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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