Musings on the South African Left

The Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) have launched a series of strongly worded insults at the leadership of the ANC. In a public meeting in Johannesburg CWU leaders lashed out at what it called the “weak leadership” of the ANC in dealing with the continued problems in relation to South Africa’s state-owned broadcaster SABC. Indeed CWU General Secretary Aubrey Tshabalala said that, although they support the probe into the structure of the organisation, the ANC leadership “shouldn’t waste our time”.  This dispute is important as it show the growing rift between the militant trade union movement and the increasingly corrupt ANC leadership.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation has been at the centre of a political scandal in which it has been alleged that the broadcaster has essentially become a mouthpiece for the ANC. Nobody argues that such a situation, if proven, should continue and it’s obvious that government officials should not have the ability to manufacture support or suppress criticism. The ANC are trying to portray this as criticism from opposition parties and who want to make SABC into a partisan mouthpiece for themselves, however there is an interesting twist in the tale. As I said above, the CWU, who represent many of the employees at SABC, have said that they welcome the probe into political bias. Considering the CWU is a member of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and is a part of the Tripartite Alliance, it would be incorrect to suggest that the CWU is in some way ideologically hostile towards the ANC.
The interesting point that the unions have made is what the motivation behind opposition criticisms of SABC. Although groups like the Democratic Alliance (DA) have been claiming that this is about media objectivity, the unions believe that this is an attempt to discredit the organisation in order to justify the privatisation of the corporation. At first I thought that this sounded slightly conspiratorial, however after a brief bit of research it ceased to be a shadowy idea. In 2012 the DA’s spokesperson on Communications Marian Shinn openly endorsed privatising some of SABC’s channels. Indeed the DA has a long history of wanting to impose neoliberalism upon South Africa including the weakening of trade union laws and introducing ‘special economic zones’ which exempt businesses from certain government regulations.
The CWU have supported the probe into SABC and are now also arguing against privatisation attempts. The point that I would make is that organisations that wish to fight both political corruption and privatisation attempts cannot be aligned with the ANC. My overarching approach to political organisations is that the Left has a tendency to split off from people who they essentially agree with and this creates a fragmentation that makes electoral success increasingly difficult. However this approach does not come at all costs. In 2014 the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMOSA) disaffiliated from the ANC, citing the ANC’s disconnection with working people. I have said this before but I believe that the COSATU and the South African Communist Party should dissolve the Tripartite Alliance and stand along side other radical groups in opposition to the ANC.
numsa-oupa-nkosi
NUMSA have already disaffiliated from the ANC. It’s time for other unions to follow suit. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)
The ANC’s weakness and corruption has hollowed out the South African labour movement and workers now feel alienated from the party. If a supposed socialist party cannot command the confidence of the labour movement it must change or be disavowed. The DA is the second largest party in South Africa and are conceivably the only potential alternative majority government that could be formed after an election. Therefore the solution to this quandary is simple: challenge the ANC in areas with high levels of unionisation. Attacking the ANC in their heartlands is a controversial strategy, however I believe this is a way of holding the ANC’s feet to the fire.
If this united left front won a few seat off the ANC, the ANC would either be returned with a slimmer majority or would have to form a coalition with this electoral alliance. There is still a lot of support for the ANC however the more militant wing of the party, which is more aligned with the SACP and COSATU, are becoming increasingly hostile to the blatant corruption of the ANC leadership. I believe that if COSATU, the SACP, and other left-wing parties like the EFF, the WASP and the APC, united to form a radical alternative to the ANC, they would receive a sizeable portion of the vote. Again the reputation and history of the ANC will guarantee a certain amount of the vote, but if this radical alliance were to reinvigorate the ANC and force the party to combat corruption and return to representing working people, the alliance’s aim would have been achieved.
For a number of months now I have been criticising the ANC under its current leadership and thankfully there are influential voices in within the South African labour movement who agree with me. The time has come for the Tripartite Alliance to be dissolved so the ANC can be purged of corruption and the government of South Africa can be restored to focusing on the concerns of working people. Under its current leadership the ANC cannot be trusted to be the radical force of change. It is up to the Left to provide a coherent alternative in order prevent neoliberalism taking a hold because of the ANC’s inadequacies.
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