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South Africa: Views from the Left
May 5, 2014 (140505)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
No one doubts that the ANC will win this week's election in South
Africa, as it has the four previous democratic elections beginning in
1994. But it is also clear that disillusionment with the liberation
movement turned incumbent ruling party has reached high levels, not
least with many South Africans who supported the ANC's liberation
struggle and share its proclaimed goals of a more just South Africa.
As noted in last week's AfricaFocus Bulletin
(http://www.africafocus.org/docs14/tax1404.php), the levels of
inequality in South Africa are the highest in the world, and have
even increased rather than decreased in the last 20 years, despite
the end of political apartheid and the advance of large numbers of
black South Africans into economic as well as political leadership.
While most critics find no viable political alternative to the ANC,
many have given up hope on reform within the party. The massacre of
mineworkers at Marikana in August 2012 and the scandal over expensive
construction at the president's personal home at Nkandla symbolize
the change in mood. And the December 2013 decision by the
metalworkers union NUMSA, to end official support for the ANC has
opened up an intense debate within the ranks of the trade union
movement, the ANC's most important institutional ally.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin highlights a selection of sources from left
critics of the ANC. First, it contains an interview with South
African AIDS activist Zackie Achmat, as presented on the blog
http://africasacountry.com, in which Achmat explains why he will not
be voting for the ANC. This is followed by a short list of recent
books analyzing South Africa in the current period.
Three recent articles with views in the same vein by other prominent
South Africans formerly associated with the ANC include:
(1) 'We're not just Looking for a Loaf of Bread, but the Whole
Bakery': An Interview with NUMSA's General Secretary
South African union leader Irvin Jim talks to Think Africa Press
about the ANC's failures, COSATU's rifts, land reform, workers'
rights and more.
Think Africa Press, March 12, 2014
http://thinkafricapress.com / direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/ltc7yws
[Links to this article may not be avaialable at this site as of 2016; pdf version available here]
(2) "Tutu calls on South Africans to vote with their heads"
Mail & Guardian, 23 Apr 2014
http://mg.co.za / direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/nguojlt
(3) "How the ANC's Faustian pact sold out South Africa's poorest.
In the early 1990s, we in the leadership of the ANC made a serious
error. Our people still paying the price," by Ronnie Kasrils
The Guardian, 23 June 2013
http://www.theguardian.com / direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/lx4v85f
A useful analytical article too long to excerpt here (14 pages with
footnotes) is "South Africa's Resource Curses and Growing Social
Resistance," by Patrick Bond
Monthly Review, April 2014
http://www.monthlyreview.org / direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/mbhavrc
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on South Africa, visit
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
20 Years of Freedom: Zackie Achmat on South Africa's 5th democratic
by Sean Jacobs
May 1, 2014
http://africasacountry.com / direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/peqgu6d
This interview is republished by Africa is a Country with the kind
permissions of the editors of GroundUp (http://www.groundup.org.za/)
It was originally published by GroudUp on April 24, 2014.
Throughout the 2000s, Zackie Achmat led what was probably the most
recognizable multi-class, mass social movement in South Africa,
outside of the wide support enjoyed by the ANC or its trade union
ally. Though the Treatment Action Campaign openly clashed with the
government led by then ANC President, Thabo Mbeki, and adopted a
number of activist strategies including illegal importation of ARV's,
occupying government offices, or calling for the arrest of the
ministers of trade and industry as well as health, nonetheless Achmat
was still very much ANC. So were many of his members and supporters.
In fact, TAC exploited splits in the ANC over AIDS policy. As Mbeki
bunkered down on AIDS, Achmat could rely on the very public support
of the unions and Nelson Mandela (who visited Achmat at his house and
put on one of the HIV Positive t-shirts popular with TAC supporters).
Nowadays, with South Africa's 5th set of general elections* one week
away, Zackie is not so ambivalent about his relationship to the ANC.
In the wide-ranging interview, below, conducted by Cape Town news
site, GroundUp, Achmat breaks down why he won't vote for the ANC
anymore. And in case you wondered, he adds that: "I cannot vote for
the Democratic Alliance or any of the parties of the right." - Sean
GU: Why have you decided not to vote ANC?
ZA: I joined the ANC when I was in prison in 1980. In the 2004
election I spoilt my national ballot by writing HIV causes AIDS on
President Mbeki's face. I voted ANC on the provincial ballot for
Ebrahim Rasool and his cabinet who had done a sterling job on HIV.
When Rasool was in a coalition govt with the National Party, he was
MEC for health. He resisted Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's attempts to
delay the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV programme
by implementing a pilot programme.
In 2009, I decided to vote ANC after a serious debate. I regret that
decision. By that point the ANC had basically destroyed its internal
democracy to the extent that there was any party life. It had been
invaded by former homeland bureaucrats and opportunists.
To give you an example: Richard Mdluli, who became the crime
intelligence boss under Zuma, had been in the apartheid police and
had worked with the security police on the repression of activists.
That is an extreme example, but in addition to that Thabo Mbeki had
based his economic policy on the creation of a black capitalist class
and the rapid and dramatic creation of a black middle class. The
latter in itself is not a bad thing considering that black people had
very little access to education, culture and economic opportunities.
But concomitant with that creation of the black middle class was the
fostering of crony capitalism based on state tenders.
Now let's take a step back and look at what elections mean. In any
democracy an election is a snapshot of society's political
expression. It is only the expression of those who vote at a
particular moment. In our country the vote is one of the most
important gains of our democracy. Therefore it is critical that when
we discuss whether to vote or not to vote or to spoil our ballot,
that we base it on an analysis of what is happening in society.
GU: You say the ANC's internal democracy has eroded. Is that a
sufficient basis for deciding not to vote for them?
ZA: No. Let's first see what the ANC has done. We are celebrating 20
years of democracy. The ANC's greatest achievement was the 1994 truce
between three major forces in society: the forces of liberation led
by the working class under the banner of the ANC, the white apartheid
state, and corporations. Many people have criticised this as a
compromise which has led to a sellout. I can understand why, but you
have to understand the balance of forces in our society at that
The forces of liberation could not destroy the apartheid state.
Neither could the apartheid state destroy the forces of liberation.
The apartheid state was armed to the teeth and white South Africans
remained amongst the most armed people in the world.
The capitalist class was globally in the ascendancy because of
Thatcherism and the destruction of the Soviet system which had been
the main backer, apart from Sweden, of the ANC. We were in an
incipient civil war because the white state included Buthelezi,
Mangope and other homeland leaders. The important question here was
that they were turning the war into what was called black on black
violence. The conflict from 1990 to 94 was the bloodiest in our
liberation history. It wasn't just the massacre at Boipatong, but
also the armed Inkatha impis supported by De Klerk.
Had we not made that settlement, let me give you an example of what
would not be possible. I once asked a TAC [Treatment Action Campaign]
member by the name of Maria in an interview why she loved civil
disobedience but still voted ANC. She had lived in Alexandra. She
replied, "Because when the ANC took over there was war and now it is
a peaceful and nice country." A critical element of that 1994 truce
was the Constitution. If correctly interpreted by the progressive
forces of the left, the Constitution creates a qualitatively new
moment for taking the struggle for equality and justice forward.
The ANC has also achieved through this a significant moral victory in
restoring the political and social dignity of black people. There are
many Model C black children and university graduates who never grew
up under apartheid and who say the ANC has sold out black people. But
for people of my generation and earlier the ending of apartheid
established an ineradicable dignity and victory over oppression.
What else has the ANC achieved? There's been increased access to
water, education, sanitation, health-care, shelter and other social
goods. One of the most important victories of the working class in SA
was the demand by civil society organisations and COSATU for the
expansion of the grant system and particularly the child support
grant. This grant has avoided a situation where a significant number
of people would have gone hungry.
So why not vote for the ANC that has brought us all of this? Let's
start with the 1999 arms deal. It's mostly attacked for the
corruption that involved the leadership of the ANC and multinational
companies. However, the most enduring problem caused by it was an
executive lawlessness which led to the weakening and in some cases
the destruction of independent state bodies such as the Scorpions,
the office of the National Prosecuting Authority and above all
Parliament. It is in this period that internal democracy in the ANC
was destroyed by Thabo Mbeki and his henchmen like Essop Pahad, Alec
Irwin and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
GU: You blame the arms deal. Do you not think the response to the HIV
struggle also resulted in the undermining of these institutions?
ZA: The foundation for Mbeki's success in HIV denialism and the
further destruction of independent bodies such as the Chapter nine
institutions, had been laid by the arms deal.
GU: Isn't it historically incorrect to claim that the ANC had true
ZA: People treat the ANC as a monolithic body. Unless you lived
through the period of the 70s and 80s, it would be hard to realise
that the ANC in exile was a divided and weak body kept together by
Oliver Tambo and a struggle led by working class youth inside the
country. The democracy of the ANC inside the country was a
fundamentally different question to what was going on inside the
camps and in exile in the ANC.
The most important democratic gain inside the country was the
building of the labour movement. To this day, it is still the most
democratic part of the tripartite alliance. Therefore in the period
1990 to 1999, there was a flowering of internal party democracy which
allowed for the creation of progressive policies. The internal
democracy is gone but the policies remain. However, the intention to
implement those policies is almost gone too.
GU: Are there any other reasons you won't vote ANC?
ZA: HIV. Local government. Chancellor House, the ANC's party funding
machine. The education system and policing.
GU: But the response to HIV has improved? And the messups with
education and policing were made in the early years of ANC rule?
ZA: Let's take a step back. To this days hundreds of thousands of
people still die of AIDS every year. Even though new infections have
slowed down and life expectancy has increased dramatically, the high
number of new infections and deaths is still a legacy of the ANC. To
this day, ANC members die and are not open about their HIV status.
The silence of people like Jeremy Cronin, who wrote a few poems
condemning Peter Mokaba but never spoke out publicly the way people
like Barbara Hogan did, the criminal silence of people like Malusi
Gigaba in stark contrast to Zola Skweyiya is a legacy that lives on
in issues like the Nkandla scandal. The same silence and
collaboration that operated with HIV denialism remains with the
struggle against corruption epitomised by Nkandla.
GU: And education?
ZA: To their credit, Zuma and Motshekga ended the policy of outcomes
based education, the consequences of which will be with us for a
generation or more. However, there are deep class inequalities in
education. The vast majority of black working class children continue
to face an intellectual dispossession which undermines their dignity,
freedom, equality and opportunities to participate in society and the
economy. The ANC is in denial about the extent of that crisis and
continues to defend [the fact] that there are thousands of pit
latrines in schools.
GU: And policing?
This is one the most egregious examples of the failure of the ANC.
Reducing crime and creating safe communities is not simply a task for
the police. What the struggle for safety in Khayelitsha has revealed
is that we have inherited much of the old order. It is capable of
committing things like the Marikana massacre which the ANC defends.
None of the ministers responsible for the police who were responsible
for the massacre have been asked to resign.
GU: So you've explained why you won't vote ANC. What to do instead?
ZA: I haven't come to Nkandla?
GU: What about Nkandla?
ZA: Out of deep frustration and anger I would love to spoil my ballot
and write "Nkandla" over Jacob Zuma's face, but the vote is something
people have struggled and died for. It is internationally the
struggles of the working class that have brought democracy to so much
of the world. And that democracy allows us to struggle under better
conditions rather than under the conditions of repression which makes
organising very difficult. So I am going to use my vote to protest.
However, I cannot vote for the Democratic Alliance or any of the
parties of the right. I won't vote for the DA because I believe it's
a party that entrenches division and inequality by exploiting the
fears of minorities and promoting the interests of major
GU: By right, does that include the EFF?
ZA: Let me put it differently. The EFF is both a most exciting and
most dangerous thing. It shows that young people, particularly young
men, who are alienated can be brought into politics on the basis of
addressing social and economic injustice and inequality. The danger
is that most of the leadership are populists and militarists who rely
on slogans rather than the building of concrete knowledge that allows
people to contest power.
GU: So who will you vote for?
ZA: I am going to cast a protest vote in favour of one of the smaller
GU: Which ones are you thinking of voting for?
ZA: Possibly Themba Godi's African People's Convention. People laugh
at me and say, "who's that?" And I say the APC. And people respond
GU: Why the APC?
ZA: The APC was formed during the floor-crossing time. Like Patricia
de Lille, Themba Godi crossed the floor from the PAC, but he has
maintained his integrity. He became chair of SCOPA, the Standing
Committee on Public Accounts. The beginning of the decline of the ANC
was the arms deal and one of the institutions it weakened was SCOPA.
It is traditionally chaired by an opposition MP. The ANC imagined if
it made Godi chair of SCOPA, it would be able to control him with the
offer of goodies. Instead, he has restored integrity to SCOPA by
holding departments accountable and supporting the work of the
auditor-general. I would like him to be returned to parliament
because he has a record of doing good work there.
GU: But you're not under any illusion that the APC is a serious
GU: What do you think of Ronnie Kasrils and Nozizwe MadlalaRoutledge'
s call for people to spoil their ballots or vote
ZA: I think the call for a spoilt ballot is a mistake.
ZA: One of the problems of South African democracy, also one of the
ANC's failures, is that about 40% of adults didn't vote in the last
election. In addition there was a large number of spoilt ballots. I'm
under no illusions. The ANC will still get well over 60% of the vote.
Spoiling one's ballot, even by a few hundred thousand people, will
not decrease their majority. Voting for an opposition party will.
GU: There is the impression that most people vote for the ANC out of
blind loyalty, that they're cannon fodder. Is this true?
ZA: The argument made by superficial commentators that people vote
ANC out of ignorance or race solidarity is wrong. Most people who
vote ANC, vote for decent homes, economic justice, water and what the
ANC calls a better life for all. Most peoples' lives are better off
than under apartheid. The majority of ANC voters correctly fear a
fragmentation of society into competing groups of people on the basis
of race or ethnicity. The ANC has been a force that has bound the
country together. It is now undermining that legacy. Most young
people are not going to vote. And those young people who are going to
the vote for the ANC mostly do not want Zuma in power according to a
The question of race and vote is very often misunderstood on the left
and right. Racial oppression of black people remains a material fact
in our society because of class inequality. Until a mass working
class party which understands the connection between race, class and
gender is formed there will be no alternative for the majority of ANC
GU: So where's this workers' party coming from?
ZA: South Africa is in a time of uncertainty and promise. The
decision by NUMSA to create a united front and to explore the
creation of a mass workers party by breaking with the ANC is an
important moment. But the danger is the divisions in the working
class and their main movement COSATU. NUMSA and its supporters face
the challenge of going beyond small left groups and to return to
organising a mass based struggle. For me, as I said at the start of
this interview, elections are a snapshot of some people's will. Real
democracy is what happens between elections, the daily participation
in political, economic and social struggle based on knowledge. I
believe this is what we should all turn our attention to over the
Recent Books on South Africa @ 20
Alex Boraine, What's Gone Wrong?: South Africa on the Brink of Failed
William Gumede, Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times.
Adam Habib, South Africa's Suspended Revolution: Hopes and Prospects.
Gillian Hart, Rethinking the South African Crisis: Nationalism,
Populism, Hegemony. 2014.
Hein Marais, South Africa Pushed to the Limit. 2013.
John S. Saul and Patrick Bond, South Africa - The Present as History.
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