A Climate Justice Critique of South African Political Parties What are the commitments of the ANC, DA and EFF to a Deep Just Transition to Sustain Life?

  1. Introduction

South Africa goes to its 6th national elections on May 8th, 2019, with 48 contesting parties. This is in a context in which inequality is worsening, costs of living are going up and unemployment is a major challenge. This election is also happening while South Africa’s worst drought in recorded history is still ravaging various villages and towns. All our political parties have failed to recognize the drought as a climate shock. All seemed surprised by cyclone Idai, another climate shock, and its devastation. The science on climate change from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is clear that as planet earth is heated through more greenhouse gas emissions (from burning coal, oil and gas) we will have more extreme weather shocks such as droughts, heatwaves, floods, cyclones and more. We are currently at 1.2 degree Celsius hotter since before the industrial revolution and are fast heading to a 1.5C overshoot unless over the next 12 years we cut emissions by 45% to 2010 levels and to net zero by 2050. We have 12 years to prevent catastrophic climate change.

This climate justice critique is based on a reading of party manifestos. It applies to all political parties while making specific critiques of the ANC, DA and EFF, the larger parties in South Africa’s current political system.

  • General Climate Justice Critique of Political Parties

2.1       The climate crisis is a systemic crisis of carbon driven global capitalism. It has its origins in 150 years of fossil fuel extraction and use by rich industrialised countries. Industrialising countries like China, Brazil, India and Russia control substantial amounts of fossil fuel reserves today. South Africa’s coal addiction also makes it a carbon criminal state. Its use of coal intensifies climate change and its impacts through extreme weather events, including on the continent. More climate change brings climate inequalities and injustices through escalating food and water costs as well as job losses. Many farm workers have been retrenched in the context of South Africa’s drought. None of the parties understand climate change as a dangerous contradiction driven by carbon capitalism and the need for South Africa to be a climate justice state in relation with its people, on the continent and the world stage.

  • The climate crisis is a complex and interconnected crisis. Given that carbon is not just extracted but is also used as a major energy source across economies. Moreover, carbon energy use differs from sectors. In South Africa at least 9% of emissions come from globalised agriculture. Carbon is also used in various industrial processes such as construction. An energy transition to socially owned renewables is just one part of the challenge. Decarbonising the economy is a broader challenge. Moreover, as climate shocks continue we need new adaptive systems that sustain life. We have to recognize the interconnections of cause and multiple effects. Cyclone Idai and its effects could have been mitigated if there were proper disaster management systems, media reporting, dam management, food sovereignty systems, health systems, functioning across the country for example. Instead, river flooding started before Idai hit landfall in central Mozambique, dam walls failed, there was inadequate communication to warn people and disaster management systems have been overwhelmed. Cholera, hunger, lack of access to health care and water stress are claiming lives besides the direct impact of the cyclone. South Africa’s drought, another example of a climate shock, has also had several effects on society, economy and ecological relations. None of the political parties understand or would like to voice the complexity of the climate crisis.
  •  We have a crisis of climate leadership amongst all South Africa’s political parties and none are committed to ensuring South Africa, the region and the continent is on a climate emergency footing. Being on a climate emergency footing means advancing a deep just transition/s to ensure regulated, purposive, ambitions and planned reductions in carbon emissions to prevent a 1.5C overshoot and the necessary adaptive systems are in place that transform energy, production, consumption, finance and public systems through democratic systemic reforms to ensure workers, the poor and the vulnerable do not pay the price of the transition and climate shocks. Such a deep just transition is led by the working class and mass social forces, rooted in a red-green alliance seeking climate justice.
  • None of South Africa’s parties understand the climate crisis as part of larger ecological crisis. More extraction, pollution, chemical based agriculture, waste, deforestation and over consumption are undermining natural cycles of the earth system and accelerating species extinction. Several planetary bio-physical limits (fresh water, land use, ocean acidification, bio-geochemical flows, for example) are being breached and capitalism’s eco-cidal logic is creating a toxic and unlivable world. We need to reconnect with the web of life, recognise we share the planet with other life forms that have rights and have to rethink everything from the standpoint of eco-centric ethics and the deep just transition. None of the political parties are making these arguments to confront the eco-cidal logic of capitalism.
  • Climate Justice Critique of the African National Congress (ANC)

3.1       The ANC as the ruling party in South Africa has locked South Africa into the pledge and review mechanism of the United Nations. The ANC government turned its back on a climate justice approach to the historical debt owed by rich industrialised countries, to ambitious regulated reductions in carbon emissions and is certainly not positioning South Africa as a climate justice state on the continent. Moreover, its response to the drought, as a major climate shock, has been dismal. A national disaster was declared in early 2018 after the food system collapsed, many communities were ravaged by the drought and after the national department of water affairs was looted, with various water delivery projects compromised. The drought continues in South Africa and there is no leadership from the ANC state to learn lessons and prepare for the next round of climate shocks. The drought and the climate crisis are not mentioned in the manifesto. There is no explicit theme in the manifesto dealing with the climate crisis.

  • The ANC manifesto vaunts its successes and is very self congratulatory. It reads as though South Africa owes the ANC a debt for the great job it has done based on a set of quantitative indicators showing grand successes and improvements. These magnitudes of success hide more than they reveal. South Africa has an economy in deep crisis; inequalities, unemployment and hunger have increased. The ANC takes no responsibility for this disaster and crisis of social reproduction it has led South Africa into for 25 years. Climate shocks will only deepen the suffering of the majority. Yet, the ANC manifesto makes no effort to bring to the fore the existential threat of the climate crisis.
  •  The ANC proclaims a commitment to industrialisation (including for localised renewable energy technology production), the ‘4th industrial revolution’, township economies, land reform, public transport, National Health Insurance etc. in a context in which state capture has fundamentally compromised the ability of the state to lead even modest reforms. The Arms deal, Nkandla, ‘Ace-Gate’ and BOSASA are only the tip of the rotten rubbish heap. According to the auditor general reports, 2017-2018, irregular expenditure in government was R72 billion. The majority of state entities audited had adverse findings. The country knows, through the Zondo Commission, how ANC factions have been engaged in state capture regarding Eskom (South Africa’s monopoly energy parastatal). The ANC cannot be trusted with leading industrialisation of renewables, laying the basis for a transition to a renewable energy system, for resolving the challenges of Eskom and fixing our water systems. More state failure rather than the makings of a climate emergency state should be expected.

3.4       The ANC manifesto calls for gas and oil extraction in our oceans. It also understands renewables as a compliment to coal. All of this is linked to the investment game plan of raising investment levels to R1.3 trillion over the next 4 years. The ANC manifesto still envisages a deeply globalised economy, driven by the interests of transnational capital. Within that it is creating space for black industrial capital, agrarian capital, cooperatives and worker ownership in the economy through employee stock option schemes. De-racialising capitalism is at the heart of its multi-class project; a little bit more trickle down with a slightly broader base. Ironically globalisation has never and will never be a development strategy let alone a basis to transform South Africa to deal with accelerating climate change. The ANC has an impoverished imagination with no new thinking; its manifesto merely reveals more of the same.

  • Climate Justice Critique of the Democratic Alliance (DA)

4.1       The DA failed to prepare Cape Town for its drought, despite science based warnings, academic warnings and more. Its day-zero approach placed a squeeze on poor households and passed on the pressure of managing the drought to working class, middle class and poor households. It did not challenge water ownership and control by white agricultural interests. It forced the use of desalination plants as an emergency measure and at great cost to tax payers. Moreover, high water levies raised billions for the DA led Metro while working class and poor households are faced with punitive tariffs that undermine their water needs. Day zero was about climate injustice and creating new climate inequalities. As a neoliberal party, the DA has expressed a ‘green neoliberal’ response to the drought which always privileges the wealthy. Hence it has encouraged thousands of boreholes in Cape Town and smaller towns, which is only affordable by the wealthy and which threatens the long run viability of aquifers in these areas.

4.2.      The DA has a manifesto that deals explicitly with climate change and the need for a resilience plan. Several problems stand out. First, the DA views the Paris Climate Agreement as a viable instrument for dealing with emission reductions. It’s voluntary approach to reducing emissions and building a registry is really just about green wash. South Africa needs more than this to meet its reduction targets given the current science and urgency. Second, it supports fracking, nuclear and off shore gas extraction. Like the ANC it still has a shallow conception of how to get to a zero carbon economy. Third, it has a private sector led approach to renewable energy. Essentially Eskom must make way for independent power producers that supply the national grid and local governments. There is no real concern for workers in Eskom or for the working conditions of workers in the renewables industry. Renewable energy capital, not workers, communities, households or public institutions, is the key driver of the energy transition in their manifesto. Fourth, the DA advocates carbon capture and storage as a solution for South Africa’s emission problems. This is an untried technology and a techno-fix that distracts from the need for a deep just transition to a zero carbon energy system.

4.3       The DA approach to water reflects the interest of white, agro-industrial capital, in the main. It recognises the impacts of the drought on farmers and hence champions more dams, infrastructure and policy support for these farmers. The DA does not question the fact that 62% of South Africa’s water resources are controlled by these farmers. Moreover, this kind of mono-industrial agriculture failed South Africa in the drought; it collapsed. South Africa needs a new food system based on localisation (not exports) small scale farmers, agro-ecology and seed, water and food sovereignty. 

  • Climate Justice Critique of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)

5.1       The EFF is a racist political party, Afro-chauvinist, with a strong authoritarian populist streak. Some would prefer to describe it as ‘Black Neo-fascist’. It is generally not clear what it stands for; it has contradictory policies and practices. One day it is for the constitution and another day against; one day against corruption and another day it’s leaders are implicated in corruption (VBS ‘bank heist’, tender hijacking in Metros, for example); one day for state ownership and another for stakeholder capitalism. Its manifesto has a section on ‘Environment and Climate’, while the document still supports a carbon, mainly coal based and mining driven economy. It’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis, let alone the larger planetary ecological crisis, is incoherent to say the least and its explicit target to reduce emissions by 10% in 2024 is certainly not ambitious enough. It betrays a lack of understanding of the urgency of the climate crisis and scientific necessity to cut emissions even more drastically. This is a party without any progressive values. In general, it represents a nativist resource nationalism, which is exclusionary, opportunistic and its general orientation is against a climate justice politics that stands for all the workers, poor and vulnerable in our society – black and white.

  • The energy section is one that is probably the least progressive section of the manifesto. It has no original thinking on the energy transition challenge as part of the larger deep just transition. The EFF is state centric in its energy approach and supports the use of mixed energy sources, including so-called safe coal, nuclear energy, as well as, renewables. The plan outlined in the manifesto is that an EFF government will have a state owned company take over all Eskom owned coal mines and assist Eskom in establishing a renewable energy division, with the energy base still anchored on coal and nuclear. It will also end preferential pricing to big energy uses. The EFF’s energy approach completely avoids and neglects the dangers of coal and nuclear, and shows a lack of understanding of the urgency to completely break from fossil fuels and false energy solutions to ensure a rapid transition to a zero carbon energy system based on socially owned renewables.

5.3       The EFF is committed to a resource nationalism based on reproducing South Africa’s toxic minerals-energy complex through a statist capitalism which has immense potential to be even more corrupt than what we are experiencing. Understanding the climate crisis in its interconnections requiring systemic alternatives to drive the deep just transition is absent. The EFF endorses the One Million Climate Jobs Campaign, while still committed to an energy program centered on coal and nuclear energy, merely, discrediting and making a mockery of the campaign. The EFF commits to the ‘Green Revolution’, as part of its understanding of agricultural transformation. The ‘Green Revolution’ is about productivist, corporate led agriculture. Such agriculture collapsed during South Africa’s drought and on a global scale contributes about 40% to global emissions. This is not a systemic alternative to address the challenges of building a new food system in South Africa. On water issues, the EFF merely has a narrow ‘service delivery approach’. Yes, safe, clean water must be delivered to the people. But from the standpoint of the deep just transition our water resources are being compromised by more mining, including coal mining, which the EFF supports. An example of contradictory EFF practice is their support for the Xolobeni community’s rejection of mining. This is rather hypocritical given the EFF’s support for more mining. Corruption has affected water infrastructure delivery and the EFF is no shining example of fighting corruption. South Africa needs more than a shopping list approach to its water crisis. It needs a people driven water sovereignty approach to planning, managing and sharing our water commons.

  • Towards a Climate Justice Charter for South Africa

South Africa has a crisis of political leadership regarding the climate crisis.

It is in this context we invite all living in South Africa to contribute to the Climate Justice Charter for South Africa to ensure we hasten the deep just transition to ensure the workers, the poor and vulnerable do not pay the price of climate change. 

We also have an inter-generational obligation to act, now, to ensure present and future generations have a future. It is not too late to act to prevent the extinction of human and non-human life forms.

Key themes for the charter to be elaborated in grassroots dialogues relate to systemic alternatives that would bring down carbon emissions and ensure we sustain life as climate shocks hit. These themes include:

  • Principles for the Charter
  • Our conception of the just transition for South Africa taking into account class, race, gender and ecological relations
  • Systemic alternatives related to land use, water, rights of nature, energy, food, production, consumption, waste, transport, housing, finance;
  • The role of the climate emergency state and our international relations as a climate justice society;
  • Communication, education and awareness raising to mobilise society
  • The role and form of people’s power from below

Send your input to: Jane Cherry

Email: copac2@icon.co.za


Dr. Vishwas Satgar, COPAC Board Chairperson/ SAFSC Alliance Partner, 082 775 3420

Ferrial Adam, COPAC / SAFSC Alliance Partner, 074 181 3197

Itumeleng Mogatusi, GreenHouse Project / SAFSC Alliance Partner, 073 601 7078

100 Years of Rosa Luxemburg’s Marxism: Imperialism, Democracy and Lessons for the South African Left

A Talk at Wits University by Gunnett Kaaf, 07 March 2019

It is now 100 years since Rosa Luxemburg, together with Karl Liebknecht, was murdered by the German mercenaries. Rosa Luxemburg was certainly no less than a giant, both as a revolutionary and an intellectual. As Mary-Alice Waters points out, Rosa Luxemburg was born in 1871, a few days before the Paris Commune was proclaimed by French workers.  She died a little more than a year later after the Bolsheviks came to power in the Great October Russian Revolution.  Her life thus spanned a great historical epoch, the five decades which opened with the first dress rehearsal for socialist revolution in France, and closed as a new era in the history of mankind was being born in Russia.

Throughout her life -from her political awakening as a schoolgirl in Warsaw until her murder in Berlin 1919- Rosa Luxemburg dedicated her immense energies, talents, capacities and intellectual prowess to the goal of the world socialist revolution. Rosa understood that the stakes were high, that the fate of humanity was at stake and, as a woman of action, she gave herself completely to the great historic battle for the emancipation of humanity.

Rosa is certainly a product of her times, but because she was such a great revolutionary and a great intellectual, she had talent to act and look way into the future, instead of being consumed by immediate demands of her times. That’s why her actions continue to have resonance, that’s why her ideas remain relevant, 100 years after she was murdered.

Imperialism and democracy are certainly the two big areas Rosa made some invaluable contributions. That’s why I agree with the apt formulation of the organisers of this seminar for the topic of discussions: “100 Years of Rosa Luxemburg’s Marxism: Imperialism, Democracy and Lessons for the South African Left”.

But again imperialism and democracy were very important in Rosa’s time because of the capitalist crisis that led to the capture of democratic institutions by bourgeois forces and the rise of fascism and imperialism. Today we see history repeating itself with the deepening crisis of global capitalism, that began in the 1970’s, after the post-World War II growth cycle got exhausted and slipped into downturn of stagnation, and reached its apogee with the 2008/09 Great Recession that has now turned into a Long Depression, as Michael Roberts and other economists (from both mainstream and heterodox persuasions) appropriately call it.

Democracy has a significance, today, that is not dissimilar to Rosa’s time. In Rosa’s time there was a crisis of democracy following the defeat of European radical socialists (who went by the name Social Democracy) and the bourgeois capture of institutions of democracy and the threat of fascism that fully developed in the interwar years after Rosa’s murder. Actually, it can be argued that Rosa was murdered by, or in collaboration with fascists in their infancy stage. Today, democracy as practiced in official political systems of the global north and global south is in crisis, a crisis of the liberal establishment and its neoliberal policies. In the north, the liberal establishment is tumbling and falling apart, and has transformed the liberal census democracy into a democratic fraud that is in a state of decay. That’s why you have a rightwing buffoon such as Trump as the US president, and a right-winger Macron in France.

In the global south, formal democracy has tended to be a caricature of a democracy as practised in the north, with its features of a democratic fraud. This democracy is largely limited to a representative democracy, with very little meaningful participatory democracy, if any. That’s why in Africa democracy has been fraught with manipulations by former liberation movement parties and other right wing parties. That’s why in Brazil there was a ‘legal’ coup d’état, followed by an election of a buffoon right-wing president in Jair Bolsonaro.

But again, in both global north and south, we see the rise of fascism from the decay of formal democracies (both the liberal and its caricature forms). We have to reflect and analyse the rise of fascism today because, whilst it has similarities with the interwar fascism such as the deep crises of global capitalism as the context that sets the scene of this fascist development, there are divergences that come out of the fact that history always marches forward. Even in instances where history repeats itself, it never does so in returning cycles. The same applies to the crises of democracy and imperialisms as they manifested then and now.

So I will now discuss each of the three subjects, starting with imperialism, then democracy and conclude with the challenges for the South African left.

Rosa Luxemburg’s Radical Concept of Imperialism     

There is obviously no time to delve deep into these three subjects. So I will just summarise.

Rosa Luxemburg’s concept of imperialism was deeply connected to her concept of capital accumulation. In turn her theory of capital accumulation was largely based on her crisis theory of capitalism. Rosa’s main proposition was that capitalism, as a closed system, produces more than its available capacity for consumption. That is, capitalism has a problem of underconsumption or overproduction. She largely based this on the fact that workers’ wages are lower than the value of the products they produce, this therefore creates problems for the realisation of surplus value.

Rosa’s major economic theory is laid out in her 1913 seminal book, The Accumulation of Capital. Those who think of Rosa as an economist, they like to refer to this work as Rosa’s magnum opus. Marx’s accumulation schema as outlined in Capital was incomplete as it had a shortfall in capital accumulation that it did not address. Rosa’s acknowledged that Marx’s research work on Capital was incomplete, and that probably explained the shortfall in Marx’s accumulation theory. Remember Marx’s initial plan was to have 6 volumes of Capital: volume one on the general mode of capitalist production, volume two on landed property, volume three on wage labour, volume four on the State, volume five on international trade, and volume six on world market and crises (see Ernest Mandel’s introduction in Capital Volume One, Penguin Classics, 1990). Only volume one was published during Marx’s life time in 1867, volume two and three were published posthumously by Frederick Engels.

The three volumes Marx completed indicate an incomplete work and they were different from the initial research agenda. Volume one dealt with the general mode of capitalist development, volume two dealt with circulation and volume three dealt with the crisis theory Theories of Surplus Value which was published by Karl Kautsky is sometimes regarded as volume four.        

Rosa thought there is shortfall in Marx’s schema of capital accumulation in a closed capitalist system, that is, in accounting for the national output made up of constant capital, variable capital and surplus value. This is because workers earn lower than what they produce, thus there is a shortfall in realizing the surplus value, and this creates an imbalance between production and consumption. Using both the simple and expanded accumulation models, she could only account for both constant and variable capital that could be maintained and expanded. But then she struggled, still using Marx’s method, to explain and account for the ongoing realisation of the surplus value, since workers earned lower than what they produce, because in effect they are exploited to produce the surplus value.

Even after she included the consumption expenditure by capital, there was still a shortfall in the overall consumption because of lower workers’ wages (See Paul Sweezy, The Theory of Capitalist Development, first published in 1942). To cover for this shortfall, Rosa thought of the world market, to integrate non-capitalist or backward societies in a dependent way, as a solution. That’s the nucleus of her imperialism theory. It also included imperial rivalries, hence it has military expenditure. Wars, revolutions and instability in the world economy had gained prominence during Rosa’s time.

I will not go into the controversies that her accumulation theory provoked within Marxist intellectual circles. It suffices to remark though that Rosa did not just popularise Marx’s work, she developed it further, instead of merely stopping at Marx’s conclusions. She therefore made a meaningful contribution in Marxist economic theory, particularly in the age of monopoly capitalism.

Rosa’s views on imperialism put her on the side of the peoples of global south in the polarised global capitalist system that is predicated on accumulation of the countries of the north by dispossessing countries of the global south. She also advances an internationalist solidarity between workers of the global north and those of the global south. That’s why she was among few socialists from the west who did not support either of the sides in the South African Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. She denounced the Anglo-Boer War as an imperialist war. Her economic views about the global expansion of capitalism- accumulation crises, lack of effective demand (underconsumption or overproduction), the monopolies, increasing role of finance, stagnation – have dominated most of the post-World War II era economic debates, and into the 21st century. These issues have been taken up by prominent economists such as Michal Kaleki on his theories of business cycles and demand, John Maynard Keynes on effective demand, Joan Robinson who was a leftist  Keynesian , Josef Steindl on stagnation in mature capitalist countries, Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy on monopoly capital.

Rosa was disappointed with the lack of support and enthusiasm about the Russian Revolution from the Western Europe workers movement. She attributed this to the loss of revolutionary initiative by the workers in the West, following the bourgeois capitulation by Social Democratic parties in support of the First World War.

Rosa denounced colonialisation completely, and never saw it as having a civilizing dimension like many European socialists who had succumbed to a Eurocentric world view. That’s why she condemned the Anglo-Boer War as an imperialist war when many European socialists sided with Britain as an advanced capitalist country that would help SA on the path of capitalist development. The socialist strategy of the Second International was trapped in a stages theory of bourgeois economism that proposed that countries must first acquire capitalist development before they proceed to socialist revolution stage.    

Rosa Luxemburg and Democracy

On democracy, Rosa’s views take forward Marx’s position that socialism is essentially a revolution of the majority by the majority for a radical social change. In this sense, Rosa was the foremost leading advocate of democratic forms of workers organisation and popular struggles in her generation of theoreticians and revolutionaries.

In the quote that follows, Rosa explains the dialectic of mass struggles in a capitalist reality, in pursuit of a socialist vision: “The international movement of the proletariat toward its complete emancipation is a process peculiar in the following respect. For the first time in the history of civilization, the people are expressing their will consciously and in opposition to all ruling classes. But this will can only be satisfied beyond the limits of the existing system.

Now the mass can only acquire and strengthen this will in the course of day-to-day struggle against the existing social order – that is, within the limits of capitalist society.

On the one hand, we have the mass; on the other, its historic goal, located outside of existing society. On one had, we have the day-to-day struggle; on the other, the social revolution. Such are the terms of the dialectic contradiction through which the socialist movement makes its way.”

That’s why she opposed some Leninist views which promoted vanguardism in ways that paved a way to Stalinism. She asserted the right of all to freedom of opinion and freedom of speech. She asserted these as universal freedoms that must be defended.

 Rosa did not only expose the dangers of Leninism with regard to restricting democratic mass participation, but also criticized harshly the illusions of bourgeois reformism and revisionism that were dominant in the Second International (See Rosa’s polemic with Eduard Bernstein in Reform or Revolution).

History has vindicated Rosa on the failure of centralised left parities, and her support for mass movements, with mass initiative and organisation, has won the day for a genuine left renewal.

She was apt when she said the following, and it continues to resonate: “The working class demands the right to make mistakes and learn in the dialectic of history. Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.”

 Towards a left renewal: Lessons for the South African Left 

South Africa is undoubtedly in the throes of a deepening political and social crisis since 1994.It is a crisis of a crisis of politics; poor governance, corruption and a lack of a development strategy. It is an economic crisis of stagnation, mass unemployment, and widespread poverty. It is a crisis of development, manifesting in worsening township and rural underdevelopment. It is an ecological crisis in which natural resources get depleted and nature is destroyed in a manner that threatens the survival of human life on earth as we can see worsening trends on climate as a result of global warming. Whilst the South African crisis has its roots in local conditions, it is also part of the global crisis of capitalism that got worse with the 2008/2009 Great Recession, and refuses to go away. 

Two big outcomes seem possible from this deepening crisis: a resulting decadence or a responsive radical social transformation. There is no third way, for as long as the crisis is not halted and reversed, we are headed for the worst.  It is as if Rosa Luxemburg’s quip that its either “socialism or barbarism” is coming to bear.

Only a meaningful social transformation can really save South Africa. This means a genuine renewal of the left in South Africa as a social force for a meaningful social transformation. This will take enormous efforts because the left is very weak, as we speak. The left has no presence in mainstream electoral politics, even with the establishment of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party of NUMSA. Mass movements are generally weak with no coherence in advancing formidable anti-capitalist struggles. The SRWP is a nonstarter because it pursues the old model of communist parties that has failed. It has no concept or imagination of democratic forms of mass organisation and popular struggles from below.

South Africa’s political and social crisis is driven by two main factors: (1) lack of a meaningful social transformation by the ANC following the 1994 democratic breakthrough, and (2) the obscene corruption that is worsening in threatening proportions from the ANC decline. The effects of a lack of meaningful social transformation is widespread poverty, growing unemployment, deepening inequality and an environmental destruction. This is because of the neoliberal policy solutions that have in place since 1994, have not been able to resolve the structural faults in the economy and in social relations. Neoliberalism has not succeeded in addressing the apartheid legacies and the social problems flowing from the post-94 capitalist growth path.

Even after 2017 ANC Nasrec conference, with Ramophosa at the helm, there is no halting and reversing the crisis. There is no renewal that the ANC is pursuing. It is all the perpetuation of rot and crisis, albeit in a slower pace in comparison to the Zuma years. The ANC under Ramaphosa is better, but still lacks the minimum requirements to effect a meaningful renewal. We still see the intensification of the factionalist wars all the time in the ANC and in many state institutions. The Robert McBride saga is the latest manifestation of these factionalist wars that illustrates that there is no renewal being pursued. McBride is being targeted (by refusing to renew his contract as head of IPID) for being the good guy who fearlessly fights malfeasance and corruption. 

The way forward for the left, out of the current political crisis, which is threatening to be a tragic impasse, is not to form a workers party or a vanguard party that will contest elections with a socialistic manifesto and hope to win or get some parliamentary seats. Any preoccupation with some centralised party of the left will be a serious distraction. Instead, the left must work with popular classes to build strong grassroots and sector movements that must fight for the  social demands of the popular classes on employment, living wage, sustainable livelihoods, health, education, food, women, youth, sports, arts, culture etc. Whilst those struggles should be about immediate social demands, they must have a clear anti-capitalist outlook and seek to go beyond the limits of the current capitalist society. Those struggles must express a yearning for a better society that is not capitalist.

This is not to lose sight of political power, but rather to build popular power on the ground, on whose base genuine left political alternatives should be advanced. Rebuilding new left alternative political pole should be based on mass struggles, mass movement and the vision of democratic eco-socialism. The mass political party or parties that must come out of such efforts should be nonvaguadist, open-ended and long-term, and linked to mass movements without controlling them.

Struggles for reforms in the here and now in order to ameliorate people’s conditions are going to be essential in building the long-term momentum for a genuine left renewal. These struggles should be based on advancing and extending the constitution, and other democratic rights and demands, including the regulation of the private sector.

Struggles for alternatives and transformation will be essential in grounding the left and mass movements in an anti-capitalist and anti-neoliberal outlook. These should be on matters concerning development in townships and rural areas. These include such matters as seed banks, solidarity economy, public goods and services such as education, health, transport, housing, social wage, renewables and so on.

Popular struggles that must characterize the left renewal must be made up of both protests and developmental work. A range of community development activities should cover art, culture, media, including magazines, poetry cultural movements, people’s heritage from below, knowledge production from below that includes research, studies, publications of all types; audio and visual etc.

None of the above is possible without sustained activist development and political education in order to build a critical mass of conscious, confident capable and effective layer of activists who can carry out the massive tasks ahead.

Let me conclude by quoting Rosa’s words to her comrades just two weeks before her murder: “Today we can seriously set about destroying capitalism once and for all. Nay, more; not merely are we today in a position to perform this task, not merely is its performance a duty towards the proletariat, but our solution offers the only means of saving human society from destruction.” These words are important in the context of the deepening crisis of global capitalism that is not going away, and thus posing a stark choice between “Barbarism or Socialism” as Rosa once quipped about the deep capitalist crisis that led to the two world wars in the 20th century.Kaaf is a Marxist activist based in Bloemfontein

Community owned renewable energy as a mechanism to fight poverty and climate change

By Sunny Morgan “The decisions we make today are critical in ensuring a safe and sustainable world for everyone, both now and in the future” Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

There are currently 14 million people in South Africa without access to the grid or who suffer the indignity of energy poverty. Eskom, the national utility, would need to spend R500 to R1000 billion (one trillion) to connect EVERYONE in South Africa to the grid. Simply put, there is no way in the current economic climate that the state will be able to connect the millions that need electricity to the grid. In addition, if we continue to build coal-based power stations we will never reach the emissions targets agreed to at COP 17 that Jacob Zuma was so quick to commit us to and that remains an objective of the current administration.

In this essay I will make the case for community owned renewable energy as a mechanism to fight poverty and to address climate change.

Community owned renewable energy (CORE) is gaining traction throughout the world. Germany, Demark, the UK including Scotland and Australia lead the list of countries that have successfully implemented CORE projects.

 What is community owned renewable energy?

Definition 1

CORE, also known as ‘community energy’, refers to projects where a community group initiates, develops, operates and/or benefits from a renewable energy resource or energy efficiency initiative (NCES, 2015).

An alternative definition that I propose is: Community owned renewable energy can be described as energy installations located in communities, where the community participates in one or more of the following ways:

  • Where the community is an investor or legal owner of the energy installation.
  • Where the community is an active participant/partner in the energy installation.
  • Where the energy installation is run by the community, as in the members of the community are employed to manage and operate the energy installation.
  • Where the community is a beneficiary of the energy installation, either as an end-user of the power generated or as a recipient of funds that flow from the sale of the energy generated by the CORE project or in other forms.



Objectives of CORE

Decarbonise the power generation sector:

It is imperative that decarbonisation becomes the central theme of energy generation. The need to limit global temperature gains to under 2% is more important than ever before. The recently released UN IPCC Report paints a bleak picture of the current efforts and sounds a dire warning of species loss and climate related risks for hundreds of millions of people by 2050. The report makes it clear that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees should be the immediate priority to prevent catastrophic climates risks.

Decentralise energy distribution:

The fact that more than 600 million people in Africa have poor or non-existent access to the grid is a staggering fact, this is according to data from the World Energy Outlook. The global figure is even scarier as some estimates put this figure at almost two billion. The old model of building new fossil fuel-based power generation, extending the grid, i.e. the transmission lines and the current models of selling electricity are archaic and has existed in its current form since the dawn of electricity. What is clear is that ‘business as usual” is no longer a model that is viable. Decentralised energy generation should be the new normal. Micro-grids, embedded generation and community owned renewable energy will occupy this space and may be the panacea for energy access and both climate change adaptation and mitigation. Decentralised renewable energy, especially solar is relatively quick to deploy at grid scale, easy to on-board new users at the domestic level and is becoming more affordable. The cost for Tier 0 and Tier 1 energy users are as low as a few cents per day so that users at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) can afford it. The proliferation of payment mechanisms like ‘pay as you go’ solar (PAYG) and micro finance options has the potential to make energy access possible for anyone, anywhere!

Democratise the energy value chain

The old energy utility model is predicated on state or investor systems that lock out community ownership and are some of the earliest capitalist endeavours of scale. Banks such as JP Morgan were the earliest funders of Nicola Tesla and George Westinghouse at the birth of the electricity sector and they still play an active role almost 100 years on. Community owned energy installations and indeed the entire value has the potential to disrupt  this prevailing model.

Benefits of CORE

STEM education is supported in a CORE environment. This is evident from simple interventions that are implemented at educational institutions where renewable energy systems are installed to more complex scenarios where institutions of higher learning are central to the development, research and invention of new technologies. Some of the more promising breakthroughs in energy generation and battery storage come out of research labs at universities and colleges. With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, STEM has gained an importance and relevance. The opportunities for community members to participate exist in all areas of the value chain.

Job Creation is an obvious beneficiary when it comes to the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) of renewable energy installations. This initial phase creates more job opportunities and meaningful work, although this is normally temporary in duration. It is the ongoing operations, management and maintenance of the power plants where long-term quality jobs are created. The entire value chain offers opportunities for workers of almost all skill levels to participate and as the sector matures, even more opportunities may present. This sector is able to assist with the just transition to renewable energy where workers previously employed in the fossil fuel industry can, with minimal training and adjustment be employed in the new energy installations. The bourgeoning youth population will also find opportunities in this sector that are easier to access than traditional energy jobs.

Entrepreneurial Opportunities are part and parcel of the energy sector, more so with the decentralised nature of ‘new energy’. Opportunities exist for project developers, joint ventures, collaborations and for resellers of energy tokens via retailers and spaza shops. Repairs, new installations and cross selling opportunities should further encourage entrepreneurial endeavours.

Clean Energy is a prerequisite for a quality life and CORE installations have a positive effect on the lives of community members. Pollution, lack of lighting, poor or no access to technology and lack of safe spaces are all clear and present dangers for marginalised communities and other spaces that lack access to power! The provision of clean and reliable energy via the CORE model must be pursued with vigour as it offers untold benefits when properly implemented.

Climate adaptation and Climate mitigation are both addressed in the rollout of CORE and the resultant benefits trickle down to all beneficiaries in direct and indirect ways.


Requirements for CORE to thrive

Policy and Legislation

In order to create an  environment where CORE will thrive there needs to be a realignment of policy and legislation. The South African legislative landscape is narrow and restrictive; it is designed to exclude new entrants and to stifle competition. The national utility is monopolistic and controls the three most important levers of the sector: generation, transmissions and sales; although the municipalities are also resellers and/or agents of the utility. For CORE to live up to the promise that it offers, laws MUST change to favour competition in the energy sector and the very restrictive monopoly of the single utility that is Eskom must be broken up! To this end the creation of the Independent System Market Operator (ISMO) must to accelerated and the requisite laws be promulgated to make this happen sooner rather than later. The ISMO would then act as the market exchange for the buying and selling of energy from the traditional operators, the IPPs and in time from the new category of micro generators like CORE projects. Of course, the transition to a smart grid must happen in tandem with the modernisation and rebuild program that is essential to service the increase in demand as the economy improves, and as new generation methods and modalities emerge.


The success and roll-out of renewable energy in general and CORE projects in particular will demand more investment into the sector. It is encouraging that the sector is already a hive of activity and attracts capital inflows from far and wide, although these have been from traditional sources to date. New innovative funding models must be developed and the injection of new thinking must prevail. The pooling of community resources, the creation of new financial instruments like Green Bonds and RE Certificates, coupled  with the proceeds of carbon credits or off-sets all offer  potential for new inflows. Imperative to the success of CORE is shared ownership models and shared capital pools, the billions of Rands in worker money in the form of provident and pension funds could be unlocked for this purpose. The nascent financial sector of IMPACT FUNDS also looks promising and may be a source of future funds for CORE. Communities must be enabled through access to information, training and financial assistance to develop their own CORE projects.


The potential of cooperatives, the ease of setting it up and the support of the state for this form of ownership lends itself to be the preferred vehicle for CORE projects. Because cooperatives are developmental in nature and outlook, makes its suitability for CORE very attractive and it should be more fully developed as a vehicle for community participation.


End users must be encouraged to adopt renewable energy. The benefits of solar or biomass over traditional fossil fuels must be properly explained and implemented with the buy-in of community members so that they see the benefit themselves, they must be able to gauge the improvement in the quality of life and they must be able to feel the economic value of participation in CORE in their pockets or bank accounts.

Investors must be given certainty and competitive returns, encouraged not to be exploitative and they must develop the habit of “patient capital” so that their expectations are managed and not unrealistic. This applies to both the traditional mature investor and the new community investor.

Project developers must develop new projects bearing in mind that community members expect to be and indeed should be active partners in new projects. This will foster ownership and buy-in so that all stakeholders are vested in the success of new ventures. Too often investors and project developers are parachuted into a new project with a ‘quick escape’ foremost in their minds. CORE projects require that everyone stays the course. Banks or funding agencies must recognise that innovative mechanisms must be developed and new assessment tools like “Community ROI” need to be developed to assess CORE projects, here the pooled resources of STOKVELS must be understood and the billions invested in them must be unlocked. IMPACT FUNDS must shine the investment light on CORE too.

NGOs and activists are already active in communities and have credibility thus they are active partners with communities and their inclusion as stakeholders cannot be ignored. The same goes for faith-based organisations who both have credibility, influence and access to capital so their inclusion in stakeholder management is obvious. Key concepts like The Just Transition cannot be ignored and that must be fully explored.

In conclusion, through my experience in the sector, I am confident that CORE offers a clear path to poverty alleviation in communities. This is evidence by the increase in economic opportunity that is unlocked when renewable energy is installed in areas that did not have access to energy before. The need to fight climate change is fully addressed by the development of new CORE projects especially through the development of Micro grids built around solar and containerised energy storage. The falling component prices in solar modules and the increase in efficiency of battery technologies all open the way to address the twin evils of poverty and climate change.

Sunny Morgan is a climate activist and social entrepreneur. He is a member of a civil society organisation called Johannesburg Against Injustice. He is the owner of Enerlogy Solar.

An emancipatory politics for today: Resistance & Prefiguring the future in the present

By Dominic Brown

In post-Apartheid South Africa, we see the deepening of the social and economic ills facing our society including, growing inequality, unemployment and an ecological crisis in the form of droughts and floods. These multifaceted, interconnected crises reinforce and exacerbate each other leading to the unraveling of our social fabric. This phenomenon is not unique to South Africa.


Whilst we see the deepening of the crisis facing civilisation, we also see the re-emergence of a crisis in capitalism, this is not new. However, Samir Amin and others argue that unlike previous capitalist crises, this time there is no way for capitalism to continue as it has in the past by mutating in order to extricate itself from its current impasse. Istvan Meszaros attributes this to the current crisis being a structural one, unlike previous conjunctural crises. This is because unlike previous crises, the ecological question in the epoch of the anthropocene means that any attempt by capital to extricate itself from this crisis, with its inherent insatiable need for expansion and overproduction to maximise profits will result in humanity’s total destruction. This necessitates urgent and radical change.


Unfortunately, the inner logic of capitalism means that it will do whatever it can to prolong its rule. Therefore, in order to move away from the current paradigm demands the building of a counter power that can counterpose the hegemony of capital. Building a counter power in the context of increasing concentration of corporate and financial power will require the development of a new emancipatory politics.


New Politics?

On the Left, there is nothing as old, as talking about new politics. The talk mostly bears very little real change in content or form. In order to move beyond this needs creative thinking, experimentation and a disregard for the fear of failure. In experimenting, we should be adopting multiple strategies that can work in conjunction with each other in order to move from where we are now to new ways of living.


This implies the need to support the rebuilding of independent, dynamic, strong popular movements across a pluralism of terrains, including in education and youth, the workplace and amongst the unemployed, urban and rural, arts and culture, as well as sport. In doing so it is essential that we build patiently, with an emphasis on building peoples’ power from below.


Included in these strategies should be ways of resisting oppression and exploitation, as well as attempts at building different forms of living in the present and in a sense, prefiguring the world we want, in the now. At the same time its important to recognise that qualitative changes in production and the intensification of automation has resulted in a change in the agents that can bring about radical change today.


Changing Agents

One of the main developments over the past four decades is the increased precariatisation of people in society. Underlying this is growing unemployment, but also increased casualisation of work. These dynamics in turn have important implications for social struggles against the power of capital. Seen from the perspective of the totality, these struggles do not only take place within the realm of production where workers are pitched against bosses, but it also extends to struggles in other spheres including struggles for remunicipalisation, for the expansion of the commons and in support of indigenous peoples standing up against extractivist transnational corporations. These are all examples of new forms of struggles and of new agents of change. Moving beyond a traditional understanding of the levers of change and decentring the role of the nation state.


Re-municipalism towards Radicalising Democracy

One of the ways to dismantle the power of the nation state is to look toward re-municipalism. Re-municipalism is the fight to reclaim services in order fulfill a public good, particularly at local/ municipal government level. This is important in South Africa, where in the past, many services were delivered by our municipalities. The increased privatisation of these services has meant the deterioration of service delivery and massive job losses given the rise of outsourced work instead, ultimately negatively impacting working class communities who cannot afford to turn to the private sector. Re-municipalising can roll-back many of these attacks on the standard of living in poor communities.


At the same time, over time, re-municipalism has the power to  democratise by dismantling the state’s top-down approach to delivering basic needs to its people. This is critical because when delivering services is left to the nation-state alone, it breeds patronage and corruption. The big state also enables the concentration of capital by mega corporations and thereby reduces states capacity to address citizens’ demands. Re-municipalism is therefore critical in that it changes our understanding of the role of the nation-state.


The fight for remunicipalism decentralises the power, by transferring it to local levels of government. It also promotes direct popular control of society by its citizens through achieving and sustaining a true democracy in municipal assemblies. Face-to-face assemblies of people that come together to formulate public policy on a basis that underscores the principle of each according to their needs. This empowers citizens towards a more radical participatory democracy.


I would like to suggest that vibrant and radical participatory democracy is sacrosanct and would be a fundamental pillar in bringing about real socio-economic change for social justice. Therefore, in building new, we need to safeguard ourselves from the development of a big historical figure, who often find themselves to be above reproach.


Re-municipalism is also important because in removing the state as the main focus of our efforts to change the world, we start looking toward other sites of entry and change.


However, re-municipalism cannot be the only strategy for change. The state will still have an important role to play in addressing major inequality, as well as climate change, issues far too large for local government to do on its own in a just way. Therefore, we cannot ignore the nation state in its entirety but rather, we should be building within the state, outside the state and beyond the state and in doing so hollowing out the state over time.


Tragedy of the commodity, increasing the commons

Re-municipalism promotes the rolling back of the private sector to the public. This is critical in the context of a world that has become increasingly commodified as a result of the growing power of corporations, in what has essentially become the tragedy of the commodity.


The tragedy of the commodity is where nature and the fruits of nature are considered to be a free gift, rather than a tangible part of wealth. This is inherent in a system of production organised around producing for exchange, and the insatiable need to accumulate unabated. This creates and deepens a rift between the way production is organised and the universal ecological metabolism and ultimately results in the depletion of our natural resources, including human beings. In forging a new political practice, it is essential to radically break from a productivist mentality, where the more we produce and the more we accumulate is a measure of wealth and development.


One of the ways  to do this is to reclaim the commons in the fight against increased privatisation so that our resources serve the collective interest of nature of which people are a part. In our efforts to do this, we will be able to decentralise and democratise our natural resources toward decommodifying nature. This is an important step in restoring the harmony between people and our natural environment, and the ecological metabolism of the world. Under these conditions the quality of all life will be improved, increasing the possibility for humans and the world in which we live in to flourish.


These are long term struggles. Given growing unemployment, hunger and the deepening of alienation requires us to develop and struggle for alternatives in the here and now. Demanding urgent radical reforms in key areas that can dramatically alleviate the plight of the oppressed classes towards longer term struggles. Included in this is the need for a just transition from fossil fuels to socially-owned renewable energy, the development of consumer-producer cooperatives, the push for a social wage including a universal basic income grant and intensifying the fight for food sovereignty, etc. These initiatives are also important in changing the forms of ownership in society, transferring it from the individual to social ownership; putting the control over production in the hands of the collective.


The roadmap to Change: False Dichotomies

In charting the way forward it is critical that new social formations are able to develop and entrench new methods of social and political organisation at multiple levels including building movements of social resistance as well as establishing ways of contesting and attaining power today – the latter means that we cannot ignore the role of electoral politics. Real change in the 21st century will require a number of factors, including an electoral vehicle. Elections are not an end itself but should be seen as an integral part in the rebuilding strategy. Particularly in a South African context where there is still belief in going to the polls.


An essential element of party work would be to facilitate the creative and productive inclusion of citizens who are not party members. In so doing, strengthening links between the party and grassroots organisation. The idea is that the party should support and encourage grassroots mobilisation and participation, not in a way that promotes a reciprocal relation between support for the party and social reforms but instead by creating space for grassroots movements to shape parties political programme. More fundamentally radical change will require pressure from below, that starts somewhere and spreads globally.


The problem is that this pressure from below cannot be some horizontal structure because even though this appears to be very democratic, the problem is that it dispenses with any form of accountability, because at the end of the day no one is prepared to take responsibility for a decision that they did not make. Moreover, this kind of structure is limited, in its ability to coordinate systematic and tactical actions on a much broader scale towards its strategic objectives.


This does not mean we need a vanguard. In looking forward, we should also look back. An example of the kind of movement that can inspire us today is the 1905 Revolution and the formation of soviet councils. The soviet councils brought together different sections of Russian society: peasants, soldiers and workers. Today, the building of alliances between workers and the unemployed is critical.


The attack on labour and the right to strike, coupled with increasing business unionism has simultaneously weakened trade unions, whilst also creating extremely hierarchical and bureaucratic structures. Given this, some want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and abandon organising workers altogether. In my view this is a fundamental mistake, instead of giving up on trade unions, its important to support the transformation of trade unions towards a social unionism that connects the struggles of the workplace to the struggles of the community.


In conclusion:


  1. The left is in retreat, many hard fought gains have been rolled back. The balance of forces is not in our favour. Climate change is a major threat and we are one and a half minutes to midnight, the moment when our time runs up. To turn the tide will require a continuous effort, over a consistent period of time. There are no shortcuts, but at the same time given climate change and the immense pressure on working class we require urgent concomitant action.


  1. The collective task of developing new perspectives still lies ahead. No one can claim to have all the answers. Therefore, we should avoid sectarianism at all costs. We should welcome a pluralism of views and perspectives within a framework of emancipatory, anti-capitalist politics, as long as the perspectives do not mitigate against the liberation of the oppressed classes. Allow a hundred flowers to bloom and a thousand schools of thought to flourish.


  1. Renewing the left project for a long-revolution will be a massive task. This can be exhausting, so the question would be how to ensure that the rebuilding of an emancipatory project is creative, fun and espouses radical notions of love and happiness.


  1. All of this requires sustained activist development. This includes political education that assists in building a critical mass of conscious, confident, capable and effective layer of activists who can take forward the massive task that lie ahead, toward advancing revolutionary politics today. In our practice, we need to think about what we can do today to shift the balance of forces, in laying the basis for taking struggle further in the next 5, 10 and 15 years. Thereby, opening up the space to do what may seem too radical or impossible now. Echoing Harnecker, an emancipatory politics today has to be about making the impossible, possible.

Marx and the “International”

By Vishwas Satgar

KARL MARX was an intrepid traveller in the European context in the mid-19th century. Don’t imagine the bearded one moving around with a roller suitcase, tourist guides and staying at fancy hotels. Marx, the “red mole,” travelled around a tumultuous Europe out of political choice but also because of the strong-arm of ruling-class repression.

The frontiers of struggle and revolution were what kept Marx on the move. His “seditious” missives against aristocratic, religious and bourgeois classes and commitment to revolution earned him infamy amongst ruling classes in Europe. Marx was forced to leave various countries due to legal prohibitions issued by the Prussian Empire, the King of Belgium and the French authorities.

This article is not about Marx’s biographical adventures and escapades, which in themselves reveal a great deal about his commitment to internationalism. Rather, this contribution is about how Marx thought about and acted the “international.” How was the international part of Marx’s theory and practice?

It is also about how Marx’s ideas have travelled to South Africa through internationalism, and the contribution South African Marxism has made to anti-racism, including its support for building a powerful anti-apartheid movement.

The third theme in this article is on the current conjuncture and necessity for a renewed internationalism. Finally, this article concludes with possible directions and challenges for 21st century internationalism.

Marx and the “International”

For some international relations thinkers, Marx’s work does not have much to offer in terms of thinking and understanding the international.(1)

That is to say, because Marx’s political and ideological formation happened in a post-Napoleonic era in transition from the Holy Alliance to the concert of Europe, which secured a relative peace for “a hundred years” (1815-1914), the lived experience of Marx’s world supposedly occluded an understanding of international relations.

This is based on a superficial reading of Marx’s work and his praxis as a revolutionary. Anybody reading The Communist Manifesto and Capital would recognize the international character of capitalist expansion.

In the Manifesto it is the materiality of capitalism, the role of the bourgeoisie, class struggle and the historical agency of the working class that remakes the world. In Capital the self-expanding value of capital is crucial for its expansionary tendencies.

Moreover, the original form of accumulating capital through primitive accumulation entailed a historical role for mercantile capitalism, in terms of slavery, conquest and trade within international relations. Some theorists also read Marx as furnishing his own understanding of imperialism and the importance for class solidarity in the imperial centers of capitalism and with anti-colonial struggles.(2)

Now, Marx was thinking and writing in the context of a Eurocentric milieu of 19th century Europe. White supremacist thinking was also expressed in the Enlightenment, including Hegel’s conception of world history, ethnographic accounts of the colonial, and the vaunting of scientific racism linked to 19th century imperialism.

Of course we must be cautious in thinking with Marx, so we don’t get infected by some of this distasteful racist thinking. But let us not make the mistake of reducing Marx to a racist or a Eurocentric thinker, as Edward Said does in Orientalism.

Said is wrong. Marx was not a white supremacist. As several readings of Marx have pointed out there is a triple epistemological rupture with Eurocentricism in Marx’s thought.(3)

The first relates to Marx’s break with a linear conception of capitalist modernity and the idea that Western capitalism is the terminus of all non-Western societies. Informing this break is Marx’s appreciation of the deleterious impacts of colonialism and his own active opposition to slavery.(4)

Marx was a fervent abolitionist of slavery; he recognized how colonialism divided the working class, as in the case of Ireland; and regarding India he came to appreciate the complex relationship between the colonizer and colonized, particularly the agency of the oppressed.(5)

His second break with Eurocentricism relates to Marx’s appreciation that the Western transition from feudalism to capitalism could not be universalized. Initially, attempting to think Asia within this framework led to a realization, as more evidence became available, that Asia has its own distinct social structures, which would shape its transition from pre-capitalist relations.

The third epistemological rupture relates to the transition beyond capitalism. In this regard a lot has been written on Marx’s exchange with Vera Zasulich on the Russian Road to socialism and rural social relations, in which he recognizes the Russian commune (mir) as a potential part of the transition.(6)

This affirming of a multilinear approach to socialism, through various pathways based on national histories, cultures and social practices, becomes even more apparent when reading Marx through his own understanding of ecological relations and the limits of productivism.

Universal Working-Class Role

Marx’s connection to international relations also emerges in his discussion of the universal role of the working class as the subject of history and as central to the revolutionary transformation from capitalism.

Such a conception of the working class is present in the Communist Manifesto, and in the centrality he gives to the sale of labor power in his conception of the labor theory of value and his conception of exploitation in Capital.

At the same time, Marx lived out his commitment to the working-class and international struggle in various ways. These included his association with clandestine worker groups in France including the League of the Just (from 1843); his links with the Chartist movement in England (1845) and then again deepened through writings for the Chartist newspapers (1851-1862); his co-organizing the Communist Correspondence Committee in Brussels (1846) to unite socialists and politically engaged workers in various countries; his joining the League of the Just on their invitation (1847) and assisting them to organize and develop an open revolutionary program which resulted in them changing their name to the Communist League, embracing the slogan “Working Men of All Countries Unite” and adopting The Communist Manifesto (1848).

His education work amongst workers’ groups included delivering lectures on political economy (published as Wage Labour and Capital). His support of the German Revolution of 1848 through publishing the Neue Rheinische Zeitung provided a platform to call for a unified German state, rally support for workers and peasants’ struggles and support national liberation struggles in other countries.

Between 1851-62 Marx contributed journalistic articles to the New York Daily Tribune on various struggles, international affairs and political economy developments.

Finally Marx’s involvement in the creation of the International Working Men’s Association (1864), the First International, enabled him to foreground various international developments, influence the creation of the social democratic party in Germany, contest the destructive role of anarchists and foreground the importance of the Paris Commune.

The Encounter with South Africa

Marx the anti-racist found his way into the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa through various number of interlocutors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This included the work of the socialist and anti-imperialist feminist Olive Schreiner, expatriate workers from Europe, the Communist Party of South Africa, Trotskyist groups, and revolutionary nationalists.

Marxism played a crucial role in developing the theoretical and analytical tools to understand the relationship between capitalism and racial oppression. Much later, women’s oppression was added to the roster of oppression and the vast corpus of South African Marxism.

Three influential theories, articulation of modes of production developed by Harold Wolpe, “colonialism of a special type” put forward by the South African Community Party, and “racial capitalism” developed by Trotskyists (e.g. Neville Alexander) all contributed to resistance in South Africa.

Each of these theories have a lineage that can be traced back to Marx. Wolpe’s articulation of modes of production and the Trotskyist versions of “racial capitalism” draw from and innovate on Marx’s historical materialism and conception of primitive accumulation as it relates to pre-capitalist relations in the transition to capitalism.

The SACP’s “colonialism of a special type” involved a structural class analysis of monopoly capitalism and a critique of a colonial social formation in which colonizer and colonized shared a common spatial reality. Again, these theoretical ideas connected back to Marx’s understanding of class, racial oppression and his critique of colonialism.

All the theories mentioned are not direct derivatives from Marx, but definitely elaborate aspects in his theory of capitalism, historical materialist framework and political writings.

Marx’s abolitionist stance against slavery, for instance, was very similar to anti-apartheid activism. More precisely it was similar to the anti-apartheid movement that developed in various parts of the world, cutting across Cold War fault-lines, to rally resistance in streets, outside embassies, for sanctions, providing aid to national liberation movements and including battle grounds as in Angola.

The anti-apartheid movement made a crucial contribution to isolating the pariah Afrikaner nationalist regime, and to the end of apartheid. As an internationalist movement, the anti-apartheid movement was an important precursor to the more recent anti-globalization movement-of-movements. Its experience, history and lessons for renewing a 21st century internationalism are crucial.

Neoliberal Crisis and Resistance

Today’s world has endured over three decades of neoliberalism, which has engendered a crisis-ridden global political economy. Financial liberalization, conjoined to the inherent instability of globalized finance, has destabilized a number of economies in the global south.

Around 2007-8 the global financial crisis finally reached the heartlands of capitalism. Instead of learning lessons from this general and systemic crisis, global ruling classes are still committed to financialized accumulation. Trump, like Obama, has not reined in finance. The crises of neoliberalism have not ended the neoliberal regime as a class project.

Instead the conjunctural crisis of neoliberalism, grounded in a systemic contradiction of worsening inequality, is now converging with other dangerous systemic contradictions like the climate crisis and the hollowing out of market democracies.

A new fascist menace is rising in the world. Religious fundamentalism, ethno-nationalism, racist border regimes, climate denialism and authoritarian approaches to globalized market economies are emerging. This ideological disposition is being expressed in various combinations, with different emphases, in Trump’s White House, Brazil, India, Turkey, Russia and several countries in Europe.

The global left has not been able to resist hegemonic neoliberalism effectively. Today, neoliberalism is becoming neo-fascist-like in response to its own crises and domestic conditions. Global capitalism is experiencing a conjunctural and a set of systemic crises, yet resistance is episodic, defensive and even being preemptively crushed.

This poses serious challenges for the renewal of 21st century internationalism. National struggles are weaker and vulnerable without international solidarity.

Where to for Internationalism?

The classical inheritance Marx has left us on the centrality of the international in left politics is something we should learn from critically, while being informed by contemporary conditions.

In the global cycles of resistance, against the neoliberal class project, the World Social Forum was a crucial space for convergence. WSF presented a critique of plutocratic class power — expressed through the elites’ World Economic Forum —  offering a self-reflexive space for the new global left, enabling solidarity-based sharing of anti-systemic perspectives, inciting a 21st century emancipatory imagination, and provided a platform for confrontations with the IMF-World Bank-WTO and other globalizing forces.

However, the World Social Forum did not become a strategic center for the global left, nor did it develop a programmatic approach to global resistance. Institutionalizing left power, in a democratic manner, has eluded the WSF. It just might be that the WSF has exhausted its historic role.

This question requires further debate and clarification amongst the global left. Samir Amin, the leading Marxist thinker from Africa, made it a central priority before his passing to call for a New International of Workers and Peoples.(7)

Feeling strongly that the WSF had “slowed down,” Amin centered his call on the crisis-ridden nature of contemporary capitalism including ecological destruction, its “soft totalitarianism” which can easily become a hard totalitarianism, and the failure of existing left forces in national spaces, particularly the global north, to resist contemporary imperialism.

His call for an inaugural meeting of a New International of Workers and Peoples was aimed at anti-capitalist activists, movements, parties, networks and unions from all continents. It envisaged a convergence that would build a democratic organization and critically learn the lessons of historical internationalism.

In short, based on his analysis of the “Autumn phase” of capitalism, Samir Amin believed in the necessity of the “Peoples Spring” informed by a socialist perspective. This is another possible way forward.

At the same time, various social forces on the ground are seeking to build transnational solidarities that can feed into a renewal of internationalism, from below, and through a new strategic politics.

A number of examples stand out on the global terrain of struggle: Campaigning for food sovereignty pathways, inaugurated by La Via Campesina, through various national and continental alliances. Climate jobs, energy sovereignty and just transition campaigning by unions and red-green alliances in various countries. Transnational campaigning platforms for dismantling the power of transnational corporations and for national and global regulation.

There are global union struggles: The International Transport Workers Federation, effectively organizing support for workers across national borders to take on the exploitative, low cost, Ryanair. Indigenous peoples’ resistance to carbon extraction, the destruction of eco-systems and more.

In this context, I firmly agree with Marx on the need for anti-capitalist internationalism but also with Samir Amin on the imperative of building a New International of Workers and Peoples in the 21st century, if we are to survive a rising eco-fascist and ecocidal global capitalism.

We rallied courageous human solidarity against apartheid and its imperial allies. We can do it again, from below and in a democratic manner, before it is too late.


  1. See Vendulka Kubalkova and Albert Cruickshank, 1989, Marxism and International Relations, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Lucia Pradella, “Imperialism and Capitalist Development in Marx’s Capital,” Historical Materialism 21.2 (2013) 117–147.
  3. In this regard see Gilbert Achcar (2013) Marxism, Orientalism, Cosmopolitanism Chicago: Haymarket Books, in which he deals with Marx’s epistemological evolution. Also see Kevin B. Anderson (2010) Marx At The Margins — On Nationalism, Ethnicity and Non-Western Societies for an excellent analysis of what I call the making of Marx’s anti-racism.
  4. See Robin Blackburn (2011), Marx and Lincoln — An Unfinished Revolution. London and New York: Verso Books. As this text confirms, Marx had a more radical position than Lincoln on the rights and freedoms of African Americans.
  5. I agree with Pranav Jani in recognizing that Marx developed a deeper appreciation of India beyond his descriptive commentary on the role of the bourgeoisie. See Jani’s “Karl Marx, Eurocentrism, and the 1857 Revolt in British India” in Crystal Bartolovich and Neil Lazarus (2002) Marxism, Modernity and Postcolonial Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  6. See Teodor Shanin (1983) Late Marx and the Russian Road — Marx and the Peripheries of Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press.
  7. Samir Amin wrote up his analysis and argument, titled “It is imperative to reconstruct the International of Workers and Peoples,” in 2017 and put out an email call on 24 June 2018, titled “Letter of Intent for an Inaugural Meeting of the International of Workers and Peoples.”

No Short Cuts For a Deep Just Transition: Towards a Climate Justice Charter for South Africa

By Vishwas Satgar, Jane Cherry, Courtney Morgan and Aaisha Domingo


The purpose of this article is to make clear that the fight for a deep just transition is a crucial part of the working-class struggle. This article also highlights some examples and tools which two organisations are using to strengthen solidarity within civil society. In particular, we focus on the Co-operative and Policy Alternative Centre (COPAC) and the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign’s (SAFSCs) Climate Justice Charter process for South Africa. Both these organisations, through their grassroots-driven activism, recognise the need to urgently build systemic alternatives and solidarity between progressive civil society actors, movements, trade unions and other working class formations. The time to build alternatives and alliances is necessary now more than ever in the face of worsening climate crisis-linked shocks and extreme weather events, which are and will continue to hit the poor and the working class the hardest.

The deep roots of the Climate Crisis

The climate crisis is affecting every sphere of life and its effects are beginning to worsen. The world is recording the hottest temperatures on record for the past three years.  Extreme weather events like Hurricanes in the America’s, wild fires across Europe, typhoons in Asia, flooding in India, droughts on our continent, including South Africa stand out. Sea levels are also rising, placing many low-lying communities, populous coastal cities and island states in jeopardy.

Climate change is the result of a 150 years of carbon (coal, oil and gas) driven industrialisation. The rich industrial countries owe the world a climate debt. China and India are also now on this carbon treadmill. All the science is telling us that if we want to stop a 2 degree celsius overshoot, we have to stop extracting carbon now. If we breach 2 degrees celsius, run away global warming is a likely outcome. This will undermine the conditions that sustain life on planet earth, for humans and other life forms. We are currently at over 1 degree celsius increase since pre- the industrial revolution and are already experiencing the impacts of catastrophic climate change. South Africa, as a water scare country, will have more regular and longer droughts in a climate driven world.

For the past 20 years the United Nations has not provided transformative solutions for the climate crisis. Instead, market solutions like carbon markets, carbon off-sets, geo-engineering and expensive nuclear have been promoted. The US has refused a regulated approach to bringing down carbon emissions. Instead, it has stalled, obstructed, delayed, weakened and has now undermined the multi-lateral approach to climate change. After 20 years of failed multi-lateral negotiations that world is sitting with an ineffective ‘Paris Climate Agreement’.Today the US under Trump is poised to eclipse Russia and Saudi Arabia as the main producer of fossil fuels in the world. This gives license to more fracking, tar sands and carbon extraction. Currently, carbon still dominates the global energy mix and renewables are not taking off, according the International Energy Agency. A sector like globalised agriculture contributes about 40% of global carbon emissions and is also not part of the decarbonising conversation. Petro states, carbon capital, finance capital,  imperial power and the failed UN system are causing the climate crisis and are driving us into the age of the Anthropecene in which capitalism is endangering planetary conditions that sustain life.

Who will be Affected?

Climate change marries social and climate inequality. This means climate shocks like droughts have greater impacts on the working class and poor. For example, the recent drought in Cape Town had a severe impact on the natural environment, but its economic impacts were felt by workers. One of the economic impacts was that food prices went up significantly because of how the droughts affected crop growth, making some basic food items such as bread unaffordable for many working class families. Farm workers were also affected by the drought, because instead of using water saving techniques, and cutting back in other ways, in the interest of profit, many farm owners fired and evicted their farm workers. Water costs also went up to police consumption through Day Zero while the rich bought water, developed boreholes or they went on holiday. In the case of farmers (who control most of South Africa’s water) they held on to most of what they had.

The food and water crises, especially the ones seen in Cape Town recently were made worse by privatisation and mismanagement. With these failures, and in the face of the climate crisis, food and water resources will become even more scarce, therefore making it even more expensive and less readily available to the most vulnerable. Work will also become increasingly precarious. This means that climate justice is an important aspect of the working class struggle, and it is imperative that trade unions take this up and champion this cause. Climate justice is at its core, a working-class struggle.

The energy sector in South Africa is also facing a major crisis. The major mining houses have now reinvented themselves as global corporations. Along with the collapse of commodity prices these corporations are pushing major restructuring efforts, with tens of thousands of jobs being lost. In addition, South Africa’s current energy policy commits to a carbon-intensive future. The shift to a decarbonised and climate justice path will not be the outcome of polite lobbying of government ministers and policy makers. To achieve this, we must form a new working class led political bloc drawn from organised labour; community-based social movements representing the unemployed; community organisations; environmental justice organisations; and the new intellectuals of the radicalising student movement. Trade unions will play a critical role in this. Climate change will most negatively affect the poor, and workers. This means that trade unions (at least their members) will have the most to lose by ignoring climate change.

Below we introduce two organisations in South Africa who are strengthening the building blocks of this new political bloc as they develop tools and processes to train and mobilise communities around climate justice struggles towards a deep just transition.

 The Solution: A Deep Just Transition

The Co-operative and Policy Alternative (COPAC) and the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign (SAFSC) are championing grassroots driven approaches to address the climate crises and promote a deep just transition in South Africa. COPAC was established in 1999 as a grassroots development NGO. COPAC has identified the food, water and climate crises as three of the most important challenges of our time. In response to the systemic nature of these crises, COPAC believes that the only sustainable way forward is for us to advance systemic solutions towards a deep just transition.

A deep just transition involves a complete break from fossil fuels, and a transition to a low or zero carbon society done in a manner that limits the negative impact on workers and communities. Further, the deep just transition isn’t only about energy and climate jobs, but it is about food, transport, water and all major social systems. For COPAC, the deep just transition is about sustaining life now and into the future.

But how can a deep just transition be achieved? What are these systemic solutions? Drawing from COPAC’s experience in the development sector for 19 years, coupled with international examples and theory, it has realised that a deep just transition must come from below by a people-led push for alternatives. Examples of this include food, seed, water  and energy sovereignty, the solidarity economy, indigenous knowledge systems, socially owned renewable energy, and climate jobs. COPAC’s recent endeavours actively promote two of these alternatives, namely food sovereignty pathways and water sovereignty, as discussed below.

Grassroots-led Alternatives: Food and Water Sovereignty

In 2014, COPAC, together with the Foundation for Human Rights and other grassroots NGOs, hosted inter-provincial dialogues on the right to food. Out of these dialogues the idea of a food sovereignty campaign was established, one that would provide a platform to unite movements, sectors, communities and organisations championing food sovereignty. This platform was realised in early 2015 with the launch of the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign (SAFSC), as a loose alliance.

Despite limited resources of member organisations, SAFSC has had a notable impact in the food sovereignty sphere in South Africa as it has initiated a number of activities at national and local levels. It hosted a hunger tribunal (2015), national bread march and drought speak out (2016), drafted a People’s Food Sovereignty Act and launched it at a people’s parliament (2017), engaged government departments with the Act (2017) and hosted national and local activist schools (2015-2018). The drought, its links to climate change and its disproportinate impacts on workers and the poor have been central to these campaign interventions. Hence the SAFSC is now championing food sovereignty pathways to feed communities, villages, towns and cities, in this new phase of its activism.

In March 2018 COPAC coordinated a dialogue with parliament, SAFSC and local water activists on the water crisis and People’s Food Sovereignty Act in Cape Town. This engagement was guided by two grassroots tools developed by COPAC and SAFSC, namely the Act and an activist guide on water sovereignty. In addition, dialogues were kicked off in Mitchell’s Plein, Elsies River and Rylands with local activists and community organisations.

Grassroots activist tools are one of the key ways that COPAC seeks to promote popular education and activist training in communities. These tools encourage deeper understanding about the systemic nature of the various crises we face. They also seek to combine progressive ideas from international examples with local struggles and solutions. Building grassroots capacities to overcome these crises is one key step towards a deep just transition.

One notable tool is COPAC’s activist guide on water sovereignty, entitled ‘Building People’s Power for Water Sovereignty.’ The purpose of the guide is to democratise knowledge on water so that people can be empowered to become water activists who can work in their communities to build sustainable local solutions to the crisis. COPAC aims to go further with this tool and process and reach beyond local formations to build alliances and momentum for a grassroots-driven climate justice charter process, as discussed below.

The people’s climate justice charter process: Building momentum and alliances with civil society for a just transition

What started out as a water charter process is now about a climate justice charter for South Africa, given the connections between climate, energy, water, food, production, consumption and finance that has emerged in numerous dialogues. In coming months a participatory process  will evolve through a series of dialogues across South Africa. It will also be a grassroots-led process that will provide a platform for input from environmental justice organisations, grassroots movements, affected communities, working class organisations, unions and citizens using social media. The Charter will be launched at a people’s assembly in 2019. Through this process, COPAC and SAFSC aim to build a strong red-green alliance for climate justice in South Africa that can transform the state into a climate emergency state and create the space for systemic transformation from below.

No shortcuts towards a deep just transition

It is clear that solutions to the climate, food and water crisis cannot come from the current capitalist system. There are in fact no short cuts. More climate shocks mean more misery for the working class and the poor. COPAC and SAFSC believe that it is imperative that progressive civil society works together to form a new working class led political bloc. The climate-crisis-induced water and food crises affect us all and the struggle should be first and foremost the struggle of the poor and working classes. COPAC and SAFSC recognise this and invite input from all organisations, unions and working-class formations to join them in this long, difficult, but life-sustaining  journey towards a deep just transition. Without mobilising united working class and popular power, the climate crisis will destroy South Africa. We need to act now.

The People’s Food Sovereignty Act and water activist tool can be accessed at www.safsc.org.za


Vishwas Satgar is the Board Chairperson of COPAC, Jane Cherry is a COPAC Organiser, Aaisha Domingo and Courtney Morgan are in-turns at COPAC. All are South African Food Sovereignty Campaign activists.


By Natalya Dinat

ANC, South Africa and the world in crisis, where to?

I will be focusing on the crises in healthcare as a facet of the capitalist crisis. Characterised by the commodification of health care services,  a result is poor quality, inefficient, expensive and often inappropriate health care.   Firstly, I will provide some examples of how increasing marketisation has adversely affected health outcomes. Then I will ask whether an equitable healthcare system is possible in a market driven environment and can current ANC policy take us there, if healthcare remains a for-profit commodity.

Healthcare is a key area for struggle, since everyone is directly and immediately affected, also because it has an obvious link with food and water safety and sovereignty; climate and environmental crises; gender equity; and adequate housing. I will end by inviting a discussion on the need for a rigorous Marxist analysis of healthcare terrain to guide a response on a way forward for an equitable health service.


Commodification of healthcare

In recent times healthcare has emerged as an area where mega profits may be made for little risk.   Mckee and Stickler argue that the healthcare industry has taken a cue from the military-industrial complex. They describe the formation of the military-industrial complex as  “…A powerful coalition of general and chief executives talking up the threat from the then Soviet Union exaggerating the so called  missile gap and seeing threats where none existed.  The goal was not to protect the USA, but to transfer vast sums of money from the federal budget to the coffers of the corporations and ultimately to those generals”. They go on to show that “this model has been emulated widely. For example, the security- industrial complex” – where corporations like G4S are beneficiaries of billions of dollars and euros on ineffective airport security, Olympic security and prison security.

Mckee et al, find that healthcare goals have been redefined by moving priorities away from those most in  need, such as those with infectious diseases, (TB, malaria), away from the ageing  with chronic diseases and away from  the mentally ill toward those who’re essentially well.

In South Africa, a stark example is in the private sector where there is an upward of 85% Caesarian section rate.  A surgical operation which when performed for healthy pregnancies carries a 2.3-4.8x increased risk of death of the mother, and a significantly increased morbidity for mother and child (including increased blood loss, wound infection, post- partum depression, failed breast feeding – and its sequelae).  The World Health Organisation recommends a CS rate of 10-15% in a healthy population. They state that upward of that can only incur more harm.  Although detrimental to the health of women, the 85% CS rates does produce more profit for the medical industrial complex than vaginal deliveries.

Market driven healthcare misdirects research priorities and resources. For example, pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing than on research, and more on diseases of the wealthy than diseases which kill poor people.  Redefining normal is another marketing ploy, for example,  The recent redefinition of  “normal” surrogate markers of lipid (cholesterol), has increased the sale of cholesterol lowering drugs, but not deaths from heart disease,  also a  recent attempt to change the normal for  vitamin D levels has made an ‘epidemic of vitamin D deficiency’ .

The sugar industry together with the  US government (via  the all- powerful lobbies) have hidden research findings on sugar and promoted poorly conducted research blaming  fats as the cause of  heart disease. An increase in sugar intake has resulted in a rise in obesity, type two diabetes and heart disease. Over-prescribing antibiotics has led to the emergence of multi- drug resistant infections.

The proponents of market deregulation are turning their attention tothe health medical industry as their next opportunity to make a huge profit, and they will use all means to defend this obscene profit, by blaming the individual for their own health problems, as in 1850s the poor were told that they were of low morals and lazy, and that is why they remain poor.  By keeping people sick, weak and in debt they are less likely to assert their democratic rights and also the democratic spaces close down.


Low and middle income people suffer

The poorer households pay disproportionally more for health care. Lower income earners or the unemployed are also more sick and more frequently sick than wealthier incomes.  Those with medical aids are also affected as they often face a co-payment pay for useless, expensive imaging tests, and non-proven treatments.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), (2014) the total amount spent on healthcare in SA wasn’t very different to other countries:

SA: 8.8% of the country’s GDP;

UK: 9.12%of the country’s GDP.

However the differences become apparent when looking at the ratio of private spending on health versus government spending.

Private spending is 51.76% of the total amount spent in 16% of the population.

Government spending is 48.24% (including funding of public hospitals and government medical workers);

Medical aids account for 82.8% of private healthcare spending.

This is a stark contrast to countries like the UK.

83.14% of medical spending comes from government;

Only 16.86% is spent by private citizens;

Medical aids only make up 20.41% of private spending on healthcare.

I would argue that no matter how well regulated the medical industrial complex is, it cannot serve two masters, whose needs are often in conflict with one another.  It cannot serve the health of the individual and population, and at the same time make super profits. The BBC reported in 2016 “outrage” when Forbes reported on enormous profits made by the pharmaceutical industry.

Last year, US Pfizer, the world’s largest drug company by pharmaceutical revenue, made an eye-watering 42% profit margin.  Pharmaceutical companies have the largest profit margin of all industries.

Stakes are very high in this area, with powerful political lobbies prepared to go to extreme lengths to protect this cash cow. It may explain why many battles in this arena seem to have David and Goliath characteristics. But history shows us that workers in particular, once organised, have won significant advances.


Is a ‘good’ healthcare policy in the current funding framework in SA enough to withstand effects of commodification?


The horrors heard during the Life Esidemeni Public Arbitration hearings is a stark but unsurprising example what can happen in healthcare.  Policy, the PFMA, even well-meaning Boards, and other fail-safe measures became inadequate when up against the lure of profits and the need to serve two masters.

Whilst Chief Justice Moseneke’s findings are important and need to be implemented, as are those of the  Health Ombudsman and the Premier of Gauteng’s task team.  Can they adequatelyprevent such a disaster?  Should we be fighting for more?  Even in the UK, profit motive is largely understood to be behind the Grenfell fire murders.

A health report commissioned from another time and place found that loss of lives, are not the result of a few rotten apples, but will happen again and again as long as healthcare is commodified,  the findings ask:

‘and what of an army of well-trained civil servants… the law existed, the civil servants were there – and the people died in their thousands from starvation and disease’

These words were written by Virchow in his report in the Typhus epidemic in Upper Silesia in 1848.  Virchow is widely regarded as an early proponent of social medicine.

He states  “I later had no qualms in making known these conclusions… they can be summarised briefly in three words: full and unlimited democracy” [1]


 Healthcare services to mobilise communities

It would be useful to examine whether provision of various worker/ community led healthcare services contributed to the strengthening of the left/ or national health services. The example of Tredegar in Wales was in some ways the progenitor of the NHS.  In the late 19th century, workers began to form their own medical societies. The most successful of which was in Wales, in a mining town – the Tredegar Workmen’s Medical Aid Society.  By 1945 they had clinics, dental care, a hospital, and 23,800 members of a population of 24,000. Paid for by contributions based on income, care was free to men, women and children at the point of delivery. Aneurin Bevan, a miner and a socialist, was intimately involved in the project and so it heavily influenced the formation of the NHS when Bevan was minister for health the Attlee’s Labour government.

In the 1970s in California the Black Panther Party started free clinics in communities. Inspired by the Freedom Charter they declared:



We believe that the government must provide, free of charge, for the people, health facilities which will not only treat our illnesses, most of which have come about as a result of our oppression, but which will also develop preventive medical programs to guarantee our future survival.

The clinics were successful in that they filled a gap for neglected diseases prevalent in those communities, such as sickle cell anaemia. They were able to recruit and raise political awareness in the community, but not to go any further. Comparing ideological stances of the two examples above perhaps give us pause for thought for today.


 The struggle for a national health service in UK

Prior to 1946, in Britain, healthcare was provided for by churches and charities. Opposition to the NHS was led by the British Medical Association, a conservative organisation which had lifted the status of some barbers and physicians from below an apprentice to a professional class.  They were closely allied to the emerging capitalist class and had systematically hounded women with folk knowledge and knowledge of midwifery, making it illegal for them to continue their practices.  Bevan was forced to make compromises;  the GPs refused to be employed and  were privately contracted in.  The starting price tag was twice that originally envisaged, but within 10 years, being sick was not a source of worry for working class men and women.  However, in 1980’s under Thatcher’s free market onslaught, the NHS started to be sold off to Biscuit manufacturers and record company moguls. Once again vast sums of money were being transferred from state coffers to private hands, on  an almost risk free enterprise.  These Government/confectionary  bosses  then find that there is no money (i.e. no profit) to pay for the elderly, dying but will pay for expensive treatments of diabetes of too much sugar found in biscuits. The Left was not able to fight these changes after the systematic destruction of the trade unions by Thatcher and later Blair, but now a new Labour manifesto promises to return the NHS to its former state-owned glory.

A common misperception is that the much admired universal healthcare and free education just occurred naturally within a capitalist system in the Scandinavian countries.  The truth is that only after bitter fought battles by strong trade unions and socialist parties had insisted on equitable healthcare (in Finland from  as early as 1909),  that  healthcare system was won, through labour strikes, street battles and a strong parliamentary left. To succeed in the fight for healthcare,  requires a robust ideological stance, and the stomach for hard  political organisational work.


Possibilities for South Africa

Healthcare is an ideal rallying point for “the Left” in South Africa.  It affects everyone; is linked to jobs; housing; food and water access and to direct experiences in climate change.  It may be possible to unite the Left (spectrum of ideologies) for a national health system, free at the point of access and universal coverage.  Is de-commodifying health care possible in a capitalist economic framework via parliamentary reform?  It has been done in bankrupt postwar Britain, in post war torn poverty stricken USSR, in Cuba despite economic blockade.  It cannot be unaffordable if the profit factor has been removed.   The current ideological vacuum and lack of mobilisation in this area, has been filled by Parties like the EFF, who have made equitable healthcare their rallying call for 2018 which will be heard and understood by many South Africans. It is important to counter this populist approach.

The NHI project in South Africa, has not been the answer thus far because:

  • It does not decommodify healthcare provision. As evidenced by the ideas of running ‘pilot clinics’ to show how it works.  It is essentially a financing mechanism, so a pilot clinic cannot demonstrate any outcomes.
  • inadequate support from its own authors, the ANC, or the left when it is attacked by medical industry (SAMA, Pharma, and other ‘experts’ on health)
  • it already has capitulated on issues of contracting out GPs
  • the lines of accountability and areas of responsibility on Government are confusing and inaccurate – between national and provincial health authorities, provincial government, between technical HODs and political heads.  This serves private health interests, since more profit is to be made in the confusion, but is antipathetic to a system of universal health care.  So perhaps a first campaign can be linked to that and directly linked to the outcomes at Life Esidemeni.
  • does not align with the NDP, or other government plans.



Virchow concluded, in his report in 1848, what he labeled radical political recommendations,   Polish as an official language, democratic self government, separation of church and state, and the creation of grassroots agricultural cooperatives. He says that capital and labour must at least have equal rights and the living force must not be subservient to non-living capital.

As Contemporary Marxists, we need to locate the contemporary issues in Marxist theory. Today- I would like to see a left analysis of  the causes of Life-Esidimeni, the listeriosis outbreak, high CS rates in the private sector and inadequate access to CS in the public sector.

History shows us that consistently it is the trade unions, poor, socialist parties who have fought the battles in and out of parliament for free equitable health care.

Profits may be OK for  the cosmetic industry and automotive and other industries, but health,education housing, transport, food, water and energy should not be subjected to the unregulated market.


Author: Natalya Dinat grew up in London, as a child of political exiles, so experienced first hand the NHS in the 60’s and the beginning of its demise in the 70’s. She is, by training a Medical doctor, trained in the USSR, as an  ANC  cadre (1984-1991),  Specialised in OBGYN and worked at Wits and Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital,  left the state sector in 2011 and was  in private practice until last year. Her unit, through Wits has received grants from  Pharmaceutical companies and local and international  AID organisations  to conduct research, mostly HIV, women’s health, public health and clinical trials and end of life care.




[1] Excepted from Virchow RC collected essays on Public health and epidemiology 1848 Vol 1 Rather LJ  ed, Boston Mass, Science History Publications; 1985;204-319

Beyond the Interregnum: From Paroxysm to Peace

by Thomas W. Fraser –

1. Introduction

Writing from the depths of Turi prison at the height of Italian fascism, the neo-Marxist luminary, Antonio Gramsci, silently penned his now infamous Prison Notebooks, in which he inscribed the following declaration: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”[1] Caught adrift in the devastating wake of World War I, assailed by the dismal spiral of the Great Depression and confronted with the mounting spectre of Nazism, one can readily appreciate the historical salience of Gramsci’s declaration. It bespoke an epoch of crisis, a period of unbearable suspension in which the womb of time seemed to convulse beneath the cumulative weight of history. Reflecting on the present, I am compelled to ask: Are we today not confronted with something eerily reminiscent of Gramsci’s fateful interregnum? Are we too not experiencing a paroxysmal convulsion of time? Writing shortly before his death, Bauman explicitly revived the Gramscian category of interregnum in an attempt to highlight what he identified as the crisis of our time, consisting, as he saw it, of the perverse entrenchment of poverty and inequality, institutional atrophy and decay, widespread conflict and social dislocation as well as ecocidal biospheric degradation.[2] In what follows, I shall strive to probe and extend this train of thought by considering, firstly, a broad outline of our prevailing global predicament, followed by a similar treatment of the local. Once having done so, I shall seek to propose a set of considerations crucial, in my estimation, to the present discussion. Most important, I shall argue, is the need for a renewed subjective orientation capable of engendering strategic unity around a minimal set of shared anti-systemic imperatives. However, this will require a fundamental reinvention both of ourselves and of our habitual patterns of intersubjective being.

2. Interregnal Cartography: From the Global to the Local

In the final chapter of their recently co-authored survey of world-systems history, Chase-Dunn and Lerro outline three broad trajectories for the future of humanity, viz: (i) a renewed round of US hegemony, (ii) global collapse and (iii) the consolidation of a global democratic commonwealth.[3] The first of these would consist, in essence, of the reinstatement of US hegemony under an ‘enlightened conservatism’ less prone to unilateral adventurism and more capable of steering multilateral institutions toward greater concern for global equality and co-belonging. The second would consist, by way of contrast, of a perfect storm comprised of continued US hegemonic decline coupled with mounting hegemonic rivalry, economic destabilization and ecocatastrophe. In this case, the combined momenta of conflict and competition would surely overwhelm any conceivable prospect of strategic cooperation, thus entailing a stark regression into full-blown barbarism of the like forewarned by Luxemburg.[4] That being said, the third scenario would consist of an effervescent coalescence of progressive forces across the globe, thus engendering a ‘New Global Left’ capable of steering the tangled vectors of history toward what Shiva has dubbed an ‘Earth democracy’ founded upon the twin pillars of radical sustainability and democratization.[5] In my estimation, it is this latter trajectory toward which we should aspire. In truth, however, honest scrutiny reveals an indeterminate comingling of all three trajectories, with no single observer able to state with absolute certainty which will ultimately prevail. Alas, the fate of futurity hangs in the balance.

Further complicating matters is the added ingredient of subjective disorientation, which a number of contemporary observers have identified as one of the defining features of our time. According to this line of argument, the progressive onslaught of capitalist modernity has, over the span of centuries, been accompanied by a corresponding erosion of subjective consistency across the globe, dissolving the grounding coordinates of tradition in what Marx and Engels once aptly termed the ‘icy water of egotistical calculation.[6] To paraphrase an oft-quoted refrain: all that is solid has melted into air, all that is holy has been profaned, and humanity itself is finally reduced to a bewildered husk set turbulently adrift amidst raging seas. According to Badiou, the dominant response to this predicament has consisted of a perilous fusion of nihilism and conservatism, the former seeking solace in the momentary ecstasy of hedonic trivia and the latter groping after the seeming stability offered by existing power structures.[7] Politically speaking, this combination has functioned as a potent catalyst of false contradiction, giving rise, on the one hand, to explosive episodes of localised resistance incapable of enduring beyond the ecstatic ephemera of negative revolt,[8] and, on the other, to reactionary formations intent on resurrecting the longed-for promise of an obscure ‘golden age’. [9] In this manner, the all too often fruitless blossoming of new social movements has become lamentably commonplace alongside the simultaneous spread of neo-fascist ethno-nationalisms and populist authoritarianisms across the globe.[10] Coupled with this has been an increasingly narcissistic preoccupation with parochial identity formations as well as a corresponding slew of superficial culture wars.[11] In the meantime, the myriad pathologies borne of this chaotic brew are routinely exploited as the forces of capital spiral ever further into auto-cannibalization,[12] threatening not only humanity but the entire tapestry of life.[13]

To what extent are these dynamics legible within our local milieu? Apart from the points already touched on above, it has become increasingly evident that the negotiated settlement of 94’ has largely failed the vast majority of South Africans. For many, this is the logical outcome of what Saul has dubbed the ‘false decolonisation’ of South Africa, the result of which has been the well-documented cascade of consequences now discernible in retrospect, including the hollowing out of the state through corruption, the corporatization of the public sphere, the weakening of progressive labour movements, the racialized entrenchment of poverty and inequality as well as deepening ecological decay. [14] The cumulative logic of this stream of causation was tragically foregrounded during the Marikana Massacre of 2012, an incident which has forced many to confront, in the words of Satgar, “the hard edge of violence fluxing through our stressed social fabric.”[15] At present, we exist largely within the shadow of this sordid legacy, stuck with a corrupt, incompetent and dysfunctional ruling party notorious for talking left and walking right as well as a national opposition dominated, on the one hand, by a centre-right formation uncomfortably tolerant of colonial apologetics and, on the other, by a faux-radical formation fuelled by historical ressentiment and mired in racially chauvinistic populist authoritarianism. The recent displacement of Zuma and consequent foregrounding of the so-called ‘land question’ within public awareness presents an intriguing juncture fraught with risk and opportunity; however, critical circumspection would appear to suggest that we are simply on track for more of the same, with many of Ramaphosa’s recent declarations signalling continuity with business as usual.[16]

Given the above, how might one situate today’s left? Echoing Lenin, we remain stuck as ever with the defining question of ‘What is to be done?’

3. Thinking beyond the Impasse

Do I pretend to have solutions to the problems outlined above? Not at all. Do I even pretend to understand the full depth and complexity of the crisis itself? Certainly not. To begin with, the portrait outlined above is as reflective of me as it is of those aspects of reality I have sought to describe. I cannot be certain of the precise extent of my own ignorance. I am a fallible observer imbued with a finite and selective grasp of reality. As such, any portrait I produce is inevitably bound to be riddled with all manner of error and distortion. It pains me to judge the world around me because I cannot trust in the soundness of my own judgement to begin with. Even more so, it pains me to recommend pathways for humanity because I cannot anticipate whether such recommendations might inadvertently reproduce the very chaos we seek to avoid. To tell you the truth, I am in a certain sense paralyzed, and this perhaps has to do with the crisis of subjective disorientation alluded to above. Perhaps this is nothing more than an elaborate projection. Perhaps it is part projection and part reality – I cannot be entirely sure. When reflecting upon this dilemma, I am constantly haunted by the old biblical refrain, “if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”[17] In the spirit of introspection, I would therefore like to propose the following: in order to transcend the prevailing impasse, it shall be necessary to formulate a minimal set of shared anti-systemic [18] imperatives capable of forging strategic unity among heterogeneous forces and actors across multiple scales of complexity, from the local to the global; from my perspective, such a set should include, at minimum, the principles of (a) radical sustainability, (b) radical democratization, (c) radical universalism and (d) radical nonviolence. In my thinking, one could in fact regard these as minimal axiomatic preconditions for a future world capable of nurturing a sustainable just peace – anything less will inevitably tend toward chaos and violence.

More fundamentally, however, this kind of transition will also require a simultaneous inner revolution, a radical reinvention both of ourselves and of our habitual patterns of interrelationality, for how else could we possibly work toward a more beautiful world? In this regard, we must be willing to reach into the depths of our souls to discover the wounds inscribed within our own being; we must work consciously and courageously through the traumatic blemishes of our inner fabric in order to escalate our capacity for mindful and compassionate engagement. We must ensure that the intention underlying our desire for change stems not from the inner poisons of greed, hatred and delusion but from the antidotes of generosity, compassion and wisdom. In other words, the transcendence of our current predicament requires a simultaneous transcendence of ourselves, and I feel that this dimension is all too often overlooked in our eager zeal to diagnose and manipulate the outer world – this goes for those on all sides of the political spectrum, ‘left’ and ‘right’ alike. To quote Gandhi, “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” [19] Consequently, should we wish to transform the world, we should likewise transform those aspects of ourselves symptomatic of the world we wish to transform – inner and outer transformation must go hand in hand, lest we wish to externalize and reproduce the very wounds we seek to heal. In light of this, I contend that the full scope of what we wish to achieve runs far deeper than simple structural intervention in the outer world. On the contrary, the skilled outer hand requires a mature inner gaze – without the former, the latter cannot sculpt its vision, and without the latter, the former is bound to go astray.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, I have argued that today’s crisis consists of a mix of factors ranging from the spiritual to the socio-ecological. As has been suggested, the fate of futurity hangs in the balance and the ultimate outcome will depend on our capacity to galvanize strategic unity around a minimal set of shared anti-systemic imperatives including, as I have suggested, radical sustainability, democratization, universalism and non-violence. Admittedly, there is nothing particularly striking or original about this line of argument, and although multiple proposals for implementation may be derived from these anti-systemic imperatives, it has not been my primary purpose to formulate such a proposal; instead, my purpose has been more abstract and general in nature. In addition to the preceding, I have likewise argued that the transformation of our outer world shall require a simultaneous transformation of our inner worlds and that the latter is, in a sense, even more fundamental than the former, as it serves as an existential precondition for unfolding our chosen axioms in a manner prefiguratively consistent with the kind of world we seek to realize. In closing, therefore, I would like to say the following: let our politics strive to transform the world for the better, but let it also be imbued with the capacity to love truly, wisely and without boundary.


[1] Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks.

[2] Bauman, “Times of Interregnum.”

[3] Chase-Dunn and Lerro, “The Next Three Futures: Another Round of US Hegemony, Global Collapse, or Global Democracy?”

[4] Luxemburg, “The Crisis of German Social Democracy (The Junius Pamphlet).” 5 Shiva, Earth Democracy.

[5] By ‘subjective consistency’, I refer to the manner in which we as individuals and collectives understand our place and purpose in the world. Consequently, ‘subjective disorientation’ refers to the fragmentation of subjective consistency, that is, a state of individual and collective bewilderment.

[6] Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto.

[7] Badiou, The True Life: A Plea for Corrupting the Young.

[8] Think, for instance, of the likes of Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring and even Fees Must Fall, all of which were indeed explosive yet failed to progress beyond the point of negative revolt and, by extension, to assemble positive structures of enduring consequence.

[9] Think, for instance, of Trumpism and the call to ‘Make America Great Again’ as well the often-regressive urge to recover some or other ‘pure’ form of native identity here at home – a pitfall explicitly cautioned against by the likes of Aimé Césaire and Franz Fanon

[10] In this regard, I would insist on highlighting that these stirrings of neo-fascist ethno-nationalism and populist authoritarianism are evident both on the right and the so-called ‘left’. Apart from the more overt instances observable in Europe and the US, I would argue that even here at home, supposedly ‘progressive’ forces such as the EFF often exhibit highly disconcerting tendencies toward populist authoritarianism.

[11] One need only peruse the media, both mainstream and alternative, to derive samples of this. For instance, consider the predominantly vacuous debates currently surrounding figures such as Jordan Peterson. Likewise, consider the increasing polarization of struggle around identitarian axes of determination, with racial and gendered parochialisms often degenerating into dialogues of the deaf.

[12] A stark instantiation of this may be observed in the US, where big-pharma has unscrupulously fuelled an ongoing opioid crisis even as the NRA seeks to exploit rolling waves of moral panic induced by the cultural pathology of mass shootings – all in the name of a quick buck.

[13] Angus, Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System; Satgar, “The Anthropocene and Imperial Ecocide: Prospects for a Just Transition.”

[14] Saul, “The Apartheid Endgame, 1990–1994.”

[15] Satgar, “The Marikana Massacre and the South African State’s Low Intensity War against the People.”

[16] Satgar, “South Africa Must Resist Another Captured President: This Time by the Markets.” 18 Lenin, What Is to Be Done.

[17] “Matthew 15:14.”

[18] Following the logic outlined in Arrighi, Hopkins, and Wallerstein, Anti-Systemic Movements., I intend by ‘anti-systemic’ those movements intent on opposing and resisting the dominant forces and relations of social determination in a given era.

[19] Gandhi, “General Knowledge about Health XXXII: Accidents Snake-Bite.”


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Arrighi, Giovanni, Terence K. Hopkins, and Immanuel Wallerstein. Anti-Systemic Movements. London: Verso, 1989.
Badiou, Alain. The True Life: A Plea for Corrupting the Young. Translated by Susan Spitzer.
Cambridge [UK]: Polity Press, 2017.
Bauman, Zygmunt. “Times of Interregnum.” Ethics & Global Politics 5, no. 1 (2012): 49–56. https://doi.org/10.3402/egp.v5i1.17200.
Chase-Dunn, Christopher, and Bruce Lerro. “The Next Three Futures: Another Round of US
Hegemony, Global Collapse, or Global Democracy?” In Social Change: Globalization from the Stone Age to the Present, 359–73. New York: Routledge, 2016.
Gandhi, Mahatma. “General Knowledge About Health XXXII: Accidents Snake-Bite.” In The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, XII:158. Gujarat: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1964.
Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Edited by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1971.
Lenin, Vladimir I. What Is to Be Done. International Publishers, 1969.
Luxemburg, Rosa. “The Crisis of German Social Democracy (The Junius Pamphlet).” In Socialism or Barbarism: The Selected Writings of Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Paul Le Blanc and Helen C. Scott, 202–13. London: Pluto Press, 2010.
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. Translated by Samuel Moore.
London: Pluto Press, 2008.
“Matthew 15:14.” Bible Hub. Accessed March 11, 2018. http://biblehub.com/matthew/15-
Satgar, Vishwas. “South Africa Must Resist Another Captured President: This Time by the
Markets.” The Conversation, 2018. https://theconversation.com/south-africa-mustresist-another-captured-president-this-time-by-the-markets-92051.
———. “The Anthropocene and Imperial Ecocide: Prospects for a Just Transition.” In The Climate Crisis: South African and Global Ecosocialist Alternatives, edited by Vishwas Satgar, 47–67. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2018.
———. “The Marikana Massacre and the South African State’s Low Intensity War against the
People.” Defending Popular Democracy (blog), 2012. http://defendingpopulardemocracy.blogspot.co.za/2012/08/the-marikana-massacreand-south-african.html.
Saul, John, S. “The Apartheid Endgame, 1990–1994.” In South Africa: The Present as History, by John S. Saul and Patrick Bond. Johannesburg: Jacana, 2014.
Shiva, Vandana. Earth Democracy. Boston: South End Press, 2005.

Reflections on the prospects of renewal in the era of the new dawn

By Mandla Nkomfe- 1. Introduction
This paper seeks to understand the prospects of organizational, societal, economic and political renewal against the context of our recent past. Given the extent of our accumulated challenges and problems that have set-in; in the body politic, is renewal possible? It further grapples with the very idea of renewal that is so present in our narrative. Is renewal possible? Under what conditions is renewal possible? To understand all this, the starting point is the appreciation of the political moment we are in. But the key question to ask is, what made the current problems (corruption and state capture) possible in the first place. The paper attempts to outline broad parameters of a possible programme of action. This programme is to be located in the understanding that we can effectuate a renewal process in some areas and break with the past in certain areas. The movement forward consists of three related processes which must be carried simultaneously. These relate to:
– firstly, ending state capture,
– secondly, using the constitution as a key ingredient in the renewal process and
– thirdly, undergoing a thoroughgoing societal transformation.
The present situation requires the pessimism of the intellect in that we should be able to rely on doubt as a mechanism of interrogating our phenomena. We should subject our reality to close scrutiny so as not to understand the passing phase as the answer to all our problems. Much as the latest political developments can come across as important when seen against our recent history, we do need to reflect deeply about the challenges facing our country and what they mean for the renewal of our politics, institutions, society and the economy.

Given the accumulated problems (economy, society, values, ethics, and the pervasion of our institutions) in the last decade and/or more, many amongst us have questioned the possibility of the renewal of our public affairs. Some have retreated from the public sphere to private spaces such as family and church. The extent of economic and social marginalization has seen the rise of conservatism, resorting to ethnic bound identities, a collapse of the non-racial project and the growth of misogyny in our spaces.

Political parties as mechanisms of participation and aggregating political views/values are emerging as vehicles for political/economic elites. The party machinery is being corrupted by the need amongst the political elites to access, control and distribute rent in a vertical fashion. This then creates conditions for a perfect capture.
In this situation, is renewal possible? What would be the conditions for renewal? How should this question be framed? Is the idea of renewal the correct one? Renew as a verb is understood to mean, “Resume (an activity) after an interruption”. The underlying text in this regard suggests that the original design was always going to be correct. That’s what happened with the GUPTA’s was an aberration and that we have to go back to our ways-economic path, democratic institutions and liberal inflections in our constitutional dispensation. So, we need to be clear on what is to be renewed. Some amongst us believe that this new political moment presents the opportunity to disrupt and curve new paths. We should experiment with new ideas in order to propel our society to new vistas, a society that will deliver on social justice and deep freedoms to all of its citizens.
Inherent in the idea of the optimism of the will, is the fact that, there has to be a determination to change the material conditions of life for the better. This paper argues that a case for renewal can be made as well as the fact that it is possible to chart new paths by way of disruptions. It is only a determined will that can create conditions for renewal and new break-ups. The key issue is to identify, what is to be renewed and what is to be discarded and in what areas do we chart new routes.

2. Understanding the political moment

Since December, 2017, the political terrain has changed, the Rent-Seeking tendency was pushed back, a new leadership was elected (not without its challenges) and new hope was generated by these developments. For many, possibilities for progressive change have been opened. There is still a need to fully comprehend the meaning/s of the political moment. The situation remains fluid and can be reversed. The dangers remain being that of talks of unity; unity of elite’s vs principled unity, a retreating force creating havoc (looting) and populism (being the year of elections).
It is important to note that change that came within the ANC in December, 2017, was brought about by forces outside of it; these being the markets, judiciary, courts, media, trade-unions, parliament, non-governmental organisations and the rest of civil society. These struggles forced the ANC to reluctantly align with the broad and popular sentiments of South Africans. While the Conference represented a strategic defeat of the visible manifestations of corruption, the system of state capture and corruption remains intact.

This moment has revealed the following:
– The centrality of the constitution as the nation’s moral compass and conscience
– Importance of constitutionalism
– The robust mobilization of civil society organisations – ensuring mass mobilization on numerous issues and raising consciousness of communities around corruption and state capture
– Repositioning of the state as a key site of struggle

We can conclude that the current situation remains in flux. The different layers of rent-seeking groups have the possibility of blocking the agenda for progressive and substantive change in South Africa. We can also conclude that reliance on one person/s is not a guarantee for breaking with the past. Social change will need combined efforts of a conscious people in the multiplicity of their organisations.

3. What made state capture possible?
The roots of our current politico-socio-economic conditions can be traced back to how our national life is organized ranging from the political system to the organisation and the performance of our economy. In this regard, state capture, corruption and the progressive break-down of our value system is not an aberration but a manifestation of a non -functioning polity.

– The recent developments in South Africa’s political affairs mark a high point in our democracy. While the visibility of these contradictions can be found in the phenomenon of state capture (the key symbol and its pervasiveness being the capture by the GUPTA’S), the material basis on these contradictions can be traced to the challenges in the economy (exclusions in terms of race, class, gender and geography). Economic growth and development has delivered little for the majority of South Africans. The ownership and management of the economy is still controlled by few monopolies.

– Entry to economic participation is (finance, network industries, mining) limited. Most studies conducted in South Africa and abroad point to the concentrated nature of our economy. The essence of the migrant labour system remains in place. The crisis of capitalism in our country is defined by massive job loss, displacement of workers, destruction of the environment, emergence of finance capital, the marginalization of other sectors of the economy such as manufacturing and the increase in inequality in terms of income and assets.

– The systemic nature of the crisis of the capitalist economy suggests that the solutions should be systemic and comprehensive. The introduction of rent in the form of black economic empowerment has benefited the few and excluded the majority of people. In this context, there has not been a comprehensive socio-economic transformation. State Capture in the form of the GUPTA’s, lifted corruption to high levels.

– The system of proportional representation in our national and provincial legislatures has reached its limits. While it sought to foster national unity, promote non-racialism and gender parity, it is failing in so far as the idea of accountability is concerned. It creates conditions for a vertical relationship of members and party leadership in political parties. The fidelity is to the party and not so much to South Africa. In recent times, there is a conflation of party and state relations which results in a negative impact in the quality of life of the citizens of the country and instead promotes the serving of the interests of the connected few.

– The system of political party funding does not promote disclosure and public scrutiny. State capture often starts with capture of political parties by anonymous donors. The reform of party funding will go a long way in opening up our political system.

4. Programme of Action
The broad programme for social transformation has to be underpinned by the desire to renew certain aspects of our national lives as well as creating new ways of sustaining life and our democracy. In some situations, ruptures with our hitherto paths have to be a reality. In other words, the Cyril moment must not make us long for the return to the “unproblematic pre-Zuma period” for that would be the highest form of nativism. Certain sectors of our society such as business and those of liberal persuasions wish for the return to stability and go on with life as we understand it. This period may as well represent an opportunity to do things differently. This period has three elements to it.

4.1. Reversing State Capture

One of these being to focus on reversing state capture. This will take some time to conclude. In this period, we have to support the work of the Judicial Commission on State Capture, ensure that there are prosecutions for those implicated in CS, parliament continues with its work of public inquiries, cleaning the state system such as addressing state owned enterprises (SOE’s) and dealing with corruption at municipal level.

4.2. Entrenching the constitution and constitutionalism
The constitution is the basis of our national lives. It embodies our foundational values as a people. A progressive interpretation of the constitution is thus required; otherwise it can be emptied of its progressive intent and content. The starting point for the renewal process has to be the robust implementation of the values and intent of the constitution. This has to address areas such as institution-building (institutions take time to build), reforming our political system (proportional representation/constituency-based system and reforming the political party funding system). The promotion of social capital and social cohesion is the necessary condition for reversing poverty and other negative tendencies that have emerged in our areas. In most situations, there is a link between the collapse of our communities with the extent of the economic marginalization.

4.3. A through-going programme for change

This aspect of the programme has to address fundamental issues that affect conditions for a fair dispensation. This has to look at the economic system that should deliver to all the people in South Africa.

Social Compact- New conditions for the current round of the new deal? Who is prepared to give what amongst the social actors? Is there a sense of solidarity amongst these?

4.4. Conclusion

The present situation requires that we undertake a wide-spread socio-political and economic renewal process that could deliver revolutionary reforms, breaking new ground and tackling concrete immediate challenges. Objectively, all the key elements are there, the key questions are whether the political subjective factor(leadership) is up to the tasks of our times. It requires that, we understand what it means to be a progressive today and what organizational/ institutional forms/ forms of engagement should define, contemporary reality. This will require that activists for social justice display the pessimism of the intellect( nothing should be taken for granted in analyzing social reality) and the optimism of the will (after all, our is to work for change).

Cyril Ramaphosa and the Deepening Crisis of the ANC: Renewal or Perpetuation?

By Gunnett Kaaf- The ANC Nasrec Conference (December 2017) was greeted as a turning point since it brought the end of Jacob Zuma’s era that was marked by the worst forms of the ANC rot. The two major presidential candidates, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa, were portrayed in most of the media analysis as proxies for the perpetuation of the ANC rot as represented by Zuma and for the renewal of the ANC, respectively.
Ramaphosa won with 2440 votes against Dlamini-Zuma’s 2261 votes. The difference was a small margin of 179 votes. The CR slate only won three of the top 6 positions. Even the NEC results displayed the narrow margins in terms of the two contesting slates. On the numbers game, the Ramaphosa victory is clearly treading fragile grounds. But the defeat of NDZ was decisive in weakening the Premier League which has dominated ANC internal politics and was the main force behind Zuma since the 2012 ANC Mangaung Conference.
Now that NDZ was defeated, Ramaphosa won and ostensibly radical resolutions were passed by the ANC conference, is the ANC on the way to renewing?

Renewal or perpetuation?
I propose two possible scenarios for the ANC renewal. The first one is a renewal from below, which can happen if tens of thousands of ANC members organise themselves and rise up against the rot and the mafia; and say: “The rot stops here and it goes no further! Not in our name!” The conference did not herald such a moment. Instead the dominant factions within the ANC seem to have set the stage for the contest and the outcome of the conference. This is because the ANC members have long been sidelined by powerful factions in running the affairs of the organization. Powerful factions have appropriated all power to themselves within the ANC. For all intents and purposes, the ANC remains a mass movement only through passive mass support; the ANC is a mass movement controlled by powerful factions, it is not a mass movement of active and meaningful mass participation.

Members have been reduced to a status of pawns in the numbers game to mobilise support for the victory of warring factions at conferences. So in reality, ANC members have resigned themselves to the power of factions, or they no longer care about saving the ANC since it proving to be an impossible task. So this scenario of members’ revolt within the ANC is not possible, in reality.

The second scenario is a renewal from above which can happen if a leader or a group of leaders set to renew the ANC by rooting out corruption and initiate a path towards a meaningful social transformation for the benefit the majority. Cyril and his group do not resemble a group of radical (even moderate) modernisers who can push a meaningful ANC renewal from above. Their power, as derived from the conference outcome, is fragile; many rogue elements such as Ace Magashule, Jessie Duarte and DD Mabuza are still very powerful.

How Ramaphosa carried out the cabinet reshuffle, following the recall of Jacob Zuma, shows a lack of audacity to kick out all the rogue and rotten elements who are implicated in scandals. Instead, Ramaphosa seem hell-bent on negotiating everything. The outcome of this negotiation is compromises that accommodate corruption, and yet he claims an anticorruption agenda to be the mainstay his presidency.
Ramaphosa seem to be largely relying on the law enforcement agencies to do the cleaning-up of the rot that is widespread within the state. Without necessary political actions to fight the rot, he can only go so far and get nowhere deeper because the rot runs way too deep within various organs of the state. Mind you, we have 40 national state departments, 9 provincial governments with no less than 90 provincial departments, 257 municipalities and about 300 public entities. Corruption is found in most of these 687 state organs, and many of them are large and complex organizations. That’s why law enforcement alone will not succeed because evidence has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law. Most of the public entities play no developmental role and have weak governance regulations and practices, that’s why they are vulnerable to corruption and capture by predatory forces. In the absence of a coherent development plan, most of these state organs fall prey to neoliberal prescripts that do not advocate a strengthened role of the state, instead defer to market forces for solutions. The National Development Plan (NDP) does not close the gap for a coherent development plan because it is largely a vision statement. Even as a vision, the NDP is still based on neoliberal assumptions in how it envisages development.

Ramaphosa and his group don’t have the inclination to revive and mobilise the ANC grassroots to help them carry out the renewal, and kick-out the rogue and rotten elements among the leading personnel of the ANC.
Cyril is only going to be better than Zuma, but will still fail, as he falls short of the minimum requirements for the ANC renewal; he can’t halt and reverse the rot, he will only slow it down. He is better as we can see some good work in cleaning up Eskom and SARS already happening. The Ramaphosa cleanup drive, though limited, may still resonate with the mass support of the ANC; recovering some lost support and avert a worst electoral outcome next year. But that will not be proving the adequacy of the Ramophosa cleanup, but rather it will be merely saving the ANC fortunes in a climate of a weak opposition parties (DA and EFF) and weak (extra parliamentary) mass movements. But then, to the extent that people want real change in their lives after 24 years of democracy, the Ramophosa euphoria will die down sooner than later, and will have no significant effect in alleviating the deepening crisis of the ANC.
Can the ANC overcome its failure and revive to effect a meaningful social change?
The ANC crisis stems from two major sources. Firstly, it is the widespread corruption (the rot) and secondly, it is the failure of the ANC to effect a meaningful social change that advances the development for the majority and overcomes inequality. Because poverty and inequality have become the defining social features in post-1994 South Africa, class struggles have gained a decisive prominence in the political and social struggles that will make or break South Africa going forward. Advancing the social demands of popular classes, who are largely black, is going to be a measure of social progress and a mark of a meaningful social transformation.

Can the ANC really renew itself to the extent leading a meaningful social change?
During the struggle, the ANC, together with its allies, emerged as the most organized force, with a better strategy to mobilise a broad array of national and class forces to struggle for democracy, nonracial society and equality before the law. Contrasting this vision to white apartheid rule, this vision posed a social revolutionary dimension because it required universal suffrage and repeal of racist laws which institutionalized inequality. The ANC therefore emerged as the dominant force in the post-apartheid dispensation because it was better than other liberation forces in organising the people and posing a vision that resonated with the masses. It is perhaps this past glory that makes some to believe the ANC can still renew; clean up the rot and become a force of social transformation again.

After 1994, what was needed was for the ANC to pursue a social transformation with audacity, towards social equality. Instead the ANC embraced neoliberalism with the hope that it would result in foreign direct investment in productive sectors and grow the economy in ways that would create jobs, alleviate poverty and bring about development to township and rural communities. This fantasy of social progress through capitalism would dismally fail.

The ANC chose accommodation within global capitalism largely because of its lack of audacity to pursue a radical programme. There was also no daring to consistently insist on a radical programme, among the radical elements within the ANC led movement. These radical elements included COSATU, SACP, ANC branches, the youth movement, student movement, civics and some progressive NGO’s.

The SACP has no courage of its own convictions. They are fond of making threats of going alone, and making noises about rot when they are sidelined from powerful circles. Once they are brought back into the fold, like Cyril has done with his reshuffle, they tend keep quite. In essence the SACP has no political independent programme of a meaningful radical nature that makes an impact in the alliance. They add no value in the alliance, other than chasing accommodation within the ANC. Their lack of an independent socialist programme that is based on social demands of the workers and poor makes it difficult for the SACP to break out of the alliance impasse, even when they genuinely want to do so.

COSATU has been severely weakened by the implosion following the expulsion of NUMSA and Vavi. Many of the COSATU affiliates have experienced splits.
But perhaps the bourgeois capitulation of the ANC was also born out of its historically weak revolutionary strategy (the NDR) that did not integrate an anti-capitalist outlook. The nationalism of the ANC dominated over the socialist influence of the SACP. So much that even the SACP itself tended to subordinate class struggles to the dominant nationalism.

A radical programme with an anti-capitalist outlook that goes somewhere in challenging the foundations of the South African capitalism( cheap labour, Mineral Energy Complex and a dependent integration into the global capitalist economy) would have helped the push towards a real better life for all and social equality. To stop at the bourgeois revolution (which is what the ANC’s NDR has been reduced to) betrays the historically oppressed black majority, since South Africa’s historical capitalism was allowed to continue and restructure (by globalising and financialising) in terms favorable to South Africa’s big corporates, post-94. This continuity and the restructuring of the historical capital accumulation post-94, betrayed the people because it did not provide acceptable responses to social problems stemming from the apartheid legacy.

Nationalism has never succeeded in overcoming inequality post liberation struggles in the Global South. Instead, everywhere in the Global South where some measure of success has been registered towards social progress and equality, anti-capitalist struggles would have played a decisive role.

Today the ANC is not only reluctant to embarking on a renewal path, marked by a genuinely radical programme, but rather it is incapable of doing so. The ANC is incapable even though they are aware that a meaningful social transformation can only result from radical measures buttressed by popular power. It is because of their awareness of the necessity of radical measures and their own incapability to carry out such measures that the ANC has settled for populist overtures, over genuine radical efforts. That’s why the ANC’s radical economic transformation would be championed by such conservative elements as Zuma, Ace, Nkosazana and Supra! The ANC populist rhetoric that promises radical change, including on land expropriation without compensation, is also a containment strategy for the EFF, aimed at averting the danger of losing big electoral support to the EFF.

Transcend the ANC or get trapped in a tragic impasse
Cyril Ramaphosa’s close links to big business (himself a billionaire business man) will not help the efforts of the ANC to make a genuinely radical turn. As it has been seen from his state of the nation address and the budget speech, he has no semblance of a radical outlook. He is all about the neoliberal business as usual and all that NDP talk.

The ANC is no longer capable of carrying out any big social project because it is, on the weight of its own internal and external contradictions, imploding like an Empire of Chaos. There are no forces of renewal within the ANC fold, the good comrades who still remain in the ANC are trapped in the inertia of ANC politics. It is up to the left and progressive forces outside the ANC to initiate a genuine renewal for the country, based on bottom-up democratic and emancipatory politics and a meaningful social transformation. Otherwise there is a real danger for the whole country to be trapped in a tragic impasse, if we don’t transcend the ANC, to a point where the main agenda is not set by the ANC, but the ANC just become one of the political players.

Gunnett Kaaf is a political and community activist based in Bloemfontein