S. African Communists eye next steps

News Analysis

When the African National Congress of South Africa won a popular mandate of 70 percent of the vote in a landslide victory in 1994, following the overthrow of the racist, U.S.-supported apartheid regime, popular expectations ran high. The inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the first president of a new, nonracialist South Africa symbolized a historic turning point.

Since then the ANC government has sought to address the Black population’s overwhelming poverty and the country’s economic development, working in concert with its key allies in what is known as the Tripartite Alliance — the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

When the Special Congress of the South African Communist Party convened April 8-10 in Durbin to assess the “challenges, shortcomings and lessons to be learned” over the past decade, the atmosphere was sober but upbeat.

National Chairperson Charles Nqakula greeted the 600 delegates and guests and noted that despite profound changes, “our society continues to be dominated by a brutal and inhumane capitalist accumulation regime. It is an accumulation path that remains fundamentally untransformed.”

Nqakula’s remarks and those of Blade Nzimande, general secretary of the SACP, placed renewed emphasis on the urgency of job creation and the elimination of poverty, especially in view of heavy layoffs in recent years. Nzimande spoke of “intensified worker action” and “escalating class struggles” to advance the interests of the working class and the landless poor. The congress also outlined what it called a Medium Term Vision, declaring the next 10 years to be a “decade of the workers and the poor.”

Nqakula called for intensified involvement by Communists in every sector of government, in neighborhoods, in factories and mines, on campuses, and elsewhere.

The deep respect enjoyed by South Africa’s Communists was evident, including in the form of a speech to the congress by the country’s president, Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki saluted the SACP for its pioneering political role in characterizing pre-apartheid South Africa as reflecting a “colonialism of a special type,” and in charting a path to liberation from the racist system of oppression.

He said the nation’s main priorities today are the building of a nonracist and nonsexist society, and the struggle against poverty. “What sorts of interventions should we make to impact on the capitalist system so that we are better able to fight against poverty?” he asked. “It can’t just be a negotiated resolution or [an] act to say ‘down with poverty.’”

Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of COSATU, expressed his solidarity with SACP and said workers had benefited from the first decade of democracy.

“First, we won democratic space within which to operate, underpinned by a progressive constitution,” he said. “You only have to look at our neighbors in Zimbabwe and Swaziland to understand the extent of the political space won by the working class and its allies in South Africa.”

“Second, workers have gained rights in the workplace, as contained in our progressive labor laws,” Vavi said. “The third major gain for the working class was the provision of basic services, including shelter, health care, water, electricity, education and so forth, especially in the rural areas. [The] rollout of basic services is critical in the struggle to transform the gendered household division of labor and to relieve the burden currently borne by women. Still, millions do not have access to these basic services and there is a real possibility that rising user fees may cut off those that currently enjoy access.”

Unemployment is estimated at 30 percent, he said, and job elimination is a big problem, particularly in the mining and textile industries. Youth unemployment is severe, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to take a heavy toll.

In short, Vavi said, “the political transformation has not been matched by substantial transformation of economic power. … In economic terms, capital scored the most and has reaped massive profits” with large-scale job cuts.

Vavi observed, “Economic power is still in the hands of white monopoly capital. The aspirant and vocal Black bourgeoisie remains numerically small and depends heavily on the state and white business for its survival.”

Among the resolutions adopted at the end of the SACP congress was one relating to electoral activities, particularly the upcoming local elections. Delegates agreed to fully support “ANC-led campaigns,” and SACP members who run on the ANC line were reminded that they will be checked up on to ensure that they conform to the SACP’s high principles and moral standards.

For more information, visit the SACP’s web publication, Umsebenzi Online, at www.sacp.org.za/umsebenzi/online/.