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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 3, No. 4, 18 February 2004

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Build the rural motive forces to accelerate comprehensive transformation

By Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

In October 2003 we again launched our now popular Red October campaign. On this occasion the key objective was to highlight the plight of the most vulnerable workers in our country - farmworkers, domestic workers and casual workers. All workers are vulnerable under capitalism. But we characterised these strata of the working class as among the most vunerable because of their marginal location in the capitalist division of labour.

These strata of the working class are still basically 'rightless' and unorganised, despite the very many progressive labour laws passed by our government. In fact, in many of the farms in South Africa '1994' has passed them by. They are still subjected to the very same old apartheid division of labour and working conditions. The focus of the 2003 Red October campaign was informed by all these realities. As we campaigned we became more aware of how many farmworkers, in particular, continue to be subjected to barbaric treatment.

By the end of the campaign, involving scores of mass meetings, marches and farmworkers' forums - it became clear to us that the issue is broader than just organising farmworkers.. The challenge is centrally about broader rural and agrarian transformation in favour of the workers and the poor. Our collective experiences underlined the correctness of the observation we made at our 11th Congress. The fundamental challenge for rural transformation in our country is the building of progressive motive forces to lead such transformation. An uncomfortable reality we have to face in the national democratic revolution is that our struggles from the 1970s took on a strong urban bias. How is this manifesting itself today?

Dominating the news and public discourse on rural transformation are rights of traditional leaders and the safety and security of farm-owners. In this discourse it is as if the primary challenge in South Africa's countryside is to constitutionalise the rights of traditional leaders and to secure the safety and accumulation interests of commercial agriculture. Yet the priority is to address poverty and the social and economic condition of the mass of the rural people, as a basis for safety, security and welfare for all in the countryside.

Despite huge inequalities and poverty in our rural areas, we have not succeeded in really mobilising the rural masses around their aspirations in a struggle for land and agrarian transformation. As a result, traditional leaders and farmers have acted as the motive forces, and inevitably only for their own class interests. Our government has embarked on very progressive reforms in the countryside, including a sectoral determination for farmworkers prescribing minimum conditions of service and remuneration, as well as a progressive land reform programme. From our Red October campaign it is clear that progress on this front critically hinges on mass organisation of farmworkers and other strata of the rural population into a solid motive force for transformation.

The conditions of farmworkers illustrates this powerfully. Their conditions are not only an expression of farm wage labour in contemporary South Africa, but reflect the challenge of landlessness and the stubborn persistence of labour tenancy in South Africa's countryside. Hundreds of thousands of farmworkers still reside with their families on land owned by commercial farmers.. So what we are dealing with is not just workers on farms, but families on farms. The spatial and settlement patterns and delivery of services on these farms are the most classic illustration of the continued existence of colonialism of a special type in large parts of South Africa's countryside. Whilst the farm-owner has all the basic services, clean drinking water, electricity, etc, black families residing on the very same farms do not have access to these services.. Whilst the farmowners' livestock has vast grazing land, farmworkers' livestock has little grazing. And if that livestock wanders onto the farm-owner's grazing land it is impounded and workers have to pay for their release.

In our recent ANC election trail to an area called Luneburg, some thirty kilometres outside of PaulPietersburg in KwaZulu Natal, we found that farm-owners are using these settlement patterns and their economic power to 'creatively' avoid paying the government's minimum wage to their workers. For example, since the introduction of minimum conditions of service by government, some farmers have formally increased the wages to the government stipulated levels. By what they do is to levy the farmworkers for very minimal basic services, for rental for land, and they also deduct levies for impounding of livestock. After all these deductions have been made workers' wages, the take-home pay is exactly the same as before!

The majority of people in South Africa's countryside are, however, still to be found in the former bantustan areas. It is in these areas that the traditional leaders call the shots and have privileged their own class interests over the needs of the majority of the population. In most of these areas, land allocation, taxes, and a multiplicity of levies are decided upon by individual traditional leaders, in many cases subjecting rural people to the worst forms of extortion. In these areas there is inadequate land for farming and grazing. It is to these conditions that millions of retrenched workersfrom the urban areas return.

It is for all these reasons that we welcome the ANC Manifesto commitment to 'complete the land restitution programme and speed up land reform, with 30% of agricultural land redistributed by 2014, combined with comprehensive assistance to emergent farmers'.

However for this very important commitment to be realised it must simultaneously be accompanied by a conscious effort to build sustained mass organisation as part of building motive rural forces for transformation. The practical outcome of such organisation and mass mobilisation could be strong trade unions for farmworkers, producer co-operatives, broad based drought committees and progressive land and agricultural committees. These could form the core of the motive forces for rural transformation.

Our Central Committee has identified 'emergent farmers' as a key objective. This is not just about constituting a new black capitalist farming class, but it is principally about ensuring access to productive land for household based subsistence farming. This would create a layer of small farmers whose immediate objective is to provide food and alleviate rural poverty. This household based farming would need to be assisted with agricultural inputs progressively aiming to meet subsistence needs and towards producing a surplus. From such a surplus one could build producer co-operatives to market and distribute such produce.

We do concede that in the process of land and agrarian transformation a layer of a black capitalist farmers will emerge, but this should not be the starting point of land and agrarian transformation. The starting point is to target the landless poor and assist them towards subsistence farming as a strategy towards poverty eradication. It is on these matters that the SACP will seek to engage our Allies and all other role playersas a foundation for mobilising progressive motive forces for rural transformation.

Programmatically this means intensifying organisation of farm workers into trade unions and other forms of organisation. This means putting pressure on commercial agriculture to open their farms to such organisation. As things stand now, millions of farmworkers are not accessible to any form of organisation. In addition, this means working together with progressive NGOs in the rural areas. From our campaign it is clear that many of these NGOs are doing good work, but they operate in an isolated manner and do not have capacity to drive mass organisation in the countryside. This would also help to focus the work of many of these NGOs towards supporting developmental initiatives, underpinned and driven by mass organisation.

The SACP has also identified the need to put pressure on commercial agriculture and traditional leaders, through mass mobilisation and engagement, as a priority action point to begin to change the countryside to serve the interests of the poor. Such a campaign should be a priority for the Alliance and the democratic movement as a whole. It is in the deepest interests of our Alliance to lead this effort also in order to seize the initiative away from organisations that are hostile to our Alliance and the democratic government, both from the extreme left and the right.

It is to these tasks that our February Central Committee has correctly directed SACP structures.


Can the Zimbabwean political impasse be broken?

The deepening crisis in Zimbabwe has produced a bizarre spectacle in South Africa. The DA and other right-wing elements have seized upon the crisis with glee to score political points at home. Tertius Delport, the Citizen newspaper, yesterday’s ideologues of apartheid, ex-Selous Scouts and sundry friends of Rhodesia in their South Coast watering holes, all the living dead have come stumbling out. It’s long past zombie bed-time. The sun has risen. Yet, here they are, on the radio phone-in programmes, all over the letters pages of newspapers. They’re even shaping the public discourse.

“Didn’t we tell you so?”, they trumpet. They shed crocodile tears for the fate of “ordinary black Zimbabweans”, but beneath it all, make no mistake, the message is the old one: “You see what happens when THEY take over.” Zimbabwe isn’t really Zimbabwe, it isn’t even Rhodesia, it has become an allegory for South Africa. “ZANU PF” equals “ANC”. “President Mugabe” equals “President Mbeki”.

When he was in Zimbabwe, DA leader Tony Leon was asked by the MDC leadership to tone it down. His vainglorious attempts to cast himself as South Africa’s best friend of Zimbabwean trade unionists, rural poor, impoverished black school teachers and nurses (the core of the MDC membership) wasn’t in the least helpful, they told him. After all, their opponents in Zimbabwe are happy to play their own allegory games. Jonathan Moyo is very pleased to equate “Tsvangirai” with “Tony” (Leon or Blair). But, while the UK government has lately reined in its rhetoric on Zimbabwe somewhat, the same cannot be said for our own intrepid leader of the opposition. Leon told the MDC in Harare that Zimbabwe was “too good an electoral opportunity back in South Africa” for him to lay off.

But have we in the ANC-led alliance not also contributed, in our way, to this awakening of the living dead? Deluged by their nauseating sermons on democracy and human rights, we have sometimes been too easily inclined to simply close ranks with another liberation movement. We have sometimes forgotten our own Freedom Charter traditions, in which human rights and national liberation goals (like land) are not alternative choices, but deeply intertwined.

We have also been inclined to forget what we learnt in exile. We have, after all, come a long way in the company of the Zimbabwean liberation movements. We were with ZAPU and ZANU in Dar es Salaam and Lusaka in the early 1970s. We know about the fractious, sometimes bloody battles within ZANU. We acknowledge the success that ZANLA guerrillas began to score with their Chinese peasant-based strategies in the North-Eastern Highlands, more successful than our own and those of ZAPU, our close ally, at the time. We cannot forget the important gains made by the Zimbabwean government in education and health-care after independence in 1980, nor the huge sacrifices endured in fighting the Rhodesian and then apartheid-nurtured destabilisation of Mozambique. Some of us owe our lives to the Zimbabwean CIO and their detection of apartheid operatives on assassination missions against ANC front-line targets. But we also remember the brutal Matabeleland massacres between 1983 and 85 in which much of the ZAPU cadreship was decimated, as the 5th Brigade cut a bloody swathe through Matabeleland, leaving 20,000 people dead. In more recent times, post-1994, there have been tensions over, for instance, the role of the Zimbabwean army in the DRC. The simple equation of ZANU-PF and ANC does not do justice to a complex history.

The allegorical reading of Zimbabwe also doesn’t clarify the important shifts within our ANC government’s consistent engagement with the Zimbabwean crisis. Everything (and of course nothing) is explained by invoking the dull phrase “quiet diplomacy”. In late 1999 and through to the Zimbabwean parliamentary elections of 2000, the ANC government analysed the emergence of MDC as, essentially, a symptom of ZANU PF mistakes and stagnation. The principal strategic response was to encourage more proficient governance and renewal of ZANU-PF’s party machinery, fostering organisational democracy and mass work. For several reasons, ZANU-PF was unable to pursue this engagement consistently – which does not mean that we should quit trying.

The parliamentary elections of 2000 also underlined that the MDC was not a passing phenomenon, it had established a significant electoral base. There was a shift, therefore, in ANC-government thinking in the run-up to the 2002 presidential elections. It was clear that those elections would be close. What was less clear was whether a redoubtable Zimbabwean security apparatus would “allow” an MDC victory. At least two generals said no. For those who are far away, who imagine that “regime change” is a magic wand, these kinds of realities might be easily dismissed. But for anyone who is following current events in regime-changed Iraq, or who appreciates that Joburg is closer to Harare than Cape Town let alone London, taking off on a flight called “regime-change” when you are not sure if there is an air-strip at the other end is another matter. In the run-up to the 2002 election, our ANC government’s perfectly reasonable concern was to ensure, as best as possible and regardless of the victor, that there would be a soft-landing. Hard work was done, before the elections, to encourage the acceptance of some kind of patriotic government of national unity once the elections were completed.

This proposal was rebuffed in the end. MDC felt it had been robbed at the elections and (remembering the 1987 swallowing of ZAPU) was not prepared to enter into a GNU at the behest of Mugabe. Mugabe felt that his legitimacy was being impugned, and (much to the relief of half of the incumbent ZANU-PF cabinet) argued that, until the MDC’s constitutional court challenge was dropped, he was not interested in GNU deals. This brought us to the current impasse, and a third adjustment in our approach to the crisis.

It is now agreed in Pretoria and Harare that a new election is required to restore stability and legitimacy to any government in Zimbabwe. Our government has facilitated contacts between the two parties. Both ZANU PF and MDC have committed themselves to formal negotiations in the coming weeks that will discuss a constitution, transitional arrangements to ensure free and fair elections, and a date for those elections.

The Central Committee of the SACP has expressed cautious optimism about these important developments. We certainly agree that a negotiated transition offers the most probable and certainly the most desirable path to breaking the political impasse that is having such a devastating impact on the social and economic situation in Zimbabwe.

However, the SACP is uncertain about the degree of commitment to serious negotiations, particularly from the side of the ZANU PF government. We are concerned that there is a lack of urgency. We are also deeply worried by the continued repression of workers, the rural poor, including many women, opposition activists and of journalists. Such measures do not help to create a climate for serious negotiations, in which both sides assume patriotic responsibility for taking their country out of its crisis.

It is also important that we do not allow ourselves, as South Africans, to be manoeuvred into a position in which it seems that we need, or at least our government needs, the negotiations to succeed more than the Zimbabweans themselves. The negotiations are, fundamentally, about Zimbabwe's requirement. Successes should be Zimbabwean, and failures and delays should be blamed principally on whoever is responsible on the other side of the Limpopo.

The SACP agrees that the land question is very central to consolidating the Zimbabwean independence struggle. We agree that the continued monopolisation of this key sector of the Zimbabwean economy as late as 2000 (20 years after independence) by some 4 500 white farmers acted as a massive brake on transformation. However, a lawless, populist inspired land grab by an elite in the inner circles of government is a cruel caricature of the kind of land reform that the rural poor of Zimbabwe (and South Africa) so desperately require. The "fast-track" land reform in Zimbabwe has left hundreds of thousands of the poorest of farm workers displaced and without work.

In the coming period, the SACP urges all progressive South Africans to continue to engage counterparts in Zimbabwe, to express grave concern at human rights abuses, to support all genuine attempts to take forward the social and economic struggle for full independence in Zimbabwe, and to foster conditions for serious negotiations.


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