Red Alert: Reconfiguration from below: SACP takes responsibility, builds democratic popular power, contests elections in Metsimaholo
The SACP is actively contesting the municipal elections, in Metsimaholo Municipality in the Free State Province, for the first time since our 1994 democratic breakthrough. In the past, the SACP actively participated and campaigned in successive elections within the ANC-led alliance. The expectation has always been that the ANC-led government would use popular power to address the pressing challenges of inequality, unemployment and poverty by driving a radical phase of our national democratic revolution. However, in the Free State, more and more peripheral issues took the centre stage. Factional politics took the centre stage instead of progress on critical issues.
The ANC-led Metsimaholo municipal government dismissed 320 municipal workers, for political reasons. This took place following a SAMWU-led municipal strike declared to push legitimate worker demands. All these workers went for 9 months without work or pay, putting an unbearable strain on many families within the community. Workers’ efforts to be reinstated were undermined, until the SACP agreed to challenge the anti-worker and other anti-people tendencies through the ballot.
The suppression of workers and neglect of services, as well as disregard for democratic processes, have become the norm facing the people. These realities have led to calls by the community and workers for the SACP to contest the upcoming 29 November 2017 municipal elections. The municipal coalition government has subordinated community interests to narrow party political interests following the displacement of the ANC as the governing party. This added to the calls for the SACP to contest the elections.
Given the conditions prevailing in Metsimaholo, and the strong presence of the SACP in the area due to its independent campaigning and political work, the Party had to consider these legitimate calls and demands by the working class and our communities to stand for the elections and defend, advance and deepen a radical, second phase, of the national democratic revolution.
The municipality hired Red Ants, who treated workers like criminals, blockading workers even when they were attempting to return to work. The municipal leadership cynically offered (inevitably forcing) the workers to prematurely cash their pension/provident funds to support their families and keep up with their debts. The impact of this decision, by the ANC-led municipal leadership, adversely affected the workers and their families, and not just for a short-term but for the rest of their future.
During this period, there was a complete halt to the provision of certain key municipal services to township areas, for 9 consecutive months, whereas services continued to be rendered selectively to wealthier areas. This deepened the community’s loss of confidence in the leadership of the municipality, coming on the back of another long period of service disruption. That disruption to services was due to a chaotic and mishandled demarcation process in which there was an attempt to merge Metsimaholo Municipality (Sasolburg Area) with Ngwathe Municipality. The community emphatically rejected the proposal. This process, unfortunately, even led to the death of a community member at the hands of the police when the unrest spiralled out of control.
Instead of providing much needed leadership, guided by the Freedom Charter’s clarion call – “The People Shall Govern” – there was no leadership, creating a vacuum that led to the emergence of a demarcation-issue based community association that ultimately contested the 2016 local government elections in which the ANC was displaced from being the governing party and relegated to opposition benches.
Throughout this period, the SACP played a key role in the community, and attempted through alliance processes to persuade the ANC to resolve these issues. The SACP fought consistently for the politically dismissed workers, since 2014, to be reinstated. The Party provided consistent feedback and interaction with workers and the community on the matter and other developments. Together with Cosatu, the SACP was instrumental in the reinstatement of the majority of the workers after 9 months without an income.
The other workers, more than 30, were left out factionally. And the struggle to have them reinstated continued. Most of them are South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) shop stewards and local leaders of ANC and SACP structures in the community. These workers remained out of work since 2014, a situation that impacted on them terribly. The workers were re-employed – note not reinstated – and resumed work 22 days ago on 1 November in the face of the SACP having decided to tackle the anti-worker attitude through the ballot as requested by community members.
The mishandling of the 2016 local government elections was also another decisive factor, a turning point, with general loss of support and loss of control of the municipality to a coalition of other parties. The selection process of councillors was characterised by non-adherence to and disregard of ANC guidelines in certain wards and imposition of candidates in other wards. Worse, the mayoral candidate was also imposed. The imposed mayoral candidate had presided over the municipality as a mayor when workers were politically dismissed and services to the township halted.
Since 2014, the reinstatement of all the workers remained unresolved, in complete disregard of alliance decision on the matter. Only after the SACP took the decision to actively contest the forthcoming by-elections, all the outstanding workers were hurriedly re-employed at the municipality. This was a direct result of, and thanks to the SACP deciding to tackle the anti-worker attitude by contesting the forthcoming by-elections. The workers suffered and lost a lot due to the uncaring attitude behind their dismissal.
It would clearly be unprincipled and unjustifiable to expect the SACP, given what has been happening in Metsimaholo, to support (the continuation of) the factional, divisive and disastrous decisions and behaviour prevailing in the region and province. Neither is it fair to expect the SACP to mobilise workers who were dismissed from municipal work politically and neglected communities to campaign for the victory of the very same forces, clothed in the name of the ANC(-led government), responsible for their misery. The SACP is responsive to the demands and interests of the working class and our communities.
The SACP has the responsibility to defend, advance and deepen the national democratic revolution, whose gains are facing the real threat of erosion and reversal in Metsimaholo. The SACP is contesting all wards in Metsimaholo to support and defend the people in the municipality. For the first time ever, the SACP calls on the people of Metsimaholo to vote for the SACP to create responsive, efficient, accountable and people-centred local government.
Cde Phillip Kganyago is SACP Free State Communications Officer.
This article first appeared in Umsebenzi Online, the online journal of the SACP.