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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 3, No. 23, 1 December 2004

In this Issue:


Red Alert

An end to HIV/AIDS discrimination in the financial sector - an important victory

By Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

The Life Officers Association (LOA) - which represents the life insurance industry in South Africa - last week, announced that it is scrapping HIV/AIDS exclusion clauses for new applicants for long-term insurance cover from January 2005. This decision means HIV/AIDS will, in future, be treated the same as other medical conditions like diabetes or cancer. As we mark World Aids Day today, we should celebrate this major victory for the SACP-led financial sector campaign. This is an important step towards ending discriminatory practices in regard to HIV.

This victory is one of several indications of the extent to which our financial sector campaign is gathering pace. Since we launched the campaign four years ago, and since the signing of the financial sector summit agreements two years ago, there has been some decisive movement forward. The launch of Umzansi account, which has seen more than 100,000 new account holders depositing R34 million in just three weeks, is a direct result of our struggle to ensure that everyone has access to affordable banking. The Department of Trade and Industry will soon publish regulations to govern the credit bureaus. Legislation on co-operatives and co-operative banks has been tabled before parliament. We have now established a representative Financial Sector Charter Council and it is busy engaging on the finalisation of targets for housing, investment in infrastructure and agriculture, and broad based black economic empowerment.

Earlier in the year the banks also dropped the requirement of HIV/AIDS tests for mortgage bonds, thus making it possible for many of our people who were previously excluded to get access to housing. Unfortunately, the banks have been extremely coy about publicizing this positive step; they fear a flood of applications. It is important for those of our people, particularly in the low-income housing sector, to take these opportunities opened up by their very own struggles.

We have notched up important advances. However, there are still many struggles that lie ahead to ensure that all the agreements in the financial sector charter are fully implemented and properly monitored. In particular, we need to intensify struggles around workers' control over their retirement funds, the role of public development finance institutions, and an end to loan-sharks, including curbing of exorbitant interest rates by microlenders. This can only be effectively done if driven by mass struggles on the ground, thus emphasising the need to establish provincial and local structures of the SACP-led Financial Sector Campaign Coalition.

In marking World Aids Day, we should also note that the advances towards ending HIV/AIDS based discrimination by the insurance industry remain inadequate. Welcome as it is as a first step, there are a number of very serious contradictions and limitations in this latest decision by the LOA.

South Africa's insurance industry is worth R163.8 billion. HIV is estimated to affect about 5,6 million South Africans. The LOA decision to amend the LOA HIV testing protocol to disallow the use of exclusion clauses for new business is now mandatory for all members of the LOA. This applies to all types of policies, including group life.

Historically, the industry has taken a conservative view and denied insurance cover to people with HIV. The exclusion clauses in the policies meant people who were HIV-negative when they applied for cover received no benefits if they became infected at a later stage and died of AIDS, even if they had been paying premiums for many years! Insurers claimed this was partly due to difficulties in "pricing the risk associated with the virus". It was not until political pressure was brought to bear by mass organisations, including our Financial Sector Campaign Coalition, that the industry made any attempt to overcome these "risk assessment difficulties".

We welcome the long-overdue decision but condemn the insurance industry for taking till 2004 to comply with the constitution. It is a vindication of the Financial Sector Summit agreements on ending discrimination on basis of HIV/AIDS. In August 2002, after mass struggles led by the FSCC, we had agreed with the insurance industry that:

"The parties are particularly concerned about the need to end unfair discrimination against people with HIV and develop appropriate services for them. Following the Summit, they will work together to achieve this end, and especially to ensure that people with HIV have improved access to housing finance and other services."

However, this change by the LOA is still only a partial victory. The insurance industry is still discriminating against existing policy-holders because the scrapping of exclusion clauses applies only to new business. We now call on insurers to make this decision retrospective and extended to everyone. Never again must a policy be repudiated because the policy-holder has HIV/AIDS or did not disclose their HIV/AIDS status.

This however raises serious questions about the lack of overall transformation in the life industry and the failure of the multibillion rand industry to serve the needs of our people. According to recent research findings:

  • only 11% of the population older than 16 have a formal life insurance policy,
  • only 15% have a funeral policy with a big institution
  • only 20% of the population contribute to a burial society
  • 21% of the population either don't know about long-term insurance or have never thought about it
  • only 9% (of those surveyed) have a pension fund, with 7% having a retirement annuity

Of fundamental importance is the need for sustained mobilisation to pressure the life insurance industry to prioritise the fostering of sustainable livelihoods for workers and the poor, rather than narrowly serving the interests of the capitalist sector.

The struggle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a critical component of the struggle for sustainable livelihoods, sustainable households and sustainable communities.

Of course, as the SACP we are not confining our approach to the HIV/AIDS pandemic to the struggle to transform the financial sector. Over the last several years there has been a critical and legitimate struggle for anti-retrovirals. The SACP supports this struggle, but we need, collectively, to guard against the anti-retroviral struggle overshadowing all other dimensions of the anti-HIV/AIDS struggle.

On this World Aids Day we should commit ourselves to people's mass action to promote awareness, prevention, treatment and the end to all forms of discrimination against those who are HIV positive. The SACP's 2005 programme of action commits our party to escalating mass struggles on all these fronts, as part of the struggle for sustainable livelihoods and communities.

Communist Cadres to the Front… To defeat the HIV/AIDS pandemic, with and for workers and the poor!

The troubled conscience of an ideologue  

Below is an article that the City Press refused to publish as our reply to Khathu Mamaila's columns of 7 and 14 November

As the SACP we are quite perplexed by the missive of Khathu Mamaila against the SACP (City Press 7 and 14 November 2004). Mamaila calls us all sorts of names, "liberals", "pseudo-Marxists", "self-appointed spokespersons of the poor", and "being used as a whipping stick against the emerging black bourgeoisie".

This missive by Mamaila seems to be thoroughly contradictory at the same time. He deeply suspects that these labels may not stick. He calls us names, yet concedes that the media does not cover many of our campaigns against white capitalists and for the poor. So after all we do have many campaigns with and for the poor, yet we are "self annointed spokespersons of the poor"? As far as the SACP is concerned, the main force behind the "exclusion of blacks from the mainstream of the economy" is the white capitalist class. He is accusing us of being used as a whipping stick, yet concedes that we have "attacked the white capitalists" in many instances? What is the source of this seeming confusion?

To us it seems like the author has a deeply troubled conscience. He sounds like someone wanting to position himself as the new ideologue or aspirant beneficiary of narrow BEE, but cannot argue this with a straight face, other than by attacking the SACP. In essence he is troubled by the SACP campaigns with and for workers and the poor, as they act as a forceful reminder about poverty in this country and perhaps an obstacle to those aspiring to greedy personal accumulation.

We wish to tell Mamaila that as the SACP, throughout our 83 years of existence, we have been there before, used us as a punch-bag by those with greedy capitalist intentions, from the apartheid regime, the capitalist class, to our post 1994 detractors. They have called us all sorts of names as he does, and they have all failed! Why does he think this will now work for him and the City Press?

We are at least pleased that Mamaila has, at last, publicly conceded that the media does not cover many of our campaigns with workers and the poor. What he forgot to add is that he has been an active participant in not covering the SACP whilst working for The Star newspaper and now continuing with the City Press. Otherwise how do we explain the fact that the City Press has not covered our Red October Campaign, including our national marches on 6 November 2004, one of the major land campaigns in recent years?

The only answer is that the City Press wants to deliberately keep its readers uninformed about SACP activities, so that it can produce columns that are highly distorted and inaccurate, as Mamaila does. For example, the SACP expressed its opposition to the Barclays/Absa deal, and this has been widely covered by the media (except perhaps the City Press), yet he says we supported it. We never showered any praise to the Malaysians acquiring a stake in Telkom as he claims. It is also widely known that our stance is that Telkom should have remained a state-owned entity. Similarly, we are not calling for land to be transferred to private individuals, it is already in the hands of some 46 000 wealthy private individuals and corporations. Yes we are calling it to be transferred to poor and exploited individual households and co-operatives!

It is however unacceptable, if not downright unprofessional, for a senior political editor to display such ignorance about widely known positions of the SACP, unless he may of course be deliberately distorting our views, to deal with his troubled conscience.

Even more troubling about Mamaila's missives is his breathtaking disdain for the mass of ordinary workers and the poor. He accuses us of "glorifying the aspirant business people who sell tomatoes on the street corners". Yes, we plead guilty to this, as these are the workers and the poor who are trying to make ends meet and are completely out of the radar screen of narrow BEE. We hope he also saw the research that 43% of all potatoes in South Africa are sold to consumers through street traders. Yet, the profits go to farmers and agri-business that live like parasites on the sweat of those "who sell tomatoes on the street corners".

Mamaila says it is time we realise that we live in a capitalist society. We realised this in 1921, and that is why we are a communist party, fighting the capitalist system as a whole. The only judges capable on pronouncing on the SACP are the workers and the poor with whom we have been in the trenches for the past eight decades, not the troubled consciences of City Press political editors and their fellow travellers.


Personalised attacks are a diversion from the real challenges  

The SACP has been dismayed and even puzzled by the personalised intensity of attacks directed, in particular, against COSATU and its general secretary, cde Zwelinzima Vavi. The SACP welcomes robust inter-Alliance debate on the strategic and tactical challenges confronting us.

How best do we contribute to democratisation in Zimbabwe? How do we ensure that black economic empowerment is, indeed, broad-based? How should workers’ savings be deployed to maximise development and transformation? We all agree on the desirability of these objectives, but how do we achieve them in practice? These are not simple questions, and no one has a monopoly of wisdom.

Debate on such matters is important for our members, for our millions of supporters, and, indeed, for the broad South African public. There is nothing wrong with such debates, and there is absolutely no reason why senior ANC leaders should be silent while everyone else polemicises. But ad hominem interventions, whether public or private, that are directed at the speaking rights of a colleague, and not at the substance of an argument, are another matter entirely. Interventions that are full of menace, threat, allusions to collaboration with “outside” forces, and of personal ridicule are worrying. It is a style that, unfortunately, characterises much of the official discourse in Zimbabwe, contributing directly to the climate of intolerance and political stagnation in our neighbouring country.

ANC culture, by contrast, has been steeped in the nurturing of unity in diversity. The ANC has survived and flourished because of its confident and principled accommodation of difference and debate and the ability to build and lead, out of this diversity, unity in action.

The heated exchanges of recent days occur in the immediate context of two major challenges confronting our alliance – Zimbabwe and the shape and character of BEE. The SACP calls on its members and all comrades in allied formations to remain focused on the real substance of these challenges.

The possibility of elections in March in Zimbabwe creates an important window of opportunity. A March date-line must be used as leverage to ensure the essential constitutional reforms and other democratisation measures are put in place well before elections. These measures should lay the basis, not just for free and fair elections in three months time, but for getting Zimbabwe back on to a national democratic trajectory to address the all-round crisis of social and economic under-development.

However, this window of opportunity is fast disappearing. March is desperately close. All the indicators from Harare point, for the moment, in the direction of increasing polarisation, diminishing democratic space, and growing intolerance. How, as an Alliance in South Africa, can we most usefully contribute to assisting our Zimbabwean colleagues move towards a resolution? What are the complementary roles our different alliance components should play, and how do we all support our government’s interventions? These are the immediate challenges confronting us on Zimbabwe. We must stay focused on these matters of substance. We owe it to the Zimbabwean revolution, and we owe it to our own NDR.

In regard to Telkom restructuring, the SACP believes that, however problematic the PIC purchase of the 15,1% Thintana share may originally have been, it is a reality that now presents us with another important opportunity. Should this 15,1% share simply be ware-housed on behalf of the Elephant Consortium for six months until the Consortium can come up with an adequate financing arrangement? Is the Elephant Consortium really broad-based? How will the Consortium use its share-holding to drive more effective and affordable access to telephony for the poor? Will the Consortium defend existing jobs and commit to create new ones or will it simply be parasitic on the continuing job-loss bloodbath at Telkom? Will the Consortium contribute meaningfully to lowering the cost of doing business in South Africa? Could the PIC not simply hold onto the share in its own right and on behalf of the interests of hundreds of thousands of workers whom it should be representing? Could the state not take back some of this share-holding, considering the strategic importance of Telkom to our overall economy?

Instead of hurling personalised insults at each other, instead of falling into a trap of diversionary tactics, let us have a rational and sober discussion about how best to proceed with the PIC 15,1% share. (And let us also, by the way, ensure that the trade union representatives are indeed convened with other commissioners so that decision-making at the PIC is finally regularised.)

As the SACP we reiterate our serious discomfort with the use of workers’ money to fund narrow BEE. The debate must however be broadened to examine the whole of BEE thus far. Has it been anything but elite? Can BEE be broad-based if our broader economic trajectory is premised on the primacy of the capitalist market, without serious developmental interventions to roll back this market? These debates are of course fundamentally linked to the broader question of the interventions needed, state and mass based, to transform the current capitalist accumulation regime.



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