If the majority of the people of South Africa do not act now to take back our democracy, economy and culture from the elite, the gathering storm clouds will coalesce into an antidemocratic Hurricane Sandy that will destroy the aspirations and dreams of a just post-apartheid South Africa.
President Jacob Zuma’s astounding claims that the ANC is not corrupt and there is no deepening crisis in this country, and his support for antidemocratic tribal courts, are just a few examples of the strategic incapability of the political elite to lead the much-needed, thorough transformation of South Africa.
The ANC’s embrace of and consistent adherence to neoliberal economic policy confirm its accommodation with capitalism – one that continues to concentrate economic resources, wealth and power in the hands of an unaccountable elite.
This economic elite has lost 18 years in undertaking the redistribution and ownership of wealth, which it should have done. Instead, it has continued to squeeze workers through increased productivity, casualisation, retrenchments, managerialism and an investment strike. All these have resulted in the increase in the profit share of national income compared with the decline in the wage share of this income.
This elite has largely responded to fair and just worker demands for economic redistribution with hypocritical cries and moans of labour rigidity and threats of investment strikes. This is profoundly undemocratic and unjust. The ANC’s compromise with AfriForum on the issue of struggle songs is an unprincipled pandering to the anti-democratic whims of an intransigent and conservative representative of privileges left over from colonialism, apartheid and capitalism.
At the other end, the actions of groups such as the Treatment Action Campaign, Section27, service delivery protesters and the so-called social movements have not gone far enough in their activity to be able to understand, challenge and transform the deep roots of the rising democratic deficit and the socioeconomic crises facing South Africa.
It is not enough to seek to hold the government accountable to its constitutional mandate when the economic system itself continues to leave a small elite to control the wealth of our country. The same applies to localised service delivery protests or the rejectionist positions of social movements, because these do not systematically challenge the limited and hollow democracy that is now South Africa’s political form.
Unless we build a social force in South Africa that can overcome these limits, the unjust and undemocratic trajectory we are on is likely to open the door to autocratic regression, deep alienation, social conservatism and continued economic turbulence.
The overwhelming majority of people in South Africa have the capacity to take action now to stop this rot and build a transformative vision and practices of democracy in politics, social life, culture and the economy.
We must start with the immediate major crises. We must support the demands of all mine and other workers for a living wage, decent working conditions, fair labour practices and worker participation in the running of workplaces. This is about challenging the unaccountable power of managers and shareholders.
We must call for accountability and a public review of the taxpayer’s financing of Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla complex. We must demand an end to the wastage of public expenditure on benefits and consumption by the political elite. We must use the Limpopo textbook crisis to demand that the state deliver textbooks to all schools on time.
We must increase pressure on the government to stop both the Traditional Courts Bill and the “secrecy” Bill. We must call for an end to evictions and basic services being cut off. Police brutality and violence must come to an end. The police who murdered mine workers in Marikana must be arrested, charged and tried.
All these are immediate demands that require hundreds of thousands of South Africans to sign a petition in their support. This petition will be launched at the end of November and the intention is to submit it to Parliament when it reopens in February. Beyond such a petition, thousands of us must be prepared to march and occupy Parliament, provincial legislatures and municipal council halls until these immediate demands are met.
Yet these demands must not be the end. We need to build a massive campaign and momentum for the deepening of democracy in the social, economic, political, cultural and other aspects of life in society.
We need to build a model of deep participatory democracy that goes beyond the limits of what we have. In such a participatory democracy, we must argue for significant political reforms that will end elite control of our politics. Public representatives must be elected by constituencies, which must be able to recall their public representatives. There must be no corporate control or dirty money in the political system. Citizens must be able to propose referendums and legislation. Ward committees must not be controlled be political parties – they must be transformed into organs of people’s power with real and substantial control of budgets, development plans and implementation.
Crucial in mobilising such a participatory democracy is the democratisation of ownership and control of the economy beyond shareholders, managers and black economic empowerment (BEE) partners. This means the effective organisation of workers, the unemployed and communities to occupy and take over workplaces as collective enterprises that can be run efficiently to produce goods, create jobs and use their surplus to meet social needs. In Argentina, close to 20 000 workers have started and sustained successful co-operatives.
This will require sustained campaigns to build organisation, use professional skills for business planning and management and build successful resistance against the economic elite and attacks from the police, Parliament and government. It will also require sustained campaigns for new laws to protect and promote the worker and community takeover of companies. This vision will achieve economic democracy beyond the antidemocratic lies of the free market and BEE.
None of this is possible if we do not build a mass campaign with a vision, a programme and concrete demands that relate to the needs, interests and concerns of the majority of South Africa’s people. It must start by connecting with the working-class mass energy that the Right2Know campaign, the campaign against the Traditional Courts Bill, the hundreds of service delivery protests, the strategic litigation efforts of civil society organisations and the wave of mine worker strikes have unleashed.
They all underline the systemic crisis facing South Africa. A strategically incapable ANC – which seeks to maintain capitalist profitability while promising some social delivery to the majority, undoing even the limited democratic framework we have – can no longer solve this crisis. All South Africans of conscience should help to build a campaign of democracy from below.
Mazibuko Jara is a member of the Democratic Left Front. Click here for more information