People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 46

November 23, 2008


Developments in South Africa

R Arun Kumar

THE South African Communist Party (SACP) organised a 'Red October' campaign last month focussing on two main areas: the building of street committees and ensuring mass mobilisation to actively and effectively participate in local governance. This campaign followed two months of intense preparations where 'Red Forums' were convened through the length and breadth of the country. These forums were used as springboards for building these street, village and block committees. The party had used these forums to explain the policy priorities that were agreed at the Alliance Summit held in May this year and to prepare the cadre to 'fight for decent work and sustainable livelihoods, against crime, for prioritisation of health and education, and rural development, including accelerating land and agrarian transformation for food production and security.' Apart from these, another important agenda was to explain the real agenda and character of the '2008 dissidents' and prepare for the elections in 2009 to ensure an overwhelming ANC electoral victory.

The SACP is participating in these elections in support of the African National Congress (ANC) within the context of a 'reconfigured alliance' where matters relating to 'election manifesto and other related issues' are dealt with in a 'completely differently fashion from the past.' The SACP has exerted its cadre to carry out the tasks with due seriousness stating that 'what we may be dealing with here is the new face of counter-revolution in South Africa.' To clearly understand what these really mean and the recent developments in South Africa, a little recap of the history is needed.


The ANC assumed power in 1994, successfully concluding decades of its heroic struggle against apartheid and colonialism. People were mobilised in this struggle, inspired by the 'Freedom Charter' that was adopted in 1955. It proclaimed that “South Africa belonged to all who lived in it, black and white, and that no government could justly claim authority unless it was based on the will of all the people….. The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry were to be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole….. Restrictions of land ownership on a racial basis were to be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who worked it so as to banish famine and land hunger. All would have the right to occupy land wherever they choose…...” It also promised to the people the right to work, equal pay, free education and medical care. It ended by stating that for “these freedoms we will fight for, side by side, throughout our lives, until we have won our liberty.”
The new 'Constitution of South Africa' included in its text many of the demands called for in the Freedom Charter. Nearly all the enumerated concerns regarding the equality of races and languages were directly addressed in the constitution. Importantly, it does not contain provisions for the nationalisation of industry or redistribution of land, both of which were specifically outlined in the charter. Though significant and considerable progress was achieved post-apartheid, a lot more remains to be done.

The economic policies pursued were characterised by rapid opening up and liberalisation through drastic tariff reductions and the dropping of exchange controls. Impressing foreign investors became more important than developing a national industrial policy. In spite of terming the economic policies as Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy, formal employment continued to decline and the country's wealth remained unevenly distributed along racial lines. Although economic growth has improved, GEAR, with its focus on stringent monetary and fiscal targets, failed in the goal of growth based on job creation, meeting people's needs, poverty reduction and a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Market, rather than popular mobilisation and engagement, became the new motive forces of change. It was believed that the “invisible hand of millions of willing-sellers and willing-buyers” would drive change. The SACP termed as the '1996 Project’ these disastrous economic policies that fundamentally differ from the 'freedom charter.’ They have termed this a result of “class alliance between sections of global and domestic capital, a certain cadre in the state, together with the emergent sections of the black bourgeoisie.” A new technocratic elite that 'managed' the capitalist economy, rather than grassroots level activists, became the new leading cadre of the ANC.

And the key alliance was no longer the Tripartite (ANC, SACP, COSATU), but the compact between established white capital and an emerging, ANC-aligned black capitalist stratum. This project was highly dependent on the control of the ANC and the state in order to achieve its objectives.


To achieve its aim, the 1996 project also sought to marginalise the allies, and often the ANC itself, through key strategic policy decisions by the government. This was an attempt by the capitalist class to stamp their authority on the post-colonial state and pursue policies suited to their interest.

To carry out this project substantial changes are necessary in the functioning of the government and the ANC. It required an aloof, behind-the-closed-doors style as opposed to the democratic traditions of the ANC. The ANC has to be converted into a 'ruling party' from a broad platform providing space to all the sections committed to the 'freedom charter.' So also is the need to blunt its capacity to mobilise and conduct movements on the people’s causes. All this led to the demobilisation of the ANC, a dysfunctional Alliance, serious divisions within the organisation and a movement enmeshed in corruption, scandals and factionalism based not on ideology, but on spats over tenders and deals.

This project pursued by a section of the leadership of ANC and the government created discontent among the people and ANC members, not to speak of its trusted allies viz the SACP and COSATU. They began to register their dissent and resist these attempts that were regarded as a blow to the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). The working class took its ideological and mass offensive to where it mattered most --- in the local and mass structures of the alliance, while not abandoning its independence and its own campaigns. All these resulted in the 'eruption' of dissatisfaction at the ANC's 2005 National General Council, and subsequently in its conference in Polokwane. Polokwane marked a significant revolt by the ANC grassroots membership against the 1996 class project.

In December 2007, the African National Congress (ANC) held its 52nd conference --- the Polokwane conference --- where in the organisational polls the incumbent president Thabo Mbeki was defeated by Jacob Zuma. This conference was in many ways a truly historic conference. Apart from demonstrating the best of the ANC`s democratic traditions in practice, it was also marked by a radical change in its leadership and adopted many progressive policies recommended by its mid-2007 policy conference. Polokwane marked the severe dislodging, albeit not total defeat, of the 1996 Project inside the ANC. It also marks another failed attempt of the capitalist class to break the alliance between the ANC, SACP and COSATU and to wean away the ANC from the path of NDR and the promises made in the 'Freedom Charter.' In fact, it had been commented that the ANC needed a Polokwane to consolidate and deepen a radical national democratic revolution.

The many progressive policies adopted at Polokwane and the creation of a foundation for a more united Alliance generated fears among the opposition parties, the bourgeoisie and their ideologues. They started terming it as the 'communist takeover' of the ANC and the government. This is because it had called for building working class and people’s power to drive a developmental agenda for the benefit of the overwhelming majority of people. At a practical level, the 52nd ANC conference called for the revival of street, area and village level committees to deal with the crimes, something that converges with the SACP`s 2008 Programme of Action. This shift is a result of the struggles and active role played by the working class and the common people.

The bourgeoisie, which had failed to prevent this change in Polokwane though it used all the power at its means, was unable to reconcile with this assertion of the power of the working class. To undermine popular power and reclaim its pre-Polokwane role, it is indulging in all sorts of abominable tactics. State power, media, judiciary --- all have been used to discredit the newly elected leadership of ANC at Polokwane. Related to this offensive have been attempts to redefine relationship between the ANC and the state. The ANC was being daily, often patronisingly, reminded that as a ruling party it must operate above itself, above its own structures, including a president who must be above the ANC; conveniently forgetting that it is the ANC that won the elections.


The section of the leadership in the government and ANC, loyal to the bourgeoisie and committed to the 1996 project, refused to change the policies according to the resolutions adopted in the Polokwane conference. In this process, they sought to overwrite the will of the people to serve the interests of their masters --- the capitalist class.

This created dangerous gaps between the ruling party and its deployed cadre in government. Disunity and factionalism worsened. There was no decisive and cohesive leadership being given by the government and the lack of a proper relationship and coordination with the Alliance. It therefore became a political imperative for the ANC that it was forced to recall Thabo Mbeki, the president of the government.

Stifled of space in the ANC and unable to pursue their agenda, the proponents of the 1996 Project began to hurl baseless accusations against the ANC as well as its alliance partners and tried to split the ANC. They decided to defy the internal democratic processes of the ANC by planning to leave it because they failed to control it.

Thus this splinter group is nothing else other than the continuation of the objectives of the 1996 class project by other means, now that it has been severely weakened inside the ANC. The splinter group is an elite class that wanted control of the levers of the state, control and transformation of the ANC into an electoralist party, marginalisation of the allies and the ANC itself from key policy decisions in the state, and a shifting of real power away from the Alliance to the state. They were backed by powerful capitalist interests, especially in the financial sector. This is further vindicated by a report in the Times of South Africa:

Businessman Saki Macozoma’s wife has emerged as one of the key organisers behind the ANC splinter group led by former defence minister Mosiuoa “Terror” Lekota. Yolisa Macozoma is among a number of high-profile businesswomen supporting the new political formation, known as the Congress of the People (Cope). One such meeting, held at the Southern Sun Hotel in Sandton this week, was attended by more than 100 businesswomen and professionals who intend establishing a women’s league for the Cope.”


In fact, these people haven't got any concern for the masses except that they wanted to use the masses only to vote in order to ascend to state power. In order to mask their naked class outlook, they are trying to project themselves as the champions of the 'Freedom Charter' and sow seeds of confusion among the people. The SACP had called upon the working class as a whole to defend the unity of the ANC and the alliance from this renewed offensive of the 1996 class project. It said, “An attack on the unity of the ANC and the Alliance is an attack on the working class. These splinter forces must therefore feel the full might of the organised working class.”

Together with this, the working class has another task at its hands. As stated by Vavi, general secretary of the COSATU, the resolutions, which called for “a radical shift” in government policies, are “under threat.” Vavi accused key institutions and leaders in the government, including the treasury and the Reserve Bank, of pursuing “conservative agendas” that undermined the policy shift mandated at Polokwane. “The main beneficiaries of the current status quo want to hear Zuma say there will be no policy changes in the economy.” Unless the working class is vigilant and constantly applies pressure, neither the resolutions of the Polokwane conference will be implemented nor the conditions that gave rise to the 1996 class project would be eliminated.

Nelson Mandela had warned, way back in June 1956, that “a mere appraisal of a document, however dynamic its provisions or content, might be academic and valueless unless we consciously and conscientiously create the conditions necessary for its realisation. To be fruitful, such appraisal must be closely linked up with the vital question of whether we have in South African society the requisite social forces that are capable of fighting for the realisation of the charter and whether in fact these forces are being mobilised and conditioned for this principal task.”