JOHANNESBURG – When the African National Congress government of South Africa introduced its neoliberal Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) macro-economic framework in 1996, it promised South Africans that it would result in economic growth and investment that would “deliver a better life for all”. Instead, hundreds of thousands of workers have lost their jobs, hundreds of thousands of people (mostly poor) have died of HIV/AIDs, millions of poor have become even poorer – and a few capitalists and members of the ruling elites have grown richer.
Close to 40% of South Africans are now unemployed, up to 70% of the entire population is in poverty, millions can no longer afford the most basic of services like water, electricity, housing and health care, and less than 2% of all land has been redistributed. On the other hand, GEAR has certainly “delivered” to a select capitalist elite who have grown incredibly wealthy and arrogant on the increasing exploitation and misery of workers and the poor.
As a result, working-class struggle has intensified. In recent years, workers organised in the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) have embarked on several general strikes against GEAR and its policies (especially privatisation) and angry working-class communities – supported by an increasingly confident independent left – have been fighting against water and electricity cut-offs, evictions and landlessness.
Because of this, the leadership of the organisations that constitute the ruling Tripartite Alliance (the ANC, COSATU and the South African Communist Party) are seriously worried. They are afraid that they are losing the support of millions of workers and poor, and that many will not vote for the ANC in the next elections. The Alliance is afraid that they will no longer be able to dampen the increasing militancy of organised workers and poor communities.
This is one reason why they have felt the need to resurrect the moribund and discredited South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) to act as a counterweight to the growing popularity and effectiveness of the militant, anti-capitalist struggles of South Africa’s new social movements. Likewise, the capitalist bosses are afraid that unless the intensified struggles of the workers and poor are brought under control, they risk losing their super-profits and the power and privilege that comes from their sweetheart relationship with the ANC government.
All attempts by the ANC government to force a false consensus on South Africa’s fractured society have only resulted in increased poverty and hardship for the poor. The Growth and Development Summit, which was held on June 7, was no different. The summit, which involved leaders of government, business, organised labour and the so-called “community sector” (mostly SANCO), took place to try and achieve a partnership and consensus around the continued implementation of GEAR (and its neoliberal continental twin, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development or Nepad).
One of the main aims of the GDS was to try and convince South African workers and poor that a more caring capitalism can create jobs, reduce poverty and lead to economic prosperity for everyone. The “sales pitch” is a so-called “Marshall Plan” for South Africa in which government, business and labour have “committed themselves to halving unemployment by 2014″.
This “Marshall Plan” is to be achieved through: a verbal commitment by South African corporate capital to make R145 billion (A$29 billion) in “new capital investments” over the next five years; all GDS participants “working towards contributing” up to 5% of their investable income in programs to create jobs; reviewing pricing policies that are “unfriendly to business”; and, government plans to train “unemployed and unskilled” workers and generate short-term jobs through public works programs.
The GDS blueprint for dealing with the ravages of capitalism in South Africa is wholly dependent on the needs and demands of the very same capitalists who have benefited so greatly from the continued impoverishment and exploitation of the majority. The role of the ANC government in facilitating the most conducive environment for capitalist “investment” remains essentially unchanged, with a little extra money thrown in to comfort the poor.
The labour movement is expected to act as a “loyal” partner, dampening the anti-capitalist militancy of workers and social movements, as well as ensuring maximum working-class cooperation with its “partners” in government and business. The GDS provides the appearance of political and economic consensus, while entrenching and deepening the class divide and containing anti-capitalist, working-class struggle.
GDS will fail the poor
The main reason why the GDS will fail the poor is simply because it did not confront the capitalist GEAR economic framework that has brought such high levels of social injustice and economic inequality to so many. As a result, the GDS only dealt with minor changes in the neoliberal policies that flow from GEAR. It did nothing to confront the real block to meaningful development and growth – redistribution of ownership and wealth – and was able to get away with this because the voices of poor communities (as represented through South Africa’s social movements) and rank-and-file workers were consciously excluded and/or suppressed at the GDS.
The result is a forced and false consensus that will mainly benefit the capitalist bosses and the new black elite that the ANC government is so keen to build. The growing class inequalities between rich and poor and the continued exploitation of workers will only be further masked by the manufactured appearance of a political and socioeconomic consensus amongst all South Africans. While the capitalist and political elites occupy centre stage and gorge themselves, the poor are being asked to embrace and celebrate their continued political marginalisation and to be happy for the economic crumbs they will be thrown from the masters’ table.
The Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), alongside other social movements and independent left political organisations, have rejected the GDS for the fraud that it represents. They believe that it is only through mass struggle that the millions of workers and poor in South Africa can effect genuine and long-lasting change in their lives and in society. It is through mass struggle that the power of the working class is truly felt by the capitalist bosses.
The architects of the GDS are afraid of the class struggles of the poor majority and that is why they are attempting to institutionalise a false consensus to trap the workers and poor through the GDS. If we play by the “rules” of their game then the most powerful weapon that the working class has to change contemporary society – mass, anti-capitalist struggle – is taken away.
Instead of putting misplaced trust in events and processes like the GDS, the APF is calling on COSATU to put its energies and resources towards organising and mobilising workers to directly confront the ANC government and the bosses with the full power of organised workers through strikes and mass struggle, and to support the struggles of poor communities – in the urban factories, in rural workplaces and on the streets.
The APF is also calling on all organisations and movements of the poor to reject cooption and the fraudulent politics that the GDS represents and to expose SANCO as a front for the ANC government’s control and containment of the emerging and ever-growing militant anti-capitalist struggles of the poor.
The “developmental” future of South Africa cannot, and must not, be handed over to the political and economic fat-cats who dominated the GDS. That future lies in the hands of every ordinary worker and every poor person, where we live, where we work and where we struggle.
[Dale McKinley is a leading activist with the Anti-Privatisation Forum.]