SOUTH AFRICA: First National Conference of the Democratic Left

ANC Veterans Ahmed Kathrada (left) and Andrew Mlangeni/Photo: Karin Singh

The First National Conference of the Democratic Left (CDL)will be held in Johannesburg from 20-23 January 2011. It is a call to social movements, trade unions, progressive mass and civil society organisations and supportive individuals to come together in order to build a left response to the crisis in South Africa.

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This conference is a response to the defeat of Thabo Mbeki and his disastrous policies at the 52nd National Conference of the African National Congress (ANC) at Polokwane in December 2007, and the election of Jacob Zuma in his place, hopes ran high among the poor section of the South African community. The promises and resolutions adopted to uplift the living conditions of the poverty-stricken majority of the people has remained just that. Promises.

And this fact has not gone unnoticed.

The proposed conference will deal with:

–         sharing and analysis of lessons, experiences and reflections on current mass struggles in the workplace, rural area, service delivery protests and on the student front;

–         building left responses and alternatives to the ecological, social, economic and political crises in South Africa and the world;

–         building eco-socialist perspectives and policy alternatives

–         building a platform of common action, and concrete solidarity in practical campaigns and actions;

–         debates and decisions on the nature, form, orientation, identity and creating a democratic left as a united anti-capitalist platform.

The intention of the organisers is to create a platform which can:

–         generate a political consensus on the challenges posed by the current international and national situation;

–         move forward national and international struggles;

–         work towards developing a grassroots democratic eco-socialist political programme;

–         develop strategies for overcoming race, gender, age, sexual orientation and other divisions within South African society, particularly among the working-class, and;

–         provide means of uniting and strengthening the ability of the working class and progressive social forces to struggle around the issues affecting them.

The organisers, in their call for support declared that: “Global capitalism threatens our world with disaster. If it is left to plunder the natural resources of our planet and pollute the atmosphere, the oceans and the soil, life itself will be under grave threat.

“The current global economic crisis represents the exhaustion of a system that is driven by profit and competition.

Scene from the Conference Hall/Photo: Karin Singh

The basis tenet of capitalism is to grow endlessly with no regard to natural limits, to concentrate wealth within the hands of a few. This explains why, wherever we look, we see the crisis and decay of the system, be it financial, energy, food, environment, cultural and social”.

The call continues. “The rise of a new global left in the context of the World Social Forum, the emergence of left parties (socialist, green) in Latin America and Europe and new anti-capitalist social movements, challenge our dogmas”.

Obviously for the organisers of the CDL, the situation in South Africa leaves much to be desired. They say: “In spite of the break with apartheid and the establishment of political democracy, the situation of the working people and the poor gets worse. This is because the same crisis-ridden model of development is imposed. The high levels of corruption that have accompanied the transition from apartheid must be seen not just as greed but an outcome for the failure to redistribute wealth.

“Government tenders and patronage are the vehicles for accumulation in the face of the extreme monopolization of the economy. The post-Polokwane (where the last ANC National Conference was held in December 2007) period has not signalled a break with a system that has seen a rise in social inequality, social decay, and a resurgent social conservatism in the form of ethnic politics, xenophobia, attacks on women and reproductive rights, homophobia, religious fundamentalisms”.

Preparations for this gathering began way back in October 2008. The CDL is made up of a number of groups right across the South African social and political strata. The points at issue are genuine and burning. They need to be discussed and solved. But, this is quite a mouthful. Is the CDL in a position to chew it?

It is a desperate move. A move necessitated by the inability of the government to deliver to the poor masses, the majority of whom are no better off than they were under apartheid.

The government on the other hand claims that they are not in a position to undo structures that were set up over many centuries in such a short space of time. Although there is a lot of merit in such argument, it cannot be overlooked that the masses see a very tasty gravy train; and many of their leaders and functionaries, in whom they placed their faith, are very busy ladling huge scoops of this delicious liquid. And what is more, they cannot get their guts full.

Some delegates singing in the Conference Hall/Photo: Karin Singh

The masses are also witness to the fact that many of these leaders, some of whom did not possess two coins in their pockets to rub together a few years ago, are now living in massive luxurious mansions and owning a fleet of the most expensive cars.

If the CDL succeeds in pressuring the government, well and good. But should it decide to go one further and form a political party, it will be well advised to learn the lesson of the PAC which broke away from the ANC in 1959. After some initial success at home and in exile, it now presents a pathetic picture of has been. It is a wreck – never to recover. Recent breaks like that of Bantu Holomisa and the COPE, speak volumes.

As a veteran member of the ANC, I fully agree that there are lots to do to rid the organisation of the ills that has befallen it. This cannot be done from outside.

Let this be a lesson.

By Eric Singh, ANA Senior Editor