December 1997/January 1998
ANC Conference 1997
What do we want to come out of it?
At its 50th Conference Mafikeng, from Tuesday 16th till Saturday 20th December, 1997, the questions the ANC will be asking itself will revolve around transformation, and its own achievements.
Criticism is healthy; when its members no longer criticise or question, an organisation is as good as dead. When the ANC looks back to review its three and a half years in government, it should be as honest as possible in evaluating what it has done, in assessing successes and failures. How strong is it now? What is the state of the liberation movement?
The Conference should also look forward to what members of the organisation want it to become in the future.
What questions will be uppermost in the minds of delegates, and thousands of other members round the country?
A number of important questions will concern the process of policy-making. The ANC has produced a Conference edition of its journal, Umrabulo, in which it talks of "... keeping the mass, participatory character of the ANC, "and says: "That is the best antidote to the danger of our organisation being transformed into a narrow, professionalised machine, enjoying support, but not empowering mass participation."
At present, the perception remains that too many government policy decisions, affecting the whole nation, are taken bureaucratically, by narrow, professionalised machines within the ministries, and that even the parliamentarians are often not consulted. The government's macro-economic policy, GEAR, wasn't discussed in either the Alliance or the ANC itself before being published. Last August, the Department of Finance seemed to make some sort of concession by stating that GEAR wasn't "cast in stone", but the recent sudden publication of the Middle Term Expenditure Framework shows the Department has not yet lost the habit of ruling by ministerial decree.
What rules of procedure can ensure that questions of policy are taken before Parliament in the form of Bills, which our elected representatives can then amend, and accept or reject?
What procedures can we set up to ensure consultation within the Alliance? How can we spell out how and when the Alliance can intervene in questions of government?
What channels of communication can we set up to give the ANC grassroots membership a say? Should we recommend that MPs and Ministers attend branch meetings regularly? - this wouldn't involve a mandate, but would help to keep people of power in contact with the thinking of ordinary people.
How do we deal with the question of accountability, and make sure that our leaders remain accountable to the people who voted them into power? Which system do we think best maintains accountability: proportional representation or the constituency system?
What about a code of conduct, that applies to all members equally? There was one, once. Do we have one now, and, if we don't, do we need one?
There are other questions to do with leadership. What kind of leaders do we want to take us into the 21st century? Do we still want personality cults, heroic figures larger than life?
The National Executive Committee will be implementing Conference decisions, and leading the ANC into the future. A lot depends on what kind of National Executive Committee is elected. This places a responsibility on delegates, and Conference will should be a time of careful and thoughtful voting.
Do We Want a Women's Movement?
Kim Jurgensen writes in reply to Thenjiwe Mtintso's article, "Towards a Women's Movement", which appeared in the June 1997 issue of Umsebenzi.
In her paper, SACP stalwart Thenjiwe Mtintso argues strongly for the need for gender issues to be taken seriously. She hardly gives any arguments at all why we need to organise women separately.
The recent COSATU Congress exposed many truths about the fears of, and feelings towards, women in the labour movement. The old issue of women's leadership was raised in the form of a debate around the quota system. Although none of the opponents could come up with a better plan to develop women comrades within the organisation, there was strong opposition to implementing the quota system. Moreover, the tactic used by affiliates was to get women delegates (who had until that point made little or no contribution to Congress) to stand up and oppose the quota system.
What does this tell us?
Firstly, there is a belief among a number of the affiliate leadership that gender issues are not political issues. The feeling is that if women themselves say this is a bad idea, then it is. The analysis is not that we are committed to eradicating oppression in all its forms, and therefore need to discuss and implement the best strategy.
Secondly, the failure of the (male) leaders who are opposed to this tactic, to stand up and publicly state their opposition (instead of mandating women delegates to do so) shows either complete lack of interest, or cowardice when it comes to something as sensitive as the quota system.
Thirdly, this sends a strong message that gender issues are "women's concerns", and that men will step back into Congress when mainstream political issues are discussed. Gender issues are clearly not regarded as mainstream.
How does this affect the debate around a women's movement? Simply because it shows that as long as gender issues are seen to be primarily the concern of women, we will never make any real gains in this struggle.
Contrary to what we have heard recently, women do not need special education programmes to prepare them for political leadership - men are not born clever and articulate and intelligent and progressive, they need as much education and training as women do. Isolating women in women's groups will not build their confidence - it will only reinforce the belief that union structures are intimidating, and too scary to take part in.
Educating comrades and ensuring they are properly briefed and prepared for meetings, that they receive the necessary training and are exposed to the right experiences, giving them opportunities to build themselves and to learn and develop in the trade union movement, is the only way to build confidence - and this goes for both men and women. Creating "knitting societies" for women is no way to build them as strong political leaders!
It seems that the problem has more to do with fear and ignorance than with real obstacles. That is strange, since we have shining examples of strong, capable women in our national government, delivering quality services, making key interventions, even holding traditionally male portfolios. Many of these women may not have been there had it not been for the quota system, and one would think their performance would motivate powerfully in favour of the quota system.
As far as Thenjiwe Mtintso's comment about women being united on some common fronts (she mentioned the example of rape), I want to argue strongly that there is NO issue which affects only women. Rape affects men, because it is an issue of social justice which surely all democrats are committed to; because every man is close to a potential victim - a mother, sister, lover, daughter; and it is not only women who are raped. But, essentially, I would strongly argue that we need to see these issues as gender issues (not women's issues) because we have committed ourselves to building socialism.
And surely socialism is about creating a society which is free of injustice and oppression - no matter who the victims of these injustices are. The NDR wasn't about self-advancement, it was not, contrary to what some may now argue, about building a black middle class. It was about qualitatively changing the lives of the oppressed - and, yes, women are part of that group.
So, is Thenjiwe Mtintso right about the need to strengthen the voice of women? Yes.
Is she right about needing to advance gender struggles? Absolutely.
Is she right about the need to "empower the disempowered groups and facilitate the distribution of resources for the overall strategic objective of eradicating oppressive gender relations?" Yes, again.
Is she right , however, about how that needs to be done? Emphatically, no.
Until men and women have confidence in the potential of women to deliver in
key political and other areas, gender oppression will always remain a women's
issue. And the only ways to build that confidence are:
to allow women the space to prove themselves, and also to fail (without their sex being used as an explanation for their weaknesses)
to put gender issues on the centre of the political agenda - where they belong.
Red Flag Flies in Western Cape
Opening the SACP Western Cape provincial congress at the end of November, provincial chairperson MEC Leonard Ramatlakane congratulated delegates on keeping the Red Flag flying in a province ruled by the racist National Party.
He said enemies of the Party will have to live with the fact that the SACP is a growing, militant organisation whose influence increases daily.
Politbureau member, Ben Martens MP, also addressed the congress. He emphasised the critical role the SACP has to play during this period of transition, if it wants to lay the basis for socialism. He spoke of the importance of financial independence for the Party, and challenged the Western Cape province to lead the drive for self-sufficiency.
The congress passed resolutions concerning economic policy and the socialist vision. Another resolution urged that, if Parliament is moved away from Cape Town, it should go to an area in need of development. Another called for a National Health Service.
Nkuna Amensty SACO Statement
The Central Committee of the SACP issued the following statement on November 7th.
The SACP is not among those seeking to indulge in TRC bashing. We have, from the outset, supported the TRC process, and we have great respect for what has been achieved.
However, from time to time, there have been serious lapses in judgment from the side of the TRC. A case in point is today's announcement by the TRC Amnesty Committee that it is granting amnesty to three individuals, including Joe Nkuna, convicted of attacking in 1992 the Nelspruit home of Comrade Johannes Shabangu.
The attack followed Shabangu's allegations that the three were involved in the misappropriation of ANC funds. Nkuna, who planned the attack, claimed that the attack was "planned in the SACP head office in Johannesburg, in a meeting with Chris Hani."
While admitting that "the applicant's evidence in this regard was not satisfactory in all respects", the Amnesty Committee has found that, since Chris Hani was not alive, "the statements cannot be corroborated nor disproved".
Surely the onus is upon the applicants and upon the TRC Amnesty Committee to show that there were reasonable grounds for believing this cockİandİbull story? No attempt was made by the TRC Amnesty Committee to find out from the SACP Head Office whether such a meeting between Nkuna and Hani actually occurred, and whether it is remotely possible that in 1992 Hani would have ordered such an attack.
Indeed, the SACP issued a public statement at the time of Nkuna's application, to completely reject his lies. We pointed out that the target of Nkuna's attack, Johannes Shabangu, is a senior and highly respected ANC and SACP member, a close friend of the late Chris Hani, and a former deathİrow inmate, sentenced for brave MK actions.
We are troubled that the Amnesty Committee has approached this question in such a slapdash way. We are surprised that they have given some credence to the desperate story of a sentenced criminal, and story that casts a slur upon Hani's judgment and upon his commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement.
We hope that this is not a signal to all other amnesty applicants that all they have to do is to quote some mythical instructions from someone who is not alive, in order to get amnesty.
RED STARS AND THUMBS DOWN
to our COSATU comrades in Cape Town for their protest against dictator and murderer, President Suharto of Indonesia. COSATU reminded us that "constructive engagement" with dictators has never been the policy of our liberation movement. Isn't it a bitter irony that the COSATU comrades were arrested while Suharto was lavished with praise and awards?
to the members of parliament who passed the Basic Employment Standards Bill. While some aspects of the Bill still need some work, the basic thrust of this legislation represents a significant victory for all workers, especially those in the most marginalised sectors of our economy.
We think that many of our parliamentary comrades deserve a big round of applause for their tireless work in serving the constituency that put them there. We just need more of them!
to organisers and participants of the recent "Real Men Don't Abuse Women and Children" march in Pretoria, for showing us that it's going to take everyone - men, women and children - to tackle the problem of abuse. We think that, too often, mobilisation around addressing social problems has adopted a narrow approach, in racial or gender terms.
One Thumb Down to the organisers of the Gauteng "Day for Women in the Legislature", for approaching the issue of violence against women on exactly the narrow terms that the organisers of the Pretoria anti-abuse march correctly avoided. The societal problem of violence can be meaningfully addressed only by all those involved, sufferers and perpetrators alike.
Two Thumbs Down to the policy of "liberalising" exchange controls for doing exactly what we said it was going to do: encourage mass disinvestment of capital. Information given by the Reserve Bank shows that during this year R21 billion has been invested outside South Africa. No wonder we are told there is no money for redistribution and basic service provision.
Three Thumbs Down to GEAR for delivering a declining growth rate and an alarming loss of jobs in its first year. According to the Central Statistical Services, employment has shrunk 1.5% since June last year, leaving fewer than 5.2 million people employed in the formal economy. All economic indicators point to a growth rate of no more than 0.5% next year.
This flies in the face of GEAR's projections that 252 000 jobs would be created this year, and growth of 3.5% for next year. We need to shift into a different gear!
Political Education Communist and Private Property
In the midst of intensified privatisation of public property, Dale McKinley looks at this central issue for Communists.
It is important to distinguish between personal possessions for personal use, and bourgeois private property. Owning the house you live in, or the car you drive, doesn't make you a capitalist. If you own a second house, and charge rent for it, or a second car, and make a profit out of employing someone to drive it as a taxi, then you have become a capitalist, even if only in a very small way. The second car, the second house, represent bourgeois private property.
This is important for Communists, because bourgeois private property is the backbone of the oppressive capitalist system. Marx and Engels clearly stated that the abolition of bourgeois private property is "rightly advanced by Communists as their main demand."
Our constitution is a progressive document in many respects. However, when it comes to the issue of bourgeois private property, the constitution fails the vast majority of South Africans, who have no real property. The Bill of Rights severely limits the ability of the state (as the democratic expression of the people) to "deprive" the bourgeoisie of their property.
In the Communist Manifesto we find the clearest explanation of private property, and the necessity of its abolition by communists.
On the character and form of private property:
"We communists have been reproached with the desire of abolishing the right of personally acquiring property as the fruit of man's own labour, which property is alleged to be the groundwork of all personal freedom, activity and independence. Hard-won, self-acquired, self-earned property? Do you mean the property of the petty artisan and of the small peasant? There is no need to abolish that. Or do you mean modern, bourgeois private property?
"Does wage labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bit. It creates capital, that is, that kind of property which exploits wage labour."
On why communists fight for the abolition of private property:
"The distinguishing feature of communism is not abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property. Modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products, that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few. In this sense, the theory of the communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.
"You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But, in your existing society, private property is alreay done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths.
"You reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so: that is just what we intend. Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate products of society: all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriation."
While Communists must continually search for creative tactical means for abolishing bourgeois private property, the strategic necessity of carrying forward the struggle is clear.
Road Accidents Take Another Fine Comrade Death of Lizo Nobanda
Mass Protest by Czech Workers and Students
In mid-November, over 150 000 Czech workers and students held two separate demonstrations in the capital, Prague: a huge number of demonstrators for a small country.
The first protest was in opposition to the Czech government's austerity programme, which has resulted in severe budgetary cuts to social spending, and massive job losses through privatisation. Marchers called for the government's immediate resignation, with banners proclaiming, "No social peace with those who exploit us!"
A second, smaller demonstration followed, in which thousands of anti-racist students and other concerned citizens showed their outrage at the unprovoked murder of a Sudanese student by neo- nazi skinheads, and the systematic oppression of the Romany ethnic minority by an increasingly right-wing nationalist government.
Violent Protests by Zimbabwean Farm Workers
For the first time since Zimbabwe's independence over 17 years ago, thousands of farm workers, the most exploited section of Zimbabwe's working class, engaged in violent demonstrations against low wages (average R125 per month), lack of access to decent living conditions, and no real redistribution of land. They attacked the property of their predominantly white employers, and vented their anger on corrupt and inefficient officialdom.
Many of the demonstrations were physicially dispersed by riot police, but the workers' grievances remain substantively unattended. Simmering tension could explode again any time.
Russian Workers Paid in Toilet Paper
In an indication of the failure of Russia's capitalist "reforms", workers at a factory in the south-east of the country were recently paid their annual bonus in the form of toilet paper. One worker tried to pay her rent with rolls of the stuff, but the municipal authorities refused.
For many workers, even those who still have their jobs, the Yeltsin government's free market capitalism has meant not getting paid for months on end, and having to deal with declining social services and rampant crime.
Let's take Care of our Human Resources
Massive shortfalls in South African educational provision go back a long way. Decades ago, it was well known that the apartheid government didn't provide nearly enough funds for black education, and that black schools were poverty-stricken. There was a serious shortage of school buildings, of school furniture, of teacher training colleges and of teachers. The teachers, themselves victims of apartheid education, were under-educated and under-trained. Few schools had libraries. In 1980, there was a press report of a school in KwaThema, which had no toilet.
Since then, the population has grown, but there has been no noticeable increase in facilities provided. During the eighties, the true state of affairs was masked by the school boycotts, and by general disillusionment, which kept children away from the classrooms. The truly dire nature of the situation became clear in 1995, when the children of South Africa turned up at the schools, and there weren't enough places for them.
Now, cutbacks in spending involve plans to retrench a total of over 31 000 teachers in five provinces alone; figures are not yet available from Western Cape, North West, Northern Province and Mpumalanga. Teachers on temporary contracts have been chosen for retrenchment, because they can be got rid of more quickly and easily. According to the South African Democratic Teachers' Union, this will leave us with classes of between 50 and 100 in less privileged schools, like those in rural areas and informal settlements.
What happened was that when the provinces presented their education budgets at the beginning of the year, they underestimated the money they were going to need. The Department of Finance, having just adopted the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, refused to make up the shortfall.
Some argue that South African educational expenditure is too high, because it is higher per pupil than that in many other developing countries. That may be true. Some say education funds are being squandered in certain areas. That, too, may be true, and, if it is, something should be done about it: there are strong rumours in KwaZulu-Natal of "ghost schools" and "ghost teachers" which do not exist, though funds are disbursed for them, and SADTU has demanded that the provincial government identify these teachers and schools.
These arguments don't alter the fact that massive expenditure is necessary to rectify the appalling educational imbalances, the backlog of generations of underprivilege and oppression. We don't simply have to maintain an educational system; we have to create one, almost from the bottom up.
South Africa's most valuable resource is not gold (the price is going down), nor diamonds (our mines are running out) but our people. The wealth of society is created by human beings. They grow the crops, manufacture food and clothing, operate machinery, invent technology and use it.
There can be nothing more important to our society and its economy than the upgrading of our human resources through intellectual development, through education, and skills training. It is far and away more important than making a show to attract foreign investment; infinitely more important than paying off the apartheid debt.
It must start now. Two years, even one year, in a child's life can never be retrieved. What's needed is political will, and a sense of priorities. The necessary funds must be found.
Demonstration of International Solidarity COSATU Members Arrested outside Parliament
The COSATU Regional Educator and the NUMSA Regional Secretary were among 39 COSATU members arrested outside Parliament on November 20th. They were demonstrating peacefully on the occasion of President Suharto's visit to South Africa.
They were voicing their opposition to Indonesia's continued occupation of East Timor, and abuse of human and trade union rights in Indonesia. The protest was in support of President Mandela's efforts to work towards a peaceful resolution of the problem; COSATU saw it as a form of "strengthening his hand".
In a memorandum sent to the Indonesian Embassy on November 19th, COSATU noted that, over the past 22 years, more than 250 000 East Timoreans, a third of the original population, have been killed. "It pains us," the memorandum said, "to see other people suffering even worse repression than that inflicted on us by the apartheid regime." It called for the release of imprisoned leader Muchtar Pakpahan.
After the demonstration and the arrests, COSATU commented: "It is barbaric that the police still see fit to deny people their constitutional right to peaceful protest."
Latin America Class Struggle if Alive and Well
The class struggle is alive and thriving in Latin America. We are often told that we should follow the neo-liberal policies of the governments of, for example, Argentina or Brazil. Yet the fact is that the vast majority of people in Latin America, the workers and campesinos. are waging constant class battles against these policies, and for new societies.
Over the last two years, Latin America has been rocked by hundreds of popular demonstrations condemning neo-liberalism, privatisation, social cut-backs, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Combined with continuing armed struggle in places like Colombia, Mexico and Peru, it is clear that Latin America is not the stable and secure place that capitalists would like us to believe.
One of thee most significant strikes took place in Venezuela in November this year, when over one million workers paralysed the country for six weeks. The major demand was payment of back wages by the government. The strike ended after the government agreed to the demands. Earlier, in July, thousands of workers had taken to the streets of the capital, Caracas, to demand that the government stop the implementaton of the IMF economic programme. Strikes and marches have continued this year.
During January and February of this year, Ecuador was also shaken by weeks of protests against the government of Abdala Bucharam, who was finally forced to resign after a labour-led general strike which lasted several days. Although he had won the presidential elections on a populist programme, once in office he followed the line established by international capital. The opposition was solid in rejecting his neo-liberal policies, and in February the parliament voted to replace Bucharam with opposition leader Fabian Alarcon.
In the Dominican Republic, members of the largest bus union went on strike in January to protest against President Lionel Fernandez' decision to follow IMF prescription by devaluing the peso, raising petrol prices by 30% and increasing the sales tax by 50%. Many people were arrested after riots broke out in the poor sections of the capital. In the same month, some 43 000 teachers went on strike demanding a rise in salary.
Argentine labour declared the biggest general strike against the presidency of Carlos Menem in August last year. Others followed, and strikes spread to most of Argentina's large cities, demanding an end to privatisation and the continuation of social programmes that help the working class. This year has seen more of the same.
Earlier this year, in Colombia, 800 000 public employees brought the government to a halt when the labour federation, CUT, declared a strike against privatisations and for salary increases. Likewise, in January, Haitian workers conducted a three-day general strike aimed at the IMF, while, on May Day in Puerto Rico, tens of thousands rallied in front of the legislature in San Juan against plans to privatise the public telephone company. On the same day, 400 000 marched in Mexico. In Nicaragua, in late June, the Sandinistas led mass demonstrations against the government's economic policies.
Similar accounts can be given about mass mobilisation in Guatemala, Chile, Brazil and most Latin American countries, including Peru, where, since the end of the hostage situation, marches by thousands of workers and students have sometimes turned into violent confrontations, as President Fujimori's popularity continues to sink.
The global capitalist ruling class would like us all to believe that there is no struggle in Latin America, and that people there are calmly and fatalistically acceting the programme of transnational corporate capital. But in the age of the global economy, class solidarity is more important than ever, and the first step in that direction is being conscious of other struggles.
(Thanks to People's Weekly World of the United States, for much of the information in this article.)