The struggle for economic freedom predates us all. It began many years ago. Long before the ANC or the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) ever existed, and even long before the arrival of the employees of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape in 1652. When Nguni tribes, moved south of the African continent in search of fertile land ready to fight all before their way, sought economic freedom. When the Khoi fought their first battle against a Dutch settlement encroaching on their grazing land, they sought economic freedom. When the French stormed the Bastille partly angered by Mary Antoinette’s mockery of their hunger they sought economic freedom.

At the centre of the Anglo-Boer war was the yearning by two European tribes to have hegemony over the vast natural resources recently discovered in South Africa in order to enhance the economic freedom of their peoples. The daily struggles between workers and employers at the shop-floor are essentially about economic freedom. That’s what communists call the class struggle. Recognising this fact Karl Marx and Frederick Engels declare in the Communist Manifesto that: “The history of all hitherto existing society is a history of class struggles.”

Men and women through the years have sought to ensure economic freedom for themselves and in so doing they have employed various tactics. They have gone to war, conquered nations and acquired land. In some cases they have deposed Kings, governments or even installed dictators and later removed them; all in pursuit, not of just political freedom, but of the right and capacity to determine their economic lives. It would be a stretch of the imagination to suggest that this struggle for economic freedom is new and sprung up from the brilliant heads of the ANCYL or its leaders and thus its success is tied to their political fortunes as these comrades have suggested.

They have been brave enough to even suggest that the decline or rise in the political fortunes of certain youth leaders would determine the success or failure of the struggle for economic freedom. Nothing can be further from the truth. This idea does not belong to the ANCYL nor does it hold copyrights to it. Of course, the ANCYL leadership has played its part in ensuring that the question of economic freedom takes centre stage in the public discourse, but only in the public discourse, with the exception of that lonely march for economic freedom little has been done in the actual arena of struggle.

Seeking economic freedom is simple. It is a yearning by all to produce whatever they want and to have financial capacity to acquire whatever they want from others which they cannot produce on their own. Obstacles imposed on their capacity to produce and acquire from others suffocate their economic freedom and thus leading to a struggle. Men and women, since the existence of classes, have never achieved economic freedom — hence the endless class struggles. In all class societies, certain classes acquire their economic freedom at the expense of that of others. In capitalist society, the bourgeoisie has economic freedom thanks to its lack of existence for the working class. Any attempts to ensure economic freedom should thus appreciate the fact that they ought to do it through abolishing classes.

For instance a lower working class couple working as drillers in a nationalised mine and seeks to buy property in nationalised but expensive Sandton will be unable to do so compared to another couple working as managers in the same nationalised mine simply because stratification in remuneration would still be in full effect. Even though the working class couple, nominally, owns the land in Sandton through the state but it cannot acquire a stand to build property simply because other than take the mine and the land in Sandton from private hands it has turned it over into another type of private hands now embodied by state representatives.

The success or failure of the economic freedom suggested by the ANCYL does not depend on the political survival of its leadership, or on its capacity to win the broadest sections of the ANC and society and but importantly on its willingness to see the destruction of capitalist relations of production and their replacement of socialism. Quite frankly, I am not too convinced about the possibility of economic freedom as suggested by the ANCYL. As far as I’m concerned without socialism there can be no economic freedom. So long as there is exploitation of man by man, economic freedom will only just be a catchword with which to drug freedom thirsty masses.

Any call for economic freedom to succeed it must disrupt capitalist production and change the structural character of the production process and replace it with an egalitarian system in the hand of workers themselves. Otherwise, so long as economic freedom is premised under capitalism it will only result in the co-option of a small elite amongst black people into upper echelons of capitalist society whilst leaving the vast majority in the shackles of poverty. Even if our government would nationalize everything including barber shops, it would still not have changed the hierarchical organization of the production process which results in stratification at the point of production and builds the first networks of unequal access to the proceeds of the production itself. That would only reproduce capitalism in a new form, which would be state capitalism.

Nationalisation, on its own, without fundamental changes in the economic structure is half-hearted. Of course this does not suggest as some do that there must be no nationalization at all. There must be, but it must be accepted that if nationalisation takes place under these conditions it does so not as a panacea to all our problems but as part of the radical reforms that any progressive liberation movement ought to engage in. So no one should attempt to arrogate themselves the role of an unflinching revolutionary simply because they advance an old struggle for reform. Nobody should therefore present themselves as a Messiah being nailed to the cross because they dared challenge Monopoly capital, when actually they didn’t they just seek to ensure that we relate with monopoly capital on favorable terms.

Any struggle for economic freedom which is not a struggle for socialism runs the risk of never achieving that economic freedom. But something named after it that is not the real deal.


Lazola Ndamase

Lazola Ndamase

Lazola Ndamase is head of Cosatu's political education department. He is former Secretary General of SASCO.

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