United Front? 'alive, well and united'
RIGHT OF REPLY
The United Front (UF) neither wishes nor expects the Mail & Guardian to be its mouthpiece. But the UF does expect the M&G to provide quality, objective, truthful and balanced journalism that is not jaundiced or prejudiced.
Regrettably, its article on the United Front (An indefinite pause on a workers’ revolution) fails its readers, the general public and the high-quality standards of journalism. It ends up being a propagandistic piece that deliberately misinforms the public and unfairly puts the UF on the back foot.
The UF sent the bulk of this response to the M&G prior to the publication of the article.
Why did the M&G choose to ignore it? To write such a response is not our preferred option of working with the media. We would rather be focusing on our campaigns, as we have done through some 20 press statements over the last six months and which the M&G has ignored to date.
The article, by Phillip de Wet, is shown up by another article in the same edition, by Kwanele Sosibo (Front must find a ‘clear, radical’ stance), which provides readers with a real taste of community struggles and the role the UF has played in some of them. Sosibo’s article is balanced and fair, and quotes real people representing real organisations.
De Wet’s article is entirely based on unnamed sources, as if the UF did not provide answers to the questions the M&G sent. Why did the M&G choose to silence the UF?
The UF is not waiting for the emergence of a new workers’ political party or a new trade union federation. It exists in its own right as a broad coalition of workers, youth, women, the unemployed, civic organisations, social movements, rural people, progressive activists and academics, and other mass organisations.
There is broad consensus about the nonparty-political nature of the front. There is ongoing consideration of, and debate about, how the UF should relate to the process by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) for a movement for socialism, as well as to the ongoing political struggles in Cosatu. In six national meetings, the UF has debated these questions and has now commissioned a discussion paper on these issues ahead of its founding conference.
De Wet’s article also claims that delegates at the UF’s preparatory assembly found little to agree on except that the ANC was to blame for almost all the woes of workers and the country as a whole. This is a lie the M&G already told in an earlier article, in December 2014 (Numsa’s Front: United only in opposition).
The M&G ignores a publicly available 26-page report of agreements achieved at the assembly. The overwhelming consensus achieved then laid the basis for what the UF has done in the past six months.
This is far from the front having very little to agree on. That there are ongoing debates within the front has been public knowledge from the beginning – about the political orientation of the UF to socialism and the Freedom Charter, how to approach the 2016 municipal elections and whether political parties and individuals should join the front. These were publicly stated and explained in the assembly’s report and the debate continues.
De Wet also wrongly claims that the UF will support candidates of an as-yet-nonexistent workers’ party. Is there even a need to reply to this absurdity? The UF will decide on its approach to the 2016 municipal elections at its founding conference.
At this point in time, all provincial conferences have debated the matter and put forward several proposals, which are being synthesised into a composite document for further debate.
On funding, there is no expectation that Numsa will pay for the UF. The preparatory assembly proudly asserted that the front must not depend on Numsa and that it must finance itself. In the six short months of our existence, we have not had sufficient time to raise enough of the R3.5-million required for the founding conference or the additional millions needed for operations, programmes and campaigns.
We merely reasserted that we will ensure that from the word go, the front will be able to raise its own money. We do not assume Numsa will bankroll it.
This, however, required human resources, and a fundraising plan and its implementation. And this we did not do. In the past six months, instead of fundraising we have been paying attention to campaigns, building UF structures and having internal political debates. These activities have been key in defining the UF and building momentum towards the founding conference. As of our June national meeting, we are now implementing a full fundraising plan.
It is untrue that Numsa stopped funding the UF before the June conference. To its credit, Numsa continues to contribute financial resources, deploy 15 organisers and provide office infrastructure and administrative support. This is a good foundation that our new fundraising plan is building on.
Contrary to the article, the UF has not had several interim and steering committees. There has only ever been one interim national working committee plus provincial counterparts. The seven provincial conferences elected new committees, replacing the interim structures. The same will happen with the election of a national committee at the founding conference.
In the meantime, the national committee has recommended expansion by co-opting representatives of mass organisations affiliated to the UF, such as new civic initiative the Congress of South African Nonracial Community Movements, the Right2Know Campaign, the Inyanda National Land Movement and the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign.
The UF does not have “token” organisations in provinces. It has about 240 real people’s organisations – small advice offices, social movements, civics, rural movements, independent trade unions, women’s organisations, youth groups and individuals from Cosatu affiliates. The UF exists in 42 centres across the country (which has about 50 districts). As the Sosibo article shows, these organisations are rooted in working-class communities and are taking up real bread-and-butter issues.
According to De Wet, the UF has not done anything other than stage a protest in March outside the United States consulate in Sandton and call in June for citizens to “jam the presidential hotline, fax, email address and postbox with the message: ‘President Zuma – pay back the money you owe us for your private home. Listen to us as the people!”
This is bad journalism. The UF press statement calling for the jamming of the presidential hotline also called for a national march against corruption to the Union Buildings, as well as a mass protest in front of Parliament on the day that Police Minister Nathi Nhleko presented his Nkandla report to the relevant parliamentary committee.
The same statement called for the consideration of a legal challenge to overturn Nhleko’s decision and push for the legal enforcement of the public protector’s report on Nkandla. Thanks to the UF initiative, the marches to Parliament and the Union Buildings will become a reality on August 7 and 19 respectively.
Yet again, contrary to the article, the UF is not a mere adjunct of the anticorruption march. It is a cofounder of the broad coalition organising it and sits on the committee. In addition, the UF has demonstrated its capability to organise campaigns involving workers and communities, including:
- Protesting against the youth wage subsidy as a false solution to youth unemployment;
- Fighting against the austerity of the 2015 national budget through a march of some 4 000 people to Parliament and six protests during provincial budget speeches;
- Compiling an alternative State of the Nation address;
- Mobilising for the massive march against xenophobia in March;
- Organising 25 protests on March 21 against police brutality, with a focus on ending the police/army siege in Thembelihle, and the joint release with Right2Know on intelligence spying on social movements;
- Launching the South Africa We Want campaign by means of five people’s assemblies on April 27;
- Supporting localised protests, in particular that of the Amadiba Crisis Committee in Xolobeni;
- Co-hosting the successful electricity conference held at the beginning of June, resulting in an agreed programme of action, a picket at the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) hearings and a submission to Nersa; and
- Mobilising a broad campaign to win justice for Marikana workers and families following the release of the Farlam commission’s report.
Our own weaknesses are in planning campaigns, having a thin activist layer, not yet being able to sustain campaigns until victories are won, a lack of sufficient funds and limited media work. Yet, despite these weaknesses, these campaigns show that the claim that the UF risks irrelevance is plainly propagandistic. The June national meeting paid attention to these weaknesses and developed a strategy that we are now rolling out.
The article claims that there is low morale in the UF. All De Wet needed to do is what his colleague Sosibo did: speak to any UF member, leader or affiliate from the 240 organisations that make up the front. All of them would say building the front is not easy, but that the process has started and is exciting and inspiring.
The M&G chose not to report what we told the paper, which was that we will decide at the end of October when to hold the founding conference. There are rather shallow media understandings of the “third postponement” of the UF launch and of an overstretched Numsa. This view narrowly reduces the UF formation process to an event.
It was a mistake to declare the launch date in advance, because political processes mature best when they do so organically and on the basis of achieving milestones one by one. This is the approach we are now following. Already, the launch of provincial and regional structures, the recruitment of affiliates and the initiation of campaigns are significant milestones.
Mazibuko Jara is the national secretary of the United Front