POLITICS

The challenges facing our country – SACP and COSATU

Private sector must come to the party and contribute significantly to funding of higher education

SACP and COSATU bilateral statement

16 March 2021

The South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) held a virtual bilateral session on Monday, 15 March 2021. The meeting was attended by the national office bearers of the SACP and COSATU, led respectively by Cde Blade Nzimande, the SACP General Secretary, and Cde ZingiswaLosi, COSATU President. The meeting was convened to discuss the key developments and challenges facing our country and our Alliance, including the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the current economic crisis. Our discussions were premised on the necessity to intensify the organisational and ideological presence and struggles of the working-class as a precondition to take our country out of the multiple crises it faces.

COVID-19 accentuated capitalist crisis

The bilateral meeting took place against the background of the global pandemic of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) having worsened the endemic crisis of the capitalist system. Capitalist bosses, this time around joined by some public entities, retrenched workers, and increased unemployment. In the second quarter of 2020 alone, 2.2 million workers were affected by retrenchments. The jobs bloodbath continued thereafter. Poverty entrenched, with more people affected.

The COVID-19 pandemic found South Africa under the yoke of a macroeconomic policy framework long failing to reduce and overcome the high levels of pre-existing unemployment, poverty, and inequality, with wider implications. The cornerstone of the exploitative capitalist system and simultaneously its result, inequality widened in the context of massive wealth and income disparities, with a tiny minority of top one and top ten percenters enjoying the lion’s share of society’s wealth and income. Also entrenched by the COVID-19 pandemic is the interrelated crisis of social reproduction, the widespread problem of inability in many poor and working-class households to support life.

South Africa’s exposure to the worst impact of the COVID-19 accentuated endemic crisis of capitalism was not only a result of global contagion traceable to the Great Recession of 2008–2009. It was also a direct result of the persisting colonial and apartheid legacy and the associated post-1994 domestic economic policy failures to drive economic and broader social development based on radical structural transformation.

To overcome the crisis, South Africa must not limit itself to its effects but must bold, go to the root of the problem, and drive fundamental system change. The SACP and COSATU will deepen their work to push industrialisation, expansion of productive work and high impact employment creating, poverty eradicating and inequality eliminating inclusive transformation and development path. Integral to our shared approach will be a drive to build income security based on a comprehensive developmental agenda that prioritises the interests of the working-class and poor.      

Education and training

At the centre of the funding problem affecting colleges and universities is the endemic capitalist crisis and neoliberal policy of austerity, inclusive of the paradigm of budget cuts over the years dating to previous administrations.

The budget presented last month to Parliament by the National Treasury continues the cuts to funding support affecting higher education and training institutions throughout the current medium-term expenditure framework up to its outer year, 2023/2024. This path of neoliberal austerity, often referred to as “fiscal consolidation”, amounts to defunding education and other key economic and broader social development priorities.

Meanwhile, due to the economic impact of COVID-19, including retrenchments, wage cuts, and increased unemployment and poverty, the number of students eligible for NSFAS funding has increased 

The meeting reaffirmed education as a right, as elaborated in the Freedom Charter and the Constitution of the Republic. Additionally, our shared resolutions attach great importance to the goal of free education for the poor and working-class, who cannot afford student fees.

The SACP and COSATU welcome the efforts by the government to reprioritise funds to support the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). This will contribute to addressing the problem of funding experienced by students eligible for NSFAS coverage during this academic year. However, the SACP and COSATU wish to stress the importance for the government to go beyond that, to ensure that the NSFAS is adequately funded, going forward, and no deserving student is excluded.

Furthermore, the government must rollback education defunding and expand the technical, vocational, and higher education and training sector. This will contribute to the success that South Africa needs, among others to eliminate the phenomenon of young people who are Not in Employment, Education and Training (NEET).

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges are crucial to developing cutting-edge productive capacity through a skills revolution. To admit more students than universities, the TVET colleges should, by far, offer more education and training programmes than they offer now. Funding cuts affecting the TVET sector are a major setback to employment creation and co-operatives and small and medium-sized enterprises development. The government must attend to this question as a matter of priority, bearing in mind that TVET colleges require a massive expansion of qualification types and diversity based on high quality and adequate infrastructure.  

The SACP and COSATU are strongly of the view that the private sector, as a major consumer of education and skills capacities in our economy, must come to the party and contribute significantly to the funding of higher education not only focusing on universities but also, and with more emphasis, on TVET sector. The government must use its legislative and policy muscle to ensure that this does happen. Education and training cannot be left to the government fiscus alone, especially in a country with such a large and wealthy private capitalist sector and high levels of inequality. The SACP and COSATU, working with the progressive student movement, together committed to embarking on a joint campaign to ensure that this does happen.

The SACP and COSATU strongly condemn opportunistic attempts at hijacking student struggles for factionalist interests and agendas inside our movement.

Condolences to the family of MthokozisiNtumba

The SACP and COSATU reaffirmed the political rights enshrined in our Constitution and shared support for the right of students to peacefully demonstrate at universities and colleges to solve the problems of financial exclusion. The meeting strongly condemned Police brutality and welcomed the arrest of police officers allegedly responsible for the killing of MthokozisiNtumba outside Wits University on Wednesday, 10 March 2021. The SACP and COSATU express their heartfelt message of condolences to the family of the deceased.

Neoliberalism and corruption

The SACP and COSATU have identified two immediate threats facing the national democratic revolution from within our own ranks, neoliberalism and its austerity agenda on the one hand, and the state capture corruption networks and their fight back agenda, on the other hand.  but both these tendencies have external dimensions. The meeting reaffirmed our shared stance against the two tendencies and reiterated our support for the renewal of our movement led by the ANC President, SACP General Secretary and COSATU President on behalf of the three formations.

Determined to continue pushing our agenda for fundamental change, the SACP and COSATU will put forward their common perspectives in a joint position paper on economic and broader social reconstruction and transformation. The paper will be at the centre of our joint effort to drive, widen and deepen working-class mobilisation to defeat neoliberalism, its agenda of austerity, and corporate capture as well as other forms of corruption.

The SACP and COSATU will hold another bilateral session following the SACP augmented plenary scheduled to take place from Friday to Sunday, 19–21 March 2021, and ahead the COSATU Special Central Executive Committee scheduled to take place before from 6 to 7 April 2021. The paper will be ready by the time of the COSATU Special Central Executive Committee meeting.  The SACP and COSATU will convene a Joint SACP Politburo and COSATU Extended Political Commission before the COSATU Special Central Executive Committee meeting. 

The SACP and COSATU attach great importance to revolutionary morality. It will be an act of complicity in counterrevolution to allow the forces of corruption and state capture to sow division and chaos in our country in their attempt at running away from being held accountable. The bilateral meeting accordingly reaffirmed the supremacy of our democratically adopted Constitution, the primacy of the rule of law, and wholehearted support for, and necessity to defend, the work of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.

Every person required to appear before the commission must do so.  No one—regardless of their social, political and class position—must be allowed to hold our constitutional dispensation and democratic rule of law at ransom.

We will hold a deeper discussion about the Limpopo Provincial situation, with a focus on the VBS scandal and its wider implications, to build more decisive collective leadership to tackle corruption and ensure accountability on all fronts, especially the resources of the people.   

Defence of worker rights institutions and collective bargaining 

The SACP and COSATU reaffirmed the importance of protecting our hard-won gains to have a dynamic collective bargaining system in our country, including its key institutions like the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). Not only should the machinery of collective bargaining be protected but must also be adequately resourced.  The cuts in funding support to the CCMA is exposing workers to unfair treatment by unscrupulous employers. In confronting and rolling back neoliberalism and its austerity programme, the SACP and COSATU will work together to defend collective bargaining and worker rights institutions.

We stand firm in our support for public service workers and their unions in their legitimate fight for their wage increases. We strongly believe that this matter will not be resolved by the courts but through engagements, including in appropriate collective bargaining forums.

In the same vein, we support workers and unions in the private sector in their fight to defend collective bargaining against employers who undermine agreements and seek to roll back workers’ achievements. The SACP and COSATU are concerned about the bad example set by the government in not honouring its wage agreements as this is also being copied by private capitalist employers to attack workers’ rights and the collective bargaining.

The SACP and COSATU will deepen their efforts strengthen COSATU and build broader progressive trade union unity through joint action in pursuit of the common interests of workers.  

Reconfiguration of the Alliance

The SACP and COSATU reaffirmed their commitment to the reconfiguration of our Alliance. We strongly believe that the ANC-headed Alliance cannot be able to successfully wage an effective local government election campaign without reconfiguration. The next SACP and COSATU bilateral meeting will take forward engagements on this important programmatic and organisational question of our time, following the SACP Augmented Central Committee plenary and ahead of the COSATU Central Executive Committee in the coming weeks.

Vaccine imperialism and nationalism 

The SACP and COSATU reaffirmed their shared perspective on the necessity for the global lifting of patents on COVID-19 vaccines, to allow Global South countries to develop productive capacity to manufacture the required vaccines to protect life.

Some countries of the West have used their dominance to pursue COVID-19 vaccine imperialism, nationalism, and hoarding, making the vaccines inaccessible and unaffordable for many developing countries. By buying more COVID-19 vaccine doses than they need for their entire populations (which constitutes only 14% of the global population), those countries deprive the populations of poor countries of the much-needed vaccination.

As if that were not enough, developing countries are ripped off by Western-headquartered multinational pharmaceutical corporations by paying more for the little that they can access of the COVID-19 vaccines, while the United States and European Union countries pay less for such vaccines. For the world to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, we need equitable global access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.

In South Africa, developing vaccine research, development and productive capacity through a state pharmaceutical company is crucial both now in the context of the battle against COVID-19, and going forward to build healthcare sovereignty through genetic engineering and biotechnology. The SACP and COSATU recognise emerging work in this direction and will work together to support the work.  

Solidarity on COVID-19 is crucial for Southern African countries and the entire African continent. Each country should rigorously drive the development of productive capacity to revive the economy and support broader social transformation. This will go a long way to solving many problems in Africa.

The SACP and COSATU committed themselves to advancing and deepening a joint programme of action to address the problems and challenges identified at the bilateral session and other pressing issues in pursuit of the national democratic revolution.

The SACP and COSATU reaffirmed the centrality of international solidarity with the people of the Southern African region and the entire continent for democracy, freedom and development. We are deeply concerned about the deteriorating life of the imprisoned freedom fighter, Amos Mbedzi, an SACP, ANC and uMkhontoweSizwe internationalist who recently lost his mother and suffered stroke. He is unjustly imprisoned in Swaziland. We strongly condemn the injustice and brutal persecution he is subjected to by the Swazi authorities. The SACP and COSATU will table this matter, and the need to intensify solidarity with the people of Western Sahara, Palestine, Cuba, and others facing imperialist aggression.

Issued by SACP and COSATU, 16 March 2021