On June 2nd the ANC won, as was expected, a landslide victory in South Africa's second democratic election. This article looks at the policies of the first term of the ANC government, the debates within the South African Communist Party, and the perspectives for the next five years.
On June 2nd the ANC won, as was expected, a landslide victory in South Africa's second democratic election. With 66.35% of the votes they got 266 seats, just one short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution, but still 4% more than in the 1994 general election. In the provincial elections which took place at the same time, the ANC won in 8 out of 9 provinces, coming only 2% behind the Inkhata Freedom party in KwaZulu-Natal. Despite this, the ANC will not be part of the new Western Cape government as a coalition of minority opposition parties was formed to exclude them.
The balance of the first term of the ANC government is an uneven one. On the one hand it is true that the ANC has delivered on some of its promises. The government had pledged to build 1 million new houses and 500,000 have actually been built. Most important of all the ANC-led government has managed to bring clean water to 3 million people and electricity power now reaches 63% of the population. These are modest, but nevertheless important advances which have convinced a majority of the South African masses to continue to support the ANC.
Nevertheless this is just one side of the coin. Millions of black South Africans remain in utter poverty and ignorance, 20% of the population still has no access to clean water, 10 million (25% of the population) still live in shacks and as squatters on someone else's land. Unemployment is still at 42% amongst the black majority, and about 500,000 jobs have been destroyed in the private sector in the last five years while the working age population increased by 5 million.
The lack of jobs has also created problems with the supply of electricity and water, which many simply cannot afford to pay for. The local authorities (mostly ANC-run) have launched campaigns to force people to pay or else. The Financial Times describes quite bluntly the situation in the country town of Vryburg: "many black consumers - unable to afford or unwilling to pay for the services they receive - are in arrears on their electricity and water bills. One reason for non-payment is that more than half of the Vryburg workforce have no jobs". (Financial Times, May 5, 1999)
Opposition to capitalist policies
In 1996 the government announced the misnamed Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme (GEAR) which basically meant adopting strict monetarist economic policies. Soon both the powerful trade union confederation COSATU and the South African Communist Party came openly into opposition to these policies at their respective congresses. This is significant as both COSATU and the SACP form part of the Tripartite Alliance with the ANC and provide the movement's mass rank and file basis. Both organisations clearly reaffirmed their commitment to the struggle for socialism in their resolutions. However they have not been able to offer a clear alternative to the pro-capitalist policies of the ANC government.
At this point the leadership of the ANC entered into an angry and open conflict with its allies. Both Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki made angry speeches at the SACP Congress denouncing those who "claim to be on the left" for repeating the "right wing allegation" that "our movement has abandoned the Reconstruction and Development Programme" and thus "hoping to turn the masses of our people who voted for us in 1994 against our movement by seeking to project the notion that we have betrayed the trust that people placed in the ANC". Mbeki warned those who "engage in fake revolutionary posturing so that our mass base, which naturally wants speedy transformation and the fulfilment of its material needs on an urgent basis, accepts charlatans who promise everything that is good, while we all know that these confidence tricksters are telling the masses a lie" (Umrabulo n. 5, ANC Political Education magazine).
In other words Mbeki was warning the activists of the SACP and COSATU to stop telling the masses that the ANC was going to solve their problems because, as "we all know", that is not possible. But the problem is that the masses expect the ANC, precisely to improve their living conditions. It is not enough for them to have achieved political democracy if they are still poor, unemployed and living in shacks.
Black bourgeoisie created
The end of apartheid has allowed a small but very vocal layer of black businessmen to come to the top of the social pyramid. Many of them come from the leadership of the ANC and even of the unions. Amongst the wealthiest, but by no means the only one, is Cyril Ramaphosa, former leader of the National Union of Miners. He made millions of pounds while he was on the board of New Africa Investment Limited (NAIL) before he was forced out of the company. These new black capitalists are ironically called "comrade capitalist".
But at the same time the share of the wealth going to the 60% of the country's population who still live in poverty (about 25 million people) has declined.
Some in the leadership of the ANC have started to give their new acquired wealth and privileges a political justification. There is a lot of talk about the "patriotic bourgeoisie", about "black empowerment" and so on. But in reality, South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world and the majority of black workers and youth who support the ANC have not benefited at all from the fact that black businesses in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange now represent 5.5% as opposed to 1% three years ago.
Many workers now know from their own experience that a capitalist is a capitalist regardless of the colour of his or her skin. When former political prisoner Mzi Khumalo took over a major company, JCI, he was asked whether he would be sympathetic to the unions. "I have spoken to the unions at JCI and made it clear: we are here to run a business. I'm not for any of this brotherhood stuff," he said. Shortly afterwards JCI sacked hundreds of workers and collapsed a few months later.
In Autumn last year disillusionment with the government was at an all-time high and for the first time there was a majority who thought the country was moving in the wrong direction. For months opinion polss had given the ANC more than 60% of the vote, in September 1998 that figure dropped to 51%. When asked whether they feel close to any political party, only slightly more than one-third (35%) said they identify with the ANC.
This dissatisfaction had a reflection in a very slow pace in the registration process for the elections which had many ANC leaders worried. Nevertheless the masses of workers and youth, the poorest sections of society, voted massively for the ANC and the opposition parties, most of them clearly identified with the apartheid regime were unable to offer any alternative. This election contest was in fact described by a commentator as "Snow-white and the Seven Dwarfs".
The main opposition party is now the Democratic Party which got the support of most of those who abandoned the New National Party. But despite all the talk about the advances of the DP, they did not even reach 10% of the votes. In an ironic press release, COSATU remarked that: "It is worth noting that the DP (which has made the habit of attacking COSATU) can only attract 1,524,696 (9.55%) of the electorate, significantly less than 1.8 million of our paid-up members. This is indicative of the fact that we represent a far bigger constituency than the party of big business."
What now for the ANC government?
In his victory speech Thabo Mbeki declared that: "the poorest of the poor have said they trust the ANC to help them out of their misery". That is quite true, but this is precisely where the problems for the new ANC government are going to come from. Up until now there has been a feeling that "you cannot reverse decades of apartheid and solve all the problems in just five years". But the patience of the masses is reaching its limits.
For many, it is now time to deliver real change. In the words of the ANC MP Lockley, "over the last five years our greatest achievement is that we have put in place a democratic constitution. The next step is to go for economic emancipation".
But the main problem is that Mbeki and the leadership of the ANC are firmly committed to continue with capitalist policies. So the question is, can South African capitalism afford any of the reforms needed to satisfy the needs of the masses who voted ANC?
The South African economy was badly hit by the collapse of the South East Asian economies and the subsequent loss of confidence of investors in the so-called "emerging" markets. There was a massive devaluation of the rand (by 30% since the last election), foreign investment left the country and this translated into job losses. At the same time the price of gold, which represents 18% of the country's export earnings has been consistently falling for the last 18 months to reach a 20-year low level of $259/ounce in the second week of June - a substantial fall from its levels of about $300/ounce at the beginning of the year. This will mean even more job losses, in an important industry which has already destroyed 100,000 jobs in the last three years.
Another important effect of the unfavourable international economic conditions has been a massive increase in interest rates which is draining public resources as the government pays off the servicing of its debt, and slows down the economy because the price of borrowing is clearly over the top.
The prospects for the economy are not rosy. After having a 0% growth in 1998, the forecasts for this year predict a 0.4% growth at most. Or at least that is the analysis of stockbrokers SG Frankel Pollak's chief economist and strategist Nico Czypionka. But he also warns that this "barely noticeable" growth will only be possible "if the global economy keeps on expanding", and is threatened by the possibility of another emerging-markets crisis (perhaps triggered by China or India) and what he calls "the very real chance of a world equity market collapse." A very conditional forecast indeed! But even a small recovery in the economy would not solve the pressing needs of the South African poor. According to Time magazine "even if the economy were to soar to 8.5% growth - an impossible dream - it would take 10 years to provide jobs for all those who need them" (Time, May 24, 1999).
So the only policy which the government can implement as long as it accepts the limits of the capitalist system is one of more cuts, privatisation and transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich (and not the other way round). An indication of things to come can be seen in this year's budget which, amongst other measures, cuts the expenditure for all Reconstruction and Development Programme Ministries, and intends to shed between 50,000 and 100,000 public sector jobs. On top of that there has been a cut in corporate tax of 5%. Individuals are paying 42% and corporations 15% of the tax revenue, whereas, in 1960, 17% came from individuals and 43% from corporations.
Need for a socialist programme
Only a programme based on "transferring the wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry to the ownership of the people as a whole", as expressed in the ANC's Freedom Charter, can free the resources needed to fulfil the aspirations of millions of ANC voters. In the next few years Mbeki's ANC government will increasingly enter into conflict with the trade unions and the ANC's social base on issues like budget cuts, privatisation, housing, labour rights, etc. The opposition which has already developed during the first ANC term will be nothing compared with the clashes in the next period, specially since Thabo Mbeki does not have the same authority in the movement as Mandela.
The left wing of the SACP and the trade unions has already drawn some important conclusions. Above all they have formally rejected the pernicious two-stage theory, which states that the tasks of the national democratic revolution (NDR) and those of the socialist revolution are completely separated. This menshevik theory, put forward by Stalin, was used for many years to convince the South African workers and youth that the struggle was first for democracy and later on for socialism.
"The struggle against national oppression and against imperialist domination, and the struggle for thorough-going democracy, are not side-tracks from the socialist struggle. They are integral to it," affirms an educational article in the SACP paper Umsebenzi. Actually, those who defend the two-stage theory most enthusiastically today are the openly capitalist elements within the ANC who don't even want to hear about socialism. This is ironically described in the SACP paper Umsebenzi:
"It is interesting that, at the very moment when the mainstream of socialism in our country has been re-thinking the two stage theory, anti-socialists have begun promoting it. Some in our broad national movement, for instance, have recently been arguing that the NDR is "not about transforming property relations" - that, apparently, belongs to another stage. Others have argued that "socialism" is irrelevant in "this stage". The tasks of this stage, we are told, are to consolidate a strong "capitalism", by deploying leading cadres into the boardrooms! " (Umsebenzi, March-April 1999)
In a recent issue of the SACP theoretical magazine South African Communist, the SACP general secretary, Blade Nzimande stated that:
"It is our view that the achievements of a deepening national democratic revolution cannot be sustained whilst the bulk of the wealth of the country is in private hands and South Africa essentially remains a capitalist society. The attainment of fuller freedom and liberation can only be realised under a socialist South Africa. This is simply because, in our conception, liberation and freedom cannot be restricted to formal political institutional freedoms, but must, principally, be extended to the economy and economic relations. No people can ever truly be free whilst the bulk of the wealth of the country remains in private hands. Capitalism, by its very nature, is undemocratic, and it is neither characterised by freedom nor liberation." (South African Communist, n. 150, 1999)
But the necessary conclusion which needs to be drawn from this is the elaboration of a clear programme linking the most pressing demands of the masses of workers and youth with the struggle for socialism. This programme needs to be defended in every SACP branch and in every COSATU local and adopted as a programme of struggle. It is not enough to adopt the slogan "Socialism is the future, fight for socialism now!" as the SACP did in its last Congress. The SACP should also fight to win over the ANC to genuine socialist policies and abandon any sterile attempt to manage the capitalist crisis. Otherwise it will be reduced to being just a left-wing fig-leaf for the capitalist leadership of the ANC.
In an article in the same issue of South African Communist, Lucky T Montana launched an attack against the "ultra-left" tendencies of the Party youth:
"Party structures are in the hands of a membership that is predominantly constituted of young workers, militant youth activists, students, etc., who joined the Party at its unbanning... (On) a positive side, most of these young militants are direct products of progressive youth formations in our country that espouse a commitment to the fundamental and socialist transformation of our society. There are however problems that accompany these positive aspects. The first is that some, if not most, of these young people joined the Party because they were opposed to negotiations. They saw the ANC as selling out in its suspension of the armed struggle. They are hostile to, if not completely harbouring anti-ANC positions ...It is among this section that there has been a strong call for the establishment of the Young Communist League within the Communist Party." (South African Communist, n. 150, 1999)
But it is precisely in these youth who are being criticised for their alleged "ultra-leftism" that the hope for the future of the South African revolution lies. If these young workers and students are able to conquer the genuine programme of Marxism they will be an unstoppable force.