COSATU's noxious agenda - Helen Zille

The DA leader says the union federation wants to abolish property rights

How would you respond if you learnt that the South African Government had been infiltrated by an organisation that had never been elected, and whose aims were to eliminate private property, nationalise the mines and food, and abolish parliament? What if you learnt that this group had inserted ministers in government to drive policy objectives that have brought disaster everywhere in the world where they have been implemented?

In South Africa there are two such groups - the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). This week's SA Today focuses on Cosatu following its recent Congress.

The DA unequivocally supports the rights of workers to form trade unions to protect and promote their interests. Cosatu does not confine itself to this role. Having received no votes from the South Africa public, it is seeking to take over an elected party from within, and to dictate policy in the highest councils of the state.

It is interesting to compare media coverage of Cosatu's 10th National Congress last month with what actually happened. The newspapers and TV covered the standing ovation for President Zuma, the calls to do away with inflation targeting and the personal attacks on Trevor Manuel.

What they did not cover were the actual resolutions passed at the congress. These make chilling reading. They are freely available on the Cosatu website.

In its "Draft Workers Manifesto Framework for a Socialist South Africa", Cosatu says that "As part of the revolutionary proletarian movement, Cosatu must develop its own guide to the struggle for a socialist revolution". The revolutionary programme must have "A Marxist dialectical and historical materialist approach".

The most dangerous element of Cosatu's rhetoric is the myth that its policies will benefit the poor. Quite the contrary. The history of the last century has demonstrated that this path inevitably leads to the dead-end of dictatorship and impoverishment.

The lessons of history have escaped Cosatu whose "Long Term Revolutionary Demands" include:

  • Abolish bourgeois private property.
  • Nationalise, socialise and democratise all key strategic means of production in South Africa such as land, water, minerals, mines, banks, oil companies, shipyards, telecommunications, transport, food, housing, etc, etc, etc
  • Abolish the bourgeoisie executive, parliamentary and justice system, and replace them with working class state structures.

Presumably, these "working class state structures" will resemble those set up by Comrade Lenin in Russia in 1917 and carried on so enthusiastically by his faithful acolyte, Comrade Stalin. In North Korea such working class structures are now headed by Comrade Kim Jong-il (known in revolutionary circles as "The Dear Leader").

The policies promoted by Cosatu have always and everywhere been disastrous. Always and everywhere, they have bought brutal, crushing poverty to the people and exclusive power and privilege to a small ruling elite. Always and everywhere, people have tried to move away from communist countries: from East to West Germany, from North to South Korea, from Cuba to the USA, from Communist China to Hong Kong - there are no exceptions.

Cosatu particularly admires "the Cuban Revolution". In 1959, despite the fact that reforms were urgently needed under the deeply corrupt President Batista, Cuba was one of the richest, most developed economies in Latin America. People wanted to come to Cuba. Castro's revolution progressively wrecked the economy and impoverished Cuba. The average wage is now $20 (R150) per month, although Castro himself is ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the world's richest men. Free trade unions are banned, only one party is allowed, homosexuals have been persecuted, people with AIDS are reportedly interred, and human rights have been crushed. People want to leave Cuba: hundreds of thousands have fled; thousands have died while trying to flee. Fidel Castro, after more than three decades as dictator, has handed power over to his own brother. Such is the model that Cosatu wants us to emulate.

The media gives the impression that the battle lines within the ANC coalition are drawn on matters of personality and detail between Trevor Manuel, head of the National Planning Commission, and Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and head of the Communist Party. (Incidentally, the one thing these two agree on completely is the need to drive million Rand BMW motorcars at the tax-payers' expense.)

This obscures the real battle within the ruling alliance, which is over economic policy. The ANC's Polokwane Conference in 2007, where Jacob Zuma replaced Thabo Mbeki as leader of the party, did nothing to resolve the internal conflict. Cosatu was instrumental in Zuma's coming to power, and now demand their pound of flesh. They seek to present the economic debate as a simplistic contestation between the "markets" and the "state".

This characterisation is obsolete and wrong. Successful market oriented economies have strong and competent states. The real debate, in every policy sphere, is about the specific role of the state and the appropriate role of the market. In South Africa, the role of the state should be to support people accessing the market economy, rather than creating barriers to entry. All policies -- from education to transport -- must be designed to open opportunity. Yet Cosatu wants to shut down the market economy and prevent access to it.

When it pretends to be "pro-poor", the reality is that its policies are pro-poverty. South Africa is now in the precarious position of having 5 million personal registered tax-payers and 13 million people dependent on social grants. This trajectory is unsustainable.

There are many leading figures in the ANC who understand this. The growing tension between them and the "entry-ists" from Cosatu and the SACP will escalate. This will, in all likelihood, culminate in another split -- this time over economic policy -- within the next five years. Indeed the period between now and the next general election in 2014 will be fraught with risk for our developing democracy. The greatest danger is that demagogues will increasingly win the battle for control of the ANC, using race and populist promises to mobilise support. Their cause will be driven by the tragic fact that South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world.

We urgently need a serious debate on the factors that make it so difficult to reduce these inequalities. This is a complex debate, but if we do not engage it, we leave the field wide open to the populists who seek to enforce equality by destroying the economy, and thereby ruining prospects of development.

We also need reliable research into the factors that continue to increase inequalities. The populists claim that it is the result of the "market". It is far more probable that the state has become the primary driver of inequality in South Africa today. The extent to which the ANC and its allies abuse the state for the accumulation of wealth by a small elite with strong political connections has increased, rather than reduced inequalities in our country.

Instead of removing the barriers to entry into the economy, the ANC government built barriers, ironically in the name of "transformation". This is a code word to justify the manipulation of tenders and contracts in favour of the well-connected few.

The newspapers are regularly filled with reports of deals such as those that enabled Gijima AST (with key links to the Zuma inner circle) reportedly to turn over R3bn last year, 44% of which was business with government. Sandile Zungu, another key Zuma associate, recently received an outrageous R60m plus settlement from Transnet on a case that he was considered unlikely to win. Procurement in parastatals like the SABC is under investigation for crony deals, as is SAA and as should be Eskom and Thubelisha. They all involve some allegation of privileged relationships with service providers and/or a political connection. It is routine for politicians and civil servants to start their own companies to which they award tenders.

As the ANC's favoured inner circle gets smaller and smaller (and richer and richer), inequality grows exponentially, especially as educational outcomes decline and employment escalates during a recession. But by blaming "apartheid" or "whites" or the "market", the ANC and its allies in Cosatu can shift the blame and hide the truth.

This article by Helen Zille first appeared in SA Today, the weekly online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance, October 16 2009

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter