About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Defending and deepening a clear left strategic perspective on the RDP

This is an extensive extract from a Discussion Document submitted by the SACP for wider South African discussion in the run-up to the Socialist Conference for Reconstruction and Development to be held on November 5 and 6.

1. In many ways the present South African conjuncture is marked by a shifting of the front-lines of the struggle from the political to the socio-economic (obviously this shift must not be absolutised). The critical challenge before us is to contest the direction and character of socio-economic transformation in the coming months, years and decades.

1.1 The present moment is characterised by a fall-back operation by big capital and its political representatives. Having failed to marginalise the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), they are now seeking to undermine it more subtly. In particular, there is much hypocritical lip-service paid to the RDP. Such lip-service is intended to demobilise us in the face of the real need to lead a class struggle defence of the RDP. In two or three years time they will then place all the blame for its failure on the ANC-led government. "After all", they will say, "we did our best to support it, it was not our opposition but its inherent unworkability."

1.2 As part of this broad strategic tendency (it is not necessarily coherently planned by our opponents) we see:

     the unilateral appointment by many companies of "RDP" managers, usually black. These kinds of appointments have more to do with window-dressing and public relations than with a sincere contribution to the RDP. These appointments will be used for PR purposes to tender for lucrative government contracts. The appointments are also already being used to motivate arguments against wage claims ("don't demand excessively, because we intend investing surplus into the RDP");

     sowing demoralisation in our ranks about the actual implementation of RDP programmes - a good example was the recent Star front-page claiming that hospital services were about to collapse "as a result of the RDP", following the introduction of free health care to under 6-year olds and pregnant mothers. No attempt was macle to reflect the astouncling fact that, despite the inherited difficulties, real delivery was actually happening.

     undermining the coherence of the RDP, by picking cherries off the top of the programme (the Stocks and Stocks housing proposal); and by striking separate deals with the clifferent provinces, etc.

1.3 In a sense all of these endeavours amount to a central strategic tendency: genuflecting to the letters "RDP", while installing a wholly different content within it.

1.4 That these are the views of big business and its political representatives should not surprise us. The more serious danger lies in the tendency of many in our ranks to accept this logic either naively, or in the interests of "not rocking the boat". We can instance a number of examples of this:

     The tendency to treat uncritically the Finance portfolio as the property of big business representatives.

     The failure to bring the Reserve

Bank, and therefore monetary policy, under tighter control by a democratically elected government (a practice common even in many advanced capitalist countries).

     The over-emphasis, in the last months, on foreign loans, as the principal way of getting the RDP moving.

     The tendency to go for quick-fix and utterly unsustainable schemes (casinos and lotteries to finance the RDP),

     Or to accept uncritically business-driven schemes that appear attractive but which are likely to indefinitely hamper our ability to meet social needs in a sustainable and nationally equitable manner.

1.5 In many ways, the various negative tendencies noted above are all avoidance mechanisms, would-be "win-win" formulae trying to please everyone, postponing the inevitable crunch of either abandoning the heart of the RDP "for lack of re-sources", or proceeding with an effective struggle for the redistribution of resources within our country, and the reconstruction of the economy. Redistribution and reconstruction necessarily imply struggle, and it is struggle that is being wished-away.

To counter these tendencies it is necessary that we:

2 Build Left and Working Class forces as the mainstream of the transformation process

2.1 In the first place, Left and Working Class forces must resist the temptation of self-marginalisation. In practical terms this means, amongst other things, that we must constantly struggle to hegemonise the RDP process. We must not act on the new social and economic front as the PAC, for instance, did through-out the negotiation process - like a reluctant and belated partner in constructing and defending a national consensus for democratic change. On the contrary, the Left should and must be the most consistent, the most effective force in the struggle for democracy, reconstruction and development.

2.2 Just as the all-round political crisis of the former regime opened up space for us to provide political leadership into the negotiated transition, so the all-round economic and social crisis of apartheid-capitalism provides us with prospects of leading the process of reconstruction and development.

To do this:

2.3 Our ideological/strategic input is critical. There are many similarities between the kinds of strategic input required from the Left at the present moment, and those that we were required to make in the course of the political negotiations process. The fact that we have to repeat ourselves in new circumstances confirms :

     partly, the embedded class realities of our society, which constantly re-produce negative tendencies within the ranks of the movement;

     partly the fact that we only partially succeeded in getting our views across in the negotiations period;

     and partly, that our perspectives have to adapt to the new post-April realities.

2.4 What is similar in the post-April period are the kinds of illusions present in our ranks. They are, broadly, of two kind:

     Illusions about the degree and nature of the consensus ("Don't rock the boat"); and, on the other hand

     Tendencies to demagogic rejectionism of any involvement in the process.

Both illusions are present in new forms once more. But it is the first that is the most dominant in the present phase. There is a reluctance within our broad movement (and at many different levels and in many different structures) to accept that the democratic and apparent RDP consensus can only be defended, consolidated and advanced through struggle - not least, through class struggle. Such struggle, we must underline, is not just mass action. Nor is such struggle the sole prerogative of extra-parliamentary, or trade union, or community-based formations. The struggle in cabinet for a people-driven RDP, or the struggle in parliament against cabinet elitism and secrecy, for instance, are as much part of the class struggle as industrial action by a trade union.

3. A core programme of struggle for the left

3.1 Challenging neo-liberal macro-economic assumptions

3.1.1 Part of the fall-back operation of our strategic opponents is to subsume the RDP under neo-liberal macro-economic assumptions.

Reserve Bank governor, Stals talks of "marrying"The RDP and the NP's old Normative Economic Model. He definitely has a patriarchal marriage in mind, and the old NP Model is clearly intended to be the husband. Chris Liebenberg, the new Finance Minister, repeats the point in different words: "I certainly believe in the successful completion of the RDP, provided we have fiscal and monetary discipline, which I believe in very strongly."

3.1.2 In the first place we need to re-verse the logic of the assumption made here by Liebenberg - that is, we should assert that: "We accept the need for certain macro-economic concerns provided and insofar as these enable us to implement and sustain reconstruction and development."The measure of our economic success must be the degree to which we are able to meet social needs (job creation, housing, health-care, education, empowerment of women, etc.) and not the achieving a certain inflation rate, or the cutting of government spending, or a merely quantitative growth figure for their own sakes. Our concern for these macro-economic issues must be instrumental, it must be subordinated to our concern to meet social needs.

3.1.3 But we must not allow macro-economic debate to be monopolised by the neo-liberals. While Stals and others have an extraordinarily rigid and strict view of inflation and government spending, they are altogether more lax about government borrowing. The RDP may well be sustainable with present (or even slightly higher) levels' of government spending. But excessive government borrowing on the international markets will increasingly carry conditions with it which will eat out the heart of the RDP - cuts in government spending, currency devaluation, liberalisation of the economy, whole-sale privatisation. It is precisely these measures which are, in any case, the preferred economic options of our strategic opponents. Having failed to implement them directly, they are happy to see our levels of dependency on international funds grow. They know that sooner or later this dependency will be used by the major international financial institutionns to impose a neo-liberal structural adjustment programme upon us.

The struggle against an unquestioning swallowing of neo-liberal macro-economic assumptions is directly linked to the need to:

3.2 Challenge defeatist and fatalistic assumptions about our re-integration into the international community, with a robust internationalism

3.2.1 International fatalism (it happens to suit his own domestic interests) is neatly captured in Chris Liebenberg's view: "You've got to comply with international standards if you want to be a player not only on the political scene, but financially. And those rules are written for you. That we have to deal intelligently with international economic realities is incontestable. But that we have to become mere puppets acting out someone else's rules is absolutely unacceptable.

3.2.2 But again, there is very little effective counterweight to this kind of attitude. Foreign policy in the present GNU is ill-defined, it often seems to be ad hoc and ultra-pragmatic.

3.2.3 The South African Left needs to champion a much more active, proactive and strategic international outlook and practice. We have, for the moment, enormous international assets, essentially political and moral assets. These assets must not be squandered on ill-judged money begging missions to dubious regimes.

3.2.4 Instead the Left must spearhead a foreign policy that is premised on:

     a collective and solidarity-based approach in Africa and in the South in the struggle for a more just world order. We need to deepen our links with many other forces (governmental and non-governmental) in the South (and North) struggling for the same ideals. We need to use our moral authority to strengthen this struggle, and to challenge, and to re-form the neo-liberal global policies of the IMF, World Bank and GATT;

     an understanding that the fate of the RDP within our country is deeply intertwined with the general reconstruction and development of our Southern African region.

3.2.5 In taking up these issues, we as a Left need also to transform the character of foreign policy-making in South Africa. Unlike many other sectors (housing, education, labour relations), the impact of progressive civil society formations on foreign policy has been, and remains minimal.

Directly related to this is:

3.3 The struggle for effective national self-determination

This has, of course, always been a cornerstone of the national liberation struggle. It is more relevant for a South African Left programme than ever before. There are two interrelated dimensions to this struggle for national self-determination:

3.3.1 Transnational institutions and elected national structures. At the very moment when our liberation movement has begun to enjoy a significant share of governmental power, the predominant neo-liberal global economic order is weakening the sovereignty and capacity of national governments - through privatisations, enforced cuts on social spending, tax reductions, and the opening up of local markets to the unfettered intervention of the multinationals. Third world governments are, of course, the most obvious victims of this disempowerment. The IMF, World Bank and GATT agreements all enforce major trade liberalisation on the poorest countries, while the US economy for instance, remains one of the most protectionist. But even the sovereignty of First World democratically elected governments is increasingly undermined. Of course, as a Left, we should not run away from the need for international agreements and international formations. The ones with the power tend, however, to be unelected and unrepresentative.

3.3.2 Balkanisation. But the struggle to empower elected national government has a second dimension. It is not accidental that Desmond Krogh, former DBSA Board Member, recently exposed for trying to sabotage the RDP, should have identified the provinces as an Achilles heel. "Go out aggressively to build up good relations with the provincial government...Give the provincial governments whatever they need in terms of loans, information or even seconding staff to them. After two years, you will certainly have the provincial governments on your side...", he is reported to have said.

     The strategy of the multinationals, and of the big corporations nationally, is to undermine the economic sovereignty of national government (and of progressive national formations like trade unions). It is a strategy transparently highlighted, for instance, in a recent Business Day editorial: "...centralised bargaining has to be combined with flexibility. NUMSA, only this week, displayed total inflexibility to the idea of geographical wage differentiation in the engineering sector, even though economic conditions warrant it."

     The multinationals and the big national corporations constantly preach to us about the merits of federalism. They themselves, however, are certainly not federal structures. They operate out of powerful national and multi-national headquarters. The agenda is, as always, to divide and rule us. Flexibility might be clesirable, but erected into a principle in its own right, it has a habit of favouring capital. Capital, after all, is a highly fluid reality. Labour is much more locked into geographic space.

     However, a struggle to empower national sovereignty should not be opposed to the genuine devolution of powers, to the empowerment of elected structures (not to mention popular and working class formations) at all levels. Provincial government and local government, are essential to buttressing and complementing the national RDP mandate, as well as, to checking and balancing national government.

The tendency within our own ranks to exaggerate our dependency on the international community and on foreign loans is, as we have said, part of the broader tendency to avoid grasping the nettle of internal redistribution and restructuring, which lie at the heart of the RDP.

3.4 The redistribution of wealth and resources in our country as a core component of the RDP

In the past months, apart from the recent wave of workers' strikes, one of the few voices to take up the call for redistribution has been Anglo American Corporation chairman, Julian Ogilvie Thompson! Logically, from his own class position, Ogilvie Thompson's idea of redistribution is that we "should finance the RDP by privatising government assets"!! Our struggle for redistribution must include, amongst other things:

     a reformed taxation system;

     much greater social spending versus, for instance, spending on military and intelligence budgets;

     land reform;

     increasing trade union bargaining power.

and, insofar as existing state assets need to be considered

     control and ownership over them needs, if anything, to be democratised and socialised, not privatised.

To carry through redistribution two key areas of struggle need to be waged:

3.4.1 Rolling back the market

     The decommodification of basic needs

Health-care, education, housing, the environment are not primarily commodities. As a Left we must struggle against the overbearing supremacy of the market which seeks to turn everything into a commodity, and all of us into atomised consumers. We must struggle for the decommodification of increasing ciimensions of our society. A beginning in these directions has been made with, for instance, free medical treatment for children under six and pregnant mothers. The struggle to deepen and consolidate these measures on many fronts must be sharpened.

     Deepening collective popular power in the face of attempts to transform us into atomised consumers on the market

The other side of the same market-driven logic is the tendency to transform workers, patients, swdents, residents, communities into atomised individual sellers/consumers. In building and rebuilding shop-floor, civic and other mass- and community-based organisationsamong working class and popular forces we are fighting the logic of the market,

and we are also:

3.4.2 Transforming the market

We are not talking (under 3.4.1) about the abolition of the market, but rather the rolling back of its empire. Insofar as the market continues to be a major economic factor, we must also engage with it. The existing market is dominated by the power of capital. There is no such thing as a "free market", nor is the market some natural force like the weather. All its fickle moods, its supposed "nervousness" or "confidence", which we are supposedly meant to feed and placate, reflect precisely the racial, gender and class prejudices of those who dominate the market. We need, as a South African Left, to push back the frontiers of the market (as noted above), but we also need to intervene with collective power on the market, to challenge and tranform the power relations at play within it.

Struggles to transform market power relations include:

     developing an active labour market - strengthening the power of trade unions, skills training and adult basic education, etc. etc. - all measures which change, to some extent, the terms on which workers confront capital on the labour market.

     ensuring that, as much as possible, state housing subsidies do not simply enrich the building societies and private housing developers. For instance, the new Housing Department has a deliberate policy, in awarding the standard R12,500 subsidies, of favouring housing cooperatives and other collective arrangements. The power on the market of a co-op with 1000 families (and, therefore, 1000 x R12,500 in capital) is considerably greater than atomised families facing up to powerful building societies, housing developers, etc.

     these kinds of arrangements, and others, can be the base for the development of Community Banks, controlled by democratically elected community structures.

     the mobilisation, as proposed by COSATU, of workers UIF and Pension funds, and the democratisation of the relevant financial institutions, so that the funds can be deployed more effectively in RDP appropriate ways.

     campaigning for the reintroduction of more effective Rent Boards, that have real teeth, and that strengthen the power of rent paying residents in the accomodation market.

     struggles against Red-Lining by the building societies; etc. etc.

However, as a Left, we must avoid the danger of confining ourselves to the area of redistribution (whether through market or non-market means). If we were to do this we would once more play into the hands of our strategic opponents, who hope to preserve their monopoly over production.

3.5 The restructuring of production as the second core component of the RDP

The RDP sees the South African economic crisis not merely as one based on a radical failure to distribute wealth and opportunities equitably. It underlines that the crisis is also based on a major structural crisis of the productive system. The economic growth path envisaged by the RDP is not only demand-led (i.e. based on broadening the market), but it is also fundamentally about reorienting investments into productive (as opposed to speculative) activity, and about transforming productive activity, laying greater emphasis on:

     democratisation and deracialisation of management practices;

     an ever broadening area of co-determination, that transforms the existing hierarchical, top-down prerogatives of management;

     a labour intensive rather than capital intensive emphasis;

     higher levels of productivity through much greater emphasis on human resource development and life-long possibilities for education and retraining. This requires broadening the conventional notion of productivity so that job satisfaction and empowerment, the redefinition of skills, and the impact of housing and transport on productivity questions are all factored in. The low level of management productivity in SA also needs to be highlighted and transformed;

     overcoming massive regional disparities in infrastructure and industrialisation;

     transforming the present, highly monopolised character of our economy, with its predatory pricing and interlocking directorships;

     addressing the present marginalisation and disempowerment of women workers.

4. In conclusion

4.1 To speak of redistribution and restructuring as the heart of the RDP is to speak of struggle. Redistribution and restructuring necessarily tread on toes. The struggle, clearly, continues. To a considerable extent, the frontline of the struggle has shifted towards the socio-economic front. Of course, prolonged struggles to democratise state institutions still lie ahead - indeed these struggles are directly linked to the struggles for socio-economic transformation. In mobilising and organising for socio-economic transformation the Left in South Africa has two primary tasks:

     the task of carrying through consistently and continuously a class critique of the neo-liberal agenda; and

     moving beyond a critique, to posing concrete, viable and sustainable programmes to address the needs of the majority.

4.2 As a Left in South Africa we need to place ourselves at the very centre of the struggle for democracy, reconstruction and development. We need to be the most consistent force for thorough-going democracy, which we should understand to be the transformation of all power - whether political, economic, or gender-based. Democracy is the continuous and deepening self-empowerment of the great majority of our country.

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.