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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 12, No. 32, 5 September 2013

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Ruth First, Gold Fields and the National Development Plan

By Jeremy Cronin, SACP 1st Deputy General Secretary

In political discussion in South Africa it is often said that “we” were once divided by apartheid, now “we” are (or should be) all united in a common struggle against poverty and inequality. Cde Trevor Manuel eloquently articulated this perspective in the Ruth First Memorial Lecture at Wits University last week (“12 Months on: Marikana and its meaning for the National Development Plan”- www.info.gov.za/speech/). He told his audience that: “The first task of the National Development Plan is to unite all South Africans around a common programme, of all our people around the common goal of fighting poverty and inequality…”.

As this quotation makes clear, cde Manuel is setting up as the first (overarching) task of the NDP an appeal to two ideological constructs that define each other – “all South Africans” (in other words, “us”) united, and therefore defined, by “our” common goal - “fighting poverty and inequality”. That sounds perfectly reasonable. But what does it actually mean to “fight poverty and inequality?” Is it poverty and inequality we should be fighting or the systemic features of our society that reproduce these realities? And if it is the latter (as surely it must be), then what are these features? And are there not some of “us” who have deeply vested interests in defending those very systemic features?

I think that cde Manuel evades this last question. His evasion can be demonstrated, ironically, in the way in which, in the course of his memorial lecture, he invokes the example of Ruth First: “Colonial oppression and racial exploitation perpetuated for over three centuries, dominates our history”, he told his Wits University audience. “It is these injustices that drove Ruth and other South Africans to fight against apartheid, the system of racial oppression and economic injustices that it produced.”

Well, actually, not quite - cde Ruth First was certainly an enlightened, non-dogmatic Marxist, but she was no liberal. She argued forcefully and repeatedly almost exactly the inverse of what is being claimed here on her behalf by cde Manuel. For cde First apartheid and 20th century South African racial oppression were “produced” by the “economic injustices” associated with the introduction of monopoly capital in the mining-led, industrial revolution in the last quarter of the 19th century.

This is not just a quarrel about the sequence of things. There is something fundamental at stake. Few South Africans today would defend (at least publicly) either apartheid or a formalised system of racial oppression. So, if these were the realities that “produced” economic injustices, as cde Manuel is arguing, then it makes sense to believe that we should all now be united around struggling against the legacy of such injustices – against poverty and inequality.

If, on the other hand, together with Ruth First, we understand the Anglo-Boer War, the 1910 Union of SA, the 1913 Land Act, and the policies of segregation and later apartheid as being fundamentally driven by the hegemonic interests of monopoly capital, then we are faced with an altogether different challenge in the present. Apartheid and any legalised system of racial oppression are now thankfully unconstitutional, but the hegemonic interests of an increasingly trans-nationalised and ever more powerful South African monopoly capital continue to be active and present. These interests dominate our economy, the configuration of our infrastructure, the allocation of energy and water resources, and what gets presented as “common sense” in the commercial media.

This means that if we are to seriously address the systemic features of our society that are reproducing poverty and inequality, then we have to actively disrupt rather than nurture a mythical, all-inclusive South African “we”, supposedly united in a common struggle against poverty and inequality. In fact, the pursuit of such an all-inclusive mythical South African “we” is the greatest obstacle to developing a clear strategic programme and an effective patriotic front to address the systemic features of our society that are reproducing poverty and inequality. And it is this macro-political pursuit of an all-inclusive South African social compact, rather than any specific strengths and weaknesses, that most concerns the SACP about the NDP.

Graphically illustrating our concern was another event last week. While cde Manuel was addressing Wits University, Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland was clashing with SA’s minister of Mineral Resources, cde Susan Shabangu. Both were attending the “Africa Down Under” mining conference in Perth, Australia. In her keynote address, cde Shabangu had called on mining houses in SA to “moderate the rates of return” that they sought. Her call was based on an appeal to human sentiment: “Investors must realise they have a responsibility to the country and cannot work to a bottom line that has no heart or soul at all”, she said. She went on: “They have to understand there are various socio-economic needs of the various partners. If investment will not improve the quality of lives – and recognise that workers need to live decent lives – it will not be able to bring stability to SA.”(Business Day, August 29, 2013).

Nick Holland’s response was honest and brutally frank: “Investors are not emotional about where they invest. If the rate of return they require is not there, they will not invest in that country.” Wage moderation is the constant call from these quarters, but when a trade-off on profit moderation is called for, it gets dismissed out of hand.

As the SACP, we are not arguing that government, or the unions should never engage with Gold Fields and other monopoly capitalist corporations. But what the example illustrates is that the appeal to the “heart and soul”, to a shared sense of “patriotism” to “improve the quality of lives” is misplaced. Monopoly capital needs to be engaged on the basis of a very different strategic agenda, led by a democratic state that is confident of its majority electoral mandate, and supported by active popular mobilisation and vigilance.

Let’s take the example of the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission’s strategic integrated project 1 (SIP1) – unlocking the northern mineral belt. Major mining houses have extensive mining licences in the Waterberg region of Limpopo, one of the poorest regions of our country. There are major coal, platinum, chrome and other mineral deposits there, but unlocking these resources for development has been severely restricted by water and energy shortages, and by the absence of an effective transport infrastructure. Through our major parastatals (Eskom and Transnet), coordinated by the PICC, we are addressing the energy and logistics challenges, and through the Department of Water Affairs major dam and water pipe-line construction is underway. The funding for this public-sector driven infrastructure will be recouped through user-pay, off-take agreements with the mines. The mining houses bring investment and technology that government doesn’t have. Obviously the objective of the mining houses is profits, but in pursuing profits they create jobs.

However, this is not the end of the story. The rail infrastructure that is provided by Transnet needs to focus not just on maximising exports (which the mining houses want), but also on connecting coal mining, for instance, more effectively to beneficiation in the new generation power stations. The state-regulated pricing of water, electricity and logistics will also need to ensure that our strategic developmental objectives are leveraged. In particular, we need to ensure that the towns and cities that grow up around this development do not replicate old patterns, but are green and integrated.

Note how this engagement with the relevant mining houses, bold as it might be, is specific. It is guided by a state-led, geographically local, integrated developmental project – and not some all-in, supposedly shared 20-year South African patriotic vision. It did not begin with a general stake-holder social compact. Also to be noted is that none of the objectives of SIP1will be spontaneously achieved. They require an effective, well co-ordinated state that vigilantly guards against private corporate capture and corruption. The objectives of SIP1 also require a united Alliance and strategically mobilised communities. In short, what is required is an active democratic struggle, not a feel-good, emotional appeal to a “common programme” that “unites” “all of the people of SA”, however well-intentioned that might be.



Obama painted himself into a corner on Syria

By Cde Pallo Jordan – ANC NEC Member

(This article first appeared on the Business Day of 5 September 2013)

It is a matter of record that the George Bush administration pressured the US intelligence community to produce evidence implicating Iraq’s Saddam Hussein regime in the 9/11 attacks. In 2003, using lies about weapons of mass destruction, that same administration persuaded the US public and Congress to authorise the launch of a war against Iraq. A handful of US politicians spoke out against it. Among them was a relatively new state senator in the Illinois legislature, Barack Obama, who addressed an antiwar rally on the very day Congress voted in favour of war in October 2002. He told audiences he was unconvinced by the evidence presented. In March 2003, as the US geared up for the invasion, he told audiences it was not too late to stop the war.

The half-truths, fabrications and outright lies the Bush administration told after 9/11 came back to haunt Obama, now US president, when he resolved to punish Bashar al-Assad’s regime for the alleged use of chemical weapons during the civil war raging in Syria. Opinion polls indicate close to 60% of the US people are opposed to any military action, raising questions that suggest a profound scepticism about the truthfulness of their government. Recognising that what he proposes will be extremely unpopular, Obama has opted to seek congressional approval.

Obama painted himself into a virtual corner two years ago, when the inconclusiveness of the evidence persuaded him to hold back. On August 21, after enduring 10 months of consistent shelling by government forces, east Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb on the outskirts of Damascus, came under attack with chemical agents, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,400 people. Having designated the use of chemical weapons the proverbial "red line", Obama has committed himself to taking action. Armed with Syrian telecommunication intercepts provided by its Israeli allies, the US administration canvassed support among members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), the Arab League and the European Union.

But even among its allies, the lies told in 2003 have severely damaged US credibility. The true extent of that damage came to light when David Cameron hurriedly summoned MPs back to Westminster hoping to win their support for a punitive strike against Syria. What happened was a humiliating defeat. In addition to the opposition, a significant number of Tory MPs voted "nay" or abstained. The high level of absenteeism was also indicative of the reluctance of many on the government benches to commit themselves.

While Obama seemed unable to invoke the "special relationship" to mobilise British support, ironically French President Francois Hollande rallied to his cause. For the first time in centuries, we were reminded that France had supported the US colonists when they rose against British rule in 1776. France is the US’s oldest ally in Europe. Though Nato secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed his support of the US case, he was unable to convince the alliance.

Many in the capitals of the West, unfortunately, misread the rebellion in Syria. It is clear that, although it has a number of political opponents, pursuing different agendas, the Assad regime enjoys considerable support among the Syrian people. There are indications it has been able to roll back rebel military advances and controls 13 of the country’s major cities. Uncertainty about the politics within the Syrian opposition has also made western powers more cautious about wholeheartedly supporting that war effort.

The Obama administration has been very measured in its pronouncements since Cameron’s humiliation. Both Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry have unambiguously said the action will not entail US troops on the ground inside Syria. With a flotilla of destroyers and aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, it would appear that the US plans a number of missile strikes to destroy or at least disable Assad’s air force. While all the administration’s spokesmen have underscored the limited nature of the operation, Congress recognises that the effect of such an intervention would necessarily rebound to the opposition’s advantage. As in Libya, air strikes to degrade Assad’s capacity to deploy chemical agents will, in effect, give the Syrian opposition an air force, thus tilting the balance in its favour.

In 2003, despite a million-strong demonstration opposing the war in London, Tony Blair enthusiastically joined the coalition of the willing. Only a few Labour MPs were prepared to buck the trend and voiced their opposition to British participation. Having been once bitten with a mixture of moral blackmail and lies, many more were shy about following Cameron down that path.

The US presidency has, in effect, surrendered some of its powers to Congress. Obama will likely receive support for some form of punitive action against the Syrian regime. What remains unclear is the outcome that even limited intervention will produce.

Jordan is a former arts and culture minister.


Our national democratic revolution has no holy cows

By Phatse Justice Piitso

Our revolutionary alliance is the bedrock of the struggles of our people for national liberation. Our unity is a necessary precondition for the success of our national democratic revolution.

Our federation COSATU is undoubtedly an indispensable fortress of the struggles of our people against Imperialism and neo colonial oppression and exploitation. Any attempt to divide this important component of our revolutionary alliance will delay the possibilities of taking forward the struggles of our people to overcome the challenges of poverty, disease and underdevelopment ravaging our society.

The problems of COSATU are the problems of the ANC and the SACP and therefore our national democratic revolution. The attempts by some of the affiliates of COSATU to resolve the internal organisational problems of the federation in the courts of law is an act contrary to the true traditions and culture of our national liberation movement.

The tendency negates the very same guiding principle of one industry one union that has over the decades of our struggles against apartheid colonialism brought together our diverse unions together. It will indeed be a setback to our commitment to consolidate workers control and also to build a strong shop floor structures at workplace.

The traditions of our revolutionary alliance over the years have been to respect the internal organisational processes and more importantly our fundamental principle of democratic centralism and inner party discipline. This fundamental principle denotes a practice through which members of our revolutionary alliance conform themselves to the collective decisions of the movement.

The collective decisions of our revolutionary alliance are taken on the basis of a scientific analyses of the objective realities in the cause of the development of our revolutionary process. It is through these traditions that we create platforms for a sober, frank and fearless evaluation our work to respond to the ever changing conditions under which we persecute our revolutionary struggles.

The political significance of the principle of democratic centralism and inner party discipline is to build a calibre of a cadre capable of mastering the scientific basis of our revolutionary theory of unity and cohesion. This tradition is the most fundamental arsenal of our struggles that has over the years distinguished our revolutionary alliance from counter revolutionary forces.

This historic culture of our national liberation movement resonates from our high level political consciousness and organisational discipline. Our failure to comprehend this important political theory has the propensity to reverse back the gains of our revolutionary alliance and therefore our national democratic revolution.

Our revolutionary scientific theory is the only weapon that enable us to define the pace and the direction of our national democratic revolution. At all turning points it lays a solid basis for us to understand the revolutionary programme for transformation and the ultimate cause for development of our society.

The hostile international balance of forces is presenting particular challenges to the struggles of the world working class movement. In our country the post apartheid transitional period is posing serious challenges to the South African working class movement. At the core of the contradictions is the fundamental question of the role of the working class in the current phase of our national democratic revolution.

The prevailing concrete world material conditions require of us to grapple with the correct theoretical grasp of the fundamental question of the relationship between the class and National struggles. Therefore our common perspective on the theory of the South African revolution is a basis for the victory of the struggles of our people.

The unfolding hostile international and domestic balance of forces demand of us to act decisively in defense of the noble objectives of our national democratic revolution. Counter revolution from both within and outside the ranks of our revolutionary alliance is determined to reverse back the tremendous achievements of our national democratic revolution.

What we need to understand is that the struggles for the liberation of our country from the bondage of imperialism and neo colonialism has no middle road. Is either you work with the low intensity counter revolutionary forces or you join the revolutionary forces for change under the tutelage of our national liberation movement.

A revolutionary situation is the most complex phenomenon. It is a historic rare moment of the passage of power from one class to the other. It has its own subjective and objective contradictions depending on the concrete conditions of a particular historical period.

The main challenge of any revolutionary situation becomes when the subjective contradictions superimpose themselves over objective ideological questions. When the role of an individual in the process of the making of history is elevated at the expense of the collective decisions of the organisation.

Therefore it will not be in the best interest of the unity and cohesion of our movement to apply the principle of democratic centralism and inner party discipline subjectively. Within the ranks of our revolutionary alliance there is an endless list of senior members of our movement, who were over the years subjected to similar disciplinary decisions by the collective leadership of our national liberation movement.

In the recent times of our living memories, the former acting President of COSATU Cde Peter Malape found himself having to face internal disciplinary processes that led to his expulsion but more importantly accepting the responsibility for having brought the federation into disrepute. The former deputy President of COSATU Joe Nkosi was also subjected to the same processes with its severity.

These most outstanding and exemplary leaders of our revolutionary movement never attempted to resolve their internal disciplinary processes through the courts of law. They understood very well that to be elected into positions of responsibility is not a virtue but an opportunity to learn. They understood very well that our national democratic revolution has no holy cows.

The archives of our history books are confirming that many of the former members of our revolutionary alliance who refused to be subjected to the internal disciplinary processes of the organisation, were ultimately proven to have been collaborating with the enemy of our revolution. The holier than thou attitude does not take precedence in the coarse of our struggles for the total liberation of our people.

The leader of the Chinese revolution Chairman Mao would say the following profound words with regard to the significant of the political theory of the proletariat"

We must purposely train tens of thousands of cadres and leaders versed in Marxism-Leninism, politically far sighted, competent in work, full of spirit of self sacrifice, capable of taking problems on their own and devoted to serving the nation, the cadres and the party.

It is on these cadres and leaders that the party relies on its links with the membership and the masses. It is on its reliance on their firm leadership that the party can succeed in defeating the enemy.

Such cadres and leaders must be free from selfishness, from individualistic heroism, ostentation, sloth, passivity and sectarian arrogance, and they must be selfless, national and class heroes, such are qualities and style of work demanded by the members,cadres and leaders of our party".

Phatse Justice Piitso is the former Ambassador to the republic of Cuba and the former provincial secretary of the SACP writing this article on his personal capacity.