Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The ANC Must Stand Its Ground

The ANC must stand its ground


10 Jun 2007 23:59

This month’s ANC policy conference, and its national conference in December, inspire both concern and confidence.

The concern arises because the stakes are enormous: the outcome of these meetings will affect the course of South African history for many years to come.

The ANC has placed its policy documents boldly in the public domain; by doing so it stands out in comparison with other political formations that scarcely have distinctive or convincing policies, let alone rigorous policy conferences.

The ANC “cannot behave like a shapeless jellyfish with a political form that is fashioned hither and thither by the multiple contradictory forces of sea-waves”, in the words of the draft strategy and tactics document. And it is precisely this that gives rise to a feeling of confidence, eclipsing concern. Our values are grounded in and have been subjected to the rigorous test of history.

We are about to affirm policy directions, not only to sing revolutionary songs. This requires defending our country’s developmental growth path, taking advantage of a sustained period of economic growth to intensify the assault on poverty, boost development and renew South Africa’s infrastructure.

We must defend the domestic politics of liberation and the geopolitics of multilateralism that the ANC has pursued for decades. We must continue to consolidate the peace in my home turf of KwaZulu-Natal, not long ago soaked in blood. We must continue to build a nonracial nation as we deepen democracy. We must take all those who are with us forward in unity.

For inspiration I recall Sam Semetsi, a Tembisa-based ANC underground operative, who first brought me into the ANC-led struggle: “You must join the ever-heroic national liberation movement led by the African National Congress. You will never go wrong,” Sam urged me as a youth in the early 1980s. There were slogans, but there was ample substance to back them up. And victory was closer than we dreamt.

In 1914 our leaders described the ANC as “an organisation for focusing native opinion”. The present draft strategy and tactics document elaborates on this concept: “While the anti-colonial struggle could easily have been conducted as one against a racial group, it rose above these categories to embrace the principle of non-racialism: to see humanity as one and diversity as a source of strength.”

That’s where we take our stand. As the organic expression of non-racial native intelligence, exemplified by such figures as Ronnie Kasrils, Ruth First and others, the ANC stood its ground, even as powerful states attempted to topple popular governments.

Is it not ironic that Cuban President Fidel Castro, having survived numerous United States attempts to assassinate and/or overthrow him, was later able to send troops halfway across the world to assist in the humiliation of the apartheid military machine at Cuito Cuanavale in Angola, a known turning point in the freedoms we enjoy today? And that Cuba is able to assist us to this day with medical personnel and in other ways? Our non-aligned credentials have contributed to winning the peace in Ireland and are of obvious value in the Middle East, not to mention our influence for peace in Africa.

We keep our relations with most countries of the world, including the big powers, on a sound footing, and we would be recklessly self-indulgent to make new enemies. But there should be no denying the fact that our tradition is firmly revolutionary, now committed to a national democratic revolution of reconstruction. Our traditions are internationalist and multilateral.

The ANC’s 2001 national working committee discussion document, Through the Eye of a Needle?, explained that “the ANC’s objectives are informed by the aspirations of the people of SA, Africa and millions of others in all parts of the world. Over the years it has contributed to, and benefited from, struggles across the globe for a just, equitable and humane world order; and it remains committed to these ideals.”

It therefore makes perfect sense that our president spent Africa Day in the company of General Vo Nguyen Giap, architect of the successful defence of the Vietnamese people. Just as Cuba rather than the US was our closest friend in Angola, so too General Giap’s victory in the battle of Dien Bien Phu and beyond was part of our revolutionary tradition. Yet we in the ANC are an inclusive force.

We have wielded what Oliver Tambo called our weapon of unity. It is this unity that is under attack when people engage in media-driven contestation for high office. Surely now we dare not forsake the cause of unity and the tried-and-tested methods of deciding on our leadership.

But what does it mean, in present conditions, to safeguard unity? We are now approaching the ANC’s centennial and we play a more powerful role in South Africa’s daily life than ever before. The ground on which we continue the struggle has shifted.

While our stamina was tested in the past by such crude threats as arrest, imprisonment, torture and assassination, today’s challenges are more subtle and perhaps more quietly deadly. Now parliament commands not only the old weapon of unity, but also the new power of legislation, our orderliness is a major part of our power.

But we cannot afford to confuse orderliness with conservatism, because to disrupt democratic order is to weaken our own democracy. There are communities, many with genuine grievances, which, with respect, should take note.

While the anti-apartheid revolution required us to make the old repressive country ungovernable, without destroying the infrastructure that was the key to our future, a real revolution today requires the kind of radical stability that gives destabilisation no chance to gain a footing. Our opponents now seek allies in unusual places to make us ungovernable to protect their ill-gotten spoils. Our struggle was, above all, for the dignity and method of democratic governance. We must keep our heads cool and our hands steady.

As we moved from the adrenalin of revolution to the hard work of democracy, some people predictably became bored and tired; some perhaps have even dabbled in counter-revolutionary waters, conceivably in league with the remnants of former foes still in the state apparatus or society generally. The question is how our movement can sustain its revolutionary momentum during what Gustave Flaubert called “the most difficult and least glamorous of all tasks: transition”. The ANC is now visibly wrestling with the banality of good times.

Some of our best and brightest have already been tempted by the low-hanging fruit of their own unearned self-interest, while the worst, as WB Yeats warned, can remain full of passionate intensity. Our historical role as the organiser of nonracial native opinion remains vital.

And in this we cannot simply rest with old instincts “like people who wear winter coats in sweaty December merely because we remember how cold it was in June”.

Sadly, there are more than a few old coat hangers around. Certain isolated voices, even within the governing alliance, are absorbed in what Marx called “the narcissism of minor differences”. They dwell on distinctions without a difference. These few undermine our unity and indulge in various cults of personality. In the service of a false radicalism, we heard not so long ago that our leadership was a “dictatorship”.

Now Zwelinzima Vavi reportedly accuses our movement, in effect, of Nazi-style propaganda. Just analyse what that means! The challenge of the conference season is to stand our ground, as in the past, and to safeguard the integrity of the ANC as “an organisation for focusing native opinion”. That way we serve this splendid country best.
Bheki Khumalo, formerly President Thabo Mbeki’s spokesperson, previously served as a member of the regional executive council of the ANC in Gauteng.


Pan-African News Wire said...

Mbeki faces biggest test in ANC

Michael Georgy
Johannesburg, South Africa
12 June 2007 12:39

South African President Thabo Mbeki is facing mounting threats to his widely perceived plan to retain influence after he stands down as head of state.

The presidential succession debate has already plunged the African National Congress (ANC) into some of its worst factional turmoil since it led South Africa from apartheid to multiracial elections in 1994.

Now Mbeki -- accused by critics of promoting big business at the expense of the poor -- faces a direct challenge from provincial ANC branches pushing to remove him from the party's leadership race.

South Africa's Constitution forbids Mbeki from serving as president for a third term when his current stint ends in 2009.

But many political analysts believe he will go for a new term to remain head of the ANC at its congress in December.

This would give him a big say on who becomes the next national president and thereby set South Africa's political agenda for years to come.

The ANC's powerful KwaZulu-Natal branch on Sunday adopted a resolution opposing two centres of power -- shorthand for splitting political control between the ANC leader and the presidency.

ANC provincial branches outside Mbeki's camp have been lobbying for some time to ensure the new leader becomes the next president.

But analysts say Mbeki's opponents are now in their best position to advance the campaign, with most looking to a crucial ANC policy conference at the end of the month for signs of where the argument is headed.

Mbeki's free-market policies are currently under intense fire from one of the biggest public-service pay strikes since the end of apartheid, a stoppage headed by powerful unions that back Mbeki's rival in the ANC contest, current party deputy president Jacob Zuma.

The controversial and resilient Zuma, whose stronghold is KwaZulu-Natal, remains popular among the rank and file despite several corruption scandals that have tarnished him.

Biggest threat

"This is the biggest threat to Mbeki's ANC re-election campaign," said Susan Booysen, a political analyst at the University of the Witwatersrand.

"This issue of one power centre will be on the agenda at the [December] meeting. If the ANC adopts that position it will be a big victory for Zuma and his people."

The ANC has enjoyed an electoral stranglehold on South Africa since Nelson Mandela led the party to victory at the end of apartheid in 1994, but has been plagued by infighting since Mbeki dismissed Zuma as his deputy president in 2005.

Zuma could gain ammunition from the latest provincial lobbying against Mbeki.

Professor Adam Habib, of the Human Sciences Research Council, says "the first salvo" has been fired ahead of the ANC policy meeting from June 27 to July 1.

"I think it is worthwhile noting that these provincial policy conferences are really the curtain raisers," he told Safm radio station.

"This particular policy endorsement [by KwaZulu-Natal] was clearly aimed at ensuring that President Mbeki does not look towards standing for a third term."

Mbeki's critics accuse him of undermining democracy by personally appointing provincial premiers, a view shared by Sipho Seepe, a director of the Graduate Institute of Management and Technology.

But Seepe says the struggle between the methodical Mbeki and Zuma, a man who is banking on grassroots support, is not really about democracy. Rather, it highlights a political problem in the country 13 years after its first all-race elections.

"People back politicians because they like them not because they have the qualifications. South African politics need to evolve into a merit system."

The latest party manoeuvring could open the door for a compromise candidate to lead the ANC with former political prisoner and multimillionaire businessman Tokyo Sexwale saying he could be a contender.


Pan-African News Wire said...

Unions snub mediated pay proposal

Pretoria, South Africa
12 June 2007 03:31

Less than an hour before they were scheduled to resume talks with government negotiators on Tuesday, all the public-service unions rejected a 7,25% wage increase proposal brokered by mediators.

"This is not substantially different from the 6% that the government has been offering for many weeks," Willie Madisha, president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), said on behalf of all unions.

"The unions remained ready to engage but on the basis of a serious offer being placed on the table," he said.

Speaking at a press conference attended by union leaders from Cosatu-affiliated public-sector unions, the Independent Labour Caucus and a grouping of the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa, the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers and the National Teachers' Union, Madisha blamed the government for not making substantially improved offers.

Rather, the offer had improved by only 1,2% to 6,5% since talks started. Last year, the offer stood at 5,3%, later becoming 6%.

"This is not the kind of bold, decisive action on the part of the government that we need to ensure that the strike is resolved.

"We hope that the government will act decisively with an improved new offer by today [Tuesday]," he said.

Unions were scheduled to meet government negotiators at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the mediators' proposals.

Meanwhile, Madisha said the marches and picketing planned for Wednesday would go ahead.

"Never before has there been such levels of militancy, determination and willingness to make sacrifices," he said.

Contingency plans

Meanwhile, the government was putting contingency measures in place to reduce the impact of Wednesday's looming strike, Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi said on Tuesday.

"In the event that it does happen we have taken contingency measures to make sure that hospitals and schools are secure," she told a media briefing in Johannesburg.

On Tuesday, the government was scheduled to look closely at a 7,25% wage-increase offer that mediators came up with over the weekend.

"Their [the mediators'] proposal requires us to put more money on the table ... we will look at it very closely at the bargaining council today [Tuesday]."

The government's current across-the-board wage offer of 6,5% would see the salary of a "level one" public servant increase by 15,7%. This included night and weekend pay and a housing allowance. Top level employees would get a 9% increase in wages.

Fraser-Moleketi said the government had already added more than 40% to its original package. The housing allowance had gone up from R242 to R457 a month. This would be available to those both renting and buying houses. In the past it had only been available to the latter category.

The allowance would cover a bond of R70 000. Unions wanted an allowance to cover a R300 000 bond, said Vuyelwa Vumendlini, chief director of remuneration policy, job evaluation and conditions of service in the minister's department.

She said a pre-occupation in recent weeks with percentage increases had detracted attention from the comprehensive salary package.

"This has created a major diversion from making a change to the overall remuneration structure in the public service."

The minister said that more than 600 essential-service workers had been given letters of dismissal by Monday night. She said workers who had been striking legally would have the days not worked deducted from their pay.

Sympathy strike

The South African Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) was granted permission to embark on a sympathy strike in solidarity with public-service workers by the Johannesburg Labour Court on Tuesday.

Handing down judgement, Judge Johan van Niekerk said the proposed strike by municipal workers would have an impact on the national government, as a lawyer representing Samwu had argued.

"Municipalities play a role in the running of the national government and the disruption of services will therefore have an impact on the government as the primary employer."

He said the one-day strike scheduled for Wednesday would also have "some effect on the bargaining process".

Van Niekerk based his argument on provisions of Section 66 (2)(C) of the Labour Relations Act.

The Act stipulates that when employees embark on a secondary strike, "that strike must have a direct or indirect effect on the business of the primary employer".

The primary employer in this case was the national government.

However, he ruled that employees classified as essential-service workers be prohibited from joining the strike.

"The one day strike called by Samwu is a protected strike and those employees not in essential services might participate."

The South African Local Government Association was instructed to pay all legal costs suffered by Samwu during the court proceedings.

The association took Samwu to court on Tuesday morning in a bid to prohibit them from embarking on the solidarity strike.