Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Campaign and Organize!: Some Reflections From The Election Trail in South Africa

Red Alert

Campaign and organize! Some reflections from the election trail

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

Our SACP election programme in support of an ANC overwhelming victory on 22 April is now fully in swing. Without by any means being complacent about our work, it is indeed heartening that there continues to be huge support for the ANC, and in some areas it is definitely going to increase.

Whilst participating in ANC election structures and doing work in all the areas where we have SACP structures and beyond, the SACP has decided to give particular attention to rural areas, informal settlements and sectoral work amongst workers, informal traders, co-operatives and in other sectors where we have rooted ourselves through our Red October Campaign since 2000. It is therefore important to offer some reflections thus far to further strengthen our work, and most importantly point to tasks we have to undertake beyond the elections.

The SACP's electoral strategy places a lot of emphasis on quickly acting on the many challenges and problems facing our people on the ground, whether it be the need for IDs or birth certificates, service delivery problems, UIF claims, etc. Responding immediately to issues wherever possible is very important rather than deferring them till after the elections. This in itself is an important method of convincing our people about our commitment to a better life for all.

Challenges in South Africa's 'white' countryside

Another dimension of our campaign is that of seeking to strengthen, revive and build community structures in line with our 2008 Red October Campaign, as well as laying the ground work for trade union recruitment, especially on white-owned farms. For instance, in a rural area called Granspan in the Northern Cape Province, we laid the ground for the formation of a People's Land Committee to attend to the many problems facing farm-dwellers in that area. Amongst some of the immediate challenges in the area are unsettled land claims, lack of support for emerging farmers and lack of other basic services.

In many farming areas predominantly owned by white farmers, the councilors are from the Democratic Alliance (DA). These DA councilors are completely oblivious to the many problems facing black farm-workers and farm-dwellers. Instead many of these councilors, if not farmers themselves, are only defending the interests of the white farmers. It is no surprise, therefore, that the DA has only raised issues relating to crime against white farmers, which must indeed be strongly condemned, but they are very silent on the many injustices faced by, and violence directed at, black farm-workers and their communities.

In the Northern Cape, we also experienced first-hand some of the difficulties faced by black small-scale farmers. For instance, many of these farmers complained about the fact that they get paid less for their produce by the big, white-owned agricultural co-operatives and other agro-processing entities, compared to white farmers with the same quality of produce. This illustrates the extent to which the colonial economic trajectory remains firmly rooted in key sectors of our economy, especially in agriculture.

One area we have visited that deserves particular mention is an area called De Deur in the Mid-Vaal in Gauteng. This area is still plagued by illegal evictions of black farm-dwellers and unbearable conditions under which farm-workers live. In one farm, owned by a well-known owner of race horses, workers live in what were horses' stables before. No improvements have been made to these structures, and as a result, they have no windows or any ablution facilities whatsoever, and people literally go to the nearest bushes to relieve themselves, in the middle of Gauteng, the richest province of South Africa!

Another key observation from De Deur is the increasing replacement of South African workers by workers from neighbouring countries, especially Zimbabwe and Lesotho. This is clearly a strategy to maximize the exploitation of the working class in the countryside, and a strategy aimed at undermining trade union organization as these workers feel vulnerable to summary expulsion and therefore not easy to organize.

The one important lesson from the above is that it is of critical importance to draw in FAWU (Food and Allied Workers Union) leaders and organizers into election teams when campaigning in these areas. In addition, the Labour Department needs to specifically target such areas and conduct high profile blitzes by labour inspectors as part of ensuring that labour laws are implemented by white farmers and that minimum basic services are provided.

Significant inroads into rural Kwa-Zulu-Natal

It is indeed heartening that the ANC is making significant inroads into rural KZN, especially in those areas that were IFP strongholds and no-go areas. It is no wonder that the IFP, in areas like Nongoma, is really in a panic, and some of their members are beginning to embark on violence against the ANC.

The SACP in KZN has also made its own contribution by opening up what can be called 'virgin' territory, thus creating the conditions for the ANC to build its own structures in those areas. The SACP campaigns on land and agrarian reform, the credit bureaus, on access to health, and on public transport have really had an impact in significant sections of the IFP constituencies in a number of rural areas. This has had a positive impact in terms of accessing members and voters in some of those areas, thus contributing enormously to the ANC's election campaign.

However, a matter of serious concern in some of these rural KZN areas is the attitude of sections of the police towards SACP and ANC activities. For example, in one area of Mtubatuba where the ANC lost a recent by-election by a mere 27 votes - with a huge increase in ANC voters - the police attempted to stop an SACP red forum of about 200 people, on the grounds that we have not sought permission from the local council. There is no such legal requirement for the size of meeting we were having. This is clearly an attempt to subject SACP and ANC meetings to approval by IFP councilors, thus preventing us from campaigning in those areas

The 2009 election campaign: A school for deepening transformation of local government

It is clear and perhaps inevitable that many of the issues we are dealing with during this campaign are about the state, particularly challenges in local government. So we need to learn appropriate lessons about the many challenges to deepen transformation of local government.

We should openly and honestly take to heart the many issues raised by people about the state of local government, capacity to deliver, and the quality of councilors we have in various areas. It is going to be important for the Alliance, immediately after the elections, to honestly compare notes on this matter and compile a comprehensive picture about the state of our local government.

Put differently, we must approach this campaign as a school to prepare us for the 2011 local government elections. But this must go beyond just preparing for the 2011 election campaign. It must centrally be about the transformational challenges we face at local government level. For instance, we need to get a clear picture of the extent to which ANC councilors are practically honouring the pledge they made when they were elected in 2006, including holding at least quarterly community meetings.

We are today just 35 days away from the election date! Let all communists deepen and advance elections work - with and for the workers and the poor!


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