By Leonard Gentle · 2 May 2014
On the eve of South Africa’s 2014 general election, the outcome is assured. Despite Nkandla, the Guptas, the Secrecy Bill, Marikana and 10 years of service delivery revolts, the African National Congress (ANC) will win the election. All the talk of the Democratic Alliance (DA) making serious inroads, of Agang and the possibilities of coalitions and of the new scenario of the “born-frees”, etc., are known to be exaggerated.
And yet the ANC, certainly in its Zuma incarnation, is a party in terminal crisis.
So the real attention turns to the changing possibilities beyond 2014…and there one can discern two competing configurations.
Elite Forces: ANC Loyalists, the DA, COSATU, the SACP and the Media
On the one hand there is, already emerging a kind of informal coalition, which seeks to rescue the ANC from itself. In the main this coalition invokes the ANC of Mandela, of the constitution, of the Rainbow Nation and in the 20th year of democracy, reminds us how far we’ve come. From Helen Zille to Jacob Zuma they all speak of “a good story to tell”, except for Zuma this is now and for Zille it harks back to an earlier time.
Surprisingly enough despite their rhetoric to the contrary, this coalition spans some old guard ANC loyalists still seeking to win back a good, moral ANC through tough love. Outside the party, one finds the Zille faction of the DA and the commentariat (the media as a class). Zille has always argued in the DA that the future of South Africa depends on the moment when the ANC-constitutionalists make common cause with all cross-party liberals. For their part, the media love the ANC’s economic policies and its treasury, but are aghast at its corruption.
Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and its patron the South African Communist Party (SACP) are, however, so deeply entrenched in the Zuma project that they may not survive its demise.
Mandela’s sainthood and death makes him a convenient unifying symbol of this project. Despite strategic differences, vehement debates and the rough and tumble of electoral politics and their disgust at the sheer moral turpitude represented by the Zuma state-looting project, all stand on the grounds of the current neoliberal order and that the ANC is central to the project. This continues to be the perspective of big business.
A New Movement: NUMSA, the EFF, the Platinum Workers and Ronnie Kasrils
And on the other side, we have the rise of a new movement rooted in 10 years of the revolt of the poor, of wildcat strikes post-Marikana and of the NUMSA moment. This is a movement, which has not yet declared itself, but already it confronts the neoliberal order and doesn’t seek to correct its “aberrations” or to recover the halcyon days of the rainbow nation. This is a movement that no longer blames apartheid for the ills of today, but sees the ANC as having climbed into bed with the old apartheid beneficiaries. This is a movement that is still to develop its own ideas about political power and about what kind of political expression and programme might articulate those ideas. This movement looks beyond 2014.
In the face of the emergence of this new movement, there is already a line-up of elite forces, with surprising bedfellows, more concerned with protecting this deeply unequal society than with imagining something new.
An unfair delineation many may shout out in indignation. Yet even just a cursory look at the responses of all the political parties and mainstream public opinion – as promoted in the media – suggests otherwise.
Four instances serve to illustrate this point: the rise of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the NUMSA moment, the platinum workers strike and the "Sidikiwe! Vukani! Vote No!" campaign of Ronnie Kasrils and others.
The Economic Freedom Fighters
The emergence of the EFF and its rhetoric of redistribution - “whites still run the country and the mines should be nationalised” - speaks to the perspectives and concerns of thousands of activists. But instead of a debate on the substance of these assertions, they are lumped with the image of Malema as a crude opportunist and a possible crook. So the EFF’s assertions are automatically discredited because Malema is a disgraced tenderpreneur and an original sponsor of the Zuma project. But what he articulates are not his ideas, these are ideas gestating in the new movement.
Malema’s demands are not “unrealistic” nor do they come from a space of ignorance, and it’s not simply a case of the EFF using the “ignorant poor”. Instead they articulate what poor people see every day. People see the enormous wealth of the rich and the middle classes and are simply gatvol with having to accept water cut-offs, shack dwellings, unemployment, precarious employment and low wages.
These are the most realistic of demands and a modest proposal for social justice. But the EFF and Malema get attacked more for their “unrealistic utterances” and less so for looting the system of outsourcing state functions to private businesses because these are precisely the kinds of methods that the neoliberal order celebrates.
The Platinum Workers’ Strike
Meanwhile For nearly two months now, 70 000 workers have been on strike in the platinum sector. Some of the poorest people in the country, many the victims of the violence perpetrated by the state against workers at Marikana, have taken a firm stand to fight for a minimum wage of R12 500 per month. This is roughly equivalent to what the CEOs of Lonmin, AngloPlat and Implats make every hour.
Thousands of workers have returned home to some of the traditional source areas of migrant labour. Others simply suffer, relying on family and neighbours to keep them going in the townships and settlements of the North West and Limpopo.
The stakes are high. Until this week’s resumption of negotiations there was every sign that the platinum bosses did not want a settlement, but simply wanted to destroy the pesky Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). They have continued to sell platinum out of reserves hoarded before the strike and more recently from other sources at prices agreed before the strike. Having nearly 80% of the world’s platinum reserves, the three companies, Lonmin, AngloPlat and Implats, are a de facto cartel able to manipulate prices simply by controlling output.
The striking mineworkers face an avalanche of problems. Against them is a state harassing workers with false charges of murder, their bosses withholding necessary ARV supplies to HIV-positive workers and debt collectors seeking their pound of flesh. Against them is a government and ruling party whose leaders are drawn from their rival union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Against them are NUM sycophants and strike breakers.
And against them is every journalist and media boss castigating their demands as ridiculous and outrageous. The media are joined by COSATU, NUM and other voices of civil society saying, “Your demands are unrealistic. The mining monopolies can’t afford R12 500. They will close down, sell off, disinvest or mechanise and then you will simply lose your jobs.” The strike therefore is blamed on the evil intentions of AMCU and/or the economic illiteracy of the mineworkers.
Meanwhile nobody can explain why the striking miners’ demand of R12 500 is unreasonable while the salary of the Amplats CEO at R17.6mn per annum and the demand by Anglo’s Mark Cutifani for a 15% profit hike, are not. Nobody picks on how the share value of the three companies has actually rocketed upwards during the strike, as investors seek shareholder value by betting that the share price will be even higher when the strike ends.
The NUMSA Moment
Then there is the NUMSA moment. Despite the union saying unequivocally that it has broken with the ANC and the SACP because the ruling party has embraced neoliberalism to become the government of the rich while abandoning the poor, the media continues to personalise this development, reducing the NUMSA moment to a dispute about Zwelinzima Vavi.
So the court decision to reinstate Vavi is seen as ending the dispute and the peace deal that Cyril Ramaphosa and Jesse Duarte caucused with COSATU, as strategic guidance from the ANC to squabbling children. The Vavi matter is settled, so NUMSA’s political break no longer makes headlines or invites comment.
Similarly, NUMSA’s call for joint campaigns and struggles with communities, which they dub a United Front, is misrepresented despite the union stridently denying the launch of a new party or organisation called the “United Front”.
What we need to understand is that the NUMSA moment is about a possible line-up of forces beyond 2014 and preparing the ground for real transformation in the future. Its united front speaks to a future of joint working class struggles across the community-workplace divide, uniting the unemployed and the employed.
The Vote No Campaign
In the case of the "Sidikiwe! Vukani! Vote No!" campaign, the fact that veterans of the ANC and the SACP are calling for a spoilt ballot has been variously misrepresented as calling for a boycott or an anyone-but-the-ANC campaign.
Media pundits have raised the spectre of this being unconstitutional. It isn’t. We do not have compulsory voting in South Africa, as in Australia, for instance. Whereas Kasrils and his cohorts have clearly spelt out that they want us all to use our vote in the most meaningful way possible, the campaign is also being cast as disrespecting the long struggle for the franchise and wasting one’s vote.
This campaign represents a valuable contribution because it brings together ideas of movement building with a concrete tactical position for activists grappling with what to do on Election Day, May 7. There is a similar initiative coming out of a group of NGOs called Democracy from Below that have named their platform, Awethu.
Protecting the Palace from the Mob
In recent times, much of the liberal public opinion discourse in South Africa has been about the threat to democracy from the ANC government’s attack on the media in the form of the Secrecy Bill and talk of a media tribunal. At the same time – and from the same milieu – there has been much sound and thunder about the ANC’s domination of the democratic space and about the ruling party criticising Chapter 9 Institutions, such as, the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela.
In the main, there have been two features associated with this discourse. It has largely been a story of protecting the current order and one suggesting that the mantle of protecting civil liberties lies on the shoulders of these institutions, the constitution and the existence of a viable political opposition. That viable political opposition was nothing more than code for the DA and other opposition groups of similar persuasion.
But what has actually happened is something very different. The most active sections of the population are not the parties in parliament or the media, but hundreds of thousands of poor, unemployed activists from working class communities who have been struggling for the past 10 years against the absence of service delivery. And the people who have borne the brunt of the state’s increasing intolerance have not been the media or the judiciary or the Chapter 9 institutions, but people like Andries Tatane and activists killed by the police at Marikana and Bekkersdal.
But the liberal critics of the ANC’s intolerance are also in sync with the ANC government in either ignoring or stigmatising these struggles. Consequently, instead of the political terrain shifting towards the opposition parties to the right of the ANC, the most important shift in recent times is a shift towards a movement to the left of the ANC.
So we have a new line up of forces. Just as much as the DA, Agang, Cope and large sections of the media attack the ANC government for being undemocratic and corrupt and for threatening the constitutional order negotiated at Kempton Park, they will all unite with the ANC against an emerging movement to the left of the ANC that questions the legitimacy of the elite order negotiated at Kempton Park.
And whereas alliance partners, the SACP and COSATU, will differ with regard to this or that policy coming out of the ANC government, they line up alongside the ruling party, the DA and the rest in attacking Kasrils, NUMSA and Awethu, as they have long ignored the service delivery protests or stigmatised them as criminal.
This is because we have two South Africas: an elite of the seriously super-rich, and a South Africa of the majority, largely black and poor, with a working class constantly facing unemployment and precarious employment, homelessness and shack dwelling and the denial of public services.
This divide is spawning two kinds of politics: the elite politics of electoralism versus the development of a new movement from below.
The line-up: the forces of consolidation of the neoliberal order versus the forces of change and hope.
Building a Movement from Below
A new movement suggests a common enemy or a common unifying minimum demand. It emerges of out hundreds of self-expressed struggles of ordinary people who draw on their own experiences.
The great movements of the past 150 years were indeed marked by such developments: the national liberation movements that wanted the colonisers to withdraw; the women’s movement that became a mass suffragette movement; the socialist movement that identified capitalism as the enemy; the anti-apartheid movement that identified majority rule with a full franchise as the minimum demand. All of these had their ups and downs, their success and failures and their internal struggles and cross-references. But gradually they all became movements capable of changing the course of history.
The striking platinum workers of AMCU standing up against the whole gamut of mine bosses, the state and professional commentariat, are now lined up alongside the protesting communities in Bekkersdal, Burgersfort and Siqalo reshaping South African politics indelibly while consigning Vavi, Zille and Ramphele to the same level of distracting entertainment as the Pistorius trial.
The movement draws in NUMSA and even casts a different light on Malema’s EFF, not because they are new visionaries of some new enlightened order, but because they speak the language of this movement. Along the way the net snares other initiatives like Kasrils’ Vote No! campaign and the NGO-dominated Awethu initiative.
Truly, echoing what Yeats said of the 1914 rising of the struggle for Irish independence: “A terrible beauty is born.”
On May 7, Election Day will come and go. It will be an important election, but not because there will be a fundamental change in political power. The ANC will win. The DA will make some inroads into middle class black votes in Gauteng and retain the Western Cape. The EFF will make some ground in places like the North West and Limpopo as the nearest voice that speaks the language of the new movement. But all the signs show an electorate where voter registration is down, where less than a third of the “born frees” have actually bothered to register, and where the percentage poll will be down from 2009, as it was down from 2004.
Just 20 years after the vast majority of South Africans won the franchise, the public broadcaster, the print media and the Independent Electoral Commission are now reduced to begging people to vote.
It's not Kasrils and his cohorts who are spoiling the vote, it’s the ANC and all the parties of the elite.
Awethu! and the 2014 Elections
This is a very thought-provoking article. It is important to note two things about Awethu! though. The one is that Awethu! was not a Democracy from Below (DfB) initiative. It was the outcome of a general discussion between a number of people, only some of whom were from DfB, on how civil society should approach the elections and prepare civil society for the post-election period. The second is that, while there are areas of alignment between Vukani and Awethu!, they are not the same sort of initiative. Awethu! was established as a platform for uniting organisations working for social justice, with the elections initially one focal point out of many. However, an emphasis on the elections was abandoned in favour of working to establish a strong foundation for civil society cooperation in programmes to advance social justice and to hold government and political parties accountable for their promises to the people of South Africa post elections. Vukani, on the other hand, is specifically focused on the elections and getting people to adopt a Vote No! approach. What they will do after the elections is not yet clear.