The following analysis was presented by a member of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) at the Khanya College organised Seminar on the 2009 Election Results, held in Johannesburg on Sunday 10 May 2009. The topic of the seminar was “What do the 2009 Election results mean for the South African working class?”.
There were speakers from the following organisations present:
Bolshevik Study Circles & Che Guevara Film Club, Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF), General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA), Soweto Concerned Residents (S.C.R–A.P.F), NKUZI – Fieldworker of Farmworkers' Programme and Kathorus Concerned Residents (KCR)
It should be noted that - owing to the constraints of time allocated for this presentation - this is by no means a complete analysis of the 2009 elections, and what the ANC victory and Zuma administration means for the poor and working class of the region. It serves only to raise some of what we believe to be important issues for consideration going forward.
We've been hearing so much about Zuma. Zuma is great or Zuma is terrible. A hero or a criminal. A socialist or a 'moderate'. The election seems to have been all about Zuma, Zille and perhaps a few other dominant personalities.
What does it mean for the poor and working class that this election - supposed to be a key election - is discussed so much in terms of personalities? Not just in the media: this is how many many people have been thinking of it, since years before the election date.
Let's look at the role of Cosatu, the countries largest working class organisation. Cosatu’s support for Zuma clearly shows the ideological bankruptcy of its leadership. Since his victory at Polokwane Zuma has, time and again, assured the international capitalist class that economic policy will not change under his administration, and that the country - under the direction of a Zuma-led ANC government - will remain committed to the neoliberal capitalist policies of his predecessors. Despite suggestions from the capitalist media that Zuma is a socialist, and Cosatu’s and the SACP’s blind acceptance thereof, Zuma is a fully-fledged neoliberal capitalist. Since the ANC’s electoral victory the Rand has been getting stronger, and it strengthened when the charges against Zuma were dropped. This shows that Zuma’s efforts to ensure global capitalists that the economy would not change under his leadership were not in vein; the international ruling class does not see Zuma as a socialist, or as anything but a neoliberal. This only goes to show, once again, the ideological bankruptcy of the Cosatu and SACP leadership; that they do not even know what socialism, or a socialist, is.
It shows the idealistic and individualistic analysis of the ANC’s alliance partners that, with Thabo Mbeki having been replaced by the less autocratic Jacob Zuma, there will be more opportunity for the Cosatu and SACP leadership to influence decision-making and have a say on policy matters. As Zuma said during his inaugural speech, it was a “moment of renewal”. To the post-Polokwane victors, who are now lining up to loot state coffers, it is inconsequential that the bourgeois and capitalist aims of the ANC undoubtedly go back to the founding in 1912, and have never changed – except that it became neoliberal, because neoliberalism is the dominant form of capitalism today. Even this didn't just happen in 1996: the RDP was full of neoliberal elements. And the move to neoliberalism was supported by the entire ANC leadership, notably including Zuma.
So what does it mean that, firstly, these elections were fought on the grounds of personalities instead of policies and, secondly, that Jacob Zuma emerged the victor?
The fact that these elections were waged primarily between personalities shows us just how little the various parties contesting elections, and particularly the main parties, differ in their policies. All of the parties involved represent the same class interest of the ANC, and it is therefore futile to campaign on policy when the policies of one party are almost the same as those of the next. Each and every one of the major parties, and the majority of the smaller and insignificant parties - which are now starting to disappear - support GEAR and the neoliberal policies currently in place. Some, such as the DA, might like to fast-track privatisation and so on, but none are in and way whatsoever against capitalism.
And yet a large proportion of the working class have fallen for this idea that Zuma will change things. Because he is more approachable and down-to-earth than Mbeki, people want to think that he'll do things differently, in a way that matters. But we know he doesn't want to; and he probably couldn't do much even if he did want to.
The global economy is currently in its worst crisis since the 1930s. Millions of jobs have been lost worldwide, including hundreds of thousands in South Africa, and many many more retrenchments are expected, as well as short-timing and so on. The Zuma administration is unfortunate in that it is taking over the reigns of power at a time when, because of the crisis, it will be very hard to deliver. Banks and corporations are trying to recover money lost or maintain profits, which means more exploitation for workers. Likewise states are cutting back on social spending, which means even less service delivery. The economic crisis is therefore going to make it hard for Zuma to live up to his promises - if he really wanted to - but it also provides him with an excuse. At the end of his term, he can just turn around and say that it was the economic crisis, which is out of his administrations control, which prevented them from meeting their goals; and convince the electorate to give him another term in the presidency to try again. In the meantime it is the working class and poor who will be paying, some with their jobs or their lives, for the bosses’ crisis.
In this context, one of the first things we can expect from the Zuma administration is that they will start making a hype about 2010 like never before. They will make a fuss about all the jobs that are being created, and how good it will be for the economy. Workers will work around the clock in dangerous conditions to ensure that the stadiums are completed in time, and then what? Thousands of tourists will come from overseas to watch Bafana Bafana get knocked out in the first round; everyone will go home; and all the jobs that were created will be gone. The government will have, in the meantime, spent millions and millions of Rands on the short-lived World Cup instead of investing in sustainable job creation and service delivery. We need to work to expose this and, amongst other things, to campaign for the jobs created by 2010 to be permanent, which means we need to build working class militancy.
With Zuma as the figurehead of the anti-Mbeki campaign working class militancy has taken a backward step, the youth - amongst others - duped by the pseudo-militancy of the likes of Julius Malema, as many people who associated lack of service delivery with the Mbeki administration have taken up the campaign to oust him and get Zuma into power. Even the social movements have lost support to the Zuma cult, which has served to expropriate and tame working class militancy by drawing people into the battle between personalities instead of to the collective struggle, on a day-to-day basis, for a better life.
When it becomes clear for all to see that Zuma and his administration are not delivering, and that they are in fact both unable and unwilling to deliver, we hope that there will be a resurgence of working class militancy, and we hope that this will be a genuinely class conscious and revolutionary militancy.
But how many people’s lives will have been adversely effected by the neoliberal economic policies and chauvinistic attitude of the Zuma administration by the time it has shown itself incapable of and uninterested in providing a better life for all? How many more workers will have lost their jobs because of the economic crisis; how many more homosexuals and immigrants will have been killed; and how many more women raped?
We know that Zuma is a chauvinistic, neoliberal patriarch, and his ascendancy to power does not bode well for women, immigrants, homosexuals or the working class in general.
We need to make clear demands on the Zuma administration, especially in light of the current economic crisis. We must demand a halt to retrenchments, and support organisations such as Cosatu when they make such demands; although we can also advise that more militant strategies and tactics will be necessary to win such demands.
We need to continue to try to build the social movements by campaigning for service delivery, to hold the government accountable and to pressurise Zuma to make good on his promises. We must work to expose the homophobic, anti-women and anti-working class and poor character of the new administration.
The social movements, as with the class as a whole, have taken a knock because of the idea that any one individual in power, any leader, can change things for the better. Personality cults, such as that around Zuma, exist in the social movements too, and they must be resisted. It is the ideology of the ruling class, of opportunists and of authoritarians that any one individual leader - or a group of leaders - can improve the conditions of the working class and poor. Personality and leadership cults are built in order to keep people away from taking matters into their own hands, away from collective struggle and mass direct action. And this is exactly what this election, and all other elections, have been about: keeping people away from collective struggle by convincing them that, by marking an ‘x’ on a piece of paper every 5 years; by voting for a party or personality they are contributing to the political life of the country and the betterment of the class.
We anarchists have always rejected this ideology of the ruling class, because we know that working class emancipation does not come from voting for people to govern on our behalf, be it at national or local level. It comes from the self-management and democratic mass direct action of the class in struggle. Only the working class can free itself.
Nearly all the core social movements in South Africa took a boycott position in respect to the recent elections. We believe this to be the correct position, and we have consistently argued for it, and will continue to do so in the lead-up to the 2011 local elections.
Our job now is to consistently speak out against the anti-poor and anti-working class policies of the Zuma administration, push for direct action as opposed to electioneering and class collaboration, support all progressive demands and movements and consistently work towards building social movements and independent trade unionism.
Sooner or later people will see that Zuma deceived them. By exposing the contradictions between what Zuma says to the working class and poor, and what he says to and does for the ruling class, we can help this to happen sooner rather than later. We need to work now to strengthen the social movements and independent trade unions by means of direct action in order to provide a pole of attraction for working class militancy for when the Zuma honeymoon period eventually comes to an end, so that this militancy is not re-channeled into either the reformist direction of supporting another party-political or personality cult, nor into a more dangerous direction.
Neither Zuma, nor Zille, nor anyone else can deliver to the poor and working class. We must take.