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Issue 141 - Second Quarter 1995










No to mindless privatisation!

In the late 1980s the apartheid regime announced its intention to go on a major privatisation drive. The announcement encountered heavy opposition from the progressive trade union movement. COSATU was supported by the United Democratic Front, and by the still illegal ANC and SACP.

In the face of this opposition to the unilateral (and eleventh hour) sale of public resources by the white minority regime, the plan was put on hold. However, the commercialisation of key public sector companies proceeded. Commercialisation involves placing public sector corporations on to a profit-driven basis, and it usually precedes privatisation. Although it fell short of privatisation, this commercialisation programme (which still continues) has had a devastating impact. The major state enterprises account for 5% of employment, yet the commercialisation process accounted for a full 20% of jobs lost in the formal sector between 1989 and 1993.

Since the April 1994 elections, the intentions of the ANC-led Government of National Unity in regard to privatisation have not always been clear, conflicting signals, often greatly exaggerated by the commercial media, have emanated from different official quarters.

On 29 October 1994, Deputy President, comrade Thabo Mbeki, announced that the "government will consider full and partial privatisation of state assets and enterprises, where appropriate, to release funds for the reduction of debt and for use in the RDP fund." Privatisation, he added, "could also facilitate empowerment of disadvantaged sectors." As we go to press, a much delayed policy document, designed to open up public debate on the "reorganisation of state assets and enterprises", is due to be tabled before Cabinet.

That the present public sector, which we have inherited from the past, needs drastic reorganising and transformation is incontestable. But does transformation necessarily imply privatisation?

It would be wrong to adopt a mechanical and dogmatic approach to privatisation. There are some state resources which could be strongly considered for sale, like the large tracts of land owned by the Defence Force. A resource like this, in the context of widespread land hunger, should, surely, be privatised - or, better still, transformed into co-operative farming land for an impoverished peasantry. There are other public sector resources which are white elephants from the apartheid past. The off-shore gas operation, Mossgas, was developed in the context of international oil sanctions against the old regime. In the new situation, it is not a viable project. Should there be willing private buyers, consideration could be given to selling it off. But even in this case, the kind of unilateral wheeling and dealing with which the present Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs, Pik Botha, seems to be engaged is absolutely unacceptable. The workers in Mossgas and their trade unions need to be involved in the process, and the broader South African public needs to be kept informed.

Generally, however, the SACP views with suspicion and concern most of the mindless advocacy of wholesale privatisation that is being articulated in SA. As Neva Seidman Makgetla has argued (see her "The New Privatisation Report", NALEDI Research Report, January 1995):

l while privatisation might bring greater commercial efficiency, it is typically at the price of service delivery and developmental priorities;

l while the selling off of key public utilities (like Telkom, Eskom and Transnet) will bring in some state revenue to cover fiscal difficulties, the sums gained will be relatively low and once off in character. The real solution for fiscal difficulties is a deep-seated change in expenditure patterns. "The danger", she writes, "is that bureaucrats and big business will push for privatisation precisely to avoid cuts in spending on the privileged minority."

The argument that privatisation can be a means to redressing racial economic imbalances is also deeply suspect. This privatisation-as-affirmative-action argument (the "Malaysian route") tends to focus on the creation and enrichment of a new (and narrow) black business elite. If, at the end of five years, blacks in SA own a larger slice of the economy, this will be largely irrelevant if the change is simply the statistical result of a few Ntatho Motlanas having become multi-millionaires. Already, as Minister of Public Works comrade Jeff Radebe has noted, there has been a rapid growth of inequality amongst Africans in SA. "In 1991, the bottom 40% of the African population received 6,4% of total African income, while the top 10% of the African population received 46.6% of the total African income. This means", Radebe added, "that the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer."

At the core of the Reconstruction and Development Programme is major urban and rural infrastructural development - water, electricity, houses, transport. Already in the first 12 months of democratic government, the RDP's vision of a public sector-led, developmental growth path seems to be confirmed. The economy grew, for the first time in many years, by 2,3% in 1994. This is still fairly weak growth, but it is a hopeful sign. According to Minister Jay Naidoo of the RDP office, much of this growth is attributable to two key programmes - Eskom's electrification programme (no fewer than 377,000 households were electrified in the first 12 months since April 1994), and rural water projects.

These are public sector led programmes. This is not to say that all of the growth is confined to the public sector, Eskom's electrification programme, for instance, has been creating opportunities for a whole range of small and large private sector firms.

The core public utilities, like Eskom, Telkom, the Post Office, and Transnet, must be transformed, but they must be retained in the public sector. There may be an argument (in the case of Telkom for instance), for some kind of joint venture with a multinational, to ensure that the corporation does not fall behind technologically. But joint ventures of this kind must ensure that the majority share-holding remains in public hands, and that the joint venture is tightly regulated.

A privatised Telkom will not take telephone lines to where they are most needed, in the marginalised rural areas. The "free market" will not provide electricity to the poorest townships. The private sector is incapable of leading the developmental process that is so central to overcoming the apartheid legacy in our country.

We certainly do not want a bloated, inefficient, bureaucratic public sector. But there is no reason why the public sector should not be user-friendly and highly efficient in providing services. The developmental needs of our country require, if anything, not privatisation, but a broadened public sector in the strategic areas of our economy.

Consolidating our strategic unity - the SACP's 9th Congress

The SACP's 9th Congress was held in Johannesburg between the 6th and 8th April. It was attended by nearly 600 elected delegates, representing a total membership of 75,603 members. The most important achievement of the 9th SACP Congress was the consolidation of our Party's internal strategic unity. This achievement is not something to be taken lightly.

A brief comparison with our previous Congress in December 1991 underlines this point. The objective situation when we met at our 8th Congress over three years ago was very complex. We were confronting:

  • the immediate reality of the collapse of the Soviet bloc;
  • a very complex internal situation, in which our movement had yet to develop an adequate strategic stance for the negotiated transition and the low intensity warfare strategy deployed against us. At the same time, CODESA was on the point of collapse;
  • and, the membership of our party had grown in a few months from around 2,000 to 25,000. Over 90% of delegates to our 1991 Congress were new members, while around half of the 1989 Central Committee of the party had quietly resigned in mid-1990.

In retrospect, against the background of these considerations, our 8th Congress did relatively well. But it is no secret (we made no secret of it) that there were many inner-Party tensions, differences and uncertainties - the rejection, by the 1991 Congress, of the main slogan of the Congress "Forward to Democratic Socialism" was just one indicator.

This time round, there were important objective factors that were more positive. In the first place, the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989-1991 no longer looks so absolutely like a total capitalist victory.

Within SA:

  • we have a major ANC-alliance victory behind us, which has located dozens and dozens of SACP members in important positions of institutional power;
  • we have a relatively coherent RDP programmatic perspective; and
  • inside the party there has been uneven, but tangible consolidation of a leadership collective - despite the very heavy loss of both our former General Secretary, comrade Chris Hani, and our former Chairperson, comrade Joe Slovo.

Going into the 9th Congress we knew that these more favourable realities existed. The Congress was a test of whether we had, as a party, been able to effectively use them for the purposes of greater strategic unity. The answer from the Congress is a definite yes.

The Congress adopted the Strategy and Tactics Document - with constructive and important but friendly amendments. This is the first time in the past four years that, as a party, we have been able to adopt a document of this kind with a sense of unifying agreement. This is a very important milestone in our party's history.

Organisational consolidation

The general success of the Congress has certainly laid a basis for enthusing delegates to return to their branches and regions to build the party. The Party Building Commissions generally enjoyed a high level of participation.

The connection between strategic consolidation and organisational consolidation should be underlined. A long standing complaint around party building has been about the weakness of our political education work. This has been a legitimate complaint, but it has perhaps underestimated the lack of strategic cohesion (what content do you give to political education?). Our greater strategic unity, noted above, now gives us a clearer base from which to do political education and other party-building work.

Parliamentary and extra-parliamentary

A very encouraging feature of the 9th Congress was the creative interaction between comrades in government and parliament with each other, and with comrades outside of these institutions. The worst that could happen to the party would be the exclusion of one or the other of these currents, or a dishonest patronising of the party (guest appearances "to show face"). Those deputy ministers, Deputy Minister of Defence, comrade Ronnie Kasrils for instance, who used the Congress floor to debate points, even unpopular points, in a principled manner, paid our party the highest compliment.

In the incoming Central Committee, and in Provincial Executive Committees and other structures, we can anticipate many creative tensions between the governmental and extra-governmental perspectives. These must not be buried, the strategic creativity of the party and its capacity to contribute to the ongoing national democratic revolution will depend critically on this kind of dynamic. The composition of the newly elected Central Committee, with a fair balance of senior government comrades, parliamentarians, trade unionists and full-time party activists augurs well for just such a dynamic.

Other gains

President Mandela's message to our Congress was a very important political intervention. It was a strong reaffirmation of the alliance, and of the SACP's specific importance within it.

In addition, the fact that an increased number of the most senior COSATU comrades have made themselves available for, and have been elected to, the Central Committee, indicates the seriousness with which worker leaders see the building of the party.

The high level of fraternal international interest and active participation (40 parties, 79 delegates) in our Congress was a another major feature. Generally, we won more respect, extended our contacts to new forces, and consolidated existing ties.

These successes point to the need for more structured and systematic work on the international front. We need to work to a strategic internationalist programme of action, rather than simply respond to invitations.

"Political Message" of the Congress

In the days since the Congress, the party has received much positive feed-back from most observers at our Congress. In general, the Congress sent out a message of a party:

  • that is marked by strong internal democracy and participation.
  • that has a high level of morale and which is relatively youthful - without losing touch with its traditions and legacy.

The 9th Congress has laid down important organisational and strategic perspectives for Communists and our allies in the new South African situation. It is up to us, in the coming months and years, to ensure that the promises and expectations of our 9th Congress are fulfilled.



Address by COSATU President and SACP CC member, John Gomomo, to the Conference of the World Economic Forum, Johannesburg, 12 May 1995.

Fifty years after the defeat of fascism in Europe, and one year after the defeat of apartheid rule, SA has embarked on its second just war. It is a war against poverty, gross inequality, and social injustice. The recently published Human Development Index revealed that, taken alone, the white population of SA ranks 19th in the world index. The black population, however, ranks 119th, on a par with the world's poorest nations.

The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) is a bold, visionary attempt to deal with this legacy of apartheid inequality. A key component of this programme is the construction of a developmental state, which mobilises public resources to address this legacy.

To this end, the RDP focuses on several strategic areas. These include: human resource development, economic restructuring, the provision of mass infrastructure and services, and job creation. The systematic reorganisation of the state, parastatals, and other institutions is a cornerstone of delivery of the RDP. It is clearly unrealistic to expect a state sector which was designed to implement apartheid, and benefit the minority, to suddenly implement the RDP, without itself undergoing fundamental transformation.

Part of the transformation of the apartheid state into a developmental state is therefore the reorganisation of state assets. On the one hand, this means reviewing the democratic government's role in relation to inherited white elephants such as Mossgas, and the apartheid arms industry. On the other, it means the reorganisation of state departments and parastatals, to ensure the massive delivery of services to the majority of the population which had been denied basic services and infrastructure by minority rule.

Transformation of the state, and reorganisation of public assets is, therefore, an imperative of the democratisation process in SA - driven by the tasks of reconstruction and development. It is not, and never can be an ideologically-driven process, designed to satisfy the blueprints of outside agencies wanting to impose their own dogma onto our situation.

In particular, we can never accept ideologically-driven formulas which would effectively sabotage the ability of the new state to implement the RDP. There is a body of advice being given to us by unelected, unaccountable institutions which, if implemented, would maintain and even worsen existing patterns of inequality in our country.

No to Structural Adjustment Programmes

We believe that if we allowed a Structural Adjustment Programme to be imposed on us, it would have the following disastrous results:

  • wholesale privatisation and cut-backs in state personnel would continue to deny basic social services to the masses of our people;
  • federalism and fragmentation would undermine the ability of a strong central state to implement the RDP;
  • rapid unplanned lifting of trade barriers would result in large-scale destruction of jobs and industry;
  • Export Processing Zones would perpetuate the pattern of attempting to compete on the basis of cheap labour, and seriously erode the tax base of government; and
  • Thatcherite monetarism would continue to stifle our economy, maintain vast structural unemployment, and prevent the majority of people from entering into the mainstream of the economy.

State assetsThe reorganisation of state assets is only acceptable to the trade union movement if it is driven by the needs of our country. We need to be clear what our primary objectives are, what we are attempting to achieve, and what is secondary.

Firstly, I need to state up-front what the reorganisation exercise should not, in the first instance, be designed for:

  1. to deal with the problem of national debt. This approach leads to the "garage sale" approach to privatisation, where we sell the family silver as a quick fix solution. Even if all parastatals were sold, with their current levels of borrowing, the total proceeds would only enable us to pay off one year's interest on our loans.
  2. wholesale privatisation to "make funds available for the RDP". This is voodoo economics of the worst kind. In this scenario, the long-term value of public enterprises in delivering the RDP are traded for the short-term profit made through their sale. Far from strengthening the RDP, this would effectively destroy any hope the RDP has of delivering to the majority.
  3. privatisation to empower black business. Empowerment of black and small business should not be done at the expense of empowerment of the disadvantaged majority. It is of no value to the black community to have a small elite enriched from the proceeds of privatisation, while the majority continue to be denied services which should have been provided by public enterprises. Empowerment of black business should rather concentrate on tender and procurement policies, anti-trust measures, and other empowerment measures proposed in the RDP.
  4. to broaden ownership using privatisation. Even if we go the Malaysian route of giving ordinary people a stake in privatised enterprises, the exercise would in the South African context be self-defeating. It would be of little comfort for millions of poor people in the rural areas to have a few shares in a privatised Eskom, Telkom, Transnet, or other privatised services, while they are denied access to affordable electricity, water, telecommunications, health or transport.
  5. to make public enterprises profit-driven. It is sometimes argued that even if public enterprises are not immediately privatised, they should be restructured to be profit-driven. This is usually the prelude to the privatisation, or partial privatisation of profitable parts of public enterprises. In the past several years, we have seen that this process of "commercialisation", and the dividing up of parastatals into business units, has not led to an improvement of services. What it has led to is massive job losses, and deterioration of services to the most disadvantaged. Privatised or profit-driven public enterprises will not, by definition, extend affordable services and infrastructure to the millions of poor South Africans marginalised by apartheid. Already some commercialised public enterprises have begun to resist cross-subsidisation of poor communities, and to close down services to them.
  6. to open up the economy to foreign and domestic investment. To focus on parastatals as the main opportunity for foreign and domestic investment is to neglect the importance of concentrating investment in new productive activity. Buying out and breaking up of public enterprises smacks of parasitic investment, rather than the real expansion of economic wealth. Rather than going this route, business should be encouraged to invest in new productive activity, and job creation. Apart from the social problems created by privatisation, it also has a poor record of creating new jobs. If anything, commercialisation and privatisation has destroyed jobs. Transnet, Telkom, the Post Office, and Eskom provide 5% of national employment, but they accounted for 20% of the total net job loss of 350,000 between 1988 and 1993, as they underwent "commercialisation".

The objectives of reorganisationThe process of reorganisation of state assets needs to be subordinated, in every respect, to the needs of the RDP. If we proceed from this basis, then we should be able to reach national consensus on this question. There are several fundamental points which should guide the process:

  1. reorganisation needs to be based on full consultation and democratic participation by the stakeholders. The government has already stated that no unilateral action will be taken, and has committed itself to negotiation in NEDLAC, as well as with workers in the affected enterprises. We welcome this approach. Care should be taken to ensure that it is the people of the country as a whole, and not groupings who stand to benefit financially, who drive the process. But we also need to protect the interests of future generations. Public assets are not the private property of a particular party or government, but the heritage of the entire society. Therefore public assets should be protected from unilateral action being taken by ruling parties. This suggests the need for constitutional protection to protect these assets from arbitrary and unilateral government actions.
  2. there is no objection to the government disposing of assets which can be shown to be irrelevant to the RDP, or of no strategic value to society as a whole. Government is drawing up a list of assets, which will then be reviewed at NEDLAC. But we agree in principle that unproductive assets such as foreign buildings, unused property, etc., should be sold if the proceeds are redirected towards the RDP.
  3. state assets should be reorganised to ensure greater efficiency and expanded delivery. Over 70% of the African majority have no electricity, 55% have no formal houses, and 80% of African children do not reach matric. This is not to mention the exclusion of the majority from adequate transport, health-care, water, sanitation, and communications. The RDP envisages a massive expansion by government departments and parastatals in the delivery of these services. This requires a radical reorientation from a "welfare state" which catered for a privileged minority, to a democratic state which extends basic services to all its citizens. It also requires reorganisation, expansion and greater efficiency. Efficiency must not be confused with "profit-driven". Profit-driven means rationalisation, retrenchment, and reduction of services to unprofitable areas. Efficiency in the RDP context clearly means massive expansion in the affordable delivery of services, reorientation from bureaucracy to service delivery, and cross-subsidisation to make services affordable to the poor.
  4. building dynamic public enterprises does not in principle exclude the possibility of joint ventures. Based on the understanding that control of key services needs, for reasons outlined above, to be kept in public hands, there may be certain advantages in the parastatals entering into joint ventures with the private sector. The introduction of new technology which requires large-scale investment, for example, is one area where foreign partners could benefit the development of our public corporations. Such joint ventures would have to take place under very strict conditions however. These include: the RDP mandate of the corporation would have to be maintained - people-centred, not profit-centred; majority shareholding and control would have to rest with the state; a tightly monitored regulatory framework and/or contract would specify in detail the commitments of the enterprise to meet RDP targets in marginalised and poor communities, within clear time-frames; and the conditions and collective bargaining rights of workers would have to be protected.
  5. finally, the reorganisation of public assets would have to be aligned to the various objectives of the RDP. These include the elimination of apartheid inequalities; fighting poverty; human resource development; democratisation; job creation; and the bringing of the majority into the mainstream of economic life.


  • "Public Enterprises Minister Stella Sigcau told the meeting at least 40% of the economy should be owned by the historically disadvantaged sector of the population by 2000. She said SA should follow Malaysia's example in restructuring its economy. Malaysia had set a target of 30% ownership of the economy by disadvantaged people and achieved this in 1990. Malaysia had historical social divisions and economic structures similar to SA's, she said." (Business Day 9 May 1995)
  • "Visiting US [black] businessman Leyland Hazlewood outlines lessons from the Malaysian experience" (Business Report 12 May 1995)
  • "Bheki Sibiya, Black Management Forum executive director, said, to be as effective as it was in Malaysia, affirmative action could not be voluntary but should be legislated." (Business Report 12 May 1995)

Malaysia...Malaysia...Malaysia. If the above press reports are to be believed, the "Malaysian model" got invoked over and over, as a shining example to be pursued in SA, at the recent Black Business Summit held at Midrand. And the Summit is certainly no exception, the "Malaysian model" is being pushed continuously in SA at present.

A brief background

Malaysia is a lower middle-income economy of approximately 19 million people, of whom 60% are indigenous (known as the Bumiputera), mainly Malay, and the remainder are non-Malay (principally Chinese and Indian).

Colonial Malaya was one of the oldest and most lucrative of British colonies. Occupied by the Japanese during the war, it was reoccupied militarily by the British. In the immediate post-World War II years, Malaya became more important than ever for British colonialism. With Britain itself virtually bankrupt, Malaya was the single greatest US dollar earner for Britain.

British colonial occupation was deeply resented and the Malayan National Liberation Army, under strong Communist Party influence, launched an armed struggle in 1949. Initially, the British sought to crush the uprising with sheer force. Among the tactics used was the forced removal of whole rural populations into concentration camps (fenced "new villages" and "regrouping areas" as they were called). The strategy was to deprive the guerrilla forces of food and civilian intelligence. By mid-1952, more than 400,000 people had been subjected to forced removals. To counter this strategy the guerrillas reduced their military activities and intensified their political and mass organisational work in parties and trade unions.

By the early 1950s it was obvious that the British were losing militarily and politically. In 1951 the British High Commissioner himself was ambushed and killed by guerrilla forces. In the face of a deterioration in their fortunes, the British added to their "police and barbed wire" tactics, a "hearts and minds" strategy which was, in time, to prove relatively successful. In particular, this strategy consisted in the "Malayanisation" of the civil service and the separation of Singapore from Malaysia (to increase the Malay proportion of the Malaysian population relative to people of Chinese origin).

While fending off the guerrilla and mass struggles with heavy repression (between 1948 and 1957, 34,000 people had been imprisoned without trial, and some 10,000 had been killed), the British worked to build alternative conservative local political forces capable of sustaining a neo-colonial settlement. They encouraged the formation of an alliance between the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO - a conservative party largely representing Malay traditional leaders with a history of collaboration), MIC (representing mainly middle class Indian interests), and MCA (mainly representing Chinese business interests).

By 1957 the British judged it "safe" to grant independence. Elections, held in conditions of ongoing repression and with British military occupation continuing, were won by the conservative nationalist alliance led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

What kind of example?

Currently in SA, Malaysia is being held up as a shining example of how to de-racialise an economy using affirmative action measures coupled with privatisation. This line of argument rests on several illusions.

In the first place, there are perhaps more parallels between UMNO's trajectory after 1957 and the National Party after 1948 (at least within the context of white South African politics) than, let us hope, the ANC. The elite Malay leadership of UMNO used political power to carve out a slice of the economic action for itself, in a situation where local business had been controlled largely by the elite within the Chinese community. In the Malaysian case, as in the intra-white (Afrikaans/English speakers) South African case, political and economic elites managed an accommodation among themselves with some success.

Secondly, and again running somewhat parallel with the NP (and its "volkskapitalisme"), UMNO did not begin with a pro-privatisation stance. On the contrary, especially from 1965 there was a huge extension of public enterprises. With over 1,100 state owned enterprises, Malaysia developed one of the largest public sectors in the world, outside the centrally planned socialist economies. The Malaysian public sector comprised both core utilities - transport, communications, water supply, energy and finance - and also many sectors not normally in the public domain - including services, construction and manufacturing.

The public sector was, essentially, an instrument for empowering a new Malay elite, developing entrepreneurial skills and access to capital, while also providing sheltered employment for Malay workers - part of the electoral constituency of UMNO. Once more, the parallels with the NP are apparent. There were, it must be said, also some real gains for the broader popular classes. There were, in particular, important educational advances, including a relatively high level of literacy. But all of this occurred in the context of a deeply authoritarian, albeit parliamentary, political dispensation. Progressive trade unions and other mass movements, where they were able to survive, have had to operate in extremely oppressive circumstances [see box].

Swing to privatisation

In the early 1980s, the UMNO regime changed its economic policy directions. The changes were partly provoked by developments in the global capitalist economy. Malaysian commodity exports were severely hit by the international recession. In 1985 the Malaysian economy experienced negative growth for the first time since independence. The collapse of the oil price in 1986 was a further blow. Malaysian authorities came under increasing pressure from the IMF and World Bank.

It was in these circumstances that a major programme of privatisation was announced. But the switch to privatisation also occurred in a context in which the Malay elite no longer depended narrowly on the public sector for its own economic advancement. Indeed, privatisation became the next step in the consolidation of a Malay bourgeoisie.

We need, however, to insert some qualifications around the privatisation drive. Although in their own rhetoric the Malaysian authorities have embarked on "privatisation", in actual practice the greater part of the privatisation amounts to selling off less than 50% of shares to private individuals and companies. Where the figure is more than 50%, the government often retains a "golden share", which gives it the capacity to continuing controlling the enterprise.

The Sigcau report

In November last year, ANC Minister of Public Enterprises, Stella Sigcau led a delegation to study the restructuring (that is, mainly, privatisation) of public enterprises in three Pacific countries.

The report from this trip ("Report on the visit by the Minister for Public Enterprises to Malaysia, Singapore and Australia"), presents a glowing account of the Malaysian privatisation exercise: "Malaysia has managed to achieve simultaneously both racial reconciliation and economic restructuring which has empowered the disadvantaged and the poor." (p.8)

In making these claims the report, in the first place, conveniently conflates the earlier public sector-led period (early 1960s to the early 1980s) with the later privatisation period (early 1980s to the present). As a result:

l an impression is created that the increased share of the economy presently in Bumiputera/Malay hands is largely the result of privatisation.

l likewise, it gives the impression that the sustained economic growth in Malaysia has also been the result of privatisation: "The Malaysian economy has exhibited a record of strong growth of 7% over 35 years...According to the State Bank of Malaysia the sources of this remarkable growth trend have been the external sector and the fact that the economy is based on private enterprise." (p.8-9) In fact, as we have noted, for most of this 35 year period, Malaysia had one of the largest public sector capitalist economies in the world!

The Report also uncritically accepts all the other claims in favour of privatisation that are currently being advanced by the Malaysian elite.

Reducing the financial burden on government

One such claim, repeated by the Sigcau Report, is the argument that privatisation has reduced the financial burden of government. Malaysian economist, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, has a more nuanced view: "While there undoubtedly are one-off revenues for the government from the sale of public assets, it is not self-evident that the retention of such assets would not have been in the government's and the public's medium - and long-term interest for a variety of reasons...Perhaps most importantly, the considerable evidence of heavy discounting in asset prices for sale or lease suggests otherwise. Also, the sale of the government's most valuable assets, while it is obliged to retain those less profitable activities and assets of little interest to the profit-seeking private sector, contributes to the self-fulfilling prophecy of the unprofitability of public-sector economic activities." (Jomo Kwame Sundaram (ed.), Privatising Malaysia Westview Press, Boulder, 1995, p.55-6)

A good example of the above is the privatisation of Malaysian roads. Only 2% have been privatised, notably the major North-South Highway. But this 2% represents the most profitable in terms of potential for road-toll collections. As G. Naidu, another Malaysian economist, notes: "only the highly profitable segments of the road network have been privatised, leaving the public sector responsible for, among others, the rural road network. Consequently, saddled with this unprofitable infrastructure, the financial position of the government could actually worsen." (ibid., p.214)

The sale of the most profitable portions of the public sector undermines the capacity for cross-subsidisation. If the North-South Highway had been retained in the public sector, for instance, it could have cross-subsidised rural road development. In short, it is far from clear that the "financial burden" on the Malaysian government has really been reduced in any medium to long-term way by privatisation.

Greater efficiency

Another claim advanced by the Malaysian elite is that privatisation has led to greater efficiency. The first question that we always need to ask when this claim is made is: what KIND of efficiency? Privatised companies are often more efficient at making profits for their new owners than public companies, but they are certainly often not socially efficient in terms of services provided or jobs created.

In the case of Malaysian privatisation, the social inefficiencies of the newly privatised entities have often been particularly gross. The main pattern of privatisation - that is the partial sale of companies (in the name of "affirmative action for Malays") while majority state ownership is retained, has meant that these enterprises now enjoy "the worst of both worlds". They tend to combine the worst features of the public sector with the worst features of the private. There has been no effective restructuring of the public sector, its real inefficiencies and sheltered employment jobs remain. At the same time, the services provided by these corporations are now subjected to greater profit-driven pressures by the minority (private) shareholders. The service to the public has often gone down, the price most often has not.

What is more, "privatisation of infrastructure in Malaysia has not been accompanied by a competitive restructuring of the product or service market...In all the cases of privatisation in the infrastructure sector of Malaysia, the enterprises have retained their monopoly power. Public monopolies in the infrastructure sector have been simply converted to private monopolies." (Naidu, p.213-4)

Winnie Goh and Jomo KS, in a survey on efficiency and consumer welfare following privatisation reach similar conclusions: "...MAS, Pos Malaysia Perhad, Tenaga Nasional Berhad, Telekom Malaysia and MISC remain virtual monopolies. In all these cases, the transfer of ownership from public to private hands has not involved reduced user costs or significantly enhanced the quality of services. Instead, user costs have generally risen quite significantly, resulting in net consumer welfare losses." (p.171)

The privatisation gravy train

Most distressing of all in the Sigcau Report, and in the many other South African hymns in praise of the Malaysian model, is the failure to analyse (or even mention) the wholesale corruption that has occurred in the Malaysian privatisation exercise. Jomo Kwame Sunderam has documented dozens of cases of major corruption. The following are two typical example:

"In 1985, 70% of the potentially very lucrative Sports Toto was sold without any prior public announcement of its availability to the Vincent Tan-controlled B & B Enterprise (60%) and to Tunku Abdullah's Melewar Corporation (10%) at a very low price. Vincent Tan was very close to the then newly-appointed Finance Minister Daim, while Tunku Abdullah is well known to be a very close personal friend of Mahathir [the Prime Minister] for a least three decades." (p.45)

"...in 1987, the government awarded the North-South Highway project...to United Engineers Malaysia (UEM), then an ailing public listed company long suspended from trading on the Stock Exchange after an embarrassing construction scandal...in the early 1980s, and with no previous experience in highway construction. UEM was by then majority-owned by an UMNO holding company, Hatibudi, on which the UMNO President, Deputy President, Secretary-General and Treasurer sat as turstees...The Prime Minster himself justified this privatisation to an UMNO company on the grounds that the party needed funds to pay off the costs of its massive new RM360 million party headquarters complex...After a public outcry, it was revealed, perhaps inadvertently, that UEM had not submitted the best offer in terms of cost to government...or to users (in terms of toll rates). Due to its inexperience and incapacity, UEM has been heavily dependent on its foreign partners - Mitsui and Co. (Japan), Taylor Woodrow International Ltd (UK), and Societe Francaise de Dragages et de Travaux Publics (France) - for which it pays a heavy price on terms undisclosed to the public..." (p.46-7).

To cover its gravy tracks, in December 1986 the Malaysian parliament passed amendments to the Official Secrets Act, which extended the definition of official secrets to include, among other things, government tender documents (even after completion of the tender process). The classification of a document as an official secret cannot be challenged in any court, and an "offence" against the Act carries a minimum one year jail sentence. This 1986 law drastically limited the already very narrow scope of government transparency and accountability. It is not hard to guess what kind of privatisation practices it is designed to conceal.

It is sordid facts like these that lie behind much of the vaunted "Malayanisation" of the economy. A narrow elite, using political power and personal patronage networks, is the principal beneficiary. The claim that 30% of the economy is now owned by the "formerly disadvantaged" needs to be seen against this background. We also need to remember that because much of the corrupt privatisation is based on elite wheeling and dealing and not on solid economic grounds, the actual control of economic projects quickly passes to West European, US and Japanese multi-nationals, with the nominal owners, a Malay elite, essentially acting as comprador intermediaries.

Ongoing political repression

While there is a parliament in Malaysia, it operates in a deeply authoritarian climate. In April 1987, for instance, under the pretext of "interracial tension", Prime Minister Mahathir ordered the arrest of around 100 people, including NGO activists, trade unionists, political opposition leaders, and dozens of MPs, including some from his own party.

In March 1988, a docile Parliament approved laws limiting still further the independence of the judiciary and Mahathir began a new purge of the opposition within his own UMNO party. "I tried to be liberal", he explained. "It was not appreciated."

According to the Amnesty International 1994 Report, of the 74 communists who were detained without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act in 1989, 60 were finally released last year. But 14 still remain in detention.

Sadly, the Sigcau Report fails altogether to note the deep corruption and the blatant authoritarianism of the Malaysian system. The Malaysian reality is not nearly as rosy as the Report ("...economic restructuring which has empowered the disadvantaged and the poor") would have us believe. Statistics showing that "disadvantaged" Malays now own 30% of the economy easily conceal the deep divisions amongst Malays and within broader Malaysian society itself.

The Societies Act of Malaysia

Passed in 1966, the Societies Act of Malaysia requires all social organisations to be registered with the Registrar of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Answerable only to the Minister of Home Affairs, the Registrar exercises almost unlimited powers, including that of dissolving organisations and searches without warrant. A judge cannot intervene when the Registrar acts, and appeals can be raised only to the Minister of Home Affairs.

More than 14,000 organisations are covered by the Societies Act. These range from sporting clubs and Chinese trade guilds to consumers' associations.

The present Societies Act forms part of the all-embracing Internal Security Act (ISA), a draconian law enacted by the Malaysian government following the social and political unrest of the 1960s. The ISA was meant to tighten government control over social and political organisations, whether or not they were linked with the communist movement.

In 1981, new amendments further tightened government control and sparked a massive protest against the Societies Act. Led by a broad coalition of social organisations called Conference of Societies, the protests challenged the government's definition of political and non-political organisations and the unlimited powers vested in the Registrar. The government considered political all organisations trying to influence government policy. These organisations were forbidden to have any contact with foreign organisations and to receive money abroad.

As a result of these protests, the amendment bill was put aside but reappeared later in another form which was eventually passed by the parliament. The amended Societies Act no longer makes any distinction between political and non-political organisations. Organisations are allowed to enter into contract with foreign organisations without having prior permission from the Registrar. But they have to inform the Registrar of all their foreign financial and organisational transactions. Also, the Registrar reserves the right to forbid such contracts and transactions as well as the right to carry out searches of the organisations' premises without warrant, to remove an organisation's board and to amend relevant statutes as he deems necessary.

The voluntary associations of citizens in Malaysia have continued to grow in spite of these repressive laws."

(excerpt from Isagani R Serrano, Civil Society in the Asia-Pacific Region, Civicus, Washington, 1994)


Since privatisation in Britain, the cost of water has increased 50% and the rate of disconnection for non-payment of water bills has increased by 177%. There has been the emergence of "water poverty" with many low-income earners and households with large families simply unable to afford the rising cost of water.

In a country that is a member of the G7, the seven major capitalist economies of the world, households whose water has been disconnected are being forced to buy bottled water in order to survive.

As disconnections and water poverty increase, so do health risks. In Britain, the incidence of dysentry increased from 2,319 reported cases in 1989 to 17,262 in 1992, and the incidence of hepatitis A has increased threefold since privatisation. These increases have been concentrated in the same areas as the major water disconnections.

But privatisation has not been bad for everyone. Profits have rocketed up 137% in the first three years of privatisation. The South Staffordshire Water Company, for example, has shown an 11% turnover, but a 42% increase in after-tax profit and a whopping dividend increase of 642%. Its disconnection rate for non-payment is the highest of any water company in England and Wales and seven times the national average. Salaries for the highest paid director in the privatised Southern, Welsh and Yorkshire utilities in 1990 increased by 209%, 74% and 59% respectively.

Increasing consumer choice"?

Water privatisation in Britain was introduced with a grand fanfare about "increasing consumer choice". This was particularly deceitful in the case of water supply. While water supply was broken up into regional and function-based private corporations, at the end of the day each household still has only one set of pipes into the house.

Competition for domestic and small users of energy and water services is highly improbable. There is a "natural monopoly" in these services because there tends to be a single and indivisible means of delivery - the water, gas and electricity mains. Rather than being able to choose, the householder faces a single, privately owned, profit-motivated supplier.

According to the British National Utility Service: "No benefits of any kind can be seen for [water] consumers, who are forced to pay monopoly suppliers prices escalating above inflation."

The sell-off of water was also justified on the grounds that water supply is "just another commodity, just another business". But this argument confuses the economically efficient allocation of resources and the socially efficient or fair allocation of them.

In capitalist countries like Britain, water electricity and transport were originally established as public enterprises because private enterprises could not (or would not) provide these essential services adequately. The risks involved in such long-term, high-cost investment were too great and the profit margins too samll. It was only after nearly a century, when all the hard work has been done, all of the massive infrastructure and supply networks - phone and power lines, generating plants, roads, equipment, gas supply centres, water mains and storage facilities - was complete, and a huge guaranteed clientele of consumers was in place that the "heroic risk takers" in the private sector became interested in the public utilities.

Selling the family silver

With privatisation, public utilities are invariably sold off below their true value. In Britain the share prices of privatised utilities jumped an average of 19% on the first day they were traded simply because they were worth 19% more on the market than had been paid for them! The British Tory government sold off water utilities at a stunning loss of over one and a half billion pounds.

When a utility is sold, the government also loses forever a yearly stream of income in the form of utility profit dividends, and that means less money for public services.


"Chile's Free-Market Miracle: A Second Look", by Joseph Collins and John Lear, A Food First Book, Oakland, California, 1995.

Abe Williams, GNU Minister of Social Welfare and NP member, recently returned from South America singing the praises of Chile's privatised welfare system. In similar vein, at a May conference of the South African Institute of Retirement Funds, Minister of Finance, Chris Liebenberg, invoked with sympathy the Chilean privatised pension funds.

It is not only in SA that the "Chilean free-market miracle" is extolled. On his visit to Chile in 1990, US President George Bush told his hosts: "Chile has moved farther, faster than any other nation in South America toward real free-market reform. The payoff is evident to all: seven straight years of economic growth... You deserve your reputation as an economic model for other countries in the region and the world."

Bush's views were echoed by the US ambassador in Chile in 1992: "I challenge you to find another country in the world that has such nice stats. It's almost too good to be true, and people wonder where the downside is."

This timely book by Joseph Collins and John Lear shows in disturbing detail just where the downside is. The free-market shock therapy applied to Chile has brought success for the few, and disaster for the many. Superficially, the stats mights look good, the human story is something else again.

Pinochet's coup

In 1970 Salvador Allende, candidate of the Popular Unity coalition of left-wing parties, won the presidential elections. The Allende government was to last three years, during which time it introduced many far-reaching, democratic reforms. But right-wing opposition forces and a massive CIA-led conspiracy led to a bloody coup. Allende himself was killed, and thousands more Chileans were murdered or suffered brutal torture. The coup, led by General Pinochet, installed a military dictatorship.

These political events were the immediate backdrop to Chile's famous "free market" reforms. It is important never to forget this. Just as it is important remember that, as Collins and Lear note: "The armed forces have not been included in the neo-liberals' much touted 'shrinking' of the government ... military salaries are indexed to the cost of living unlike those of other government employees. The military budget in 1989 outstripped by $432 million the housing, health and education budgets combined." (p.9)

The military have also been happy to make some exceptions when it comes to privatisation. Between 1975 and 1989 virtually all of Chile's substantial, and often impressive, public sector had been privatised. "In the case, however, of CODELCO, the publicly owned copper company, the military government pursued self-interest over ideology. Pinochet's Constitution provides that 10 percent of CODELCO's gross revenues go to the armed forces as a no-questions-asked supplement to the armed forces budget; CODELCO remained in public hands." (p.53)

The Chicago Boys

The military dictatorship crushed the popular movement in Chile, levelling the ground, as it were, for the "free-market" reformers, the "Chicago Boys" as they are called. Sons of the Chilean right-wing middle and upper-classes, they all shared a conservative religious upbringing "and a contempt for Chile's free-wheeling, mass democracy." Many of them were graduates from the University of Chicago, and their guru was the arch free-marketeer, Professor Milton Friedman.

With the bloody coup of September 1973, the Chicago Boys finally felt their time had come. According to Collins and Lear, "while jet fighter planes still buzzed terrifyingly low over Santiago, the lights were burning at the Lord Cochrane publishing house. Inside the photocopy machines were whirling non-stop, cranking out copies of a thick document known to the Chicago Boys and their sympathisers as `the brick'. 'The brick' was a 500-odd page plan for reversing the economic policies of Chile..."

The Chicago Boys' policies were soon to win favour with the junta. The first step was a brutal period of "shock treatment". In the words of Business Week at the time: "An already severe anti-inflationary policy was turned into one of Draconian harshness." Government spending was slashed. By the end of 1975 economic output shrank 13%, purchasing power of wages plummeted 40% from the 1970 level, and unemployment climbed to 20%. None of this bothered the Chicago Boys, their only concern was knocking inflation, and indeed inflation did start to drop. "The Chicago Boys pressed on, determined that the economy would be managed on technical rather than social criteria." (p.29) - nice stats, too bad about the people.

The next major step, between 1979 and 1982, consisted in major free market reforms of social services. Education was increasingly privatised, with a voucher system giving subsidies to private schools. The public social security system was replaced with private investment companies, and an acclaimed public health system was dismantled in favour of private health insurance companies. At the same time, the regime decreed a new Labour Code that severely curtailed the organisational and collective bargaining rights of workers.

1982-84 - the Crash

The wave of privatisations led to the increasing enrichment of a small elite that then imported luxury goods at a furious rate. This, coupled with the liberalisation of the Chilean economy, left the country excessively exposed to the vicissitudes of global economic developments. From late 1981 the global tightening of credit and higher interest rates burst the bubble of Chile's new privatised prosperity. A series of banks and businesses began to fail, including several of the main beneficiaries of the privatisation process.

This was to be Chile's worst economic crisis since the 1930 Great Depression. GDP dropped 14% in 1982, and unemployment soared. Despite all the free market rhetoric, the military government intervened massively in the economy, at least long enough to bail out the private sector. "Over the next two years, the government absorbed the debts of many large businesses, restoring them to soundness before selling them off to private interests... The government wound up taking on as public debt some $16 billion in foreign loans, most of which had been originally incurred and often recklessly spent by private Chilean conglomerates." (p.33)

Between 1985 and 1990 there was a recovery and consolidation. There was strong quantitative growth in the economy, which contrasted with most other Latin American countries. This has led to claims of a "Chilean miracle". But three important things are completely ignored in these claims:

  • the underlying factors that led to the 1982-4 crash have not been eliminated;
  • despite real growth between 1985-90, this growth was against the background of two massive crashes, and taken over a 20 year period it represented no growth at all. "The celebrated economic growth of the late 1980s must be viewed in the light of the two catastrophic recessions (in 1975 and 1982). Only by 1989 - 14 years into the free market policies - did per capita output climb back up to the level of 1970. Indeed the `miracles' refer to recoveries from depression-like collapses that can be attributed in large part to the free-market model." (p.7); and
  • above all, the human cost.

The human costWhat has been the human cost of the Chilean free market path? Collins and Lear provide a devastating score-sheet. Among the "nice stats" are the following:

  • poverty widened from 20% of Chileans in 1970 to 41% in 1990;
  • but the rich got richer, mainly at the expense of many middle class Chileans - between 1978 and 1988 the richest 10% increased their share of national income from 37 to 47%, while the next 30% saw their share shrink;
  • Chile's foreign debt soared from $5 billion to $21 billion;
  • under pressure to step up exports to meet the debt, Chile's rich natural resources (forests and fisheries) have been plundered;
  • the percentage of Chileans without adequate housing has increased from 27% in 1972 to 40% in 1988, "even though according to neo-liberal social dogma the private construction industry combined with supplemental vouchers for low-income households would solve the problem";
  • a widely acclaimed public health system has been run-down. Government health spending has been slashed from $28 per person in 1973 to $11 in 1989. Seventy percent of Chileans cannot afford the new private, for-profit health system, and they remain stuck in a completely run-down and underfunded public system;
  • in the fruit export industry, that has "boomed" and "modernised", 80% of the work-force is only in temporary employment, without benefits and it is legally prohibited from organising or striking.

And the litany of devastation goes on...

This book is a timely intervention. A copy should be mailed to all South African cabinet ministers.



It is not given to a leader of one political organisation in a country to sing praises to the virtues of another. Yet that is what I intend to do today. If anything, this signifies the unique relationship between the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.

It is a relationship that has detractors in abundance; a relationship that has its prolific obituary scribes. But it is a relationship that always disappoints these experts. Because it was tempered in struggle. It is written in the blood of many martyrs. And, today, it is reinforced by hard-won victory.

On behalf of the African National Congress, I wish to thank you most profoundly for the invitation to take part in this 9th Congress of the SACP. I bring you the organisation's greetings as well as my own. I should also apologise for not attending the opening of the Congress, due to unforeseen developments.

Looking at the delegates gathered in this hall, one is struck by your youthfulness - except of course for us on the podium. This is perhaps the best answer to those who have expressed doubt in the future of the Party.

Comrade Chairperson and delegates,

More often than not, the ANC's defence of its alliance with the South African Communist Party is interpreted as sympathy with the Party's long-term goals and an attachment to a so-called "failed ideology and system". Individuals and groups who profess to be democrats lose all rationality when gripped by the venom of anti-communism.

We in the ANC are driven by a different logic. Our commitment to democracy means, first and foremost, recognising the right of parties across the political spectrum to operate freely and canvass their views without hindrance.

And we do not apologise for the fact that our alliance with the Party is also based on the warm sentiment of experience in struggle against apartheid. It is only natural that we should feel the welling of emotion, when we remember heroes and heroines of the calibre of Bram Fischer, Malume Kotane, Alex La Guma, JB Marks, Moses Mabhida, Yusuf Dadoo, Ruth First and others. Whatever seemingly powerful friends we might have today, the ANC cannot abandon those who shared the trials and tribulations of struggle with us.

Yet our relationship derives from much more than historical sentiment and commitment to multi-party democracy.

The African National Congress seeks to build a better life for all South Africans, especially the poor. In this endeavour, we can only benefit from alliance and critical engagement with organisations which have put this objective high on their agenda. The SACP is one such foremost champion of the interests of the working class and the poor.

The ANC seeks to build the kind of democracy that is more than just a five-yearly casting of the vote. We are striving to involve ordinary people in running their lives and implementing socio-economic transformation. In this effort, we need to work with organisations that, like ourselves, operate among classes and strata that are the motive forces of such transformation. And we know that in the blast furnaces of labour and in the unmarked, dark alleys and corrugated shacks of the ghetto, we will find the Party, also pursuing the same goals.

The ANC has to defend and deepen the democratic gains our people have secured in struggle. And we know that in this effort, the Communist Party will, like in the past, not be found wanting.

In this era of nation-building and reconstruction, the ANC and the country as a whole need creative ideas about how we achieve goals that have become a common national value. And we know that the SACP has been, and will continue to be, one of the nation's important repositories of creative thinking about things that really matter.

Our alliance is therefore not a marriage of convenience. Neither is it a communion of similar organisations, which only differ in name. We talk of an alliance precisely because we are two independent organisations with political platforms and long-term goals that do not necessarily converge.

But there in the theatre of practical work, we continue to learn that there is more that unites us than divides us: in brief, a people-centred and people-driven programme of democratic transformation. To realise this requires unity in action.

Comrade Chairperson and delegates;

We are confident that the Party will emerge from this Congress strengthened to contribute to this exciting and yet challenging task. There is no doubt that democratic forces have attained important elements of political power. Events since May 1994 have shown that we are capable of expanding and deepening this breakthrough.

In the process, we have ensured that the objective of Reconstruction and Development captures the imagination of the nation and become its common property. How we use this advance in order to broaden and deepen our leadership of the nation as a whole is not any easy task.

We are not the first liberation movement to experience such problems. And the lesson is always that a failure to keep constant touch with the people leaves a vacuum that all kinds of counter-revolutionary and opportunistic forces can exploit. Besides, real change is not possible without the active involvement of the people.

In practical terms, we are faced with the challenges of:

  • ensuring a decisive victory in the Local Government elections;
  • mobilising communities to take charge of their affairs, and for themselves to determine how they benefit as well as pay for the services rendered; and
  • helping to build the leadership corps of the democratic movement as a whole, without undermining the independence of civil society.

It is a matter of proud record that the advances we have made, and the manner in which they have unfolded, have place South Africa in a unique moral position in international affairs. There are today new possibilities for humanity to address matters of socio-economic development in a collective and vigorous manner. The aim should be to ensure that the will of ordinary people forms the basis of efforts to build a new international order.

It is only natural that our emphases in handling these issues will not always be the same. But we raise them because we believe that the South African Communist Party will, as in the past, make an important contribution to finding creative answers. All sectors of the democratic movement stand to gain from solutions that each component finds to common problems.

Comrade Chairperson;

At the last Congress of the South African Communist Party, we were all still faced with the question of how to speed up negotiations and ensure an outcome that would be in the interest of the people. We can today with pride acknowledge the role that the SACP played in the events that unfolded thereafter. Not least among them was the mass action campaign of 1992 as well as the negotiations that followed.

In this regard, we would like to single out both Comrades Chris Hani and Joe Slovo, who, also as leaders of the ANC in their own right, played a central role in these efforts. Today they are departed. But we are certain that they shall be remembered not only for their sterling contribution to the armed and underground struggles; but also as legends who made the negotiated transition possible. In death, Chris Hani bequeathed us an election date, which we are now to celebrate as South Africa Freedom Day. Joe Slovo has left us a legacy of finding solutions to seemingly intractable problems: be it as a negotiator or as cabinet minister.

In this, they were following in the footsteps of many giants of the Party, in a tradition that dates back decades.

Over the past months, we have been grappling with the strengthening of the alliance in the new circumstances. We cannot claim to have succeeded in finding all the answers. But continue to search we must, in practical work rather than merely in theory.

I am confident that this Congress will reinforce not only the Party, but also the ANC, COSATU and the rest of the democratic movement. South Africa will be the richer in ideas as well as in concrete proposals on how to build a better life for all the people.

It is in this spirit that I wish you the most dynamic and productive deliberations. Thank you.



Historian, Eddy Maloka looks critically at the present social role of so-called "traditional" leaders. Generally, he argues, their pre-colonial functions have been eroded beyond all recognition. Many of those laying claim to the status of "traditional" leaders are nothing more than a former bantustan petty bourgeoisie, hoping to further their own careers in the new dispensation by exploiting "tradition".

The last few months have put chieftaincy under the spotlight, especially in relation to the type of local government structures suitable for the rural areas. With local government elections approaching, tensions and conflict have characterised relations between the chiefs and SANCO (SA National Civic Organisation) in some parts of the country, especially in the Eastern Cape.

The ANC has generally put forward what appear to be contradictory positions: that, on the one hand, chiefs are part of our heritage and still enjoy a lot of support in the rural areas; and, on the other, that there is a need to set up democratically elected structures of governance in the rural areas. This equivocation is in line with the Interim Constitution. But the dominant critique of chieftaincy has, however, merely focused on chiefs as the creation and agents of colonialism. There has been little attempt to look at this so-called traditional institution - or its Contralesa (Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA) variation - in class terms.

The logical starting point for understanding chieftaincy in contemporary SA is to look at the institution before colonial encounter and rule. Chiefs cannot be analysed in isolation from the socio-economic organisation of the societies concerned.

Chiefs in pre-colonial times

The three principal branches of production in most pre-colonial southern African societies were pastoralism, cultivation, and hunting and food gathering. The basic unity of production was a homestead/household made up of a male head (homestead head), his wife/wives, offspring and, often, sons' wives and grandchildren. Labour - be it in the farms or within the homestead - was performed by women, with boys and unmarried men involved marginally in pastoralism in the form of herding. Women were valued not only for their productive role, but also because of their strategic position in the reproduction of the homestead in terms of supplying more children. Homestead heads generally occupied themselves with largely non-productive functions like politics, war, hunting, various craft works, and so forth.

Because of the low level of the development of the productive forces, recurrent droughts, the problem of storage, and the absence of huge markets, the organisation of agriculture was not oriented towards the production of surplus. It was in cattle that wealth and value were stored, and the ownership of these animals was reserved for homestead heads. Homestead heads were the ones who chose wives for their sons, and supplied the lobola cattle. Lobola transactions involved the transfer of the productive and reproductive functions of women from one homestead to another.

Chiefs were also homestead heads, and therefore commanded the labour of women, boys and unmarried men. But added to this, they also had rights to tribute labour of all able-bodied males in the chiefdom. Though land was communally owned, chiefs controlled its allocation to newcomers and newly-wed men. But they could not dispose of this land as they wished. Every married man had a right to a residential site, farm and grazing land. But the chief's control of the land was one of the strategic cornerstones for his legitimacy.

External trade, war and cattle-raiding, were key avenues for the chiefs to capture slaves, women and livestock (especially cattle) to build and increase their wealth. At the ideological level, chiefs opened ploughing seasons and performed rain-making ceremonies, which were very important for communities settled in areas frequently attacked by drought. After hunting expeditions, skins of particular kinds of animals and certain animal parts were reserved for chiefs for the magical powers that were attributed to them. In this way, precolonial Africa was not a classless, merry place as some have wanted us to believe.

But chiefs were relatively weak, as their power was circumscribed by the khotla (council of advisors recruited from homestead heads), and the pitso/imbizo (an assembly of able-bodied men). Dissatisfied subjects could always leave to attach themselves to another chief. Sometimes disputes over succession could result in the break-away of some members of the chiefdom.


But the encounter with missionaries, merchant capital and colonialism seriously undermined the material base of chieftaincy. Missionaries introduced ploughs which revolutionised cultivation, as commodity production emerged in response to the growth of settler and mining towns. Migrant labour gave unmarried men independent access to cattle, and therefore weakened parental control over them. Some women left their parents and husbands to settle at mission stations, while others escaped from patriarchal control to settle in the newly emerging towns. European manufactured goods replaced traditional crafts, as Africans adopted western clothing, brick houses, pots, etc.

Colonial rule affected chieftaincy in various ways, depending on the type of settler government and the nature of the colonial economy. Boer republics - the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (the Transvaal) - dealt a deadly blow to African institutions, reducing the indigenous people to labour tenants and farm labourers. With the British colonies - the Cape Colony and the Natal Colony - a more sophisticated "native policy" was evolved. It is the policy developed in these British colonies, rather than in the Boer republics, that laid the basis for the Union of SA's segregationist policies, founded on the manipulation and abuse of African pre-colonial political institutions. In the process, many elements of chieftaincy were dissolved, or conserved and reconstructed in line with the imperatives of "indirect rule". Previously flexible and dynamic African laws were codified into a redefined and fixed "customary law" to suit colonial "native" administrators.

Natal implemented in the 1850s a system worked out by Theophilus Shepstone, which involved boxing Africans in the colony into ethnic units under "chiefs". The Lieutenant-Governor of the colony was declared the "uncrowned king of the Africans in Natal". The "annexation" of the Ciskei to the British in the 1840s and the Transkei in the 1870s-1890s, was accompanied by the replacement of chiefs by Civil Commissioners. With white settlement central in the Ciskei, and the Transkei regarded as a labour reserve, different "native" policies were then worked out. The Glen Grey Act of 1894 led to the establishment of district councils in the Transkei, chaired by district magistrates. Magistrates appointed headmen in their districts who were answerable to them. Some headmen were chiefs - and problematic ones, like in Natal, could be replaced. This system culminated in the United Transkei Territorial General Council (the bunga) of 1932.


Attempts to develop a uniform "native" policy for all provinces, after the 1910 Union of SA, culminated in the Native Administration Act of 1927, which was a synthesis of the Shepstonian and the Transkei system. This Act extended the council system to other parts of the Union. And the Governor-General of the Union was proclaimed the "Supreme Chief" of all Africans. But unlike with the previous measures, which tried to harness elements of chieftaincy and "customary law", this Act was passed at the time that African societies were undergoing radical transformation, engendered by the crumbling of the rural economies and the acceleration of black urbanisation. Also, the formation of the ANC in 1912 and the Industrial and Commercial Union in 1919, together with the women's anti-pass campaigns in the Free State and the 1918-1920 militant labour actions on the Witwatersrand, indicated a clear shift from ethnic-based to nationalist resistance. Hence this Act was said to be aimed at the "retribalisation" of the Africans, and at using the chiefs to undermine the growing nationalist movement.

The 1951 Bantu Authorities Act, which ushered in a process that culminated in the "homelands", was, therefore, a continuation of attempts to "retribalise" Africans to reverse the wheel of history. But more important with the bantustans was the fact that, unlike before, chiefs were now given "full" charge of "their" people. They were now under the authority of magistrates, and the councils were replaced by tribal/regional/territorial authorities which formed the basis for the bantustan legislative assemblies.

But does this mean that chiefs were given back their powers?

Apartheid rulers were aware that centuries of white rule through magistrates had undermined chiefly power and chiefs' link with their historical basis. The khotla were no longer there; and if they existed, they were made up of the chiefs' surrogates. The pitso no longer played their historical roles. Production had shifted from the homestead to industries and commercial farms, with homesteads reduced to units of consumption and reproduction.

Moreover, Africans in many parts of the country had suffered from land dispossession and settler occupation, especially after the 1913 Land Act, which set aside only 13% of the country for them. Land in the reserves was also deteriorating. Migrant labour kept most of the able-bodied men in the towns and farms for the better part of their active lives. There is very little "traditional" about the chiefs today.

A new elite

Even more significantly, a certain stratum of the African petty bourgeoisie saw the bantustan administration as an important avenue for capital accumulation. Through salaries, allowances, "pensions", loans, contracts and corruption, this class, together with some chiefs, carved a place for itself in the apartheid establishment, opening businesses, buying farms, creeping into the stock market, and so forth. These elements - chiefs and a new elite - developed a common interest in the maintenance of the bantustan system. Through "hereditary" right chiefs were ensured a place in this establishment, while the "elections" created an opening for a new aspirant elite from among the commoners.

The bantustan "chiefs" were reactionary elements that emerged during the popular rural resistance against the Bantu Authorities Act in the 1950s and 60s. To secure their place, these forces acted very brutally against the liberation movement. It was in the bantustans that a small fraction of the African bourgeoisie emerged.

This is not to say that chiefs were just passive or always reactionary. Chiefs constituted the leadership of early anti-colonial struggles. When the ANC was formed in 1912 an Upper (honorary) House was created for them in the organisation. From the 1930s through to the 1960s there was intense resistance in the rural areas, as the masses, sometimes supported by their chiefs, opposed "betterment" and "rehabilitation" schemes (which involved cattle culling and tampering with the African system of land allocation and use) and the implementation of the Bantu Authorities Act.

But when the President of the ANC, Josiah Gumede, declared that "I have been to the new Jerusalem" after his 1927 visit to the USSR, some chiefs expressed reservations. One of them even issued a threat: "The Tsar was a great man in his country, of royal blood like us chiefs and where is he now..? If the ANC continues to fraternise with them [communists] we chiefs cannot continue to belong to it." (quoted in F. Meli, A History of the ANC, 1988, p.78). Another chief expressed similar thoughts on democracy: "It will be a sad day for me when I am ruled by the man who milks my cow and ploughs my field." (ibid.) These comments show that there has always been an inherent contradiction in the relationship between the national democratic movement and chieftaincy. We also need to bear in mind that even if colonialism had not been there, there would have been a necessity to address problems of exploitation and oppression in our precolonial societies.

Chiefs and the present transition

In the last few years the chiefs, through Contralesa, the IFP and Goodwill Zwelithini, were able to win a privileged position for themselves during the negotiations. The Interim Constitution has made provision for the creation of a House of Traditional Leaders in the provinces and a Council of Chiefs at the national level.

The Eastern Transvaal, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal have already established their Houses of Traditional Leaders. The process towards establishment is also under way in Northern Transvaal. But these developments have not been without problems.

The nature of the difficulties differ from one province to another. Chiefs in the Eastern and Northern Transvaal cooperate relatively well with their provincial governments. The delay in the Northern Transvaal in establishing the House is largely due to ethnic tensions between the Pedi on the one hand, and the Venda and Tsonga on the other. In KwaZulu-Natal, the tension centres around the IFP's attempts to marginalise the "King" from the House. The IFP-dominated government has set up the House without properly consulting Zwelithini. The provisions of the House of Traditional Leaders Bill gives more power to the House, and they have also created an opportunity for Buthelezi to chair the House. This matter is being handled by the Pietermaritzburg court.


It is in the Eastern Cape where the tension between the "traditional" leaders and the provincial government/SANCO has been serious. In areas like Herschel this tension even resulted in violent conflict between SANCO members and the supporters of the chiefs. President Mandela was asked to intervene.

When formed in 1987, Contralesa was based in the Eastern Transvaal, where people and their chiefs were resisting the homeland "independence". Today the base of this organisation is in the Eastern Cape, and the rationale for its existence has shifted completely.

The tensions in the Eastern Cape centred around three issues:

  • Contralesa - going so far as to use the bunga as a symbol of the existence of chieftaincy - wanted a secure place for the chiefs in local government structures;
  • a second demand was the establishment of a House for the chiefs; and
  • thirdly, there was Contralesa's campaign for the retention of the headmen, as they are said also to be "traditional" leaders! A court application was subsequently made, with Contralesa invoking the Transkei Traditional Authorities Act 4 of 1965 (a provision of the Bantu Authorities Act!) as the basis for the argument to keep the headmen.

SANCO was threatened that it was not going to be allowed access to the rural areas if these demands were not met by the provincial government. The second of these demands, in the form of a 20-member House, was actually won.

At the national level, Contralesa has made an 11-page submission to the Constituent Assembly. The organisation wants SA to be a kingdom - to have a "national king".

But why is Contralesa using symbols of colonialism and apartheid laws to argue its case? Unlike the rural struggles of the 1930s-60s, Contralesa is not representing popular feelings in the rural areas. We do not see the rural masses rising, as they did in Pondoland in 1960-1, to oppose central government and to defend the system of chieftaincy. Contralesa is not fighting for sovereignty or for the land of the dispossessed. It is fighting purely on behalf of a narrow elite of chiefs and headmen.

Contralesa is now a vehicle for certain petty bourgeois elements to get into government through the back-door, trying to establish a power base for their own class interests. This explains why Winnie Mandela is suddenly a "princess" of the Madikazela clan in Bizana. It also explains why a man who is a trained lawyer spends his time speaking for a club of old men from the rural areas, instead of using his skills for the benefit of the community. Where have you seen a chief who is based in a Cape Town suburb, rather than amongst the rural masses?

Being a "traditional" leader is an easy way to fill one's pocket. In 1994 in the Eastern Cape, R17 million was spent on the 138 chiefs and 832 headmen. Five "paramount" chiefs in the Transkei earn R281,246 annually. The passing of the House of Traditional Leaders Bill in KwaZulu-Natal in 1994 increased the provincial government's annual expenditure on chiefs from R12.2 million to over R20 million. Chiefs in this province also earn according to their educational qualifications. Those with 3-year diplomas or degrees earn R37,170 annually, while those without matric earn R18 000. The 80 members of the House earn R11,5000 annually, like MPs. During the 1994 financial year, R2.2 million was spent on paying and maintaining Zwelithini. The King, married to five wives, is said to own no fewer than seven palaces and many farms.

It is, therefore, a myth that chiefs are "above politics". They have ceased to be "traditional" leaders. Many of them are elements drawn from the petty bourgeoisie who are exploiting precolonial institutions and our heritage to bolster their own ambitions. There are still many chiefs who are, indeed, representative of their communities - who live and struggle with their people. But there are also many who resort to distant links for purely opportunistic business and political career purposes.

An outmoded institution

There are three central problems with regard to chieftainship in contemporary politics. In the first place, the institution is based on hereditary and not democratic practices. Amongst other things, this leads to all kinds of manipulations, including the fabrication of links to distant royal families. One example is Buthelezi who claims that he is the descendant of a line of "prime ministers" to the Zulu monarch.

In the second place, chieftaincy virtually excludes women, as most of our precolonial societies were based on the rule and domination of male elders.

Finally, by its nature, chieftaincy encourages tribal and sectarian consciousness. This factor could work against our efforts to bring violence in our country under control, and promote nation-building. It is also this factor that makes it possible for opportunists to build their power base.

The SACP needs to avoid treating "traditional" leaders as a homogeneous block. There is a need to distinguish between genuine and dedicated chiefs, rooted among the rural people, and those elements with university degrees and college diplomas, who are hoisting the tribal flag for career interests. The latter group need to be exposed and isolated.

Chiefs could play a merely advisory and ceremonial role in elected local government structures. But in allowing this, we will also need to be much clearer about what is called "customary" law, which has largely been codified by white missionaries, colonial anthropologists and white "native" administrators. In other words, chiefs' advisory role in matters relating to "customary" law will need clear definition.

There is a real problem with the House of Traditional Leaders. This could result in the entrenching of chieftaincy, giving it a legitimacy that was eroded during the homeland days. The House will also be used by petty bourgeois elements masquerading as chiefs. This House will have to be phased out. The role of chiefs should be reduced to localities where they are still wanted. Provinces might need to organise referendums if chiefs manage to keep the House in our future constitution.

Progressive forces need to coordinate a clear political campaign that analyses and historicises chieftaincy. The RDP will, hopefully, also reduce the material basis for the legitimacy of chieftaincy, as people will no longer have to rely on their chiefs for access to strategic resources, education and health facilities. The basis for clientelism will be reduced.

I have argued that the material base for chieftaincy has been eroded and radically transformed. Chiefs survive on the fringes of our society through clientelism and coercion. There are still some chiefs who cherish and maintain the militant traditions of their forefathers. Others are merely opportunists looking for a short-cut to power and privilege. Dealing decisively with these latter forces is one of the key strategic challenges of this transition period.



In the tragic Vaal Reefs mining accident in May, more than half of the 104 miners killed were migrant workers from other southern African countries. The tragedy reminds us of the ongoing contribution tens of thousands of non-South Africans are making to the wealth of our country. In this input to the COSATU International Policy Conference (April 1995), GWEDE MANTASHE, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, argues for major policy changes in SA's migration laws.

The migration of labour to SA is still governed by a dualistic policy - a general policy, and a policy specifically for migrant mineworkers. The general policy is informed by the fact that SA "remains dependent on the importation of certain specialised skills and expertise not readily available in SA", to quote the present Minister of Home Affairs, MG Buthelezi. People recruited on this basis are regulated in terms of the Aliens Control Act, 1991. Temporary residence permits for employment purposes are granted where the employers are able to satisfy the Department of Home Affairs that they were unable to obtain the required personnel locally.

Some of the conditions in the relevant section of the Aliens Control Act remain heavily anchored in the apartheid past's screening procedures. The Act also completely ignores the economic interdependence of southern Africa. It is heavily skewed to attracting professionals and skilled workers from the developed countries, but makes no provision for small entrepreneurs, for example, who enter SA with the intention of selling home-made commodities.


The second aspect of immigration policy applies specifically to recruitment of labour for the mines. It is regulated in terms of bilateral agreements between SA and Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland and Botswana. All of these bilateral agreements provide for recruitment for the lowest skills in the industry (drains labourer, lasher or PTV helper, mines assistant, jack hammer and spanner, winch driver, gang supervisors and team leaders).

The bilateral agreements in regard to miners do not recognise continuous service. Unlike those coming in under the Aliens Control Act, 20 years of service on the mines is recognised as 20 single, separate years. While aliens can acquire citizenship after five years, migrant mine-workers from outside of SA can work for twice, three or four times that time, and never qualify.

Regional labour markets

The policies outlined briefly above reflect the legacy of a "big brother" SA, behaving like a super power in a region characterised by economic imbalances. These imbalances are, considerably, the result of the strategy of regional destabilisation by the apartheid regime. The situation in our region has been worsened by structural adjustment programmes imposed by the IMF and the World Bank.

Deep poverty in our region has resulted in a number of problems, particularly:

  • unemployment and under-employment. These are problems prevalent in all the countries in the region, including SA;
  • a wide gap in wage levels amongst between and within all countries of the region. This can be seen in the differences in per capita income between the various countries, and in the gap between executive salaries and unskilled wages within all our countries;
  • shortage of skilled labour, worsened by an educational bias towards human sciences, as opposed to technical training so essential for economic growth;
  • marginalisation of women and youth, resulting from economic stagnation, and specifically from the decline of the agricultural sector.

These features inform the migration of labour, forcing men to move to the urban areas while women mainly remain in poor rural areas. This situation will remain unchanged for some time. It is for this reason that it is urgent for southern Africa, SA in particular, to develop a policy on migration of labour that will take into account the material conditions in the region, rather than narrow national interests.

Regional economic interdependence

In 1993 31.7% of SA's exports went to Africa. The ten leading countries in Africa to which SA we exported were, in order of magnitude, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Mauritius, Zaire, Angola, Kenya, Reunion and Ivory Coast. One can forecast with confidence a significant increase in levels of trade in the coming years.

The integrated economic development programme for the region, as planned by SADC, should certainly contribute to overcoming the unhealthy imbalance between exports and imports to and from SA by the other countries of the region. There are discussions around the development of the Kudu and Pande gas fields, the rehabilitation of the Cahora Bassa hydro-electric facility, and the formation of a regional electricity pool.

As trade unionists in SA we need to embrace an integrated regional economic development strategy. We must avoid an entirely inward looking approach, where we want all economic development to be in SA, and we hope to go out into the region as Father Christmas. We need to understand that a developing SA in a sea of regional poverty is not a sustainable project.

An integrated approach means, for a start, encouraging development immediately in all areas where a particular country has potential. The agricultural potential in Mozambique needs to be fully exploited, rather than trying to grow the same products in SA for double the cost. If such a project can be implemented, it will go a long way to addressing the problem of "illegal immigrants" on the farms in Eastern Transvaal.

An integrated policy also means stressing development. If the gas deposits in Namibia are to be exploited, there should not merely be gas pipes laid down which take the gas from Namibia to a gas turbine power station in Saldanha Bay, without any effective development occurring in Namibia itself.

By contrast, World Bank and IMF policies impose individual economic liberalisation policies on countries. This divides and weakens our region. We can only stop this kind of process through a clear regional strategy of our own.

Capital has its own regional strategy. One aspect of this is to use unemployment in the region as a lever to depress wages in SA and to roll back organised labour. Already there is a concerted effort to project organised labour as a "privileged elite" representing narrow interests ("there are people out there who are prepared to do this work for half the wages we are paying"). There is a related effort to blame high unemployment on "unreasonable union demands".

Unfortunately, workers in SA themselves start to become the victims of this propaganda, by inverting the argument - there is unemployment in SA because "foreigners come and take our jobs". It is the bosses, of course, who benefit from this playing off of workers. There are about 300 000 workers from the region working in SA, clearly they cannot be held responsible for an unemployment figure of at least 4 million in SA. The causes of unemployment in our country are much more deep-seated in character. SA has an economic system with both serious structural and cyclical flaws.

Towards a new policy framework

I will not try to produce a blue-print. But there are some broad principles that need to be pursued:

  • Migration of labour should be regulated. There should be no open boundaries policy. The regulation should be aimed at keeping the level of labour from outside at acceptable levels, so that the region is supported in the process of addressing the endemic unemployment, without unleashing anger in our own country.
  • There should be a drive towards even development throughout the region. Job creation should not only focus on SA. SADC should come up with a regional Reconstruction Economic Programme.
  • The policy should envisage a situation where economic development in the region will also involve labour from SA moving to other countries. This could result from the short-term need for skills that are already available in SA in countries with intensive reconstruction programmes.
  • The policy should address the problem of poaching skilled labour from within the region, while unskilled labour confronts closed doors. There is, for instance, a serious exodus of teachers from Lesotho because salaries have been cut to comply with conditions dictated by a Structural Adjustment Programme. The skills drainage reduces the prospects of economic development in the country concerned.
  • The policy should address the question of citizens from neighbouring countries who come to sell home-made commodities, thereby also providing some employment for a few others in their countries of origin.
  • We need to address the historic arrangements between SA on the one hand and Lesotho, Mozambique, Botswana and Swaziland on the other. We should look into properly structured bilateral agreements, abolishing those elements that currently undermine the basic human rights of workers - like compulsory deferred pay.
  • Linked to this last point, we need to eradicate the discrimination against workers from the region, who are treated as permanent migrants and not as aliens with the right to acquire citizenship, if they so wish, after five years.
  • Finally, the labour movement needs to be directly involved in developing and monitoring a progressive labour market policy for our region.


This 9th Congress of the SACP


  1. That there is a continuing relatively large-scale clandestine migration of people into SA from neighbouring countries as well as from elsewhere in the continent;
  2. That unscrupulous bosses have taken advantage of this influx of vulnerable people to undercut wages and conditions of South African workers;
  3. That there is a growing hostility, bordering on xenophobia, towards 'illegal immigrants';
  4. That this diverts attention from the real sources of unemployment, poverty, homelessness and crime in SA, which does not result from 'illegal immigration' but is caused by the nature and effects of capitalism in SA;
  5. That the Government of National Unity is under pressure to respond to this situation by tightening controls and introducing new legislation to make it easier for the authorities to round up and deport suspected 'illegal aliens'.

RECOGNISESThat there is indeed an abnormal movement of persons in the Southern African region that is undesirable from the point of view of the individuals and countries from which migrants are coming, as well as for our own country.

But recognises, equally, that this movement is a consequence of the uneven development of capitalism in Southern Africa and crises in neighbouring countries. These were worsened by the continuing effects of destabilisation policies directed by the previous South African regime against countries giving support to the liberation struggle of the South African people.


The SACP will use its influence to ensure that any policy on this issue:

  1. Must be based on a recognition of causal factors, and SA's historical role in the creation of factors giving rise to clandestine migration to SA. Any policy must, therefore, include concrete proposals for co-operating in addressing the causes of migration.
  2. Must distinguish between different categories of 'illegal immigrants'. It must allow those who are in fact permanent residents, or who have family in this country, the opportunity to regularise their position as residents of SA.
  3. Must be sensitive to the impact on neighbouring countries of any measures taken, and avoid any action (like mass deportations) which might worsen crises in neighbouring countries.
  4. Must not deprive suspected 'illegal aliens' of rights guaranteed under the constitution - including the right to legal advice and to contact family members.

FINALLY COMMITS ITSELFAs the SACP to strive to promote a broader understanding of this issue in the country at large, and to act to combat xenophobic tendencies whenever they appear.



SACP statement to the Parliamentary Select Committee on AbortionIt is accepted that the statistics for "backstreet" abortions in SA cannot be recorded accurately because of fear of prosecution. There are approximately 7 to 10 million South African women between the reproductive ages of 15 and 49, and at least 1 million births every year in SA. Thus, it seems likely that a figure of between 250,000 and 300,000 illegal abortions per year is not an exaggeration.

Figures relating to the removals at hospitals of residues of incomplete illegal abortions are highly inaccurate, and thus believed to be well below the reality. There is a lack of control over the keeping of records, particularly in rural hospitals, and women patients are clearly far too frightened to provide truthful information. The Chairperson of the South African Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has backed the call for the scrapping of these statistics because of their obvious inaccuracies.

We need to take account of the rate of recorded abortions in other countries, if we wish to arrive at reasonably acceptable figures for our own reality. Five years ago, the Zimbabwe Ministry of Health released the figure of 70,000 abortions per year. It is important to note that Zimbabwe's population is about a quarter of SA's. At the same time, women of reproductive age in SA and Zimbabwe share common realities: a high illiteracy rate and poor access to family planning. It is highly likely then that SA shares a common ratio of annual abortions.

Countries with high literacy rates and systems which allow legal abortions, like the US and Taiwan, have released figures for annual legal abortions of 1,2 to 1,6 million and 100,00 to 200,000 respectively. The "pro-life" lobby uses these kinds of statistics to argue against abortion as a legal form of contraception. Figures released by the US record that approximately half of the women seeking legal abortions cited failed contraception as the cause.

It is this issue which needs to be considered carefully. Setting aside the exorbitant expense of research into new, more effective contraception, failure of contraception must be linked to low literacy rates and poverty, not to "laziness" or "immorality" on the part of women. A woman who does not have transport to a clinic, who is intimidated by the structures and language she faces when she is able to attend family planning clinics, who is unable to follow the complicated instructions accompanying the contraceptive pill, for instance, is likely to have neither the motivation nor the ability to use contraception effectively. It is clear, then, that abortion needs to be made available as a back-up to failed contraception.

In addition, under current South African legislation, only those women with access to reliable medical advice and a fair knowledge of the law are able to avail themselves of the right to legal abortion. Parallel to this is the fact that it is only those women with adequate financial resources who are able to seek safe, legal abortions in countries outside our borders. Clearly the current situation favours women from largely middle class or affluent backgrounds. Women who are working class, poor, illiterate or living in rural areas are unable to utilise the law as it now stands. Thus present abortion legislation is so deplorably inadequate that it does not cater for the vast majority of South African women.

Finally, the issue of abortion cannot be seen in isolation from its location in the holistic context of reproductive health issues. Until all South African women have access to education and facilities which guarantee the delivery of all requirements with regard to their full reproductive health," cannot claim to be a country which guarantees all its citizens their complete democratic rights.


The South African Communist Party believes that every woman has the right to control over her own body and thus the right to make independent reproductive decisions.

In addition, every woman therefore should have the right to choose whether or not she wishes to terminate a pregnancy.

Facilities for the termination of pregnancy should be provided by the state in such a manner that they are accessible, safe, hygienic and free.

Counselling services must be available to all women (and, if desired, their partners) so that they are able to exercise fully their freedom of choice. In addition, sympathetic, professional, non-judgemental counselling services need to be provided both before and after an abortion for any woman who requires them.

Women who choose to have an abortion also have the right to privacy and protection from its opponents, as do all professional staff providing any linked service.

It is essential that the issue of abortion is not dealt with in isolation from the general struggle for the full empowerment of women, both educationally and economically. It is only when women have the complete freedom of control over their own lives that they will be in a position to make educated and well considered decisions regarding their own reproductive lives.

The SACP, noting that this is not an issue which should be relegated to the Constitutional Court, thus calls for the repeal of present abortion laws and the creation of new legislation entrenching the rights of women to abortion.



THE SAHRAWI REPUBLIC - WHY NO RECOGNITION?"We, the ANC, will continue to support your struggle by all means necessary, in order for both our just causes to triumph." President OR Tambo, Sahrawi Republic liberated zone, 22 July 1988.

"With particular regard to Western Sahara, we will support OAU Resolutions which call for the recognition of that territory's independence." Foreign Policy in a New Democratic South Africa ANC, Department of International Affairs, October 1993.

In July 1988 ANC President Oliver Tambo led an ANC delegation to the Sahrawi Republic (Western Sahara) at the invitation of President Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, the secretary general of Polisario. In the course of the visit to the liberated zones in the Sahrawi Republic, Polisario donated to the ANC and SWAPO a substantial quantity of arms and ammunition captured from invading Moroccan troops. The arms had been supplied to Morocco by the apartheid regime in Pretoria.

Comrade Tambo said of his visit: "The warmth of the popular welcome from the Sahrawi people is different from all other welcomes we have received anywhere else in the world...We were also very surprised by the similarity of the nature of the struggle of the Sahrawi people and the people of SA. The visit to the Sahrawi Republic provided concrete confirmation of realities of which we were vaguely aware. One important thing we observed was the respect and support of the Sahrawi people towards the struggle of the South African and Namibian people for national independence."

Referring to the gift of arms and ammunition, cde Tambo said: "We from the ANC are extremely grateful...remembering that these arms were supplied to Morocco by the apartheid regime to commit genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Sahrawi people. We, the ANC, will continue to support your struggle by all means necessary, in order for both our just causes to triumph."

The case of the SAAF Shackleton

By a strange twist of fate, the large stock-pile of South African manufactured arms, including 46 Eland armoured cars, captured by Polisario in a major battle with the Moroccan invasion force in 1980, was not to be the last occasion in which South African military equipment found its way to this part of the western Sahara.

On the night of 13 July 1994, an ageing SAAF Shackleton bomber, on the way to an air-show in Britain, crashed in the desert. Fortunately for the South African crew of 19, the plane had come down in a Polisario liberated zone. The crew were quickly rescued from the desert, and returned safely to SA without delay or precondition.

Lieutenant General J Kriel, Chief of the SAAF, wrote to President Mohamed Abdel-Aziz: "On behalf of the South African Air Force I thank you, your government, and the people of Sahrawi for the kindness and generosity shown in the rescue of the crew..."

Notwithstanding Gen. Kriel's understandable gratitude to the Sahrawi government, the sad fact remains - over 12 months after our democratic elections, the South African government still does not recognise the government to which the head of the SAAF was addressing his gratitude.

We are absolutely alone in this regard among all southern African states - even Malawi has recently accorded recognition. The Sahrawi Republic is a full, fellow member of the OAU, and it is recognised by 74 governments world-wide.

So, despite General Kriel's kind words, despite President Tambo's promises, despite the commitment made in the ANC's October 1993 document, Foreign Policy in a New Democratic South Africa, why is there still no recognition? The official line from the Department of Foreign Affairs is that "a referendum on the future of the territory is pending". This explanation simply does not hold water. To understand why, it is necessary to remind ourselves of the background.

Background to the Western Sahara conflict

In October 1975 the International Court of Justice in The Hague reached a verdict on Western Sahara which coincided with the claims of the Polisario Front and the Sahrawi people themselves. The Court found that: "Western Sahara was not a territory without a ruler at the time of colonisation - it belonged to a people who had their own powers...It was not part of the provinces of the Moroccan Sultan nor of the Mauritanian entity."

This was not news, of course, to the people of Western Sahara. Their territory had been colonised by the Spanish in 1884, when European powers divided up Africa among themselves in the Berlin Treaty. It took Spain some fifty years to assume effective power in the territory in the face of ongoing popular resistance. In 1963 Western Sahara was placed on the UN agenda as a problem of decolonisation, and Franco's reactionary Spanish government came under increasing pressure to grant independence.

In 1967 large-scale phosphate reserves, among the most important in the world, began to be mined industrially at Boucraa, near the Western Saharan capital, El Ayun. This major economic resource increased Franco's reluctance to grant independence, and it was to become a major reason for subsequent invasions of Western Sahara by its neighbours.

In 1970 a wave of mass protests and resistance actions were organised throughout the territory. The Spanish colonial authorities met these demonstrations with brutal force. The massacre of Zemla (a Sahrawi equivalent of Sharpeville) happened in the capital on June 17 of that year. Many were jailed and tortured. The leader of the mass resistance movement, Mohamed Sidi Brahim Bassiri, was captured by the Spanish. He was never to be seen again.

The Polisario Front national liberation movement was launched in 1973 and it embarked upon an armed struggle. The armed struggle made very rapid progress, and the Spanish occupying troops were soon on the defensive. By September 1975 the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cortina Mauri, had met El-Wali, leader of Polisario, and declared that Spain accepted the independence of Western Sahara. As a goodwill gesture, Polisario released many Spanish prisoners of war.

Meanwhile, in a series of meetings between 1970 and 1973, Western Sahara's African neighbours - Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania - promised to respect the rights of self-determination of the Sahrawi people.

In October 1975, a month after the Spanish Foreign Minister had agreed to independence, the International Court of Justice pronounced its verdict, noted above. Western Sahara, it declared, was not a province of any other African country. It was a nation in its own right, and the immediate problem was, therefore, decolonisation.


Sadly, there were other agendas at work, particularly in Morocco. The Kingdom of Morocco has a long record of expansionist ambitions in regard to its neighbours' territories. At the beginning of November 1975 the UN secretary general flew urgently to Spain to reiterate UN support for self-determination for the Sahrawi people. But he was too late to prevent a three nation conspiracy from swinging into action.

The Moroccans preempted Spanish granting of independence by conspiring with Spain and Mauritania. Exploiting the unstable political situation in Spain (Franco was on his death-bed), the Moroccans got the Spanish to agree to halt moves to independence, and instead to recognise a "Great Morocco", in exchange for guaranteeing Spanish fishing and phosphate interests in the Western Sahara. At the same time, Morocco and Mauritania signed an illegal agreement to carve up the territory between themselves. It was a cynical agreement that was condemned internationally.

The invasion, however, began. The Moroccan Royal Armed Forces advanced on one front, and Mauritanian troops on another. There were massacres in the cities of Jderia, Hausa and Smara. Thousands of Sahrawis were killed and still more thousands injured. Fleeing refugees were bombed with napalm, cattle were destroyed and wells poisoned. It was a clear attempt at genocide.

Thousands of Sahrawis were displaced, taking refuge in camps scattered over the desert, or in zones under the control of Polisario, or in camps on the Algerian border. The Polisario Front, originally conceived as an anti-colonial liberation movement, now found itself having to confront the invading armies of two independent African nations. Polisario was to succeed remarkably well in armed struggle.

In 1979 Mauritania withdrew from the war and signed a peace agreement with the Sahrawi government. Mauritania recognised the Sahrawi Republic, and since then relations of co-operation and good neighbourliness have prevailed between the two countries. Morocco remained alone in the adventure.

Growing diplomatic recognition

On the internal front, the Sahrawi government administers the free zone and refugee camps. With limited resources, it has promoted democratic institutions, education and health-care and a variety of economic projects. As last year's SAAF Shackleton crash underlines, Polisario has effective and unchallenged power over the free zone.

In 1983 the summit of the OAU (resolution AHG 104) and the UN General Assembly (resolution 40/50) called for direct negotiations between Morocco and Polisario, in order to establish a ceasefire, and to agree on the modalities of a free and fair referendum, without military or administrative coercion. Since that time, the UN General Assembly has constantly reiterated this basic stand. These appeals did not meet with a positive response from Morocco, which remained intransigent, despite its inability to defeat the Polisario Front militarily. In particular, mirroring Zionist style politics, the Moroccans continued to settle large numbers of Moroccans in the territory, hoping to alter the demographics of the situation.

In 1984 the Sahrawi Republic became a full member of the OAU. It is now recognised by a large number of African, Latin American and Asian countries.

Growing diplomatic and military pressures forced Morocco back to the negotiating table. In the course of 1990-1, during a series of meetings between UN Secretary General, Perez de Cuellar, the Polisario Front and Morocco, a formal agreement was reached. In terms of UN Security Council Resolutions 658 and 690, a detailed peace process was agreed. There are three core aspects to this agreement:

  • that there should be direct negotiations between Morocco and Polisario, in order to:
  • establish the conditions for a free and fair referendum; and
  • that the 1974 Spanish census should provide the basis for deciding on who should be eligible to vote in the referendum.

This last point, which was agreed upon by all the parties, is critical. The 1974 Spanish census was taken before the Moroccan invasion, and therefore before the deliberate introduction of settlers into the territory. Being a largely desert territory, the population is sparse. Polisario believes that there are around 80,000 genuine Sahrawis entitled to vote in terms of the agreement. This relatively low number is an indication of the impact the deliberate settlement of thousands of Moroccans in the territory can make, demographically and electorally.

Since the 1990-1 agreements, Morocco has once more become intransigent, deliberately undermining progress. It has also begun to back-track on the critical question of the 1974 Spanish census.

US Ambassador Frank Ruddy

The evidence given in January this year by US Ambassador Frank Ruddy to the US Congress House of Representatives is particularly damning of Moroccan conduct. Frank Ruddy, as one might expect, is not a Polisario Front ally. He served as the Deputy Chairperson of the UN Peacekeeping Operation in Western Sahara. The mission was established in the framework of the 1990-1 UN peace agreement, and its specific task is to lay the basis for the planned referendum, and specifically identifying qualified voters.

Ruddy eventually resigned in frustration from the UN operation. In his evidence to the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, he produced a long catalogue of evidence of deliberate Moroccan "thuggery", "delaying tactics" (all his words), and general undermining of the process.

Here is a sample of some of his evidence:

"We were unsuccessful in inviting Sahrawis to fill out voter application forms at our centres. Nobody was allowed anywhere near us without Moroccan government approval." "Some Sahrawis who reported what the Moroccans were doing to them, asked that our UN people keep an eye out for them after they left, in case they disappeared. Many said they were scared for their lives if the Moroccans saw them talking to UN people. Others asked not be recognised outside the UN centre. Terrorised may be too strong a word, but they were afraid. Their comments reminded me of nothing so much as South Africa in the early '70s when blacks would talk to you freely in the safety of the US embassy, then pretend they didn't know you as soon as they left." "Moroccan experts tell me that Morocco doesn't want the referendum because the risks outweigh the possible gains. The status quo is not so bad [for Morocco]. On the other hand, Morocco cannot afford to appear to be the villain of the piece and will find the means to slow the process down until everyone is sick of it. I will leave Morocco's motives and strategies to the experts of which I am definitely not one. I merely note that in December of last year [1994], Morocco halted the identification process for over a week, at a cost, ...of $100,000 a day on the question of an adverb used in a schedule proposed by MINURSO [the UN Peacekeeping Mission]. This resulted in an exchange of formal letters and a good deal of...quibbling. If Morocco had been interested in clarifying the matter, as opposed to simply delaying the process, it seemed to me it could have been done in two minutes in a phone call or meeting with the native-French speaker, a former Togolese ambassador, who drafted the letter." "In the same month [December 1994], the Moroccan liaison officer with MINURSO bragged publicly to a group of MINURSO people in a bar that he alone was the one to decide whether identification would go forward the next day (it was then scheduled to resume), and to prove his point he picked up the phone (it was then about midnight), and, in front of everyone, cancelled the next week's identification sessions."

SA must act decisivelyIt is, surely, a matter of deep embarrassment that the new South African government continues to recognise Morocco, apartheid's erstwhile ally, while failing to extend recognition to another fellow OAU member, the Sahrawi Republic. The Department of Foreign Affairs' argument that we should wait for the referendum conflicts with the stand of the great majority of OAU countries, including all other southern African nations.

Above all, this argument fails to recognise that there will be no free and fair referendum unless major pressure is now placed on Morocco. One simple and effective step would be for SA to accord diplomatic recognition to the Sahrawi Republic. Our present failure to move on this front is simply contributing to Morocco's growing intransigence and its belief that it can get away with defying world opinion.



In the face of world-wide condemnation of the 35-year US blockade of Cuba, right-wing Republican senators, led by Jesse Helms, have now introduced a Bill into Congress. The Helms-Burton Bill is designed to tighten up and internationalise the blockade.

Amongst other things, it aims to prohibit the import of sugar, molasses, syrups and products containing these items from countries which, in turn, import them from Cuba. In this and other ways the Bill seeks to punish third countries and non-US companies trading with Cuba. The Bill is in gross violation of World Trade Organisation rules - a fact that has been forcefully stated by European Union, and by UK, Canadian, German and French government spokespersons.

The Bill also prescribes in detail the kind of "transitional" political institutions that are required in Cuba. It grossly interferes with Cuban sovereignty and is prescriptive in ways that the US was careful not to be in the recent South African transition process.

Our ANC-led movement and our newly elected Government of National Unity have consistently condemned the US blockade. Last year in the UN General Assembly, SA was one of 101 countries voting against the blockade. Only two (the US and Israel) voted for its retention.

The Helms-Burton move to strengthen this Cold War anachronism is absolutely unacceptable. We call for the normalisation of US-Cuba relations. Over the past year, there have been some promising signs that the beginnings of normalisation were in prospect. We now call on the Clinton Administration to firmly resist the retrograde move by right-wing Republican senators.

As for Senator Jesse Helms, South Africans have good reason to be suspicious of his deep concerns for democracy in Cuba. Over the past fifteen years, Helms has been the most outspoken and unabashed defender of white minority rule in our country.

31 May 1995


by Mkhulu

Mkhulu is the pen-name of a Russian citizen and long-standing friend of the South African liberation movement. In this article he reviews the tragedy into which the capitalist reforms of Yeltsin and the IMF have plunged his country.

It is almost four years since the tragic events in Moscow in August 1991, which I described as "a very strange coup" in a previous article in The African Communist (no.128, 1st quarter 1992). These events preceded the "dissolution" of the Soviet Union. In many documents of the SACP, and other progressive organisations, there is the call for lessons to be learned from the "collapse of the Eastern bloc". Unfortunately, this call is rarely accompanied by another call - to draw lessons from subsequent events in this part of the world.

While the USSR "dropped from the map", Russia, as well as other independent states in the region, have hardly managed to get back onto it. Official statistics are often misleading for the period since Gorbachev's covert and Yeltsin's overt departure from the socialist system. But even according to government figures, GDP in Russia dropped 18% in 1994, and about 50% over the past four years. While industry has suffered most, agriculture has also been hit - in 1994 alone, agricultural production dropped 7%. Between 30 and 50% of food is now being imported, and agricultural investments are a mere 27% of the 1990 level.

Russian science and research have also suffered a devastating blow. The 1994 budget for the Russian Academy of Science and other research institutes was 40% of the minimum required to maintain them. Miserable salaries have forced large numbers of academic researchers to change professions or to emigrate.

Despite all of this, and despite tales of Western "aid", if anything, Russia continues to subsidise the West heavily - through the large-scale flight of capital. According to official figures, $80 billion has left Russia illegally during "the period of reforms". Unofficial estimates put the figure closer to $200 billion. In 1994 alone illegal capital flight is estimated to have been between $15-20 billion.

The standard of living has also dropped dramatically with three and four digit inflation. Free education, free medical care, cheap housing - all of these advantages of socialism - have either gone, or are fast disappearing. Of course, not everyone has been equally affected. Under the previous dispensation the difference in income between the top 10% and the bottom 10% was 4:1. Today it is 23:1. For agricultural workers, academics and pensioners, income has dropped six or sevenfold. Poverty goes hand in hand with a construction boom for mansions for "new Russians". There are all kinds of anomalies - the price of vodka relative to the price of bread has dropped eight-fold! Presumably the authorities are happy for the people to seek consolation by sinking, as Russians say, their sorrows in drink.

It is not only the material well-being of the people that has been deeply affected. There has been a dramatic upsurge of crime. According to the Russian Ministry of Home Affairs, about 40,000 enterprises are now controlled by criminal gangs. The break-up of the old Soviet Union has also had a tragic impact on family ties. One should remember that many families (and not just of ethnic Russians) were scattered all over the USSR. Now they live in three, four or more independent states, separated by increasingly strict immigration controls. The cost of rail and air transport, formerly exceptionally cheap, has soared, making any travel over distance inaccessible to most citizens.

Petty and rather silly regulations in the Soviet period were used to restrict foreign contacts. These have now gone, but international contact has, in many respects, become more difficult. Sending a letter abroad now costs 4,000 times more than in 1991. The price of a single air ticket from Moscow to Johannesburg is the equivalent of the annual salary of a professor.

At every level a deep polarisation is occurring in Russian society - between a small elite and the broad majority, between the centre and the regions, between town and village.

Political developments

All of this has stirred up a deep, if still largely passive, resentment amongst the population. When Yeltsin concentrated power in his hands at the end of 1991, he promised stabilisation and an improvement in the economic situation by September 1992. Having failed dismally, he began focusing on another "accomplishment" - he presented himself as the critical factor preventing civil war in Russia. When, to the contrary, in October 1993 after Yeltsin's presidential coup, armed fighting took place in Moscow for the first time in 76 years, Yeltsin explained his actions as necessary to "quell an incipient civil war". Now civil war between Russian citizens (even if they often belong to different ethnic groups) is tearing the Caucuses apart, causing major strains throughout the country.

It is not surprising, given this track-record, that Yeltsin's popularity has plummeted. According to opinion polls at the beginning of 1995, a mere 6% of people said they trusted Yeltsin.

Role of imperialism

Andre Gunder Frank, hardly a sympathiser of the former USSR, recently observed that: "For decades, Western embargoes and other obstacles against the East were covered with ideological fig leaves. Yet today many of the same Western policies... continue for naked economic reasons."

Canadian economist, Michel Chossudovsky, makes the same point. The objective of the IMF and other imperialist forces, he argues, is not just to divert Russia onto a capitalist path, but also to transform it into a third world society. In other words, the diversion should not be too successful. The IMF's objectives are to prevent the development of Russia, with its massive resources and large and educated population, into a rival capitalist power. "The IMF-World Bank programme, adopted in the name of democracy, constitutes a coherent programme of impoverishment of a large section of the population."

It is in this context that Russian communists see their struggle as a struggle for the genuine independence of their country, against the "national betrayal" perpetrated by the pro-IMF policies of Yeltsin.

What possibilities for change?

Parliamentary elections are due in December 1995. These elections, if Yeltsin allows them to proceed, will most probably see a shift to the left, and a centre-left majority in Parliament can be predicted. The problem, however, is that the constitution imposed by Yeltsin, after his 1993 coup, leaves parliament almost powerless. Hence the importance of the presidential elections scheduled for June 1996.

If the presidential elections are not blocked or managed fraudulently by Yeltsin, he is most unlikely to survive through to the second round of voting, let alone be elected. The centre left forces now confront the immediate challenge of building a single, unifying and viable presidential candidate.

The "New Russia" - 1

"In St Petersburg one hardened criminal said that he could not remember a single case of contract murder which came from gangsters - always from business people. 'They are ready to cut each other's throats under any pretext', he said." Business World Weekly, Moscow

May 15, 1995.

The "New Russia" - 2

"...what we need is an understanding of violence in the new economics of Russia...I would advocate the creation of an agency that would help mediate and resolve business conflicts and would find ways to educate the business community not to adopt violent methods..." Letter to the Moscow Times,

March 25, 1995.