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


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.”


Angus, Ian. Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016.
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.
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.
Satgar, Vishwas. “South Africa Must Resist Another Captured President: This Time by the
Markets.” The Conversation, 2018.
———. “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.
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

Talking Transition: The Climate Crisis, Technology and the Nation State

by Prof. Janet Cherry –

Forget the national liberation movement. Forget the idea of capturing the nation state for the national working class. Forget the patriotic bourgeoisie and discard the rhetoric of revolutionary nationalism. Forget the second transition (to national liberation? to economic freedom?) or even a third transition (to socialism?) or a fourth transition (to communism?). There is something else going on in the world, and our narrow national concerns are going to blind us to the real transition that is taking place.

What is a transition? What transition are we talking about here? In the first place, it is a process of change, from one state (in the physical sense) to another; from solid to liquid (melting ice); from liquid to gas (boiling water). “All that is solid melts into air” as Marx famously said:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.” (Manifesto of the Community Party, 1948. Chapter 1)

In the first instance, the transition we are dealing with here is a global transition in the forces of production – a transition away from fossil-fuel based production. This transition is necessitated by the climate crisis. Without going into detail of why this transition is necessary, or how it is occurring, the argument here is premised on the understanding that human society will respond to the imperative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the next decade. If I am wrong, and the tipping point is already past; or if I am wrong and we are subject to a determinist view of history that we cannot change through struggle or agency, then the whole argument falls away. So bear with me and accept the premise above.
If this transition is occurring, it has far-reaching implications for our agenda for building an egalitarian, democratic, socialist society. The technology upon which production is based is changing – in other words, the forces of production are changing radically. The technology allows for decentralised production of energy, food and many of the goods and services which meet basic needs of human society. Decentralised, localised forms of production have, in turn, far-reaching implications for the social relations of production. The means of production can be locally owned and controlled. The monopolisation and centralisation of capital that Marx thought inevitable, can be reversed in the 21st century. Not only production of goods but provision of services, especially banking, communication, information – can be democratised and decentralised.

The climate crisis, which threatens the livelihoods and lives of millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa, is potentially a liberating force in this context. The argument is that decentralised energy production allows for local control over the means of production and this in turn allows for radical changes in the social relations of production. New localised economies which are premised on food sovereignty, energy sovereignty, and reuse of local resources in a circular economy principle, have the potential to fundamentally alter the existing capitalist mode of production. While in the global North, overconsumption and overdependence on fossil fuel means a much more difficult transition to low-carbon economies while retaining a high quality of life, the global South has the potential for a different kind of transition.

Can we change the social relations of production under capitalism, without seizing control of the nation state? Is it possible that localised initiatives can pose a challenge to the inequalities and injustices of capitalism as we know them? The argument against ‘picking lemons’ implies that it is only the undesirable or marginal parts of the economy that are accessible to the marginalised (or the lumpen proletariat, or the precariat, or the rural proletariat); it is only these parts that can be socialised, while remaining on the periphery of the global capitalist economy. And it is true, there are few instances in the global North where working-class communities have really implemented democratic and sustainable socialism. Linking in Samir Amin’s idea of delinking African economies from the global North, it is argued here that radical change is more likely to come from the South, from the most marginal societies in particular – those on the periphery in Wallerstein’s model. Such societies (for example Malawi, Lesotho or Mozambique) which have not completed a transition to capitalism and are less integrated into the global capitalist economy, are in a better position to explore new alternatives made possible by technology. Relationships with China and other BRICS countries may also strengthen this counter-power, but this is not a foregone conclusion.

Our argument in the Transition Township project in Kwazakhele, Nelson Mandela Bay, and in the Amandla! Collective, is that it is possible to explore alternatives to capitalism within the current political dispensation. Our own struggles, over decades, have given us the experience of participatory democracy, of contesting hegemony at local level, and of wielding some forms of power. What we have not achieved is the taking of control of material resources; the wielding of economic power. Our history of local popular power did not result in economic power; even the best NUMSA and NUM worker cooperatives established in the course of the struggle, were unsustainable. The cooperatives established post 1994 as part of a top-down, state-led development in the context of neoliberal macro-economic policies, were equally unsustainable. And while the National Democratic Transition has given us space, we have not used this space effectively. We have not contested it through the discourses of participatory development, participation in development planning (through the IDP process), through the Municipal LED agenda; through the Peoples Housing Process; through rural development policies and programmes; through waste management programmes; through EPWP. None of these have been democratic or worker controlled, let alone socialist; they have involved some dispensing of benefits or wages to the poor, but no control by the working class.
Drawing on the theory of Antonio Gramsci, among others; and the revolutionary practice of Matthew Goniwe, in contesting power at the local level in Cradock in 1985, we aim to take these ideas into practice in the next phase of struggle. Some examples of this are the following:

The decentralisation of energy production: This entails the transition to renewable energy; local control of energy production (why should the big corporates be those who make millions from the government’s IPP programme? Why is it that only wealthy homeowners are retrofitting and selling their power back to the municipality?); and incorporates the ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ campaign which offsets the job losses from the end of coal with the creation of new jobs from renewable energy. The difference in this context is that these million jobs are not ‘jobs’ for ‘workers’ who will be paid a wage by a big company. They are livelihoods for the worker-owners-managers of the local energy company. Our pilot is a neighbourhood cooperative – some comrades refer to it as a ‘Gap Tap Soviet’ model – where the residents are the owners and managers of a common asset, generating energy from ‘their’ public space (as well as their rooftops) and selling that energy. Goodbye Eskom. Goodbye global mineral energy complex. We do not need you in this model. If we cannot make the PV panels ourselves, we will form trade alliances with India and China.

The decentralisation of food production: This entails food sovereignty. Localised production and distribution of food, with the level of localisation being appropriate to the facility of production in that locality. Spinach and tomatoes can be, and are, grown everywhere, in backyards in any part of Sub-Saharan Africa; cattle and goats are kept everywhere, in every township and village in the region. Sugar grows in KZN (and in Mozambique where Huletts is taking over peasant farms) and coffee grows in Limpopo (and in Kenya, for just one example). Our recent household survey in Kwazakhele led to a finding which contests the current dismal-left wisdom that the urban poor are eating a poor diet because they cannot afford fresh vegetables (packaged by Woolworths in three layers of plastic, having been transported 1000 km). On the contrary – working class residents of townships are eating fresh vegetables every day, buying them in singles as they need them, from vendors. Where are the fresh produce markets in every neighbourhood? The market is there, and yet who is benefitting?

The decentralisation of financial services: South Africa has the most appalling concentration of bankers who collude to exclude. While COSATU has admirably contested this issue, the technology that is now available through blockchain has far-reaching implications for this project. While the Bitcoin craze has not affected the poor as yet, the potential for democratised financing is enormous. FORUS is just one example of social entrepreneurship which may prove this point.

The creation of the circular economy through re-use of waste: Waste to energy, waste to food (composting, animal feed, fish food); waste to wealth (buy back to recycling from the most local neighbourhood level); waste to production (plastics to everything from handbags to textiles to water tanks and gutters) – all is potentially accessible to working class communities.

The use of existing public and private resources to generate livelihoods: (we do not talk of ‘wealth’ or ‘capital’, but rather what people need to have a good quality of life, and socially meaningful work). This includes using De Soto’s argument and twisting it; in Kwazakhele, almost all residents live in a house which is now privately owned, with a title deed, secure tenure, a small plot which can (and is) used for growing vegetables, or for building a backyard shack for rent, or for running some other kind of business. There is a great deal of unutilised land in South Africa. In Nelson Mandela Bay, there are a great many unutilised buildings, both public (schools) and private (factories and warehouses).

The repurposing and reclaiming of public infrastructure for public good: The key example in our context is the Swartkops Power Station, which is on the edge of Kwazakhele township. An iconic coal-fired power station which was decommissioned twenty years ago and sold to private interests, now rented out for storing of manganese, it has potential to be the centre of an innovative development on the coast, linking residents of the townships in a vibrant centre of new technology, cultural industries and food production.

The creation of productive facilities using new technology: For example, 3-D printing which enables decentralised and purpose-made production using recycled plastics. Such technology means that it is no longer necessary to have economies of scale or massive capital investment in order to produce what is needed so that it is affordable to the working class. Instead, the working class can control their own production, decide what to produce and consume, and no longer be alienated from their own labour.

All these things could happen, and many aspects of them are about to happen, but not necessarily as an advance of the democratic socialist project. How the technology is used, who benefits, how it is controlled and managed – all this is up to us. Can we change the relations of production? If not, why not? What are the impediments to this? Is it naïve to think that a localised experiment of this nature could be successful? This is the challenge I am putting forward to this first dialogue – and I invite your critical responses.

Mining: The Sunset Industry

By Ferrial Adam –

While for some South Africans, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s SONA (state of the nation address) signalled new hope for the country, for many it was much of the same with the ANC talking left but walking right. An example of this was Ramaphosa’s declaration of mining as a sunrise industry that is going to combat inequality, poverty and unemployment. It is going to usher in “a new path of transformation and sustainability”. [1] In reality, the mining industry has failed to do this in more than 100-years of existence in South Africa. Why would it change now?

It just so happened that the day before the SONA I accompanied an NGO, Bench Marks Foundation to Snake Park in Soweto. What I learnt and witnessed affected me deeply and listening to the President speak about mining as the answer to our economic woes made me very angry.

The true legacy of mining is wrought with slave labour, low wages for rank and file workers; dangerous working conditions; work related illness; gender discrimination; land expropriation and air, land and water pollution; to name but a few. It has consistently enriched a few, president Ramaphosa included. The bottom line is that mining has failed to contribute to sustainability.

Mining is closer to being a sunset industry that is widening the gap between the rich and poor, increasing poverty and contributing to high levels of unemployment. Mining operations in South Africa have had a negative impact on the environment and on the people and communities living close to or downwind of these operations.

This article will address the challenges of the mining sector and will highlight the environmental injustices from the mining sector in South Africa. As such it will argue that mining may be a sunrise industry for a privileged few but if we look at the industry in a holistic way then mining is detrimental to the social and environmental cohesion of society and should thus be regarded as a sunset industry that is losing jobs, investor confidence and is harmful to people and the environment.



The ANC adopted the Mineral Energy Complex model from its apartheid oppressors. Many ANC stalwarts, including our new president have significant shares in mines. The model of mining has been built on cheap, migrant labour that allowed many of the mines to flourish, while the workers and communities close by are subjected to poverty and affected by the harsh environmental impacts.[2] This is still the model being used today and begs the question – Sunrise industry for whom?


A sunrise industry has been defined as “An emerging industry that is gaining favour with investors and is expected to be an engine of future economic growth through steadily rising generation of employment and profits, and comparatively lower environmental costs”[3]. While the South African government is committed to the adoption of market-oriented policies that will supposedly yield job creation, investment, growth, reduced poverty and general inequality, the picture of mining has been very different. [4]

In the past few years almost 50000 jobs have been lost in mining.[5] At the same time, CEOs earn anything from 50 to 100 times that of the rank and file workers. For example, the CEO of Anglo-American earns almost R67 Million, the CEO of BHP Billiton earns R57 Million and the CEO of Goldfields earns R28 Million per annum. [6] In comparison, the mine workers in Marikana were asking for a mere R12500 a month in 2012.

Furthermore, the type of jobs that mining offers poses a threat to workers’ health and safety. When miners get ill, they are either retrenched or not adequately cared for placing a burden on the state and adding to the economic burden of poor families.

If we take the environmental and social impacts into account, then mining is anything but a sunrise industry.


A true reflection of mining

While it is often mentioned that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing us today, the externalities – such as the environmental and social impacts – of mining are either ignored or not included in the ‘profits’ or ‘growth’ of this sector.

Mining operations often result in large scale land grabs, pushing communities off their land and thereby affecting food sovereignty. In Sub-Saharan Africa 60-80% of food that is consumed within rural households is grown by women.[7] Women are the ones who are responsible for producing food, and thus access to and preservation of land is crucial for community and family health/well-being, not to mention basic survival.[8]

Women are disempowered by the way land is taken away and have to spend more time looking for natural resources, including ‘wild fruits, trees, natural herbs, firewood and water’.[9] This results in women resorting to sex work to feed their families.

The mining environment

Air pollution

Mining operations are renowned for high levels of water, soil, air and land pollution. People and the communities who live close to mines are affected by high levels of noise, dust, air pollution, and blasting that comes from the mine operations. Dust from trucks that drive through the communities as well as dust blown from mine waste dumps are ingested either because it settles on locally grown food and livestock or through breathing in the dust,[10] causing respiratory illnesses like asthma.



South Africa is responsible for about 86% of all the waste in Africa as a whole (Institute of Waste Management Southern Africa, 2017).[11] According to Bench Marks Foundation, there are more than 270 tailings dams in the Witwatersrand Basin, that are “mostly unlined and many are not vegetated, providing a source of extensive dust, as well as soil and water (surface and groundwater) pollution.” (Oelofse et al., 2007, p. 617). The dust and water from the tailings waste contain chemicals, minerals and heavy metals that are poisonous, such as arsenic, cyanide, mercury, lead and uranium.[12]


Water pollution

South Africa is a water-scarce country and ranks as one of the 30 driest countries in the world, with an average rainfall of about 40% less than the annual world average rainfall. South Africa has an average annual rainfall of less than 500mm, while that of the world is about 850mm. In South Africa, the state holds the environment, including our water resources, in public trust for the people; this means not only that the water belongs to all the people of South Africa, but that government is supposed to be working on our behalf with regards to our access to as well as use and enjoyment of water.[13] However, Bench Marks Foundation has shown that the issuing of water use licenses within the extractive industry is corrupt and inefficient.

Mining companies in particular have been abusing this process with at least one hundred mines reportedly operating without a water licence in 2014.[14] Communities are regularly prevented from accessing and using the water around the mines.[15] Water pollution and a significant decline in water availability tends to impact women (and girls) more than men, because women and girls are largely responsible for water collection. Because of mining effluent, the water that is available is often contaminated, and it is then women and children who are most affected by skin rashes, urinary infections and other resultant afflictions.  Moreover, having to travel far distances to rivers and streams for potable water increases the hours women spend on unpaid work as well as places them at risk of being attacked or raped.[16]

Water pollution from mine waste rock and tailings might need to be managed for decades, if not centuries, after a mine’s closure. In South Africa in general, and Gauteng in particular, there is a lack of responsible closure and thousands of abandoned mines are the norm. There are 6 000 ownerless, derelict and abandoned mines nationwide and some 600 in Gauteng alone.[17]


Its not just theoretical: the impacts are real

A day before the SONA I accompanied Bench Marks Foundation to Snake Park in Soweto, where they are conducting a health study from the impacts of mining in the area. Like many communities in the south of Johannesburg, this community live on the edge of a gold mine tailings dam, or as we have come to know them as ‘the yellow hills’.

The dust from the tailings has a high concentration of heavy metals and is blown into the community. The dust blows all over including in their homes, clothes, blankets and even the cooking pots. The fine radioactive sand is being used in construction. At one of the homes, I was shown where the cement had been mixed to build RDP homes. The blue-green discoloration was a clear indication that the soil was laden with heavy metals.

Bench Marks Foundation brought along a Geiger counter which was measuring the radiation levels in the area. According to most standards of measurement 0.5 micro-Sieverts (µSv/h) per hour is considered the safe level for medium to long term habitation. Most of the readings on the Geiger counter ranged from 9 to 16 micro Sieverts per hour. The high levels of radiation were measured in and around the homes that we visited.

When it rains, the water on the dump overflows into streams that run into the street. There are no fences or signage to warn people of the hazards. Children play on the mine dumps and swim in the highly toxic evaporation pools. We did a basic pH test and found the lowest was a pH of 3 with the highest a pH of 5.

It was shocking to see the high number of children with cerebral palsy. There is a cerebral palsy child on almost every street. There are so many kids affected that there is a creche that sees to only cerebral palsy children. Cerebral palsy is a developmental disorder that Bench Marks believes – in this area- is partly due to the heavy metals in dust blowing off the hundreds of tailings dumps. Not only are the people exposed to extreme pollution, but they also do not have the support from government or the mining companies. It was disturbing to see a 15 year old affected boy sitting in a car seat made for toddlers.

Government and the mining companies have suggested that there is no link between the children and the mine. Litigation against polluting companies remains extremely difficult without a comprehensive, epidemiological study. Bench Marks believes differently and have thus undertaken a health study in the area. The study is aimed at challenging the mining companies and government to take responsibility and to remove the dangers facing this community.

Street science for environmental justice

Snake Park is just around the corner. We did not have to drive for hours and hours. Even if government does not believe the findings of Bench Marks foundation – there is enough to warrant a study and visit to assess the situation. The mining sector has more than a hundred years of perpetuating environmental injustices across the country. Before Ramaphosa and the ANC give them free reign, we should consider reining this sector in and holding them responsible for damaging the basic fabric of our society.

One of the important tools that Bench Marks is using is education for liberation. Creating awareness and educating members of the communities in which they work to monitor, report, blog and collaborate. This has empowered ordinary people to challenge the mining companies and government. While this has been difficult in the past as mining companies have denied responsibility, street science has forced the balance of power in favour of the communities. Through such networks and groups we can build an environmental and climate justice movement that can give rise to real deep just transitions. So while mining is a sunrise industry for a few mining magnates, the people affected will no longer go silently into the sunset!


[1] State of the nation Address

[2] Andrew England, 2014. ‘South African mining: Stuck in the past’ – e0b9bee0-b0e4-11e3-bbd4-00144feab7de. Accessed, 5 January 2017


[4] Department of Finance, 1996, ‘Growth, Employment and Redistribution: A Macro-Economic Framework’ – Accessed, 17 December 2017



[7] Samantha Hargreaves, 2013. ‘The Impact of Mining on Women’, 17 October – /site/article/1818 Accessed, 2 January 2018

[8] Christina Hill et al,, 2016. ‘Gender and the Extractive Industries: Putting Gender on the Corporate Agenda’, OXFAM Report

[9] ActionAid South Africa, 2016. ‘Precious Metals II: A Systemic Inequality’: 4

[10] Mark Olalde, 2017. ‘The dust mountain that’s just always there’, Accessed, 21 December 2017

[11] Almost three tonnes of ore (waste) is needed to produce enough gold for one typical wedding ring. As at 1997, South Africa produced an estimated 468 million tons of mineral waste per annum (DWAF, 2001).

[12] Bench Marks Foundation, 2017. ‘Policy Gap 12’

[13] Ferrial Adam, 2017. ‘Building People’s Power for Water Sovereignty: An Activist Guide’, Accessed, 18 December 2017

[14] SAPA, 2014, ‘103 mines have no water use licences’,, Accessed, 21 January 2018

[15] Bench Marks Foundation, 2014. ‘Policy Gap 9: South African Coal Mining –  Corporate Grievance Mechanisms, Community Engagement Concerns and Mining Impacts’

[16] Christina Hill et al, 2016. ‘Gender and the Extractive Industries: Putting Gender on the Corporate Agenda’, OXFAM Report

[17] Bench Marks Foundation, 2017. ‘Policy Gap 12’