Survival of the nation trumps the revolutionary transformation of the economy
2 May 2020
When the National Accord was painstakingly negotiated in the early nineties, chiefly between Afrikaner nationalists and the broad church which then gave allegiance to the African National Congress, there was an underlying consensus that things could not carry on as they were under apartheid. Three values emerged as fundamental to the changes needed for a peaceful and prosperous future:
Respect for the inherent dignity of all people
Promotion of the achievement of equality
Enjoyment of various freedoms guaranteed to all in the Bill of Rights incorporated into the transformative Constitution that replaced the old order with the new. [Particularly relevant currently are those giving access to healthcare, social security and to education, freedom of movement, association and to trade, occupation and profession.]
The survival of SA as a going concern depended upon the achievement of the consensus contained in the new Constitution. Those in power during apartheid were not simply going to surrender the sovereignty of their parliament to the new constitutional order. Not unless they could rest assured that they would be protected by the new order replacing it. Those who had struggled long and hard against apartheid wanted to secure a new system in which equity and justice for all would prevail. In his inaugural speech in May 1994 Nelson Mandela encapsulated this position in the oft-quoted words:
Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.…”
Cynics have described what emerged in 1994 as an elite compromise in which avoiding killing the goose that lays the economic golden eggs was the main concern. The ANC “Ready to govern” 1992 statement records that “The democratic state will exercise fiscal discipline in order to avoid inflation”. It is echoed eerily by the National Party manifesto of 1993 in which that now defunct party “commits itself to continuing the fight against inflation … Fiscal discipline, in the form of suitable and coherent monetary and fiscal measures must be maintained”. The ANC and NP eventually amalgamated. No surprises there. Nevertheless, fealty to the rule of law is regarded as supreme in the Constitution itself and all who govern in SA are bound by their oaths of office to uphold the rule of law.
As Ashraf Ghani and Claire Lockhart observed in their seminal work “Fixing Failed States”:
The rule of law is the “glue” that binds all aspects of the state, the economy and society. Each of the state’s functions is defined by a specific set of rules that creates the governance arrangement – decision rights, processes, accountabilities, freedoms and duties for that function. Rules provide both resources that enable innovation to occur and constraints that limit behaviour.
Inflation was the common enemy back in the nineties; a pandemic is the common enemy now.
The broad church nature of the ANC is demonstrated by its response to the pandemic via the declaration of a State of Disaster in terms of legislation that includes the following provisions as Section 27(5):
(5) A national state of disaster that has been declared in terms of subsection (1) -
(a) lapses three months after it has been declared;
(b) may be terminated by the Minister by notice in the Gazette before it lapses in terms of paragraph (a): and (c) may be extended by the Minister by notice in the Gazette for one month at a time before it lapses in terms of paragraph (a) or the existing extension is due to expire.
Section 27(1) is instructive, it reads:
In the event of a national disaster, the Minister may by notice in the Gazette declare a national state of disaster if—
(a) existing legislation and contingency arrangements do not adequately provide for the national executive to deal effectively with the disaster; or
(b) other special circumstances warrant the declaration of a national state of disaster.
The constitutionalists in the ANC seek to respond in a measured, rational, legal and constitutionally compliant manner. The “radical economic transformation” faction see the pandemic as a pretext or “opportunity” for driving their agenda, long thwarted by the realities of modern life, in ways that are draconian, irrational, illegal and unconstitutional. The radicals, led by Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the national cabinet and Ace Magashule in Luthuli House, see the pandemic as tipping what they call “the balance of forces” in favour of their revolutionary economic agenda which they now pursue with renewed “dexterity in tact” (their revolution-speak for underhandedness).
It is plain that, in the 2002 disaster management legislation, parliament has given the national executive limited time to ‘deal’ with any national disaster. The pandemic disaster was declared on 15 March, when Minister Dlamini Zuma “…considering the magnitude and severity of the…global pandemic” declared “a national state of disaster, having recognised that special circumstances exist to warrant the declaration of a national state of disaster”
It would seem that, after years of neglect of the healthcare systems in SA, government was not properly prepared to cope with the anticipated tsunami of infections effectively and efficiently. Buying time to get ready is what genuinely motivated the declaration of the state of disaster. The field hospitals are now ready.
Since 15 March just over a hundred South Africans have sadly succumbed to the pandemic. The statistics published on 1 May are: 116 deaths, 5951 confirmed infections after 217522 tests; with 2383 patients having recovered from their viral infection.
The population of SA is just under 60 million. These statistics do not speak to “magnitude and severity” despite the nearly one quarter of a million tests administered so far. Whether the magnitude and severity of the pandemic justify the wide-ranging terms of the lockdown in place is a matter for serious reconsideration by decision-makers in government and, in all probability, in the judiciary when challenges to the regulations and the declaration of disaster are litigated.
To the extent that the disaster regulations limit the hard won rights of South Africans, they are required by the Constitution to be reasonable and justifiable to freedom loving people. This aspect of the law has been discussed here.
The suspension of rights guaranteed to all is not allowed by a state of disaster and in a state of emergency only limited suspension of certain rights is permissible. There is no state of emergency in SA, nor is there a legal basis for declaring one at this stage.
Opportunistically and improperly, Minister Dlamini Zuma sees the pandemic as a pretext for pursuing pet projects of hers that are both unconstitutional and questionable. She has publicly said at a press conference on 25 April that the pandemic:
…also offers us an opportunity to accelerate the implementation of some long agreed upon structural changes to enable reconstruction, development and growth. These opportunities call for more sacrifices and - if needs be – what Amilcar Cabral called “class suicide” wherein we must rally behind the common cause.
These sentiments are not the incoherent mumblings of a frustrated ideologue; they are the seriously expressed intent of a person who came within 169 votes of succeeding her ex-husband as president of SA. They also reveal a commitment to the ideology behind the National Democratic Revolution devised by Lenin, one still dreamt of by some in the ANC, despite their failure to launch it in 25 years in national government in SA.
The ideology underpinning the NDR is clearly and obviously at odds with the constitutional values of the land. The minister’s sentiments fly in the face of the transformation of SA into a constitutional democracy under the rule of law. In order to implement the values of the NDR legally a 75% majority in parliament is required; any other means of doing so would be truly “revolutionary” and illegal. All of the many transformation projects allowed by and falling within the parameters of the Constitution, our supreme law, do not involve revolution inspired “class suicide”. This less than constitutionally pure stance of some in the ANC has also been pointed out previously, here.
The minister’s quoted sentiments betray her flirtation with authoritarianism, socialist hegemony and radical economic “transformation” aka seizure of complete control of all the levers of power in society.
What these dreams have to do with countering a pandemic is hard to explain. As are bans on selling hot chickens, on smoking cigarettes (dagga zolls are fine, passing around a skyf is not) and consuming liquor, on walking, running or cycling alone or at a safe social distance wherever and whenever convenient, and in respect of a curfew of draconian duration.
The strangling of the economy by using the constraints of the lockdown is questionable if the intent behind the strangulation is revolutionary rather than justifiable disaster management properly so called. Instead of putting the sick and the vulnerable into quarantine, the young, healthy and economically active population sits idle because there is a potential threat of infection which is not lethal to more than a few of the young and healthy, most of whom would be willing to take the risk, while observing social distancing and other preventative measures, in preference to rotting at home.
The manner in which official relief to those financially prejudiced by the lockdown is being doled out by government along irrationally determined racial lines speaks to the vile motivation of the fingernail painters in cabinet who regard racist policies as constitutional. The unfair discrimination against those excluded from eligibility, irrespective of their “race” is regarded as revolutionary collateral damage, not a violation of the equality clause in the Bill of Rights. Alarmingly, a high court judge, who will surely be taken on appeal, agrees that the collateral damage is justifiable. No self-respecting non-racial order can properly regard humans as anything other than equal members of the human race. Addressing inequality is in the hands of the ANC government, and has been for a quarter of a century.
The window of opportunity arising from the declaration of a state of disaster seems to be viewed by the minister as a bridgehead for introducing economic “transformation” of a kind not seen in 25 years of ANC led governance. A revolutionary form of economic transformation is not contemplated by the values embraced by an overwhelming majority in 1994; these are constitutional values which now bind us all. Those not familiar with the differences between constitutionalism and the types of NDR oriented “transformational” activity of the ANC are invited to read the italics in this overview of ANC’s failure to govern in a constitutionally compliant manner which was published as the pandemic began.
It appears that the minister regards her declaration of the state of disaster as the pretext for advancing the agenda of the NDR, via “class suicide” of the kind described in Amilcar Cabral’s imaginative writings. His theory of class suicide is certainly no more than a theory. It has been described as follows byTom Meisenhelder:
Class suicide by the revolutionary petty-bourgeois leadership amounts to listening to its own revolutionary consciousness and the culture of revolution rather than acting on its immediate material interests as a social class. It must sacrifice its class position, privileges, and power through identification with the working masses.
This unlikely event depends on the power and material basis of the revolutionary consciousness of sections of the petty bourgeoisie. The idea of class suicide by the revolutionary leadership is perhaps Cabral's most important message to socialist revolutionaries today. The absence of class suicide has blunted the progressive potential of many revolutions originally conducted under the banner of socialism.
It is perhaps romantic to expect the leaders of revolutionary struggles to "wither away" and release power during the transition to socialism. It may never occur. But, it seems clear that if it does not happen socialist revolutions tend toward a more or less authoritarian statism--whether quasi-socialist or state capitalist--rather than true socialist democracy. The final power of capitalism as a global system lies in the politics of the conservative fraction of the nationalist petty-bourgeoisie that chooses to adapt to transnational capitalism because that route promotes its own class interests.
The notion of "class suicide" by the petty-bourgeois leadership at first glance may sound unrealistic but it is much less so than the most popular competing images of socialist revolution in the Third World. Some suggest that "true" socialist revolutions must be the spontaneous outburst of the masses themselves.
Often this seems to imply that these events will occur without formal political organization or a division of political roles between leadership and masses. The argument is that socialism must be radically democratic even when it is a non-governmental revolutionary movement or even when it is involved in the long ardours of an armed struggle.
This image of socialist revolution as spontaneous mass democracy is much more romantic than the idea of class suicide. No revolution can succeed without organization and leadership. To state that socialism can only come through a spontaneous mass movement without leaders and followers, without organization, without ideology and direction simply is to say socialism will not come.
More from Meisenhelder can be found here.
The minister is openly flirting with the idea that the class to which she belongs should commit suicide as a class in favour of introducing a new revolutionary order in which the “long agreed upon structural changes” can be forged.
If this is the purpose behind the strangulation of the economy and the frustration of the populace in a draconian lockdown, it is clear that no legitimate purpose of government is being served, rendering the lockdown at all its levels illegal.
The immediate material interests of the entire population of SA involve surviving the pandemic and reviving the broken economy quickly so that the nation is able “to live as equals, to live in peace and harmony, to be free from fear and want and to seek a better life” as section 198 of the Constitution requires. They do not involve “class suicide” or revolution, whether of the national democratic kind or indeed any other kind of revolution.
What the minister has said, as quoted above, borders on sedition. The president must assert his constitutional authority over her as he is head of state and head of the national executive. He can only do so by requiring the minister to retract and account for her abominably revolutionary utterances (which have no regard to her oath of office to uphold the Constitution) or by dismissing her and her fellow travellers from his cabinet. It is intolerable that any national cabinet ministers be allowed to flout their solemnly sworn oath of office to uphold the Constitution.
Those who have rallied round to support efforts to counter and contain the fallout of the pandemic should take care, if they do not support the notion of class suicide or the agenda of the NDR propounded by NDZ, to see to it that their support is not being used or abused to further the revolution.
Paul Hoffman is a director of Accountability Now