🔒 Hartford: SA’s left surges in ‘New Dawn’ for radical ideologies amidst political shifts

As South Africa braces for a pivotal election, the political landscape is undergoing a seismic shift, notably within the realm of leftist ideologies. Contrary to historical trends, where Marxist-inspired factions struggled for relevance, a resurgence is imminent. Traditional bastions like Numsa and Saftu falter, while newer movements, driven by youth and radical economic agendas, rise to prominence. The ANC, historically divided over ideological nuances, grapples with competing visions of national liberation. Amidst debates on land expropriation and economic restructuring, figures like Malema and Zuma symbolize contrasting paths within the leftist resurgence. Yet, underlying these ideological clashes lies a quest for societal transformation, steeped in the legacy of anti-colonial struggles and African nationalism.

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By Dirk Hartford

Whatever the outcome of next month’s election, one thing is certain — the so-called “left” will emerge considerably stronger than it has been until now. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

It’s ironic that the traditional Marxist-inspired left has been eclipsed by the right and is on the back foot almost everywhere in the Western world, including in South Africa.

This is the first election in 30 years in which explicitly Marxist/revolutionary/communist political organisations have not participated.

Africa’s largest trade union, Numsa’s much anticipated Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party, ended up effectively stillborn with 26,000 votes in the 2019 election, and it has not been resuscitated.

And the 700,000-strong labour federation Saftu’s Congress resolution to launch a mass workers’ party several years ago has not materialised.

Its leader, Zwelinzima Vavi, has been conspicuously and uncharacteristically quiet in the run-up to these elections.

The 250,000-strong mining and construction union AMCWU launched a labour party about six months ago, but the IEC turned down its application to participate in the election.

This leaves only that dinosaur of the left, the 103-year-old SACP, which has yet to reveal itself by participating in any election since 1994.

It is still secretively skulking behind the ANC’s coattails, wondering if it is going to survive the MK Party breakaway, which threatens to tear it in two or leave it with no place to hide.

The so-called “left” that will emerge stronger after the coming elections does not come from this traditional “Marxist” left.

Rather it comes from the more radical youth wing (ANCYL to EFF) and radical economic transformation faction (RET to MK) of the ANC itself.

It is, in a way, thanks entirely to the total overlay of race and class that apartheid created, a phenomenon unique to South Africa itself.

It is primarily driven by what MK, in its just-released 24-page manifesto The People’s Mandate, calls “reclaiming our birthright—a manifesto towards a developmental agenda.” (below)

Its impetus is the African nationalism which has defined the ANC throughout its 112-year existence, whose fundamental goal is the liberation of the African people from the (now economic and cultural) grip of the colonial/apartheid/white oppressors.

Its means and ideas are drawn from an amalgam of anti-colonial liberatory philosophies and ‘strugglelistas’ — Fanon, Sankara, Mandela, Nyerere and Uhuru, Biko and black consciousness, Castroism and Che Guevara, and, yes, also good old Marxism-Leninism.

EFF and MK have a lot in common but there are also significant differences.

Malema is, in a way, what Mandela was to the ANC in 1949 when the youth league was formed. Its presence significantly radicalised the ANC up to its banning in the 60s. He appeals mainly to the youth and younger workers.

Zuma is more like a latter-day Robert Sobukwe seeking to reclaim the “true” African nationalist tradition from its corruptors in the ANC in the grip of white monopoly capital. He appeals to the adult masses, employed and unemployed

When the DA says it wants to “Rescue SA” it means it wants to save SA from those, like Zuma and MK, who want to “reclaim SA” from the likes of the DA itself.

Even without fake news, the issues are complex and emotional, with the long-suffering “oppressed masses” at the centre of the internecine ideological war within African nationalism.

The fundamental ideological differences that have always existed within the ANC about what the national democratic revolution actually entails are now out in the open as never before.

In the parlance of the national liberation struggle the national question has been central till now. It is being raised again now.

What does a non-racial democracy mean? The phrases of the 1955 Freedom Charter have been a lodestar until now, and some key unfulfilled ones are being resurrected now.

It took the ANC till 1969 to allow South Africans of white, coloured and Indian descent to join the organisation even though it championed that SA belongs to all who live in it, black and white from 1955 already.

It might yet take some time before the shibboleths of the national liberation struggle on issues like the expropriation of land without compensation and nationalisation of banks and industry are actually dealt with. The EFF/MK axis seems determined to give it a go.

It’s ironic that neither of these issues – land and nationalisation – are being raised or seriously struggled over by the masses themselves. It’s being parachuted in from above by EFF and MK.

If they ever got power, they could use the land issue, as Mugabe did in Zimbabwe, to detract from their own shortcomings and reward comrades for their loyalty (rather than actually mobilising peasant farmers to take the land.)

Both MK and EFF also have the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank as a key plank of their programme.. Another strange programmatic intervention about as far as one can imagine from the day-to-day struggles of ordinary people.

This is not to say that these issues are not important. They are. It cannot be that 1994 was the birth of the rainbow nation and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was “business as usual”

There are differences in emphasis between MK and EFF, but when one comes down to it, it’s all about the money and the Treasury in particular.

The financial detail in both their manifestos is insightful.

We know because Malema tells us all the time that his deputy Floyd Shivambu (Finance Minister in waiting) is an economics genius, and he presumably played a big role in the EFF’s vision.

MK’s financial sections look like they were penned by a sympathiser in the Treasury itself.

Through their lens, trillions of rands lie around that only need to be collected and allocated properly to solve all our problems. It’s that simple, really.

The key difference between them is “illegal immigration”.

Zuma and MK line up alongside the likes of Gayton Mackenzie and Herman Mashaba in inciting anti-immigrant sentiments.

Malema, on the other hand, is a principled Pan-Africanist who makes no bones about the fact that he wants one united Africa and tackles the thorny issue of xenophobia head-on.

Malema is also “softer” than MK on issues like land and nationalisation. For example, he supports the creation of state banks alongside existing private banks as his version of nationalisation. And he is not shy to flaunt all the trappings of the “white monopoly capital” lifestyle even as he fights for its destruction.

For this he has been accused by leading MK intellectual, the BLF’s Andile Mngxitama, of being part of the “comprador bourgeoisie” which Fanon warned would sell out the revolution.

Mngxitama said he split with Malema after he reneged on an agreement to include the Sankara oath as the founding statement of the EFF’s manifesto because he was not prepared to live up to it himself.

The Sankara Oath was essentially a commitment by the then-president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, to live like the people and only use the services provided by the state in terms of health, education, housing, transport, and so on.

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