Defend a free and publicly accountable media: Remember and Honour the Memory of Ruth First
This week the South African Communist Party, the Young Communist League, together with a range of other progressive forces, honour and celebrate the life, struggles, dedication and sacrifices of one of the greatest heroes of the South African revolution, Ruth First. Ruth First, a member of both the Young Communist League, the South African Communist Party and the ANC, was brutally murdered by an apartheid parcel bomb in Mozambique, in the company of Pallo Jordan - who narrowly survived but with a permanently damaged ear.
Ruth First - a revolutionary and communist, and not a face-over liberal!
The apartheid regime so feared the dedication, brains and pen of Ruth First that it embarked on a cowardly assassination and robbed us of one of the most loyal cadres in the course of the national democratic revolution and the struggle for socialism.
As we remember Cde Ruth First, we must simultaneously be deepening the struggle to rescue the names and image of our heroes like Ruth First, from being colonized by a refashioned liberal discourse that wants to turn our revolution simply into something akin to the DA's 'open society' and other shades of liberalism that threaten to co-opt some of the deepest revolutionary values of our struggle for market liberalism.
Ruth First's biggest threat to the apartheid regime was not only that she was a white, woman communist, but that she was a writer, an author and a truly progressive journalist. The apartheid regime saw her pen as mightier than all the power of the apartheid regime, save its killing machinery.
Indeed the apartheid regime hated and feared communists, but its venom was most reserved for some of the white communists, like Ruth First, together with his husband, Joe Slovo. The apartheid regime, caught in its own twisted racial logic, could not understand why any white South African then - with limitless opportunities in a racist society - could choose to side with the struggle for national liberation of the black majority, let alone becoming a communist! For the apartheid regime, it was also like an act of being ungrateful for all the opportunities that the racist apartheid regime had created for all white South Africans.
For us as the SACP, were Ruth First alive today, we firmly believe that she would not have asked of any of us or our alliance partners as to what we are doing about the current challenges, but she, herself, would have been deep in the trenches with the workers and poor for our country in the struggle for a living wage, against a class biased media, against outsourcing and casualisation, against the continued reproduction of class, racialised and patriarchal relations in South African society. All these, for Ruth First, would have been critical arenas of struggle to defend and advance the national democratic revolution as our most direct route to a socialist South Africa.
We are honouring Ruth First in the midst of four very important, albeit not the only ones, conjunctural struggles and developments in the South African revolution today.
We are commemorating Ruth First in the midst of deepening working class struggles in South African society, maybe in the recent period partially obscured by the very successful staging of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in our country. We are in the midst of intense struggles by workers in both the public and private sectors. These struggles are fundamentally a reflection of deeper structural realities in the South African economy that our revolution has yet to decisively confront.
South African reality today, despite enormous advances made by the democratic government over the last 16 years, is that our economic growth path still remains a semi-colonial one that continues to reproduce many of the fundamental class, race and gender contradictions and realities in our country. Indeed as a white woman communist, Ruth First, stood as a symbol of the struggle against the reproduction of these contradictions. Her life and struggle still stands as a negation to these!
The current strikes and struggles will continue to take place for as long as our revolution does not address the fundamental question of decisively breaking with the previous economic growth path, including the macro-economic policies we have followed over the first 15 years of our democracy.
Part of breaking away from the previous growth path must also mean decisively dumping the economic agenda of the 1996 class project; that of elevating the restoration of the profitability of the capitalist system and this project's fundamental defence of, and collusion with, the private financial sector - especially the private banks.
The ANC NGC provides just such an opportunity to grapple with a new growth path and provide guidance on what government needs to do as a matter of urgency. And the forthcoming ANC NGC is the second conjunctural terrain of deepening working class struggles in the current period. An important question that needs urgently clarity is that of the difference between South Africa's capitalist state and the development state we are seeking to build.
For instance, the threat of the flowing of acid from mining activities into Gauteng's drinking water is now expected to be dealt with by the state. A capitalist state will seek to address this on behalf of mining capital, whilst a developmental state should be seeking to tax the mining companies for purposes of dealing with this capitalist created ecological disaster.
Our message to the ANC NGC should be that the state should not take responsibility to bail out the damage caused by mining capital, but instead our evolving developmental state must tax mining capital for this, so that state resources are used to drive investment into a broader developmental agenda. This is what Ruth First would have fought for today!
Ruth First, as a leader of the YCL, and a supporter in building a revolutionary youth league for the ANC in the 1940s, would have been deeply disappointed about the current narrow and factionalist struggles within the ANC Youth League. These factionalist and divisive struggles within the ANCYL do not serve the interests of the youth of our country today and into the future.
A critical struggle today, in honour and in memory of Ruth First, is that of defeating tenderpreneurship within our youth structures, and to reposition the YCL to play a vanguard and leading role in the struggles of working class and poor youth of our country. In the name of Ruth First, we call upon the YCL to intensify the struggle to rescue the revolutionary morality of all the youth of our country and unite all progressive youth to deepen the national democratic revolution. Young communist youth to the front to defend the revolutionary morality of the young people of South Africa!
We are also commemorating Ruth First in the midst of a debate about the necessity for a media appeals tribunal in our country. Instead of engaging in this debate, the capitalist print media of our country is proving itself to be incapable of engaging in any meaningful debate on this front, but simply seeking to intimidate everybody by claiming that the freedom of capitalist print media equals freedom of expression in our country.
Ruth First would have been appalled, but not surprised, at this arrogant behaviour of this section of the media. We are convinced that were she alive today she would have thrown everything into supporting an independent media appeals tribunal as a necessary component of free, but publicly accountable, media.
In the name of Ruth First, a revolutionary journalist, we must deepen the struggles for the diversification in print media and for the establishment of a media appeals tribunal to build a free, but publicly accountable, media.
It is to some of these immediate conjunctural struggles that the SACP must pay particular attention to, as part of playing its vanguard role, in honour of Cde Ruth First!
This article by SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimade first appeared in Umsebenzi Online, the Party's online newsletter
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