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June 1996


COMMUNISTS SALUTE THE NEW CONSTITUTION

The SACP salutes the new Constitution. It enshrines basic democratic values for which the Communist Party in SA has fought over the last 75 years. It is one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. As South Africans and communists, we are proud of this achievement.

The new Constitution establishes a constitutional state, where no authority is higher than the constitution itself. It establishes full majority rule, which will come into effect from 1999. It also introduces a creative way of approaching different levels of government.

The SACP has always rejected the hypocritical attempts by reactionary forces to impose a federal dispensation on our country. Federalism is not, in itself, a bad thing. But federalism in SA has usually been an attempt to weaken the powers of a future democratic national government, including the national redistribution of resources.

However, we have always recognised the value of having different levels of government, and of bringing democratic governance close to the people. The Constitution introduces an innovative "co-operative governance" approach. While upholding a unitary national state, it also strengthens other levels of democratic government.

It replaces, for instance, the present senate with a National Council of Provinces, which will ensure that provinces are dynamically represented at national level, and that they are encouraged to co-operate among themselves in order to have an impact on national law-making.

The second chapter of the Constitution is a Bill of Rights, enshrining all the basic liberties, like equality of everyone before the law. It makes human dignity one of the most basic rights of all. It guarantees freedom and security of the person, the right to privacy, freedom of expression, religion, belief and opinion.

The Bill of Rights goes beyond these "individual" liberties into the social and economic spheres. It highlights the basic right to adequate housing, health care, food, water, social security, and education. While it recognises that there may not be resources to meet all these rights at once, the Bill of Rights compels the state to "take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of these rights".

As citizens we must monitor progress on these fronts, and continuously ensure that everything is done to meet these rights. As socialists, we shall certainly be arguing that using "available resources" to meet these social needs surely implies, among other things, the preservation and consolidation of a powerful public sector.

On a number of thorny issues, the new Constitution consistently comes down on the side of progressive democratic values. It upholds individuals' rights to make decisions for themselves concerning reproduction, outlaws discrimination against people for their sexual orientation, and sees a safe and healthy environment as a right that has to be entrenched.

The Constitution upholds the right of individuals not to be deprived arbitrarily of property, but is careful to ensure that land reform is not blocked.

The Bill of Rights has a special section on labour relations, upholding the right to fair labour practices, the right to form and join trade unions, to participate in union activity and to strike.

The bosses, the NP, and DP fought hard to have a right to lock-out entrenched in the Bill of Rights. Thanks to the principled stand of the ANC negotiators, and thanks to nation-wide mobilisation led by COSATU and supported by the SACP and ANC, this attempt failed.

But the bosses, the NP, and DP have signalled their intention to challenge this in the Constitutional Court. This underlines an important point. The new Constitution is not yet over the final hurdle. It still has to have certification from the Constitutional Court. More struggles lie ahead. Nevertheless, we are confident that what is most important has been achieved.


IS THE NEW CONSTITUTION SOCIALIST?

Some comrades complain that the new Constitution is "not socialist". Obviously it is not, but nor is it anti-socialist. As the SACP we have consistently argued that we do not expect socialism to be entrenched constitutionally. The choice of social and economic dispensations should be subject to democratic debate, electoral contest and majority support.

It is up to us, as communists, with the greatly broadened democratic space now opened up by this new constitution, to win the struggle for socialist transformation. Many of the basic rights now enshrined in our Constitution (adequate housing, food, water, social security and education) are only realisable through the rolling back of capitalism and an advance to socialism.

As communists we must popularise the new constitution in our branches, in mass democratic structures in which we are active, in our places of work and study. A constitution only becomes a living document when it is understood and used by millions of ordinary citizens. It is up to us to take forward the new constitution in the spirit of our 9th Congress slogan:

Advance, Deepen and Defend the Democratic Breakthrough!


LET'S KEEP CONTROL OF OUR MOST PRECIOUS RESOURCE

The Chris Hani Water Scheme is a partnership between central government and the Cofimvaba community. It should be a model for future schemes for rural communities. The Department of Water Affairs has laid water on to within 200 metres of every household; the community is now responsible for maintenance, and has elected a committee to take care of it.

As new schemes are established, a national water grid would make clean water as freely available in the Karoo as on the KwaZulu-Natal coast, and at the same price. It would mean that, in places like Cofimvaba, even if there was a drought in the E Cape, there would still be clean drinking water coming out of the taps.

Central control is essential, and the Department of Water Affairs is best placed to exercise it. We would have to find ways to make the Department accountable to each community, but while central government is in charge of distributing water, the door is open for the people of the country to have a say in the distribution.

A French transnational water company, Lyonnais des Eaux, is bidding for water contracts in SA. The arrangement being discussed is some form of "partnership" with the government. This partnership is likely to give the water company authority to distribute water, and to take the profits - which means it may have the authority to set the price.

All South Africans know how careful about water we have to be. We will always have to be careful. Our population is increasing, while the supply of water stays the same. As water is piped to rural communities and informal settlements near the cities, people will start using more, because they will be freed from the work of carrying every drop. We are soon going to have to look carefully at the water-using habits of the rich.

A transnational company, based overseas, cannot be answerable to the people of South Africa in the way the government is. Transnationals have often ignored the wishes of the people, and even government regulations, in countries they work in.

Without water, there is no life. We cannot afford to let go of our control over this most precious of all natural resources. We ourselves must decide how South African water is used.


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

SUICIDE AFTER GENOCIDE

Dear Comrade,

After many years of genocide, the National Party decision to withdraw from the Government of National Unity is suicidal.

For many years, the National Party was a whites-only party. During its rule, whites, particularly Afrikaners, were economically privileged, through their policy of affirmative action. In 1994, they went to the polls, promising whites they would protect and advance their privileges, but they lost that battle, as democracy is irreversible.

Only after President Mandela made it clear that the ANC was prepared to draw up the constitution alone, did the National Party adopt it. This move divided them, and they realised they had shot themselves. So, attempting to re-unify and heal the wound, they shot themselves in the chest by withdrawing from the GNU, leaving those they had promised to protect in a vacuum.

Their departure from the GNU is much welcomed. Now they must quit the civil service, as their civil servant allies have no political agenda. They must also vacate local government, as that is a tail without a head.

Abdul Mogale

Gauteng


CALLING WEST AFRICA

MR UMEME, WHERE ARE YOU?

We received a fax in April from Mr Ingwevu MK Umeme in West Africa, asking the meaning of the word, "Umsebenzi." We prepared a fax in reply, but have been unable to get through to him on the number given. We are printing the reply here, in the hope that he will see it.

Dear Mr Umeme

We were most interested to get your enquiry about Umsebenzi, and wonder how the paper came to your attention - on the Internet, perhaps?

The word "Umsebenzi" is an Nguni word, existing in both Nguni languages, Zulu and Xhosa. It means "The Worker", and is derived from the verb, "ukusebenza", meaning to work.

We hope that answers your question.


GOODBYE, NATIONAL PARTY!

The SACP issued the following press statement on May 9th:

The SACP welcomes the decision of the National Party to leave the Cabinet from the end of next month. All along, the SACP has believed that a normal majority government is the sensible and most democratic arrangement. The present power-sharing GNU was a generous concession from the side of the ANC-led Alliance to the pleas of the NP and its allies.

The conviction about the desirability of a normal majority-party Cabinet has been reinforced powerfully by the actual performance of the NP over the last two years. FW de Klerk's deputy presidency has been all but invisible. In other cases, NP ministers have blocked transformation, or, as lacklustre performers, they have coasted along, relying on the heavy work schedule of ANC deputy ministers.

The place of the NP is on the opposition benches. As for the Cabinet, it is with a sense of relief that the SACP says, "Goodbye, NP."


RURAL ECONOMIC GROWTH

WHAT CHINA CAN TEACH US ?

Comrade Charles Nqakula, SACP General Secretary, led a delegation to China in March. He was particularly interested in the development of the Chinese countryside, and describes it here.

Towards the end of 1993, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China adopted a series of resolutions around their concept of a socialist market economy. The socialist market economy has emerged in China as part of the reform process unfolding in that country.

Rural economic structural reform has been placed high on the agenda of transformation, and the Central Committee says it has brought "historic changes to the socio-economic outlook of rural areas."

The Party is deepening rural reform, to accelerate rural economic growth, increase the income levels of farmers, and consolidate the role of agriculture as a cornerstone of the national economy.

The Party hopes that, by the end of this century, the living standards of the masses of farmers will have been raised substantially. The plan is to transform them from subsistence farmers to people of "moderate prosperity."

Following the adoption of the reform programme, some provinces targeted land property rights. Subsequently, close to 200 pilot plots participated in a sharholding co-operative system, using land as shares. The rural collective land belongs to the state, and is leased out to the co-operatives on a long-term basis.

The shareholding system is strongly biased in favour of the co-operatives, where the ratio is 30:1.

The co-operatives sell their produce to rural collective enterprises and township enterprises.

Chinese townships are not like ours, which were designed by the apartheid regime as reserves of cheap labour. Many have developed over many years, as viable township industrial systems. Many of the villages are connected by highways and automatic telecommunications systems. They have clean water taps, road lights, and cable broadcasting systems.

Not all farmers are involved in the co-operative structures. Others are involved in the contracted responsibility system, based on the household. Remuneration, in this system, is linked directly to output. The more you produce, the more you benefit.

There is a well-co-ordinated system of administration and management accompanying rural activities.

The farmers are connected to other residents in China through a system of local government. The Party seeks to "reduce the separation of city and countryside."

Comrade Derek Hanekom, who is now in charge of both land affairs and agriculture, would find it useful to study the Chinese experience of rural development.


WORKING CONDITIONS TO BE REGULATED DISCUSSIONS AT NEDLAC

A code governing conditions of employment is at present being discussed by the National Economic Development and Labour Council. NEDLAC intends, finally, to produce a parliamentary bill called the Employment Standards Bill. We spoke to Khumbula Ndaba, COSATU negotiations officer, about the issues being considered.

How many hours a week should a worker have to work? This is a contentious issue, for labour organisations want to limit the hours, while business wants to extract as much time as possible from each worker. At present, hours vary from 40 to 48 in most industries. The longest are in the security industry (where employees in a dangerous job often work seven nights a week), and in agriculture.

At NEDLAC, business is pressing for a 48-hour week, with a 60-hour week in the security industry.

Labour organisations are demanding a 40-hour week across the board. They claim that this reduction in hours will produce sharing of jobs, and creation of more jobs. This will mean more spending (those who are at present unemployed will buy more, if they have jobs) and the increased demand for goods will mean more production, more jobs, and an increase in the gross domestic product. They point to the fact that Germany has reduced the working week to 35 hours.

Labour is prepared to look at the possibility of a gradual reduction of working hours, sector by sector, but insists that government must set itself a firm goal, by committing itself to the 40-hour week, and legislating for it.

Another area of disagreement is that of part-time and temporary work. Labour insists that discrimination against part-time and temporary workers is unconstitutional and unacceptable, and that these workers should enjoy the same benefits as those in full-time and permanent employment - paid annual leave, sick leave, maternity leave, family responsibility leave, and so on.

The government position is that these benefits should apply after a year's work in the same job.

The negotiations committee is agreed on the need for a clear definition of "part-time work" and "temporary work". At present, it is too easy for an employer to avoid paying benefits by designating jobs as temporary, or by dividing one full-time job into two part-time jobs.

It is also easy for an employer to sack and re-hire after a year, so that some workers never become eligible for benefits. The labour side at NEDLAC is looking for a way to make retrenchment more difficult.

On the question of child labour, Government and business agree that the minimum age should be 15, but labour is holding out for 16 years, with a gradual move towards a threshold of 18 years.

Other difficult questions remain. Labour is concerned about areas where there is casual labour, hard to check on, and little union organisation (flea markets are an example). There are fears that the Maputo Corridor could become such an area.

Domestic workers are also an exploited group, difficult to organise. There is a suggestion that local government structures should set up advice centres to help them, but this would only be a partial solution to the problem.

Once legislation is passed, how is it to be enforced? - there are several suggestions. When the law is broken, what penalties should apply? Company policy (as in the case of Thor Chemicals) has sometimes caused death and disablement - what price can be put on human life?

Comrade Ndaba says that, while there is room for agreement between labour and government on a number of issues, labour and business are "almost at loggerheads." He says there is the possibilty of a major battle, which will engage the democratic forces as a whole.


          THE POLITICIAN

AK 47

Petrol bomb

Sticks and stones

Placards and pamphlets

"Aaktion kille man Station Commandant"

Tombstones for the murdered revolutionary.

Like the birth of an eclipse

The interregnum spawns the avarice animal,

Comical caricature of a new look executive,

An apostle of lies and false expectations,

A king of new mansions.

Remember! the conscience of history;

because, like Solomon Mahlangu's prophetic hymn,

it will haunt you forever.

For those who died

For those who died

For those who died

VS


EASTERN FREE STATE

Willy Tshabalala, who lives in Harrismith, is a member of the SACP Provincial Executive Committee in the Free State. Here, he raises the question of which should be at the top of our list of priorities - the welfare of human beings or the welfare of the motor vehicle.

Why is the Ministry of Transport and Roads continuing with the strategy of the National Party regime, of killing the towns of the Eastern Free State?

The eastern part of Free State province has experienced a lot of unemployment, due to construction of national roads, which bypass a lot of towns, like Cornelia and Vrede. In a few years, when the road through De Beers Pass is completed, Warden and Harrismith, where more than three-quarters of the population is now unemployed, will be bypassed as well.

The new road is a controversial question in the eastern Free State, and was an issue in the local government elections. There is opposition to it among all sectors of the people who live here, but, as it is to be a toll road, it is clear that powerful financial interests are involved.

It seems, from the approach of the Ministry, that it is more interested in destroying towns than in developing them. I'll be very happy if the Ministry can tell the country who is going to invest in Harrismith, if it continues with its plan of building a road through De Beers Pass.

Four years ago, Holiday Inn in Harrismith was one of the biggest hotels in the country. They decided to close it down. Why? Their argument is that the town has no future. They must have known about this road. Quite a number of companies were intending to invest in Harrismith, but they are sceptical. Yes, indeed, they should be. How can you invest in an island that hardly anyone visits?

Maybe it should be noted that the Ministry of Transport should preserve nature. The envisaged road is going to destroy nature.

Economically, it is expensive: building the road is going to cost taxpayers R1.5 billion or more. It will destroy the lives of thousands of people, who will lose their jobs, and the lives of those who are already unemployed, who will remain unemployed for the rest of their lives.

We expect the ANC-led government to change the lives of South Africans, particularly the lives of communities that have been disadvantaged for hundreds of years. I think Harrismith can be turned into a pillar of the Free State economy, Eastern Free State in particular.

Let me make my humble plea to Comrade Mac Maharaj to stop killing towns. We South Africans have had enough. Please stop it now. Let the ANC-led alliance deliver its promises to people.

I hope this will provoke discussion in our structures around the issue of developing towns, and that MPs and MECs will take up the question in the provincial and national legislatures.


NEW PROVINCIAL STRUCTURE IN THE FREE STATE

The SACP provincial structure in the Free State was launched at the end of April, when the districts of Bloemfontein and Welkom were merged. Itumeleng Segalo is the provincial chairperson, and his deputy is Francis Sello. The provincial secretary is Tutu Ralane, and Thandi Gulwa is deputy secretary. Thabiso Mphale is provincial treasurer.


NORTH-WEST PROVINCIAL CONGRESS

The SACP in the North-West held its provincial congress on April 21st.

The congress noted, among other things, that the Alliance secretariat is now meeting regularly. The PEC intends to strengthen its links with labour by forming a Working Class Struggles Commission "to facilitate formal meetings with COSATU and its affiliates."

Chairperson for the coming year is Lungile Dantjie, with Zolile Kolweni as deputy. The provincial secretary is Howard Yawa, and his deputy is Godfrey Sehlare. Poppy Seduku is the treasurer.

Comrade Seduku is one of five women comrades on the Provincial Executive Committee of twenty members. The congress noted that, "more attention needs to be paid by our province in gender, with real working class struggles, especially among our female comrades."


THE STRUGGLE FOR THE RUSSIAN PRESIDENCY

A few months ago, it was reported that Boris Yeltsin, at present president of the Russian Federation, was promising to compensate all who had lost their savings as a result of the massive inflation that followed on the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Nothing more has been reported about this scheme, which was plainly meant to be a vote-catcher. There was only one way Yeltsin could have raised the money: by using funds from an IMF loan. The interest on the loan would have to be paid later, from the taxes of the people, including those people whose savings had been replaced. Eventually, the loan would have had to be repaid the same way.

A dozen of the richest men in Russia recently signed a letter to the newspaper, Izvestia, recommending that Yeltsin and the Communist candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, sit down and work out a common programme, for the sake of a stable government.

Some Russian political commentators see this as impossible to put into practice; even as an attempt "to buy out the Communists, to bring them on board on the crucial issue of private property." Others, who believe that Yeltsin is likely to win the elections, believe that he is likely to have to reverse his privatisation policy, because it isn't working.

In the opinion polls, Yeltsin seems to be ahead, but the Moscow correspondent of the London Morning Star wrote recently: "other pollsters say the extent of voter anger with the Yeltsin government is greatly underestimated."

The serious poverty now suffered by large sections of the Russian population, and the wealth accumulated by a few, are not the only cause of voter anger. Unemployment is rising. The foreign debt is enormous. There are massive corruption scandals that sometimes surface at government level: during privatisation programmes, huge sums disappear.

There is also the war in Chechnya. Chechens are fighting for their freedom, and the Russians, who have suffered heavy casualties, don't want to go on fighting. In a survey of Russian opinion at the end of March, 62% said that ending the war was the first demand they would make of their candidate.

Zyuganov has promised to end the war. He has also promised - among other things - to bring wages and grants into line with the cost of living, and to take measures to fight corruption.

He is supported by Alexander Rutskoi, former Russian vice-president. Another of his supporters is Aman Tuleyev, a powerful miners' leader from Siberia, who says the miners' lives are "hellish," that they wait months for their wages, and their families go hungry.

Tuleyev is also running for president, and with the support of the Communist Party. He says that, before the elections, he will withdraw from the contest, and encourage his supporters to vote for Zyuganov.


MIXED VICTORY

THE ITALIAN ELECTIONS

The good news about the Italian elections in April is the victory of the left-of-centre Olive Tree Alliance, led by the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS), the former Communist Party. The Alliance won a majority in the Senate of 315 seats, and a near-majority in the lower chamber of 630 seats.

More good news: the fascist Freedom Alliance, which had been in power since 1994, was defeated.

It won't be easy for the Olive Tree Alliance, though. In the lower house, it will be able to form a governing majority in alliance with Greens, Republicans and former Christian Democrats, but, to maintain this majority, the PDS may be forced to dilute its principles.

The Alliance is committed to defending the social welfare programme that exists in Italy, and, at the same time, to enforce European Union guidelines about privatising public-owned industry, and "dowsizing government." Pursuing both these policies at once will be difficult, and may be impossible.

Another factor in the situation is Reconstructed Communism (RC), a party of Marxist-Leninists, who broke away from the Communist Party when it became the PDS. The RC has said that it will oppose any attack on people's living standards, and any attempt at an economic merger with the European Union. The RC has 10 seats in the Senate, and 35 seats in the lower chamber.


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