the “fourth” member of the Tripartite Alliance. Simultaneously, the ANC further formalised its political and organisational alliance with COSATU — and the main left political party, the SACP — by setting up numerous (consultative) Alliance structures and drafting key leadership figures into its electoral list for all levels of government.

Consistent with the sociopolitical thrust of GEAR, the ANC government also set about forming national structures to give institutional form to its corporatist commitments. The National Economic, Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) was formed, in which “civil society” was represented by a “development chamber” (consisting of chosen non-governmental and community-based organisations), a labour component (consisting of recognised union federations) and a corporate component (consisting of representatives from capital and big business). At the same time, legislation was passed — e.g., the Non-Profit Act of 1997 — and institutions set up like the Directorate of Non-Profit Organisations (which required NGOs and CBOs to register officially with the state) and the National Development Agency (“to direct financial resources to the sector”).[7] All of this fit comfortably within the ANC government's push “for a more formalised civil society constituency as part of a developmental model where formally organised groups participate in official structures to claim public resources” and where “the role of such organised groups is constructed along the lines of official government programmes, without space to contest the fundamentals of those programmes”.[8]

The leaderships of both COSATU and the SACP eagerly bought into the ANC “nation building” and “corporatist consensus” sales pitch (rationalised by constant reference to the Stalinist era-inspired theory of the “national democratic revolution”), thus placing the key components of the political left in a classic strategic cul-de-sac — in other words, into a situation where the pursuit and advancement of an anti-capitalist struggle is effectively co-determined by capital itself and by a state already wholly committed to securing the core interests of capital. When, as they did throughout the better part of the 1990s, COSATU and SACP leaders tell the workers and poor that the best (and only) strategic option is to manage better their own exploitation and hope that somewhere down the road it will lead to “socialism”, the entire meaning of what is “left” is put into question.[9]

The early sanitising of the traditional and much of the previously organisationally independent left was only further reinforced by the post-1994 crisis of funding that confronted most community organisations and progressive NGOs, which were largely dependent on donor funding. Both domestic and foreign donor funding took a radical turn after the 1994 elections, away from previous commitments to independent grassroots mobilisation and struggles and towards state-directed “developmental” programs — such as the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) — and state-sponsored social welfare “partnerships” with approved “civil society” organisations. The dual result was a “development agenda” increasingly driven by state and private (i.e., corporate) donor funding and the death of the vast majority of independent and in many cases anti-capitalist, organisations.[10]

Cumulatively, these developments meant that by the mid-late 1990s the vast majority of what had constituted a previously vibrant and predominately independent South African left, rooted in broad working-class politics and struggles and sustaining the hope of millions for an anti-capitalist transformation of South African society, had effectively been neutered. Whether swallowed by the ANC, absorbed into other Tripartite Alliance structures, hobbled by the co-option of key leaders into the state and associated corporatist institutions, or starved of financial resources, the bottom line was the successful containment of the political and organisational terrain for active and militant resistance to the ANC's creeping neoliberalism, elite deal making and wholesale acceptance of the institutionalised framework of bourgeois democracy.

The `traditional left': COSATU and the SACP

It might well be argued (and indeed it has been), that the “transitional” presence of COSATU and the SACP, as part of both a formal alliance with the ruling ANC party as well as the “broad left” in South Africa, would translate into a collection of vibrant anti-capitalist forces capable of and willing to contest fundamentally the politics, policies and overall developmental agenda of both capital and the state.[11] However, the transitional reality has been that the acceptance of an unequal and essentially subservient political relationship within an ANC-dominated alliance — which is supposed to act as the political master of the state — as well as participation in corporatist institutionalism, has served to tie organised workers and large numbers of community activists with historic ties with or sympathy to the Alliance, into a false sense of ideological and strategic unity with the ANC and the state and, even if to a much lesser extent, with corporate capital.[12]

Unfortunately, for the broad left in South Africa, the SACP and COSATU have been fiddling with the same strategic and political choices since the beginning of the transition:

  • First choice: to be junior partners in an Alliance they will never run and control (but might have key positions in) and thus practice a politics of offering critiques of existing policy implementation and arguing for policies that have a more pro-poor character or more state involvement; engage in occasional campaigns and activities designed to “show” that the working class is still a force to be reckoned with and simultaneously continuing to be part of an ANC electoral machine and to participate in an ANC-run state through its various institutional mechanisms.
  • Second choice: to go back to the basics of organising and mobilising the poor and the working class (which means real, practical alliances with community organisations and new social movements) based on a radical program of demands for the redistribution of ownership and wealth that will act as an organisational and political base both to shift ANC government policy — not through insider bargaining and politicking but through mass mobilisation — and to re-build a genuine left political and organisational power base to contest power relations within South African society (something which is not simply reducible to elections and running as an electoral force separate from the ANC).

The problem is, however, that the fiddling has been just that — the second choice has never really been on the agenda. As a result, both COSATU and the SACP have continued to play the Alliance political game. While this has contributed to minor policy shifts and occasional genuflections by the ANC government towards mitigation of rising inequalities and poverty, these have not happened in isolation from the myriad protests and mobilisations that have taken place outside the SACP-COSATU nexus and which have arguably been just as responsible for various policy shifts and the more recent rise in political contestation within the Alliance. Indeed, the ANC is probably more wary of service delivery protests and uprisings in poor communities and accompanying disillusionment with ANC rule (read: electoral abstentionism) than with the regular sniping and critiques of the SACP/COSATU.

The unfortunate but predictable result of these choices has been that the politics and practical work of the SACP and COSATU have become, over the last few years in particular, tied directly to what is going on inside the ANC Alliance in direct proportionate relation to intensifying personal and positional power struggles. This is the logical outcome of such a political approach and it has effectively paralysed the SACP's and COSATU's ability to organise and mobilise on a genuinely practical, pro-working class and pro-poor political basis, where their programs and critiques are actually put to the test in real struggles happening on the ground and in the arena of democratic contestation for power.

Confirmation of this state of affairs could be seen at the most recent ANC Policy Conference, the SACP 12th Congress and the ANC National Conference at Polokwane (all in 2007), in the form of the personal and political battle between the “camps” of the South African ex-president (and at the time still ANC president) Thabo Mbeki and South African ex-deputy president (and at the time ANC deputy president) Jacob Zuma. The preceding mobilisation campaigns and practical work tended to ape this contest (i.e., the degree to which it would or wouldn’t take forward the personal positions and accompanying politics of this or that camp). Revealingly, the person on whose shoulders so much of the fortunes, political energies and organisational decisions of the SACP and COSATU have been placed for the last several years — Jacob Zuma — is not even an active member of the SACP (and has never been part of COSATU) and has shown, time and again, that his own political inclinations are defined by what will take his own position and power forward.

Prior to the dominance of the Zuma-Mbeki battle, the SACP's (and to a lesser extent COSATU's) politics and organisational direction were largely defined by what Mbeki represented and was doing in government. This meant fighting (or at least spoiling to fight) the pro-capitalist policies of his government and his political control of the ANC by positioning itself as a counter-Mbeki force within the Alliance and as the real inheritor and prosecutor of the ANC's “national democratic revolution” (NDR) legacy. The alternative — acting as an independent force with both a comprehensive critique of and a programmatic path to overcome capitalist exploitation and oppression as an active mass force of the poor — has never really seen the light of day.

Ironically, it is ex-Democratic Alliance politician and now public liberal intellectual Raenette Taljaard who has captured the essence of what emerged from the ANC Policy Conference, aptly calling it, “the shade of the variety of capitalism under a ‘developmental state’ banner”.[13] The reality is that all the ANC (and by default, the government it presides over) continues to do is more fully to recognise that the reality of increasing socioeconomic inequality and political dissatisfaction among the poor represents a real threat both to its longer-term hold on state power and to the organisational continuance of the alliance, which the ANC still finds extremely useful as a foil against the actual possibility of an independent left working class force outside of the alliance.

This recognition has, for the last several years, led to genuflective nods in the direction of greater infrastructural spending (although most of this has nothing to do with poor and working-class communities, but much more to do with the interests and demands of corporate capital and the seemingly insatiable need of the political and economic elite for grandiose projects and affirmation from global elites that they are now real players on the global scene and can deliver things such as the 2010 World Cup); slight increases in social welfare; relatively small increment increases in public-sector salaries; and much more rhetoric about the need to discipline the “free market” and listen more attentively to the voices of the poor. This constitutes an astute politics on the part of the ANC — both in relation to the ANC's own chosen ideological path (i.e., a deracialised capitalism dressed up in the language of the NDR) as well as in relation to the ongoing personal and patronage conflicts within the ANC and the Alliance.

Thus, can the leaders of the SACP and COSATU make the incredibly suspect claim that the last two ANC conferences were a “victory for the left” and that the politics that they have pursued over the last while has actually been the defining factor in this “shift”, while simultaneously claiming, for the benefit of the ANC leadership, that such a politics has been “sober and intelligent”? This is really just another way of saying that there was really no other option i.e., that it is ludicrous to think about, or worse to actualise, either leaving the Alliance or forging a fighting program of the left separate from the NDR-ANC-Alliance axis and testing its popular and democratic applicability with those they claim to represent. In the absence of another choice being contemplated, what we continue to witness is the repetition of the same mantra — namely, that the left in the Alliance has to “manage” the relationship with the ANC and now, given the supposed shift to the left, even more closely “manage” the implementation of the developmental agenda.

Given this kind of politics, the question as to what constitutes the “left” is apropos. The SACP and COSATU have never been able to define and still cannot define what this means because any slight seemingly progressive change in ANC and government policy that has occurred, or might occur, is interpreted as a victory for the left, precisely because to interpret it otherwise would be to undermine the larger claim and position that it is necessary and imperative for the SACP and COSATU to remain in alliance with the ANC; and also because any deeper and more realistic interpretation would undermine the entire theoretical construct of the NDR upon which the alliance rests, as well as the present political positioning of both the SACP and COSATU. The same applies to the SACP resolve, at its own 2007 congress, that the state should lead macroeconomic growth instead of the market, without any meaningful discussion of what this concretely means in relation to the ANC's ideological commitment (confirmed over and over again) to a capitalist macro-economy which the ANC-run state has practically led and implemented.

Because the leadership of the SACP and COSATU refuse to cut the long-standing umbilical cord with the ANC, the core of their left critique and struggle centres around contesting the character of the Alliance and ANC governance, not the systemic nature of the inequalities and injustices of the deracialised capitalism of which the ANC has long been a champion. A classic example of this is their attack on South Africa’s post-1994 “accumulation path”, where the critique centres on the particular character of this accumulation path (e.g., enrichment for the few and consolidation of the post-1996 “class project” in the ANC through use of inherited state institutions) — not the path itself. In other words, the two main traditional left forces in South Africa refuse to identify capitalism itself — and the capitalists who own and manage the means of production — as the core foundation of South Africa's accumulative path. As a result, they have no other option but to propagate the idea that the sidelining of the individuals and selected class forces within the ANC-Alliance that are pursuing this accumulation path will then result in the possibilities of pursing a different path.

In reality then, the core struggles of the SACP and COSATU have, over time, become a battle to cleanse the ANC politically and organisationally of its historic and more contemporary progeny: put another way, to defeat those who want their “fair share” of the capitalist system, as was so clearly enunciated by ANC Secretary General Dr Xuma all the way back in 1945.[14] This would mean nothing less than a complete political and ideological revolution within and through the ANC — something that is clearly not going to happen simply because certain SACP and COSATU leaders want it to happen and proclaim its possibility as the fundamental basis for their own organisation's strategy. If ever there was a classic case of embedded “entryism” then this is it (apologies to those Trotskyists who might still claim this tactic as wholly their own).

Completing the national democratic revolution?

Through the transition, but even more so during the intra-Alliance battles over the last year, there has been much talk from the SACP and COSATU about completing the tasks of the national democratic revolution. But what are we to understand by the NDR? For SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande, “the basic aim of the national democratic revolution is to address poverty, unemployment, disease, restore the dignity of the overwhelming majority of our people through creating a mass driven democratic dispensation, remove all forms of discrimination and build an egalitarian society.” Further, “this means provision of minimum basic necessities, services and human dignity to all South Africans”.[15] This is such a general definition that it can encompass (and celebrate) virtually any move to address the inherited inequalities of apartheid capitalism as well as any improvement (no matter how small or sustainable) in relation to basic services for the poor majority. It is because of this generality that Nzimande can then claim that

a key challenge therefore is that we must build an ANC (and Alliance) that consciously seek to build and lead a mass movement that is daily engaged with issues and challenges facing the mass of our people … . This should also be seen as part of the very important challenge of building the capacity of the ANC (and the Alliance) to exercise effective oversight on government and all our cadres so deployed (and to) defeat factionalism, patronage and corruption within our ranks.[16]

Not surprisingly, this “challenge” fits comfortably with the accepted understanding of the NDR among the traditional left: the NDR demands that those identifying themselves as left have no other option but to follow the strategic path set out by the SACP and COSATU (as the two main left forces in the country) and any other strategic challenge is simply counter-productive, or at best, naïve. But, completing such an imagined revolutionary transformation of the ANC (just like the same in relation to the NDR and broader societal forces) is a practical, not to mention a political, impossibility, as long as the SACP and COSATU tie their own programmatic and thus political “path” with that of the ANC Alliance. They have already admitted many times that the ANC is not a socialist organisation. And yet, the entire strategic thrust is to try to transform the ANC (through persuasion, use of “working-class power” and, most significantly, positions in the Alliance and the state) from within, so as to then embark on a different accumulation path, using the self-same organisation and historic politics whose entire raison d’être is to deracialise the accumulation path, not to change it fundamentally or to overthrow it.

What all this represents is a crisis of confidence of and in the SACP and COSATU at its most acute: a crisis of confidence in the traditional left's ability to forge a political and organisational opposition to what it stands against; a crisis of confidence in the ability and willingness of its claimed constituency to embrace a political alternative to the ANC's deracialised elitist capitalism and to identify with the class lines and struggles that divide South African society so clearly.

The `new left': social movements and community organisations

Not surprisingly, the subjective politico-strategic choices on the part of COSATU and the SACP, alongside SANCO, have done little to stem the effectual tide of increased socioeconomic inequality and poverty.[17] Indeed, it was the ongoing impact of such choices vis-à-vis socioeconomic realities that eventually saw the rise of a range of new social movements and community organisations from the late 1990s onwards.

Due to the implementation of the state's neoliberal policies, massive job losses were visited upon those members of the South African working class who had been fortunate enough to be employed, the experience being accompanied by all the attendant social and economic devastation on already poor families and communities. To make matters worse, the state also implemented basic needs policies that effectively turned services into market commodities to be bought and sold on the basis of private ownership and the profit motive. This was facilitated by a drastic decrease in national government grants and subsidies to local municipalities and city councils and support for the development of financial instruments for privatised delivery. In turn, this forced local government to turn towards commercialisation and privatisation of basic services as a means of generating the revenue no longer provided by the national state.[18]

The logical result of these developments was a huge escalation in the costs of basic services and a concomitant increase in the use of cost-recovery mechanisms such as water and electricity cut-offs that hit poor people the most. By the turn of the century, millions of poor South Africans had experienced cut-offs and evictions.[19] Similarly, the state’s capitalist-friendly land policies, which ensured that apartheid land ownership patterns remained virtually intact, meant that South Africa's long-suffering rural population continued to taste the bitter fruits of labour exploitation and landlessness.

It was the cumulative result of such experiences, combined with the failure of the main traditional forces of the left, as well as civic structures like SANCO, to lead and sustain counter-mobilisations and active class resistance that eventually saw the rise of new social movements and community organisations, at first in the main urban centres and then also in some rural areas.[20]

From their inception, these “new” left forces that have emerged outside of and often in opposition to the traditional left within the Alliance have been largely ignored, treated with thinly disguised contempt and regularly, actively opposed by the SACP and COSATU. As these social movements and community organisations have been subjected to a consistent state campaign of rhetorical vitriol and physical assaults, the various leaderships of the SACP, COSATU and other ANC civil society allies have often given tacit support to the state's actions and have conversely failed seriously to politically support and to provide material solidarity to their struggles against the state's service delivery policies and its suppression of political dissent.[21]

Even during the numerous public and private sector workers’ strikes that have taken place over the last several years, there has been little, if any, effort by COSATU and the SACP around linking workers' struggles for better wages and working conditions with those of poor communities for basic services and freedom of expression.

This rupture within the South African left is unfortunate, but not surprising. The hostage politics of the Alliance left, now defined more than ever by the embrace of individuals and factions, has virtually institutionalised this rupture precisely because the positioning of the SACP and COSATU demands that they play the role of organisational and ideological gatekeepers of left forces in South Africa. The practical goal of this is to control the “anti-ANC” politics and mobilisations of the new movements, so as to ensure that these social forces do not pose any ongoing or future threat to the dominance of the self-anointed left forces in the ANC and the state.

This is the main reason why the SACP and COSATU find the “new left” movements to be a problem, instead of seeing them as allies. While the traditional left appears to have no problem in throwing all sorts of nasty epithets at certain current and ex-ANC leaders and “class forces” (the shrillness and vitriol of which the supposedly non-Alliance “ultra left” has never approached), it becomes a problem when the new movements and organisations go straight to the real political reasons behind their anger with the ANC and the policies it implements through the state. It is precisely because the SACP and COSATU refuse to cut the umbilical ties to the ANC that they must adopt this wholly contradictory position.

It has been such an organisational and ideological gate-keeping role that has ensured that the possibilities of a united left capable of fundamentally contesting the state as well as broader power relations within society as a whole have remained stillborn. Despite their radical rhetoric, COSATU and the SACP have been at pains to stress that their opposition to state policies and critiques of the ANC itself are “not challenging the ANC” and have nothing to do with those of the new movements and their struggles.[22] They have also actively sought to prevent their rank-and file structures and members from working with such movements. As one former leading COSATU figure has politely tried to rationalise it: “Where we differ with our friends in the social movements is that we prefer to engage [the state].”[23]

Dinga Sikwebu, a former leading official in one of COSATU’s largest unions also states the case:

The leadership and conservative layers [in COSATU] have something to preserve in the existing status quo … COSATU gains something from the ANC — status and all the other perks … whilst the ANC guarantees all those things, this relationship between the ANC and the union movements will always be there because they feed into each other … these [new social] movements threaten this political relationship.[24]

Despite the obvious organisational weaknesses and politically incipient nature of the new movements, they broadly represent those who are actively engaged in grassroots struggles in opposition to state policies and for the basic necessities of life and who pursue an independent, mass-based mobilisation as the only meaningful and realistic option for resisting global neoliberalism and planting the seeds for an alternative to existing political party politics. While these movements do not represent some kind of homogenous entity and while there has been (and continues to be) substantive organisational differences and political debates within their ranks, they have become inextricably bound together by the leveling content and common forms of the neoliberal onslaught.[25]

Strategic impasse

However, the new movements have their own Achilles’ heel. Even if differentially experienced, the combined characters and actions of both the traditional and new left in South Africa have produced the effective institutionalisation of a left anti-politics, grounded in an essentially reactive, issue-based and personality-driven strategic framework as the best means to confront capital, “engage” the state, mobilise “the masses” and transform societal relations under capitalism. While this kind of politics can and does provide an ongoing vehicle for left activism, it can only go so far. It is essentially a defensive politics and while degrees of such have been necessary, there is no ideological, political or organisational basis from which to move onto the offensive. As such, the South African left has been taken with continually fighting rearguard battles. This has, in turn, seriously obscured seeing and acting upon the possibilities for those implicitly anti-capitalist battles to give birth to more explicitly socialist politics, struggles and organisational forms that have the potential to contest capitalist power on a terrain and on terms that are not reflective of the demands and needs of capitalism itself, as well as to forge a lasting left unity.

The question that the South African left needs to ask honestly is whether or not it still believes in the possibilities of actually overthrowing capitalism. This is not a rhetorical question or a meaningless ideological litmus test. There is simply no subjective basis for claims to left or socialist politics and unity if the struggles that take place continue to be directed into a strategic cul-de-sac whereby, once a certain critical political “mass presence” has been achieved, the strategic focus becomes beating the capitalists at their own game and on a playing field tailored by and for, them (e.g., policy reforms or contesting elections). Just like the national liberation movements of the past, these tactics become, whether this is intentional or not, the strategy and any accompanying organisational form merely reflects the demands of this strategic choice.

On the other hand, the last several decades of left politics, in South Africa and globally, have also shown quite clearly that the strategic sureties of a classical vanguardism have failed, precisely because the presumed class consciousness to which such a politics strives has proven to be historically fundamentally flawed. For those in need of confirmation, we only have to look at the consistent crisis of socialism, of the working-class movement, that is now almost a century old. The present crisis of the South African left is much more than simply a question of the recent “collapse of communism”. At its core, it has to do with preconceived and prefigured notions of the “working class” itself and a parallel mode of strategic thinking that fetishises a stagiest conceptualisation of an ever-expanding productive base as the prerequisite for any fundamental change in sociopolitical relations beyond capitalism. In South Africa (as elsewhere) attempts merely to reconstruct the historically determined forms of vanguards — whether through accessing state power or through independent class struggle — have led and will continue to lead, straight into political and organisational sectarianism and ideological absolutism. Indeed, a key part of the present strategic impasse is that there is no ready-made historical form for a socialist politics grounded in a dominant strategic vision and framework such as existed with 19th century Marxism.

`Mass' versus `vanguard' party

In South Africa over the last several years, then, most of the left have tended to gravitate either towards an issue-based anti-politics (often strategically conceptualised as a struggle for “revolutionary reforms”) or to seek refuge in the arms of a classical vanguardist (and often entryist) politics. Despite verbal gymnastics to the contrary, left organisational forms and the resultant politics flowing from them have continued to be predominately conceived as, and cast in terms of, a “mass” versus “vanguard” framework. More specifically, the strategic debate emanating from these approaches has tended to revolve around the possible formation of a socialist “workers’ party” (usually perceived as being borne out of the womb of a COSATU and SACP break from the present ANC-led Alliance) and to a lesser extent, the efficacy of politically independent grassroots and community struggles entering the realm of electoral politics as a means to contest the capitalist policies of the present South African state.

The problem here is that an unnecessary strategic dichotomy has been erected between anti-capitalist mass struggle and action and the need and necessity for a socialist organisational form to give politically strategic expression to such struggles. Historically, the South African left has adopted a strategic framework that has assumed the sociopolitical character of those struggles and thus, the “consciousness” of those doing the struggling as the basis for a politically predetermined organisational form. The all too evident result has been a marked failure to capture the political imagination of those most oppressed under capitalism and thus generally to limit consequent struggle to narrowly defined understandings of production and micro-material related socio-political relations.

A way forward?

We are now in an epoch in South Africa and in many other places, globally, in which the struggles of the broad working class are increasingly and necessarily framed by an anti-capitalist spirit, if not content. While there continues to be both activist and popular confusion over what exactly is and is not capitalist, it is quite clear that concrete struggles against, for example, privatisation of the public sector and for socialised provision of housing, water, electricity, basic foodstuffs and land are aimed at contesting capitalist relations of ownership and distribution. Given that there also continues to be much confusion over what constitutes socialism, it is all the more imperative for those who consider themselves socialist, not only to catalyse such struggles through practical involvement and varying forms of political impetus, but to win the idea, politically, that what is desperately needed and indeed demanded is the recognition and expression of such struggles as socialist. Meeting this challenge provides a potential means for overcoming the strategic divide previously mentioned, forging a practical unity among left forces and moving beyond what has become a somewhat stale and misdirected debate in South Africa around a “workers’ party”.

What is important in this regard is how the left understands the political character and organisational sustainability of the present ANC-COSATU-SACP alliance and thus the best strategic approach to moving left politics and class struggle forward. It should now be more than clear that the Alliance “ties that bind” are progressively weakening, despite what might appear as their strengthening as a result of the last ANC conference in Polokwane. This is the case precisely because the political basis for the Alliance is itself being undermined by the strategic primacy of the ANC state's pursuit of a deracialised capitalism (euphemistically referred to as the ``national democratic revolution'').

The very basis, historically, for the maintenance of a sustainable political alliance between unions and ostensibly progressive political parties that have hold of state power is the parallel maintenance of both a politically malleable union leadership and expanding benefits for a meaningful threshold of unionised workers. On both counts, the situation of such an alliance in the South African context is taking serious strain and there is absolutely no reason to believe that this will be turned around simply because of a leadership change within the ANC or within the state itself. The ANC and the state it politically controls have already gone about as far as they can — given their strategic and ideological commitment to a deracialised capitalism framed by an overtly neoliberal macroeconomic policy framework — in relation to acceding to the basic demands of COSATU, the SACP and organised labour in general (e.g., the Labour Relations Act or the Basic Conditions of Employment Act). In fact, even those gains are now under serious threat of erosion.

What is also happening is that all but the most highly paid unionised workers' gains are being seriously off-set by the erosive effects of the state's capitalist-friendly policies on workers’ and their families’ basic socioeconomic existence. This is particularly being felt in relation to the collective impact of privatisation and corporatisation of key state enterprises, public-sector provision of basic socioeconomic services and needs such as water and electricity, and the increasingly negative impacts of rising fuel and food prices.

Nonetheless, trade unionism is engrained, politics is not. What is therefore called for is a strategy that essentially forces unionised workers to respond politically to intensifying mass struggles from the very grassroots communities that they are also part of. As long as the struggles which are presently driven by the new left remain in the political shadows, unionised workers will feel little pressure to translate their own dissatisfaction with the political “delivery” of the ANC-led alliance into serious consideration of left political and organisational alternatives. What is needed is the (re-)politicisation of unionised workers through the parallel socialist politicisation and organisation of those struggles. Here then is the nexus of a political strategy that can potentially achieve what endless ideological debates, union congress resolutions, limited workers' strikes and marches, as well as the pre-figured formation of another political entity, can never achieve i.e., a clear socialist strategy and practical unity in action of broad working-class forces.

What makes absolute strategic sense in relation to COSATU in particular and organised workers generally is for left intellectuals and activists to focus political debate and catalyse practical class struggles at the very point where the political connection of workers to the ANC and the state is at its weakest and most vulnerable. Unlike the position that has been taken by much of the left outside the Alliance, this should not be understood to simply mean that the key political task is to call for and hasten a COSATU and SACP break from the ANC in order to form a “workers’ party”. This approach plays right into the hands of the capitalists in the ANC, allowing them to successfully use the organisational appeal of historic loyalties and the political appeal of an unfinished national democratic revolution. It also mistakes political form for class content grounded in and arising from sustained mass and implicitly anti-capitalist struggles, not simply that of organised (and predominantly industrial) workers.

A more meaningful strategic approach does not hinge itself on whether there is a break in the alliance — it rather begins to lay the political and organisational groundwork for a new kind of left politics. It can do so by strategically linking the ongoing struggles of various layers of urban and rural poor communities with the struggles of organised workers and in so doing exposing the political and strategic sterility of an approach that seeks to transform capitalism and an ANC that has embedded and championed it, within South Africa’s post-apartheid political economy. This can be a major step forward to a real and meaningful left unity (as opposed to the present state of false unity based on spurious claims to a de-classed, common national democratic revolution) both among and between organised workers and those struggling at the grassroots and community level.

In reference to such a potential unity, the left must also jettison what has been a very narrowly defined understanding of who constitutes a “worker”. Workers are not confined to those who have formal employment (or, more specifically, who belong to a union), but also the millions of those who have worked in the “formal” economy (whether that be as industrial or agricultural workers) and continue to work in the “informal” survival economy (often erroneously classified as “unemployed”, as if recognition of their work depends on “formal” measurement). To this must also be added the large numbers of domestic workers — not in the sense simply of those working for predominately white South African households, but all those — mainly women — who are just as much workers (reproductive labour) and who are not politically and organisationally treated as such.

The left must also put forward the absolute necessity of a strategic link between the revolutionary potential and power of those combined struggles and the forging of an organisational form that can directly and organically represent the political possibilities of extending ground-level struggles into the popular propagation of socialist demands on a broader, societal level. The more immediate struggle thus requires engaging in a battle of ideas, not merely through intellectual endeavour but through exposing the inherent weaknesses of present — or reworked — forms of left political organisation (and this includes trade unionism) to act as the fulcrum for a renewed and relevant left politics.

In more overt programmatic terms, the basis for such a strategic approach should not be centred primarily around the need to provide electoral opposition, although this must always remain a tactical option. The point of charting a new left strategy is not simply to oppose the ANC on the electoral terrain that they now occupy in a still dominant but increasingly shaky position. Rather, it is to stake out that political and organisational terrain that they continue to ignore and take for granted — i.e., the mass of the broad working class in both urban and rural areas — as the grounding for a new organisational form for a socialist politics that has the potential both to unify practical left struggles and to contest on its own terms existent class power.

For the left in South Africa to move out of its present crisis will require a politically qualitative and organisationally quantitative advancement of the very real struggles of the broad working class, not predominately in the intellectual and organisational capabilities of select individuals or in “capturing the heart and soul” of the ANC. The advance can be extended by taking the idea of and debate around new forms of left political organisation directly into the heat of practical struggles taking place and that are only going to get more intense. In this way there becomes the possibility that organised workers and those in social movements and community organisations, through their own self-activity, combined with certain degrees of intellectual and activist support, can prepare the ground for what can be a meaningful path to political and ideological independence. In other words, the objective conditions themselves are umbilically linked to the subjective will (and capacity) to sustain and intensify contemporary mass-based, anti-capitalist struggle.[26]

Any serious left cannot but reject the philosophical, material and class basis for the capitalist political economy being pursued by the ANC-run state. The main task is not to force the ANC to review what it is that they have fully committed themselves towards, although the struggle for practical reforms that impact positively on the daily lives of the majority must always form part of the tactical arsenal of a meaningful left. It is then our strategic responsibility to work towards a political alternative that emanates from and is grounded in the ongoing and linked struggles of the mass of organised workers and poor against the impact and consequences of capitalist neoliberalism and those who manage and control the institutional and systemic means for its continuation. Not to undertake this task is to condemn class struggle and left politics in South Africa to the realm of cyclical mitigation and crisis.

[Dale McKinley is an independent writer, lecturer and researcher, and an activist within the Anti-Privatisation Forum as well as the Social Movements Indaba.This article first appearedin Mediations Journal, volume 24, no.1. Itis posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission.]


1. There are numerous studies and reports conducted over the last several years that confirm this state of affairs. For example, see South Africa Survey 2006, compiled by the Institute for a Democratic South Africa and reported in “Growing inequality in South Africa”, Independent Online, April 4, 2006 <>; Statistics South Africa <>; Republic of South Africa, Taylor Committee, Transforming the Present – Protecting the Future: Report of the Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive System of Social Security for South Africa (Pretoria: Government Printer, 2002); South African Cities Network, State of the Cities Report 2004 (South Africa: South African Cities Network, 2004); University of South Africa, Projection of Future Economic and Sociopolitical Trends in South Africa up to 2025: Based on the Views of Business Leaders and Economists (Pretoria: Bureau of Market Research, 2005); United Nations Development Programme, South Africa Human Development Report 2003: The Challenge of Sustainable Development in South Africa: Unlocking the People’s Creativity (Cape Town: Oxford U.P., 2003).

2. See Dale T. McKinley, “South Africa’s Third Local Government Elections and the Institutionalisation of ‘Low-Intensity’ Neo-Liberal Democracy”, Outside the Ballot Box: Preconditions for Elections in Southern Africa 2005/6, ed. Jeanette Minnie (Johannesburg: Media Institute of Southern Africa, 2006) 149-63.

3. The positive achievements of the new social movements and community organisations should, however, be noted. Over the last ten years or so these have included: placing mass struggles back onto the political and organisational agenda of the left that has involved a partial reclamation of the history and principles of liberation struggle; providing critical opposition to both the ideas and practice of the neoliberal policies of the ANC government and contributing to a deepening of the class and ideological divisions with the ANC-led Alliance; helping to create a renewed social, political and moral consciousness and solidarity around the most basic needs of life, both domestically and internationally.

4. Throughout the late 1980s and first two years of the 1990s, the ANC had consistently kept to its line that, once in power, it would nationalise key sectors of the economy, would set about a radical redistribution of land and wealth and would ensure that the black working class became the main ``driver''/controller of a ``people’s'' state dedicated to popular/participatory democracy. The ANC's adoption, in 1994, of the fairly radical, social-democratic Reconstruction and Development Programme as its electoral platform served to further fuel such expectations. For a detailed exposition of the fundamentals of the RDP, see National Institute for Economic Policy, “From RDP to GEAR”, Research Paper Series (Johannesburg: NIEP, 1996).

5. Richard Ballard, Adam Habib and Imraan Valodia, “Social Movements in South Africa: Promoting Crisis or Creating Stability?”, in The Development Decade?: Economic and SocialChange in South Africa 1994-2004, ed. Vishnu Padayachee (Cape Town, HSRC Press, 2006) 397.

6. See Dale T. McKinley, The ANC and the Liberation Struggle: A Critical Political Biography (London, Pluto Press, 1997).

7. Ballard, “Social Movements in South Africa” 397.

8. Stephen Greenberg and Nhlanhla Ndlovu, “Civil Society Relationships”, Mobilising for Change: New Social Movements in South Africa, Development Update 5.2 (2004): 32-33.

9. For an overview of the varying contents and consequences flowing from this reality since 1994, see Dale T. McKinley, “The Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Tripartite Alliance Since 1994”, in Rethinking the Labour Movement in the “New South Africa”, ed. Tom Bramble and Franco Barchiesi (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishers, 2003) 43-61.

10. These points are taken mainly from Greenberg and Ndlovu, “Civil Society Relationships” 30-31.

11. Such arguments have been vigorously proffered by successive leaders of both COSATU and the SACP ever since the early 1990s. While references are far too numerous to list here, most of the key documents and speeches that have been made public over the last ten years or so can be found on the respective websites of the two organisations: Congress of South African Trade Unions <> and South African Communist Party <>.

12. This acceptance has not been without its vocal critics within both COSATU and the SACP. For a detailed treatment of debate and opposition within the Alliance since 1994, see Dale T. McKinley, “Democracy, Power and Patronage: Debate and Opposition within the ANC and Tripartite Alliance since 1994”, in Opposition and Democracy in South Africa, ed. Roger Southall (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2001) 183-206.

13. Raenette Taljaard, “Minor Shift in ANC’s Thinking”, The Star, July 2, 2007. The Democratic Alliance (DA) is the official political party opposition to the ANC in national parliament (having the second-largest electoral representation at a national level). The DA was born out of the coming together of the former Democratic Party (historically representative of the interest of English-speaking white “liberals” and white capital) and remnants of the post-apartheid National Party (which, prior to 1994 was the all-white ruling party).

14. In 1945, then ANC President Dr. A.B. Xuma stated: “ … it is of less importance to us whether capitalism is smashed or not. It is of greater importance to us that while capitalism exists, we must fight and struggle to get our full share and benefit from the system.” Quoted in Robert Fine and Denis Davis, Beyond Apartheid: Labour and Liberation in South Africa (Johannesburg, Ravan Press, 1990) 52.

15. Blade Nzimande, “The Policy Year: Reclaiming and Defending the Revolutionary Values and Traditions of Our Movement”, Umsebenzi Online 6.1 (January 2007) <>.

16. Nzimande, “The Policy Year.”

17. There are numerous studies and reports conducted over the last several years that confirm this state of affairs. For example, see those sources cited above in endnote 1.

18. See David McDonald, “The Bell Tolls for Thee: Cost Recovery, Cut Offs and the Affordability of Municipal Services in South Africa: Special Report of the Municipal Services Project”, Municiple Services Project (2000) <>.

19. See David McDonald and Leila Smith, “Privatising Cape Town”, Occasional Papers Series 7 (Johannesburg: Municipal Services Project, 2002), and Edward Cottle, “The Failure of Sanitation and Water Delivery and the Cholera Outbreak”, Development Update 4.1 (2003): 141-66.

20. Some of the main movements and organisations borne out of this period include: The Concerned Citizens Forum in Durban (which no longer exists but which spawned numerous community organisations that remain alive and active); the Anti-Privatisation Forum in Johannesburg (which continues to expand and now has nearly 30 affiliate community organisations); the Landless People's Movement (a national movement which went through a divisive split with its original NGO partner — the National Land Committee — and has since weakened but remains active in some rural and peri-urban areas); Jubilee South Africa (a national movement centred around debt, reparations and social justice issues, but which also experienced a split in its ranks in 2005/2006 which has since resulted in the existence of both Jubilee South Africa and a new formation — Umzabalazo we Jubilee); the Anti-Eviction Campaign based in Cape Town; and Abalahli base Mjondolo (a movement of shack dwellers mainly in and around Durban which has begun to link up to other shack-dweller organisations in other parts of the country).

21. The most public expressions of the ANC's evident contempt for the new movements and their struggles was an ANC statement in 2002, that accused them of being an “ultra left … waging a counter-revolutionary struggle against the ANC and our democratic government”, and of siding with the “bourgeoisie and its supporters.” [See ANC, Political Education Unit, “Contribution to the NEC/NWC Response to the Cronin Interviews on the Issue of Neo-liberalism”, internal ANC paper, (Sept. 2002)]. President Mbeki waded in soon thereafter by claiming publicly that “this ultra-left works to implant itself within our ranks … it hopes to capture control of our movement and transform it into an instrument for the realisation of its objectives.” [See Thabo Mbeki, “Statement of the President of the ANC, Thabo Mbeki, at the ANC Policy Conference”, Kempton Park, 20 Sept. 2002, African National Congress Homepage <>. Since the World Summit on Sutainable Development (WSSD) in 2002, hundreds of community activists have been arrested, jailed and several tortured. See Simon Kimani, ed., The Right to Dissent (Johannesburg: The Freedom of Expression Institute, 2003).

22. COSATU, “Response to Sunday Independent Article”, media statement, 7 August 2005, Communist University <>.

23. Quoted in Ballard, “Social Movements in South Africa” 249.

24. Quoted in Tom Bramble and Franco Barchiesi, “Pressing Challenges Facing the South African Labour Movement: An Interview with John Appolis and Dinga Sikwebu”, Rethinking the Labour Movement in the “New South Africa”, ed. Tom Bramble and Franco Barchiesi (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishers, 2003) 224.

25. For a more detailed exposition of this argument see John Apollis, “The Political Significance of August 31st”, Khanya Journal 2 (Dec. 2002): 5-9.

26. These and other arguments are contained in a paper I presented to the 2008 COSATU National Political Education School entitled, “Towards a Socialist Strategy and Left Unity in South Africa.”

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sat, 07/25/2009 - 18:37


SOUTH AFRICA: Violent protests "worrying but not surprising"

Photo: Tebogo Letsie/IRIN
Protesters demanding improved services turned their anger to foreigners in 2008
JOHANNESBURG, 23 July 2009 (IRIN) - Protesters have again brought violence to township streets throughout South Africa over state failure to deliver on longstanding promises of housing and social services for all, but the discontent and frustration run much deeper.

In the depths of an unusually cold winter, the poor, feeling increasingly marginalized economically, socially and politically, and the government seemingly unwilling to listen, let alone act, are seeing protest as the only viable alternative.

"It's like violence is the only thing the government listens to," Adele Kirsten, executive director of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), told IRIN.

"This is worrying but not surprising," Kirsten said. Service delivery backlogs and related protests had long been common in South Africa, but the sudden surge since the beginning of July and the high levels of violence had been exceptional.

By 23 July the media had reported widespread violent protests in the provinces of Mpumalanga, Gauteng, North West and Western Cape over poor access to housing, electricity, water and health care.

Although the country has made some progress in improving housing and access to utilities like clean water, hundreds of thousands of people still live in abject poverty in vast shantytowns, and many expressed their anger and disappointment in clashes with police, burning tyres and throwing stones at passing vehicles.

An inherited problem is still a problem

The election in April of President Jacob Zuma - hailed as 'a man of the people' - brought "high levels of expectation and excitement", and the popular hope was that Zuma and the African National Congress (ANC), which has held power since 1994, would now "translate rhetoric into practice", so the poor would find representation and sympathy for their plight, Kirsten said.

''It's like violence is the only thing the government listens to''
But many voters, like Vusi Mthembe, who lives in Thokoza, a dusty township about 50km east of Johannesburg and the site of recent violent protests, have run out of patience. "We vote for this and then nothing – no toilet, no running water. It seems as if they are cheating us," he told IRIN.

Community-level government officials, often viewed as self-serving and inherently corrupt, have left much undone; people have felt excluded from political decision-making, their predicament unheard, their needs unmet.

"Before the election you see the councillors; after the election they just vanish. They promise us something and thereafter disappear; there is no one to talk to about what is going on here [where we live]," Mthembe said.

Loren Landau, Director of the Forced Migration Studies Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand, commented: "Where councillors are afraid to visit the communities they represent, and members of parliament (MPs) are chosen by the ANC's executive committee with little popular consultation, it is little wonder that people resort to violence to draw attention to their concerns."

A vicious circle

In Landau's view, "What's going on now reflects two governance challenges that have gone unaddressed for too long: the first is less about service delivery than about managing expectations, and encouraging people to express their grievances (legitimate or otherwise) peacefully through community or political institutions."

The second concerned the treatment of non-nationals in contentious communities, and a growing fear that violent protesters would increasingly target foreigners, often blamed for "stealing" jobs, women and houses.

The xenophobic violence that swept through South Africa in 2008 - killing at least 62 people and displacing 100,000 others - would return if nothing was done to address its root causes.

"Many people will say we learned no lessons from last year's violence. I would disagree. What we have learned is that you can assault, extort, rob, or murder non-nationals without facing any consequences," Landau warned. Xenophobic incidents occurred during July 2009 in the town of Balfour, Mpumalanga Province.

Official reaction to the latest violence has been disappointing, raising fears that protesting South Africans would become further alienated from their government: "So far there has been no clear political response to this," said CSVR's Kirsten.

Instead of real engagement, police fired rubber bullets and teargas in a crackdown on protesters, while politicians expressed scant tolerance for their grievances, perceived by many as legitimate.

"We cannot allow anybody to use illegal means to achieve their objectives. Anything that is done must be done within the law and constitution," the Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Sicelo Shiceka, said on Talk Radio 702, a local radio station.

This does not offer much hope to the cold and desperate people in Thokoza. Dudu Ntomo, who has spent most of her life in the shantytown, told IRIN: "It just goes round and round here, nothing changes - there's no toilet, no tap, no houses – this place is just not right."


Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sat, 07/25/2009 - 18:49


The Mercury
Eye on Civil Society column

ANC administration sows seeds of racial discord

July 22, 2009 Edition 1

Trevor Ngwane

SHOUTS of "Hamba khaya! Hamba uye eBombay!" (Go home! Go to Bombay!)
rang out, seemingly crystallising the mood of some of those at the
public meeting called by the Durban city fathers at the ICC on July 10.
The meeting concerned the impending closure of the Early Morning Market,
which is hotly contested by traders of all races.

Later that afternoon I returned to my Chatsworth flat a troubled person.
Most of my neighbours are of Indian descent, and since I moved here a
few months ago from Soweto, they have treated me like one of their own.

As a youngster growing up in Lamontville we had stone throwing
skirmishes across the Umlazi River with our Chatsworth neighbours. We
all laughed hard when, in a candid moment of neighbourly bonding, I told
that story to a group of Chatsworth youngsters. Everyone thought it was
a joke. But suddenly, thanks to the meeting I attended, it is no longer
a joke.

There was hostility and hatred among some of the people listening to the
mayor and the city manager explain why the market had to go.

It was naive for any of us to imagine that decades of racism would
simply disappear because our country has adopted a democratic
constitution that outlaws racial discrimination.

My socialist political convictions compel me to watch out for and to
combat racism with the same vigour in the new South Africa as I did in
the days of apartheid.

Roy Chetty, the chairman of the Early Morning Market Support Group, was
disturbed by the racism directed against people of Indian descent.


He objected to the decision by Mayor Obed Mlaba to speak only in
isiZulu, despite many traders not understanding fully what he was saying
about an issue that concerns them directly.

The mayor opened his speech saying he assumed that as South Africans all
of us present should be able to understand isiZulu since it was after
all one of the 11 official languages. But since not everyone knows
isiZulu, Mlaba's message contained a provocative sub-text: if you don't
understand isiZulu this might not be your meeting.

Even when translation was later provided for the other speakers it left
a lot to be desired. The translation from Isizulu to English was
selective. A lot was left out by the translator, either because he
didn't like translating travesty or the intention was to keep English
speakers ignorant about what was being said.

If you understood isiZulu the message was crystal clear. Sometimes it
was stated outright, other times it was oblique, implied or
idiomatically expressed. The message? The Indians are a problem.

Despite city manager Michael Sutcliffe's cogent Power Point
presentation, many people left the ICC thinking that the main social
benefit of getting rid of the market was getting rid of the Indians and
that the proposed mall would provide business opportunities to
long-denied Africans. (In reality, it will be chain stores of
multinational corporations who will take the biggest mall locations.)

Councillor Majola, who was chairing the meeting, quoted an old "ANC
strategy and tactics document" stating that the struggle was about
liberating blacks in general and Africans in particular. A senior city
official was less restrained. "Kufanele sibakhiphe iqatha emlonyeni" (we
must remove the piece of meat from their mouths).

Given South Africa's past, the accusations of racism and exploitation
levelled at some elements within the Indian merchant class are valid.

Capitalism continues unabated in South Africa and where there is
capitalism there is exploitation and oppression. Yet this should not be

One thing that has struck me about Durban is the widespread anti-Indian
feeling among many Africans.

As one worker complained to me, recently: "The Indians and the
makwerekwere will run this country." Makwerekwere is the extremely
derogatory - and deadly - term used for Africans who originate outside
of South Africa.

But ordinary working class people are not born racist or xenophobic.
These ideas are entrenched by the system.

Political and business leaders sometimes peddle racist ideas. But
ideology is not just words, it is also practice. When people are forced
to compete over crumbs, when the only way to go up is to push someone
else down, then don't be surprised when anti-social attitudes abound.

When people are victimised or denied economic opportunities because of
their race or the perceived machinations of a racially defined cabal we
can expect racist attitudes. Towards the end of his life the American
black power leader Malcolm X, who fought racism by calling for black
separatism, realised the futility of this approach.


Two wrongs don't make a right. As a devout Muslim Malcolm met white
Muslims for the first time in his pilgrimage to Mecca and returned a
changed man, espousing class rather than race strategy to rid the world
of injustice and inequality.

Nelson Mandela was exemplary in embracing his racist enemies as fellow
human beings. What he failed to realise was that a system designed to
make the rich richer and the poor poorer invariably breeds racism,
sexism and other forms of oppression. In his long road to freedom he
took a short cut - he fought racism but ducked the fight against its
true source: the economic system of exploitation.

This is the trap the eThekwini Municipality is creating for itself. By
deploying capitalist forces to solve the Warwick Junction hubbub of
urbanisation, they will be forced to attack the many in favour of the
few. They seem to be doing that with their ill-conceived plan to destroy
the livelihoods of hundreds of people associated with the market.

The 1949 Durban anti-Indian race riot left 142 people dead. In May 2008
the xenophobic attacks left 62 dead.

The ANC administration in Durban should refrain from sowing dragon's
teeth as they appeared to be doing at the meeting. In their eagerness to
win the argument, they retraced their steps away from South Africa's
non-racial vision. Respect and fairness should be accorded to everyone,
irrespective of country of origin or historical origins of our ancestors.

# Trevor Ngwane is a masters student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal
Centre for Civil Society.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sat, 07/25/2009 - 22:37


Richard Pithouse, Business Day, Johannesburg, 23 July 2009

Du Noon, Diepsloot, Dinokana, Khayelitsha, KwaZakhele, Masiphumelele, Lindelani, Piet Retief and Samora Machel. We are back, after a brief lull during the election, to road blockades, burnt-out police cars and the whole sorry mess of tear gas, stun grenades and mass arrests. Already this month, a girl has been shot in the head in KwaZakhele, three men have been shot dead in Piet Retief, and a man from Khayelitsha is in a critical condition.

There are many countries where a single death at the hands of the police can tear apart the contract by which the people accept the authority of the state. But this is not Greece. Here the lives of the black poor count for something between very little and nothing. When the fate of protesters killed or wounded by the police makes it into the elite public sphere, they are generally not even named.

The African National Congress (ANC) has responded to the new surge in popular protest with the same patrician incomprehension under Jacob Zuma as it did under Thabo Mbeki . It has not understood that people do not take to the streets against a police force as habitually brutal as ours without good cause. Government statements about the virtues of law and order, empty rhetoric about its willingness to engage, and threats to ensure zero tolerance of “anarchy” only compound the distance between the state and the faction of its people engaged in open rebellion.

Any state confronted with popular defiance has two choices — repression or engagement. If it wishes to avoid shooting its people as an ordinary administrative matter, the first step towards engaging with popular defiance is to understand the dissonance between popular experience and popular morality that puts people at odds with the state.

A key barrier towards elite understanding of the five-year hydra-like urban rebellion is that protests are more or less uniformly labelled as “service delivery protests”. This label is well suited to those elites who are attracted to the technocratic fantasy of a smooth and post-political developmental space in which experts engineer rational development solutions from above. Once all protests are automatically understood to be about a demand for “service delivery” they can be safely understood as a demand for more efficiency from the current development model rather than any kind of challenge to that model. Of course, many protests have been organised around demands for services within the current development paradigm and so there certainly are instances in which the term has value. But the reason why the automatic use of the term “service delivery protest” obscures more than it illuminates is that protests are a direct challenge to the post-apartheid development model.

Disputes around housing are the chief cause of popular friction with the state. The state tends to reduce the urban crisis, of which the housing shortage is one symptom, to a simple question of a housing backlog and to measure progress via the number of houses or “housing opportunities” it “delivers” . But one of the most common reasons for protests is outright rejection of forced removals from well-located shacks to peripheral housing developments or “transit camps”. Another is the denial or active removal of basic services from shack settlements to persuade people to accept relocation. Moreover, to make its targets for “housing delivery” more manageable, the state often, against its own law and policy, provides houses only for shack owners, resulting in shack renters being illegally left homeless when “development comes”.

It is therefore hardly helpful to assume that protests against forced removals and housing developments that leave people homeless are a demand for more efficient “delivery”. On the contrary, these protests are much more fruitfully understood as a demand for a more inclusive mode of development, in the double sense of including poor people in the cities and of including all poor people in development projects.

If the state actually engaged with any seriousness with the people to whom it has promised to “deliver services”, these kinds of problems could be resolved. But the reality is that the state very often imposes development projects on people without any kind of meaningful engagement. One reason for this is the pressure to meet “delivery targets” quickly — a pressure that was greatly worsened by the ludicrous and dangerously denialist fantasy of former housing minister Lindiwe Sisulu that shacks could be “eradicated by 2014”.

Another reason why the state systematically fails to engage with poor people is that when it does negotiate, it tends to substitute ward councillors and their committees, as well as local branch executive committees of the ANC, for the communities actually affected by development projects. But the fact is that in many wards the councillors and local party elites represent the interests of local elites, who often have very different interests to poor communities. Moreover, it’s entirely typical for these local elites to seize control of key aspects of development projects, such as the awarding of tenders and the allocation of houses, for their own political and pecuniary gain. It is not at all unusual for ward councillors and allied local elites to threaten their grassroots critics with violence. Ward councillors are often able to order the local police to arrest critics on spurious charges.

It is hardly surprising that ward councillors are a key target of popular protests.

Once a community has realised that their local councillor is hostile to their interests, there are often no viable alternatives for engaging with the state. Attempts at making use of official public participation channels generally fail to get any further than a solid wall of bureaucratic contempt in which everyone is permanently in a meeting. Polite demands for attention are frequently responded to as if they were outrageous. Outright contempt of the “know your place” variety is common. In the unlikely event that representatives from a poor community are able to access a politician higher up than their ward councillor, they are most likely to be sent back to their councillor. There is a very real sense in which we have already developed a sort of caste system in which the poor are simply unworthy of engaging with politicians on the basis of equality.

If development was negotiated directly, openly and honestly with the people who it affects rather than with consultants bent on technocratic solutions, and ward councillors bent on personal and political advantage, things would take a little longer but their outcomes would be far more inclusive and far more to people’s liking. If the ANC is serious about democracy, it should aim to subordinate the local state to the inevitably time-consuming, complex and contested mediation of the poor communities that need it most, rather than the often predatory aspirations of local political elites.

The heart of the moral economy behind the protest is a firm conviction that the poor are people who also count in our society. For some, this means that every citizen counts and one way of realising this is by turning on people seen as non-citizens. For others, everyone, documented or not, counts. But for as long as the state, in its actual practices, does not affirm the dignity of poor people by consulting them about their own future and including them in the material development of our collective future, the rebellion will continue.

Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 07/26/2009 - 10:13


JOHANNESBURG, July 24 - South African President Jacob Zuma said police
will move swiftly to crack down on rioters after violent protests
erupted this week over poor services and jobs.

Zuma told businessmen late on Thursday that although the government
acknowledged problems with delivering basic services, looting,
violence and the destruction of property cannot be justified.

The crisis is an early test for Zuma, who took office in May after
pledging to do more to help the poor. Financial woes in Africa’s
biggest economy have limited his ability to carry out that main plank
of his party’s election manifesto.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas on Wednesday at township
rioters calling for the removal of African National Congress local
officials who they accuse of corruption. Scores of protesters have
been arrested.

”There can be no justification for violence, looting and destruction
of property or attacks on foreign nationals residing in our country,”
Zuma said.

”The law enforcement agencies will continue to act swiftly and to take
action against all who break the law. They have our full support as
they carry out their mandate to maintain law and order in our

The protests come as the government faces pressure from workers
threatening strikes to back demands for higher wages.

A fuel sector union agreed to an improved 9.5 percent wage offer on
Thursday but warned it may yet strike in sympathy with paper and
chemical workers who downed tools this week.

Council workers are threatening to stay at home from Monday, action
that could keep tens of thousands of local government employees at
home, crippling the public sector. Gold and coal unions are
considering a pay offer. If they reject it stoppages will hit some of
the world’s biggest mines.

Zuma said economic conditions could make this year’s wage talks more

”Due to the current economic conditions, these negotiations may be
more difficult this year. Employers and workers must negotiate in good
faith and should be prepared to understand each other’s positions,” he

Police said calm had returned to Siyathemba township, southeast of
Johannesburg, after four days of protests. Violence had spread to
other townships around Johannesburg.

The scenes were reminiscent of attacks on foreigners last year that
killed 62 people, and dented South Africa’s image less than a year
before it hosts the soccer World Cup.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Wed, 10/21/2009 - 19:36


Oct 21 2009 10:16AM

‘SACP currently a party in crisis’

Previous Image of Next


THE SA Communist Party was facing a “fundamental crisis”, making the debate around the building of a “new Left” strong and valid, says former SACP spokesperson Mazibuko Jara.

Jara, who is still a member of the SACP, yesterday questioned whether the idea of a “Left politics” that could potentially win demands, change people’s lives and provide people with an idea of alternatives could survive the “to and fro battle” within the tripartite alliance.

Jara was speaking at the Dispatch Dialogues this week, co- hosted by Rhodes University and Amandla. The question being asked was whether South Africa needed a new Left party. “Yes,” was the unequivocal answer emerging from the dialogue. But building a new Left was going to be an enormous challenge.

Jara said the SACP is, once again, in a “Polokwane moment”, where there was talk of an alliance crisis followed by denials in the media. He said the “Polokwane moment” had been about a “grievance politics” that had taken politics away from the people and “put the politics of politicians” at the centre.

“To what extent can we really mobilise people away from grievance politics that has the effect of demobilising?”

He said the debate had become a “very difficult one” for those in the SACP as there was “no political or democratic space” within the party for it. He dismissed the possibility that the SACP could become a force that could “democratise the ANC” from within or lead to an ANC committed to the poor. The Left needed to recognise that the future of the country would “not be rosy” if there was not a “Left politics that was credible, democratic and based among the people”.

Former SACP Gauteng provincial secretary Vishwas Satgar, who emphasised that he was no longer a member of the Communist Party, was also harsh about the direction the SACP had taken. He said debate had been “consciously spiked” within the increasingly bureaucratic party. “Today the SACP is not a communist party in my view but has degenerated into a faction inside the ANC – especially post-Polokwane.”

However, he warned that a new Left should not be built around and against the ANC but rather on “positives” and an “alternative programmatic proposition”.

Jara added that a key necessity for defining a new Left would be a critique of the “socially conservative nature” of SA society. He said issues such as the rise of un- elected chiefs and retrogressive notions of womanhood, were all problematic notions being reinforced by the State. “A Left that does not speak to the idea of progressive and democratic values is a Left that raises problems of authoritarian populism we are seeing today,” he warned.

This particular dialogue, held in Grahamstown, was dedicated to the memory of Daily Dispatch political reporter Msimelelo Njwabane, who died suddenly in September, aged just 28. A moment of silence was observed for Njwabane. - By ADRIENNE CARLISLE