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Recent developments in South Africa47
Myths about the ANC persist: from the Establishment caricature of a terrorist organisation, to the idealism of a non-stratified paragon of Liberation virtue, or a geriatric middle class club. 48 How accurate are prevailing models in depicting the historical image of the ANC? Are they only telling us where this or that leader may be pulling it? Recent events, such as violence and the referendum may indicate "ideal conditions for de Klerk to accomplish a process of reformist 'elite accommodation': drawing an elite within the democratic movement into negotiations . . . There are certainly elite forces and figures within the democratic movement who are available for such a project." The media frequently allude to this possibility: the Star recently claimed converging ANC and de Klerk positions within the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODES A), in a process likened to the building of model aeroplanes: cutting and pasting, comparing, and then making one's own model more like the others.49 Now if such a scenario does fully unfold, those favouring the "elite" approach to the ANC will seem vindicated. But would such results really prove the inherent nature of African nationalism, or the whole of the ANC, to be elitist? If the ANC was so elitist why bother with resistance? After all, sections of the Bantustan "bourgeoisie" have profited quite nicely from apartheid. Most persuasive have been the "middle class/elite" and the National Liberation models. Events, however, can rapidly overtake theory. The question of elites in the USSR, to take one example, is overlaid with decades of executive rule and fiat, heavily encrusted levels of Stalinism and bureaucratism. Soviet theory once maintained that bureaucracy was only a problem of capitalism, rather than latent in any political structures as Michels noted. Today part of an old elite, now dis-empowered, previously critical of nationalism as a bourgeois ideology, works with the United Workers' Front to defend "socialism" by linking it to Russian nationalism, to preserve the "achievements and originality (uniqueness) of Russia," whilst another elite justifies its retention of power also by reference to nationalism.50
What is the elite in the ANC? Is it the ANC itself, or the NEC, perhaps the new National Working Committee, a "shadow cabinet" set up after the 1991 ANC Conference, composed of Mandela, Sisulu, Ramaphosa and others but also including people like Cheryl Carolus and Trevor Manuel from the Cape: "a combination of a revolutionary council, an implementation body, and a shadow Cabinet," according to Cyril Ramaphosa.51 In such a large organisation as the ANC (well over 100,000 members), with no reliable studies of its exact class composition, generalisations are risky, and just a few examples will have to suffice to indicate the worker content of its membership. Three unionists, three ANC members. Ramaphosa was active in the South African Students' Organisation, the Student Christian Movement, and the Black People's Convention in the 1970's. Abandoning private legal practice on the basis of its mercenary nature, he became a union official, and in 1982 leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). In 1986 he was part of the Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU) delegation meeting the ANC in Lusaka. Before his induction into the ANC hierarchy he stated unions "intend to be in the forefront of debates and all efforts to reconstruct the economy . . . Nationalisation remains the policy of our union and the policy of COSATU and the ANC."52 Far less educated than Ramaphosa is the rank and file glass worker Ronald Mofokeng, treasurer of COSATU, and on the executive of the Chemical Workers' Union, and in his local ANC and SACP branches. Such positions do not accrue him any great material advantages at all. Questioned during a meeting in Australia about wearing so many hats, he felt that if a choice was made, he would probably pursue his class calling ahead of ANC position, a choice also made explicit by Chris Hani, the Latin-reading b%#234;te noire of the Right. Mofokeng gave a different perspective than those leaders calling for the destruction of hostels following violence, noting alternative accommodation had first to be found, or the violence would worsen. Another "rank and file" leader is Chris Dlamini, son of a domestic worker, expelled from school at standard eight for supporting potato boycotts, with a wealth of factory work experience now a SACP leader.53
There are critics on the left of the ANC who have long pointed to the alleged elitist nature of ANC leadership. Here we are concerned with the extent to which such critiques accurately reflect both the nature of the ANC as a whole, and the nature of class and national alliances. Whilst the ANC remained banned their bead was that the ANC/SACP had "betrayed" the "masses" by not mobilising workers for revolution, now it is capitulation in negotiations.54 Yet the ANC, as noted above, is an effective, if vacillating, carrier of African, democratic and worker traditions and images, that such critiques fail to identify. It is instructive to examine events since 11 February 1990 to see how reality may or may not accord with theory.
Tripartite Alliance Strengthened or Diminished 5ACP - ANC - COSATU
The first fragile alliances between communists, black workers and the ANC emerged in the First World War, firmed in the late 20's, ebbed in the 30's, gathered steam in the 40's, and was cemented in the Tripartite Alliance that has existed since the 1950's. Have worker-nationalist links helped to maintain this bond today? The SACP, influenced by loss of interest of the CPSU in African liberation, and then Soviet collapse, is seeking to forge a new identity, not easy given its association with discredited Stalinism. Even the increasingly moderate Joe Slovo, whose proposal to delete scientific socialism from the party program was defeated by rank and file at the SACP conference in December 1991, has come under attack from ANC writers such as Pallo Jordon for failing to explain past SACP obedience to Moscow.55
The latest (1992) SACP Manifesto stresses the working class should itself propel the process of change, and still defines South Africa as "colonialism of a special type [CST] . . . bourgeois rule in which the essential features of colonial domination . . . have been maintained . . . but within the boundaries of a single country," but now notes it has "a relatively advanced and relatively extensive capitalist infrastructure. . . combined with many features of typical third world underdevelopment." The regime, it claims, seeks to split the ANC from the SACP, transforming the ANC into a reformist body. The 1992 SACP constitution maintains basic aims of advancing the working class and guiding principles of Marxism/Leninism, but now states "the Party shall strive to win acceptance by democratic means . . . impl[ying] a multi-party political framework." It stresses the need to strengthen the "liberation alliance" "expressed through the liberation front headed by the" ANC, and commits itself to "combat racism, tribalism, sex discrimination, regionalism, chauvinism and all forms of narrow nationalism."56 It is thus careful to distinguish the ANC from "narrow nationalism."
An indication of dilemmas of dual ANC/SACP membership is starting to emerge. The "ideological glue" of CST theory, and the strict requisites of exile 57 which gave such strong impetus to close alliances are now under stress from international and national changes. Some leaders, such as Aziz Pahad, regarded as solid SACP have ceased attending meetings or let their membership lapse, making claims about SACP "control" of the ANC suspect. Mandela recently stated that if "overseas govenments want the alliance to come to an end they must support the end of racial oppression."58 Others have chosen to highlight their links to the working class, Chris Hani spurning a career as ANC "crown prince" by accepting, under rank and file pressure, SACP leadership, commenting that his socialist commitment comes first and he does not expect to be in the next government:
Chris Diamini wants the SACP to encourage the ANC to heed the interests of workers, but agrees the "alliance may not exist for ever."60 Yet Jeremy Cronin, highest poller for the Central Committee at the 1991 congress, doubted a split even in the long term. The high polling by union leaders, such as Chris Dlamini (392 votes) Moses Mayekiso (350) Sydney Mufamadi (387) and John Nkadimeng contrasts with the meagre showing of unionists in elections to the ANC's NEC, with only two COSATU leaders, Ramaphosa and Mufamadi, being elected. This fuelled reports of a marginalising of COSATU and rekindled debates about officials wearing "many hats." Sydney Mufamadi, Assistant General-Secretary of COSATU does not think COSATU has been sidelined as "the question which actually arises is: should COSATU play its political role in the same way?," and there was longer a need to substitute for banned organisations. The "many-caps" debate was not about the correctness of holding political multiple positions, but whether a person can hold a leading position and still be able to effect union duties, he noted.61 Unions have sought to develop strong grassroots structures to challenge internal bureaucracy, which is one reason why "the several hats" debate has been prominent. The sway of workers within Congress will be influenced by whether the SACP breaks from, or stays with a post-apartheid ANC, and John Saul doubts the SACP would simply abandon the ANC to the Right. Although he admits the alliance's future is far from clear, "for the moment one may merely conclude that the dialectic between the ANC and the broader movement does hold, albeit fraying somewhat."62
Political unionism has been growing in South Africa since the 1950's, and in the 1980's the new federation of COSATU assumed a leading role in the anti-apartheid struggle in the vacuum of the banning of opposition parties,63 with unions often debating ANC proposals. In 1989 the NUM Congress debated the ANC Constitutional Guidelines, and the Freedom Charter. Political symbolism was evident in union demands for paid holidays for political anniversaries such as May Day and Sharpeville Day. Uneven links between the ANC and black unions go back to the 1920's, but accelerated in the 80's despite ANC illegality. One bridge quite effective in building unity was a series of union seminars in Lusaka and Harare in the late 80's, coordinated by SACTU and COSATU, at which the accumulated wisdom of old veterans was passed on to activists and tactics discussed. A postal workers seminar of 1989 in Lusaka saw three unions, Potwa, Sapoea, and Saptea merge, and adopt the Freedom Charter.64 COSATU combines aims of political democracy and workers' rights, to improve the conditions of, and organise workers, and to "ensure worker participation in the struggle against apartheid. We have a right and a duty to be politically active. No worker can be free without an end to racism, oppression and exploitation in our country." It looks to the building of support for a Workers' Charter, and its Living Wage campaign aims to tackle high unemployment and low wages by proposing job security and a living wage.65
Will the Alliance hold? Has the collapse of the USSR destroyed the "model" of "dependent" trade unions? Will the irresistible demands of state override ANC links with workers? The key may lie in the nature of the ANC, and whether this changes. The ANC remained officially, after its July 1991 conference, a national liberation movement, "a broad movement, providing leadership to 'its members, and the oppressed and democratic forces generally,'" but de Klerk was pressuring it to become an orthodox party. On the issue of ANC/union relations, there is now a certain irritation or impatience amongst some trade unionists with the ANC leadership. There is little doubt that much of the sharp criticism of the leadership at the December 1990 Consultative Conference and the July 1991 48th National Conference came from worker delegates. Arnold Stofile of the ANC, referring to the Mercedes-Benz dispute, criticised "irresponsible labour strikes" and stated COSATU could now leave the political arena to the ANC/SACP. In the end the Alliance was able to end the strike. Yet there has also been an acceptance of the ANC role [ ?? ]: Rahmat Omar, COSATU Education Research Officer, notes because apartheid has always been an obstacle to free trade unions "the democratic trade union movement has always supported the ANC's demands for non-racial democracy and works willingly in alliance with the ANC and SACP."66
Are the black unions, as Anthony Marx suggests, with their growing numbers and politicisation, the locomotive (to paraphrase a more famous Marx) of recent change, or are they themselves so closely embedded in black politics that it is they who are being pushed by nationalist forces? Hirschmann felt in 1990 that "growing black resentment towards the capitalist system and an increasing positive interest in socialism . . . ill-defined as it may still be, will make itself felt in the negotiations." Lambert thought radical forms of internal democracy developed within COSATU augured well for wider transformations. Changes have been fast and furious. COSATU adopted both socialism and the Freedom Charter as goals in the late 80's. Ideological barriers alienating some left groups from the SACP have partly evaporated. It is still difficult to pin-point class attitudes within the ANC, and its membership is constantly changing as legal branches mushroom. Marx's view that class has replaced race as the main conception of social identity in the black opposition has a measure of truth, but it would be more accurate to say the combination of race and class in black opposition is now more balanced, class and national forces working in tandem to achieve their goals whilst building their own constituencies.67
ANC leadership is expressing a flexible approach to worker issues, noting in 1990 the "democratic movement as a whole has demonstrated more than once that it is ready and willing to listen to the views of the thousands of workers affected by the unhealthy divisive process within the trade union movement, to respect their feelings and, in the interests of the workers themselves and the oppressed masses . . . to work patiently to achieve unity." The December 1990 ANC Consultative Conference made special mention of "our people in the rural areas" and pledged to rectify the lack of organisation there. Nelson Mandela's carefully scripted speech also pointed out that the ANC could never be a real people's organisation until it reaches the rural masses.68 The ANC continues to devote a considerable part of of its campaigning to economic issues of concern to workers - VAT, pensions, the budget. Mandela attacked the 1992 budget as a rich man's document insensitive to the poor, and, addressing pensioners from the pulpit of Cape Town's Metropolitan Church, threatened to "destroy the economy" with mass action to prevent VAT on food: "Now we have a serious drought and seven million of our people are out of employment - where are they going to get money for food?" Max Sisulu decried the "ethnical allocation" of a budget still skewed to whites, and COSATU, in a statement representing the Alliance, described it as "mean and misleading." Whichever way you may like to deconstruct these statements, the basic alliance is holding. Whether it will hold after an interim and democratically elected government is another question. Tensions within the ANC, and between the ANC and the other members of the alliance, are already reflected in disputes over participation in local government, and rivalry to influence each other, though differences of approach to the referendum were ironed out.69 The breaking of the white monopoly of political power would create a fundamentally new situation in the sense that the current raison d'être of the alliance could evaporate. The possibility of a falling out of nationalists and workers, as in other African countries after independence could then be a real prospect.
On the other hand the ANC is not stagnant and has been seeking to set up structures everywhere, and not just in a bureaucratic mode only too evident, but also aiming to be "organising the ANC as a living presence within the people. . .at every level of the community. . .down to the block and flat or factory, in the urban and rural slum." A key to its longevity and appeal may lie in its interpretation of "national." Raymond Suttner, a leading Congress theoretician, states that by national struggle they mean not only the organisation of people in every part of South Africa but also the "social composition of our communities. . .we organise every section of the community, workers, women. . .rural workers, flat dwellers, youth." In poor areas "organisation" often involves transmitting images rather than building structures, as the people simply cannot afford structures. The "Scarlet Pimpernel" Ronnie Kasrils emphasised another theme: the humility and grassroots links of leaders, although how long this lasts is another question:
What has been the fate of African nationalism within the ANC? Mayibuye, its new-look glossy journal, carries regular short articles on workers and their problems. Comparison with its predecessor, Sechaba, suggests previous invocation of nationalist heroes, from Shaka and Moeshoeshoe to Plaatje and Nelson Mandela has fallen by the wayside, although the African Communist continues to pay homage to the past. This, however, may simply reflect editorial style. The ANC NEC Founder's Day message of 1992 still included references to, naturally enough, founders, such as the "great patriots" Dube, Rubusana, Charlotte Maxeke, and "special tribute to one of the first honorary presidents of the ANC, that patriotic leader of our people, King Dinizulu ka Cetshwayo." The message also paid tribute to "workers, civics, women, youth, religious leaders, traditional leaders, business-people, the rural masses and others for their relentless struggle," and gave close attention to the anti-VAT strike "led by COSATU."71
Neither are the workers silent. Union militancy has not abated: strikes continue in the food industry, 1,000 mineworkers forced the cancellation of an address at an Impala refinery by Ciskei military leader Oupa Gqozo, and NUM is protesting the death of 21 miners already this year at Western Deep Levels. Ethnic clashes in Bophuthatswana mines continue. Over 1,000 strikers were dismissed in northern Natal collieries in April 1992. Some labour observers note the logistics of the ANC and COSATU actually informing and consulting with ordinary people are making some strikes, such as the September 1991 anti-violence strike, ineffective. Large-scale response to the anti-VAT strike (3.5 million claimed) suggests popular response varies dependent on this input.72
COSATU recently re-affirmed its support for nationalisation, though "used strategically and not recklessly," and socialism. General-Secretary Jay Naidoo urged CODESA to concentrate on political, not economic issues, which should be left to a tripartite agreement between employers, unions and government. He also re-affrrmed COSATU would not to be dictated to by anyone, including the ANC, on economic policy, and that the federation seeks,
COSATU indicated there was room for accommodation not only with the ANC but business, stating it "would consider any options business offered as it did not believe nationalisation was the only economic strategy." Nationalisation and strikes are bargaining chips in the negotiation process. In the face of VAT and other government policies the ANC and COSATU in October 1991 launched a campaign of strikes and called for re-evaluation of honouring loans to the regime.73
Has COSATU's displacement from [a] the leading position in black resistance since the ANC's unbanning removed it from being a senior partner of the Alliance? Significanfly it has been a working class push for greater say, around the anti-Labour Relations Act campaigns of 1988-90, and VAT protests of November 1991 that have galvanised opposition forces in the face of an assertive government approach. Naldoo felt that although the ANC was on the VAT committee
COSATU's July 1991 conference saw delegates call for full consultation by allies, and the "many-hats" issue was hotly debated: "although compromises on these issues were reached, the debates reflected a deep unease within COSATU that, not only was it losing its leadership role politically, but also that it was being subverted from within." Previously it had voted to participate in CODES A, but at its conference of December 1991, a cleavage developed about direct participation. NUM, the largest affiliate, and others, backed C0SATU leaders' stance of relying on the ANC/SACP to articulate worker interests in CODESA, whilst working via the proposed parallel ECODESA bringing together labour, state and business. NUM officer Jerry Majatladi stated "the ANC represents all classes in society. It has a programme, the Freedom Charter, which caters for all sectors . . . including workers. The same can be said of the SACP." COSATU could become swamped with CODESA affairs and be unable to service its members, and its entry could stimulate a flood of other groups to join.75 Whether fear of bureaucratic entanglement in CODES A really lies behind reluctance to join is uncertain, but it could also reflect the growth of anti-bureaucratism.
The attitude of COSATU affiliates is complex. Metal workers grouped in NUMSA have a history of asserting independent worker rights. The fledgling Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) with 50,000 public servants, elected a young leadership in April 1992 led by ANC/SACP members Phillip Dexter and Neal Thobojani, but must work with ten conservative public service associations. Dexter, speaking on the fate of the union's close links if the ANC became the next employer of members, stated that "all unions will face this problem" but hopes NEHAWU can encourage the ANC to adopt more pro-worker policies. Clear union attitudes have not been aided by changing ANC pronouncements on economic policy, from open endorsement of nationalisation, to a series of contradictory policy guide-lines emanating from ANC/COSATU workshops in Harare in 1989-90. In the face of Western pressure Mandela appears to have backed down on nationalisation. Latest reports to hand speak of ANC plans to introduce a wealth tax and anti-trust laws, and to restrict nationalisation to utilities.76
Whether the future holds the prospects of a shift by black unions away from [state] socialist ideology, as forecast by Duncan Innes,7 to a more social democratic position, or a closer concern with socialism as an alternative to some future non-racial government, there are enough historic linkages to facilitate a continuing alliance of labour and the ANC. Whether the Alliance continues will largely depend on internal organisation of ANC and unions, how they articulate worker interests, and how external factors such as running the economy and accommodating different class interests are handled by the ANC should they form a new government.Return to table of contents
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