South African Communist Party SACP 13th Congress Central Committee 19th Plenary Session statement, Sunday, 26 February 2016
The SACP Central Committee met in Johannesburg over the weekend of 24th-26th February. The CC discussed a political report presented by the national secretariat, focusing on the challenges posed by the domestic situation and the responsibilities confronted by the SACP within this context.
Much of the focus of the discussion related to concerns around the continued worrying turbulence and factionalism within our ANC-headed movement, which is also clearly impacting upon the performance of government itself. Over the past two months, since our mid-December Augmented Central Committee, the general features of this situation have persisted and in some respects intensified.
In particular, we are seeing growing recklessness and a disdain for collective decision-making and for formal democratically elected structures. Policy shifts with a radical sounding air are being announced randomly. Existing and even deeper looming crises in the water sector, or in revenue collection, or in the payment of social grants are left unattended for apparently factional reasons, while ministers performing patriotic service in extremely difficult circumstances become the targets for sustained and factionally-orchestrated undermining.
Over the past two months this factional behaviour has sought to re-calibrate its public positioning somewhat. While the Gupta family clearly lurks in the background in many cases, there has been an attempt to downplay links in this direction and adopt a more radical sounding, Africanist posture. The SACP strongly supported the ANC’s 2012 Mangaung call for a second radical phase of the national democratic revolution to address the core crises confronting the majority of South Africans – unemployment, poverty and inequality. At the time, the SACP sought to engage its alliance partners on the question of what content lies behind the call for a second more radical phase. We advanced a wide range of programmatic proposals which we believe remain relevant.
It is only now, belatedly, that from the side of some within the ANC and government that we are seeing an attempt to provide a gloss to the notion of radical transformation. Unfortunately, “radical” in these quarters, is largely rhetorical and is almost entirely focused on advancing narrow Black elite accumulation. This very narrow version of BEE evokes “Blacks in general, and Africans in particular”, but in effect, it’s about “ME and MINE specifically”.
The reduction of “radical economic transformation” almost entirely to a question of private Black corporate “ownership, control and management of the economy” sidelines any notion of SOCIAL OWNERSHIP, or of POPULAR control, or of WORKER OWNERSHIP and management.
We are told that companies directly controlled by Blacks only own 10 percent of the JSE, but what is left unexplained is: if individual Blacks owned 80 percent of the JSE how would that impact on the triple (and racialised) crises of unemployment, poverty and inequality? The same applies to the constant references to “WHITE monopoly capital” – if it became Black monopoly capital would that change the lives of the majority of South Africans?
The fudging of class is carried through in the way in which correct statistics are presented but abbreviated – for instance, we are told “White households earn five times more than Black households”. Shamefully, that’s true, but notice what is missing – the word “average”. The StatsSA finding from which this is drawn says: “The AVERAGE White household earns five times more than the AVERAGE Black household”. That reality is, of course, absolutely scandalous and is the source of social instability. But when you omit the word “average”, you omit CLASS and wilfully omit the growing class divisions and diverging class interests within the ANC itself.
All of this is designed to position private accumulation by narrow Black elite as “radical transformation” for the benefit of the majority in general.
The Minister of Finance, Comrade Pravin Gordhan was, therefore, absolutely right to remind us in his budget speech last week of the 1969 ANC Strategy and Tactics document which asserted that: “Our nationalism must not be confused with chauvinism or narrow nationalism of a previous epoch. It must not be confused with the classical drive by an elitist group among the oppressed people to gain ascendancy so that they can replace the oppressor in the exploitation of the masses.”
The way forward
So what is the way forward? And what are the responsibilities of the SACP in this volatile situation?
The CC agreed that, while consistently exposing factionalism and holding the line against looting, we must guard against becoming over pre-occupied with factional palace politics. Organic links with concrete programs of action must be deepened with working class and poor communities who are being battered by unemployment and preyed upon by criminals and drug dealers.
The radical transformation of the financial sector
The financial sector campaign needs to be intensified. We welcome the announcement that a much delayed, second Financial Sector Summit will be convened by Nedlac this year. The Summit must review the failure of the banks and financial institutions to implement many of the commitments made at the first Financial Sector Summit in 2002 and in the Financial Sector Charter signed in 2004. Among these is the failure to invest in social housing and local amenities through community re-investment commitments.
We also welcome the forthcoming Parliamentary hearings on financial sector transformation and we call on community-based and social movement formations to actively engage with these hearings.
Over the past two decades the financial sector in South Africa has grown enormously and the major banks and their corporate elites have made billions of rands, but this growth has not been for the benefit of the majority of South Africans, nor is it a sustainable growth trajectory. The much vaunted Black middle class, lacking historical assets, has been floated on household debt, and this household debt crisis is threatening all-round social stability.
Nearly, half of all credit active South Africans, over 10 million consumers, have impaired credit records. Much of this credit is for immediate consumption, and 40 percent of loans from micro-lenders are simply to buy food. This dire reality lies behind much of the crisis of affordability in the higher education sector, for instance.
The Financial Sector Summit must agree on a debt amnesty for the poor and lower middle class households. The fact that debt is being taken on not to acquire assets, but for basic consumption on food, education and transport underlines the imperative of radically placing our economy on to a different shared and inclusive growth path.
The levels of indebtedness of the working class and poor result in many oppressive and irrational outcomes. In government’s iconic Cosmo City subsidised housing project, for instance, the overwhelming majority of original beneficiaries have sold their houses at prices far below the cost to government for their construction. Indebtedness is also crippling land restitution and reform, with many intended beneficiaries opting for cash payments simply because day-to-day pressing needs compel poor households to forfeit the possibility of acquiring a more enduring asset.
This crisis of poverty and indebtedness is further aggravated by loan sharks, unscrupulous court officials, estate agents and the major banks. Bank evictions have reached apartheid-era Group Area removal proportions.
It is in this context that the SACP condemns the hypocrisy of those who have suddenly and belatedly jumped on to the bandwagon of dealing with the financial sector. These forces support the call for the Postbank to be re-capitalised and to function as a core community based bank. But they are absolutely silent about who crippled the Postbank in the first place by removing it as one of the channels for paying social grants. The very ones who proclaim piously about the need for publicly-owned banks are those who piloted an illegal contract with the Nasdaq-listed Net1/Cash Paymaster outfit. And they continue to defy the courts in this regard.
The SACP salutes NEHAWU for actively taking up the crisis in the social grant payment situation. It is imperative that we build and deepen the unity of the organised working class and communities around common issues that affect the organised and unorganised, the employed and unemployed, the working poor and the indebted middle strata.
Let us strengthen our unity in action. Let us intensify our struggles against an oppressive system dominated by monopoly capital. Let us struggle for a comprehensive social security system that begins to address the right to work, and the expansion of the social wage including affordable housing and public transport.
A great deal of noise is heard from factionalist quarters about collusion in foreign currency trading among 17 local and international banks. As the SACP we agree that this kind of behaviour needs to be criminalised and individuals involved should serve jail time. But what the sudden opportunistic champions of bank regulation fail to recognise is that the exposure by our Competition Commission of foreign currency trading collusion is part and parcel of a wider move to tighten regulation and deal decisively with illicit capital flows to places like Dubai through closing banking accounts of companies and individuals involved in dodgy transactions. The imperative of tightening up the Financial Intelligence Centre Act through an amendment bill is equally an integral part of the transformation of the financial sector and of dealing with those who are looting our country and continent.
The 2014 Global Financial Integrity (GFI) report estimates that South Africa suffered illicit financial outflows over $122-billion financial outflows between 2003 and 2012, making South Africa one of the top 10 victims of this ruthless corporate dispossession of our public wealth. Our Financial Intelligence Centre says over the last decade South Africa has lost in excess of R600bn in illicit flows, with trade mispricing playing a major role.
National Minimum Wage
COSATU comrades presented the CC with a progress report on the National Minimum Wage agreement. The CC congratulated the COSATU negotiators at NEDLAC for their tough and principled negotiating stance. While COSATU has not yet formally signed-off on the R20-an-hour, R3500-R3900 monthly national minimum wage, the progress made is a major COSATU-led victory, based on its November 2014 11th Congress resolution. While R3,500 is not a living wage, 6.2 million workers are currently earning less than that and the enforcement of a national minimum wage will, therefore, represent an important advance for the working poor in particular.
However, enforcement will not be automatic. The resourcing of the Labour Department’s labour inspectorate is critical, but, above all, it is the union movement together with community organisations and the SACP on the ground, that must ensure that this advance becomes a meaningful advance for the working poor. For many organised sectors, in the public sector, or in much of mining, for instance, the national minimum wage is far below what has already been achieved through worker struggles.
But the principle of working class and trade union solidarity must prevail to ensure that there is a collective advance for the most vulnerable sectors, while, as the national minimum wage agreement explicitly states that there must be no downward adjustments for sectors in which much higher levels of wage have been achieved through collective bargaining.
The SACP calls on the wider trade union movement and all federations to close ranks in support of the working poor, rather than indulge in sectarian point-scoring. We note, for instance, that one NUMSA leader, has rubbished the R20-an-hour rate. We note that on 18 November in its own Motor Industry Bargaining Council settlement agreement regarding minimum wages for the period ending 31 August 2019, NUMSA agreed to hourly wage rates for Chars (R19.07) and Parking Garage Attendants (R14.61) below the R20-an-hour national minimum wage.
The Land Question
Addressing the land question is a central component of radical economic transformation. But, here again, we must be careful that radical-sounding rhetoric is not really disguising either Black elite accumulation ambitions or perhaps, even, the absence of any serious will to drive substantive land reform.
We need to place emphasis on productive capacity. When land reform is reduced simply to nominal “ownership” quotas in the absence of serious attention to productive sustainability through active agricultural extension officers, and appropriate irrigation, logistics, fencing and marketing measures, land reform will simply produce failure, or elite enrichment.
We need also to recognise that while rural land reform is critical, increasingly the real land question is an urban issue. Massive land and asset dispossession did not just occur in the dismal colonial and apartheid periods – dispossession of the poor is occurring daily in the present. Home repossessions, gentrification of inner city suburbs like that occurring in Woodstock or Bo-Kaap in Cape Town, driven by private sector developers working collusively with Metro authorities, or the proposed dispossession through shopping mall developments of the small farmers of Philippi are examples of this continued dispossession.
Cape Town, of course, is not the only municipality affected by these trends. Again we need to mobilise the widest range of progressive forces in struggle to ensure that we do not compound apartheid spatial oppression and dispossession. We need to radically transform the persisting and deepening legacy of apartheid geography.
The CC discussed a report on the current situation in higher education. The SACP fully supports the progress made towards ensuring free higher education for the poor and working class, while firmly rejecting the revolutionary-sounding but retrogressive slogan of free higher education for all. Karl Marx as long ago as 1875 noted that in capitalist societies “free higher education institutions…only means in fact defraying the cost of the education of the upper classes from the general tax receipts”, that is, at public expense. In a society like South Africa with the enormous inequalities prevailing, this observation has a special significance.
Together with our alliance partners the SACP will be convening a Higher Education Summit in the coming weeks. The SACP will raise a number of key issues, including the importance of producing a new generation of university academics; providing substantive meaning to the call for de-colonisation of university and college syllabi, and teaching practices; the deeply concerning patriarchal and sexual harassment behaviour on campuses; and the imperative of building, defending and transforming a strong public higher education system against encroachments by both narrowly elite private higher education providers, and lower-end fly-by-night operators. Some of the problems in our higher education campuses are the result of ill-considered corporatisation and the outsourcing of key functions and these issues must also be urgently addressed.
Since late 2015 over R1-billion of damage has been caused to campus property in the course of protest actions. We believe that the great majority of students reject this senseless and self-defeating destruction. We call on the Young Communist League and the wider Progressive Youth Alliance and the wider university community to provide leadership and not to be held ransom by, or tail behind, tiny and destructive groupings with agendas that have little or nothing to do with education.
Many of the challenges in the higher education sector are symptoms of a broader failure of our post-1994 reality. While the 1994 breakthrough marked a decisive and radical rupture with the political, juridical and constitutional structures of white minority rule, there has not been a corresponding cultural revolution based on the values of solidarity, the defence of national sovereignty, non-racialism, non-sexism and internationalism.
Xenophobia and the failure of the police service
The CC condemns attacks against foreign nationals. However, moral condemnation of criminal xenophobic behaviour by opportunistic elements will not gain traction until we recognise the abject failure of the police in many poor communities to deal effectively with crime, including drug-dealing, whether perpetrated by South Africans or foreign nationals. As numerous voices emanating from besieged communities are telling us, there is a sense of absolute desperation.
Community activism against the real criminals in their communities needs to be supported and responsibly engaged by the police through cooperation in representative and effective Community Police Forums and neighbourhood watch structures.
INSTEAD OF EMBROILING THEMSELVES IN FACTIONAL, PALACE POLITICS – THE LEADERSHIP OF THE SAPS AND OUR INTELLIGENCE SERVICES NEED TO FOCUS ON PROVIDING REAL PERSONAL AND COMMUNITY SECURITY TO THE WORKING CLASS AND POOR, NOT LEAST FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS IN THESE LOCALITIES. WEALTHY SUBURBS RELY ON A BURGEONING PRIVATE SECURITY SECTOR WHICH NOW OUTNUMBERS THE POLICE. POOR COMMUNITIES HAVE NO SUCH RESORT.
Let us re-build the unity of our movement on the basis of principled programs of action, rooted in working class and poor communities, in rural and urban areas. Let us rebuild dynamic connections in struggle between the organised working class and communities. Let us re-build shop steward local councils. Let us use the major organisational events of 2017, not least the SACP’s July National Congress to take forward this strategic agenda.
Statement issued by the SACP, 26 February 2017