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ANC Elective Conference will deliver nothing to the workers and the poor


Zwelinzima Vavi is the general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu)

The South African Federation of Trade Unions is urging its members, workers and the poor majority of South African citizens not to expect any solutions to their problems to emerge from the African National Congress’s National Conference. On the contrary, it is sure to be a mixture of farce and tragedy which will bring closer the end of the 105-year history of a historic movement.

The ANC played a leading role in liberating us from colonialism and apartheid, but has now degenerated into a squabbling collection of factions fighting each other not on political principles but on getting their dirty hands on to the spoils of power so that they can take forward the capitalist mantra of “me first”!

It was not always so. In its earliest days the ANC was led by very conservative traditionalists, whose main strategy was to present petitions to successive British monarchs to plead for very modest reforms at the time when the African majority were being subjugated, disfranchised and their land taken away at the barrel of the gun.

Over the years however, faced with a more and more intransigent white ruling class, and especially after the formal imposition of apartheid, its leadership adopted a more radical stance and evolved into a national democratic, revolutionary liberation movement.

The ANC and its allies including the SACP were the architects of the Freedom Charter of 1955, a programme for radical change, and redistribution of wealth and land to the people. That document has been an inspiration for the majority ever since.

Although never explicitly socialist, the ANC’s policies showed a clear bias in favour of the workers and the poor. It linked the national, gender and class struggles. It attacked super-exploitation, racism and patriarchy. It struck a chord with people looking for an alternative to the nightmare of an increasingly brutal, repressive and racist dictatorship led by the National Party.

Its famous Morogoro Conference resolution of 1969 confirmed that the ANC never intended to limit its struggle to the overthrow of apartheid and introducing constitution democracy, but saw the need for radical economic transformations as well:

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…

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.”

It was this vision that built the solid support for the ANC among the majority, which led to its landslide victory in 1994. It was its seemingly left vision that made the ANC a home to socialists and the working class.

I cannot say that the ANC governments did nothing at all to implement this vision. We won the right to vote. The government abolished all the blatantly racist laws from colonialism and apartheid. They adopted a formally democratic constitution and passed many laws to guarantee freedom of association and speech. Millions of the poor and disadvantaged were given clean running water, electricity and social grants to stave off hunger.

From the outset, however, there was no similar drive to end the “centuries-old economic injustices”. A moderately radical Reconstruction and Development Programme, which the founding General Secretary of Cosatu, Jay Naidoo, was given the responsibility to implement, was soon swept aside and replaced with the grossly misnamed Growth, Employment and Development Plan, inspired by the World Bank and International Money Fund based on orthodox capitalist strategies.

It led to slower growth, less employment and redistribution from the poor to the rich. It was in direct contradiction to the spirit of Morogoro. It led not to economic emancipation but the continuation of economic subjugation for the black majority.

It laid the basis for the crisis of today in which more than half of South Africans live in poverty. Millions go to bed hungry. Unemployment at 36.8% is six times the global average.

It entrenched an economic apartheid with two-tier service delivery, with world-class healthcare and education for the rich while the poor had to use dilapidated and understaffed hospitals and schools, which have one of Africa’s worst records in teaching reading. Inevitably it led to the Esidimeni crisis where 143 died at the hands of the government, with 59 missing in its care. There are countless other similar deaths that have become the reality of the poor not on medical aid!

We are now the world’s most unequal society, with inequality that is still racialised and reflects the dominance of whites within the ruling capitalist class.

We now know that such policies had been secretly negotiated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, under which a Faustian pact was made – that in return for the granting of a relatively peaceful transition to formal democracy and political power to the ANC, the economy would remain firmly in the hands of white monopoly capital, where it remain today. This was formalised during a visit by Comrade Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders to the World Economic Forum in 1992.

The ANC leadership showed no sign of any reluctance to implement such policies. Successive ministers of finance, with the unconditional and full support of the ANC, happily followed the rules of the “Washington Consensus” which ushered in the age of neoliberalism – a form of minimally regulated free-market economy which enabled the rich to get even richer. The system was policed by the credit ratings agencies with which we have become so familiar recently.

Many ANC leaders not only enthusiastically supported these pro-business policies but personally joined the ranks of the capitalists, notably Cyril Ramaphosa, who rapidly become a multibillionaire and a director of, among others, South African Breweries, First Rand Limited, Macsteel Holdings, Alexander Forbes, Medscheme Limited and of course Lonmin.

At one stage he was said to be sitting on boards of more than 100 private companies, thereby becoming a typical example of a compradorbourgeoisie which is defined in the dictionary as the “a section of an indigenous middle class allied with foreign investors, multinational corporations, bankers, and military interests”.

Other ANC leaders took a different route to riches. Led by President Jacob Zuma they used their political positions to take a short-cut by looting the resources of the state, in cahoots with the Gupta family, by manipulating contracts and tenders with government departments and State-owned Enterprises to amass millions of rand for themselves, their families and cronies, while bankrupting the organisations they were robbing.

They also corrupted statutory bodies like the NPA, SARS and the Hawks, to make sure none of the guilty were arrested, charged and punished, and allowed the unelected Gupta brothers to dictate who should be appointed as ministers.

This was made possible through domesticating and hollowing out the ANC branches, Cosatu, SACP and the leagues, which became a sorry shadow of their former selves.

South Africa’s memory of the ANC leadership, at a time when the crooks were threatening their future, is that of its secretary-general calling the judges counter-revolutionaries, its youth and women’s leagues’ personalised attacks on the former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, and ANC-organised marches to the Constitutional Court to insult the judiciary.

They will recall how the ANC Members of Parliament conducted a fierce defence of the Nkandla spending. They will remember how eight times the ANC MPs defended Jacob Zuma when others, outraged by his abuse of power, were pleading with them to remove him and save our country. They will remember that in the midst of all this unfolding tragedy the ANC Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, was praising Jacob Zuma’s leadership qualities.

The country will also remember that it was the opposition parties and civil society that frustrated a complete takeover of the state by the corrupt ANC faction. The workers will recall that it was thanks to the civil society and opposition parties and not the ANC that we saw the back of Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Brian Molefe and others.

It is from this viewpoint that the majority of voters have already demonstrated that the ANC factions are not a solution but part of the problem. In my view the ANC is in freefall.

Many South African have reasons to fear that the NDZ and CR17 factions would inevitably come to blows. Countless leaders and members have been brutally killed already. The public has seen a wave of violence in ANC meetings in the run-up to this conference and many other occasions before.

Those who are part of the mainstream capitalists, who indirectly, if more discreetly, had controlled the state for decades, hypocritically accused the other lot of “state capture” and saw their open looting as undermining the credibility of the whole capitalist system.

However, SAFTU has constantly pointed out that this network of corruption was never confined to one family and a bunch of crooked politicians but involved a wide network, stretching into the ranks of the mainstream capitalists, as we now know with the revelations of the role of KPMG, McKinsey, SAP, Naspers, Bell Pottinger and as many as 20 international banks.

As we also now see with the latest financial crisis, even such huge multinational corporations as Steinhoff, which as far as we know have no link to the Guptas, stand accused of “accounting irregularities”, which led to its loss of over R100-billion in a single day, threatening the security of workers’ pensions.

This is the background to the battles to be waged at Nasrec in the coming days. The various competing personalities and factions are not debating principles and policies. They are all just fighting to get to the front of the queue at the feeding trough.

All the candidates talk in vague terms about radical reforms, but these are virtually no different from the policies of the DA. The economic programmes of the NDP serve as a point of convergence in policy terms between the once left-leaning pro working-class liberation movement and the liberal DA.

None of the candidates can be taken seriously as they were all members of the national government, provincial executives or the ANC NEC for many years during which they said nothing about the failure of successive governments to make the slightest attempts to implement the resolutions of successive conferences at Polokwane and Mangaung, let alone the Morogoro resolution and Freedom Charter economic demands.

Indeed, they have all been praise-singers of the Zuma governments, supporting the overspending on Nkandla and the attacks on the former Public Protector and judges who ruled against the president.

So they cannot be believed when, now, they suddenly claim to have been converted to radical economic transformation or a war against corruption, about which at best they have done nothing, and at worst, in many cases are the worst culprits in the looting of the state.

The only difference between the two main contenders is that Ramaphosa represents mainstream monopoly capitalism, of which he is a member, discredited by his role in the murders of 34 workers at Marikana, while Dlamini Zuma represents the thieves and murderers of the corrupt cabal around her former husband.

There are various possible scenarios for the coming conference.

  1. Ramaphosa or NDZ may win a clear victory, which could then lead to a split, with the losing faction walking out of the hall.
  2. The factions may stitch together a “unity” deal where power is split between the two main candidates and their slates;
  3. The conference may never finish its agenda as warring factions wreck the conference.

Any one these outcomes will spell the end of the ANC as an effective force. It will create a big vacuum in South African politics, which will pose the need for a genuinely revolutionary party to resume the fight for the Freedom Charter and Morogoro and the real transformation of the economy and the emancipation of the workers and the poor majority. DM

Zwelinzima Vavi is General Secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions


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