Zwelinzima Vavi’s input to the Daily Maverick Gathering, 11 June 2015, Midrand
The ANC-led, democratically elected government has delivered historic improvements to the lives of millions of people, particularly in the provision of basic services like electrification, water and housing, increased access to health and educational services (albeit of an often sub-standard nature), fairly entrenched basic rights of movement, expression, association and collective bargaining, regular democratic elections, and consistent long-term, although slow, economic growth.
Yet persistent socioeconomic challenges threaten many of the gains we have achieved. Our country faces its biggest crisis since the birth of democracy in 1994.
Unemployment has reached the appalling level of 36.1% by the more realistic expanded rate including those who have given up looking for work, and it is on the rise. 8.7 million South Africans who could be working, earning a living for their families and contributing to the country’s wealth are excluded from the country’s economic life.
Economic growth in the first quarter of 2015 was crawling along at a miserable 1.3%, so the prospect of any early relief for the unemployed is fading fast. 54.3% of people live in poverty and 14 million South Africans go to bed hungry every night despite the country producing more than enough food.
Deindustrialisation continues; in 1994 the manufacturing sector constituted 23% of our GDP, but now it is 11%. More and more jobs are being casualised, leading to a rise in the number of the working poor. Wages of workers have been kept low with median salary at R3033. Income inequalities are at world records beating levels.
There is a painfully slow progress in reversing the racial and gender inequalities in wealth and employment, which we inherited from apartheid. More than 65% of all new promotions to senior management are still going to white people and 75% of senior management remains white.
So why then are we now facing such an economic, social and human catastrophe? Part of the reason is denialism. We shall never solve such problems if we deny they exist.
The very day that those shocking job statistics were released, President Zuma was telling Parliament that “Our country is doing very well. The fundamentals are in place. Our institutions are strong and sound. All the arms of the state are functioning effectively: the executive, Parliament and the judiciary. This means are hard-won democracy is safe.”
In the real world, South Africa is teetering on a knife-edge. Our revolution is on trial and at the crossroads. Millions of people feel marginalised and excluded by a society in which the rich get richer and the poor are left even further behind, angry and frustrated.
The poor are asking fundamental questions about whether a tipping point has not been reached where they can conclude that democracy serves the interests of the elite in particular white monopoly capital. More and more of them take part in community protests over service delivery, corruption and waste of money by municipal councillors.
According to the SAPS Incident Registration Information System there were 34 incidents a day on average between April of 2012 and March 2014 with 15% of them turning violent. The masses are clearly beginning to ‘sulk’ as Frantz Fanon described a phenomenon of resignation from the politics reflected by the fact that only 50% of the voting population still had hopes in our political parties in the last elections of 2014. This ticking bomb continues to tick and as I have said all our cities are being surrounded by a ring of fire.
The basic cause of these problems is colonialism and apartheid, but instead of addressing these underlying problems, using our historical approach to development, the ANC abandoned the RDP and the Freedom Charter. They adopted GEAR in 1996, which swept away the transformation agenda of the RDP and handed power over to the World Bank and IMF, with their local agents entrenched in the Treasury and Reserve Bank.
This cleared a way for a drive by a predatory, capitalist elite in the state and the boardrooms of big business to exercise control over all areas of society, to advance its agenda of maximising their wealth.
Capital is engaged in a concerted drive to emasculate the power of workers, force down wages, weaken collective bargaining structures and get rid of laws to protect employees from unfair dismissal and discrimination.
The ANC 207 Polokwane Conference gave us hope that there be might be a shift back to the progressive policies of the RDP, inspired by the Freedom Charter. But our hopes were dashed with policy zigzags that led to policy paralysis. The adoption of the National Development Plan - GEAR Mark 2 - which has tied our economy even more firmly into the agenda of international monopoly capital.
Our new masters are now credit ratings agencies, elected by nobody but mandated by investors to blackmail elected governments into adopting policies, which will maximize the profits of their super rich clients.
Our government has given in to their threats, with the Treasury again acting as the lackeys and an enforcer of the rating agencies with their successive austerity budgets.
Meanwhile, tenderpreneurs, corrupt politicians and officials, even a few union leaders, are cashing in by exploiting the climate of ‘anything goes’ to get rich quick at the expense of the workers, consumers and the economy.
The statement by the Minister of Police, Nathi Nhleko, on the repayment of money spent on Nkandla is a disgraceful move to dodge taking responsibility for the grossly excessive amount spent on the project as a whole – R246 million and for all those who corruptly benefited from it.
It is not just Nkandla where costs have escalated but in virtually every government project, such as Medupi powers station (R52 billion up to R130), Kusile (R81 billion up to R172) and the Gautrain (from R3.5 billion to R25.4).
Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu has also just revealed that R12 billion disappeared in fruitless and wasteful expenditure by 264 municipalities in 2013/14. We welcome the slight improvements but our base is still very low.
What makes this even more frightening is that this is happening when trade unions, the last powerful weapon in the hands of working people, are being fragmented and weakened and have been targeted for co-option to serve the agenda of these powerful predatory interests.Organs of peoples power and most worryingly COSATU and the ANCYL are a pale shadow of themselves as an agenda to domesticate, hollow them out and blunt them seem to be succeeding.
The youth, women’s, civic and rural people’s movements have already been co-opted or enfeebled and no longer have any real impact. They are trying to crush constitutional institutions like the office of the Public Protector which is there to hold leaders to account.
Our public institutions and state-owned enterprises are in complete disarray. Eskom, which cannot keep the lights on, SAFA, which is accused of giving away a $10 million bribe to secure hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, PetroSA, the SABC and SAA have chronic problems. In SARS, SAPS, Intelligence Service, Hawks and IDIP, top officials are accusing each of illegal spying and being paid off with huge golden handshakes to keep silent.
If we don’t combat this abuse of power it will take us irreversibly towards a kleptocracy, a failed state in which there is no accountability, driven by predatory and parasitic capitalists and politicians. The cancer of corruption, and the failure to bring more than a handful of those responsible for it is the most extreme expression of this disease.
We must return to the original aims of the Freedom Charter and the National Democratic Revolution, which was always intended to tackle not just apartheid but the triple, inter-related forms of oppression of the people, based on race, class and gender. It was brilliantly summed up by the ANC in its 1969 Strategy and Tactics document of the Morogoro conference when it said:
“Our nationalism must not be confused with chauvinism or narrow nationalism of a previous epoch. It must not be confused with the classical drive by an elitist group among the oppressed people to gain ascendancy so that they can replace the oppressor in the exploitation of the mass … In our country – more than in any other part of the oppressed world – it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation”
As French writer, Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote in 1956 at the beginning of the Algerian war of independence: “Nothing demonstrates better the increasing rigour of the colonial system: you begin by occupying the country, then you take the land and exploit the former owners at starvation rates. Then, with mechanisation their very right to work. All that is left for the natives to do, in their own land, at a time of great prosperity, is to die of starvation.”
Therefore we need to deal with legacy of colonialism an apartheid head on.
So more urgently than ever, we need to implement the programme unanimously adopted by the COSATU 11th Congress Declaration, to drive the radical economic shift in line with the demands of the Freedom Charter, including:
- Decisive state intervention including through strategic nationalisation and the use of macro-economic to regulate and channel investment, production, consumption and trade to drive industrialisation, sustainable development, decent employment creation and regional development, and to break historical patterns of colonial exploitation and dependence.
- The National Planning Commission to be given a renewed mandate, to realign the NDP, in line with the proposed radical economic shift.
- Urgent steps to reverse the current investment strike and export of South African capital, including capital controls and measures aimed at prescribed investment, and penalising speculation.
- The urgent introduction of comprehensive social security.
- Comprehensive land reform, and measures to ensure food security.