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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 8, No. 4, 4 March 2009

In this Issue:


Red Alert

The challenge of rural development

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

Our Central Committee (CC) held a very successful gathering this last weekend, culminating in door-to-door elections work in Alexandra township by all the members of the CC. The CC urged our cadres to focus all their energies on the election campaign to ensure an overwhelming ANC electoral victory on 22 April. In addition the CC urged all our members to focus on the major issues confronting our revolution and not be distracted by peripheral issues. In its statement the CC, inter alia, said

"In the midst of this global crisis, opposition parties and, unfortunately, much of the media are trying to turn our local election campaign into a trite affair of personalities and traded insults. But the vast majority of South Africans, even those who are not ANC supporters, know in their heart of hearts that if we are to weather the storm (the current global capitalist crisis) then we need an experienced leadership in government, and we need a ruling party capable of uniting our country in the defence of jobs and in the defence of our social security net".

It is therefore important that we use this period to elaborate on key developmental challenges facing our country.

'The land shall be shared amongst those who work it': An integrated rural development strategy

Any continued prevarication on developing a systematic and integrated rural development strategy, including land and agrarian reform, will have dire consequences for the South African economy as a whole and roll back whatever advances we have made towards poverty eradication. It is a truism that without the government social grants many rural communities would by now have collapsed. However, important as these grants maybe, they are not sustainable as all indications point to increasing dependence on these, in both urban and rural areas, especially as rural development stalls. In fact a rural development strategy, with the necessary government support, must also seek to ensure that these grants do support small scale agriculture and other rural economic activities for sustainable livelihoods.

The rural-urban migration is also putting huge pressure on the cities and in the medium term the infrastructure of South African cities will not be able to cope with the influx from rural areas. One only has to look at the town of Musina (the Zimbabwean influx notwithstanding), as a microcosm of what could befall even bigger cities in the next decade or two.

Targetted interventions in the rural areas are also an important dimension towards cushioning the poor against the current global capitalist meltdown.

Historically our 20th century struggles have been concentrated in the urban areas, and largely led by the organized urban working class. Despite the close connections between the organized working class to the countryside, given the history of labour migrancy, the intensity of urban struggles had not been replicated in the countryside. One manifestation of this reality is the failure to organize farm-workers into trade unions, despite the existence of a large, militant trade union movement in the urban areas. This reality should however not overlook the many heroic rural struggles waged by our people, including in the Bantustans, under extremely difficult, isolated and repressive conditions.

It is for the above and other reasons that the SACP warmly welcomes the commitments made in the ANC Election Manifesto, placing rural development, land and agrarian transformation as one of the five key priorities for government after the elections. The ANC Manifesto, amongst other things, commits to promote food security, affordable food prices, improving the logistics of food distribution and expansion of access to food production schemes.

On rural and agricultural development the Manifesto commits government to intensify land reform, giving more land to the rural poor and provide technical skills and resources for productive use of that land. In addition the ANC commits itself to supporting the organization and unionization of farm workers. All these commitments provide the necessary foundation to drive rural development for the benefit of the overwhelming majority of our people.

In order to realize the objective of rural, land and agrarian transformation as envisaged in the ANC Manifesto it is important that a comprehensive and integrated rural development strategy is developed as part of an overarching industrial policy. One of the key challenges for such a strategy must be deliberate interventions to overcome a number of bifurcations in South Africa's countryside; overcoming the dichotomy between small-scale agriculture and big commercial agriculture; as well as to bridge the gap between the former Bantustans and land in the hands of white capitalist agriculture.

The conceptualization of our economy as being 'two economies', 'first' and 'second' economy has exacerbated rather than minimize these bifurcations of our countryside. The false dichotomy of two economies tend to treat small-scale agriculture from the standpoint of narrow BEE, seen mainly as a sector waiting to graduate into the bigger stakes of big commercial agriculture, instead of seeing small-scale, agriculture, in itself, as of fundamental importance for food production and security. From this perspective all that has to be done with the 'first economy' capitalist agriculture, is to deracialise it, create a black agrarian bourgeoisie, instead of thorough transformation of this sector. For instance there can be no vibrant, food producing small-scale agriculture without the transformation (de-monopolisation and diversification) of capitalist agriculture in South Africa.

Some of our detractors argue that our position is anti-Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), as we do not want to see the deracialisation of capitalist agriculture in our country. This is disingenuous and a scare-tactic used by small elites to chase narrow BEE deals in this sector. The SACP is on record saying that what we need in South African agriculture in the medium term is not a black 25%, but 75% white, score-card driven type of BEE ownership; but that our goal is for agricultural production to be in the hands of the majority of the people of our country, in line with the vision in the Freedom Charter! The agricultural sector we envisage will be dominated by a mix of small-scale farming, co-operative farming, and medium sized enterprises, capable of producing food cheaply. In fact there can be no sustainable agricultural development and sustainable food production in our country without the thorough transformation of commercial agriculture! Instead our policies thus far have been a combination of restoration of this sector to capitalist profitability with narrow BEE, but little attention to its diversification and demonopolisation.

An integrated rural development strategy must also include a re-positioned land bank, liberated from the clutches of narrow BEE, but supporting a whole range of financial mechanisms and instruments to place more productive land in the hands of farm-workers, agricultural co-operatives and other small-scale farmers. We do not want a Land Bank narrowly modelled on mainstream commercial banks, but we want the Land Bank to be transformed and strengthened as a developmental finance institution. Seemingly at the heart of the recent destabilizing influences in the Land Bank has been narrow BEE financing rather than a broader land and agricultural transformation mandate. Such a re-positioning of the Land Bank would be in line with the vision and commitment contained in the ANC Election Manifesto, to

"Ensure that the mandates of development finance institutions are clear and truly developmental and that their programmes contribute to decent work outcomes, achievement of our developmental needs and sustainable livelihoods"

The ANC and the Alliance are in the process of finalising proposals on the restructuring of government after the elections, including the possible establishment of a planning commission, whose purview will also go beyond national government, into lower levels of government as well. The SACP is of the view that one matter that requires serious consideration, within the context of these proposals, is to build the capacity of district local government to drive rural, land and agrarian transformation. International experience shows that successful land and agrarian transformation, like in many parts of China and Zimbabwe during the first two decades after independence, is best driven at local level, closer to the people. At the moment these tasks are only located at national and provincial levels, with no similar responsibility assigned to local government.

It is indeed around these priorities and measures that the necessary supportive infrastructure needs to be provided - public transport, roads, dams, irrigation schemes, energy, schools infrastructure, etc.

'Working together We Can Do More': Building motive forces for rural development

The SACP, from our experiences through our land campaign, has consistently and correctly insisted that there can be no progressive rural, land and agrarian transformation without the mobilization and building of motive forces for such transformation in South Africa's countryside.

In our view there are three critical motive forces for rural transformation in our country: People's Land Committees, organized farm workers and farm dwellers, and a progressive rural co-operative movement.

All our Alliance structures need to pay particular attention to the organization of the countryside. An effort is needed to intensify organization in the rural areas, both in the former Bantustans, as well as farm-dwellers on the 'white' countryside into People's Land Committees, whose primary objective is to lead the struggle for increased access to productive land. Contrary to what some of our arm-chair detractors say, the SACP has put in a lot of effort into building such structures, and have had some successes in some provinces, albeit still very minimal. The fact of the matter is that organization in the rural areas is notoriously difficult, but not impossible, if our structures deliberately focus on this task. If all our Alliance formations have in one way or the other built their own structures and branches in rural areas, it is indeed possible to embark on fruitful broader rural organization.

The second key motive force to drive rural development would be the organization of farm-workers. Through our land and agrarian reform campaign, the SACP has undertaken joint work with the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) to support the latter in recruiting farm-workers into the union. Again this task is fraught with difficult and complex challenges, as access to white farms is made exceedingly difficult by a pre-dominantly conservative and anti-union white bloc of commercial farmers. Also, the untransformed criminal justice system in the rural areas has turned a blind eye, to serious violations, abuse, intimidation and even violence against black farm-workers and farm-dwellers. In addition to the Alliance structures, this would also require that all other COSATU unions with structures operating adjacent to white farms throw in their lot to assist FAWU in this task.

The building of primary co-operatives as a foundation for building a progressive rural co-operative movement is a key measure in building the capacity of motive forces for rural transformation. A large, progressive rural co-operative movement would not just be the organizer of these rural enterprises, but an important organizational voice and vehicle for accelerated rural transformation. As alluded to above, promotion of co-operative farming and other forms of agricultural co-operatives, and development of new industries on agro-processing, are an important part of de-monopolisation and diversification of agricultural production.

It is clear that despite the welcome legislation on co-operatives and co-operative banks, co-operative development does not feature as prominently as it should in government programmes. We need to ensure that co-operative development must feature prominently in the priorities of the mooted Planning Commission, not as an add-on, but as one critical platform for building a developmental state. There is huge potential for building a large and progressive co-operative movement in our country! To this end the SACP supports the call for the establishment of a National Co-operative Development Agency to provide co-ordinated support to co-operative development in South Africa. For instance, the problem of price-fixing in the food and agricultural chain will not only be dealt with by punishment meted out by the Competition Commission, necessary as this may be, but through diversification and truly ensuring that 'land is shared amongst those who work it'.

It is these motive forces that should spearhead rural development and buttress government efforts in this front, thus providing the context and vehicles with which to engage with for instance traditional leaders and other class forces in the countryside.

From the above the tasks of the SACP are clear. Building motive forces for rural transformation and development is part of the implementation of our medium term vision, that of building working class hegemony in all key sites of power. This will require building the capacity and focusing the attention of our rural districts and branches to prioritise this task. In line with our Red October campaign, we also need intense mobilization of our people to focus on strengthening rural local government, as an important sphere in driving rural development. As we intensify our electoral work, let us also build the capacity of rural motive forces, not as an aside but as part of the electoral work as well.

It might as well be that the advance of the national democratic revolution may ultimately be judged by the extent to which we are able to radically transform South Africa's countryside for the benefit of the worker and the poor of our country.