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21 August 2017 10:21 (South Africa)
Opinionista Phillip Dexter

The National Democratic Revolution: Rewind, Reform, Run and Hide – or Reboot?

  • Phillip Dexter
    phillip dexter.jpg
    Phillip Dexter
We stand at a another turning point or a crossroads in our country. In fact, this seems to happen every other week. Everything from “Zuma Must Go”, to the rise of the EFF, the proclaimed demise of Cosatu, to the presumed rise of the Workers Summit, the increase of overt racism, to the “Rhodes Must Fall”, point to a fractured, divided and directionless polity.

This is because the 1994 political, economic and social compact that was codified in our Constitution in 1996 has clearly run its course. The failure to transform the economy and the seeming inability of those in political office to address poverty, inequality and unemployment are a testament to this fact. This is not a failure, or the fault of any one political party. It’s a national failure. A failure of vision, of leadership and of responsibility. In some perverse way, it’s a coming of age.

We, as a country, have to now grow up; having been suckled and protected by the political class of revolutionary democrats that led the fight against apartheid and defeated it, we are soon to be on our own, as so many of them have passed on.

They, rightly so, solved the democratic challenge, but they did not solve the issues of land, property, and wealth and the lack thereof. The democratic breakthrough of 1994 kicked the issue of the economy into touch. With it went social justice. But the ball is back in play and the side that does not pick it up will lose.

This impasse or crisis in the National Democratic Revolution, depending on one’s view, is the real, underlying cause of our national woes. Corruption, Nkandla, the Spy Tapes, rising racism and the stagnant economy that perpetuates and reproduces unemployment, poverty and inequality, are symptoms, not causes. These issues point to the need to have a discussion about the current state we are in.

Neither the DA nor the EFF can lead such a discussion. The DA is essentially a neoconservative party, cloaked in the guise of some vague commitment to a liberalism of sorts, paternalistic at best and institutionally racist at worst. The EFF is a populist party, cloaked in the guise of a socialist one. Just as with previous breakaways from the ANC, such as COPE and the PAC, every ill the EFF cites of the liberation movement, it suffers from itself. The United Front is a loose coalition of socialists, issue-based campaigners and anarchists with a committed but small and relatively ineffectual base.

But what does that make the current ANC, SACP and Cosatu-led Alliance? It seems to be a movement that has truly lost its way. While it has a radical vision, has delivered democracy, a truly radical Constitution, ensured the delivery of basic services, social welfare and the beginnings of transformation, the weaknesses and failures of the current ANC leadership are undermining these gains and its proud track record. The current leaders of the ANC and its allies no longer lead society by mobilising the broadest range of forces. They lead by bombastic claims to legitimacy. The movement is no longer directed by the revolutionary national democrats and democratic socialists in the organisation, but by a small, acquisitive elite, with their material interests as the priority and patronage as the method of maintaining power in the organisation.

This leadership has made the programme of the movement, the National Democratic Revolution, literally grind to a halt. It has made the interests of the nation secondary to the interests of a few individuals and families, some of whom are not even South African. Xenophobia is unacceptable, but subordinating the national interest to foreign interests is usually called treason.

The balance of leaders, who hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, have their heads buried in the sand. They think that by deciding on postage stamps, cutting ribbons at 12 new houses, or by holding a prayer meeting, the world will change. It’s a shame, actually. Class formation has captured the leadership of the ANC and those who have not aligned themselves with the programme of the new elite simply sit quietly. The silence of the lambs.

There seem to be four responses to this situation in our organisation. One is to hark back nostalgically to the ANC of the past and try to wish it back into existence. As one sage political activist said, in the middle of the road crossing from the parliamentary precinct to a luxury hotel, “Comrades, that ANC you keep talking about, of Oliver Tambo, of Chris Hani, of Dora Tamana, face it! It’s gone! Its never coming back!” The politics of reminiscence.

The second response is to think that a process of reform of the movement can happen gradually, slowly educating cadres to become principled revolutionaries and relying on a kind of magic that will ensure that the values and principles that are written in the historical documents of our organisation will somehow enter these cadres by a process of osmosis. This in the current milieu of the sick, twisted, warped and perverse capitalism that is the product of colonialism and apartheid, and super-charged by globalisation. This is politics as ritual, a kind of magic, or muti.

The third response is to actually ignore the reality we are in and to blame all the ills we face on the opposition, on enemy agents, on anything and everything from pixies to the Illuminati! The “run-and-hide-from-reality” approach to politics.

The fourth view is to recognise the challenges we face as being part of the success of the NDR. This is about owning the changes we have brought about, in terms of race, class, gender, differently-abled people, youth and the elderly. It is a position that accepts that it is right that we have black millionaires, but wrong that we still have poverty. It accepts that it is right that we have universal social grants, but wrong that so many are still reliant on them. It accepts that while we have built many houses, these are not of the size and quality we want our people to live in. It is also a position that is uncompromising about corruption, nepotism, a poor work ethic and a two-tier society, with one world for the rich and another for the poor. It is a position that understands that this success, a success of the ANC, has created new challenges and that we need to grasp the fact that this means that we in the ANC have to radically change the way we organise, mobilise, debate, discuss, contest ideas, elections and practise governance.

The revolutionary approach to politics. We cannot leave revolution to the EFF, the UF or the DA. This is an ANC-led revolution. It must therefore lead it. To do so, it must be the first to proclaim that there are no holy cows. Even the ANC itself cannot be a holy cow.

Significantly, its not the Constitution that is the problem, even if there are crucial amendments to it that are required. The Constitution remains a radical, progressive and visionary document. The reality of our situation is that the poverty, inequality, unemployment, patriarchy, economic stagnation, poor governance, poor leadership, and many other negative features of our society, are a result of the failure to achieve the realisation of the society envisioned in the Constitution.

It is the timidity of leaders that is the problem here. For instance, nowhere in the Constitution does it prohibit nationalisation, land reform, a basic income grant, aggressive redistribution of wealth or compensation for the effects of apartheid itself, if those are what are required to transform our society in socio-economic terms. Those who say that we could never have achieved socio-economic transformation in 22 years are correct. But the achievements we have made, while these are definitely an improvement on the apartheid past, are simply not good enough. More, far-reaching progress could have been made.

Countries such as China and Brazil have shown this. So have Singapore, Korea and Taiwan. Each of us may have different views about why this is so. Those who never supported the ANC will blame it. Those who have lost power to others in the ANC will blame the current leadership. Those in power now will blame the former regime and even, bizarrely, “enemy agents”.

This blame game is really only relevant in an academic way. The key issue is, we are all responsible. We have had 26 years to change peoples lives in a substantial way and we have squandered the time. The former NP dragged the negotiations process out and encumbered us with a system of provincial government and protections for the ill-gotten gains of colonialism and apartheid that is costly, ineffective and is simply a further obstacle for taking government closer to the people. The ANC in government adopted policies that stifled growth and led to the exacerbation of the infrastructure backlog apartheid bequeathed us.

The current conservative opposition are now intent on ousting the ANC from power and will replace it with a neoconservative one that will further impoverish people and retard development and socio-economic justice. If the populists win, we will spiral down into a state of chaos, as the demands they are making will lead to increased social conflict.

The question we must ask is, what do we have to do to move beyond this crisis and restore hope and movement towards the society defined in our Constitution? Equally important is the manner in which we do this. The programme to achieve this vision must be radical, but also democratic, inclusive and responsible. As important is who leads us in this effort. We must identify, promote and support a calibre of leaders who don’t steal public money, who don’t lie to their people, who stand up for the poor, the weak, the exploited, and who fight for political, economic and social justice in a principled manner. The ANC must lead this national dialogue.

Instead, members of the ANC are currently being whipped into line by a leadership that is too caught up in trying to cover up for its own indiscretions, and to protect its continued incumbency, to see the damage being done. Even worse is the possibility that they may not even care about this damage. This they do, while sitting on the top of the pyramid, when the system has manifestly failed to allow the country to move forward.

There are three challenges the ANC leadership is failing to address that must be dealt with if we are to move beyond this current situation:

  1. The organisational and ideological incoherence of the organisation and its allies;
  2. The political reforms needed to ensure government is made more radical, more representative and more responsive; and,
  3. The economic policies that it has continued to implement, in spite of their obvious weaknesses and failures, and the lack of radical reform of the economy.

Some ideas for discussion

What are the game-changers that would ensure our country moved forward out of this quagmire? Among these are;

Organisational Reforms the ANC and its allies need to make

  • We cannot continue to operate with membership systems that are manipulated by those who have money. We need to set up a modern, effective administration that ensures integrity and fairness in the organisation itself.
  • The Alliance must debate the future form of its operation. If the SACP were still a truly radical party, it would be occupying the space the EFF does, in a constructive and responsible manner.
  • The ANC needs to consider allowing platforms in the party, for socialists, anarchists, liberals, etc, so that it does not keep losing members every time there is a disagreement.

Political Reforms

  • There must be a compulsory voting system. All citizens must have civic education, learn about the Constitution and must vote. Allowing the apathy we do is distorting the system and creating a cynicism about politics that will only benefit the wealthy and the powerful.
  • We need to discuss directly electing our president, premiers and mayors. These leaders must be accountable directly to the electorate. That way we can elect them or remove them and still vote for the party of our choice. Those parties that elect poor, useless or corrupt leaders will be punished by an electorate that has a say.
  • We need to have 50% elected constituency MPs, 50% elected constituency Members of Provincial Legislatures (but preferably Regional Councils) and as we have local councillors. These can be multi-member constituencies. This will promote accountability.
  • We need to reform the current provinces, metros, municipalities and have regions, city regions/metros and local municipalities. Provinces don’t work, are a cost with no benefit and these drain resources away from the places where people live, work and play. We will save money this way and bring government closer to the people.
  • The funding of political parties must be public and no private fundraising should be allowed if it is not disclosed. Such private funding should not be beyond the cost of paying for the deposit for an individual or a party to stand. Currently, money dictates who wins power. This must end. The people must choose their leaders, not the rich and the corrupt.

Race, class, gender, differently-abled people and youth

  • We need a new approach to dealing with the past and to building diversity, tolerance and social cohesion in the present. It must be an approach that focuses on all difference; race, class, gender, sexuality, different ability and youth, and empower all of these categories. The issue of race must not be elevated above others and must be given a time-specific period as a category. After that period, it must fall away as an official category.
  • An emphasis on class, gender, different abilities and youth will, by its very nature, prioritise black people, but without alienating racial minorities. This will eliminate an unnecessary distraction and source of conflict in our society.
  • Included in this approach must be compulsory, consistent, education and information-led campaigns to defeat racism, sexism, ageism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny and discrimination, and victimisation in all its forms.

Economic transformation

  • There are fundamental structural problems in the economy that have not been addressed. The debate around these tends to be focused in a polarised way that argues that either labour market reform that reduces the protection of workers and privatisation will solve all our ills, or, continuing on the path we are, will eventually bring us what we want. Unbridled capitalism has failed. State socialism has failed. We need to “democratise” and to socialise the economy, eliminate monopolies, make opportunities available to all, ensure nobody starves or has no income at all, and especially ensure that children are protected from the violence of poverty.
  • The reality is that monopoly capital, a bloated, wasteful public service, and entrenched patterns of ownership based on the historical injustices of the past are stifling growth, and are reproducing poverty, inequality and unemployment.
  • Underperforming, expensive, corrupt, protected and wasteful companies in both the private and the public sector, and government departments and municipalities, feed off the workers, the poor, the middle classes. These pay little to no tax, deliver at best mediocre services and yet make super profits, earning their executives obscene remuneration packages.
  • Ironically, the only way to deal with this issue is to ensure the very thing these hypocrites chant as a mantra, but just don’t apply to themselves – the market – is given a more prominent place. Markets are not ideological, these are mechanisms of distribution. It’s who owns the goods and services sold, and who has the income to buy them, that is an ideological issue. We must open up competition in all spheres of the economy and ensure that demand is what drives growth, profit and sustainability.
  • The energy sector must be opened up in a radical way for IPPs and the distribution grid must be run as a separate economic entity. Allowing each home to be both a producer and a consumer of renewable energy will reduce the reliance on carbon fuels, make nuclear energy obsolete and keep supply constant and prices affordable. There must be a time line for the elimination of all dirty fuels. This will save the environment, and create new industries and more opportunities.
  • All land should be owned by the state and leased to the users, on 99-year leases for residential land and on 25-year leases for commercial land. This will remove the land issue as an emotive one, make land for the benefit of all and remove the inequality created by allowing the historical land grabs and thefts of the past to remain unresolved.
  • In agriculture, promoting hemp, other new crops that need less water, small-scale agriculture and similar interventions are needed to shift our agricultural model from one that is based on traditional European agricultural models to ones that suit our environment. This will ensure sustainability and create more opportunities. No building should be permitted to be built in the city or surrounds without it having, for example, rooftop gardens or an equitable alternative, such as solar or wind power.
  • Mining has to be done in a more sustainable way. At the moment mining is very quickly transforming our country into a poisoned, arid wasteland.
  • ICT is too costly and consumers are being ripped off in this country by service providers. Wi-fi should be free for e-mails and WhatsApp and much cheaper for downloading and internet usage.
  • Manufacturing is constrained by the risk-averse nature of capital in our country. Even government entities, such as the IDC, NEF, SEFA and others, are more conservative than the private sector and don’t fund enough of enterprises that will change the economy and create jobs. Lets have a national venture capital fund that everyone invests R10 a month in.
  • Tourism is a major industry that is not being managed strategically to ensure we attract people to the country in the numbers needed to ensure growth in our economy. Part of the reason is pricing, but also crime and violence. These must be addressed for our own citizens as well as for the benefit of the tourism industry.
  • Employment must be created, at a basic, minimum wage for all. The expanded public works programme must be made accessible to everyone, to earn a stipend and do the construction, cleaning, security, caring, small-scale farming and other work that is needed to change this country. These few examples show that we can fundamentally change the way we do things, at no extra cost to the country, with political will and the mobilisation of our people.
  • Last but not least – the banks. These are the most exploitative, cynical, monopolies of all. Radical reform of this system, from the SARB down, is a priority.

Social/Public services

  • The poor public services, at ridiculous rates, are simply unacceptable. Education, healthcare, public transport, housing and similar services should be at a rate the poorest can afford– free. This will change our economy by including everyone in it. Performance management in the public services is cumbersome, ineffective and based on ridiculous neoliberal management models. It’s simple – work hard, be nice, get paid. If not, get another job.
  • Investment is needed on a massive scale to ensure services are delivered to all. We must ask those who earn, who have the money, to invest more. To get them to do this, we need to eliminate corruption, waste, and mismanagement.
  • Education and skills are poor, for no reason other than a lacklustre approach by those with the power to transform this crucial sector. It seems inconceivable that those in power continue to allow people who can’t teach, to teach, yet they do.

A To-do List

  • A consultative conference is needed as called for by the Concerned Africans Forum. After this internal process, the ANC must meet with other political parties and create new rules for engagement. Where we are headed currently is conflict and a zero sum game.
  • Local government elections must take place in a peaceful and secure environment. The opposite is happening.
  • National elections are not too far away. By then, reforms should be decided upon and where possible be implemented. ANC members must get involved. We must be allowed to influence the direction of the country. Currently, there is a façade of internal democracy. In truth, ordinary members have little to no say on issues in the organisation and in the country.
  • Radicalism, revolution and transformation need bold, inspiring and innovative leaders. Lets have a debate about how we choose these.

In conclusion

  • We must ensure that the ANC wins a decisive victory at the polls on 3 August 2016. But we must promise the people of our country and the members of the organisation that we will have a serious, honest, representative dialogue about what has gone wrong and how to fix it, immediately after the elections.
  • Let us not make the mistake of thinking that by keeping quiet, doing as we are told, being bullied into silence, being told to be disciplined by people who are themselves out of order, will lead us anywhere but into political nowhere land. We can try to rewind the national democratic revolution and go back to the past. That’s a romantic view. We can try to reform the movement. That will bring some positive results. But we have left that too late. We can pretend the problems are not severe and that they are caused by some mysterious force. That’s irresponsible. It’s time to reboot. Its socio-economic justice, or bust.
  • The ANC is not ordained to lead. We must earn the privilege of leadership every day. As the organisation with the biggest electoral mandate in South Africa, it is the responsibility of the ANC to give life to the Constitution. We are not leading at the moment. History will weigh heavily on us all should we continue to fail to do so. DM
  • Phillip Dexter
    phillip dexter.jpg
    Phillip Dexter

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