This is the time for the alliance to come together again and find tangible solutions to the challenges facing the black majority, writes LWANDO MANHQISHI
My mother is a kitchen girl, my father is a garden boy, that’s why I’m a communist. These are the lyrics of a song that is hardly sung at meetings or rallies these days. For socialists, they would simply change the word ‘communist’ to ‘socialist’ but the song was fundamentally a working-class one which was meant to spur on the proletariat to unite and overthrow the ruling class.
The song remains deeply symbolic, especially in South Africa. It is not just a working-class song. It is fundamentally the song of the Black working class in South Africa, for it was only to Blacks that the roles of garden boys and kitchen girls were reserved. As the song reverberated through the throats of Black working-class children, they knew that no matter how poor their White counterparts, jobs such as garden helpers and domestic workers were simply not the domain of Whites. These jobs were reserved for Blacks.
Ironically, at one of the most intense moments in the fight against Apartheid, during the state of emergencies, the Botha regime and the ruling class in South Africa were identified as being at their weakest. When Botha was mobilising the most formidable army on the continent, contemplating even the use of nuclear and biological weapons, and when South African businesses were consolidating resources in order to keep the National Party regime in place, the children of these garden boys and kitchen girls were rendering the country ungovernable.
Meeting with the president of the ANC at the time, OR Tambo, in Lusaka in March 1986, Jay Naidoo, who led the delegation from the newly founded Congress of South African Trade Unions, and John Nkadimeng, leading the delegation from the South African Congress of Trade Unions, brought to the attention of the liberation movement the concerns and cries of the children of these kitchen girls and garden boys and even these workers themselves. In fact, the meeting in Lusaka granted Cosatu and Sactu the opportunity to meet, outside of South Africa, and discuss the common interests and issues in relation to the questions posed by the working class in South Africa at the time.
Reports suggested that the meeting was called because of the anxiety of all three parties in respect of the ‘deep-seated economic, social and political crisis into which the Botha regime and the apartheid system of national oppression and class exploitation [had] plunged our country.’ The three delegations also agreed that both the Botha regime and the ruling class in South Africa lacked the necessary ability and will to change the situation for the better and that ‘lasting solutions could only emerge from the national liberation movement headed by the ANC.’ At the same time, recognition was given to Cosatu’s role in organising workers. The answers lie not with the ruling class but with the Black working class.
At its 48th national conference, the first after its unbanning, the ANC reiterated this unity of purpose and need for the alliance. The ANC acknowledged then, as it acknowledges today, that the common goal of a free, democratic, equal, non-racist, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa where all share in the country’s wealth can only be achieved through a ‘broad patriotic front’ of which the alliance is a fundamental role-player.
Again one may suggest, ironically, that Cosatu was born in the ‘honeymoon’ phase of the liberation struggle when all eyes and energies were fixed on fighting the apartheid regime. The fact that the Communist Party, both as the CPSA as well as the SACP, was born four years after the ANC, underscores the strength and substance of the differences when these arose between the party and the congress movement.
Given that both were strong in political and socio-economic content as well as in mobilisation, the two organisations would often engage in a vigorous and even strenuous manner. The sharp differences that exist today within the alliance are as old as the strong bonds these organisations have enjoyed among themselves over the years and even decades.
The post-apartheid period for the alliance is littered with potholes that have now become pillars of strength in the pathway of this partnership. At its summit in 2002 already, the alliance agreed to approach ‘its discussion on the character and the state of the alliance’ aware of the fact that the national democratic society had yet to be achieved. It acknowledged that unity, common purpose, being appreciative of its historical role, activism, loyalty – especially to the working class – and international solidarity were the weaves that bound this alliance together in ensuring that only it could lead the national democratic revolution.
The Ekurhuleni II Declaration stated that it would seem that during election campaigns the alliance functioned well together but in the periods between elections there was not much cooperation and unity among partners. Mention was even made of the public attacks, especially the personalised ones, which were not beneficial to this partnership and therefore directly detrimental to the development of the working class.
Yet again, even at this summit held in 2005, at the height of the difficult period in the alliance, each organisation agreed to concentrate on strengthening itself. Therein lay the implicit truth that a strong Cosatu means a strong alliance, a strong SACP means a strong alliance, a strong SANCO means a strong alliance and a strong ANC meant a strong alliance. Conversely, if the alliance was weak, it was simply because all of its members were weak.
Indeed, as some skeptics have suggested the Tripartite Alliance is dead only because it is now a quartrite alliance. The transition period was to suggest the ‘Tripartite Alliance plus SANCO’. Yet just as the Tripartite Alliance has become history because of the now inclusion of SANCO, so too will the 54th National Conference of the ANC also be history. The differences that the alliance has had in the lead up to the conference must also be declared history.
Resolved, as they were at the Alliance Political Council meeting held in October, the alliance leaders must gather as that meeting held in Lusaka did over thirty years ago to insist that unfortunately the elite in South Africa do not have the answers or the ability to address the serious socio-economic challenges that continue to exist in our country today. They must unite, under the new leadership of the ANC, to ensure that children of Black working class people in our country are addressed. The answers continue to lie with my mother the kitchen girl, my father the garden boy, my brother the unemployed and my sister the single mother. The alliance must lead us back to the people.
Manhqishi is Deputy Secretary General of the South African Students Congress