The general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) Zwelinzima Vavi delivered his speech to the SACP national congress on Friday, and while the famously red Vavi took the opportunity to congratulate the party for surviving the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall, he also warned that the ANC could lose power if it didn’t attend to the needs of the poorest more urgently.
President Zuma also spoke, in a maladroit manner that has become all-too common these days, and warned the party that merely speaking about influencing the ANC didn’t mean that such influence was guaranteed.
It was Vavi’s speech that was the interesting one. His premise is that we need to deepen a restructuring of the economy, if not an outright injection of socialism, in order level the playing field in the country. This needs to happen now. Otherwise the poor will simply vote for someone else. Or worse. He came armed with a shopping list of statistics to prove his point.
“Income inequality has increased across the board. In 1995, the Gini coefficient stood at 0.64 but it had increased to 0.68 in 2008. The share of employees in national income was 56% in 1995 but it had declined to 51% in 2009, i.e. there has been reverse redistribution from the poor to the rich,” Vavi said. “The top 10% of the rich receive 33 times the income earned by the bottom 10% in 2000. This gap is likely to have worsened, given the fall in the share of employees in national income and the global economic crisis of 2008 wherein in South African we lost 1.17 million jobs.
“And inequalities in income and wealth ownership are still racialised. An average African man earns in the region of R2,400 per month, whilst an average white man earns around R19 000, a racial income gap of roughly R16,800. Black women are yet to be liberated from the triple oppression. While most white women earn an average of R9,600 per month, African women earn R1,200, a racial income gap of R8,400. 56% of whites earn more than R6,000 per month whereas 81% of Africans earn less than R6 000 per month,” he said.
There is broad consensus in the tripartite alliance that things can’t continue as they are, according to Vavi, and also broad agreement that a big jump to the left is needed to change the country for the better. However, a speech made by ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe a few weeks ago would suggest otherwise – but more on that later.
Vavi repeated his quote about the ANC losing power if it doesn’t watch out.
“It would be naive of us to think that a national liberation movement that presides over neoliberal capitalism will always enjoy the confidence of the very same people who are at the receiving end of neoliberalism and capitalism’s destructive impact,” Vavi said.
“The biggest challenge facing the ANC and the rest of the democratic forces is not a lack of ideas but our failure to implement what has been agreed and to have the political will to implement what we know is politically and morally correct.
“The ANC, its allies and the rest of the democratic forces, have for many years been pointing out the current weaknesses and have taken bold resolutions on what is to be done. Yet our track record in doing anything about the identified weaknesses leaves much to be desired. This has not been a problem of leadership alone but a problem of both those who lead and those who are led. We lack political will to implement our own decisions, in particular when those decisions are against powerful interests in the organisation,” Vavi said.
SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande said a similar thing in his own speech on Thursday. Both he and Vavi are actually making a two-pronged criticism – they are both saying that the ANC’s extreme inertia in service delivery and fulfilling its own objectives is destroying the ‘national democratic revolution’. It is something that has irritated both Cosatu and the SACP a great deal. They are also grumpy about the fact that at the Polokwane conference, there was a promise to shift to a more robustly state-driven economy. While there have been some moves to direct South Africa towards a developmental state, the hated “neo-liberal” economic policies haven’t been ditched.
Vavi warned that divisions between Cosatu and the SACP had to be contained and dealt with, because if the two organisations allowed rifts to occur within and between the two, it would spell “the end of the revolution”. His take on the bilateral held between the two organisations on the role of the general secretary of the SACP was different to Nzimande’s – things hadn’t been ironed out entirely. The federation does still object somewhat to Nzimande’s cabinet position.
“Cosatu was and is still raising the point that there must be a balance between the need to build a strong and independent SACP capable of providing leadership to the working class and the need for the communists to contest power and influence every sphere of transformation. This is the official Cosatu position and it is not a position of Numsa or any one of its affiliated unions,” Vavi said.
The party has been in talks about appointing several deputy general secretaries instead of just one in order to dilute the general secretary’s burden of responsibility.
Vavi also said that he did not like the SACP’s habit of attaching unsavoury labels to all who disagreed with it, especially from within the alliance. He said, “Our party must fight the temptation to slide into easy condemnation, sectarianism, and negative labelling of all progressive organisations, which it in fact needs to lead and mobilise against the capitalist system. The call we are making to you as communists, as the vanguard of the working class is a simple one: unify us, don’t divide us.”
President Zuma’s speech focused far more on the role that communists should play in the tripartite alliance. His speech was that of an ANC man, one who views the SACP as one ally among several. He didn’t exactly buy into the enormous importance that the communist party places upon itself in relation to the ANC. He said that the party can’t expect to have an allocated amount of influence if it is going to continue to sit on the outside of the ruling party and expect to shout in.
“You influence, you don’t talk about your influence. You are a loser if you announce your intention to influence others,” Zuma said.
What was entirely lacking in Zuma’s speech was any attempt to roll back or do damage control on Motlanthe’s speech delivered a few weeks ago, in which the deputy president said that the SACP needed sharper political education. In a later interview with the SABC, he said that as opposed to yesteryear’s cadres who were intellectually superior, today’s debates were characterised by fashionable rather than what could be used to mobilise the people.
“Does the ANC need the SACP? The answer is no,” Motlanthe said at the Harold Wolpe lecture, according to the SABC.
Both contentions can’t have gone down well among the communists, who are adamant that the ANC needs them and that they are the ‘vanguard’ of revolution.
And yet Zuma seems to have been perfectly happy to let the SACP deal with those comments as it sees fit. This, after the SACP endorsed his second term? Or maybe Zuma knows something we don’t about Motlanthe’s possibility of running against him in December. This could be a way of ensuring that the backlash against the deputy president does not stain him in any way.
We have two signals from Cosatu and the ANC that though the SACP might like to think that all has been sorted and all his hunky-dory now –as it did in its political report – there are still differences. And some of them are fundamental. Motlanthe himself will address an SACP fundraising dinner on Saturday in Durban. He’s unlikely to repeat his criticism word-for-word to the SACP’s face, but backpedalling too much will make him look a bit silly. We could very well see a very senior leader of the ruling party telling the SACP off at its own dinner. How fun would that be? DM
In other news...
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Watermelons were originally cultivated in Africa.