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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 2, No. 10, 21 May 2003

In this Issue:


Red Alert

A job intensive formal sector and sustainable households and communities – the two key priorities of the GDS

By Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary

We must not over-burden the Growth and Development Summit, scheduled for early June, with too many expectations and diverse issues. The key task of the GDS is to lay the basis for a shared vision for growth and development that approaches the overcoming of underdevelopment and the entrenched crisis of poverty in our society as a systemic strategic task. There are two key concrete but strategic priorities that must be agreed upon:

  • The need to transform significant sectors of the formal economy, to ensure that they prioritise labour absorption; and
  • A major emphasis on local based development in which the priority is the fostering of sustainable households and communities.

There are many other priorities, concerns and key issues. But, in the view of the SACP, the above two strategic priorities cut to the heart of the major challenges facing our economy and society.

Persisting duality in the midst of progress

It is common cause that, since 1994, an important stabilisation and economic turnaround has been achieved. An economy that had experienced negative growth in all but one year in the preceding decade has seen steady if modest growth since 1994. A number of key economic sectors, threatened by de-industrialisation, have made progress. Our country’s macro-economic vulnerabilities have been considerably lessened.

We acknowledge these achievements. However, as President Mbeki said in his February 2003 State of Nation address:

“there are many in our society who are unable to benefit directly from whatever our economy is able to offer…This reflects the structural fault in our economy as a result of which we have a dual economy and society. The one is modern and relatively well developed. The other is characterised by underdevelopment and an entrenched crisis of poverty.”

A paradox – major transfer of resources to the poor, yet deepening household income inequality and income poverty

The imperative of a thoughtful strategic to growth and development is starkly underlined by Statistics South Africa’s comprehensive report comparing household earnings and spending for October 1995 and October 2000 (“Earnings and spending in South Africa: Selected findings and comparisons from the income and expenditure surveys of October 1995 and October 2000”).

The Report confirms the impact on households of the major effort undertaken since 1994 to roll-out resources to the poor. Comparing households for 1995 and 2000, the Report shows very significant progress in the impact of “social” wage measures. The proportion of people with access to clean water climbed from 79% to 83%. Those with access to electricity for lighting rose from 64% to 72%. Those with access to telephones rose from 29% to 35%. People living in formal housing rose from 66% to 73%. We have reason to believe that these trends have continued since October 2000 in many cases, and in some cases they may have accelerated.

Major transformation in education, health-care, and social grants has also impacted favourably on the quality of the lives of the poor. All in all, this represents a very significant, state-driven resource transfer to the poor.

However, reflecting the paradox of persisting structural duality, the Statistics South Africa report also finds that, in terms of income, the average South African household became significantly poorer between 1995 and 2000. In October 1995 the average household’s income was R37,000. When inflation is taken into account, the value for 2000 was projected to be R51,000, if average income were to remain constant. But the survey found the actual average income for 2000, at R45,000, was well below that.

In 1995 the poorest 20% of households received a mere 1,9% of the total income in our country. In 2000 this pitiful share had dropped still further to 1,6% of total income. But the slipping back in share is not only confined to the bottom 20% of households. The poorest 50% of South African households also slipped backwards in these five years relative to the richer half.

Perhaps the most concerning statistic to emerge from the Statistics SA report is that the average African household experienced a 19% fall in income, while the average white household experienced a 15% increase.

Unfortunately, success in terms of significant resource transfer to the poor, achieved over the last 9 years, can itself be undermined by income poverty. For instance, Telkom achieved the roll-out of a remarkable 2,67 million new lines, mostly to poor households, within the 5-year period of its fixed-line exclusivity (see Telkom, Financial Statement 2001-2). Sadly, only 667,039 of the new lines delivered were still in service by the end of the period, according to the same Telkom Financial Statement. Presumably, the bulk of the more than 2 million cut-offs were associated with household income poverty.

The correct strategic response is, clearly, not just the quantitative rolling out and redistribution of more resources to the poor.

The disappointing income statistics noted above, reflecting deepening income inequality and poverty, are directly related to growing unemployment. According to Statistics South Africa, using the narrow definition of unemployment (excluding those too discouraged to seek work), joblessness rose from 16% of the labour force in 1995 to just over 30% in September 2002. During this period, the number of unemployed has risen from around two million to over four million. If discouraged workers are included, close to seven million are out of work.

Labour intensive transformation of the economy

Job creation and retention must be the key priority of our society. The SACP strongly supports, amongst other things, proposals for extended Public Works Programmes (PWPs). However, PWPs, if not located in a wider developmental strategic context, can simply reproduce the “structural fault”, the duality within our economy and society.

The SACP believes, for this reason, that even greater attention needs to be paid to transforming key sectors of the formal economy, ensuring that they are much more labour absorbing. We believe that government, particularly with its forthcoming multi-billion rand infrastructural spending (as envisaged in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework), should emphasise labour intensity as a critical criteria in drawing up tenders for infrastructural projects. The formal private sector needs to understand the imperative of transforming, where appropriate (and we accept that there may be industries or sectors where it is not) in the direction of increased labour intensity. Labour absorption – and more specifically a deliberate choice in favour of more labour intensive techniques – ought to be accorded a high priority in the proposed BEE “balanced scorecard”, and must be the major consideration in awarding tenders for infrastructural projects.

Sustainable livelihoods, sustainable communities

With up to 7 million people unemployed, and with an unemployment rate between 30-40%, we need to be practical and sober. We should not relent, for one moment, in the pursuit of creating many more jobs and retaining existing jobs, but we also need to be realistic about our own situation. We are not going to achieve anything approaching full employment in the near future. Nor can we afford to think in conventional ways about income – that it either derives from employment in the formal sector, or from some stop-gap and regrettable, if necessary, social welfare measures.

To a degree that is perhaps unprecedented internationally, a significant proportion of our people find themselves, structurally, in double jeopardy. Centuries of dispossession, and a century and a quarter of intense industrial development premised upon coerced labour reproduced in over-populated “reserves”, and later in “dormitory” townships, has resulted in a great majority of our people being absolutely reliant on the labour market and waged labour for their livelihoods. And yet, many of them are either marginalized on, or entirely excluded from that market at the same time. In most, if not all, other developing countries, and even in much more advanced industrial economies (France, Italy), the proportion of small-scale peasant family farms, for instance, and other quasi-subsistence operations is far greater. South Africa’s particular industrial development path has all but eroded this social cushion.

A sustainable growth and development strategy must address this challenge as an absolutely central priority. Among the key proposed measures to promote and foster sustainable communities and sustainable livelihoods are:

An accelerated land reform process

  • land reform needs to focus on rural, peri-urban and urban land;
  • land reform for agricultural purposes should not be exclusively predicated on creating a new stratum of commercial farmers assessed as viable in terms of conventional market criteria. Land reform must aim at providing the access to the most basic means of production – land- for a broad range of income generating and developmentally viable productive activities. Agriculture for sustainable community and household livelihoods, including township vegetable gardens, must also be given priority;
  • land reform measures, like the Communal Land Tenure Bill, need to be accompanied by infrastructural support, agricultural extension, and other training and facilitating efforts. The commoditisation of communal land, without such support measures, can result in rapid social differentiation leading poorest households to opt to sell their land rather than use it for productive activity hereby deepening rural poverty and dependency.

Fostering a country-wide cooperative movement

Based, in part, on earlier communal traditions, through the bitter years of apartheid oppression, black communities and households have developed and sustained numerous survival strategies. Key among these have been various forms of cooperative endeavour – hundreds of thousands of burial societies and stokvels (the banks and insurance companies of the township poor), sewing circles, cultural and sporting cooperatives, and, in later decades, minibus cooperatives federated into voluntary “mother-bodies”.

Over the last decade, production, marketing and savings cooperatives have mushroomed in hundreds of communities. Worker-owner cooperatives are involved in such diverse activities as citrus farming in Limpopo, pineapple farming and marketing in the Eastern Cape, poultry farming in many localities, the collection of waste products for recycling in Ethekwini Metro, community vegetable gardens in diverse localities (including Khayelitsha, Ivory Park, and Elsies River). There are bakery cooperatives that service poor schools and access funding via government’s school feeding programmes. There are housing brigade cooperatives.

An important feature of many cooperatives, both historically and currently, is the central role of women in managing and sustaining them.

Some of these cooperatives function like any other small or medium enterprise, competing on the market. Others are less market-oriented, and are more focused on self-sustainability, or on localised barter, and yet they too make a major contribution to fostering sustainable communities and household livelihoods. Success should not be measured solely in market-terms.

There is a very substantial cooperative movement within our country, but it is all too often neglected, or disregarded. Typically, cooperatives, by their very nature, depend on localised initiative and enterprise. They cannot be created by legislation or by a government fiat. However, they can be greatly encouraged and sustained by a supportive legislative, infrastructural, investment and policy environment.

The SACP expects the GDS to:

  • Encourage the passing of legislation that facilitates the establishment and running of cooperatives;
  • Agree to the development of a programme of support that provides real resources and services to cooperatives, and in some cases gives priority to cooperatives over other enterprises in terms of access to resources and services. Government clearly has a central role to play in this regard, but business and labour need also to identify ways they can contribute to the development of a massive cooperative movement in this country;
  • Ensure that SETAs and other public and private entities involved in promoting SMMEs, play an active role in promoting cooperatives, where appropriate, and that training and skilling is developed to help empower the cooperative movement;
  • Endorse and incorporate into a broader growth and development strategy, the 2002 NEDLAC-convened Financial Sector Summit resolution on facilitating the formation of cooperative banks.

Financial sector transformation – and community investment

This Summit is not a stand-alone event, but must be seen in continuity with a series of Sector Summits – both those that have already convened, and those that are still to follow.

The SACP played a very active role in last year’s NEDLAC-convened Financial Sector Summit. Apart from the important cooperative banks resolution mentioned above, the Financial Sector Summit committed all participants - government and parastatal financial institutions, private sector financial institutions, and union-controlled pension funds, to ensure significant community investment measures.

The GDS should:

  • Endorse this resolution and incorporate it into a broader growth and development strategy.
  • Agree on ways to advance all the agreements in the Financial Sector Summit, and particularly that on the promotion of developmental investment, which in our view lies, at the heart of a follow up work programme the GDS must mandate.

Urban densification, multi-income settlements, accessibility and mobility

South Africa’s spatial reality is still dominated by zones of more or less absolute peripheralisation (typically in deep rural, often former Bantustan, areas), semi-peripheral zones (sprawling squatter camps and townships that serve, essentially, as dormitories), and developed enclaves - middle and upper-class suburbs with well-serviced cultural, recreational, commercial, transport and adjoining industrial facilities.

With important exceptions, many of the significant resource transfers to the poor in the last few years have (unwittingly) reproduced these spatial realities, with all of the attendant consequences.

For instance, there has been an impressive housing construction programme, with over 1,4 million new units constructed, with the assistance of government subsidies. However, the great majority of this new formal housing for the poor has been located in the same distant townships (this is where land is relatively cheap and available). Townships have tended to remain dormitory settlements, distant from places of work and shopping.

All of this has had a direct impact on, for instance, public transport. Over the last decade, we have battled to find resources just to subsidise, maintain, and to render safe and secure the mass transit modes (commuter rail, buses and mini-buses) that provide a life-line from these distant dormitory settlements. There has been little budget left over for the expansion of transport service and for major qualitative improvement. Generally, the commuting experience of the great majority of public transport users has deteriorated, despite rising fares. The answer, once more, is not necessarily pouring more and more money and resources into the same spatial settlement patterns and the transport infrastructure that supports this social geography.

A sustainable growth and development strategy must, as a matter of priority, adopt a systemic and transformational approach to our social geography, including:

  • Priority to urban densification – including the identification of vacant land, and/or the purchase of land adjacent to current suburbs, and the construction/upgrading of affordable inner city accomodation;
  • The fostering of mixed, multi-income settlement patterns to promote sustainable communities
  • The fostering of more multi-functional spatial patterns in which townships and rural areas break the mould of their apartheid defined roles as “dormitories” for the working class and “dumping grounds” for the marginalized, and become also centres of productive economic activity.
  • Settling the poor closer to places of work, commerce and recreation and/or moving these realities closer to the poor, and promoting inter- and intra-settlement mobility;
  • Integrating public transport planning and implementation with the above objectives;
  • Integrating all of the above objectives, consciously and systematically, into local level IDPs.

“Build people’s education for people’s power”: Undoing “1953” and taking education transformation onto a higher plane  

This year is the 50th anniversary of the birth of that infamous and criminal apartheid policy, bantu education. This concept was first adopted as policy by the apartheid regime in 1953, laying the foundation for what was to become one of the most sinister policies aimed at permanently stunting the intellectual development of the African people in particular, and the South African people in general. It not only denied the majority of our people access to decent and quality education, but also led to the systematic indoctrination of a whole generation of white South Africans.

Some might argue that we should not even bother to remind ourselves of an anniversary that marks one of the most painful moments in our struggle. It is important to remember this anniversary so that - as we move towards the celebration of 10 years of our freedom - we can begin a serious and comprehensive evaluation of how far we have gone in transforming education. The history of bantu education, contrary to the wishes of the apartheid regime, was simultaneously a history of epic struggles not only against the education system, but against the whole apartheid system. One of the decisive turning points in the struggle against apartheid were the 1976 uprisings against bantu education, which permanently turned the tide in favour of the mass of our people.

Education struggles in our country were, from the late 1980s, characterised by some of the most thorough-going policy exercises, whose uniqueness lay in a creative dialogue and dialectic between struggles and policy development. As our people began to build organs of people’s power – parent-teacher-student organisations, school representative councils and bodies like the National Education Crisis Committee – to render apartheid structures ineffective, so the policy work of the democratic movement took off. The mid 1980s saw the formation of the Education Policy Units, initially located at the Universities of Natal and Wits, as an initiative of the NECC. One of most ambitious policy exercises ever undertaken by the democratic movement to begin conceptualisation of an alternative education system was the launch of the National Education Policy Investigation (NEPI) in the late 1980s. This exercise was to later feed into the development of what is popularly known as the “Yellow Book” – the first comprehensive policy proposal for a democratic education system by the ANC. The latter exercise was carried out and led by the Centre for Education Policy Development in 1993 – which this year is proudly celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The above policy initiatives served to inform further struggles and priority areas for the mass organisations in education. It was this rich history of struggle and its articulation with policy development that saw the institutionalisation of these democratic structures by the democratic government. We call on all our progressive formations – government, mass and policy bodies – to begin an earnest and comprehensive evaluation of education transformation in the first decade of our freedom; in other words, how far have we gone in undoing “1953”, and creating an education system responsive to the struggle to consolidate, deepen and advance the national democratic revolution. The current review of the resourcing and costs of public education as well as the restructuring of higher education, amongst other things, are a good start to this evaluation. However, we must go further and ensure that this evaluation looks at the education, training and development system in its entirety. It must include, but not be limited to, a review of progress around early childhood development, adult basic education and training, and the work of the sector education and training authorities.

One of the most disturbing trends as we move towards the end of the first decade of our freedom is the weakening of progressive organisations and mobilisation in education. Since 1994, the powerful “parent-student-teacher” alliance that took us to the 1994 democratic breakthrough has weakened significantly. It seems as if the legislative measures establishing school governing bodies, trade union rights for teachers and broad transformation forums, have led to complacency: since we now have a democratic government, it can primarily drive transformation on its own. More than ever, we need dynamic and vibrant mass formation in the education arena in order to ensure that we realise the goals of people’s education for people’s power. We need this to drive our vision of free and compulsory education, and building the capacity of our communities to have an effective say and control over the education system. Otherwise, we run the risk of bureaucratising our education struggle, and creating a gulf between the government and the people. Mass mobilisation remains an essential component and locomotive if we are to undo “1953” and build people’s education.

Our transition to democracy took place against the background of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the increasing unipolarity of the world around the strategic and hegemonic objectives of the United States. The post-Cold War phase has been characterised not by the deepening of the goals of the liberation struggles in the developing world, but rather by a world increasingly dominated by a “single” idea, a new kind of ideological and economic totalitarianism of neo-liberalism and free market economy. This is being pushed as the only way the world can move forward - the infamous “end of history” thesis. It is imperative that we counteract this totalising ideology – “the battle of ideas” – and strengthen mass organisation and progressive policy development in their interrelationship and not in isolation from each other. In short, we need to learn more, rather than less, from our past experiences of a dynamic dialogue and dialectic between mass struggle and policy development. Of course, we cannot mechanically return to the past, but the way to face the current global situation must be a mobilised people fighting for space for sovereign policy development to drive an agenda beneficial to the overwhelming majority.

We have seen great strides in the field of higher education. The passage of the historic Higher Education Act, 1997, and the establishment of a loan scheme for poor students created a completely new terrain within which to further undo “1953” and build a higher education system in line with our development objectives. The announcement that our higher education institutions would be merged and reconfigured led to a lot of dissatisfaction, protests, threatened legal actions and debate. However, the dust around the announcements of mergers seems to have settled, much as the issues have not gone away. At least it seems most of the higher education community has now decided to settle down and focus on the type of institutions that must be created. The unfortunate part, however, is that the debate seems to have moved away from the public arena. This is a debate we must not allow to leave the public arena, as the restructuring of higher education is such an important dimension of transforming our country as a whole. The debate now must focus on the kinds of institutions we need to build and how these institutions can be appropriately repositioned to advance our development agenda.

We also welcome the announcement by the government and CHE to investigate the quality of programmes being offered by our higher education institutions. This exercise is long overdue, precisely because the legacy of “1953” has left us with highly uneven standards of programmes in our various institutions. We hope that the very criteria on which higher education programmes are going to be evaluated will in themselves be debated. We hope that this will not be limited to standards in a technical sense but that curricula will be evaluated in terms of their relevance to our developmental objectives. The ideological underpinnings of such programmes must also be reviewed. It is of no use to have high quality “neo-liberal” standards – “international best practice” - as these are called today. It is as if there is some abstract “international best practice” that derives from somewhere else, outside of ourselves, and which we cannot contribute into, other than copying from it. The challenge is to develop higher education programmes that best confront the pressing needs of development in our country, including job creation and poverty eradication.

One of the challenges of higher education transformation and evaluation of our programmes is to confront the “neo-liberal” inversion of the RDP paradigm. Many institutions today are seeking to reposition themselves for global competitiveness, without adequately examining the challenge of responding to our developmental goals. The RDP is premised on building our “global competitiveness” by developing appropriate economic and human resources strategies based on meeting the basic needs of the majority of our people. However, an increasingly influential paradigm, not least in most of our higher education discourses, is that we need to first align our policies (and thinking) with the dominant global economic vogue, from whose benefits we can then develop our country. This is not only an inversion of the RDP paradigm, but a trickle down approach that will never allow us to confront the challenges we face.

The only precondition to take forward transformation in our country is addressing the needs of the workers and the poor who form the majority in our country. In particular, any further significant qualitative advance for our democracy will only be through decisive qualitative advance on the economic terrain. This means transforming the current accumulation path into one that serves the immediate interests of the workers and the poor, particularly around job creation and sustainable livelihoods. It is on this terrain that we should seek, rather than expect, “global competitiveness” to address these realities! It around this perspective and approach that we should anchor the question of what kinds of institutions we need to build and what kinds of programmes we need to deliver in our higher education institutions.

A critical challenge for higher education transformation is to foster internal dialogue around the kinds of institutions we need. Today, we need vibrant and dynamic institutional forums, in the same way we needed them in the past to confront apartheid councils. We need to focus our attention on rebuilding a vibrant but progressive student movement, working in alliance with worker organisations in these institutions. Again, attention needs to be paid to the organisation of progressive academics and intellectuals. The climate is rife to rebuild our organisations, by engaging and seeking to drive these transformation processes, in order to ensure that the product of reconfiguration is in favour of progress and our developmental goals. Let us debate these issues extensively, both inside our institutions and in the public arena. That is the only way we can strike a further blow against “1953”!


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