1921-2021—ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF UNBROKEN STRUGGLE
PUT PEOPLE BEFORE PROFIT: SOCIALISM IS THE FUTURE—BUILD IT NOW.
Statement of the South African Communist Party Central Committee
Delivered by Dr Blade Nzimande, the SACP General Secretary
1 August 2021
It is a privilege to deliver the Central Committee Statement on this important occasion, the 100th founding anniversary of the SACP as the Communist Party of South Africa. The formation of the Communist Party took place on July 30th, 1921, at its founding conference held in Cape Town from July 30th to August 1st, 1921. This is an abridged Central Committee Statement prepared for delivery on the Centenary of the SACP. We will make both the abridged and full statements publicly available.
As we mark one hundred years of the Communist Party in South Africa, this cannot be an ordinary anniversary celebration. We say this because it is both a centenary, and because over the past weeks we have experienced an extremely dangerous moment with many warning signs for all who cherish democracy and peace in our country. We saw looting, vandalism, burning and outright economic sabotage. We cannot commemorate one hundred years of unbroken struggle as if these events of July 2021 had barely happened.
And so, as we mark one hundred years of unbroken Communist struggle in South Africa, let us ask: How did it come to this? What lessons can we draw from one hundred years of Communist struggle on the soil of South Africa? What legacy do we have that can help us both to understand, and, in practice, respond to the challenges confronting us in the present?
The SACP’s enduring legacy—a National Democratic Revolution as the most direct path to Socialism in South Africa
We must not be in denial of the challenges, but nor should we underestimate the most enduring contribution that the Communist Party in South Africa has made in theory and, above all, in practice. This decisive contribution has been the Party’s elaboration of the critical relationship between national oppression and capitalist class exploitation; between racialised patriarchal oppression and the hyper-exploitation of black labour; between the legacy of decades of white minority rule and the persisting subordination of our country as a crisis-ridden, semi-periphery within an imperialist dominated global system. This understanding of these critical interconnections has grounded our strategic perspective of a struggle for socialism as an integral part of a national democratic revolution.
This strategic approach was the consequence of the early Party’s grounding in Marxism, its engagement with lessons from other struggles through the Communist International, and the organic struggle traditions of the people of southern Africa.
If the indigenous people of our country and those who were shipped here in chains from East Asia, from Madagascar, from Angola, and elsewhere were victims, they were never passive victims. Armed primary resistance was eventually defeated. Slave revolts were mercilessly crushed. But despite the often genocidal objectives of the colonial powers, this sustained resistance meant that (uniquely for a country in the temperate zone with an extensive European colonial settlement) when the 20th century dawned the overwhelming majority of South Africa’s inhabitants were not of European extraction. This majority carried into the 20th century—however battered—cultures, languages and, above all, traditions of collective resistance.
The colonisers called this “the native problem”.
The Communist Party from its earliest days understood it to be the potential motive force for freedom, democracy and the abolition of class exploitation.
It was this strategic perspective that led the Communist Party from the 1920s to pioneer the call for majority rule and full citizenship rights for all who live in South Africa—long before the ANC was to advance this approach which was radical for its time. And it was this strategic perspective that led to Communists at every key turning point of the ANC’s history being in the forefront—in the turn to a mass-line in the 1950s and the adoption of the Freedom Charter; the Treason Trial; the 1960s banning of the ANC and an enforced exile of most of its leadership; the launch of an armed struggle; the elaboration of a people’s war strategy in the midst of the rolling waves of semi-insurrectionary struggle through the late 1970s and 1980s; into a negotiated settlement. At every key moment SACP cadres were present both as foot-soldiers and as strategic leaders and organisers.
On this centenary let us re-affirm the critical responsibility of the Communist Party and its militants to defend, to re-build and consolidate a broad national liberation movement and a reconfigured alliance. We will not allow this broad liberation movement that Communists in their tens of thousands helped to build, now to be hijacked by criminals and demagogues.
Directly related to all of this, is the second major pioneering and enduring contribution of the Communist Party in South Africa—non-racialism. Not just in theory. From the very beginning the Communist Party was non-racial in practice. In fact, until the late 1940s and a short-lived Liberal Party, the Communist Party was the only political formation in South Africa with an active, non-racial membership. Whites and blacks were equal members together in struggle. Through the 1920s, 30s and 40s, this non-racial membership faced persecution, endured police detentions, prison terms, and together faced and fought back against the fascist thuggery of anti-communist Grey Shirts who sought to break up Party meetings and anti-pass law protests. Black and white militants learnt from each other, and developed a lasting tradition of collective, non-racial leadership. This approach to non-racialism was also evident in the Communist led formation of the broad front Federation of South African Women which mobilised women across class and racial groups to stand firm in their masses in the face of apartheid pass laws and repression.
This non-racial contribution in struggle of our Communist Party to our country is more relevant than ever. As we are called upon now to combat counter-revolutionary forces seeking to gain populist support through ethnic mobilisation, xenophobic agitation, through a narrow Africanism, through anti-minority rhetoric. The SACP’s non-racial legacy was advanced by the Freedom Charter’s clarion call that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. It was enshrined in our 1996 democratic Constitution. Let us defend this legacy with as much determination as ever before.
These cornerstones of Party strategy and practice have, in turn, laid the basis for all of the other major pioneering legacy contributions of the Communist Party.
A century of multi-sectoral Communist struggle
Throughout one hundred years of Communist struggle, our Party cadres have been first in sacrifice. We number thousands of martyrs. Chris Hani, Party general secretary, assassinated 10 April 1993. And, tragically, the roll-call of Party martyrs continues beyond the democratic breakthrough of April 1994.
It is from the platform of this history, this one-hundred-year legacy of theory and struggle that we must approach our own immediate reality, including the most recent events of July.
The July counter-revolutionary conspiracy
The insurrectionary violence and turmoil of early July was both planned and promised, sometimes brazenly, by those behind it. It was at once well-funded, relatively professional, but hopelessly inept strategically. The plotters deliberately triggered and then lost control over a wave of mass looting, mostly by the most marginalised strata in our society. But shopping malls were not the prime target of the conspiracy itself. The real target was to cripple major transport arteries, and particularly the key South and Southern African N3 corridor, to block Durban harbour, to strangle Gauteng, and to take out electricity, oil pipelines, communications infrastructure and the burning of food depots.
There have been mixed messages and debates about the nature of the July events. Were they a planned insurrection? Or the work of mafia style criminal gangs? Or an opportunistic, mass looting spree—as if what happened did not involve all of these dimensions.
As the SACP we believe that it is important to understand that the unfolding events had three general layers of participation. There was an inner conspiratorial core. The signs point to the strong likelihood of the planning and triggering of the attempted uprising coming from renegade (past and perhaps even current) elements in intelligence and related circles. It was from within this inner circle that key strategic targets appear to have been selected.
It is notable that the first actions did not involve looting, but rather arson, and notably the destruction of some 40 trucks on the N3 to block this critical artery. It is unlikely that the inner conspiratorial core would have been directly involved in these arson attacks, which followed the pattern of earlier, criminal attacks on the N3 directed, against non-South African truck drivers. It is highly probable that the July truck and other arson attacks were carried out by the same or similar criminal elements associated with mafia-style, so-called “business forums” seeking to muscle in on existing businesses. These criminal elements have been particularly active in KZN.
All of this suggests, what we have long believed, that there are active connections between political counter-revolutionaries and criminal networks.
Finally, the third social layer involved in the events of July were those who participated in the anarchic spree of mass looting. The mass looting had no political or business agenda, and it was largely (but not exclusively) carried out by the marginalised poor. However, the mass looting was clearly fanned by a relatively professional social media capacity, linked to renegade ANC and other networks.
Despite a compromised intelligence capacity (deliberately neutered by years of state capture), some of the most dangerous plans were forestalled by the security forces. But the vulnerable N3 was shut down for some five days, using well-planned strategies that had been rehearsed earlier in the xenophobic attacks on non-South Africa truck-drivers.
The mass looting was actively encouraged to stretch the security forces, to create a smoke-screen for the more hard-core insurrectionary objectives, and to win some popular sympathy. With the crisis levels of unemployment and poverty, with food insecurity a reality for millions of South Africans, it was possible to stir up opportunistic looting that had little to do with any political agenda, and with those doing the looting barely advancing any political demands in the course of the plundering.
Triggering this destructive plundering was bound to fail as a sustained strategy. As malls were gutted, as local corner shops were plundered, food and other necessities quickly ran out. Instead of winning popular sympathy for their political objectives, the insurrectionary plotters, who themselves had been involved in high-level, globalised looting on an industrial scale for a decade and more, quickly found themselves on the back-foot in the face of a massive, and country-wide popular groundswell.
Workers and the trade union movement understood that jobs were being lost, many of them permanently. There was no support from that quarter. The taxi industry, notwithstanding its own tendencies to volatility, understood its symbiotic relationship to shopping malls and played an active role in defending these commercial assets.
Informal workers trading in and around shopping centres were collateral victims. Traditional leaders spoke out, and sought to dissociate themselves and their supporters from any ethnic mobilisation either for the Zuma-related political adventurism, or for the looting. Religious formations condemned the mass looting and the attack on the rule of law.
Above all, it was local community policing forums, neighbourhood watches, community action networks, that had sprung up in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and spontaneous volunteer groupings, that protected neighbourhoods and community assets. At times there was some race profiling, and cases of lower-middle class communities (black and white) excluding their more marginalised informal settlement neighbours.
In a few localities, there was ugly criminal vigilantism—often justifying itself on the basis of minority fears, typically fanned, in turn, by rabid, anti-minority race-baiting of the kind that emanates from the leadership clique in ANC splinter organisations and elsewhere. There is a symbiotic relationship between one set of racist chauvinism and another. This, of course, does not remotely excuse vigilante violence, and those responsible must face the full might of the law. The SACP salutes the role played, particularly in Phoenix, by the Young Communist League, defending non-racialism, the rule of law and our democratic constitution in a very challenging situation.
But negative features were not the dominant reality of the nation-wide response.
Beyond the critical KZN-Gauteng axis, the insurrection plotters failed to trigger an expansion of the mass looting to other provinces. Generally, ANC structures in all other provinces stood their ground, partly from principle, and partly for their own regional reasons.
In the case of pockets of RET-sympathetic elements who might have been tempted to fan chaos in their provinces, the popular backlash against the looting in KZN and Gauteng would have been a definite damper. In parliament, President Ramaphosa actively united all political parties but one, and in the Western Cape legislature all political parties supported the defence of democracy, the constitution and condemned the looting and violence.
What were the objectives of the conspirators? Obviously, the immediate triggering of a presumably long prepared action, was the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma. The first objective was to prevent his going to jail, and, when they were caught by surprise by his Wednesday incarceration ahead of what they had anticipated, they then attempted to secure his immediate release.
Caught out by the backlash against the mass looting, some in the conspiracy camp sought to back-track. There were desperate contortions, epitomised by one of the off-spring calling on looters to “please do so carefully and please do so responsibly”. A ridiculous plea which sought simultaneously to distance itself and to support a twin sister’s earlier inflammatory “Mooi River. We Still See You. Amandla!”.
One disgraced character, ostensibly acting on behalf of MK veterans, who had previously boasted they would never allow Zuma to go to jail, now vaingloriously delivered a 14-day ultimatum to President Ramaphosa to release Zuma or face some unspecified consequence. It was an indirect admission that this network of degenerates was behind the chaos in the first place. They were hoping to present a freed Zuma as the only person capable of restoring peace. But with the mass looting in KZN halted by the combined efforts of the security forces and community self-defence, this card, too, was not viable.
If the release of Zuma became the immediate demand, the medium-term objectives were (and remain) the displacement of the Ramaphosa-led ANC and therefore of a Ramaphosa state presidency, reversing progress being made within the ANC to clean up, and to halt the slowly gathering momentum of the criminal justice system in dealing with state capture crime and corruption. Although this conspiracy has lost serious ground in the course of July (but at huge cost to our country, and particularly to the working class and poor), we must remain extremely vigilant and united in the defence of democracy, the constitution and the rule of law.
But we must go beyond vigilance. We must ask how any of this was possible in the first place. How, 27 years after the democratic breakthrough, could this have happened?
There are three inter-related factors: the degeneration of our liberation movement; a weakened state; and the failure to use the 1994 democratic breakthrough as a platform to drive a serious national democratic revolution with the resulting persisting crisis of extreme levels of poverty, inequality, unemployment and chronic violence.
The degeneration of the ANC liberation movement
The dangerous, insurrectionary conspiracy emerged from its nesting place within the ANC itself. However, in saying this we must be extremely clear about one thing. Much of the media present the conspirators as one ANC faction (the “JZ faction”), up against another (the “CR” faction). This plays directly into the hands of the conspirators, because that is how they seek to present their struggle.
We reject this utterly simplistic characterisation. The so-called “JZ” or self-styled “RET” grouping is really and largely networks of corrupt and opportunist elements, themselves facing the prospect of jail time, and relying on war-chests accumulated through the looting of public resources.
There is no serious political programme uniting them, beyond the threadbare, ritualised incantation of unprocessed, empty and demagogic slogans. They are what one left-leaning British politician described as “resolutionaries”, those who wage factional battles over decorative slogans rammed demagogically through conferences, in preference to having a serious debate on policy options, strategy and tactics. These forces have, unfortunately, so vulgarised the words “radical economic transformation” that, although we do need economic transformation that is radical, it would be best to find different terminology.
As for the SACP we are certainly not part of an “RET faction”, but nor are we in some alleged CR faction. We support the Ramaphosa-led leadership of the ANC in its defence of the rule of law, of our constitution, and in the effort to re-build the ANC on a principled basis.
We support it and work with it in the struggle to reconfigure the Alliance as an effective force on the ground. But we reserve the right to be critical, and indeed we are critical, especially of the persisting timidity in breaking the shackles of a self-imposed, neo-liberal austerity, which, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the mass destruction of lives and security effected by the failed insurrection of early July, deepens poverty, inequality, unemployment, and community safety.
The present problems within the ANC go back beyond the so-called “nine wasted years” of the Zuma presidency. Since at least the early 2000’s successive ANC conferences have repeatedly noted with concern growing levels of internal corruption, money-based factionalism, gate-keeping, and general moral decline.
But why has this degeneration occurred in the first place? To answer that it is useful to understand the trajectory of events since the early 1990s.
Sustained waves of democratic semi-insurrectionary struggle
Our 1994 democratic breakthrough was powered by the sustained, rolling waves of semi-insurrectionary struggle dating back to the re-emergence of radical trade unionism in the early 1970s, to the youth and student uprisings of 1976, and to the ongoing momentum of working class and popular struggle. Through the entire 1980s and, importantly, into the very midst of the negotiations process of the early 1990s, these struggles were sustained. Our 1994 democratic breakthrough and our 1996 Constitution were the outcome of mass struggles, not elite deals.
In the course of these popular uprisings the ANC and SACP underground regrouped and increasingly played leading roles. Pursuing a people’s war strategy, MK units (real MK units it is important now to stress) integrated into the mass uprisings and reinforced the capacity of popular struggles to defend themselves in the face of the intensified terror unleashed by the apartheid regime, not least in the very midst of the early 1990s negotiations process. Without this MK presence and without Self Defence Units, the killing fields of the Natal Midlands, the East Rand and Vaal Triangle would have been even more dire.
Increasingly through the 1980s, basic organs of popular power emerged—street committees, self-defence units, alternative education classes, people’s courts—all implementing what the Freedom Charter had prefigured when it asserted that “The People Shall Govern”. What is more, we tend to forget, the Charter made very clear that popular governance included not only one-person, one-vote representative democracy…but ALSO, to quote directly from the Charter: “democratic organs of self-government”.
What has happened to all of these traditions and experiences? Stirring beneath the broad popular response to the events of early July, perhaps it is possible to discern that these traditions have not been entirely lost.
So, what has gone wrong? To better understand our present reality, it is important to consider the various class strategies and agendas at play from the late 1980s and into the 1990s. We must never be shy to review our past performance critically. But equally we must never imagine that in class struggle we are playing a solo, that it is simply enough to wish for a favourable outcome for it to become reality. Equally, we must guard against the flip-side of the same coin – a defeatist evoking of the “balance of forces” that supposedly makes any serious struggle to roll back imperialism and capitalism futile.
Competing strategic agendas
In the 1990s, imperialist forces did not standby idly while the negotiated transition was underway here in South Africa. Institutions like the IMF and the notorious US-headquartered Goldman Sachs were active in their own way. Throughout the early and mid-1990s they actively recruited selected ANC personalities for training stints. Most of the leading ANC figures who went on to occupy senior positions in the South African Reserve Bank and National Treasury were graduates of these Washington and New York “finishing schools”. The consequences for our country, and especially for the working class and poor have been dire. Many of these graduates are currently still occupying the highest levels of key economic policy institutions. A great deal of fuss has been made about the ANC’s cadre deployment policies. But what about the neo-liberal cadre deployment engineered from way outside of our country?
In the late-1980s and early-1990s, established South African monopoly capital shared the same general strategic perspectives as the imperialist North. This was a period in which their global counterparts and corporate rivals were driving an accelerated wave of financialised globalisation in pursuit of mega profits in low wage economies. South African monopoly capital was largely cut out of this profit-maximising globalisation. They were desperate for a negotiated settlement that would see the removal of sanctions and the ability to disinvest at scale out of the country. Needless to say, the motivation was not a sudden Damascus conversion to non-racialism and democracy.
As the prospects of an ANC electoral majority loomed, local monopoly capital was anxious to cultivate a new, ANC-related political elite. It is important to remember that what is now known as Black Economic Empowerment, was in fact first actively pioneered by South African monopoly capital. It was their agenda before it became official government policy. Among the first movers in this direction was Anglo-American.
A third strategic agenda, linked to the two above, was advanced by the political opposition to the ANC. These somewhat diverse political forces advocated strongly for a federal dispensation. The objective was clearly to water down the transformative impact of democratic majority rule in a post-apartheid South Africa, and to consolidate ethnic enclaves. Although our democratic 1996 constitution upholds a unitary state, the shadow of federalism and ethnic bantustans persists within our current provincial arrangement. The negative consequences of this were visible in the course of the July days, including within the ANC itself.
These, then, were the active strategic agendas from the side of imperialism, South African monopoly capital and the political opposition to the ANC at the beginning of the 1990s.
From the side of the ANC-led alliance, the Reconstruction and Development Programme represented our immediate and medium-term transformation agenda looking beyond the 1994 democratic elections. While the RDP might have been an uneven document, it represented a strong programmatic commitment to major structural transformation of South Africa’s political economy.
The 1996 class project
The deepening divisions became even more apparent with the Treasury announcement of a self-imposed shock therapy in the shape of the GEAR neo-liberal, macro-economic package in 1996. GEAR was imposed on the ANC and its alliance partners without debate or discussion. (Something for which Mandela later apologised).
A key adjunct of the GEAR strategy from the then-dominant grouping within the ANC and government was also to actively use state resources and pressure to create a supposed stand-alone, new “black capitalist class”. GEAR plus elite BEE were, in effect, the adoption of the neo-liberal and elite-pact agenda of monopoly capital, but dressing it up now as official government and ANC policy. The active promotion of “black capitalists” was also about transforming the class composition, the morality and orientation of the ANC movement and to marginalise the working class and poor.
We cannot understand the degeneration of the ANC in the later period of industrial-scale looting of the state capture years without looking back to the mid-1990s and early 2000s. Elite, narrow-BEE deals began initially as indebted shares to selected ANC politicians—leaving the beneficiaries highly exposed to a compradorist financial dependency on, and cultural affinity with the worldview of established monopoly capital. Very quickly tensions broke out between different factions of beneficiaries and aspirant beneficiaries. Some of these played themselves out at the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane Conference.
The anti-SACP assault
Where was the SACP in all of this? To understand the Party’s positioning at, for instance, the 2007 ANC national conference, it is important to understand the preceding years. From the early 1990s there was a very deliberate attempt from within leading quarters of the ANC to marginalise, and perhaps even liquidate the SACP. Long before the Zuma presidency, state resources, including intelligence resources were deployed against the SACP. This was at the national level. In provinces, the abusive relationship directed at the Party comrades was often more extreme.
Faced with this offensive, from the mid-1990s, the SACP deliberately embarked on two major endeavours, the one was strategic and the second was organisational.
On the organisational and campaigning front, we quickly realised that Party marginalisation, if not liquidation, would be easy if we failed to build a relatively large Party. As we mark our centenary year, we have certainly achieved an unprecedented mass scale with over 300,000 members. The extent to which we have effectively built a significant cadreship within this membership is a challenge we readily acknowledge. We also appreciated that it was not just a question of membership size, but that the Party needed to be an active campaigning party. Accordingly, we launched our highly impactful Red October Campaign, with strong socialist and anti-capitalist messaging and mobilisation. Our campaigning activism contributed enormously to the massive growth of the SACP over the last 20 years or so.
Through the 1990s we also appreciated the key importance of cementing what we called the left-axis, the SACP and COSATU, while not abandoning active participation within the ANC itself. This left axis became particularly important in the struggle against privatisation of key state resources. It was also critical in sustaining the struggle, from within the ANC-led alliance itself, against what amounted to a genocidal AIDS denialism.
This was the context in which the SACP engaged with the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane National Conference. Along with COSATU we were under no illusions that one part of those who emerged in Polokwane were populist primitive accumulators, who believed it was now their turn to eat. They saw themselves as the “walking wounded”. Some were from provinces where much of early state capture was pioneered and who now aspired to carry their endeavours on to the national stage.
We cannot allow responsibility for selling one-self to the highest bidder, for the multi-billion looting of public resources, for eroding the democratic sovereignty of our country, to be obscured by presenting one-self as a sorry victim of supposed conspiracies.
Against the recent sad attempts at drumming up populist sympathy, we must forever uphold the example of Chris Hani, who was the target of numerous REAL (not imaginary) assassination attempts, and the REAL victim of the ultimate attempt. And yet, Hani never, ever presented himself nor would he want us to remember him now as primarily a victim.
Participation, however heroic or otherwise, in a collective struggle in the recent past is not now a licence or coupon to be reclaimed against history for personal benefit. The struggle against the apartheid regime was not to earn “Loyalty” miles for one’s own gratification.
“Nine wasted years”?
As we look back on the period that followed the 2007 Polokwane conference and the 2009 inauguration of Zuma as the President it is important that we reject, or at the very least nuance the now common “nine wasted years” narrative. There were wasted years before 2009, and after 2009 not everything was a waste. This is not remotely to deny the huge escalation of corruption and looting of public resources that assumed an industrial scale in the Zuma presidency years.
But there were also some immediate advances. The most notable was the rolling-out of the largest anti-retroviral programme in the world. Within a matter of years, life-expectancy showed significant increases.
In 2011 the left succeeded in getting a Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission established, with the objective of overcoming departmental silos and driving strategic integrated projects. In higher education the National Students Financial Scheme was consolidated, there was an expansion of TVETs and a huge increase in tertiary level students. Re-industrialisation was boosted and consolidated through the iterative IPAP programmes. Our trade strategy was toughened up as we moved away from the earlier hyper-liberalisation and unfavourable bi-national agreements. The EPWP public employment programmes were scaled up, with an emphasis on sustainable livelihoods, rather than the tendency to regard these as simply short-term, temporary ladders into largely non-existent formal waged work. In other sectors like communication and broadcasting, SACP members serving as ANC ministers bravely fought against corporate capture and monopoly capital’s pillaging of the public broadcaster—until they were unceremoniously dumped as ministers.
But in varying degrees all of these potentially transformative advances eventually suffered under the double whammy of a persisting neo-liberal macro-economic straitjacket on the one hand, and predatory looting on the other. Deprived of budgetary support, both the industrialisation drive and public employment programmes could never go to sufficient scale, even though, in the case of the latter, the National Development Plan called for massive, contra-cyclical upscaling in the event of weak growth and poor formal job creation.
Early successes in driving a major strategically integrated infrastructure build programme were dealt a major body-blow by state capture in the key SOEs (Eskom, Transnet, Prasa) whose infrastructure spend, and whose key engineering and other professional capacities were central to driving the programme. The budgetary squeeze on public sector-led infrastructure spending, the pillaging of SOE resources, the insertion of all manner of rent- seeking and unproductive or inexperienced, politically-connected intermediaries in the tendering process, swamped the infrastructure build pipe-line. It even led to the bankruptcy of many leading companies and significant job losses.
There are lessons for us all, including of course the SACP, to draw from this experience. We must continue to self-introspect on what our responsibilities and weaknesses have been. What is undeniable, however, is that from at least 2016, it was the SACP along with some courageous ANC whistle-blowers, that was in the forefront from within the ANC-alliance of the struggle against state capture.
What is to be done?
What now are the tasks confronting the SACP in the interlocking struggles to rebuild a national popular movement, to advance, deepen and defend a national democratic revolution, and to advance to socialism?
Building working class and popular social capacity
Capitalism survives not because it is not constantly immersed in crises of its own making, but because it turns its crises into crises for the popular masses and for the sustainability of our environment.
The crises of capitalism weigh down on working class and poor communities as lay-offs and long-enduring, mass unemployment ravage communities. The daily lives of the working class and poor are burdened by dysfunctional public transport that consumes one-third of household earnings, by food insecurity, by the lack of even basic community safety, especially affecting women and children, by a mood of deep alienation among youth with no sense of any future.
The idea that “the worse things are for the working class and poor, the better for the revolution” is a terrible fallacy. In these conditions of social crisis, community members have little time and few resources to organise, to learn and discuss. Communities might turn upon each other, gender-based violence is liable to spiral, and there is the senseless destruction of public property for which there is no sense of community ownership or responsibility.
That is why advancing, deepening and defending the national democratic revolution and building capacity for socialism must, in the first place, be about building social capacity, social resilience and sustainable livelihoods.
Social capacity for socialism
We need to note the desperate scramble to take up the pitifully small and temporary R350 special COVID-19 grant, this special grant has now been brought back and extended to the end of March 2022. The SACP has campaigned for the continuation of this grant, for it becomes the basis for the rolling out of a universal basic income grant, as part of a minimum income guarantee and a wider effort towards establishing a comprehensive social security system. And this must not be done at the expense of top-slicing off other desperately needed budgets.
Public employment programmes, especially those directed at the youth, must now be dramatically scaled up. A 60 per cent and more youth unemployment level means we are living in a totally unsustainable reality. We cannot rely on a dysfunctional capitalist labour-market to solve this problem. There are millions of unemployed South Africans willing and able to work and there are vast areas of socially needed work (child-care, township infrastructure maintenance, sports coaching in township and rural schools, community health care work, community safety, shelter care for abused women, community food gardens, building environmental resilience). This requires decisive expansion of public employment programmes! The profits-before-people, capitalist labour-market is not remotely capable or willing to address this huge challenge.
Advancing, deepening and defending a second, more radical phase of our democratic transition, the national democratic revolution, has become more urgent in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic worsening the pre-existing high levels of unemployment, poverty, inequality, and the associated crisis of social reproduction reflected in many families struggling to support life. In the past decades, the SACP has driven a wide range of economic transformation and broader social development campaigns. Many of these working class campaigns remain relevant to expand our democracy, in line with the strategic objective of deepening the basis for an advance to a socialist transition.
It is crucial, for instance, to intensify the financial sector transformation campaign, not only to make banks and other financial services institutions serve the people but, as a key national transformation and development imperative, to build developmental state and co-operative banking sectors. We must de-monopolise and diversify ownership participation in the financial sector. At present the banking sector, for example, is dominated by oligopolies, a few commercial banks driven by the profit motive.
We must resolutely continue pushing constitutional and legislative development, other executive measures, and popular mobilisation for the state to speed up land redistribution to enable South Africans to gain access to land on an equitable basis. Land redistribution must prioritise productive land use, to build sustainable livelihoods and contribute to the eradication of hunger and poverty, and ensure decent housing based on an integrated human settlement and industrialisation programme to tackle unemployment. The campaign to achieve access to water and sanitation for all is also as crucial as ever.
As public servants continue to engage the government on the social wage, in support of the engagement the SACP calls for an establishment of an affordable housing programme, and education and healthcare programmes that can be made possible by creative use of retirement funds! We need a more decisive advance to make quality healthcare for all a reality through the National Health Insurance.
In focusing on the building of sustainable livelihoods, much greater attention needs to be paid to the solidarity economy, to supporting co-operatives and to workers in the informal sector. Informal sector traders have been among the most negatively affected by the July events. But their challenges are continuous, whether confronting opportunistic xenophobia, or ongoing harassment by the police and city officials, including the confiscation of their goods.
Building developmental state capacity
The developmental capacity of our public institutions has been seriously weakened both by state capture and by a mindless, self-imposed and self-destructive austerity. In the midst of the early July mass looting, the Business Day, suddenly bemoaned the fact that South Africa now had fewer police than we did 10 years ago, while there were 8 million more South Africans. But just the week before, the same Business Day had been praising Treasury’s steadfastness in sticking to its plan to cut a further 162, 945 policemen and women by 2023/4.
Until a few weeks ago, in the midst of the most serious global pandemic with a runaway third wave surge, hundreds of graduated medical doctors had still not been employed. The reason? Budget constraints. This is surely close to mindless austerity.
Lives are lost
Billions of Rands of damage are incurred and all because we think we are saving money. Of course, we cannot just throw money at an often-dysfunctional police force, corrupted by state capture, and disabled by poor training. Certainly, now more than ever, we need a thorough clean-up of the police. Policing failures and perhaps even deliberate failures in early July must be investigated. But what we cannot allow is for short-sighted (and ultimately costly) austerity to pose as if it were the answer to dysfunctionality. In fact, it is often a direct contributor.
Building developmental state capacity must also involve rebuilding the capacity of the state, including the critical SOE sector, to drive a major, state-led infrastructure build programme; to expand the state-led industrial programme; and to build environmental resilience and sustainability through a just green transition. All of these must prioritise job creation.
State capacity must be built to ensure that we consolidate a core pillar of any national democratic effort – namely building democratic national sovereignty, forging as much as possible the ability to overcome the fate of forever being a semi-peripheral, subordinated economy continuously locked into an imperialist-driven reproduction of our own crises of under-development.
One aspect of this struggle in defence of democratic national sovereignty has been the important global struggle President Ramaphosa has led against vaccine nationalism (it’s really vaccine imperialism). But there is much more to the struggle to consolidate democratic national sovereignty, including the critical struggle to avoid dollar-denominated debt enslavement to the IMF. It is for this reason that the SACP was outraged by Treasury’s taking out of an IMF loan last year. It was a loan we did not need, and worse still austerity commitments were made that were totally unrelated to the nominal purpose of the loan in the first place. The only possible explanation for this was that it was a cynical attempt to draw in the full might of the IMF to lend weight to Treasury’s crippling austerity agenda for our country.
Our state financial institutions including regulatory institutions and the Reserve Bank are frequently extolled as models of perfection and bastions against state capture. Where they have played a role against state capture, we salute them. And yet there has been a massive failure in these quarters to curb huge financial outflows out of our economy, much of it illicit. From the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture we now have some idea of the incredible looting and laundering out of our country of multi-multi billion Rands of public resources. Were the Guptas really that smart that they could outwit our financial regulators? And what were our private commercial banks doing?
Building developmental state capacity must centrally be about building the capacity to discipline private capital in the public interest. It is something we have largely failed to achieve over the last 27 years.
Over the past two years the SACP has asserted that the struggle is a struggle on two fronts—against state capture and the networks behind it, and against neo-liberal austerity and the bending over to please private capital interests at the expense of the public interest. These past July days have underlined just how relevant that strategic perspective is.
Forward to a socialist-oriented national democratic revolution
On this solemn but celebratory occasion of the SACP’s centenary, we affirm what we have affirmed for most of these past one hundred years. We do so now with greater conviction than ever before: THE STRUGGLE FOR SOCIALISM IN SOUTH AFRICA AND THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC STRUGGLE ARE NOT TWO SEPARATE STRUGGLES. They do not occur in two separate times zones, or geographical spaces. Without a deepening socialist orientation, the struggle to defend the popular electoral mandate will be further eroded by ongoing submission to the will of undemocratic ratings agencies, the prophets of austerity, and their local mindless sycophants. Without a deliberate placing of people before profits, the goals of the Freedom Charter and the aspirations so clearly expressed in our democratic 1996 Constitution will forever recede. Without boldly reclaiming socialist values, without instilling a popular morality of solidarity, without upholding that profound working-class slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all”, unless we do this in the face of those who proclaim “I didn’t struggle to be poor”, who glorify personal primitive accumulation—the continued degeneration of our movement will persist.
We are not hitch-hikers. We are not entryists into the broad national democratic movement. Over one hundred years, the militants of the Communist Party in South Africa have contributed immensely to building this movement. We will not allow it to continue to decline into deeper degeneration. But the ANC does not own the national democratic revolution. If we, together with many thousands of incorruptible ANC members and supporters fail to halt the decline, then it will still be necessary to build a broad, national popular movement to overcome the deep legacy of racialised oppression, to defeat patriarchy, and to put people before profits.
We are committed to this strategic perspective as socialists. We assert that the national democratic movement will only be renewed if there is a deepening socialist-orientation to its character and in its activism. We do not say this as left sectarians. We do not decline to work with all democratic, peace-loving, anti-sexist, non-racial patriots, whether they regard themselves as socialists or not. But, as our Party militants have affirmed over the course of one hundred years, it is imperative that we roll back the empire of private profit accumulation. We are more convinced than ever of the correctness of this perspective.
We pledge our solidarity with the people of Swaziland struggling for democracy and socialism. The SACP calls for the unconditional release of political prisoners and unbanning of political parties in Swaziland.
We pledge our solidarity with the people of Western Sahara and Palestine against the occupation of their land by Morocco and the apartheid Israeli regime respectively. The SACP reiterates its call for Morocco and Israel to unconditionally end the occupation with immediate effect.
The SACP pledges its unwavering solidarity with the people of Cuba and their government against the United States driven imperialist aggression and regime change machination. The SACP strongly condemns the additional sanctions imposed on Cuba by the United States’ Joe Biden administration.
This year, for the 29th consecutive time since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly strongly condemned the illegal blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba and called upon the United States to lift the criminal blockade. A total of 184 countries voted in favour of the resolution, and of all countries in the world only the apartheid Israeli regime stood with the imperialist United States in the minority.
Besides its illegal blockade, the United States is still illegally occupying the Cuban territory of Guantanamo Bay.
The United States must unconditionally end both the blockade against Cuba and the occupation of Guantanamo Bay with immediate effect.
Delivered by Dr Blade Nzimande, the SACP General Secretary, 1 August 2021