The African National Congress’s Policy Conference has confirmed beyond any doubt the view of the South African Federation of Trade Unions that this once mighty liberation movement has degenerated into a politically bankrupt, faction-ridden shambles.
The conference failed abysmally to resolve, or even seriously debate, the major issues facing South Africa but was a battleground of warring factions, neither of which had any solutions to our economic and social crisis, but were only concerned with strengthening their power within the ANC and the country.
In one corner of the ring was the faction led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, supporting the mainstream, neoliberal pro-capitalist policies like GEAR and the NDP, policies which are the underlying cause of our crisis of high unemployment, deepening poverty and widening inequality.
In the other corner was the faction of corrupt crony capitalists led by President Zuma and the Gupta family who shamelessly shout about ‘radical’ policies which they have done nothing to implement over the last 23 years. They simply use these demagogic cries to try to silence their opponents and deflect attention from the corruption and crimes in which they are implicated.
They mouth slogans for expropriation of land without compensation, nationalizing and changing the mandate of the Reserve Bank, endorsing the new Mining Charter and defeating “white monopoly capital” but offer no explanation of how any of these will be implemented and why they have only now suddenly adopted them.
Several of these are historic demands of the liberation struggle. Cyril Ramaphosa was right to say that the concept of ‘white monopoly capital’ is being used by a highly paid public relations company to “protect their clients” who stand accused of state capture, but totally wrong to say that it was their ‘invention’.
On the contrary it is a call rooted in the history of the struggle against colonialism and apartheid and against a particularly South African form of monopoly capitalism, in which the white colonial ruling class retained their economic domination after political independence.
This racially skewed form of capitalism continues to exist untransformed and is becoming even stronger 23 years after the political breakthrough of 1994. This is not, as Joel Netshitenzhe said, “a relationship [which] would apply whether it’s Japanese, Indian, white or whatever category you can think about”. It is uniquely South African.
The tragedy of the expropriation of historic radical, democratic and socialist policies by a faction of corrupt, capitalist thieves is that it make it easier for the opponents of these ideas to discredit and ridicule them.
It plays into the hands of the very white monopoly capitalists and their supporters in the ANC against whom they pretend to be fighting. The defenders of the capitalist status quo can easily dismiss these ‘radical’ demands as empty rhetoric from people who merely use them as a device to distract from their crimes.
In the Policy Conference supporters of Cyril Ramaphosa were able to go on the offensive in support of right-wing policies which will ensure the continuation of the power and wealth of the ‘monopoly capitalists’ as they now say they must be called.
They were eager to defend the “independence” of the Reserve Bank and oppose changes to its mandate which is dictated by the needs of the finance capitalists. Joel Netshitenzhe questioned whether monopoly capital was “an enemy of the National Democratic Movement” and that “if they were the enemy, what do you do to the enemy? You destroy the enemy…”, implying that this was of course unthinkable.
His alternative to destroying monopoly capital, is to regulate it: “You need to discipline them where it is necessary”, which ignores all the evidence that attempts by governments around the world to regulate and discipline capitalism have been a miserable failure and in South Africa that they are richer and stronger than ever.
Derek Hanekom even dismissed calls for land expropriation without compensation as ‘rubbish’. While he should not be disciplined for expressing his view, that view should be roundly condemned.
This ANC faction represents those who refuse to acknowledge their own culpability for the economic crisis and want to dish out more of the same.
The worst outcome of the Policy Conference was the abject failure of either of the factions to offer any solution to South Africa’s underlying economic and social catastrophe, explain or even discuss why its government has failed to implement even the six policy priorities of the ANC’s last election manifesto which were:
1. Economy and jobs
2. Land reform, rural development and food security
3. Human settlements and basic services
4. Education and training
6. Fighting corruption and crime
The reality is that in every one of these areas, there has been negligible progress; in some cases things are even worse than before and the ANC leadership as a whole have to be held to account:
- On the economy and jobs, our economy has taken been downgraded us to junk status and we are ‘officially’ in a recession, following two successive quarters of economic contraction. South Africa is de-industrializing with sectors such as clothing, textiles, leather, steel, etc being decimated. Unemployment stands of 27.7%, while the higher but more realistic expanded rate was 36.4%. The job-loss bloodbath is continuing and we have become the most unequal society on earth, as shown in the Deloitte report on CEO pay which shows that the differential between the pay of top executives and workers has risen from 50:1 to 500:1. The policy conference offers no solution to all these crises.
- On land reform, about 10-million hectares of land have been redistributed since 1994 but between 70% to 90% of the projects (including land restitution projects) have failed, most of the land remains in white hands and the overwhelming majority of black South Africans own virtually no property. The response to this is hot air, slogans or demagogy.
- On human settlements and basic services, since the 2014 elections only 331,108 housing units have been built, while the medium-term target was 745,000 units. Poor communities are in revolt in more and more angry and frequently violent protests.
- On education and training, though the matric pass rate stood at 72% in 2016, this pass rate reflects only the performance of learners who managed to stay in school for 12 years and obscures how many dropped out along the way. Of the grade 2 class enrollment, only 668,612 students made it to the matric final exams in 2016, a massive drop-out rate of 44.8%. Free education at all levels is still a dream for most young South Africans.
- On health we have a welcome National Health Insurance on paper but one that has not yet begun to be rolled out, so that we still in practice have a two-tier service, with a public sector starved of staff and resources.
- Fighting corruption and crime has been the most outrageous failure of the six, with the #GuptaLeaks exposing an ever-widening network of looters, led by ANC leaders who have been plundering state-owned enterprises and government contracts for their self-enrichment.
Even these few facts, bad thought they are, do not fully reflect the misery and anger of millions of the poorest South Africans who have been left on the sidelines of the economy, exploited at work by increasingly ruthless employers and deprived of life’s basic necessities when at home.
These are the challenges they would have expected the ANC Conference to have been looking at. Some of the commissions make have done so, but they have been completely overshadowed by the faction fighting, between one group fighting to retain the ‘monopoly capitalist’ status quo, the other talking about radical change but with no other intention than to continue with their corrupt kleptocracy.
That is what lies behind the chaos at Nasrec, as both factions of the party that promised to deliver a better life for all tried to search for excuses and blame each other rather than find solutions. Both are equally guilty. How telling it was that Zuma’s closing address focussed almost entirely on internal ANC organizational issues, rather than the crisis in the country, in an attempt to cobble together a semblance of unity!
There can be no change of direction when these leaders maintain the current macroeconomic policy stance, worst of all the current austerity that has led to deep cuts on social expenditure. If this trajectory of declining growth continues, very soon the government will not be able to sustain the social grants to the 17 million.
SAFTU is more convinced than ever after this chaotic and fruitless conference that a fundamental, but genuine, radical, socialist policies are vital, and will not be diverted by the attempt to plagiarize its program by opportunists.
White monopoly capitalism is real and it is at the centre of the catastrophe facing the working class and the poor. The democratic nationalization of the banks, mines, land and monopoly industry must not be discarded because a bunch of corrupt profiteers seek to steal these demands to confuse people.
We have to defend these policies because they are only way to provide a way out of the misery and despair which the majority of South Africans are facing every day.
SAFTU has already submitted a Section 77 notice at Nedlac to demand a clear plan from government to change direction and plot a new growth path to change the structure of the economy and ensure redistribution of wealth, land, and create opportunity for all. We demand that the crisis in the education system, health service and public transport be fully addressed.
We are mobilising for a full-blown strike in November if government maintains the status quo whilst mouthing hot air about radical economic transformation.