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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Professor Somadoda Fikeni’s Presentation at COSATU 11th National Congress 17 September 2012

Programme director The leadership of the COSATU Union Federation, The ANC-led Alliance Leadership present here, The distinguished audience and all invited guests,

I am humbled by the honour of being invited to make a presentation on the occasion of the 11thNational Congress of COSATU.

Let me first congratulate the elected COSATU leadership and wish them well on the task of leading this great labour union federation as it navigates the challenging path ahead of fulfilling its historic mission.

Labour movement has always been a preparatory incubation school for ANC leadership and being the most organized muscle of the alliance.

That you defied many predictions of a bitter leadership contest is quite commendable.

The genius of ANC and its alliance partners’ ability to manage and sometimes overcoming serious contradictions has become the hallmark of our long liberation struggle history. Scholars and knowledge workers of all shades are yet to fully comprehend this exceedingly fascinating phenomenon.

At this juncture, however, COSATU, the ANC (with all its Leagues) and the SACP face their most challenging task and a defining moment of making real the promises of democracy and the National Democratic Revolution in the face of the most daunting adversities, both internal and external, current and historical, structural and agency.

As a knowledge worker I have come to appreciate how complex South African transition is, as it defies most of simplistic and often sweeping characterization that we often read about.

In this brief presentation, I will highlight the context of the current historical conjecture and the defining features of SA transition.

I will then make reference to key features of the Brazilian recent experience of a developmental state, what the COSATU president referred to as the “Lula Moment” born out of a clear vision and decisive state intervention.

Factors that inhibit or enable SA from making a great leap forward as a developmental state will be highlighted in this context.

I will simply highlight most of the issues without delving into nuanced details given the time limitation.

Some of the issues will be raised as questions than answers with the hope that they trigger some reflection as no one person can be naïve to think that he can have all the answers to these complex issues.

Africa is shaped like a question mark and the base dot is where South Africa is. Today we live in a world where global capital is experiencing acute crisis that has seen decline and stagnation of old western economies, the rise of new economies from the South plus Russia and Africa holds the key in terms of its reservoir of resources and demographic dividends, the Middle East hub of oil production is experiencing serious political instability.

How then can Africa and South Africa, the economic powerhouse of Africa, take advantage of this geopolitical reconfiguration. Are we in a position to?

It is increasingly become obvious to most of us that South African democratic transition is one of the most complex and yet we lack tools and theories to properly dissect it. Absence of a robust public discourse and severe limitations of the “Would-be” public intellectuals has contributed to this state of affairs.

It is for this reason that, among others, Leslie Dikeni & Mervin Gumede have written about the Poverty of Ideas and Eddy Maloka also wrote an article on The Crisis of Black Intellectuals.

The irony is that intellectual enterprise on South Africa flourished during the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid liberation only to stagnate and fade during our democratic transition.

The sound-bites and guest columns that we provide for the media are not to be confused with deep, robust and sustained public intellection or discourse.

Generally, the superficial manner in which we continue to characterize our democratic transition immediately reveals the aforementioned limitations.

For an example, by 1970/80s there was a general consensus on South Africa as a colonialism of a special kind in which both the colonizer and the colonized cohabitate the same geographical space with no distant metropole that the settler community would claim as home.

What then are the implications of this in a post-apartheid state? In other words, what is The Post-Colony of a Special Kind?

What are the implications hegemonic power structures in the political, social and economic spheres? Who then set the national agenda? Where is the locus of power?

Does political power and authority immediately translate into socio-economic power?

What are the implications of the compromised political settlement of the early 1990s and what are the manifestations of its structural arrangement?

Has the liberation movement led by the ANC clearly separated the tactical choices which are temporary in nature from the strategic options which are long-term? For an example, has the sunset clause outlived its shelf life?

Professor Ali Mazrui has characterized South Africa’s political settlement after an impasse where the liberation movement was to strong to lose but yet weak not to impose its will as the case of a jewel and a crown in which Whites generally remained with the Jewel (economic wealth) whereas Blacks received the crown (political authority).

Is this a fair characterization? Lifting the superficial vale of South African exceptionalism and do comparative analysis of why revolutions succeed or fail around the world.

Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children…” Amilcar Cabral: Tell no lies: extracts from party directive 1965

ANC-led government has done so much in terms of leading a process of setting up democratic institutions (democratic architecture) as well as numerous programmes of service delivery (electrification, roads & transport infrastructure, water provision, school feeding schemes, housing, social security grants, access to health etc).

Taking the recent ANC policy conference, SACP conference and the current

COSATU discussion documents as well as many other independent studies there is a consensus that whereas SA seem to have made great strides in establishing institutions of democracy there has only been a very modest progress on social and economic justice.

The colonial and apartheid geography still defines our landscape with the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality being the dominant feature that afflicts the historically disadvantaged.

I challenge the notion that we face triple challenges when the cancer of corruption is so widespread, I am yet to understand why we cannot elevate corruption to join the club of terrible three (poverty, unemployment and inequality).

BEE model of acquisition of shares are not yielding any empowerment dividends South Africa has earned a dubious distinction of being one of the most unequal societies in the world. How do we explain the paradox and irony of a democratic transition led by a movement that has always embraced egalitarian values degenerating into such inequality?

How do we account for the rise of crass materialism even among the ranks of revolutionary cadres? Do revolutionaries transform institutions they occupy or do they get transformed and assimilated into those institutions?

Would such inequality not translate into social distance between the elite (business/political) and the masses? In this context what are the features of the sins of incumbency?

As Joel Netshitenzhe exclaims in his article: Why good people go bad? In his book, “The Wretched of the Earth”, Franz Fanon describes the sins of incumbency when he speaks of The Pitfalls of National Consciousness.”

In specific terms how do we describe the sins of incumbency in our South African context.

The shrinking role of post-1994 State, increase of consumptive sector and shrinking productive sector: privatization and unbundling of state assets and over-tenderization of state thus leading to diminished state capacity. Tenderpreneur parasitic relationship with the state and decentralization of corruption.

The Limpopo book saga and the open toilet saga as some examples. Inverted relationship between the primary objective of service provision and secondary allocation of tenders has fundamentally distorted state effectiveness in service provision. BEE model of acquisition of shares not yielding any empowerment dividends.

State inefficiency: Duplication of roles and competition than complementarities. Horizontal and vertical inefficiencies and lack of effective monitoring and evaluation. Limitations of national intervention to provinces and provincial interventions to local spheres of government. Growing wasteful, fruitless expenditure and fraud, currently at R22,7 Billion in the previous year’s expenditure.

Structural arrangement: Treasury-driven government programmes than strategy driven allocation resources. Myriad of complex compliance regimes. These make state to be less-responsive and more technocratic even during the times of crisis.

A well-meaning social security (social grant), political risk of dependency and entitlement in a welfare state arrangement and sustainability.

Uncontrolled immigration and implications for resource allocation and development planning. Implications for labour, security, retail sector, skills development.

High policy and agency turnover: From RDP to Gear to ASGISA, to New Growth Path, ANC Policy proposals for radical shift and the National Plan.

Monopoly capital and concentration of power in many sectors (Banking, media, construction, mining, telecommunication[fixed and mobile], private health and medical aid schemes). Implications for the balance of forces and policy direction.

Relationship between business and politics: Interpenetration and political security

The current global economic crisis(recession) and its local manifestations: rising cost of living, commodity prices and steady rise of salaries pegged at inflation rate as well as swelling ranks of unemployment particularly among the black youth as a high risk.

There is growing violent political rhetoric within and between parties and political formations. Violence has become means of expression or making demands and is being accepted as part of our political culture. Implications for country’s stability and consolidation democracy.

Security strikers and Marikana being prominent examples of this.

Declining internal democracy within political formations and high premium on acquiring a position as a form of social mobility thus creating a permanent contestation mode with service delivery taking a secondary role.

Minority political players (opposition parties, trade unions, NGOs) have found expression through courts and the media as well as some Chapter 9 institutions. This trend, if not managed, may erode legitimacy and effectiveness of these institutions.

ANC Broad Church Character and internal contestations. Some contradictions. Do we all understand the implications.

Lessons to be drawn from Marikana

Lessons from the book saga & national intervention in provinces through section 100.

What lessons can we get from the Polokwane moment. The end justifies the means.

Perhaps the identification of a national vision and policies to deal with our triple + one challenges may not be as difficult than getting the right cadres, state capacity and political will to implement it with bold resolve driven by the courage of conviction.

South Africa may not address its problems if it adopts an incremental development stance it is in a need for a great Leap Forward akin to the Roosevelt New Deal to deal with the Great Depression, the Marshal Plan that reconstructed Europe from the war years as the fierce urgency of the moment is such that not attended to these challenges may grow into social disorder and political instability.

“The Lula Moment”: Brazilian experience and some lessons on a democratic developmental state great leap forward. President Silva da Lula turned around Brazil in just ten years.

The Brazilian Model of a developmental state is most relevant to us given the similarities between between Brazilian demographic features and history and that of SA.

That this developmental state operated, unlike Asian Tigers, outside the Cold War context and had democratic credentials which were not necessarily the case in Asia. China has its anomalies in both scale and form.

In just ten years Silva da Lula of Worker’s Party had become the most popular Brazilian and Latin American president for taking out 24 million people from poverty through his no hunger programme, infrastructure and industrial policy programme that stimulated growth and manufacturing thus moving Brazil into 8th largest economy in the world, Brazil within 3 years balanced its budget and paid its public foreign debt and begin to achieve surplus while removing Brazil from the dubious position of being the most unequal country in the world.

For SA to move out of this current situation and deal with a leap forward will, among others, have deal with the following five deficits:

Honesty deficit
Courage deficit:

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can`t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.

Maya Angelou
Common sense deficit
Leadership deficit
Vision deficit

Going back to basics, heal and unite the ANC & Alliance and embark on a bold, creative journey to fulfil its historic mission. It is swim or sink, drink or drown, do or die moment.

Thank you.

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