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By Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

One of the major conclusions by Government�s Ten Year Review (GTYR) of the first decade of democracy was that as a country we have made significant progress in those areas under the control of the state. In those areas left to the capitalist market there has been little progress. One can cite a number of areas in this regard, including low-cost housing, provision of water and electricity. The GTYR further noted that if the current economic trajectory was left unchanged the negatives will begin to overwhelm the positives.

It was largely from this assessment that we began to see some shifts in both ANC and government thinking on critical areas of the economy. The ANC NGC in 2000 began to advance an analysis that macro-economic balance was a necessary but not sufficient condition for growth and development of our economy, thus the need to focus on micro-economic reform

Over the last two years government has shifted its focus away from privatisation towards strengthening the role of state enterprises in leading investment in infrastructure. Government has also admitted that the �willing seller, willing buyer� approach to land reform has failed.

Other important shifts in government policy have been accentuated by increased focus on what government refers to as �the second economy�. This was underpinned by the ANC�s Election Manifesto for 2004 with specific focus on creating work and fighting poverty. Both this Manifesto and the GTYR identified lack of micro-credit for productive purposes as well as lack of access to finance for millions of South Africans as a serious impediment to growth and development. At the last ANC national conference in Stellenbosch in 2002, one of the economic resolutions was that the Usury Act should be strengthened to protect the millions of our people being exploited by the unscrupulous legal microlenders that had mushroomed in the first 10 years of our democracy, filling the gap left by banks and financial institutions which refused to provide affordable financial services and credit to all South Africans, especially the workers and the poor. 

All the above were essentially admissions by government and the ruling ANC that during the first decade of our democracy we had perhaps allowed the capitalist market to run amok, thus undermining many of the progressive social policies put in place by the democratic government. There is no better example of this than in the area of credit in general, and the havoc caused by microlenders and credit bureaus in particular. As we have said before, 11 years into our democracy we have allowed what is essentially an apartheid credit regime to continue to wreck lives of millions of our people.

It is for these reasons that we welcomed the drafting and tabling of the National Credit Bill before parliament. It is however important to properly understand the origins of this Bill. This bill is a direct offshoot of the SACP-led financial sector campaign, which led to the Financial Sector Summit convened by Nedlac in August 2002.  Therefore it has been our consistent view that since the origins of this Bill was in NEDLAC, it should have been tabled there first for thorough discussion and debate by all the stakeholders, without by any means undermining the role of parliament as the highest legislative body in our country. That is why we participated in the public hearings on this Bill, despite our unhappiness with the Bill having bypassed NEDLAC completely.

We are now facing the kinds of problems in finalising the Bill precisely because there were no adequate prior consultations with all the major stakeholders. As the SACP we welcome DTI�s attempts to respond to our call for a once-off credit amnesty, but we wish to state categorically that we reject these measures as half-hearted and inadequate in creating conditions for millions of our people to restart their economic lives. We regard this matter as fundamental to government�s goal of creating work, fighting poverty and resuscitating the �second economy�. The DTI officials piloting the Bill seem to be reluctant to accept our call but have failed to hold any consultations whatsoever with the organisations that have been in the forefront of this campaign. These organisations include COSATU, the Southern African Catholics Bishops Conference, the SACP-led Financial Sector Campaign Coalition, the Black Sash, to mention but a few.

The unfortunate consequence of this is that the credit grantors and the credit bureaus that have been a law unto themselves are the ones which are allowed to continue wrecking the lives of millions of our people. The credit bureaus have been notorious throughout the 5 years of our financial sector campaign for refusing to engage with us whilst continuing with their detrimental practices. They cannot be allowed to get away with this, hiding behind the need for a �stable credit regime� which continues to destabilise the lives of millions of our people.

To reiterate some of our arguments, it is our considered view that we cannot move from an old to a new credit regime without correcting all the errors of the past. For instance there are many people who are wrongly listed in the credit bureaus for a variety of reasons. One well known example is that of the collapse of the Health and Racquet gym. All its clients received letters to transfer to Virgin Active � a company they had never signed a contract with. All those who refused were blacklisted by the credit bureaus! Those who are against our call are essentially endorsing this clearly illegal and grossly unfair action.

Millions of our people have been blacklisted in recent years for being unable to repay microlenders the exploitative interest � on average 360% interest a year - for small cash loans.  Many people are forced to turn to microlenders to meet urgent needs such as paying school fees and meeting funeral expenses. We are not referring to mashonisas here � these are the so-called legal microlenders regulated by government through the DTI and the Micro Finance Regulatory Council. They can charge any rate of interest they like.

Over and above blacklisting three million people, the credit bureaus have ruined thousands of job opportunities by supplying information to prospective employers, without the consent of the job applicants, including prospective employees owning insignificant amounts of money. In addition credit bureaus were acting beyond their mandates, as they are not employment bureaus, but credit bureaus. These actions show that credit bureaus are working against the People�s Contract of creating work and eradicating poverty which is supported by the vast majority of South Africans.

We are pleased that the new law is going to correct some of these past outrages, but we cannot take old practices and listings into a new dispensation. Given what clearly looks like messy records for millions of people, and the inaccessibility of information held by the credit bureaus, the only solution is a once-off amnesty.

We have consistently said we are willing to engage in discussion with whomsoever on our reasons for calling for a once-off amnesty and the modalities of how this can be done without doing away with a credit rating system for the future.

We want to see the provision for a once-off amnesty for all those blacklisted by credit bureaus included in the Credit Bill before it is passed into law. We call on the Parliament to keep its covenant with the people and to ensure that the will of the people, and not of narrow sections of finance capital, prevails. 

In the meantime the SACP shall continue to mobilize our people in order to secure this vitally important once-off credit amnesty. A credit amnesty is a matter of (economic) life and death for hundreds of thousands of households in our country.

Alliance Statement
The Alliance Secretariat held a scheduled meeting today (14 September 2005).

The Secretariat reaffirmed the centrality of our common Alliance programme of action, particularly the implementation of the �know your neighbourhood� campaign through which the local structures of our movement engage in direct interaction with the masses of our people.

As we prepare for the forthcoming local government elections, the Alliance recommitted itself to a common programme to deepen democracy, especially at the local level. In this regard, the Alliance expresses thanks to the thousands of our people who registered to vote at the registration weekend on 3 September.

Local democratic participation is fundamental to the advance of social transformation. As part of the struggle to improve service delivery, we call on all our structures to build and strengthen participatory democracy at a local level.

The Secretariat received alarming reports regarding the situation of farm-workers, their families and other tenants on farms throughout the country. The shocking absence of human rights and basic dignity in many rural areas remains in stark contradiction with the objectives of our liberation struggle. The Alliance agreed to launch a new campaign to mobilise both government and civil society to ensure the full extension of our democratic victories to farms. This will address the issue of ensuring the full implementation and compliance with legislation, regulations and sectoral determinations, and will aim to build the level of organisation of farm-workers throughout the country. The Alliance organising unit shall convene an urgent meeting to develop this campaign.

We noted with concern the collapse of the agreement between the Department of Correctional Services and Popcru. The Alliance will facilitate a discussion aimed at reviving the negotiations.

The SACP reported on preparations for the forthcoming Red October campaign, which will focus on fighting hunger and demanding food security for all.  The campaign will be launched on 8 October 2005 in the North West, with the full support of all Alliance partners.

With regard to matters affecting the Deputy President of the ANC, the Secretariat received reports of recent discussions including those held by the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC and the Central Executive Committee of COSATU. In this context, the meeting re-affirmed decisions of the recent Ten-a-Side meeting, held on 24 August.

All Alliance partners expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the meeting of the ANC�s NEC. In terms of the NEC discussion, the ANC has established a process led by the President and the Deputy President of the ANC to identify and address the substantive issues that have arisen. The Alliance expressed appreciation of the fact that the ANC was exercising a clear leadership role towards the resolution of these issues.

It was agreed that this process must be given full support by all Alliance partners. On this basis, the next ten-a-side meeting of the Alliance, which intended to discuss a number of issues including the proposed Alliance Commission of Inquiry, will be held in abeyance pending the outcome of the ANC process. Furthermore, all Alliance partners committed themselves to contributing to the creation of a climate conducive to the conduct of this process.

At the same time the Alliance reaffirmed its full support for the Deputy President of the ANC in these trying times. Such support may find expression in a variety of ways. In this respect COSATU has led in the creation of a �Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust�.

Furthermore, members of the Alliance plan to participate in various activities in solidarity with the Deputy President of the ANC on 11 October 2005. These activities will be undertaken with a view to building the unity of our movement as a whole. This means that support for the Deputy President should be expressed in a manner that respects and supports the entire leadership of our movement. 

We call on all members of our movement to redouble their efforts on the important tasks of building unity and cohesion in our ranks and advancing the agenda of social transformation.

For further information:

Smuts Ngonyama (ANC) : 082 569 2061
Paul Notyawa (COSATU) :  082 491 1591
Kaizer Mohau (SACP) : 082 805 1085