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RED ALERT
Reconfiguration from below: SACP takes responsibility, builds democratic popular power, contests elections in Metsimaholo
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Umsebenzi Online


Volume 5, No. 65, 4 October 2006

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Communist Cadres to the Front… For a Safe, Affordable and Accessible Public Transport and Road Safety For All!

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

It is that time of the year when we launch our annual, highly popular and successful Red October Campaign. I was, once more, highly inspired being in the midst of scores of communist cadres, mostly women, clad in their red t-shirts and overalls, distributing pamphlets in Phutaditjaba, our Thabo Mofutsanyana district of the SACP, in the Free State, and engaging our people at bus and taxi stations, taxi and bus drivers, commuters, bank customers in queues, at shopping complexes and in community meetings, as we launched our 2006 Red October Campaign on 30 September 2006. It is seeing, experiencing, feeling and being part of this communist energy that continues to earn our Party the respect of the ordinary workers and the poor of our country.

Building on trade union congresses and government programmes - important platforms to drive our campaigns

We launched our 2006 Red October Campaign in the wake of a successful season of some of COSATU affiliates' national congress, including the all-important COSATU Congress itself last month. By all accounts these congresses were highly successful, characterised as usual by intense, frank and honest debates, not only about the conditions of the working class in South Africa's workplaces, but also a deep reflection on the political challenges facing our national democratic revolution and the role of the working class therein.

The COSATU Congress, and the other affiliates' congresses, was also marked by the adoption of militant resolutions on burning issues relating to the transformation of our country, especially around the need for a radical transformation of the accumulation regime underway in our country.

We are also launching our 2006 Red October Campaign during the same month that national government, through the Minister of Transport, Cde Jeff Radebe, has declared the transport month. We welcome this initiative by government and we are confident that it lays a basis for a synergy between our respective campaigns, as both are about a single objective, the building of a safe, affordable and accessible public transport and road safety for all.

The problems of public transport are working class problems

The SACP has been concerned that since 1994 public transport has NOT significantly improved for the great majority of South Africans. In many respects it has got worse. Taxis are often unsafe, and the ways in which they operate is abusive to passengers. Metrorail is under-funded, and unreliable. Many workers lose their jobs for arriving late at work through no fault of their own. Children are turned back from school for arriving late at school. There is serious crime on board many trains. Bus services are often erratic or unavailable. Most bus stations and bus-stops are exposed to wind and rain.

Public transport is very expensive for most workers, students and poor. Most public transport does not operate after hours - making it impossible for shift-workers to get safely to work and back home. In many parts of our country, poor households have no access to public transport whatsoever.

There are many reasons for the very poor state of public transport in our country. One of these is that the majority of South Africans are still trapped in apartheid-era townships and rural areas distant from work and amenities. Our well-intentioned RDP housing delivery has reinforced the reality of many workers and the poor being stranded in distant places, making transport costly. A fundamental problem here is that 12 years into our democracy, housing and other related infrastructural developments are done outside of public transport considerations.

Instead of taxis, buses and trains working together as part of an integrated system in our towns and cities - we have minibuses fighting each other for passengers, and we have minibuses competing with buses and trains on long routes. Our public transport "systems" are fragmented, irrational, uneconomical and unsustainable. There is little effective government regulation and monitoring of public transport - and very little role given to commuters themselves.

A safe, affordable and accessible public transport is of central concern to the working class, as it is their major mode of travel and access to work and other opportunities. It is for this reason that we focus our Red October campaign on this important matter. The central thrust of our campaign shall be the mobilisation of the working class to be at the head of this struggle. In doing this we shall be engaging government at all levels, and most importantly, also engage bus, taxi and rail operators, commuters and communities, and seek to build alliances to realise this goal. We have already held a highly successful consultative meeting with various role players on this matter.

We will do all the above because we strongly believe that one of the key problems with our public transport is that the needs and the voice of the workers and the poor have been marginalised.

The spending on transport is dominated by the interests of the capitalists - "lowering the cost of doing business" for them. The location of shopping centres and middle-class housing is based on car-ownership - but three-quarters of all households in South Africa have no access to a car whatsoever.

Transport infrastructure is also designed around car-ownership - with no provision made for safe lanes for public transport, or safe walk-ways for pedestrians and cyclists. Speed limits around areas of heavy pedestrian activity (like schools) are higher in South Africa than the international norm.

In large parts of rural South Africa millions of people are stranded without any access to public transport. Branch railway lines have been closed down. Road infrastructure is non-existent or impassable for minibuses and buses.

And yet, when we do spend money on "public" transport we allocate R20 billion to Gautrain - a short rail system that will serve a small wealthy elite. It will also have to be continuously subsidised to the tune of millions of rand each year, when and if it ever becomes operational.

Our six key demands


Our campaign principally aims to simultaneously mobilise and listen to the concerns and suggestions by the workers and poor of our country around their transport needs. However, as we launch our campaign we have six key overarching demands.

Firstly, we are calling for active public participation in order to produce integrated transport plans at local level, as part of the broader Integrated Development Plans. This demand is linked to our 2006 programme of action, that of integrated local economic development. We shall be calling upon all municipalities to establish, as required by law, transport authorities involving all the major role-players in this regard.

Secondly, we will be mobilising our people towards the development of a Commuters' Charter, through listening campaigns in various localities. Such a Charter will have to include, amongst other things, school transport, rights of the disabled to accessible public transport, the rights of women commuters who have many additional burden, including travelling with children, the rights of workers, especially drivers who have to work long hours in unsafe environments. In addition such a charter must incorporate the rights pedestrians, cyclists, as well as the establishment of help-lines where problems of public transport can be reported and attended to. We will call for every municipality to have a at least one transport help-line.

Third, we call for a major review of the taxi recapitalisation programme. It is estimated that 64% of all commuters in our country rely on mini-bus taxis. Therefore these taxis are the backbone of our public transport system. The small profit margins in this sector force drivers to speed, overload, work long hours, over work the vehicles thus making this sector to have a very high accident rate. In the consultative meeting we held with taxi operators towards the end of September 2006, a major complaint was that they have not been adequately consulted. The SACP  is also of the view that taxi recapitalisation must not merely be seen as a vehicle replacement programme, important as this may be, but a critical component of a broader strategy for a decent and integrated public transport system. As a matter of fact it is not only taxis that require recapitalisation, but Metro Rail is in major need of 'recapitalisation' as well as the many buses on our roads. We believe that a range of different options must be opened for current taxi operators and workers, based on integrated transport plans.

Fourth, the SACP calls for drastic measures to improve safety on our roads and in our trains. An estimated 17 000 people died on our roads in 2005 alone. About 40% of road fatalities are pedestrians, many of them young children. We need increased law enforcement, setting appropriate speed limits in congested areas, as well as ensuring that the police make sure that our trains are safe. This will also require community mobilisation to bring down road fatalities and improve security in our entire transport system, especially the re-introduction of dedicated railway police.

Fifth, the SACP calls for sustainable funding for public transport and public transport infrastructure. While government policies call for integrated public transport, funding is separated into different, unintegrated budgets for different modes of transport. In addition we call for devolving as much of public transport funding as possible to the municipal sphere of government. We need, for instance, major injection of funds into Metro rail, rather than wasteful, elite projects like the Gautrain.

Sixth, we are calling for the re-nationalisation of oil company SASOL as a key strategic company that should not be left to the whims and logic of private capitalist accumulation. Some 40% of our oil is locally produced through this company. Logically we should be having cheaper petrol, but through the policy of import parity pricing our oil price is set at international prices of crude oil. This has amongst other things led to the rising cost of the petrol price, bringing a lot of hardships to the workers and the poor.

As part of achieving the above, the SACP will during this month and beyond be convening as many local people's forums as possible to discuss the challenges facing our people on matters relating to public transport. These forums will be central in driving the process of holding local transport summits, the establishment of local transport authorities and ensuring that transport concerns are an essential component of integrated development plans of various municipalities.

In addition to these local summits, a national transport summit needs to be convened in due course to set national parameters and framework for the creation of a viable public transport system in our country, as well as to listen to concerns emanating from various localities.

The SACP calls upon all our people to join in this campaign!

 

A Letter to Mathatha Tsedu and the City Press

Given Mathatha Tsedu's 'Time for Mbeki to Speak Up' (City Press, 1 October 2006), I am now fully convinced that the City Press, especially its Editor, Mathatha Tsedu, is firmly embedded to what the SACP Discussion Document calls the 1996 class project that has come to be dominant inside both our movement and the state. Tsedu has reduced a once highly regarded newspaper into nothing more than a political newsletter of this class project. It has jettisoned any pretence towards fair, balanced and informed reporting on Alliance matters, but has become an active party political player inside our movement. In fact I often wonder if that is what Naspers, the owners of City Press, had in mind about the role of this important publication and when they appointed Tsedu as Editor.

Like all embedded journalism, as we saw during the US invasion of Iraq, it is extremely partisan, master of smear and slander, has a habit of occasionally telling lies, and thrives on stories largely based on faceless, anonymous sources.

It is in fact quiet striking that in Tsedu's unusually lengthy article, there is not a single credited source he cites; it is all anonymous and faceless sources! What kind of journalism is this?

What I find particularly disturbing in Tsedu's article is that he is telling lies, without even blinking an eye. He claims that I once took my whole family to sit in parliament's gallery expecting an announcement by President Mandela that I was to be appointed a minister or a deputy. Mr Tsedu this is a blatant lie! For the record I wish to state that never at any stage during the time I was a MP, was I promised or offered any cabinet position by President Mandela. Nor did I have any such an expectation. At no stage therefore I would have taken my family to parliament anticipating such appointment.

Tsedu's faceless sources claim that when Prof Bhengu was about to retire, he recommended to President Mandela that I be appointed in his place. Any informed editor, who cares to do some intelligent research, will know that both Mandela and Bhengu retired at the same time in 1999, and it was President Mbeki's, and not Mandela's, responsibility to appoint a new cabinet in 1999. If Tsedu refers to deputy ministerial appointments affecting education, I remember very well when Cde Mandela announced new ministerial appointments in the wake of the National Party's withdrawal from the government of national unity in 1996. On that day I was in the National Assembly Chamber, and there was not even a single member of my family at the parliamentary gallery, and I was not expecting any announcement about myself.

If Tsedu and the City Press want to retain any semblance of credibility they should apologise and prominently print such apology.

It is also sad when a senior, supposedly well informed, editor misleads the readership of the newspaper about how cabinet appointments are announced. Tsedu should know that ministerial appointees are normally informed prior to such public announcements. There was no way I would have gone to parliament, taking my whole family with me, expecting to be informed of such a decision through a public announcement, without any prior knowledge.

I have also been under the impression that one basic principle of professional journalism is to double-check one's facts, especially with the people involved. Tsedu never bothered to call me, or any member of my family, to check on whether his facts are correct or at the very least to get our response. This is gutter journalism, which, after all, is a key feature of embedded journalism.

In the light of just the above alone, it is clear that Tsedu was using his article, under the pretext of posing challenges to President Mbeki, to, in fact, attack leaders of the ANC's allied organisations for articulating the principled stances taken by those organisations in support of the Deputy President of the ANC, Cde Jacob Zuma. In fact it is a devious way of trying to reduce such principled organisational support into personal career ambitions and personal egos. This strategy won't work. Need I remind Tsedu that I never joined the struggle anticipating some future cabinet appointment, or, may I add, in order to become rich!

Blade Nzimande
General Secretary
South African Communist Party (SACP)

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