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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Renewal -the NUMSA route?

At its July Congress, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) passed a resolution on "Political Democracy" which included a call for COSATU to move out of its alliance with the ANC after next year's elections. The resolution also endorsed a resolution from an earlier NUMSA congress calling for a Workers' Party. Amos Masondo looks at the NUMSA resolution.

THE NUMSA resolution on Political Democracy in general and on a Workers' Party and unity of the left in particular is, obviously, an important intervention into the broader debate. No socialist, honestly examining the internal and external political situation, can afford to dogmatically outline a path to socialism. The collapse of eastern European socialism, and the new terrain on which we find ourselves in South Africa, make it urgent for theleft to re-examine strategies, alliances and tactical approaches. There is no book or set of books, no authority, to which we can turn for simple blueprints. We need to benefit from collective wisdom, engaging the broadest range of left and progressive forces.

Turning to the NUMSA resolution, let me make some basic qualifications clear, right from the start:

     NUMSA, as an independent organisation, has every right to take its own decisions, regardless of whether these are in conflict with positions adopted by, say, the ANC or the SACP;

     Usually conference decisions reflect a consensus within an organisation with more than one tendency. Resolutions are a product of struggles within an organisation, and they often display inconsistencies and a certain vagueness;

     In the case of this specific NUMSA resolution, there are some ideas that are perfectly compatible with (and in many cases enrich) the ideas recently developed at the SACP strategy conference. The resolution calls for the strengthening of the ANC-SACPCOSATU alliance at all levels, it calls for consistent mass struggles and a restructuring of the Peace Accord. It rejects any constitutional arrangement that will enable majority positions to be vetoed. It calls for voter education structures and election monitoring mechanisms. It calls for accountability and a clear programme of action.

There are, however, some parts of the resolution that require scrutiny. Paragraph 2.1 of the resolution correctly stresses the importance of COSATU's independence of political parties and of government (now and in a post-apartheid dispensation). This position is informed by the need to separate thestate from the organs of civil society. So far, so good.

Paragraph 10.4 then picks up the argument in its own way:

     "Once an Interim Government of National Unity is established and the ANC is part of it, we should not have a formal alliance with the ANC. We should deal with the ANC as part of the government of the day through engagements in forums such as the NEF (National Economic Forum), NMC (National Manpower Commission), etc."

Here we encounter, in the first place, a major inconsistency. How can you argue that it is necessary now for workers to build and nurture an alliance, when your stated intention is to break the alliance within a year? How can you call for electoral support for the ANC on the one hand, and having installed it in government, only deal with it suspiciously across the table? Why should workers be reduced to playing a watchdog role, and not be directly involved in an ongoing political struggle?

It is incorrect for us to assume that negative historical examples, where liberation movements have sidelined workers' movements and workers' interests after coming to power, will automatically occur in South Africa. At best this is defeatism, at worst it is an abandonment of the workers' struggle for broad (including political) empowerment.

The key error in this formulation is its more or less explicit assumption that the ANC is the antagonist of tomorrow. Workers, therefore, need to prepare to engage in struggle against the ANC, from the outside. In practice this means a situation where workers would stand aside and pontificate from a distance on the political situation, and in relation to decisions and processes that affect their lives and that are critical to our collective future.

Political influence and hegemony are won through struggle, and this often requires a multi-pronged approach. An ideological struggle for working class influence and hegemony can only be won through ongoing contact and exchange.

Some of the clauses of the NUMSA resolution also appear to assume that the ANC government will equal the sum total of ANC organisation. It assumes that all the ANC represents, and all that it does at present, will be swallowed into government. Is it not our responsibility as revolutionaries to ensure that, even though the ANC must win elections, constitute a government, send people into civil service, etc., it is not reduced to government? We have a duty to ensure that the ANC regions and branches become the places where thecommunity assembles to debate political issues, and continues to exercise power. The NUMSA resolution, if implemented, would reinforce the dissolution of the ANC as a popular organisation connected to the masses.

If we do not want a Stalinist bureaucracy or a bourgeois state and a bourgeois ANC political party, it is part of NUMSA's job to reinforce the character of the ANC as a broad national liberation movement whose tasks do not end with elections. The ANC must exist actively in and outside of parliament.

The ANC, as it is today, is an achievement of unity of the oppressed. It has been a revolutionary organisation committed to a social programme going beyond conventional bourgeois liberties. Its programme, the Freedom Charter, has an orientation that can accommodate socialist developments. In fact, the Morogoro Strategy and Tactics Conference commits the liberation movement to socialism. The ANC has made contributions to the broad left movement in South Africa, it is our job to strength-en and reinvigorate this trend, not simply write off the ANC as a petty-bourgeois or bourgeois project.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.