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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 3, No. 22, 17 November 2004

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Working class savings must drive growth and development to benefit the workers and the poor

By Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

As we conclude the first decade of our freedom and enter the second, the class question is increasingly becoming the most salient issue in the national democratic revolution. Of course, class contradictions in South Africa cannot be understood in isolation from national and gender contradictions. However, attempts to address the latter in isolation from the class contradiction are bound to result in failure to transform the racial and gender patterns of accumulation in our society.

Deepening class contestations as the "new" potential fault-line and engine for transformation in favour of the workers and the poor

Where is the source of the class fault-line? The fundamental source of this fault-line is the fact that South Africa is a capitalist society. So it is not a new contradiction. However, the class contradiction is playing itself out in both old and new ways, a subject tackled in some more detail in the Central Committee Discussion Document, "Class Struggles in the National Democratic Revolution: The Political Economy of Transition in South Africa, 1994-2004" (See www.sacp.org.za, Bua Komanisi, October 2004).

The changing class terrain is marked by a number of developments underway in our country. The trans-nationalisation of major South African corporations, with their expansion into the rest of our African continent, and their migration to the world's stock markets is one key class development post-1994. The debates and developments around black economic empowerment, the "sponsorship" of various fractions of the emergent sections of black capital by established white capital, and the restructuring of both the public and private sectors in our country, are some of the manifestations of the intensity of class contestation.

The struggle around the character of empowerment, the big deals being concluded, struggles and tensions over government tenders in a number of localities, and even the current debates on Zimbabwe, are all, in one way or the other, a reflection of the deepening class contestation over the trajectory of our democratic transition. It is the responsibility of the working class, particularly its leading element, to appropriately grasp and understand this dynamic and its challenges if our revolution is to remain on course. In fact the struggle to address our dominant contradiction, the national question, is increasingly being fought on the class terrain.

In the debates about BEE as currently taking place, those who stand to benefit most from it, increasingly use the national question as an ideological cover for their personal (class) accumulation interests. For instance, they constantly tell us that to oppose narrow black economic empowerment is to argue for wealth to remain in white hands. Yet, this narrow empowerment is, in fact, an agenda driven by white capital itself, a pre-emptive measure to block and forestall redistribution of wealth that would substantively benefit the overwhelming majority of our people. This is what we struggled for, and this is what is contained in that fundamental document of our national democratic revolution, the Freedom Charter. It is on this basis that we won the 2004 elections, to "create work and fight poverty"!

These realities have seen the working class intensifying its struggles. Towards the end of the first decade of our freedom, the working class has waged significant struggles around the terms of the restructuring of state assets, for higher wages in the light of massive profits for the bosses, the struggle to defend and create jobs, our financial sector campaign and, now, the land and agrarian struggles.

The (class) struggles over control of workers' retirement funds

It is within the above context, and as an expression of the deepening class struggles, that the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) convened the Retirement Funds Conference on 29-30 October 2004. This Conference marked an important advance in the SACP-led campaign for the transformation of the financial sector to serve the interests of the workers and the poor.

The conference on retirement funds, bringing together government, labour, business, community and member trustees, was part of the implementation of the agreements reached at the Financial Sector Summit in August 2002, later incorporated into the resolutions of the Growth and Development Summit held in June 2003. The resolution of the Financial Sector Summit, held in the wake of our financial sector campaign, said amongst other things:

"Capital markets and investment. The parties agree on the need to increase overall investment and in particular projects that strengthen infrastructure, create jobs, meet basic needs, stimulate economic activity in the poorest regions and communities of South Africa and/or support development throughout southern Africa. They agree on the need to establish a system to identify these projects. On that basis, they will engage around the establishment of realistic targets and monitoring mechanisms. In addition, they will develop training for fund managers and retirement-fund trustees to enable them to adopt more informed and appropriate investment strategies"

At this retirement funds' Conference a draft declaration was tabled, but rejected by sections of private capital. This declaration sought to implement some of the key resolutions of the Growth and Development Summit (GDS) of 2003. Amongst other things, the conference sought to give effect to the GDS resolution which seeks to "encourage investors, including business, retirement funds, the life assurance industry, government, labour and community organisations to work towards investing 5% of their investible income in appropriate financial instruments. To this end the draft declaration called for clear guidelines for investment of these funds to both embrace the financial as well as the ethical dimension.

The draft declaration specifically called for "Trustees to ensure balanced portfolios based on a combination of commercial and social return". The declaration went further to define these imperatives to mean "Commercial return refers to high and sustainable earnings on investments. Social returns refer to socially responsible investments that meet (social and developmental) commitments." The latter are captured in the draft declaration as including "promotion of job protection, job creation and decent work...promotion of education, training and development, ensure worker empowerment, promotion of co-operatives, building of social infrastructure and broad based black economic empowerment".

It is these commitments that private capital has rejected. This is principally because a principal source for private capital accumulation is control over these workers' savings, "banking on death" as Robin Blackburn graphically describes it (in "Banking on death or investing in live: the history and future of pensions", published by Verso, 2002). The capitalist class is not in the least interested in investment in social infrastructure and other initiatives aimed at addressing the interests of the overwhelming majority of the workers and the poor.

Paternalism, racism and various other prejudices have ensured that workers have had to fight for the current status quo of sharing control of their funds. We believe that transformation means putting these assets in the hands of those to whom they belong, the producers of wealth in our economy, the working class.

Massive resources are available in the retirement funds sector. Hundreds of billons of rands in pensions - workers deferred wages and savings - are managed in this sector. These huge assets clearly have a substantial impact on our developmental trajectory. At the moment, however, there is limited regulation over how they are invested. As a result, large amounts of domestic resources - based on the funds of the working class - are either invested overseas or, if invested here at home, go into building shopping malls in the surburbs of the bourgeoisie rather than into developmental investment.

It is also deeply disturbing that only about 10% of South Africa's workforce is covered by pension and provident funds, and principally those that are unionised. This happens in a country with about 40% unemployment and with more than half of its population living in poverty. The surplus generated through these funds is literally plundered by retirement fund administrators who charge exorbitant fees for their services. These administrators live like parasites on these funds, thus reducing the amounts of pay-outs to those retired, and robbing these funds of further monies for investments into infrastructure and job creation. No wonder the capitalist class has rejected the draft declaration.

In addition some of these funds are invested into projects that retrench workers in their hundreds of thousands, and where they fund anything relating to black economic empowerment, it is deals involving a tiny elite from within the black communities. In essence, hard-earned workers' savings are funding their own joblessness and poverty, while enriching a few, both black and white.

All the above happens at a time when our country has prioritised job creation and poverty eradication. Instead, the existing and new empowerment deals that characterise the beginning of the second decade of our freedom exploit workers' savings to strengthen capitalist control over our economy and the enrichment of a tiny black elite.

It is our contention that the working class needs to wage a sustained struggle on this front to ensure that its investment serve the interests of the workers and the poor. The working class needs to mobilise to ensure that none of its retirement funds, whether in the private sector or the public sector (for instance the Public Investment Corporation - PIC), are used to further strengthen the hold of capital over society and to further enrich a few. This is a crucial struggle to ensure that the working class reclaims its control over its own funds. This is a key site of (class) struggle, as part of the overall offensive to roll back the capitalist market in meeting the basic needs of the workers and the poor. It is also a key site for the deepening of the struggle for the transformation of the financial sector.

The SACP calls upon the workers of our country to earnestly embark on this struggle. Much as discussions at NEDLAC are important, nevertheless we must never forget our slogan, "What cannot be won on the ground, can never be won on the table". As the SACP we shall not be found wanting in supporting these legitimate struggles of the working class. This is the only struggle for truly broad-based black economic empowerment and building people's power in the economy.

The class struggle continues!

The Zimbabwean situation - an SACP response to cde Fikile Mbalula  

In its most recent issue, the on-line publication ANC Today, has an intervention by cde Fikile Mbalula, president of the ANC Youth League, entitled “COSATU and Zimbabwe. Signalling left, turning right” (12th November, 2004). The SACP welcomes the initiative taken by ANC Today to open up space for what could become a more extensive discussion on the current situation in Zimbabwe. The SACP believes that within the Alliance and, indeed, within the ANC itself, we have not created adequate space to discuss and debate Zimbabwe. As a consequence the cadreship of our movement has not been empowered to provide clear leadership to our country on the Zimbabwean situation. There is very considerable popular confusion within all of our formations. Our awkwardness and silences on Zimbabwe have also left gaping holes in the public debate that conservative opposition forces have been quick to exploit.

Unfortunately, cde Mbalula’s relatively extensive intervention doesn’t really help. Instead of laying the basis for a comradely and informed analysis of the crisis in Zimbabwe, he has chosen to direct a litany of sarcasm at COSATU. We can (we should) debate the merits of COSATU’s fact-finding mission to Harare. What were its strengths and weaknesses? What has it revealed about democratic culture in Zimbabwe? Perhaps there were some rough edges in the COSATU approach? (General secretary, cde Zwelinzima Vavi, has conceded as much in regard to the COSATU letter addressed to President Mugabe.) But are the niceties of protocol really what is fundamentally at issue in Zimbabwe at present?

Above all, what is the collective way forward? Mbalula is largely silent on this. Instead, the message from his intervention tends to be: leave it to your betters. COSATU, he scoffs, “thinks that our `quiet diplomacy’ needs to be ‘coordinated’ with some other kind of action”. How impertinent of COSATU!

Guilt by imperialist association

At the core of Mbalula’s strategy of sustained sarcasm there appears to be an attempt to disparage and even intimidate any principled, progressive assessment of Zimbabwe’s government and ruling party. He portrays any critique as the witting or unwitting ally of an imperialist agenda. And so we have several pages of quotations from various conservative US and UK commentators: Robert Rotberg, the British Telegraph, the Washington Times, Robert Bate (“a Fellow of the American Enterprise Institute”), the International Republican Institute, etc. Some of these interventions invoke all manner of rabid hyperbole. The Zimbabwean ruling party is likened, for instance, to the horrendous Pol Pot regime. What does this all prove? It proves (if we needed proof) that conservative forces in the North do not like President Mugabe for a variety of racist, anti-liberation, Cold War recidivist and other neo-colonial reasons.

But these quotes do not prove that each and every critical appraisal of the Zimbabwean government and of ZANU PF is, therefore, right-wing. Neo-conservatives in the US are, for instance, constantly disparaging the UN. Our own government has (correctly) criticised the deeply flawed architecture of the UN and particularly its Security Council. These are both critiques of the UN, but they are made for diametrically opposed reasons.

Moreover, Mbalula appears to be blissfully unaware that the simplistic guilt-by- imperialist-association allegation that lies at the heart of his attack on COSATU is particularly vulnerable to an equally simplistic counter-attack. After all, during his most recent visit to South Africa, it was President Mbeki and not COSATU’s Vavi that President Bush patronisingly anointed as “my point-man on Zimbabwe”.

We are not for a moment suggesting that our President sees his Zimbabwean interventions as being at the behest of the US administration, on the contrary. But we are suggesting that Mbalula’s line of argument isn’t going to get us anywhere.

A constructive left critique of the prevailing situation in Zimbabwe is both possible and absolutely necessary. Even Mbalula, at one point, but more or less in passing, concedes that there are “problems”. “Our movement and Government have disagreed with ZANU PF and the Government of Zimbabwe about a number of issues relating to the situation in Zimbabwe”, he tells us. “We have not hesitated to discuss any and all these matters with both ZANU PF and the Government, as well as intervene practically where this was necessary.”

But what are these “issues” around which there is disagreement? What are the practical interventions? How do we help to reinforce such interventions? Mbalula does not provide us with any information whatsoever. We are not looking for juicy gossip. We are asking an analytic question: What are the underlying, systemic factors that underpin what Mbalula politely refers to as Zimbabwe’s “political, economic and social problems”? This is a crucial question if we are to develop a coherent and helpful South African solidarity position. Mbalula offers us nothing.

On the contrary, Mbalula portrays a society with a healthy electoral system, the rule of law and an independent judiciary, an empowered parliamentary opposition, and press freedom. Needless to say, in order to make each of these claims, he has to argue with breathtaking one-sidedness.

A robust, independent judicial system?

To clinch his argument that Zimbabwe has a healthy judicial system, Mbalula tells us that: “In some instances where the MDC has challenged specific constituency election results, the courts have upheld the petitions of the MDC, resulting in the removal of ZANU PF members of parliament.”

Unfortunately, Mbalula has got his facts wrong. No ZANU PF MPs have been removed. In the immediate aftermath of the June 2000 parliamentary elections, the MDC filed petitions to the High Court challenging the ZANU PF victories in 37 constituencies. To date only 11 of these petitions have been heard and judges have ruled in favour of the MDC in seven of these cases. Yes, this does, indeed, demonstrate that there is still a residual if diminishing judicial independence. However, with parliamentary elections ostensibly less than four months away, the seven ZANU PF MPs whose victories were declared null and void continue to sit in parliament pending appeal hearings in the Supreme Court. Six of these appeal cases have been with the Supreme Court for over three years!

A healthy parliamentary democracy?

“Zimbabwe has an elected parliament, in which the MDC is a formidable elected opposition”, Mbalula tells us.

What Mbalula doesn’t tell us is that 30 of the 150 MPs are unelected ZANU PF appointees hand-picked by the President. Mbalula doesn’t tell us that Parliament is a largely toothless entity in which back-bench ZANU PF MPs themselves are marginalized.

Mbalula also fails to remember that, just two weeks ago, an elected MDC MP (Roy Bennett) was sentenced by a parliamentary committee (made up of a majority of unelected ZANU PF MPs) to one year’s hard labour. He was sentenced for having pushed a fellow (unelected) MP, the Minister of Justice, Patrick Chinamasa in a scuffle that was considerably milder than the one in which our own current deputy Minister of Justice, cde Johnny de Lange once floored a former NNP MP. We will be told, of course, that Bennett’s sentence is “perfectly legal” in terms of Zimbabwean parliamentary rules. It may well be, but then that is the problem.

Minister Chinamasa is a leading government negotiator in the stop-start South African government facilitated talks. When Bennett, who had honourably tendered an apology for his behaviour, was led off to prison, Chinamasa is reported to have taunted other MDC MPs that they “would be next”. None of this remotely approaches the horrors of the Pol Pot regime, but Mbalula is asking us to believe that Zimbabwe is a relatively stable democracy and, what is more, the two main political parties are very close to making a deal on the way forward…if only COSATU were not clumsily butting in. Is that really how things look?

MDC urban municipal power?

To further buttress his claim that Zimbabwe is a relatively healthy multi-party democracy, Mbalula reassures us that “because of its electoral strength, the MDC is the predominant representative of the urban population of Zimbabwe. The main urban municipalities of Zimbabwe are controlled by elected MDC councils.”

In theory, this might be true. The MDC won control of all 12 major cities in municipal elections. However, the reality is different. Despite having a clear mandate from the people, most MDC mayors have found it impossible to operate due to the interference of the government through the offices of the Minister for Local Government, Ignatius Chombo. In Harare, in particular, the MDC-council has been prevented from carrying out its most basic duties, and MDC councillors have resigned en masse. President Mugabe last year appointed special governors to Harare and Bulawayo to over-ride and undermine MDC mayors and MDC led councils.

Press freedom in Zimbabwe?

Mbalula tells us that Zimbabwe “has many ‘independent’ publications that are registered according to the law, appear regularly, and are highly critical of the government”. Who provided Mbalula with this information? Could it have been Minister Jonathan Moyo?

There is an abundance of information indicating a growing and targeted intimidation of independent journalists and non-governmental media, including the bombing of premises. Here are just a few recent developments:

  • Since the promulgation of the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) in April 2002, over 30 journalists have been arrested for criticising the government.
  • However, no journalists working for the state media have ever been arrested under AIPPA, despite the plethora of distortions that are published in the state media on a daily basis.
  • The editor of the Independent and a senior reporter are due to appear in court in January 2005 to face charges of undermining the image of the president - they ran a picture of President Mugabe trying to hold up his trousers while visiting an agricultural show in Harare.
  • The government is currently tabling amendments to AIPPA that will result in journalists operating without accreditation being fined or sentenced to two years imprisonment.
  • There are, indeed, still three “independent” papers in Zimbabwe, following the forced closure of the Daily News and the Tribune. Of the “independent” newspapers, the Independent and the Standard are fairly limited print-run weeklies. While the third, the Mirror is a daily paper with a sister publication that comes out on a Sunday. The “independence” of the Mirror could be somewhat qualified by the fact that it is owned by Ibbo Mandaza, who is strongly aligned to a particular faction within ZPF.

In short, once more it is true that the Zimbabwean situation is not remotely analogous to the Pol Pot regime, for instance. But it is equally true that the trend on the media front is towards greater repression and less democratic tolerance. As South Africans, anxious to foster the conditions for the consolidation and advance of the national democratic revolution in Zimbabwe, we should ask ourselves whether these developments are positive or negative.

The real truth about the closure of the Daily News?

In dealing with media realities in Zimbabwe, Mbalula remarks that “the real truth will also be told about the circumstances that led to the Daily News ceasing to publish”. Again, characteristically, he doesn’t condescend to provide us with any facts or explanations. Seemingly, others know best, and in the fullness of time the rest of us will also come to understand.

We assume, however, that Mbalula is alluding to the Daily News declining to register with a new Media and Information Commission run by Minister Jonathan Moyo in terms of AIPPA. If this is indeed what Mbalula is referring to, then the truth that will presumably emerge in the fullness of time is that “the Daily News was responsible for its own downfall”. The facts are somewhat more complex. The newspaper refused to register while challenging the constitutionality of AIPPA in the courts. Chief Justice Chidyausiku ruled that the Daily News had come to court with “dirty hands”, that is, they could not challenge the constitutionality of an Act without first complying with it! When the Daily News consequently tried to register, Moyo’s commission refused. It is hard not to draw the conclusion that the closure of the newspaper was a calculated political decision.

It could well be that the Daily News management was tactically outsmarted in all of this, but is that really what we should be criticising or applauding? For progressive South Africans, surely the key issue is: Are the various political and social formations in Zimbabwe contributing to the positioning of their society, its institutions and its mass constituencies in ways that foster a consolidation of an ongoing people-centred and people-driven national democratic revolution? Or are they going backwards, while seeking to score tactical victories against each other?

When a parliamentary committee acts as a kangaroo court to remove an annoying political opponent, or when newspapers are shut down, then Zimbabwean laws, rules and regulations are invoked as justification by those who do not want to concede that there are serious problems in Zimbabwe. But when the Zimbabwean government acts in defiance of its own judiciary, as it did when it ignored a High Court order and expelled the COSATU fact-finding mission, then the same sources abandon “rule of law” arguments and evoke liberation struggle solidarity (as if COSATU had not been in the struggle with us).

Macro-economic populism?

While Mbalula concedes that there are “political, economic and social problems” in Zimbabwe, nowhere does he tell us what they are. There is, however, one partial exception - Zimbabwe’s economic crisis.

Mbalula ventures briefly into this area …but he only does this because he thinks that he can score some polemical points against COSATU in the process. “The reality”, he tells us, “is that the economic problems of Zimbabwe emanated from the implementation from independence in 1980 onwards, of precisely the same policies that COSATU demanded of our government, as part of its opposition to GEAR.”

We will come back briefly to the GEAR debate in a moment, but let’s focus on Zimbabwe itself…

Mbalula’s argument is essentially that from independence the Zimbabwean government ran up “high budget deficits to fund social spending on health and education as well as rural development.” However, these “distinctly pro-poor policies were financially unsustainable. A large domestic and international debt became a fetter on further development.” By the mid-1990s the Zimbabwean government was forced into a structural adjustment programme by the IMF and World Bank and had to “roll back…the social programmes that had been put in place to ensure the upliftment of the formerly colonised millions.”

The SACP agrees that the social redistribution policies pursued by the ZANU government, while achieving some important early successes, were financially unsustainable and there are major lessons for progressive South Africans to take on board. But, once more, Mbalula’s portrayal is seriously skewed in key respects.

Basically, over more than twenty years, the ruling party in Zimbabwe has tried to perform an economic balancing act with three ultimately contradictory class projects:

  1. it has used budgetary resources to “uplift” (to use Mbalula’s instructive and entirely liberal philanthropic term) the poor, peasants, workers and middle strata professionals - the great majority of the formerly colonised;
  2. it has used bureaucratic power to placate and advance the narrow sectarian economic interests of competing inner-party factions, whose class character is essentially that of an aspirant and actual (as the case might be) parasitic bureaucratic capitalist stratum; while
  3. leaving the dominant productive capitalist agricultural and mining sectors largely intact, apart from some limited board-room indigenisation, or (as we in South Africa would now call it) “narrow BEE”.

Since independence, deepening contradictions between the diverging class interests of these different projects have tended to be resolved in favour of the latter two, at the expense of Zimbabwe’s peasants, workers and productive and professional middle strata.

For the first twenty years of independence, Lonrho and Anglo American, for instance, owned large tracts of land consisting of mining areas, sugar estates, farms and cattle ranches. Both Lonrho (which, under CEO Tiny Rowland was a major contributor to the ruling party) and the Oppenheimer family were untouchable. The Oppenheimers alone owned over 960,000 hectares of idle land. President Mugabe had met Harry Oppenheimer in May 1980, promising to respect “his private property”. It was not until the farm invasions of 2000 that Anglo American itself offered 41,000 hectares of the 960,000 for resettlement, and a mutually agreeable accommodation has since been arranged.

The most costly items on the budget in the 1980s were not pro-poor programmes like land reform, where the government relied almost entirely on donor funds, but on military procurement. In1987, for instance, the government found over US$250 million in the budget to re-equip the air-force. While this kind of crippling expenditure had a progressive justification during the height of the apartheid destabilisation years (for which Zimbabwe paid an enormous price), the continued exorbitant military expenditure into the second decade of independence increasingly acquired a class logic based on the accumulative interests of the parasitic capitalist stratum within the state and ruling party.

Contrary to Mbaluwa’s claims, it was less the pro-poor social expenditure that precipitated the latest and persisting economic crisis in Zimbabwe and much more:

  • a disastrous and costly military adventure in the DRC - whose logic was fundamentally about primitive accumulation for a Zimbabwean ruling party-aligned military elite; and
  • a populist concession to frustrated war veterans who mounted a siege of ZANU PF party headquarters in July 1997. The veterans, many of whom had very legitimate grievances in the face of curtailed social spending, a stalled land reform process and extensive corruption in the compensation payment of ex-combatants, were promised a massive payout of Z$50,000 a year. This was to be the decisive trigger for the current crisis.

In short, the lesson that the SACP believes should be derived from Zimbabwe’s experience is that even moderately effective social spending is indeed unsustainable in the context of a dominant and untransformed colonial capitalist accumulation path, and in the context of the pillaging of public resources by a parasitic state bourgeoisie.

Very briefly on GEAR

In the present intervention, we want to discuss the Zimbabwean challenge, not the South African government’s 1996 macro-economic policy, GEAR. But briefly and for the record:

  • The SACP has NEVER questioned the need for a careful and technically proficient management of our budget deficit and other key macro-economic factors like foreign currency reserves, inflation and interest rates.
  • The SACP’s critique of GEAR was directed at the policy’s wider ambitions and claims - notably, that the route to sustained growth and development lay in macro stabilisation that would of itself attract major flows of foreign direct investment (FDI). For this reason, the SACP has been supportive of the formula that first emerged at the ANC’s mid-2000 National General Council that macro-stabilisation in mid-1996 was “necessary but not sufficient”.
  • Contrary to Mbaluwa’s claim, the two major general strikes led by COSATU (which were supported by the SACP) in 2001 and 2002 were NOT directed at a demand for “unsustainable social spending”. They were directed at government’s privatisation programme unveiled in late-1999. This privatisation acceleration was basically the default position into which government retreated after GEAR’s hopes of major FDI flows on the strength of macro-stabilisation were not forthcoming. Thankfully, the full-blooded privatisation process has itself now been halted, but the impact of what happened in previous years is still being felt. For instance, cde Smuts Ngonyama is telling us that we should all be patriotically proud that his imminent, multi-million personal enrichment from Telkom shares represents a return of wealth into South African hands. In fact, the US and Malaysian owners of Thintana Communications will be walking off with an estimated R9 billion profit from their 1997 30% purchase of Telkom, half of which they are now selling to the Ngcaba-Serote-Ngonyama consortium (Business Day, November 15, 2004). That R9 billion, creamed off a parastatal that was once one hundred percent publicly owned, will be repatriated out of our economy - so much for attracting foreign investment into our economy…and so much for macro-economic populism.

Land reform in Zimbabwe

Mbalula pours scorn on COSATU for daring to question the credentials of the 2000 “accelerated land reform programme” in Zimbabwe. He seems to subscibe to an interpretation of the Zimbabwean land reform process that goes something like this: At the Lancaster House agreements the Zimbabwean liberation movement was tied into a cumbersome willing-seller willing-buyer approach to land reform. However, as a trade-off, the British government promised considerable funding for the process. Despite valiant attempts by the ruling party, so the argument continues, a combination of British treachery and unsustainable budget deficits slowed the programme. The 2000 accelerated land reform programme was a push to finally resolve the issue, restoring farming land to black Zimbabweans.

All of this is PARTIALLY true. But a great deal is also forgotten or left unsaid. In the first place, what Marxist-Leninist Party (as ZANU PF once styled itself) remotely worth its salt is seriously going to depend upon a former colonial or an actual imperial power to fund its “socialist” land reform programme? Can you imagine the Cuban Communist Party, or the Chinese Communist Party explaining that they had not carried through substantive land reform in twenty years because the US or the Japanese had not come forward with donor funding?

Serious, transformative land reform is based on unleashing the mobilised energies and aspirations of millions of rural poor - and not on philanthropic “upliftment” (donor-funded or otherwise). In the first two or three years after independence in Zimbabwe there were, indeed, large-scale, relatively spontaneous squatter movements onto commercial farms, particular in areas that had been central in the guerrilla war. Initially, government gave explicit support to squatters, seeing the movement as useful, bottom-up pressure on white commercial farmers. Within the constraints of the willing-seller willing-buyer formula, the squatter movement had an important market impact. Land prices plummeted in affected areas, and there were more willing sellers about. But by the end of 1982 government policy changed. Deputy Minister of Lands, Mark Dube announced that all squatters would have to vacate the land on which they were living and move to formal government resettlement schemes. Dube announced 25 January 1983 as a deadline for evacuation. He declared an “all-out-war” on squatters. Unfortunately, in 1983 the Zimbabwean economy experienced a serious depression, and considerable budget cuts were made in the land resettlement programme. The rural poor found themselves squeezed on two fronts.

Without going into the detail of land reform in the first decade, by 1990 the government had transferred 15% of white-controlled land to 6% of the peasantry on a willing-seller willing-buyer basis. Given the relatively recent history of colonial land dispossession, and the centrality of agriculture to the Zimbabwean economy, 15% is a modest figure. However, we should be quick to acknowledge as South Africans that it is, as a percentage, more than five times what we have succeeded in transferring in our first decade of freedom!

It was against this general background on the one hand, and in the immediate context of a referendum defeat in February 2000, growing social unrest, and the deepening of contradictions between the three distinct class projects noted above, that the Zimbabwean government announced a new “fast-track” land reform programme in July 2000. At the time of the launch, commercial agriculture was still dominated by 4,500 white farmers. By the end of 2002, there were just over 1,000 white commercial farmers left. The back of settler colonial agriculture had been broken - although the land-holdings of multi-national corporations like Anglo American remain another matter.

In its report, the SACP fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe in December 2003 noted: “In several interactions with ZANU-PF comrades, we found that it took us some time to convince our interlocutors that the SACP actually required no persuading whatsoever that colonial land seizures had been a great injustice, and that the persisting monopolisation of commercial farming two decades after independence by 4,500 settler farmers had been a critical blockage to any overall developmental transformation. The SACP delegation constantly reiterated that breaking the power of settler agricultural capital was a decisive step that should not be reversed - whatever other shortcomings there might have been, and still might be, in the process.”

As far as the SACP is concerned, that observation remains entirely valid. But there WERE serious shortcomings in the fast-track land reform. Its timing and its hasty launch had more to do with electoral considerations than with a well-considered and sustainable agricultural strategy. The violence and turbulence associated with the process affected not just white farming families but many hundreds of thousands of black farm-workers who suffered physical beatings, job losses and displacement.

The SACP’s December 2003 fact-finding mission found that many of the beneficiaries themselves readily admitted serious problems. The mission met with various representatives of emerging black commercial farmers, including the Indigenous Commercial Farmers Union, and the Tobacco Growers Trust. In a separate meeting it also had the opportunity to engage with the director general in the Agricultural Ministry. While they all expressed confidence that the fast-track process would begin to bear fruit “after the inevitable disruptions that accompanied any transformation on this scale”, they also spoke quite openly about many problems - including, lack of co-ordination between agro-industrial inputs and farming operations, allegedly deliberate undermining of seed provision by private seed companies, complications with accessing financing, and corruption in the acquisition of farms by elements within the ruling party.

For many Western governments and public commentators the real “scandal” of the 2000 fast-track land reform is that it marked a break in the two decades of accommodation between the class project of a black bureaucratic bourgeoisie in the state and ruling party, on the one hand, and the persisting accumulation trajectory of established white capital (at least in the commercial farming sector), on the other. Mbalula is absolutely right to say that this is what explains why much of the Western media was so vociferous on Zimbabwe and so silent on electoral anomalies or human rights abuses in, for instance, Zambia or Swaziland.

But if the fast-track land reform unleashed in 2000 broke the tacit accommodation between emergent black bureaucratic capital and white commercial agricultural capital, did it result in a greater convergence with a peasant and working class rural project? There is not a simple answer to this question. There can be no doubt that, generally, land seizures were dominated by the interests of black bureaucratic capital, but they unleashed energies, expectations and land seizures by poor peasants and rural workers in many areas as well. There is still considerable fluidity and turmoil in Zimbabwe’s rural areas, much of it intra-black class struggle over access to and ownership and control of farming land.

The national democratic path is the way forward in Zimbabwe in the current period

The real contribution that our ANC-led liberation movement can make to our Zimbabwean comrades and colleagues is to help them, as best we can, to regroup around a consistent national democratic project that is people-centred and people-driven.

This means that progressive, batho pele values must be nurtured among the cadreship located within the state. Personal accumulation through the parasitic plundering of public resources must be rooted out and punished. The security forces must be brought under democratic discipline and all violence directed at the people outlawed. Militias must be disbanded. The best defence of the Zimbabwean revolution, in the face of any external regime change agenda, is not an increasingly paranoid laagering, but the forging of popular unity and support, based on programmes that deliver transformation to (and with) the urban and rural poor. (Perhaps Venezuelan President Chavez’s successful defeat of three concerted regime change onslaughts provides an instructive topical example in this regard?)

The progressive middle-strata, much of it now aligned with the MDC, need to shift from an often narrow electoralist discourse that has, until recently, frequently been informed by a first world liberalism that has simply abandoned the national challenges of racialised under-development to demagogic appropriation by a parasitic bureaucratic capitalist stratum.

Above all, a progressive and programmatic unity needs to be forged between the Zimbabwean working class, the rural and urban poor, and progressive professional strata, including those in the state and security apparatus. A patriotic nationalism is the means for achieving this unity. Robust democratisation is the condition for fostering it.

Of course, none of this is going to be easy, given the sharp polarisation and all-round crisis in Zimbabwe. And, of course, South Africans cannot export solutions. But we can definitely contribute. The beginning of an effective contribution from this side of the Limpopo is surely an honest, forthright and constructive discussion among ourselves within the ANC-led alliance about what is actually happening in Zimbabwe. We hope that this is a contribution to such a discussion.

As we say in our discussion document on Zimbabwe, (Zimbabwe: let’s keep focused, Umsebenzi Online, 3 November 2004), none of us in the alliance should be unwittingly turned into spokespersons of this or that political formation in Zimbabwe. Instead of labels and long quotations, we need proper analysis, as a basis for comradely, intra-alliance debate.


Seeing left indicators from the right can sometimes be an illusion: response to Jabu Mbalula on Zimbabwe


Guest column By Buti Manamela, National Secretary, Young Communist League

(This is a response to ANC Youth League President Fikile Mbalula’s article that appeared on ANC Today on 12 November 2004)

I always heard of stories that people sometimes creates illusions of being with others in the same place at the same time, but never believed this until I read ANCYL President Fikile Mbalula’s article on ANC Today, 12 November 2004 (COSATU and Zimbabwe: Signalling left, Turning Right). Mbalula, in the true style of other authors in ANC Today threw in a series of quotations from various sources, sought to create multiple impressions from this article. Firstly, that COSATU is involved in some sinister agenda with the right-wing, although it regards itself as the left. Secondly, that COSATU has no business in interfering in the situation in Zimbabwe. Thirdly, that COSATU is falsifying the situation in Zimbabwe and that the truth, which COSATU and its sinister rightwing fellows are trying to hide through propaganda, shall come out. And lastly, that COSATU condemns ZANU-PF and the Zimbabwean government for implementing economic policies that led Zimbabwe to its downfall, and alternatively argues that the same policies should also be implemented here in the country. And then Mbalula concludes that therefore, COSATU is always signalling left and turning right. The only statement missing from Mbalula’s article is that COSATU supports the rightwing, neo-liberal and reactionary MDC, that is only visible in the conclusion he makes.

On all the four counts that COSATU is accused of, the author of the article commits an errors that have been made in the past. In the past, both the SACP and COSATU leadership have been accused of proclaiming themselves “left” and acting “right”. This was evident when both the SACP and COSATU exposed and bemoaned the level of unemployment and poverty, and provided facts that the current economic path that the country is taking does not create jobs. A thin line was drawn between the SACP and COSATU with, for instance, the Democratic Alliance. The same line was drawn on the issue relating to the provision of Anti-retroviral drugs, of which COSATU insisted that these should be provided, arguing together with other NGO’s. The other point that has been made with regard to COSATU being closer to the rightwing forces in the country was that of the Basic Income Grant. On similar lines, COSATU has initiated the debates, and, the fact that the DA and other rightwing forces join opportunistically in the chorus does not make COSATU and the SACP rightwing. To further accuse alliance partners of being rightwing, itself, is contrary to the understanding within the alliance that name-calling and labelling does not build the spirit of building a strong alliance. COSATU, like all other political forces in the country has the right to act in solidarity to their counterparts elsewhere in the world. The freedom that we enjoy as South Africans was itself as a result of solidarity, pressure and international sanctions to the abusive and exclusionist Apartheid policy. The fact that white people participated freely in electing an Apartheid government did not make the system a ‘dictatorship’ of a special type. And no, nobody accused the SACP and the ANC of being liberal and rightwing when the DP (the now rightwing DA) supported the struggle against Apartheid. Part of the principles of COSATU is international working class solidarity and therefore, supporting struggles of other workers elsewhere with the full knowledge that they are building an International Working class movement is central to COSATU’ s support of the workers of Zimbabwe.

When George W. Bush invaded Iraq, the law that the Texan President laid was that countries were either with the US or with the Iraqi and Afghan “dictatorship”, there was no middle road, and similarly, today as we speak, there is no fence in Zimbabwe. The ANC deplored both this invasions, and, in the usual troop-like manner, so did the ANCYL. This did not in anyway imply that both the ANC and its Youth League supported the dictatorial regimes that the people of Afghanistan and Iraq lived under. We cannot therefore, now, when it comes to Zimbabwe, conclude that any confrontational engagement towards President Robert Mugabe implies support for the MDC. This suggestion is flawed, and it runs heedlessly and heedlessly, that is, helter-skelter, in the arguments made by Mbalula.

Is COSATU and the “rightwing” forces whose sentiments coincides with those of COSATU falsifying information about the closure of the “Daily News”, the dictatorial nature of President Robert Mugabe, and the overall situation in Zimbabwe? There are close to 3 million South Africans who fled Zimbabwe for South Africa, mainly for economic reasons, but also for fear of arrest and torture. The SA government had to tighten security in bordering lines with Zimbabwe. It further introduced a Z$2 million (about a R1000) for a Visa for anyone crossing into SA. Further than that, there are people dying of hunger and starvation. There are daily reports of abuse from the youth militias. There are several MP’ s of the opposition who do not make their way back to parliament because the police either beat them up, or, if they survived their wrath, members of the Youth Militia who are card-carrying members of ZANU-PF got them. It is even worse when people come to the defence of ZANU-PF, when the very same members of ZANU-PF are also at the receiving end of the already deteriorated economic situation in that country. I will not answer whether COSATU and its so-called right-wing bedfellows lied, this, I leave to whatever is left (remaining, in this regard) of the conscience of Mbalula and many others who share his views.

COSATU and the SACP have always argued against Gear, and, to my own recollection still do. Part of the issues that both organisations raised against Gear was that there should not be a wholesale of parastatals, and that there should be more social spending on education, health and other basic needs. Only the Freedom Charter, the RDP and the ANC Elections do not contain the underlying effects and principles of Gear. Mbalula arrogantly says that the ANC will not be forced into abandoning policies that it believes serves the ordinary South Africans, this is said with reference to Gear. The DA here at home proclaims similarly, and consistently urges the ANC government not to heed the calls made by their left-wing partners. Who dared to call the ANC rightwing? Cabinet has since suspended the sale of its stake in Telkom, Eskom and Transnet, with President Mbeki arguing that the state has an important role to play in the development of the South African society. Mbalula, and others who supports Gear, are surely ignorant of this facts. But further than that, they are also ignorant of the fact that the privatisation of state’s parastatals led to massive job-losses and price hiking. This lead to the majority of SA without these services. The major mistake that the Zimbabwean government made was to follow the Structural Adjustment Programme, and this is the mistake that Gear commits, a mistake that the World Bank’s Report on Development 2003 equally acknowledge. Mbalula will not state this points because, under the circumstances, they do not support his argument against COSATU pledging solidarity and acting in like manner with the peoples of Zimbabwe.

Mbalula flanks through the question of Land and Agrarian Reform in Zimbabwe, and unequivocally mentions his condemnation of COSATU’ s criticism of it. He implies that the Zimbabwean government was right in engaging into such. But will Mbalula, and many others who support that programme, have the balls to support a similar programme in South Africa? No! They were unequivocal with their “silence” during the SACP action earlier in the month. Pure hypocrisy. Mbalula relies further on a Report of the South African Observer Mission which deemed the elections “legitimate’ when members of the SAOM themselves have become remorseful for having said that (the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches has since admitted to having authored parts of the report and regretted having done so). He further forgets that the SAOM have made recommendations on the conditions for free elections in Zimbabwe, which the Zimbabwean government have failed to uphold.

It has become clear that keeping quite about Zimbabwe will not help the situation at all. South Africans can do the situation better in that country by assisting the parties involved to come to the negotiations table. The MDC have indicated to President Thabo Mbeki that they are willing to negotiate, but the same is not forthcoming from ZANU-PF. We should realise that a revolutionary outlook and character is not inborn in individuals and organisations. If, as Mao says, you were a revolutionary yesterday, and today you are counter revolutionary, we cannot afford to call you a revolutionary at all (The Little Red Book). Similarly, the same applies with ZANU-PF, it can happen with COSATU, the SACP, or even the ANC. As he walks around the “right” territory, Mbalula must not confuse figures that pretend to be walking left and being in the right to COSATU!


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