THE African National Congress (ANC) is in a deep crisis and if the recent election results are any indicator, is in a real decline. This crisis naturally has a reflection on the South African governing tripartite alliance – ANC-SACP-COSATU. South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), recently, have been openly expressing their dissatisfaction on ANC led government and called the ANC leadership responsible for deviating from the path of National Democratic Revolution (NDR). Irked by the lack of response, SACP took the initiative to ‘reconfigure’ the alliance so that it is ‘rooted in working class and poor communities’ and ‘mobilise’ the masses.
ANC-SACP-COSATU, which fought closely in the anti-apartheid struggle, decided to come together as a tripartite alliance to govern the country after the freedom from apartheid in 1994. They agreed that the ‘Freedom Charter’, a document adopted by all of them way back in 1955, would form the basis for the governance. Freedom Charter is not a socialist document, but it demanded the redivision of the land among those who work it, and the nationalisation of mineral wealth and monopoly-owned industry. Mandela called it ‘a revolutionary document’, as ‘the changes it envisages cannot be won without breaking up the economic and political set-up of present South Africa’. Some of the provisions of the charter, like the equality of race and language found a place in the post-apartheid South African Constitution. However, the constitution does not contain provisions for the nationalisation of industry or redistribution of land, which were specifically outlined in the charter. In spite of these limitations, the SACP decided to be part of the governing alliance in order to ensure that the ANC, the leading component, does not deviate from the goal of NDR.
DIVERGENCE FROM THE FREEDOM CHARTER
The economic policies pursued by the ANC, particularly post 1996, after Mbeki took over as the president of the country, diverged to a great extent from the charter. Though the policies were termed to be part of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy, they were thoroughly neo-liberal in content and increased the already existing income disparities. In the early 2000s, the SACP termed these policies to be a result of the “class alliance between sections of global and domestic capital, a certain cadre in the State, together with the emergent sections of the black bourgeoisie”. The SACP at that time believed that by alienating and defeating the leadership of ANC responsible for these policies, the ideals in the charter can be implemented and the country can be steered in the path of NDR.
It is in this background the 52nd Conference of the ANC was held in Polokwane (2007), where the group led by Mbeki was defeated and Zuma was elected as the president of the ANC.
Zuma had initially started with a promise to undo some of the neo-liberal policies of the earlier administration led by Mbeki. Slowly, after he consolidated his hold over the ANC and the government, he drifted and started encouraging his ‘own’ sections of bourgeoisie – of particular mention is his affinity to the Indian-origin businessman Gupta. Jeremy Cronin, the second deputy general secretary of the SACP and a veteran anti-apartheid fighter writes: “President Zuma has allowed himself to be placed at the very centre of an extremely dangerous, parasitic-patronage network. It is a network that is corroding the values of our hard-won democracy and parasitically diverting public resources into private pockets and into bank accounts in Dubai and elsewhere. The internal democracy of the ANC is being polluted by the politics of patronage and money. And there are signs of a menacing, parallel State, a corporately captured State, functioning outside of the formal channels of cabinet and parliamentary oversight”.
The SACP, witnessing the evolution of Zuma’s presidency, initially used the alliance meetings to express its reservations and criticism of the government policies. But with the growing discontent against the ANC, it started public criticism, even asking Zuma to resign as president. The SACP appears to veer to the conclusion that the alliance has failed to bring in the necessary radicalisation for the realisation of the NDR.
Blade Nzimande, general secretary of the SACP says as much: “The ongoing struggle to advance, deepen and defend our national democratic transformation has reached one of its more difficult and vulnerable moments. Whilst the sites of the challenges we face are both inside and outside government, the weakest link has increasingly become concentrated within our own ANC-headed Alliance (with the ANC as the epicentre) at both national and sub-national levels and both inside and outside government”. And further: “The nub of the matter is that an alien substance has now found its way in the ranks of our movement and government and is contaminating the DNA of our revolutionary politics. This includes the rise of private, including personal and profit interests that seek to displace the interests of the people as a whole and take control of our basic wealth and public resources”.
The Central Committee of the SACP in its June meeting (held before its scheduled 14th National Congress, 2017) stated that the ANC leadership is ‘paralysed by deep divisions’ and thus had become ‘incapable of undertaking the decisive corrective measures that the great majority of ordinary ANC members and supporters now clearly recognise as imperative’. Noting the consistent decline in the electoral support of the ANC, glaringly visible since the elections to local bodies held last year, the CC even apprehends that “the ANC may not retain its electoral majority in 2019 and further organisational fragmentation cannot be ruled out”.
The economic background in which these political developments are taking place also need to be noted with due importance – chief among them is the impact of the global economic crisis. Many of the South African corporates, as was done elsewhere, want the State to bail them out using public resources. This is meeting with resistance among the people as already inequalities, poverty and unemployment in the country are very high. The SACP notes this by acknowledging that the ‘working class, the rural and urban poor and middle strata, is becoming more desperate, more insecure’.
The two and half decades of post-apartheid regime in South Africa, while succeeding in bringing some relief to the discriminated and exploited people, has failed significantly to transform the class relations in favour of the working class. On the other hand, a strong ‘black bourgeoisie’ class has now emerged that wants to assert its hold over the State, through the ANC. This class does not see any need for sticking to the Freedom Charter or the path of the NDR. On the contrary, it desperately wants to move the country away from the path of NDR. These attempts are giving rise to contradictions within the ruling tripartite alliance.
This ‘black bourgeoisie’ in order to ward off any challenge to its hegemony is resorting to diversionary narratives often invoking ‘narrow, right-wing Africanist themes’ and encouraging ‘tribal and ethnic-based mobilisations’. In this process, it is even ready to rescind on some of the achievements of the anti-apartheid struggle like the non-racial values incorporated in the constitution.
The SACP has realised that the “defence of constitutionality and democracy is essential but not enough”. It is in this context that the SACP has felt the need to ‘reconfigure’ the alliance. “One way or another in the coming months the ANC-headed alliance is being and will be re-configured. Whether there is the internal capacity within the ANC itself to drive this process is uncertain, but that it must happen is obvious”.
As part of these efforts, it had called for a broad meeting, National Imbizo, which was attended by 230 representatives from 33 organisations. Nzimande, explains the rationale: “If the ANC declines gravely in the short, medium or even long-term, it will still be imperative to build a broad, national democratic, multi-class formation or front. This has its expression in our very commitment to see to it that the ANC overcomes the challenges it is faced with, as our first choice, and coupled with it (emphasis added) to broaden engagements as wide as possible with other progressive social formations committed to deepening and defending our democratic transition. This National Imbizo is a notable step in that direction – principled unity based on a common, albeit minimum, programme”.
Given the class transformation undergone by the ANC and South Africa, one needs to study carefully how successful this new formation or front would be in tackling the problems confronting the working class and poor people of South Africa and moving them in the path of NDR.