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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 9, No. 18, 15 September 2010

In this Issue:


Red Alert

The Revolution at the crossroads, defend and deepen the NDR: Forward to a successful ANC National General Council

At the ANC's crucial September National General Council, we will all have one major task: to help to re-build an ANC that is united within its own ranks on the basis of a revolutionary democratic programme.

This is an absolute necessity if the ANC is once more to provide real leadership to the alliance it should be leading, and to the broadest range of democratic forces.

The commercial media is of course determined to turn the NGC into a divisive dress rehearsal for the ANC's 2012 elective conference. There is nothing surprising about this. They endlessly try to factionalise our movement in order to undermine the democratic power of the majority in our country.

This agenda is aided and abetted by "new tendency" elements within our movement. These are forces for whom politics is almost entirely about wheeling-and-dealing, deployments, electoral lists that are made and unmade depending on whims, and the buying of favours. It is factionalism that has its roots in the pursuit of political positions solely for purposes of self-enrichment. It is a politics that is almost entirely devoid of policies and programmes – which is why it fears a unified NGC that is able to pursue its agenda of policy evaluation and organisational renewal. We can expect attempts at disruption from these quarters.

Our response must be to work together with the overwhelming majority of ANC delegates attending the NGC who are thoroughly sick of this kind of disruptive behaviour. We must steadfastly remain focused on the core policy agenda of the NGC.

Where is the "strategic political centre"?

One potentially disruptive issue is the question of whether the ANC or the Alliance is "the strategic political centre". We reject approaching the question in this way. This issue has its recent origins in the struggle against the way former president Mbeki's "1996 class project" used state bureaucratic power to side-line the ANC and its Alliance, hoping to turn the ANC into little more than an electoral party. In these conditions, it was correct to affirm the principle of the supremacy of mass-based, democratic politics over bureaucratic scheming – and it was in these circumstances that some, notably the ANCYL, affirmed, somewhat mechanically, that there was only ONE political centre - the ANC.

It is interesting how these very same forces suddenly start to theorise about the "autonomy" of the ANCYL, when confronted with an ANC that actually seeks to assert its strategic unity and authority. 

However, when it comes to understanding the Alliance, these same forces want, once more, to assert that the ANC is "the sole strategic centre". This is because they have a feudal understanding of politics and power. They imagine that power must radiate from some single source. For them, politics is about capturing the throne, and from there bossing everyone else around. If you lose the favour of the person you imagine currently occupies the throne, then you work tirelessly to displace him or her. They think like this because for them politics is about dispensing deployments and tenders like royal favours from above. 

In the SACP we have a very different understanding and approach to progressive political power. Progressive political power doesn't derive from a conference resolution. It derives from the ability to listen and learn from the people, and on this basis to organise and mobilise the great majority of working class and popular forces. In our post-1994 reality, it also lies potentially in our ability to build an active developmental state that is unified around a strategic discipline and that supports and is supported by the majority of popular forces.

For many decades, as a political vanguard of the working class, the SACP has worked to help build the ANC into an effective strategic political centre of the NDR. This does not mean that the ANC always manages to play this role. It certainly doesn't mean that the SACP regards itself as the underling of some "royal" ANC. What it does mean is that programmatically and organisationally we work as Communists to help to build the ANC's revolutionary capacities. In the current situation, this task is a challenging one - as the ANC's NGC discussion documents quite candidly acknowledge.

The struggle against money-based factionalism

One of the key ANC discussion documents for the NGC is "Leadership renewal, discipline and organisational culture". It takes forward the analysis of why the ANC is facing internal organisational challenges. It deals with the inevitable challenges of incumbency – of being a relatively long-standing party of power. It critiques the use of money as part of lobbying for organisational positions, and a culture of factional electoral slates and a "winner takes all" approach. It also quite candidly takes aim at indecisive leadership, the paralysis of leadership collectives, and of weaknesses in dealing with indiscipline.  

This document does more than just describe and analyse these problems. It also puts forward specific proposals on activities that must now be outlawed within the ANC. These include the use of money for factional purposes – like the printing of T-shirts and banners in favour of one or another electoral slate. The SACP very strongly supports the general positions advanced in this NGC discussion paper.

However, there is one thing missing in this document. It tends to treat these problems as a result of the present "material conditions" – but without advancing a clear position on WHAT underlies these material conditions. It also does not advance a perspective on what we intend to do, not just to change our behaviour, but to change the MATERIAL CONDITIONS THEMSELVES.

The question of narrow BEE

These shortcomings are directly linked to the fact that the "Leadership renewal" document does not sufficiently make the connection between the many factional challenges our movement faces and the phenomenon of narrow BEE. It is an issue that is implied in this and other NGC papers, but it is never spelt out.

A core pillar of the Mbeki presidency's "1996 class project" was the deliberate attempt to use state power to create a black capitalist stratum as a strategic objective of the national democratic revolution. While the organic emergence of black capitalists was always likely to be an inevitable outcome of democratisation and deracialisation in our country, the creation of a black capitalist stratum had NEVER before been a strategic objective of the NDR until it was suddenly smuggled onto the agenda in 1996.

We are now living with the consequences. Some R500bn from pension funds, from state coffers, and from the private sector has been diverted into floating private BEE equity deals. Worse still, this is the money that is now returning BACK into our organisations in order to buy votes, to fund factional activities, to print T-shirts with the faces of junior leaders, etc.

As the SACP let us use the NGC to more forcefully place onto the agenda the CONNECTION between narrow BEE funding and the organisational challenges we are facing. While we support the empowerment of the black majority (this is precisely at the heart of the NDR), we need now to ask the obvious question – is narrow BEE, particularly BEE codes that require percentage targets for capitalist ownership, not at the heart of exposing our movement to the "material conditions" that are having such a negative impact on our movement?

Economic transformation – placing our economy on to a new growth path

Unlike the "Leadership renewal" document, the ETC document for the NGC is relatively weak and uneven. In this regard, the CC has proposed that at the NGC we should focus on the Polokwane resolutions and on progress made in government in implementing these resolutions, especially the economic resolutions. We cannot now fall behind our own 2007 ANC Polokwane resolutions.

In particular, we need to focus on the key question – we need a "mid-term" evaluation of the progress made in government towards placing our economy on to a new growth path that is job creating and more egalitarian in its outcomes. We need to consolidate an understanding of and support for government's new Industrial Policy Action Programme (IPAP2). As the SACP has been arguing since the mid-1990s, the key catalyser for job creation and the transformation of our persisting semi-colonial growth path, lies in invigorating key manufacturing sectors of our economy. This must include:

  • addressing the question of more effective connections between our mineral resources and downstream manufacturing in our economy;
  • ensuring local procurement for our major infrastructure programmes (in particular in energy and transport);
  • support for cooperatives and small and medium enterprises.

There is also a growing awareness that a key pillar of a new growth path needs to be a major revolution in our education and training. Government has begun to make important progress in policy and programmes to address skills and training, through, amongst other things, a renewed emphasis on FET colleges, and on post-school (and not just post-matric) further training.

To unite the ANC and the Alliance we need to focus on a clear programme of action. In the present conjuncture, that programme of action needs to be fundamentally about a state-led and mass driven struggle to transform our economic growth path. Consolidating this perspective is the key task of the ANC's critical NGC.

Transformation of the media

Indeed one of the most important matters before the NGC is that of the transformation of the media broadly, especially the capitalist controlled print media. The SACP looks forward to sharing its own approach and perspectives on the transformation of media in our country.

This is a complicated terrain to engage in for at least three inter-related reasons:

  • The media itself (or rather the major commercial media) are able to construct the "story". Thus, any political criticism of the media, particularly from the side of government, or the ruling party and its Alliance, no matter how mild, or how well-intentioned, or how tentative it might be, is quickly portrayed as being part of some major anti-media, anti-freedom of speech, pro-censorship assault on our constitution and the right of citizens to be informed.

  • This caricature of constructive criticism of the media happens to fit in neatly with the wider "liberal" paradigm that much of the media (wittingly and unwittingly) propagate on a daily basis. This is the mantra about how "power (meaning, of course, political power, never economic power, never media power) corrupts". In the South African context, this mantra is a close cousin of the fear of the "majority", with all of its subliminal suburban notions about "them" – "you see what happens when THEY get into power".

  • Unfortunately, there are elements within our movement and the state who serve the useful purpose of confirming both of the above ideological assumptions. This is precisely why some of them enjoy such extensive and continuous love-hate coverage in the media. They bully, threaten and insult the media and the media laps it up. It is entertaining, it sells newspapers, and it confirms all of the prejudices of middle-class readers (and middle-class editors) about politicians, about the ANC-led movement, and about blacks.

And so the way in which much of the media remorselessly recounts the "story", day in and day out, becomes a self-confirming circle.

This, then, is the uphill context in which the SACP needs, nonetheless, to persist with a principled approach to media transformation. We will not repeat here all of our basic positions and concerns, but they include:

  • The hugely skewed ownership of the media. Two big media houses, for instance, dominate the print media (and the critical upstream supply and downstream distribution networks) – News24/Naspers and Independent Newspapers. The former is, of course, an old apartheid-era media giant and its control extends into the electronic media as well. Independent Newspapers are owned by foreign (Irish) interests. Over the past years, with foreign holdings in trouble, roughly 40m Euros (nearly half a billion rand) has been pumped out annually of the South African Independent group media. This has put huge pressure on local newsrooms and has affected the professional quality of what is produced;

  • An SABC that is chronically under-funded, which is over-dependent on commercial advertising revenues, and which has suffered from factional political manipulation and financial plundering in recent years; and

  • Totally inadequate regulation of the print media in particular. Current regulation is by way of a self-regulatory Press Ombudsman and a Press Council. Even the majority of news editors and senior journalists concede (usually privately) that this has been a largely dysfunctional body. Faced with recent criticism there has been an attempt to wake it up from its slumber and we have suddenly seen an unprecedented number of rulings and published apologies (in at least one case for a story dating back to August 2009!!).

It is against this background that the SACP has expressed its support, in principle, for a Media Appeals Tribunal, as proposed in a resolution in the ANC's 52nd National Conference.

One proposal by the SACP is that the media appeals tribunal should be appointed by Parliament – and this has been the source of many of the allegations against us. We are told that the ruling party "will abuse its majority" and place its own political appointees in the body. Unfortunately there ARE examples of exactly this kind of abuse – for instance, the way in which Mbeki's inner circle undermined the multi-party parliamentary process and consensus in the appointment of the previous SABC Board. (This was precisely one of the key reasons the SACP spearheaded the presidential re-call move). Given this potential danger, the SACP may consider other proposals around how the selection process could happen – perhaps through a JSC type selection panel that involves a range of representative entities, including, for instance, SANEF, and not just MPs. The Tribunal should be made of independent persons but who have an understanding of the media. But in raising this we should be careful not to concede to the liberal and right wing projection of parliament as an ANC instrument rather than a representative body of the South African people as a whole, albeit with a legitimate ANC majority.

As the SACP we are looking forward to our participation in the ANC NGC, and we will engage in a principled, robust, but comradely manner. We must disappoint the media and other detractors who are already projecting the ANC NGC as a platform for a 'showdown' between 'President Zuma and the left', 'the left and the so-called nationalists', etc. At the NGC our movement will write its own script, deepening and consolidating the national democratic revolution, not one written by our detractors.

Our movement and our revolution are not for sale!