Steven Lamini
Steven Lamini

Manuel, Zille and that little thing called the economy

When the ANC launched its elections manifesto recently, two senior South African politicians (Zille from that party of the rich and arrogant and the other, Trevor Manuel, from the ANC — monopoly capital’s new kid on the block) expressed their concern for this supposedly “left turn” of Zuma’s party.

Now, it must be said: the pro-worker elements in the ANC’s elections manifesto have nothing to do with the party’s move to adopt a working class perspective on the challenges facing South Africa’s poor. These zigzags are perfectly within the character of bourgeois parties faced with the erosion of their historical support base (the Cope phenomenon) and itself mortgaged to capital and its retention. Whilst it remains important to analyse the election manifesto of the ANC in relation to its significance for meeting the basic needs of South Africa’s poor, our interest here is the responses of Manuel (and by slight of hand we’ll make a pronouncement on Zille’s phony paper tiger comment) of what the economy can afford.

Whatever the percentage weight of the election promises in relation to the country’s GDP, I still believe they represent nothing more than a gesture from the ANC. Tokenistic to the core. The apparent broadening of social welfare policies will be undercut by service charges run amok. Zille is simply beating the air with her unintelligent chatter about a “development state”. Really, it hard to see anything developmental in the South African state’s spending priorities or in the ANC’s election promises when one evaluates them against the history of the same people who did not resist Mbeki’s neoliberal macroeconomic framework. In fact, Umshini Wami assured Citibank and Merill Lynch that none of Mbeki’s economic policies would change. I suggest people believe this assurance, whatever else you hold the man to be a liar for.

Manuel, of course, loud hailed his concern with one eye on the economic crisis, the capitalist world economy and its implications for South Africa and his counsel is: tighten the belts even further; there’s no way we will be able to afford additional spending on poor people. What we have to do is position ourselves so we remain internationally competitive. In other words, the capitalist economy over which the ANC state functions as administrator, must continue to serve as guardian and protector and rescue the rotten monster from its demise. How? Continue with current commitments, even cutting down on some of them in relation to the working class and ensure the profit making of the few. Manuel dreams (along with others, notably Obama and Gordon Brown) of a re-establishment of some economic equilibrium on a capitalist basis … and he wants it done in a socially neutral and peaceful manner.

It’s not going to happen.

A solution to the economic crisis gripping South Africa (as an integral part of the world economy) that seeks to avoid “tinkering” with the foundation of the system is a treasure-hunting trip into La la-land. There are two reasons for this: one is the intensification of diverse interests of the poor and the unemployed on one hand and the profit makers on the other. We already see the consequences of this contradiction around us: rising of people against food price hikes, military expeditions and genocidal wars and, of course, mass repressions and political assassination of political opponents. The second feature is a consequence of the first: an increase in the political militancy of the working class, not only in South Africa, but also across the globe. The key issue is (and this is what the two bourgeois politicians terminally fear): which of these two processes will win out in the end?

Both Manuel and Zille (true, each in their own way) argue against using the state as an instrument of poverty alleviation in the economy. With a year behind us where 74 000 people were thrown out into the ranks of the unemployed and a further 320 000 estimated for 2009, the instability of Citi continuing and Barclays laying off people (watch the space for developments in Absa where Barclays has a majority share), we still have these high priests of capital who maintain that economic problems be left to the market (Zille) and we all must tighten the belt (Manuel) — as though this crisis is the doing of the poor and middle classes — yet, like elsewhere, they will be the first to urge the state to bail out institutions threatening to take the entire South African capitalist economy with them. Hypocrites!

In the ensuing months calls will go out for unity to face our “common” problems together in these turbulent economic times. Capitalist finance ministers and capitalist retainers in unions will join hands in this call. Social movements and other organisations of the poor must chart out an independent political march and insist that this economy is not theirs to rescue. They must build their organisations as weapons in defence of their class interests and replenish an activist cadre with the patience gained through a long view of history; replace the capitalist state with one that places needs of people above profits for the few, where the ANC’s election promises and the many left talks of a right walk will not even have footnote status.