Volume 7, No. 10, 18 June 2008
Honouring the 16 June 1976 contingent: People’s Education for People’s Power in South Africa’s transition to democracy
Blade Nzimande, General Secretary
During this week and for the rest of this month, our country will be celebrating the role of our youth in the struggle for national liberation and reconstruction of our country. Indeed the SACP wishes to pay tribute to the class of 1976, and all the subsequent youth generations who have played a truly heroic role in these struggles.
In our last edition we wrote about the tasks and challenges of building street, block and village committees as part of building people's power in the locality, and as an important platform to fight the scourge of crime in our country. We located this task within the overall context of some of the complexities and challenges facing (former) national liberation movements now in power. Of particular importance in this struggle is the continuing role of youth from within the ranks of the working class.
In essence what we are calling for in building street committees is a return (but not a mechanical one) to the struggle to build working class-led, people's power in the locality as the key platform upon which to consolidate the advances made in Polokwane to advance and deepen the national democratic revolution.
If there is one major lesson from the 1976 student uprisings, it is that they were the foundation for the mass semi-insurrectionary struggles of the 1980s and provided the platform upon which we built organs of people's power that spearheaded the final onslaught against of the apartheid regime. In these struggles it was the working class and the youth, particularly that drawn from the ranks of the workers and the poor, that played a leading role on this front. As we commemorate 16 June 1976, we still expect the youth from the urban and rural working class and the poor playing a more prominent role, as we consolidate the gains of the 1994 democratic breakthrough.
Youth is not homogenous: Socialism for the youth, and youth for socialism
Much as it is important to seek to unite all strata of our youth, it is absolutely imperative to remember that youth is not a homogenous social and political category, but is made up of youth drawn from various classes in society. Since 1994 there has been a further stratification of our youth, as a result of the contradictory realities of, on the one hand, upward mobility of black youth, and, on the other hand, the high levels of unemployment amongst youth, including retrenchments and casualisation. The opening up of new opportunities since 1994, there is a growing layer of black youth drawn from the sections of a rapidly upwardly mobile black middle classes and a small, albeit growing layer of an emergent black section of the bourgeoisie.
Addressing the problems facing South African youth today in essence calls for intensified and not lessened focus on youth drawn from the ranks of the workers and the poor. The intensity of the many social ills facing our youth today continues to be acutely felt by youth drawn from the ranks of the working class and the poor; the scourge of HIV/AIDS, unemployment, casualisation and poverty are all acutely felt by youth drawn from the ranks of the (urban and rural) workers and the poor.
It has now become fashionable to talk about 'youth' devoid of its class content, mainly as a means to advance and privilege the notion that the solution to the problems facing youth is narrow BEE and affirmative action. This obscures the fact that it is not narrow BEE and affirmative action that is the primary solution to the problems facing our youth today, but a radical restructuring of our economy in a manner that will prioiritise the interests of the workers and the poor of our country. BEE and affirmative action has on the whole benefitted the youth that is already upwardly mobile and has left the majority of urban and rural poor youth in the same socio-economic condition as before.
The current capitalist trajectory, with all it's claimed 'growth credentials', has hardly transformed the socio-economic conditions facing the overwhelming majority of the youth of our country. It is not only black youth whose condition has not improved, if not deteriorated, but the overwhelming majority of young black women has remained at the bottom of the ladder of the current 'growth' path in our country.
The youth of 1976 never fought for the co-option of a small section of the youth into the capitalist echelons of society, but for the radical transformation of the South African economy in line with the vision of the Freedom Charter.
For our youth, in 1976 and today, their struggle was at its core a struggle not just against national oppression, necessary as this was, but a struggle for a radical transformation of the South African economy. To us this can be nothing else but a struggle for socialism. That is why when we reconstituted the Young Communist League a few years back, we did this under the slogan, 'Socialism for the Youth, and Youth for Socialism'.
People's education for people's power
Much as the front of struggle opened by the June 1976 uprisings laid a further basis for the overall offensive against the apartheid regime, we dare not lose sight of the fundamental issue raised by the 1976 uprising, that of a call for the complete abolition of the bantu education system, a call that laid the foundation for the later, and more advanced, struggles for people's education for people's power. We cannot reduce the 1976 student uprisings to the single issue of the transformation of education, as the impact of these struggles went far beyond that, but at the same time we should not obscure the meaning of 1976 for educational transformation.
The above should also be a reminder that much as the national democratic revolution is an overarching struggle to liberate and reconstruct our country, at the same time it is made up of a multiplicity of dynamic sectoral struggles, in education, in health, in the communities, in the factories, students, youth, women's struggles and so on. In other words, progressive sectoral struggles are an integral part, and not a diversion, from the national democratic revolution.
We have indeed come a long way since 1976, with the 1994 democratic breakthrough providing a unique opportunity to implement the vision of the Freedom Charter that the 'doors of learning shall be open'. Indeed we have made many advances on the education front. We have done away with the more than 18 apartheid education departments, we have outlawed racially and ethnically based schools; universities are now open to all, irrespective colour, with the establishment of the national student financial aid scheme for higher education; and we have laws and institutions that create space for democratic participation by parents, teachers, students and communities in the running of the education system.
However despite all the above advances and many others, our education is still beset with many problems and challenges. We only wish to highlight only two for purposes of our argument here. The first and most insidious are the class glaring and continuing inequalities in our education system, that unfortunately often reproduce the racial inequalities of the apartheid era, given the coincidence between class and race in our society. The second is the progressive demobilisation of the motive forces that were in the forefront of the struggle for educational transformation, especially between 1976 and 1994.
The previously white education institutions have done relatively well since 1994, whilst many of the schools and universities that previously served black people have remained stagnant, and in some instances, have experienced serious decline both in terms of resources and quality of outputs.
Class inequalities and class bias towards the middle classes continues to afflict our education system across the board. For instance apart from the fact that it is largely black middle class students who have accessed the better resourced former white schools, even progressive curriculum interventions, like the 2005 curriculum changes, have largely benefitted the better resourced schools, as they are the only ones with the necessary text-books and other resources to properly implement these changes. Even the public discourse on educational transformation has been disproportionately dominated by middle class concerns, with the voices of township and rural education communities generally muted.
For example, researchers recently conducted into the cohort of young people who undertook the matriculation examinations in 2003. Of this cohort, with almost 1 million learners entering the system in Grade 1, only 7% of these children would emerge from the system in a position to apply for study at an institution of higher education. The overwhelming majority of the learners who do achieve a matric exemption are children from the middle classes. The probability of a working class child (overwhelmingly black) achieving a university exemption is much less than 1%. This is indeed a deeply disturbing state of affairs.
Amongst other things, the above situation calls for an accelerated focus on provision of basic minimum resources for all our education institutions, including elimination of the many infrastructural backlogs in schools and other educational institutions, mainly those serving black children and students. One possible method of achieving this is to redirect, at least for the next five years, most the extended public works programmes towards the provision of such educational infrastructure.
Whilst government has correctly identified issues of quality as being at the heart of our education system, this should not be seen in isolation from the challenge of providing the necessary infrastructure. As part of reviewing our performance in the education system we need to undertake a public evaluation of how we are doing as a country towards the attainment of the United Nations Millenium Development goals.
The ANC Polokwane conference resolved, inter alia, that education must be treated as a priority, with the ANC NEC January 8 statement correctly calling for 'Education must be elevated from being a departmental issue, or even a government issue, to a societal issue - on that occupies the attention and energy of all our people'. To this end the ANC is calling for a campaign centred on a 'Code for Quality Education' which outlines the role, responsibilities and discipline required from all the key stakeholders in the education system. This Code must contain what the ANC further calls 'non-negotiables' in education where departmental officials, teachers, learners, parents and communities commit themselves to certain basic minimum goals and performance standards in order to accelerate the transformation of education.
The idea of a commitment to key 'non-negotiables' (teachers must teach, learners must learn, departmental officials must carry out their duties fully in support of our educational objectives, parents to actively participate in school governing bodies, and for communities to ensure that every school-going child goes to school and protect our schools) is indeed an important step towards revitalisation of our education system.
But this 'Code of Conduct' will require that we reclaim the spirit and vision of the 1976 student uprisings and the subsequent struggles for people's education. This means that such a code and implementation of these 'non-negotiables' will not be realised unless we focus on building local education committees throughout the country as organs of people's education for people's power. The single biggest weakness in our struggles to transform education has been the large-scale demobilisation of our communities in participating and taking forward our education agenda. The key challenge therefore is the remobilisation of our communities!
It is through this that we shall truly honour and protect the legacy of the class of 1976!
By Cde Jeremy Cronin
Joel Netshitenzhe ("Rush to remove Mbeki smacks of opportunism", Cape Times, June 9) singles out the SACP as part of a band of craven vultures circling over "a political-death-in-the-making". We are accused of "irrationality" and of "trashing a legacy". All of this because we have suggested President Mbeki should be recalled.
The SACP has not made this proposal lightly. We are aware of several potential pitfalls. "While there is not yet support from our allies in this regard", the recent SACP central committee statement asserts, "the SACP continues to believe that the President of the country should be recalled. Quite how this should be done without creating more instability is a matter to be considered soberly - perhaps the calling of an early election could be considered."
That is the collective view of the SACP leadership. Netshitenzhe greatly underrates the resonance of our call within COSATU (which has said that it does not YET support the SACP position) and indeed within the ANC's senior leadership. However, it is true that without our allies' wholehearted support, the implementation of a recall is unlikely. In any case, as Netshitenzhe correctly notes, President Mbeki's term is now fast approaching an end.
So does that mean that the SACP's position is purely academic? Not so. In the first place it establishes a bench-mark, not just for the present, but for any future incumbents. The right of recall must be a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy.
Note we have suggested a recall, not an impeachment as Netshitenzhe continually implies. But let's be honest with ourselves, if we were living in a more mature democracy, the events surrounding the Selebi-Pikoli affair would have long been the subject of an impeachment inquiry. The SACP has not called for impeachment proceedings, and we do not want to pre-judge the findings of a hand-picked Ginwala commission. Still less do we want to speculate on where the German and the now fast-tracked UK inquiries into the arms deal might lead. Suffice to say we cannot be complacent about these matters, either as a movement or country.
Among the dangers in making our recall proposal is that it will be used to divert attention from the substantial issues at hand. It is a danger that Netshitenzhe seeks to exploit to the hilt. He wants to assure us that everything is on track. Government is busy consolidating its Medium Term Strategic Framework and the ANC will hold a lekgotla in July. We can all chug along guided by the State of Nation address apex priorities. In short, although the slogan is "business unusual", there is a profound sense of complacency. "With all of these ducks neatly in a row", Netshitenzhe asks, "why then the clamour for political instability?"
Clearly in Netshitenzhe's estimation political instability is what the SACP is intent on stirring up artificially in an otherwise serene environment. Things are fine in Khutsong. All is well in the SABC, the judiciary, and the SAPS. The hundreds of township revolts have not really taken place. Yes, there might be a problem or two, but, as President Mbeki assured Parliament in January in regard to Zimbabwe, all that remains are a few "procedural matters".
I respect Netshitenzhe's loyalty to his political principal. Without agreeing, I also respect an argument that a presidential recall might add to (rather than help resolve) the current political drift. What is deeply disappointing, however, is the blend of complacency and denialism - hallmarks of the Mbeki presidency - that Netshitenzhe brings to his argument. Even more disturbing are his inclinations, once the complacency is threatened and the denialism wears thin, to rubbish and demonise alternative views.
Why is there a proposal for a recall, is the basic question Netshitenzhe reiterates throughout his intervention. Flashing a polemical sword, he then wades into straw-persons in all directions. "There are some who seem to have expected Mbeki to line up behind the MDC and its international backers in pronouncing Morgan Tsvangirai the outright winner in the March presidential election." Well, there might have been some who had this expectation, but certainly not the SACP. However, that is not the issue. The issue is that, by this sleight of hand, Netshitenzhe seeks to divert us away from any substantial evaluation of President Mbeki's past and continuing Zimbabwe policies.
Netshitenzhe continues: "There will be ongoing debate about" (spin-doctor's code for "okay, there might be a tiny problem here") "the president's public relations activities. But this can hardly be an argument for impeachment." Well said, comrade Joel! Yet another straw-person be-headed! But, on second thoughts, who on earth has actually argued that the president should be impeached for his PR limitations?
Could the recall proposal be based on Mbeki's belated response to the attacks on foreign immigrants, Netshitenzhe rhetorically wonders. He then answers his own question: "Objective observers know that the president cannot wave a magic wand to prevent economic migrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and elsewhere."
Again a straw-person. Again a sleight of hand that avoids asking fundamental questions like: Has Mbeki presided over an effective migration policy?
"Or is it about the electricity emergency?", Netshitenzhe wonders. "But how", he responds, "will an immediate change of president resolve this complex problem?"
Of course President Mbeki is not single-handedly to blame for the electricity crisis, or HIV denialism in our country, or the implosion in Zimbabwe, or the arms procurement fiasco. And therefore, of course, a recall will itself not be the silver bullet that miraculously resolves any of these deep-seated challenges.
However, if Mbeki is not single-handedly responsible, he certainly presided over these and other crises. For instance, it was Mbeki's cabinet that in its 1998 energy white paper came up with the preposterous claim that "the most significant international shift in consciousness is a realisation that commercial energy sources will not become scarce in the short or even medium term. The 'limits to growth' school of thought has receded." (Who advised them on this? Enron?) From this the Mbeki government concluded that national energy sovereignty was irrelevant and Eskom could be sold off. When COSATU and the SACP protested, we were accused of trying to overthrow the state (by those who were trying to sell it off).
For the SACP, the recall of President Mbeki is not an obsession. It is a suggestion. We do have obsessions, like the rocketing food and energy prices. Our concern in this regard is about a truly obsessive Reserve Bank that persists in firing blanks at the price of a barrel of Brent Crude, and a government that imagines externally-driven inflation can be curbed with self-defeating macro-economic measures instead of micro-economic interventions that aim to ensure as much food and energy sovereignty as possible.
Unless there is an honest reflection on what President Mbeki continues to preside over, the challenges we face on so many fronts will persist and deepen - regardless of who happens to be the incumbent.
By Cde David Masondo
The nub of Joel Netshitenzhe' s article (06 June 2008), is that Mbeki should not be recalled as President the Republic because problems that beset South Africa and the Southern African region, particularly Zimbabwe, are beyond his control. '…how will an immediate change of president resolve' the problem of electricity, Netshitenzhe asks. So change of leadership will not change anything, we are told. We are also re-assured that South Africa is still safe under Mbeki's stewardship.
To politically legitimise his argument, Netshitenzhe goes at length in showing that the opponents of the ANC agree with the SACP on the recall of the state president; thus implying that the SACP is right wing. Unfortunately this is the old trick and sleight of hand by what we call the 1996 class project, which has brought us the many crises we face today, especially in governance. It was this habit that directly led to the Polokwane revolt, as it evaded dealing with problems facing us, thus alienating the majority of the constituencies of our movement.
The SACP is pointing to Mbeki's inability to lead in order to save ourselves from sinking into an abyss. If we were to follow Netshitenzhe's logic we can equally lump together Mbeki and the ANC opponents because the latter supports him on many issues, eg on the SABC Board (virtually now supported only by the DA), GEAR, the firing of Jacob Zuma from government, etc.
It is true that politics of personalities may neglect objective structural conditions that produce problems that beset Southern Africa. What eludes Netshitenzhe's tirade though, is the failure to see a correlated relationship between the roles of individuals in reproducing those objective conditions. Of course removal of Mbeki will not immediately obliterate the underlying structural causes of poverty, inter-and intra-national migration, energy crisis, corruption, and absence of democracy in Zimbabwe. But certainly, it will eliminate some of the precipitating conditions arising out of his inept leadership.
Leadership is also about facilitating subjective conditions necessary for human beings to exorcise themselves from undesirable objective conditions. So the led elects the leadership to do exactly that. Has Mbeki succeeded to lead? No! Mbeki has actually contributed to the emasculation of our capacity to deal with our problems. How has criminalisation of dissent within the ANC, Alliance and society in general served the mandate of our people? How is the 2004 electoral mandate served by appointing an SABC Board which is factionalist and unrepresentative? How is the selective rule of law serving the mandate of 'movement'? How is HIV-AIDS denialism serving the people? Why didn't he listen to people's objections on the restructuring of ESKOM? How will the 53% electricity tariff hike serve the mandate of the people? Mbeki and Netshitenzhe's answers on these are muted with deafening silence.
Netshitenzhe does tell us how Mbeki's leadership is helping in dealing with the Zimbabwean crisis. No one has ever said, at least from the SACP, Mbeki must side with the MDC as Netshitendze alleges. Mbeki's collaboration with the Mugabe regime has actually precipitated the Zimbabwean crisis, which he still denies its existence. Lack of prompt and firm response to the xenophobic attacks has laid conditions for the escalation of the xenophobic violent attacks.
Lack of decisive action and the selective application of the rule of law in dealing with corruption have accentuated lack of confidence in the state institutions, thus undermining our constitutional democracy. How do we for instance explain that more than a year after the surfacing of the 'Special Browse Mole' and the subsequent findings by parliament on this, no action has been taken against those who compiled the document? In actual fact, the 52nd ANC elective conference Polokwane outcome was also a vote of no confidence on the President on how government has allowed blatant abuse of some of the state apparatuses to undermine democracy within the ANC and in society. And therefore the ANC membership is not content with his state leadership.
Unlike the Mandela-to-Mbeki transition, the Mbeki-Zuma transition is complicated by the fact that the current leadership in the state clearly did not want the current leadership to be elected. This explains why the state leadership under comrade Mbeki successfully failed to provide correct and principled political leadership to state apparatuses. The state was deeply implicated in fighting Mbeki's political opponents.
So the issue here is not about Mbeki per se. But about principle of revocability, which is part of our democratic practice. This means if the new ANC president precipitates our objective problems; the power to recall him must be duly exercised. This will set us apart from Netshitenzhe's obsession with defense of an individual at the expense of South Africa and her neighbours.
However, the critical issue raised by the SACP is how we overcome, inter alia, the many crises created by the 1996 class project by transforming the current economic growth path and building capacity for a developmental state. Part of moving towards this objective in the current period is by creating the necessary conditions, including a recall of any leader deployed by the ANC in government. No one is above the organization!