It’s a Saturday. The sun is unforgivably hot. Probably it’s the absence of an umbrella on my part. How could I? None of the ANC volunteers can afford an umbrella. It would be rude and unfair of me to have one covering my head alone while others are left at the mercy of the sun so I decided not to buy or carry one with me. One thing is for sure, life is difficult on this side of the country.
I have been meaning to write these reflections but have been far too busy. Today I tell a story: straight and honest. Our duty (as ANC national organisers) is not to complain about the weather but to forge ahead door-to-door asking our people to consider voting for the ANC. That is what we have chosen. We are at a place called Matolweni — Stutterheim. This place is extremely rural. Without waiting for people to ask us we already know that we must answer about the lack of electricity and the dilapidated road.
We know about the road because we travelled on it coming here. What are we going to say? Create hope? No ways. This municipality is dominated by Cope councillors. I will not say what I do not know. Our people have been neglected by the leadership during the days of Nosimo Balindlela, I will not answer for Cope. Let them come and answer on their own. She must tell people why she neglected them when she was in government, only to remember them after she was fired.
The contingent of volunteers we are working with is relatively young and energetic. They are enthusiastic, though hungry, they keep singing as though we are celebrating. These volunteers themselves are unemployed, which explains why they are with us here during the week when they are supposed to be either at school or at work. Don’t be mistaken. Most of them have passed matric but could not proceed to tertiary education for lack of money.
Economically deprived or rich, we are all the same, it’s election time. That’s how capitalist democracy works. During elections the leaders and the led mingle together as though they are one, but beyond the similar T-shirts lies extreme economic differences. Internal problems aside, we approach a house whose inhabitant is an old and frail woman. She waves at us dismissively. She seems to be telling us to go away and asks: “nizenge-Coke?” (Are you here for Coke?) With “Coke” rural people mean Cope. Noticing this fact we quickly attempt to explain: “size-nomkhonto nevili” (we are here with a spear and a wheel) — the ANC.
She cannot help but be vigilant. Old people have been misled on more than one occasion here in the Eastern Cape. They have been told that the ANC has changed its logo and removed the spear and only left the wheel. For some their particulars have been taken under the guise of registering people for electricity and social grants. That is how organisations have been increasing their membership without actually recruiting anyone. I am sure everyone has seen how in the back-to-back bi-elections the ANC has won, displacing incumbent councillors for new ones. First she looks thoroughly at the logo on our T-shirts so as to check if we are not misleading her when we say we are ANC.
After satisfying herself about the authenticity of our statements she nods, smiles and allows us in. Her smile seems to have trapped us. We relax, expecting no questions because she seems to be an ANC supporter, we think. We sit down inside the house expecting to be pampered. Alas! The floodgates open. Even before we start speaking she fires the first salvo. She accuses us of being liars. She says we think we are clever because we are educated. She claims that we are using “them” and their votes to finance our lavish lifestyles. Lastly she alleges that we only know “them” during elections. She also demands that the ANC should build roads. She asks for electricity, demands that the councillor be removed and tells us to go and tell those who sent us to her house that these are her views.
In conclusion, she tells us she will vote for the ANC. Not because of us but because this is her organisation, not ours. Just as I am thinking of a response she cuts in “yinyani, akuyonyani? Nizosikhumbula xa kuphinda kuvotwa, andithi?” (It is true isn’t it? You are going to remember us again during the next elections?) Yes, although I don’t say it, it is probably true. These nationalists are going to remember our people in the next elections. It is not only the ANC, but all political parties, the old woman contends. I for one, being a communist, am taken aback, but at least happy with her conclusion. After all these things she still says she will vote for the ANC. Wow! This is what Cope probably misread — the anger people feel is not, certainly not yet, anti-ANC anger, but anger at the leadership — parliamentarians, ministers, MECs, mayors and councillors, not the ANC.
And indeed, our people have a right to be angry at these people. Most of them are not even part of this door-to-door campaign. All they want is to get to parliament and that’s it. But one thing people have to learn is that anger should not lead to disengagement. It should propel them to participate and root out the “accumulation regime” that is under way, both inside and outside the state apparatus. Back to the old lady; the things this woman says are true. Although we are not lying, many among us are willing to lie to get people to vote. We don’t think we are clever but some among us are taking advantage of the uneducated to get their votes and yes, to get into government and finance their lavish lifestyles.
DA, Cope, UDM and all other petty bourgeois organisations are guilty of this. Even some members of the SACP are guilty of this fact. It’s a shame that some use our party to advance their narrow economic interests. But I will not leave the party because of these elements. I will stay on and fight. Most of the houses we visit give responses which are more or less the same — people complain about the lack of service delivery but point out improvements. They demand more and seem to be giving up. This is bad, not only for the ANC but for the party as well. The South African working class has been substantially demobilised by the top-down economic and political interventions that have taken place over the past 15 years.
Most of our people seem to have accepted being spectators whose duty is to deride or praise work being done by political representatives. This is not at all sustainable. There is a programme, where we are, though piecemeal, to assert people’s power through the removal, installation and election of ward councillors. The crisis is the inability of the South African left to use the existing measures to build working-class hegemony. Back to the old lady; what lessons should we draw as communists from this old woman’s perspective? Is there hope in Cope? Well, frankly, in the eyes of many of our people Cope is nothing but old wine in new bottles. It is Thabo Mbeki under a new mask. Who can blame them. Nosimo was premier of the Eastern Cape until late last year and presided over the most incompetent provincial government. Now all of a sudden she goes around promising people things. Why did she not do them when she was still in government, ask our people? So in peasants’ eyes Cope represents the outgoing government albeit under a new name.
Cope is only new to the middle classes who see the preservation of their economic interests should Cope take over. But to those who have lost enough in the past 15 years a continuation of the old order is simply impossible. Change is necessary. Even if this change is only at the level of leadership and not policy. To them the current “accumulation regime” cannot proceed. It must be disrupted, even if replaced with another one. This is what people say with their own mouths. For many of our people the ANC represents them and their aspirations. It is a living embodiment of their struggle and resistance against apartheid capitalism. Correctly or otherwise this is the case. Any illusions that the ANC’s base can be dismantled by lukewarm, feel-good political parties like Cope who do not present any alternative to the ANC but are a carbon copy of the movement under a new name and logo is simply disastrous. By the look of things the working-class base in the ANC is going to remain, probably for some years to come. Any serious left formation should not abandon the working-class base in the ANC but contest it from within.
Where the working class is found, working-class formations should be present. Of course this is not to suggest that working-class organisations must tail behind the ANC. Our central committee directed us to rally behind the ANC and ensure a massive electoral victory for the ANC. Any communist who respects SACP organisational democracy should abide by these directives. Whoever disagrees with this notion must wait for our party congress and contest this perspective lawfully within the bounds of party policy. The way in which the SACP at times performs its role is probably incorrect. It cannot be correct that the ANC is heavily criticised under a Mbeki leadership, which was pursuing a neo-liberal agenda, but uncritically cheers the current leadership which is not pursuing anything different and simply because our leaders have better personal relations with the present ANC leaders.
I for one will vote for the ANC and will do all in my capacity to convince working-class people that in these elections, between progress and reaction, the ANC is the alternative. Opting out of the elections is out of the question, let alone imagine defecting to other political parties. Of course armchair revolutionaries will theorise about what should have been. My contestation is that elections are on the 22nd April and the SACP is not on the ballot box. Who do you choose? White minority parties such as the DA? Conservative black petty bourgeois organisations such as Cope who already have a record of suppressing us for 15 years under an ANC banner? Or do you choose the ANC which is a product of contestation between the left and the right? The choice is clear. Polokwane might not have brought all the necessary changes, but it is better than yesterday, under the suppression of Mbeki. Anyway, had genuine left forces not kept on fantasizing about an ideal situation, they could have played a meaningful role in determining what came out of Polokwane. While everybody else saw that Polokwane could produce better, people were busy with Zuma and his faults as though Zuma was the only one to be elected out of Polokwane. The ANC lives, the ANC leads!