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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Socialism is the future... build it now

Address by Charles Nqakula to COSATU Special Congress, Soweto, September 1993

A very significant event took place here yesterday morning. It came towards the end of Comrade Madiba's input, when he put aside his prepared speech and spoke to us directly. Suddenly, there was electricity in the air.

I don't want to repeat what Comrade Madiba said so well, I want to make an observation. It is an observation I want to address, not so much to COSATU, but to the ANC.

In his closing remarks, Comrade Madiba found our ears, but something else was also found. When the ANC speaks to workers, when the ANC addresses itself to the concerns of workers, then the ANC finds its own feet, its own vocation. It stops being the ANC just of the World Trade Centre, the ANC of the carefully worded diplomatic statement, the ANC balancing on an awkward policy matter in front of the TV cameras.

I am not saying the ANC shouldn't be at the World Trade Centre, or that it doesn't have to be diplomatic at times, or that it should only concern itself with workers.

But an ANC that remembers its working class origins, becomes, again, the ANC of the Defiance Campaign, the ANC of the Freedom Charter, the ANC of the Morogoro Conference, the ANC that ordinary working class people have built in struggle over many decades. It becomes the ANC that will win the forthcoming elections. It becomes the ANC that we will need in the years to come, a nationally unifying movement, to spearhead the reconstruction of our country.

The electricity in Comrade Madiba's closing remarks is a lesson not so much for COSATU but for the ANC leadership itself. To forget the workers, is to forget what the ANC itself is all about.

Giving democracy content

This is no routine congress, the times are not routine.

The formal outline for political democracy is beginning to emerge in our country. But when it comes to the content of that democracy, everything remains at stake.

The neo-liberals in our society tell us that we must not "overburden" democracy with too many popular expectations. They tell us that democracy is simply elections, every four or five years, within a multi-party system.

Now we, on the Left, don't underestimate the significance of winning this basic demand one-person one-vote. We fought for it. It wasn't bestowed on us by the National Party. Nor by the Democratic Party (those monopolisers of property and education) who, until recently, were calling for a qualified franchise, that is, a right to vote only for those with property and education.

We say to the neo-liberals, democracy is much more than periodic one-person, one-vote elections. Democracy is about the empowerment of the people. It is about jobs, houses, electricity, running water, decent health care, free education, the emancipation of women.

That is why this Special Congress and the agenda items later in the morning are so critical. This Congress must be a major event in consolidating our strategic direction from a Left, working class, democratic perspective.

Reconstruction Programme

It is here, of course, that the Reconstruction Programme is central. The idea of a Reconstruction Programme was first pioneered in COSATU, and it is now in the process of elaboration within the Tripartite Alliance.

The programme is and must be the programme of the national liberation movement, its allies and the broadest mass democratic movement. It is a programme of national democratic transformation. It is a programme for the implementation of the Freedom Charter.

Reconstructing the State

In some of the early discussions on a Reconstruction Programme, the SACP was concerned about a tendency to focus only on the socio-economic dimension of reconstruction. This dimension is critical. But we need, in looking at reconstruction, also to conside'r every dimension of our crisis-ridden society. In particular, I want to underline here the need for a thorough-going reconstruction of the state itself.

The Civil Service

In the first place, there is the civil service. In its upper echelons that civil service is overwhelmingly white, male, often corrupt and grossly overpaid. Directors general earn as much as R250,000 (one quarter of a million) a year. At the bottom end, the civil service is overwhelmingly black, and it is paid starvation wages in schools, in hospitals, in municipalities.

The civil service must be thoroughly reconstructed. The salaries of those at the top must be slashed. The wages of those below must be raised drastically. The civil service must become what its name says: a SERVICE. It must understand the aspirations of the majority of our people. It must be answerable to democratically elected structures.

A progressive policy of affirmative action promotions will help to reconstruct the civil service. Affirmative action must promote thousands and thousands of blacks, women and working class people into positions of authority.

But, at the end of the day, the civil service is going to be reconstructed, not so much by affirmative action at the top, but rather more from the bottom. And that means that all those in the public sector must be empowered. COSATU's proposed single Public Sector Union assumes special importance here. All public sector workers must enjoy full trade union rights.

The security forces

Then there is the police and army. Here we confront very difficult problems.

The majority of the SAP is now black, but its upper ranks are still monopolised by white males. It is a police force that is lacking in all legitimacy. It has to be transformed in every way.

We need a single national police service (let's call it a service, not a force). There must be an end to KZPs and other private armies. But this single national police service must be answerable to the communities it serves. Policing priorities must be determined in constant consultation with communities.

The transformation of the police is going to have to come largely from below. All police must be free to join unions. Let us, at this Congress, resolve to support much more actively the just struggles of POPCRU. Instead of dismissing patriotic policemen who have tried to be real policemen (that is, defend their communities), De Klerk should deal with the real thugs still lurking in his security forces.

As far as the army is concerned, the process of integrating armed formations (which will begin partially in the coming months in a National Peace Keeping Force) is an important step.

But we need to be realistic and honest. The present SADF has some half a million, mainly white males either in the permanent force or in reserve. The combined strengths of MK, the Transkei Defence Force and other patriotic forces is a fraction of this.

The process of transforming the army and demilitarising our society will be a complex struggle, both from within and from outside of the security forces. The transformation of the army needs to be a central component of our Reconstruction Programme. And its transformation must be the concern of all us, not just the monopoly of MK.

A future parliament and electoral system

There are many other aspects of the state that need reconstructing. The present parliament is a gravey-train. The SACP believes that, in the future, MPs should receive more modest salaries, and all the perks they receive must be cut. To be an elected representative is an honour and a responsibility - not a self-enrichment opportunity.

For the purposes of the forthcoming elections we have chosen a Proportional Representation system. This was the right choice. We could have spent the next 6 years at the World Trade Centre haggling about the delimitation of non-racial constituencies. Much better, for now, to have a single national list and regional lists.

But the danger with Proportional Representation is that those elected don't feel themselves answerable to a particular constituency. An even greater danger is that the national list starts to become an affair of political elites. Who gets on to a list is brokered in head offices. We need to guard against that danger in the future.

The people shall govern

Reconstructing the state needs to be a central concern of all workers. That reconstruction needs to come from the top and from below, within the state. But it also needs to come from outside.

When we speak, correctly, of the ANC as the future government, we tend to make the mistake of thinking that the ANC will be nothing but the state. In fact, the ANC needs to remain, also, a massive, grass-rooted, extra-parliamentary liberation movement. The reconstruction of the state in coming years, will need an ANC outside as much as inside of government.

Reconstructing the state will also be a critical role of numerous mass based sectoral organisations, of which COSATU is, undoubtedly, the most important.

Build Socialism

So far I have not mentioned a particular word. Someone, I am sure, is going to point this out. That word is "socialism". But, rest assured, everything I have said so far is intimately connected to the question of socialism.

Comrade Chris Hani liked to say that socialism is not a foreign country, it is part of what we are building right here. Socialism is not a separate continent from the national democratic revolution, from the effort to reconstruct and develop our country.

To deepen, consolidate and defend democracy in our country means advancing to socialism. In the past few years the SACP has been using the slogan: "The Future is Socialism".

We have now changed that slogan, or at least we have added to it. "The Future is Socialism Build it Now!" But what do we mean by beginning to build it now?

We mean that in the election campaign, in the reconstruction programme, in our day-to-day struggles we must be building momentum towards socialism, capacity for socialism and even elements of socialism.

We must increasingly displace the political economy of the bosses, of property, of privilege with the political economy of the working class. A workers' political economy is production for needs, not for profits. A workers' political economy is for a society of empowered citizens, where the majority are not just units of labour and, at best, consumers of services. Workers are people.

We must increasingly displace the morality of the market-place and the stock-exchange, with a working class morality. Our morality is not one of dog-eats-dog, of self-enrichment. Our's is a morality of collective struggle, of shared responsibilities, of solidarity.

We have called for an end to unilateral restructuring. Now we must increasingly implement an end to all unilateralisms, not just unilateral restructuring, but unilateral ownership, unilateral management, all unilateral power and privilege vested in a minority class.

The reconstruction programme must chart a path to thorough-going democracy in South Africa. In deepening democracy, we shall be advancing to socialism. In advancing to socialism, we must constantly democratise.

Long live that great fighter for the workers and the poor Comrade Chris Hani, long live!

Socialism is the future ...build it now!

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.