Shafinaaz Hassim
Shafinaaz Hassim

To fix a broken working class

Some say that 20 years is not a long time to sink teeth into a fully-fledged new democracy. There have been many challenges to ignite economic growth while providing essential services to the South African nation. But the major gripe that seems to resonate in today’s times is that the powerful voice of the working class that struggled against an unjust regime of apartheid seems to have little effect in overcoming its current challenges. And now, the party that was at the helm of the struggle, fails to provide adequately for this working class, engaging instead in a kind of class-based apartheid. Are people dissatisfied? Is the DA a viable alternative to the ANC or is it not even a consideration to most individuals? Reports suggest that even NUM faces significant loss of members.

If we are in a political quagmire, then we also see the emergence of new political parties that insist on keeping the main and initial objectives at the fore of their efforts: service delivery and a truly better life for all. Major parties in Parliament have bandied the same slogans for votes, so what makes these newcomers, albeit with good intentions, potentially more effective?

A range of emerging voices are a great thing for a democracy, but who’s to say that these are committed to the people over party politics, and not just readily diving into the gravy stream? The working-class struggle remains a pertinent issue, and so how does one ensure adequate economic growth to facilitate service delivery and the alleviation of poverty?

State economists tell us that blaming the neo-liberal agenda is a tedious exercise; that in order to compete with global economies, South African economic growth was pegged to neo-liberal policies. The left begs to differ; a view one might say, taken from the midst of the boiling pot, where we hurtle towards an almost 30% of the population slipping below the poverty line by 2014. If the South African economy is truly a slave to global forces, we’re made to question the decisions being taken at the top. And the gain of capitalism means that the divide between the haves and have-nots widens further, and adds to the challenge of adequate service delivery.

And so with these new voices, what guarantee does one have that joining a new party will effectively strengthen opposition voice? Will it be the disenchanted individual who wanders off in search of an alternate that makes better promises for equal representation, or crowds that go helter-skelter in any new direction that offers a glimmer of hope?

We’re beginning to look like a bunch of cattle or horses bolting at the sound of thunder.

While government still needs to allocate for adequate, and sometimes at least basic service delivery, the onus is on corporatives on the ground to take a more proactive approach in implementing over time, self-sustaining initiatives that release their reliance on the upper echelons of the state. And this requires a change in mindset from the almost zombie-like patriarchal reliance on the “head of the family’s” unerring ability to make the right decisions, to individuals actively engaging in the local, communal and national politics of our time.

For now, given the exacerbated struggles while facing global economic crises, there is no doubt about the willingness on the part of the working class to seek sustainable ways out of the current situation. But the disunity certainly doesn’t help the course; a fragmented working class is a weakened social unit. The potential and duty to protect democratic ideals lies with a powerful collective. The working class revolted against the previous regime and it has the power to continue to drive this democratic process.

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    • Yaj

      The ultimate constraint on economic growth both locally and globally is the game-changing end of cheap oil (Peak Oil) which is the lifeblood of all modern industrial economies. This is all the more serious given the levels of debt both locally and globally. No/inadequate growth means debts both public and private become unpayable and we have an insolvency crisis of massive proportions. QE merely kicks the can down the road and zero percent interest rates delay the day of reckoning while aggravating the level of debt even more.

      The solutions require a paradigm shift entailing monetary reform with 100%reserve banking, public banks, public credit.

      Before that happens , communities can organise their own co-operatives, credit unions, community banks, local parallel currencies to facilitate local economic activity and employment. Mondragon co-operatives of Basque country in Spain have worked very well for decades and have survived the global recession very well.

    • Pingback: To fix a broken working class – Thought Leader | Zombie Nation()

    • Call for Honesty

      The writer would benefit from reading (or perhaps re-reading) George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.” It is quite painful reading this and working out what she is trying to say. Language needs to be coherent (logical) , cohesive (moving easily from one point to the next) and hence clear in any piece of good writing.

    • bernpm

      The resulting SA society after 1994 did not -despite all the hype or rainbow nation- did not become a democracy nor an homogeneous society. Elections only do not create a democracy.
      A one party government is not a democracy but closer to an oligarchy and easily moving to a dictatorship if opposition is not alert. The current ANC government is heading for this and setting SA up for a full African dictatorship with a little manipulation in the electoral processes.
      A multiparty democracy has -what the British call- a “hung Parliament”. This means that there is not a single ruling party. A government is formed by a group of parties who together can form a majority based on the outcome of elections. These parties negotiate a government program for the duration of their session.
      Lower down the lines, there is not such a thing as “deployment of cadres”. Civil servants are not (necessarily) connected to the party of their Ministers.
      At Provincial and Municipal levels different combinations can exist.

      Typical groups consist of Liberal, Labor and moderate middle parties (often with a Christan democratic flavor) or some added flavor from the some more extreme party on either wing (left – right). Advantage? More general debates on key society issues and better spread of attention on the variety of needs expressed by society.

      A further advantage is that corruptible incest is largely reduced as it goes through/touches different channels with different political…

    • bernpm

      “to fix a broken working class?” is impossible in the current ANC configuration.
      The workers cannot stand up for their own interests as they under command from the highest power in the ANC.

      Unions in SA are largely sell-outs to the ruling party = the ANC. Till now they have been voting for the ANC and put them in the majority in Parliament. This will only change if Unions emerge that dare to stand up and “go it alone” for workers interest.

      In this context it will be interested to know how many people have decided NOT to vote in 2014. I have done some calculations on the effect of non-voters on the final division of seats in Parliament. This division of seats determines which party(s) have voting power in Parliament. Number of votes is just a piece of the chain in this final calculation.
      The key is that “non votes” and “spoiled votes” represent seats in Parliament: 30% non voters represent 30% of 400 seats = 120 seats of the 400.
      These seats are distributed over the parties who have obtained seats in the first round based on their votes. If the ANC reaches 40% of votes = 160 of 400 seats and other 10 parties combined 30% = 120 of 400 seats or 12 seats each.
      The non-voters leave 120 seats to divide between the parties. The parties divide these seats according their results.
      It is clear that the ANC, with its majority, gets the majority of these non-voters seats and walks away with 60 extra seats thanks to non voters. The other parties get 50 or 5 each…

    • Cam Cameron

      “Is the DA a viable alternative to the ANC or is it not even a consideration to most individuals? Reports suggest that even NUM faces significant loss of members.” These two sentences don’t hang together. What is the point being made?

    • Jospesh Coates

      Will we ever see a working or middle class emerge from our disadvantage groups throughout our rainbow nation. Let’s hope something is initiated after the next elections to bring this about by getting the ecomony to a better place and getting the younger generations into jobs so they become part of this. We need experts to mentor this into motion. A handful doing this won’t change the situation at present.
      As it has been said before , we, ALL should contribute regardless of cultural background . Enough said.

    • gksa

      Even more worrying than the state of SA’s working class, should be the situation of our not-working class…

    • bernpm

      Following my comment on the elections and results:

      Advise to electorate form all non ANC parties should be:

      If you want to reduce the power of the ANC, DO VOTE on any other party closest to your interests and certainly DO NOT NOT VOTE!!

    • Steve Woodhall

      South Africa never really had a ‘working class’ in the true sense of the word. Prior to colonization the black tribes lived under what would have been called in Europe a feudal system. This carried on into modern times because the colonizers perpetuated the system by co-opting the black chiefs. Now we have an oligarchy of ANC politicians and foreigners they owe for services during exile, and a dwindling professional class – and a bloated ‘middle class’ whose only reason for being is consumerism. We once had artisans but these were mainly imported from Europe. These are either retiring or fleeing.

      Below this you have a growing underclass – poor, black, unskilled and increasingly angry.

      The ANC had a chance in the 1990’s to build a black artisanal corps. Artisans are the backbone of an industrial society – ask the Germans. If they had encouraged ALL South Africans to work together, pass on skills and form partnerships, we would be winning now. The ANC started well with a developmental state which could have used these skills to build a winning economy along the lines of the Asian Tigers.

      But unfortunately Thabo Mbeki could not resist the temptation to have revenge on the whites. His ‘I am an African’ speech hardened attitudes and nipped many promising attempts to share skills, in the bud. I know, I was part of one. He was the start of the rot that eventually reached its apogee with Zuma. Now we look like going back to feudalism again, like Zimbabwe has done…

    • Tofolux

      @Steve, I definitely do not think you are a victim and clearly your ”white-rhodie” perspective cannot grasp the significance that SA was a failed state pre 1994. Given aprthied industrialisation, we failed. It is unfair to lament the redress of Zim and accuse us for making a difference. It seems that it is quite significant that some forget that the majority voted for the ANC and it is quite significant that some forget WHY they were voted in. The minority will not hold the majority to ransom with a narrow and selfish agenda. It is hightime that those who returned from Zim to our country and now want to ruin our country with their failed projects, must be indentified.
      @Shafinaaz, it would be helpful to contextualise the material conditions on our ground against that which is happening in Europe for instance. Capitalism has bred corruption, it is a corrupt system and it does not a homogenous working class make. Polticis in Europe is closely linked to the economic conditions. Elections in Europe today is touch n go and we have seen the advent of extremist and right wing govts in these countries because of the economic downturn. These govts do not produce collectivsm but individualism. Mixed economies takes on a collective approach becos it is underpined with job creation and helping the poor out of poverty. Given our 20yrs against the apartheid failed project, clearly we are succeeding. Question, y will ppl like you not allow us the break to succeed?

    • Tofolux

      @Bernperm, you sound off like someone who is campaigning for elections. I do not understand how the moderators allow this noting that this is not an electioneering forum. To make a point, in the Western Cape, there are numerous challenges, the farmworkers protests, the Hangklip shootings when people protest as per a constitutional right, the closure of schools in needy areas without consultation, consultants who have made lots of money in the COCT, the so-called portable loos when a bucket cannot flush to go where one wonders, the inhumane remarks that citizens are refugees in their own country, the collusion by minority parties when they hold up progress for the poor with unparliamentary and unSAn tactics. What about the blind guitarist who was inhumanely removed from a public space. The ruling party has gained the majority votes and will change this country together with the working class to that envisioned in the constitution and the freedom charter. The equity and redress sought by our constitution is continuously attacked by your party. The all male legislature or the latest Fire Dept marginalisation of pregnant women is case in point. The struggle by workers in WC is different to elsewhere because they have to fight issues of equity despite that it is enshrined in the constitution. We know that liberalism do not have the interest of workers at heart noting the continuous attacks on them by some. Hence please be honest and acknowledge the above failures.

    • bernpm

      @Tofolux: “Mixed economies takes on a collective approach becos it is underpined with job creation and helping the poor out of poverty. Given our 20yrs against the apartheid failed project, clearly we are succeeding. Question, y will ppl like you not allow us the break to succeed?”

      Are you referring to mixed economies as in “racially mixed” or as in “socially (liberal/socialist) mixed”? Economic systems do not aim to “create jobs” or “help the poor” They merely serve to organize a society into an efficient and productive unit. “Jobs” are simply a requirement to achieve this and “poverty alleviation” is one of the positive results.
      Are “we” succeeding in economic terms?? Clearly not. Jobs are at an all-time low and poverty at an all-time high. These are just the byproducts of a not very successful economy sending negative signals to our society.

      Your question? As long as you keep referring to other compatriots as “you people” and yourself as “us”, you do not call for sympathy and cooperation. As long as the “us” you refer to can not work together with the “you people”, both teams will never succeed.
      If the “us” is the current ANC and the current economic situation is the road to success you refer to, I would have difficulties to give you the break to move forward on the path to -what you call- “succeed”.
      The mixed economy should be headed by a mixed -or multi party- government to have a change to succeed. Such a government should…

    • Tofolux

      @bernperm, it is clear that you have no clue about the types of economic systems that is practised, wait for it, beyond SA. Hint, mixed economies in China, Brazil, India etc has seen unprecedented growth whilst the American economic crunch wreaks havoc across the globe. Yes, we have succeeded post 1994 noting that our state in particular was brankrupt, yep someone ran us into the ground. The govt not only turned that around, they created jobs, they built houses, I can go to school even if I live in a rural areas, we have running water and electricity (can you believe that). The pandemic that has hit us so hard, has seen a major turnaround with NO mother-to-child transmission. We hosted the World Cup and what a success and lo and behold, we are leading the the AU with a woman, wow. Her impact thus far has been far-reaching much more compared to another person from a-gang who did nothing for our continent. Women issues are addressed. Across Africa the plight of the youth is on the agenda compared to what they did to my parents during apartheid era. Our very own Madiba who reached a major milestone ie 95yrs old and where but in SA can we rightfully brag to have been blessed with someone as special as he is. Yes you can damn these successes and yes you can ignore our desire for re-dress. The point is that we got to these successes without the help of those who consistently complain. So, we can engage but this must be underpined with honesty.

    • bernpm

      @Tofolux: I lived under/with and studied some economic systems. Seen the results of a few emerging. Some good other not so good.

      For you, just dream on and i wish you luck and happiness.

      If you consider an explanation of the electoral system as electioneering..???? your choice.

      Case closed.

    • Tofolux

      @bernperm, ja ne, cudnt handle da heat in da kitchen.

    • bernpm

      @Tofolux: @bernperm, ja ne, cudnt handle da heat in da kitchen.

      I can handle the “heat” in the kitchen but I get bored when the cook is making the same dishes over and over.