South Africa

South Africa, Politics

Op-Ed: Nothing new in ANC January 8 statement

The Steering Committee for the New Trade Union Federation responds to the ANC NEC January 8 non-statement, asserting that the statement affirms the committee’s view that South Africa is on autopilot with no leadership. By ZWELINZIMA VAVI.

We represent 59 unions working to create an independent, campaigning and democratic trade union federation on the March 24-26, 2017. We are responding to the ANC NEC January 8th statement precisely because the ANC is a governing party and its policies, actions and lack of actions will have a direct impact on our members, workers in general and South Africa. This January 8th statement is something we will engage as we seek common ground with government to address our concerns.

Overall, the statement is very good at outlining the history and the immense contribution of Oliver Tambo in building the ANC and in leading the liberation struggle of South Africa. The statement, however, falls short when it comes to talking about today and the future. It repeats statements and commitments that were made many times in the past without explaining why these were not implemented or taken forward. There is absolutely nothing new in the statement. In a way it affirms our view that South Africa is on autopilot with no leadership.

A prosperous South Africa’?

We reject the assertion made by the January 8 statement that South Africa “was making rapid strides in eradicating poverty, joblessness and inequality” but was apparently disrupted by the 2008 economic crisis. This is a blatant lie and amounts not only to intellectual dishonesty but actually seeks to pull wool over the eyes of the people. But, most worrying, this statement is a reflection of a movement that has not only run out of ideas but also has seriously stagnated and is in complete denial.

Unfortunately for the ANC, our people will no longer be fooled by these misleading statements as demonstrated by the mass stayaway in the August 2016 local government polls.

Yes, it is true that South Africa like all other countries in the world was impacted upon by the world’s deepest economic crisis. The truth of the matter though is that South Africa has been in a crisis before and after the 2008 crisis and has remained in this crisis despite the fact that many of the countries that were in the epicentre have moved out of the crisis.

The truth is that unemployment has been rising since the adoption of neoliberal policies such as privatisation and commodification of basic services and the inappropriate macroeconomic policy misnamed Growth, Employment and Redistribution in 1995 and 1996 respectively.

The truth is that according to the ILO, whereas South Africa was ranked 18th in the world in terms of worst unemployment, it deteriorated to 9th position in 2008 and 7th position in 2016.

We are worried that a governing party in denial is unlikely to work with us to find solutions to the crisis at hand. While the governing party embarks on the path of denialism, unemployment, poverty and inequalities continue to worsen – a jobs loss bloodbath is unfolding. The steel industry is being wiped out. The clothing industry has almost been decimated. The poultry industry is losing thousands of jobs and unless government wakes up and smells the coffee, it too will be decimated.

The governing party must look at the last quarter labour force survey and stop being on denial. While the ANC embarks on denialism in the light of its own stagnation, a staggering 9-million or 36.3% of our people are imprisoned in unemployment if we add in those who are deemed to have abandoned the search for jobs. Within this horrendous figure, women and young people are worst affected. A shocking 40.5% of women are unemployed today in our country.

All of these facts are not even mentioned by the ANC NEC January 8 mis-statement.

What are the solutions the ANC is offering South Africa?

If anyone was looking at concrete solutions from the much spoken about January 8 statement they will be extremely disappointed. The ANC has nothing to offer. The ANC moves from decrying low investment by the private sector without admitting that it has played a big role in getting the private sector to intensify its investment stake. The statement makes no mention that the economy lost a staggering R500-billion when the Gupta-inspired move to take over the Treasury took place on December 9, 2015. Suddenly the ANC drops a figure of 2.9% predicted growth without saying a word on how this will be achieved.

The statement is stubbornly refusing to accept that education must be decommodified and be made free, compulsory, dynamic and high quality as per the resolution of the 2012 ANC National Conference. Nothing is said about this commitment despite South Africa having been told that education shall be made free by 2014. Instead there is a drive to criminalise and delegitimise the struggles led by a united front of students under the banner “FeesMustFall”. Bonginkosi Khanyile has spent 105 days languishing in prison for leading these struggles. We demand his immediate and unconditional release.

The statement makes glowing points and brags about the fact that last year’s pass rate improved to 76.2%. The ANC NEC says nothing about the quality of our education or the progress we’re making to make our education compete with our peers in neighbouring states. The statement makes no mention that almost half of the students drop out before reaching Grade 12. The statement makes no mention of the fact that 91% of our schools are dysfunctional and that over 70% of all those passing matric are accounted for by 11% of schools.

The statement makes no mention that this entire crisis in the public education system does not affect the children of cabinet ministers, parliamentarians and the rich, as they are in private schools. The rich and those in the middle strata who can afford it are contracting out of public services including healthcare and security. The poor remain trapped in inferior public education, healthcare and even the security system.

The statement is mum on the staggering revelation by the Statistician-General, Pali Lehohla, that whereas in the 1980s there were one-and-a-half white students obtaining university degrees for every single black child; this worsened to six white students for every single black child.

The ANC then makes a rhetorical statement: “The ANC is committed to putting in place a decent and living wage for all.” The statement does not say how this will be achieved in the light of the record-breaking income inequalities. In the next sentences the ANC expresses happiness that there is a debate about the proposed insulting R3,500 as a national minimum wage. The statement goes further to make the most ridiculous claim that the proposed minimum wage “will reduce wage inequality”. The ANC NEC statement says nothing about the fact that SALDRU states that a family of five require R5,400 a month just to survive on the most basics of life. R3,500 will mean that about 60% of workers live below the minimum living level and therefore in poverty.

Just to demonstrate how out of touch the ANC is about the realities facing the poor, the statement goes further to speak in glowing terms about the fact that the manufacturing sector created 7,000 jobs in the first six months of 2016. What is 7,000 when unemployment has reached 9-million? The statement conveniently says nothing about what happened for the rest of the year in 2016 and before. Let’s remind the ANC leaders: the manufacturing sector was contributing more than 20% to the GDP in 1994 and it is now down to around 11-12%. There has been active de-industrialisation. South Africa is importing more than exporting, worsening our balance of payment crisis. We still do not produce (important) finished products and we export our raw materials. This is the structural crisis that the leadership won’t concede is moving our economy away from any realisation of a decent work agenda.

We support the call from the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) to government to save the poultry sector as job losses loom. Government has the necessary tools to protect the local poultry industry, which is currently experiencing massive losses due to low import tariffs, according to FAWU, which added that government should implement stricter anti-dumping duties. “We are surprised that government has thrown its hands in the air and is doing nothing.”

What we need in this country is decentralisation of the economy to ensure that people in rural areas also benefit from what is generally a very rich country. As long as our economy is concentrated in big cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth, our people will continue to migrate to these cities where they live as paupers.

The statement then refers to the 2012 Marikana tragedy. The statement makes no mention of the fact that 34 of the 44 mineworkers were killed in cold blood by the ANC government in less than five minutes. This was the first massacre by a democratic state of workers whose only sin was to withdraw their labour in support of their legitimate demands for a living wage. Government chose the side of the owners of production and through the barrel of the gun forced workers to go back to produce profits for the owners of mines who are mainly foreigners from the former colonial master countries. What a shame!

The statement then makes a claim that “our land reform and land redistribution programmes have shown measurable success”. Gosh, in which country do the ANC leaders live? Which planet? When last did they visit the small rural town to see the ravages of poverty, unemployment and want?

On state-owned enterprises, the statement makes a claim that the government is “putting in place initiatives such as the Presidential SOE Co-ordinating Council to ensure that all activities of the SOEs are aligned to the programme of government”. We have heard this over and over again since 2009. The reality is that almost every SOE remains in a deepening crisis, mired in corruption and mismanagement, as the Gupta family seeks to use most of them as milking cows. The statement does not make any commitment that this will be addressed or tell us practically how this will happen.

The statement then makes a commitment that the government is committed to expanding “nuclear energy at a pace and cost the country can afford”. The reality is that the government is ramming down our throats a nuclear programme that this economy cannot afford nor need. The government has ignored all advice from its own institutions as it rushes this programme through.

The government-funded Centre for Science and Industrial Research (CSIR) shows that if we went down the road of renewables, instead of nuclear, we would save between R40-billion and R60-billion a year. Government continues to deny the people of South Africa the space for a meaningful, transparent debate on the pros and cons of nuclear versus renewables. Eskom is going ahead at the moment with the Request for Information (RFI), another example of how government is forcing the nuclear deal down our people’s throats without proper assessment of what benefits the people of our country as a whole.

There has been no comparison in terms of the jobs that will be created by nuclear versus renewables on a long-term basis. We can also see the first signs of corruption as we see Shiva Uranium, owned by the Guptas, and President Zuma’s son being a major beneficiary of the nuclear deal. A major contract in the meantime has given a contract to another benefactor of President Zuma, Vivian Reddy – his son was given a mysterious tender award via the Free State province rather than a national procurement process, given that the nuclear plan of the President is, by default, a national plan. Many lies are being told in the media by government representatives and apologists to mislead our people.

The statement that the ANC is committed to fight corruption will be laughable if it was not sad. The very person reading this statement has been dodging 783 charges of fraud, corruption, and money laundering and racketeering for years.

In the statement the same old commitment to get government leaders to sign a performance agreement is repeated. There is no mention that performance agreements were signed in 2009 with Cabinet ministers. No one saw these performance agreements except the President and those who signed them. There has been no monitoring or enforcement we know of even though we never saw them. The ANC now repeats the same but promises action on local councillors. Only the ANC believes this will ever happen.

Furthermore, it is important to remind the current ANC leadership of what they ANC said at the height of the liberation struggle:

In our country — more than in any other part of the oppressed world — it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation.

Our drive towards national emancipation is therefore in a very real way bound up with economic emancipation. We have suffered more than just national humiliation. Our people are deprived of their due in the country’s wealth; their skills have been suppressed and poverty and starvation has been their life experience. The correction of these centuries-old economic injustices lies at the very core of our national aspirations. We do not underestimate the complexities which will face a people’s government during the transformation period nor the enormity of the problems of meeting economic needs of the mass of the oppressed people. But one thing is certain — in our land this cannot be effectively tackled unless the basic wealth and the basic resources are at the disposal of the people as a whole and are not manipulated by sections or individuals be they white or black.”

Tragically, this perspective, developed as part of the strategy and tactics of the ANC that originated in Morogoro in 1969, has been dumped. The ANC has abandoned its historic mission as a liberation movement. It has allowed the existing class interests to retain its positions. Under the 22 years of ANC rule, the economy has not been transformed, the white minority remain rich and well-off in general terms while the blacks are trapped in dehumanising poverty, landless and property-less.

We must emphasise that the ANC has abandoned this perspective together with the economic demands of the Freedom Charter. The real reason behind this wholesale selling out of the radical nationalist perspective is that some of the ANC leaders were won over by the perspective of White Monopoly Capital even before the Codesa negotiations. This snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat by White Monopoly Capital was cemented by the systematic co-option of leaders into the White Monopoly Capital boardrooms as BEE partners. That’s the reason why the ANC abandoned any talk of nationalisation or a complete and total ban of blood-sucking human traffickers – the labour brokers.

Last, the statement repeats the commitment to a radical economic transformation. The January 8 statement does not explain what this actually means. This is a vague commitment already made on countless occasions since 2012. Nothing radical has ever happened. This leadership has religiously stayed the cause to the neoliberal formula. In fact we are in the middle of biting austerity measures that have seen this government cutting services to the poor and spending in an unprecedented manner.

The massive reduction in the budget deficit from 4.1% in 2014 to 2.5% by 2017 will be achieved through real spending cuts, which can only cause the economy to stagnate further. The extent of the cut is seen in the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement: “The decline in ‘real growth’ of spending to 1.3% in 2015 (from 10.8% in 2009) is lower than the level of population growth, and therefore a real cut in spending, at a time when we have a desperate need to stimulate our economy, deliver services in under-serviced areas, and invest in employment creation. This is a disaster! We are following European/IMF austerity policies, which have only plunged Europe deeper into crisis, where we should be following the US stimulus approach which is leading to recovery of their economy.”

The government has already announced that it is culling 20,000 jobs in the public service as part of this strategy. We will resist this.

There is no talk or presentation of a timeline to the introduction of the National Health Insurance, a comprehensive social security system and social wage including a safe, affordable and reliable public transport system. There is no commitment to address apartheid spatial development, which has been reinforced in the past 22 years.

We have submitted a Section 77 notice to Nedlac on these and other areas. In this notice we have demanded the following remedial actions:

Remedial Action Required

  1. There must be demonstrable evidence of urgent attention being given to overhaul Trade and Industrial Policy to protect existing jobs, and to radically expand employment opportunities, particularly to deliver the infrastructure and services that our people need.
  2. There must be demonstrable evidence that steps are being taken to change the structure of the economy and put South Africa on a different growth path. The continued reliance on depleting mineral resources as well as the domination of the economy by the finance sector and heavy chemicals is not sustainable. So is the existence of large firms that close the space and keep the economy in white hands.
  3. There must a reversal of the Mid-Term Budget proposal to axe 25,000 public sector jobs, and the development of a Public Infrastructure Works Programme to deliver services and infrastructure that will lay the basis for a people-centred economy.

National Minimum Wage and Inappropriate Labour Reform – Remedial Actions Required

  1. The National Minimum Wage starting rate must be fixed at no less than would ?feed and support a family of four, and to be ascertained with reference to the actual needs of those in our poorest communities. It must be aligned with a universal benefits system to address poverty.
  2. The Government must ascertain without delay, after consultation with all social partners, but particularly with those affected most, what constitutes a national living wage, and this should serve as a benchmark for the commencement of negotiations between employers and trade unions.
  3. The Government must introduce legislation to cap executive pay and to reduce the gap between the lowest and highest so that in South Africa executive pay is at an average ratio to workers’ pay levels in comparable economies.
  4. The proposal to impose ballots on unions must be withdrawn, and Government must issue unambiguous instructions to employers to negotiate with unions, and to ensure that poverty pay, unhealthy and dangerous working conditions are eradicated, and that minimums established by bargaining councils and sectoral determinations and other official benchmarks are the starting point for engagements on pay and conditions across all sectors.

The Crisis in Education – Remedial Action Required

  1. There must be agreement on an implementation time frame for free, quality, decolonised and relevant tertiary education, and measures to address the indebtedness of students as a result of the failure of the National Student Loans Scheme.
  2. There must be immediate compliance with the court order to implement agreed norms and standards for schools’ infrastructure, and this must relate to a class size maximum of 25.
  3. There must be evidence of a plan to provide improved teacher training programmes, including in-service training programmes to address teaching methodology, course content and administration.
  4. ?There must be evidence of a plan to improve the quality of our education so that we can compete with the rest of the world when it comes to mathematics, science, reading, etc.

The least said about the SACP and Cosatu giving a ringing endorsement to the ANC NEC statement, which is nothing but a full-frontal assault on the workers and the poor, the better.


The new federation is committed to give workers a voice, which has been muzzled for many years. We are willing to engage the government on all of these issues. This would be our first prize. But if government will ignore us we will make them listen to the voices of workers in the streets across the length and breadth of our country. DM

Zwelinzima Vavi is the convener of the Steering Committee for the New Federation.

Photo: President Jacob Zuma walks with the ANC’s top six leaders to the front of the stage at the party’s 105th birthday celebrations at Orlando Stadium in Soweto. Photo: Greg Nicolson.


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