South Africa: Political balance shifts left -- though not enough to quell grassroots' anger

South African doctors on strike on May 29, 2009.

By Patrick Bond

June 13, 2009 -- With high-volume class strife heard in the rumbling of wage demands and the friction of township ``service delivery'' protests, rhetorical and real conflicts are bursting open in every nook and cranny of South Africa. The big splits in society are clearer now. Distracting internecine rivalries within the main left bloc have subsided. From 2005-09, the ruling African National Congress' huge wedge between camps allied to Thabo Mbeki and to the new president, Jacob Zuma, cleaved the ANC in two, but Zuma's troops have mostly flushed out the former's from the state and party.

So the bigger story now is the deep-rooted economic crisis. Government fiddling at the margins with Keynesian policies is not having any discernable impact. A lower interest rate -- down 4.5% from last year's peak (to around 10% prime with around 8% inflation) -- and a probable 5% state deficit/GDP ratio (last year's was a 0.5% surplus) are not nearly enough tinkering to stave off a serious depression.

Since the early 1990s, neoliberal policies have made South Africa economically more vulnerable than at any time since 1929. If five major currency crashes since 1996 were not evidence enough, the 6.4% quarterly GDP decline for early 2009 was the worst since 1984. By late 2008 it was apparent that labour would suffer vast retrenchments, with a 67% reduction in average work hours per factory worker over three months, the biggest decline since 1970.

The South African economy is likely to shed half a million jobs in 2009, especially in manufacturing and mining. January 2009 alone witnessed a 36% crash in new car sales and a 50% production cut, the worst ever recorded, according to the National Association of Auto Manufacturers. The anticipated rise in port activity has also reversed, with a 29% annualised fall in early 2009. House repossessions increased by 52% in early 2009 from a year earlier, as house prices are down 11% with much greater falls ahead. Most minerals are 70% off their peak of a year ago. The stock market lost nearly 50% last year.

Worse is to come because, thanks to the liberalisation of trade and finance, South Africa now has amongst the world's highest current account deficits and is the most risky emerging market, according to The Economist magazine. The reason: vast sums of money flooded out of South Africa to the new London financial headquarters of Anglo American, DeBeers, SABreweries-Miller, Old Mutual insurance, Invectec Bank, Liberty Life and DiData, as well as to portfolio investors who have profited from historically high post-apartheid interest rates.

Protests across South Africa in the past two weeks show how angry poor and working-class communities are. They included:

  • thousands of Durban's famous Warwick Junction vegetable market traders and their families threatened with eviction because of a mall catalysed by 2010 soccer World Cup construction;
  • 5000 protesters in the small town of Mashisheng fighting municipal corruption and non-delivery of services (one of whom, Jacob Malakane, was shot dead by police);
  • furious activists demanding houses and services in Johannesburg's Soweto and Orange Farm, Durban's Lamontville and Cape Town's Macassar Village, and the 20,000-strong Joe Slovo settlement (the latter defeated in a Constitutional Court battle last week);
  • striking public sector workers -- from doctors to firefighters to teachers to busdrivers to prison officials whose pay packets are unbearably small.

Shell defeated

In a rare victory far away that resonated strongly here, a campaign against Shell Oil in late May by the grassroots South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and NGO groundWork -- part of a global solidarity mobilisation ShellGuilty -- was rewarded in an out-of-court settlement for Ken Saro-Wiwa's family and other Ogonis: $15.5 million in reparations for the 1995 murder of the Nigerian pacifist poet-activist and eight of his comrades.

Although not more than a few hours' worth of Shell's record 2008 profits, the settlement nevertheless sets a principle for reparations and strengthens other challenges to corporate abuse moving through US courts via the Alien Tort Claims Act. One of these is a demand by South Africa's Khulumani Support Group and Jubilee SA -- including my close comrade Dennis Brutus -- that billions of apartheid-era profits/interest be repaid, a case that will be heard in New York in September.

Continuity or change?

Back home, South Africa's class struggle has been building with such ferocity that Zuma's impressive presidential victory earned the ANC only a day or so of honeymoon. After propelling Zuma to power with 65% of the vote, workers gained a few favourable cabinet appointments. South African Communist Party (SACP) general secretary Blade Nzimande and the party's leading economist, Rob Davies, are now ministers of higher education and trade/industry.

Other SACP notables are new deputy ministries -- Jeremy Cronin (transport) and Yunus Carrim (local government) -- although Zuma dropped from his cabinet the two Mbeki-era left-leaning ministers, Pallo Jordan (communications) and Zola Skweyiya (social welfare). Surprisingly, former deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge -- fired by Mbeki for opposing AIDS-denialist policies in 2007 and enthusiastically defended by the SACP and health activists -- was left off Zuma's list.

But without a deeper cadreship of leftists in the cabinet, it is likely that continuity not change will characterise macroeconomic policy. Overall economic ``planning'' -- a new ministerial position within the presidency -- is headed by the left's bête noire, Trevor Manuel. (Tellingly, when appointed to lead the ANC Department of Economic Planning 18 years ago, he renamed it the ``Department of Economic Policy''.)

Economic development strategy will be championed by a new minister, Ebrahim Patel, who was the Congress of South African Trade Unions's main advocate of ``corporatism'' (big government, big labour and big capital working together) within the National Economic Development and Labour Council, when he led the clothing and textile workers' union. The new finance minister is former tax commissioner Pravin Gordhan, a long-time Zuma associate with a Communist background but technocratic post-apartheid record.

Gordhan was a chemist by training, and knows the merits of the biggest policy push leftwards: national health insurance (NHI). The new health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, defended the Canadian-style single-payer plan in a June 5 speech to parliament: ``The Constitution, under the Bill of Rights Section 27, asserts that health is a right of every citizen and the NHI is going to be implemented to make sure that everybody exercises that right.''

As Motsoaledi pointed out, thanks to privatised health insurance, ``7 million people enjoy 5% of the GDP to take care of their health and a whopping 42 million will have to do with the remaining 3.5% of the GDP. If it is ideological to resolve this state of affairs, then I fully subscribe to such an ideology, for it cannot be that humanity is allowed to go on like this.''

Rising class struggle

With other extreme flashpoints of conflict exploding across the horizon -- dramatic job losses, state failure to keep wage promises, public transport restructuring and huge electricity price increases -- the rising class struggle could even shift economic policy.

On June 1, for example, 2000 metalworkers protested at the Reserve Bank for a large cut in interest rates (they got 1%). This was notable not only because it reflects confidence to move beyond the point of production, to the source of some of the troubles: ``sadomonetarist'' central bankers. In addition, it unveiled the arrogance of Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni, who simply refused to accept the metalworkers' memo of grievances.

Said National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) president Irvin Jim: ``Anyone who rejects peaceful demonstrations and refuses to accept petitions from the South African working class, who are experiencing extreme economic and social difficulties not of their own making, is inviting big trouble. You are warned.''

Metalworkers attacked both Mboweni and his long-time neoliberal ally Manuel, who on June 11 told the World Economic Forum's Cape Town session that capitalists should now stand up and fight the class war: ``When anybody in the trade unions opens their mouth, they run like hell. There's no counterweight in society, and if there's no counterweight, you can't have outcomes that actually advance and progress. If we're going to have cowards in business, we're not going to get very far.''

``Disgusting!'', replied NUMSA spokesperson Alex Mashilo. ``If Mr Manuel's utterances reflect the view and role of the national democratic state in relation to class struggle between labour and capital then the future of the working class and the poor is doomed.''

NUMSA had been run by a faction favourable to Mbeki until a few months ago, but now has turned sharply left. As a NUMSA congress last month declared, ``NUMSA and the federation [COSATU] must push and drive the perspective that another world is possible and that therefore the slogan `Socialism is the Future - Build it Now' must be concretised in concrete programs in the current period.''

Some such programs: ``Companies threatened with closure and still viable should be taken over by government or be assisted to form cooperatives. Key sectors producing strategic raw materials e.g. steel, oil, should be considered for nationalisation. Numsa must lead in the creation of `green jobs' and campaign for funding for cleaner vehicles.''

As the congress resolution concluded, ``Neo-liberalism has collapsed. NUMSA resolved to engage in all international platforms to win the fight against tendencies that continue to defend the Washington Consensus from being consigned to the dustbin of history... We will also be talking to the Left to hold an international Conference of the Left to develop alternatives to neo-liberal policies.''

Left unity?

Will this spirit heal historic splits that kept independent leftists outside the ANC Alliance from finding solidarity and participating in such conferences? (The last was in 1994, and only served to illustrate the two divergent paths, inside and outside the state.) One indication of residual tensions was the justifiable anger that South African trade unionists expressed towards the World Social Forum for holding its most recent international meeting in Morocco, at a time that country continues to occupy the Western Sahara.

To illustrate, there was a minor backlash against NUMSA's march on the Reserve Bank by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, who claimed the protest was ``unhelpful'' because ``the door is open''. Young Communist League president David Masondo replied, ``Yes, the door is open but the opening is very small for the working class to make an impact''. Mantashe should know because in 2004 he also led a delegation of several thousand mineworkers to the Reserve Bank unsuccessfully demanding rate cuts.


So the left continues banging on the door to open it yet wider. The South African police measured more than 30,000 ``gatherings'' -- 15 or more people in some form of protest, for which permission is typically applied for a week ahead of time -- from 2004-08. Of these, 10 per cent generated ``unrest''.

With 58,000 incidents, researchers in China registered more recent social protests per person than South Africa during the first quarter of 2009, for the first time, but I'm not aware of any other country that has been close. And those figures will only rise while the crisis deepens.

Can South Africa again guide internationalist reactions to capitalist overreach? In fighting against apartheid through 1994 and against patents on AIDS medicines from 1999-2003, local activists inspired millions in solidarity and defeated mighty opponents. Beyond the miracle of a half-dozen leftist governments in Latin America, the world seems ripe for socialist renewal from below, forged from labour-community unity.

[Patrick Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society. In the next New Left Review he authors a full analysis, which will be presented to the Centre for Social Justice and Socialist Project in Toronto on June 28, 2009, and the International Socialist Organization's San Francisco conference on July 4.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Mon, 06/22/2009 - 19:33


By Christelle Terreblanche

A senior SACP member has called for the party's general secretary Blade Nzimande and his deputy Jeremy Cronin to resign for advancing their careers at the expense of the organisation.

Vishwas Satgar, a former Gauteng SACP secretary, suggests in a new book that if the two do not resign, the party should formally split so that a new Left movement or party can emerge.

He said the "split" is caused by an Nzimande-Cronin "faction" that is pushing out everyone who does not agree with it on issues ranging from President Jacob Zuma to the squashing of debates on whether the party should contest the ANC in elections.

Nzimande, who has served as general-secretary since 1998, is now Minister of Higher Education and Training, and Cronin the Deputy Transport Minister.

Satgar's call is made against the backdrop of an incisive critique of the direction of the SACP since the mid-1990s in a just-released book New Frontiers for Socialism in the 21st Century, which he co-authored.

In a concluding chapter, he accuses Nzimande of leading "a faction" which "captured" the party through "divides and splits" - a tacit reference to a range of purges of top leaders over their lack of support for Zuma during the ANC's succession battle.

"The bottom line is that the SACP under the leadership of the Nzimande/Cronin faction have taken the SACP over the cliff; they have forced it to commit political suicide to suit their careerist ambitions", he writes.

"This is a betrayal of the working class and the poor."

Satgar told Weekend Argus that if the "faction" did not resign and continued to refuse to entertain alternative viewpoints, then the de facto split they "imposed" should be "formalised".

This would enable those who are being "forced out" to "re-found" the SACP as the "Democratic Communist Party of South Africa", or alternatively launch a "New People's Front" based on the United Democratic Front of the 1980s.

Satgar, who is on an organising committee for a Democratic Conference of the Left, was briefly suspended earlier this year along with four others for being associated with the event, which the SACP leadership alleged is aimed at setting up a rival party. He had clashes and a public spat with Nzimande in 2007. He is still a member of the party's Gauteng council, but has now come out boldly in favour of an alternative Democratic Left Historic Bloc, uniting left groups who are not comfortable with the SACP "under a new compass".

The current Gauteng secretary, Zico Tamela, is still under investigation for alleged involvement in the Left Conference, scheduled to be held within the next year.

The highly contentious issue of whether Cronin and Nzimande could continue serving both in the SACP leadership and the government is understood to be under discussion in some SACP provincial councils ahead of a national special SACP conference in December.

Acting Gauteng secretary Jacob Mamabolo, however, denied suggestions that the province has taken a position at its council meeting earlier this month that Nzimande and Cronin should step down.

    • This article was originally published on page 6 of Cape Argus on June 21, 2009

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 07/05/2009 - 10:17


S.Africa's ANC rejects call to nationalise mines

    * Reuters, Thursday July 2 2009

* ANC youth wing leader urges mines nationalisation
* Zuma facing pressure from allies on economic reform
By James Macharia
JOHANNESBURG, July 2 (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling ANC party dismissed a call from the party's youth wing on Thursday to nationalise the country's mining and manufacturing industries in the wake of the global financial crisis.
The African National Congress's Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe told Reuters nationalising mineral assets was not on the party's agenda, after its Youth League leader was quoted as pressing for state ownership.
Mantashe, a former mine workers leader who chairs the ANC's Communist Party ally, said nationalisation was not likely.
"There is no such plan," Mantashe told Reuters.
South Africa's new President Jacob Zuma has faced pressure from powerful trade union allies to introduce economic policy changes in the midst of a recession and widespread poverty.
The Sowetan newspaper quoted Julius Malema, president of the ANC's Youth League, as urging Zuma to fast-track implementation of the Freedom Charter agreed in 1955 by the ANC and its allies, comprising South Africans marginalised under apartheid.
The charter calls for equal rights and equal share of wealth with the country's white population.
Malema was quoted as saying the charter should be implemented even though this would be unpopular in the country.
"At this moment, when imperialist forces are accepting the failure of capitalism, we should ask whether the time has not arrived for the government to make sure that the state owns the mines and other means of production as called for in the freedom charter," the Sowetan quoted Malema as saying.
South Africa is the world's top source of platinum and No. 3 gold producer after China and the U.S., and the mining sector is subject to intense scrutiny by big foreign groups such as Anglo American Plc, South Africa's biggest mining player.
Its industrial sector is well developed, making it the biggest economy in Africa.
But the global crisis has rattled South Africa's economy, and the mining and manufacturing sectors have announced thousands of job cuts, adding to its high employment rate and triggering strike warnings by the country's powerful unions.
"The position of the ANC has not changed. This position was arrived at as part of resolutions agreed at out last congress. The resolutions of congress cannot be changed as we wish," Mantashe said, referring to resolutions agreed by the party's decision-making body at its December 2007 national conference.
Mantashe said the set of resolutions agreed then governed the party's polices.
Mantashe has said the ANC does plan to set up a state mining firm to rival existing mining firms to help create jobs.
In recent months, South Africa's Communist Party has called for the nationalisation of Sasol, the world's biggest maker of motor fuel from coal, saying it is a national asset. (Editing by James Jukwey)

    * © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

By: Amy Witherden
2nd July 2009

This podcast is brought to you by the BMG Group - South Africa's finest source of quality engineering components and expertise.
Thursday, July 2, 2009.
From Creamer Media in Johannesburg, I'm Amy Witherden.
Making headlines today:
The ruling African National Congress party has dismissed a call from the party's youth wing to nationalise the country's mining and manufacturing industries in the wake of the global financial crisis.
The ANC's secretary-general Gwede Mantashe says that nationalising mineral assets is not on the party's agenda, after Youth League leader Julius Malema was quoted as pressing for State ownership.
Mantashe, a former mineworkers leader who chairs the ANC's Communist Party ally, says that nationalisation is not likely.

Harmony Gold is in a position to give the provisionally liquidated Pamodzi Gold Free State a life of more than ten years, says Harmony CEO Graham Briggs.
What is needed in the Welkom area, he says, is a long-term profitable operation, and Harmony, which has already been selected as the preferred bidder for the stricken Pamodzi Gold Free State assets, is without doubt the company able to do that in a manner that national patrimony demands.
Briggs adds that Harmony is ideally positioned to take full advantage of the resuscitation of the President Steyn gold mine, because its own Free State assets surround those of Pamdozi Gold Free State, which is why they can be used to unlock all the synergies optimally.

COSATU backs ANCYL call for mine nationalisation
03 July 2009

Union federation notes that the Freedom Charter was affirmed at Polokwane as strategic goal of ANC

The Congress of South African Trade Unions supports the call of the ANC Youth League for the ANC government to start considering nationalisation of mines in line with the Freedom Charter.

This is totally in line with the resolution of the COSATU 9th National Congress in 2006 which called for "more equitable ownership, especially collective ownership through the state, worker control and co-ops, including through nationalisation of mining and other commanding heights of the economy as provided in the Freedom Charter".

The Freedom Charter was affirmed by ANC 52ND National Conference as the strategic goal of the ANC, and that document is categorical in affirming that "the Mineral Wealth beneath the soil, monopoly industries and banks should be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole". The government does therefore have a conference mandate for this policy.

The ANC YL makes the valid point that the nationalisation of the mines is particularly relevant in the light of the global financial crisis and the massive job losses in the mining sector.

COSATU endorses the Youth League's view the "the people of South Africa should share and benefit from South Africa's mineral wealth. It can never be correct that our communities, particularly next to mines, live in absolute poverty whilst the big mining corporations make big profits".

Statement issued by COSATU, July 3 2009

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Tue, 07/14/2009 - 16:35


Angry YCL wants to contest elections without ANC
06 July 2009
Kingdom Mabuza

THE Young Communist League wants the South African Communist Party to contest local government elections independent from the ANC in provinces where the party feels marginalised.

YCL chairperson David Masondo told Sowetan yesterday that members of the SACP, particularly in Free State, were treated with disrespect by the ANC.

“There is general disrespect of the SACP structures at provincial and regional levels. The ANC still treats us like an NGO. We are a political party with an interest in state power,” Masondo said.

He said the good relations at national level had not filtered down to provincial structures. He cited lack of consultation and the exclusion of SACP members from decision making processes.

Masondo said a comprehensive analysis was being done to determine SACP regions and branches whose members were treated with “arrogance”.

“We will put our case before the SACP’s central committee during the special conference in December that we should contest elections,” Masondo said.

The tension between the ANC and SACP in Free State surfaced after national elections when the ruling party reneged on an agreement to appoint SACP members into the Cabinet.

Free State Premier Ace Magashule’s leadership style was attacked as revealing “a leadership style hell-bent on steering this province on a dangerous path of recurring discords, divisions and deceit”.

SACP provincial secretary Phel Parkies confirmed their displeasure about the ANC’s behaviour.

“We felt betrayed after the ANC refused to implement the alliance agreement to appoint our members to the Cabinet, but generally the relationship remains strong.”

Parkies said should the SACP special conference resolve that party structures contest local government election, that decision would be implemented.

ANC spokesperson Teboho Sikisi said the party was not disturbed by Masondo’s opinion.

“That is not new. It was raised before by the Young Communist League. Our relationship with the SACP in the province is healthy.”