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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary to the COSATU 7th National Congress

19 September 2000

Comrade President,
Comrade General Secretary and national leadership of COSATU,
Leadership of Affiliates,
Leadership of the African National Congress and SACP present,
Leadership of SANCO,
Honoured guests and comrade delegates,

On behalf of the Central Committee (CC) and the entire membership of the South African Communist Party (SACP) I bring warm revolutionary greetings to your Congress.

Cde President, this Congress is an important assembly for all workers of South Africa. Southern Africa, and indeed the African continent. The struggle of South Africa`s organised workers, especially those within COSATU, continues to inspire millions of workers on the continent, and indeed globally. When workers meet in this fashion, it is therefore important to take stock of the broader challenges facing the working class and the poor as a whole. To us as communists, it is only the working class that can take the national democratic revolution to its conclusion – a better life for all our people and the winning of a socialist South Africa. But we need to be acutely aware that in order to achieve these objectives, the working class should not retreat into itself, nor just be satisfied by leading itself. Rather it should continously seek to lead the rest of society, particularly the overwhelming majority of our people, who stand to gain from the destruction of capitalist barbarism and the creation of a socialist society.

The past 12 months and its lessons

Cde President and delegates that we should perhaps start by reflecting on developments over the last 12 months, since the Special Congress of COSATU.

The last 12 months have seen important developments both domestically and internationally, On the domestic front, your Special Congress last year took place in the wake of a massive ANC electoral victory on the platform of accelerating change. This victory, as we said last year, provided an important opportunity to deepen and consolidate a national democratic state and an accelerated offensive against poverty. Parliament has also passed an important piece of legislation on Equality, which lays an important foundation for building a more caring and equal society.

But it is very clear that despite our second electoral victory, its fruits are heavily contested by forces who wish to accelerate capitalist restructuring and the creation of a nominally deracialised capitalist order. The ideological offensive of this bloc of forces attempts to separate building democracy from the task of challenging the undemocratic character of capitalism. In other words, these forces separate the struggle against racism from the struggle against economic exploitation; they separate the struggle against poverty from the struggle against capitalist globalisation. Instead they project a market economy as the foundation for redressing racial and gender inequalities, and seek to project globalisation as a neutral phenomenon.

The most recent right-wing version of this agenda is the newly founded DA. This Alliance is in fact a dinosaur`s alliance, made up of forces who would like to see the retention of the old racially and economically based inequalities, and the shielding of the white population from transformation. They have reconstituted themselves precisely in order to defend as much of the white privileges as possible. Let us quote Joe Slovo in this regard, so as to remind ourselves of the realities facing the revolution in our country: “… no significant national demand can be completely fulfilled without the eventual destruction of the existing capitalist structure”. What this means in the current context is that no significant progress will be made towards deepening our democracy without seeking to roll back the capitalist market. Even if you are not a socialist this is fairly self-evident, as the foundations of apartheid and racism was the super-exploitation of the black majority in our country.

We also begun this year with the intensification of workers` mass campaigns against job losses, as part of an offensive for the eradication of poverty in our country. Much as these struggles are still largely of a defensive nature, they helped to contribute towards building the political confidence of the working class, as well as sending a signal that no genuine economic transformation in our country can take place without organised workers. As we said in our May Day message this year, it is a fallacy to think that we can turn our economy around on the carcass of a dead workers` movement. SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande addresses COSATU 7th National Congress delegates

This year the SACP also held its Strategy Conference, highlighting the need for a state-driven, job-creating industrial strategy, premised on a domestic infrastructural development programme, and highlighting the fallacy of an economic growth strategy based largely on attraction of FDI. The ANC also held its highly successful NGC, particularly underlining the inadequacy of chasing macro-economic balance without a developmental industrial strategy and re-affirming the working class as the leading force in the National Democratic Revolution.

The South African Human Rights Commission also convened a conference on racism, which, amongst other things, highlighted the continuation of racism in our country, including new forms of its expression in the contemporary period.

On the international front, the Battle of Seattle, was a symptom of the deepening crisis of neo-liberalism, and the fact that it has reached an ideological cul-de-sac, as its promises to the majority of the world`s population are not being realised. Poverty is deepening internationally with for instance about half of the world`s population not having access to clean drinking water. These mass demonstrations, together with the current ones in Australia and impending ones in Prague next week, show the extent to which there is growing dissatisfaction with neo-liberal policies. South Africa also hosted the 13th International Aids Conference, sharply reminding us that HIV/AIDS might as well be the biggest threat to our own unfolding national democratic revolution.

Nearer home, the developments in Zimbabwe are a sad reminder of the resilience of the colonial legacy and the consequences of a liberation movement that has become distanced from its mass base, particularly the organised working class, the urban poor and intellectuals. As a result, Zimbabwe was unable to resist a World Bank imposed Structural Adjustment Programme, thus leading to further alienation of the liberation movement from the mass of the people.

These developments, together with others, since the Special Congress still needs to be reflected upon seriously by all of us. But there are clear lessons including the following:

  1. Political democracy in the context of economic inequalities and poverty cannot be real substantive democracy. This really means that we cannot exclusively focus on the dismantling of the apartheid state without simultaneously seeking to roll back the capitalist character of that apartheid state.
  2. That strategies, as in the Zimbabwean situation, designed above the heads of, and imposed on, the working class and the mass of the people are bound to back-fire, thus isolating the liberation movement from its mass base.
  3. That difficult political and economic choices have to be made with, not despite, the mass of the people, in particular the working class.
  4. That mass mobilisation still remains the key to driving forward socio-economic transformation.
  5. That the crisis of neo-liberalism and the deepening poverty calls for a struggle to create spaces to forge a progressive national development agenda. That globalisation narrows options for countries, in particular developing countries is true, but this should not be used as a cover for not fully exploring progressive options.
  6. Most significantly, the recently released study by the World Bank, that economic growth in the context of huge social inequalities does not address poverty, instead it can exercebate it. This observation – another indication of the ideological cul-de-sac of neo-liberalism – in fact rubbishes the whole idea that economic restructuring based on job losses will later lead to economic growth that will benefit those very same casualties of retrenchments.

Fundamentally these lessons reaffirm the SACP`s strategic approach to the NDR and it is within this framework that we should perhaps identify some of the key challenges of our revolution at this point in time.

The challenge of deepening the NDR: Going back to the basics

Essentially we need a consistent and thorough-going class analysis of the South African transition from a working class perspective. South Africa remains a capitalist society. Capitalism constitutes the single most significant threat to the attainment of a better life for all on a sustainable basis. As long as the bulk of the wealth of our country remains in the hands of the few, our goal of liberation, freedom and social justice will be postponed for a long time.

Attempts to transform our society on the terrain of capitalism, but without sufficiently analysing the contradictions of contemporary capitalism runs the risk of a restructuring process that leaves the fundamental inequalities of our society intact. Further, we have expressed concern that we need to be vigilant that change is not reduced to the transfer of some power, privilege and wealth to an emergent black elite, while the underlying class, race and gender inequalities of our society remain largely intact. The danger of this outcome remains very real…

The opening up of the South African economy to global capitalism has seen more than half a million jobs shed in the formal non-agricultural sector since 1994. Many of those still in formal employment have been subjected to the intensification of exploitation through casualisation, piecework, being contracted out, and many anti-worker measures.

It is working people and the urban and rural poor (a majority of them women) who have had to bear the brunt of the profound economic restructuring process underway in our country. That it is the working class that should borne the brunt of economic restructuring is neither desirable nor inevitable.

Central in this analysis we are calling for is a necessary study and theoretical characterisation of patterns of class formation and class struggles in South Africa`s transition to democracy. During the transition a particular process of capital accumulation (albeit weak) has been taking place which is largely benefiting finance capital, possibly Afrikaner capital and a small minority within the black community at (potentially) the expense of the working class in particular and the poor in general. Even the benefits to the black petit bourgeoisie are in doubt if one looks at the patterns of accumulation and rapid decline of the share of black capital in the JSE. SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande addresses COSATU 7th National Congress delegates

The distinct feature of South Africa`s transition to democracy therefore is that whilst the apartheid regime has been removed, and significant progress being made to consolidate our political democracy, South African capitalism, dominated by a powerful white monopoly capitalist class, remains intact, though not without its crises. Capitalist globalisation is the main driving force in strengthening and deepening the power of capital and the capitalist character of South African society, together with its attendant crises.

1. The challenge of globalisation

It would be amiss for the working class to dismiss globalisation without understanding it as an objective process of capitalist expansion and imperialism. We need to recognise it as the core of the hostile environment we face. The combined effect of capitalist globalisation and the attendant restructuring of the South African economy within this context has seen a growing change in the social composition of the working class. It is politically imperative for our Party, the trade union movement and the ANC itself to seek to understand these processes in order to properly grasp the key challenges and tasks of the NDR.

However to recognise this reality does not mean simply abandoning the struggle against capitalism on a global level – a process Slovo described as unilateral ideological disarmament. Therefore the argument that all we have to do in relation to globalisation is merely to seek the best terms to insert ourselves into the global economic order without simultaneously seeking to challenge it is simply wrong. This argument is wrong in two ways. Firstly it is as if we are already not part of the global world – as if our relative marginalisation was not itself the direct product of 150 years of capitalist-led globalisation. Secondly, this argument obscures the fact that globalisation is imperialism, whose very foundations is the subjugation of the developing countries and the poor. We need to expose and challenge this approach, even more so where it seeks to opportunistically use Marxism to justify the abandonment of the very essence of Marxism – the struggle against imperialism.

2. The democratic state and the transformation of the economy

The second critical challenge for our revolution is the twin challenge of building a national democratic state and transforming the economy to serve the interests of the mass of the overwhelming majority of our people. I am deliberately linking these two objectives of our revolution since I believe it is the only way to tackle these challenges. Whilst these are two distinct objectives, but to treat them separately is also wrong, given the fact that one without the other cannot be transformed. Seeking to transform the state in a context of deepening capitalism cannot produce a truly democratic state. Similarly our economy, as we will argue, cannot be transformed without a strong, democratic, people-centred state.

The transformation of the state from an apartheid to a democratic state still remains a prime objective of our revolution. However such a state must not only be based on institutions of formal democracy and an occassional vote, but to be a participatory and people-centred state. It means a state not simply driven by narrow and simplistic notions of “government must govern” without it being simultaneously rooted and seeking to mobilise the mass of the people in our country.

The national democratic state must also be developmental – actively driving a developmental programme aimed at eradicating the last vestiges of racially based political and economic power. A developmental state must also seek to challenge the neo-liberal notions of managerialism – outsourcing, core and non-core business, corporatisation and fragmented “business” units. This is the new form of public administration which postulates that the model of management that needs to be followed in the public sector is that of the private sector. Private sector management tools are not a set of neutral instruments, but are an expression of a profit-oriented approach. Neo-liberal public administration sits in contradiction to the achievement of the social and developmental goals that the NDR has set for itself. It is in the struggle to create a developmental state that state power and economic power find their interrelated expression. It is a state-model premised on people`s power seeking not only to dismantle racism, but also its economic foundations – which is a capitalist market economy.

The key challenge of our revolution is an economic development path whose main objectives is the creation of jobs and eradication of poverty. In order to realise these objectives, the SACP, at its Strategy Conference, argued that the foundations of such an approach is an overarching, integrated industrial policy. Such a policy must mainly be premised on a conscious, state-driven domestic infrastructural investment programme. The SACP has for instance argued that our macro-economic policy must be based on such an industrial strategy, rather than being oriented to creating signals for foreign investors at the expense of co-ordinating domestic investment. This requires achieving greater co-ordination and a stronger interconnection between social spending and economic spending.

Central in such a strategy is the transformation of the architecture of the financial sector of our country. This requires a co-ordinated strategy to drive both the private and public financial sectors towards development priorities in our country. For instance the banking sector needs urgent transformation and diversification in order to ensure the release of some of the resources in this sector for developmental goals. Similarly this needs to be related to a co-ordinated strategy for public financial institutions like the DBSA and IDC, as well as other financing instruments like Umsobomvu, etc.

It is within the above overarching framework for instance that the question of the restructuring of state assets should be approached. For example we cannot restructure Transnet outside of a comprehensive transport policy based on building a public transport system. Restructuring of state assets outside of such a developmental industrial policy creates gaps that get exploited by those forces which only see restructuring as privatisation. Restructuring state assets outside of such an industrial strategy leaves key restructuriing decisions and programmes to management of parastatals without political guidance from the Alliance and government.

Similarly the review of labour legislation needs to be located within this framework. It is for this reason for instance that the SACP is concerned about the current proposals on reviewing labour laws. It is our strong belief that a basic floor of rights for workers needs to be protected and strengthened. We are strongly committed to a 40-hour working week. It is for this reason that we say nothing should be done about the proposed labour laws until we have reached consensus within the Alliance, within a framework of an industrial strategy.

These are the urgent challenges of our revolution, and the key areas in which an Alliance consensus needs to be prioritised.

Mobilising for socio-economic transformation to build a people`s economy

Cde President, it is time now that we adopt concrete resolutions around concrete mass campaign around socio-economic transformation to benefit the mass of the people of our country. One major contribution of this Congress to our revolution must be a plan on on-going mass mobilisation of our people to change their own socio-economic conditions. The SACP would like to table some of the key issues around which we should mobilise for socio-economic transformation, with the working class at the centre of these initiatives. These should also be part of a common Alliance programme that goes beyond election campaigns.

1. The transformation and diversification of the financial sector

The SACP is embarking, as part of its Red October 2000 campaign, on mass demonstrations for the restructuring and diversification of the financial sector in our country, with a particular focus on commercial banks. We believe this is an important campaign in which we call on our people to exercise their power – through the money they have put into these banks – for the banks to invest in low-cost housing, credit access for SMMEs and the poor and generally infrastructural development in poor, predominantly black areas. This is a typically working class campaign that has strong resonance with the concerns of the poor people of our country. Commercial banks in South Africa today command enormous financial resources most of which are moneys from our people – from their burial societies, stokvels, mogodisano and workers` wages and government money. But these commercial banks are nothing other than instruments of capitalist power, of capitalist economic oligarchies whose purpose is to finance white luxuries and greed – but using black workers` monies. Their practices are not only racist, but continue to foster poverty among black people, entrenchment of racial inequalities and racism itself.

As the SACP we are therefore calling for legislation to force these banks to reinvest some of our moneys in our communities. The poor are creditworthy, if approached collectively. We also are calling for the diversification of the financial sector for the establishment of co-operative banks, owned and controlled by the people and for the people. We are calling upon South African workers and people to join us on 21 October in our marches on what we call “The Red Saturday Against Redlining”. Through this march, we will also be calling for the convening of a national summit on the transformation of the financial sector. This campaign should be seen as an integral component of building a co-operative movement and a strong co-operative sector in our economy. This is a campaign for building a people`s economy!

2. Mobilise for the defence and extension of the public sector as the major driver of economic development

The question of the transformation of the state and the public sector is a fundamental question for South Africa`s working class. It is not adequate to simply react in this area, but we need specific working class campaigns to ensure that we defend and extend the public sector as the mainstay of our economy. Let us mobilise for the transformation of the state, rooting out corruption, ensuring efficient service delivery and spending of funds meant for the poor, in order to prove that the public sector is a better provider of services than the private sector.

In this regard, the 1999 SACP Strategy Conference attempted to address this by resolving that education, health, water, municipal services, central banking, development finance, transport, infrastructure (including roads, railways, pipelines, and telecommunications), electricity supply/Energy including liquid fuel, mineral rights and housing must remain in public hands and that the state must play a leading role in these sectors. We see no reason or any logic in the privatisation of these sectors. But we need a mass based campaign around these questions.

3. Driving an industrial strategy programme through sectoral summits

The convening of sectoral summits is one of the urgent tasks of the working class in the current period. This campaign should be linked to the development of a job-creating industrial strategy, and should be the basis on which we drive a state-led infrastructural development programme as well as the strengthening of a manufacturing sector. The convening of sectoral summits is going too slowly and we need to inject some urgency into this as part of fighting the job-loss bloodbath, as well as ensuring working class participation in the development of an industrial policy.

4. The HIV / AIDS campaign

If there is one challenge for our revolution and the future of our country it is tackling the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This requires a very concrete programme and campaign by this leading formation of the workers of our country. The SACP calls on this COSATU Congress, all the workers of our country, the government and all our people to take the fight against HIV/AIDS to a higher stage, particularly focusing on reducing the rate of infection. We need to fight against HIV/AIDS with the same intensity as we struggled against the criminal apartheid regime.

The SACP accepts the view of the scientific community that the HI Virus causes AIDS. The SACP also agrees that opportunistic diseases that thrive in conditions of poverty like TB and malaria do indeed increase amongst poor people infected with the HI Virus. We need urgent and concerted action by all role-players to address the epidemic and the problems it poses. We need a holistic approach that dynamically links awareness, prevention, access to information, access to treatment and link these to developmental strategies for the eradication of poverty.

The SACP calls on the media to show a great deal more concern for fostering a unified national approach to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We cannot help feeling that many journalists seem to be more concerned to get sensationalist headlines “Minister X or this or that organisation disagrees with the President”, than to create a calm but focused climate in which we are able to tackle this challenge. The media needs to be asking of itself as to what role has it set for itself in being part of this holistic approach to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

5. Local Government Elections

The need for an overwhelming ANC victory in the forthcoming local government elections cannot be over-emphasised. It is however important to ensure that the question of local govervment transformation be taken beyond the elections. Let the workers mobilise for a state-led municipal transformation, in particular the building of strong ward committees as primary organs of people`s power at local government level.

6. Building the political capacity and confidence of the Affiliates

An important challenge for this Congress is to lay a firm foundation for strengthening our affiliates. However we need a campaign to ensure that a critical component of ensuring the viability of affiliates is building their political capacity. Let us embark on a massive political and ideological development programme in order to better face the onslaught against organised workers and prepare for the mobilisation of the working class for socio-economic transformation. A key component of this is the building of SACP workplace units and branches amongst the workers themselves. The fact that very few locals, according to the Secretariat report have built workplace structures is a challenge that requires a campaign on its own. Let us resolve to root the Party amongst organised workers!

The centrality of the Tripartite Alliance

None of the key challenges of the NDR in the current period can be achieved without a strong, co-ordinated and functioning alliance. We are happy to say that we have had a constructive and frank exchange in the last Alliance 10-a-side meeting on 11 September 2000,where we dealt with both our convergences and divergences. We however have to openly face areas of divergence in our Alliance, particularly questions relating to our path of economic development. Continuing these discussions in-depth is a political opportunity we dare not squander.

But in commenting on the Alliance, as the SACP we are also of the view that this requires that we go back to the fundamentals. What is an Alliance? An Alliance is not a love affair – based on sentiment and emotion – but on historical realities and imperatives of a people`s revolution at specific moments in time. Alliances, by their very nature, are made up of different class forces organised to achieve certain objectives guided by a common programme. The challenge of any alliance is a correct balance and dialectical relationship between independence and unity in action amongst the partners. It entails recognition of the genuine interests of each partner as well as the interdependence of these interests in the current period. SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande addresses COSATU 7th National Congress delegates

One of the key challenges facing the Alliance at this point is achieving the correct balance between sectoral interests and the overall revolutionary objective. Any revolution has to manage this relationship in a manner that advances the overall goals of the people as a whole. It would indeed be wrong to portray every expression of a sectoral interest as necessarily expressing the interests of the revolution as a whole. But at the same time it would be wrong, and indeed dangerous, to denounce every expression of sectoral interests as necessarily against the interest of the revolution as a whole. This would abstract and freeze the overall interests of the revolution, since this would be disconnected from genuine concerns of the mass of our people. The challenge of revolutionary leadership is to weld these various interests into a single revolutionary objective. But much more importantly at the centre of the overall revolutionary objective should be the interests of the working class. The victory of the ANC over apartheid forces was as a result of its capacity to recognise sectoral interests as legitimate interests of people`s aspirations but welded these together under the banner of the NDR.

Let us quote Cde Oliver Tambo in this regard from his political report to the Kabwe Conference in 1985:

It is that we must act as a vanguard force, the repository of the collective experience of our revolutionary masses in their struggle for national liberation. We must be organised to act as such.

These were indeed wise words that we should not forget. The challenge of leadership today still remains that of harnessing the collective experience of our Alliance and our people, as there is no single corner in our movement that, only on its own, is best capable of advancing the NDR.

Let us not betray the spirit of Oliver Tambo. Let us not betray the spirit of Moses Kotane, Dora Tamana, JB Marks, Joe Slovo and Chris Hani. Let us not betray the spirit of Steven Dlamini and Elijah Barayi.

With these words we wish you a successful Congress.

Let COSATU emerge out of this Congress a stronger COSATU!