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SAFTU’s socialist programme the only solution to capitalist crisis

The South African Federation of Trade Unions welcomes the opportunity to respond to Mondli Makhanya’s article – Dear Saftu, please grow up – in last Sunday’s City Press.

While it opens with some faint praise for Saftu, for bringing in “a breath of fresh air”, and that “Saftu has done very well in its young life”, it soon degenerates into crude insults – that “Saftu, has behaved like a brat pack of ideologues whose knee-jerk reaction to everything is to reject. Using ideologically laced language and ideologically loaded logic, it says ‘no’ to all initiatives aimed at fixing the country.”

The federation categorically rejects this, and the author’s failure to make any serious analysis of its views. It is not Saftu, who is “not engaging with the subject in a cogent manner”, but Makhanya himself.

SAFTU is always prepared to engage in discussion on “fixing the country” but will never simply go along with bogus ‘solutions’ from the very capitalists who are responsible for the massive problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

That is why the federation reacted so angrily to President Ramaphosa’s statement that it was time for South Africa to do away with vilifying businesspeople, that the label “white monopoly capital” should be discarded once and for all, and that job-creating entrepreneurs should be treated as heroes.

Makhanya is exceptionally aggrieved at Saftu labelling business as the “class enemy of the unemployed, the poor and the hungry in the country” and that it would “campaign even more aggressively to condemn the exploiters and profiteers who have led South Africa into an economic catastrophe and inflicted misery on to the poor majority”.

Makhanya dismisses this as “a silly riposte that just seemed to be done for the sake of making a noise”. Yet there is overwhelming evidence of such an economic catastrophe.

Unemployment stands at 37.3% by the expanded definition. Almost ten million are unemployed, 30.4 million are living in poverty, 26% of people are hungry every day and this is the most unequal society on the planet!

How could we possibly not describe this as “a catastrophe”? As City Press’s renowned columnist Terry Bell puts it in the same edition: “The South African economy is “well and truly up the creek”.

And why should we not lay the blame on to those responsible – the white, monopoly capitalist class and ANC leaders who have presided over this catastrophe for 24 years?

Evidence that South Africa is indeed ruled by a capitalist class was seen at the Investment Conference, at which the elected President was forced to cajole business leaders to invest money into the economy.

It is a shocking that an ANC president has admit that the only way out of the economic crisis is to beg from the very capitalist class which caused it in the first place, and who have been on a “strike of capital” for decades.

The reason Saftu calls these people the “class enemy” is that all this wealth being donated would never exist but for the exploitation of the labour of the working class who create the surplus value which is expropriated by their employers as profits.

Not only do employers pay a fraction of the wealth produced to their workers in wages, they are constantly looking for ways to cut their wage bill even further through pay cuts, casualisation, part-time and temporary employment, the use of labour brokers and retrenchments.

“Much more insidious”, adds Terry Bell, “is the fact that the government was long ago captured ideologically by what has variously been dubbed the Washington Consensus or neoliberalism, a system that serves the interests of big business. Trade unions and human rights groups have long maintained that this system has led to the obscene wage and welfare gap, and increased hunger and homelessness in a world of plenty.”

Evidence that the economy is heavily monopolized comes from economist Neva Makgetla of Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies, that about 600 companies, out of 700,000 registered for tax, account for two-thirds of all company income, measured by paid tax. On the stock exchange, 20 companies hold 80% of listed assets.”

Evidence that capitalism is still racially skewed came in the 2018 City Press Wealth Index. It showed that the 50 richest people, worth R323 billion collectively, are largely white and male, and that in the past 10 years the dominance of white men has increased rather than fallen. In 2008 there 13 black people listed on the top 50 wealthiest executives and board members of JSE-listed companies while now in 2018, there are just five of the top 50!

Yet despite all this evidence that Saftu’s views are correct, Makhanya objects when we say that “this crisis-ridden capitalist system has to be replaced by a new growth path based on the nationalisation of the mines, banks and industrial monopolies, and to build a new democratic socialist order in which the wealth created by the labour of the working class is owned, controlled and shared by the working people and not a super-rich capitalist elite”.

Makhanya  concludes with a statement of his own that Saftu cannot disagree with – that “there is a country to be rebuilt, problems to be solved, an economy to be revived and a society to be repaired.” Yes, but SAFTU is confident that its socialist policies are the only way we can achieve any of this.

Mac Chavalala is President of the South African Federation of Trade Unions