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The people first, back to social movement mobilisation and mass activism

SACP General Secretary Cde Blade Nzimande Speaker`s opening notes

National Imbizo, 19 May 2017

[Acknowledgement of organisations present]

Let me firstly indicate that this is not an SACP gathering. It is an SACP-convened National Imbizo (Piitso; Consultative Conference) for all of us gathered here today and others who will join this process as it develops.

Let me also express concern about what appears to be an emerging endemic of gender-based violence that seems to be on the rise, which is part of the violent crimes and abuses that affecting mostly women, and also children and men. Its perpetrators are mainly men, as partly indicated by the fact that the majority of inmates in our prisons are men. I want to express our message of sincere solidarity with the women affected, their families and all the victims of the scourge. We need to reflect on this problem as society and look for ways by which we can bring it to an end.

I. We have made massive social progress, but insufficient or no structural economic transformation compromises broader social transformation

It is important for us to acknowledge the massive social progress we have achieved since our historic April 1994 democratic breakthrough. Millions of our people have gained access to human rights, workers rights, political rights and socio-economic rights as enshrined in our post-1994 constitution. Linked with this, millions of our people have gained access to housing – provided for free of charge, electricity, sanitation including clean drinking water, social grants and indigent programmes, as well as education at all levels, among others.

Nevertheless there is still a lot of work that needs to be done both in these and other areas to advance and deepen broader social transformation.

What has emerged as the main challenge, a major constraint facing the development of democracy in our country to its full potential, is that there was insufficient or no structural economic transformation to support our social redistribution programmes on a sustainable basis. It is because of this, in addition to the persisting legacy of colonial oppression, including apartheid, and in addition, fundamentally, to the system and multiple crises of capitalism, that high levels of racialised and gendered class inequalities, unemployment and poverty persist in our country.

This is one of the reasons why, as the SACP, we were among the first to call for what is now our alliance’s shared perspective, the necessity to deepen the radical content of our national democratic revolution – our programme to complete the liberation of the historically oppressed including social and economic emancipation and democratic national sovereignty. It is exactly to this end that we support the consensus to move our democratic transition on to a second, more radical phase. We have made available our documents discussing what we believe should constitute the content and strategic tasks of this phase of our revolution for further engagement and contribution.

Organisationally, the challenge we are facing as a democratic movement is that we are not going to succeed without embarking on a relentless struggle against our internal weaknesses.  

II. Where else did things start going wrong?

The ongoing struggle to advance, deepen and defend our national democratic transformation has reached one of its more difficult and vulnerable moments. This, certainly, is the message conveyed by the broad membership of our Party, informed by their own experiences and analyses. A similar concern has also arisen outside of our Party from our studies of the perspectives of, or interactions with, communities and various role players who are concerned about what is happening to our movement and the revolution. Whilst the sites of the challenges we face are both inside and outside government, the weakest link has increasingly become concentrated within our own ANC-headed Alliance (with the ANC as the epicentre) at both national and sub-national levels and both inside and outside government.

We are saying all this from a point of view of the principle of constructive self-criticism  aimed at producing decisive self-correction by our movement as a whole. We therefore by no means suggest that the problems we are facing do not exist in provincial and local government areas where our movement as headed by the ANC is not in government. On the contrary, there is clear evidence, including court judgements; that the problems varyingly do exist in those areas as well. In any case the ideology of private interests is the organising principle in many of those areas. This was never part of our organising principle as a revolutionary democratic movement.

The nub of the matter is that alien substance has now found its way in the ranks of our movement and government and is contaminating the DNA of our revolutionary politics. This is the rise of private, personal and profit interests that seek to displace the interests of the people as whole and take control of our basic wealth and public resources. Linked with the problem, both organisationally and in government, is the corrupting and factionalising influence of private corporations, including corporate capture on sections of leadership, public representatives and the bureaucracy at all levels. What we are faced with has therefore become a structural challenge compromising the strategic capacity and discipline needed at all levels in general and at the centre in particular to overcome the problem.

At the heart of the situation, domestically, is a stratum of the bourgeoisie which the SACP has characterised as the parasitic bourgeoisie – or in short the parasites. Externally, monopoly capital, which has its own domestic manifestation dating back to the imposition and development of colonial-apartheid domination, remains the most formidable force that stood in opposition to our struggle for liberation, social and economic emancipation.

It is inconceivable that we will succeed to safeguard our democratic national sovereignty, overcome the stranglehold of monopoly capital, both its foreign and domestic colonial-apartheid-era strata, and drive our historical struggle to achieve freedom, without dislodging the parasites that are weakening our strategic capacity and discipline. This in our view has become an immediate task we all need to unite behind!

It is important that we state the following point.

In looking at the challenges confronting the ANC and the ANC-led government we are not, as the SACP, doing so simply as neutral, external observers and for at least two major reasons:

  • Thousands of SACP members play an active role within the ANC (not to mention the historic role and legacy of the Party in building the ANC). The internationally unique reality and potential asset of joint membership means that we have both opportunities and responsibilities in regard to the ANC. We have, as we said on record, to take collective responsibility for our revolution.
  • Related to this is the fact that our consistent strategic policy, reaffirmed unanimously at all of our previous congresses over several decades, is to advance, deepen and defend our country’s national democratic revolution. Our support, as the SACP, for a national democratic revolution is both because of its inherent value and, as we believe, its potential as the path towards a socialist transition in which the exploitation of one person by another will systematically be ended. We are correctly not positing that the ANC, organisationally the current face of our alliance’s common electoral platform, is synonymous with the national democratic revolution.

However, in our national reality in its historical context, if the ANC did not exist it would have been necessary still to build a mass-based, national democratic, political formation. If the ANC declines gravely in the short, medium- or even long-term, it will still be imperative to build a broad, national democratic, multi-class formation or front. This has its expression in our very commitment to see to it that the ANC overcomes the challenges it is faced with, as our first choice, and coupled with it to broaden engagements as wide as possible with other progressive social formations committed to deepening and defending our democratic transition. This National Imbizo is a notable step in that correct direction – principled unity based on a common, albeit minimum, programme.

III. Back to basics, rebuild and intensify social movement mobilisation to make the state serve the people

It is crucial to continue and deepen our contribution towards rectifying the organisational style of work that, post-1994, shifted contact with the masses from social movement mobilisation, to mainly mobilisation for, and mostly during, elections. This includes internal, that is organisational elections. During these elections periods, the mostly inactive and even non-existing structures are either revived or created respectively in pursuit of internal competition for positions. Linked with this are fights for deployments or appointments during government elections, in the public service, in public projects, or tenders – on the part of the elite or their aspirant sections.

The shift reformed the character of sections of leaders and members. Incumbency in deployments and appointments, coupled with consequent social distance, deepened the reform and produced cadreship degeneration in the ranks of those sections. Instead of campaigners to solve the problems facing our people, a cadre of lobbyists or congresspreneurs emerged. The consequences of the shift were transmitted to many of the new recruits who joined the ranks of our movement after 1994.

Persisting high levels of structural inequality, unemployment and poverty compounded the consequences of the shift, through among others engendering survivalist and increasingly self-centred (individualistic) politics linked with the rise of slates, patronage networks and corruption. The virtual abandonment of the theoretical struggle by our main mass formation in the forefront of the national democratic revolution contributed to the widening space for matters to slide for the worst. This includes the dearth of systemic, structured cadreship development, capacity building and political education in the frontline. Linked with this is the absence of a journal or publications to develop theory or facilitate intellectual development in relation to the challenges, including the constraints of power, facing the national democratic revolution in government.

The shift from social movement mobilisation and mass activism to mere electoral campaigning impacted negatively on the relationship between our movement and the wide array of social formations that played an active role in the struggle against apartheid. There was, also, a demobilising effect. For instance those sections of the church that played an active role in the struggle against oppression were now told to abstain from politics and focus exclusively on praying. In contradiction, they had to accept to be open for use by politicians as a site of campaigning during both organisational and government elections.

The shift from social movement mobilisation and consistent mass activism to a style of leadership based on contact with the masses mainly for election purposes is highly problematic to say the least.

Nevertheless as the SACP we tried our best to keep the fire of social movement mobilisation burning post-1994 at least through our campaigns. This includes campaigns for housing; financial sector transformation; safe, reliable, affordable and integrated public transport system; accessible and quality healthcare including the National Health Insurance; and sustainable livelihoods to roll back hunger. We campaigned, together with COSATU, against the post-1996 shift to a privatisation agenda and liberalisation or deregulation shock therapy that almost completely destroyed the worst affected sectors and displaced many workers from employment.

In all of these and other areas there were relative successes. But there were setbacks as well. In general, there is still spacious room for improvement.

Working together we can revitalise social movement mobilisation and mass-based activism recognising that it is people who make history rather than conceive of them merely as passive recipients of a top-down wheelbarrow delivery state. The organisation of the state, including the production and delivery of public goods and services, must in our view as the SACP reflect and be buttressed by the mobilisation, activism and involvement of our people, of whom the majority is the workers and poor. This, that is the building of such a capable democratic developmental state with strategic discipline to deliver on its mandate, is in line with the clarion call of the Freedom Charter that ‘The people shall govern’.

In all this, at least for us as the SACP, it is absolutely imperative that the interests of the majority of our people, the working class and its broader impoverished social strata, become a strategic priority and hegemonic in all centres of public power, including state owned enterprises. We believe that without notable progress on this front and ultimately a success, the decline of support for our current ANC-headed alliance electoral platform and associated with it the stagnation of the national democratic revolution will continue. This will result in terminal consequences not only for the ANC.

IV. Beware the shift of power to untransformed forces of racist privilege

A shift of power in South Africa to any political formation comprising of untransformed fellows who supported national oppression and enjoyed its racist privileges as its core constituency will have negative consequences not only for the ANC. It will have negative consequences also for our alliance, for the historically oppressed and all those who stood to be oppressed if we did not end apartheid, for our continent and the international struggle against imperialism.

V. Principled unity and common programme

We must not compromise the independence and activism of any of our social formations. We need to deepen that independence and activism at its best as a contribution towards coming together and combining our respective strengths to drive a common, at least minimum, programme.

It is important to build and deepen social movement mobilisation and mass activism. State institutions, including parliament, the executive and the courts are all important. They must be strengthened. But none of them is a substitute for active mass mobilisation. It is people who make history. It is people who must make state institutions, each according to its mandate, serve our collective societal needs rather than private personal or profit interests. In fact it is through intensifying social mobilisation and mass activism that we will strengthen state institutions and ensure that they serve the people. For example the courts adjudicate disputes, but on their own they do not alter the fundamental balance of forces that must be tilted in favour of consistently driving broader social transformation.

A minimum programme that we need and its immediate tasks must be driven through social mobilisation and mass activism.

Our top priorities should include deepening our efforts to confront the structural problems of persistently high levels of racialised and gendered class inequities, unemployment and poverty. This requires genuine radical economic transformation.

Linked with the two programmatic points is the imperative to improve the quality and efficiency of public services and delivery. Again, the people must be actively involved in the production and delivery of public goods and services. There is no reason why everything (and at the end of the day the role of the state) must be given to tenders, which by the way are controlled by the motive of private interests rather than public good.

Last but not least we must escalate active mobilisation to fight corruption, corporate capture, misgovernance and maladministration. For example decisions such as the irregular re-appointment of the former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe back to that position must not be allowed to prevail. Such decisions are pervasive, to say the least.

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