South Africa

As ANC claims back the Freedom Charter, new radicals remain ready

By Greg Nicolson 12 January 2015

Anger over the pace of transformation, the rise of the Economic Freedom Fighters and the fracturing of the trade union movement put leftist policies back on the agenda in 2014. As the ANC looks set to catch up with the rhetoric, GREG NICOLSON asks how the new radicals will respond and what they have planned for the year ahead.

As South Africa marks the 60-year anniversary of the Freedom Charter, President Jacob Zuma’s address to the ANC’s birthday bash on Saturday revolved around the document signed in 1955, venerated as the guiding light of transformation towards a more equal society. The Freedom Charter is part of the fabric of the ANC and regularly quoted by opponents who claim the party has forgotten the poor.

In increasing its leftist rhetoric, the ANC is responding to changes in 2014. The EFF took over 6% of the vote with few resources in its campaign of “radical and militant economic emancipation”. After withdrawing its support for the ANC, the country’s largest union, the National Union of Metalworkers SA (Numsa), led a coalition calling for socialism and denounced the government’s economic policies. In the wake of the Marikana massacre, the other headline-grabbing union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), stressed that the plight of miners 20 years into democracy has not significantly changed.

This year, the ANC is set to emphasise its commitment to the goals of the Freedom Charter and thus the long-held dreams of a democracy with equal opportunities for all to prosper. The positioning is likely in response to the threat from movements developing to the left of the party.

“The rhetorical commitment to the Freedom Charter by Mr. Zuma is nothing but an attempt to divert attention from the genuinely radical economic freedom programme and struggle of the EFF. This is done because the ANC has run out of ideas,” said acting EFF spokesperson Fana Mokoena in a statement over the weekend. (Mokoena has taken over the role while Mbuyiseni Ndlozi completes his PhD.)

“The fact that they are trying to reclaim the Freedom Charter proves our point that we have been making all along – that they’ve steered away from the principles of 1955,” he continued on Sunday in Johannesburg, where EFF leadership were meeting. “But that doesn’t change the fact that that organisation is not serious about the Freedom Charter. They have a blueprint of policy going forth that is called the NDP, and the NDP in its details is the direct opposite of the principles of the Freedom Charter. We don’t believe a word of what they say. This was populist propaganda,” said Mokoena on Zuma’s address on Saturday in Cape Town.

greg-the left reacts to Zuma's speech pillars

Photo: Members of the EFF Central Command Team sit in their Johannesburg offices in front of the party’s seven cardinal pillars. (Greg Nicolson)

In 2015 the EFF will continue to support protests – in December party leader Julius Malema called for continued land occupations and for members to occupy the mines – but the key focus will be on organisation building. “That is going to be our major [focus] because we want in 2016, when we go into local government elections… to be steady,” said Mokoena. According to City Press, the party has also threatened to disrupt the opening of Parliament if a prior session is not held for Zuma to answer questions on Nkandla.

The ANC has been criticised since adopting the National Development Plan (NDP) in 2012. Critics call it a betrayal of the party’s values and claim it won’t defeat poverty, inequality and unemployment. Supporters often ask whether the plan is being implemented while the party talks of “the second phase of the transition” and “radical economic transformation”, confusing its vision for South Africa.

On Sunday, Dinga Sikwebu, a National Working Committee member of the United Front and former Numsa education head, recalled the 25-year anniversary of the Freedom Charter and said that while EFF and Numsa have been criticising the ANC’s position on the document, it was unavoidable that Zuma would focus on it. It could have been “a bit fatal” if he ignored it, said Sikwebu. “I just felt there was nothing new,” he added, claiming Zuma’s comments on land and nationalisation repeat the recent party line. To Sikwebu, the speech was “like a warmed-up soup” and while the ANC is reclaiming the Freedom Charter early in 2015, its efforts won’t silence criticism from the left.

The United Front was established after Numsa resolved to bring socialist organisations together to overcome problems like inequality, corruption and poverty. Anticipated as the union’s political manifestation that would become a workers’ party, the organisation continues to define itself as a movement. In December, 348 delegates from 71 organisations met for a preparatory conference. Sikwebu said the National Working Committee will meet this week to ensure there are structures formed in all provinces and to look at campaigns over the next four months focusing on the national budget and education.

In its statement marking the new year, the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP), it said 2014 changed the political landscape and outlined what it called “the ANC’s slavish support for capitalism”. The party, which contested last year’s elections but failed to win a seat, outlined potential class battles for 2015: the public wage bill, funding of higher education, service delivery protests and changes in the trade union movement.

The EFF succeeded in exposing the ANC, said WASP, but failed to prove itself as an alternative. That mantle could go to Numsa’s United Front. WASP has participated in the United Front and remains hopeful, but the party expressed doubt over delays in launching, uncertainty over whether it will contest elections, and the “increasing dominance of the middle class and academic left” in the movement.

While the left continues to develop, Professor Susan Booysen from Wits University, who has written extensively on politics and the ANC, said even if the ruling had a phony claim to radicalism, even the EFF would not yet be able to do significant damage. “I don’t think the ANC is losing sleep about it,” she said on Sunday.

On Zuma’s speech, Booysen said it was “surprisingly un-radical”. “Apart from the Freedom Charter casing around this speech I didn’t see anything that was radical,” said the professor. Throughout the year, the 1955 document is likely to feature regularly and Booysen said the ANC would “speak Freedom Charter and do NDP”, trying to point out similarities where possible. DM

Photo: EFF Chairperson Dali Mpofu, Deputy President Floyd Shivambu and Secretary General Godrich Gardee talk in an EFF leadership meeting on Sunday in Johannesburg. (Greg Nicolson)

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