Very well. We should tell the truth, and not fool ourselves. “Tell no lies, claim no easy victories” — that’s not exactly a brand-new maxim. We should make use of our capacity to analyse what is going on, and propose ways of resolving problems, and share them with the people. “Each one, teach one” — that’s not something unheard-of, is it? We should work together for the common good and listen to what the average person has to say rather than blustering and bullying them into doing what is good for us — “The people shall govern”, the Creator seems to have heard that somewhere before.
In other words, what the Creator is talking about is returning to the actual theories and practices underpinning successful struggle for freedom in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. This is more or less what the people who set up CoPe were talking about. They talked about it, but they did not do it — perhaps because they had been corrupted by their allegiance to an ANC which had drifted away from these theories and practices, perhaps because they were in such haste to hurl a coalition together that they could not, or felt they could not, be particularly principled. Therefore they failed to provide a real improvement on the ANC.
All the same, they got nearly 8% of the vote. Contrary to what one reads in the newspapers, most of those votes came from the poorest regions of the country, including the poorest provinces. Of course the newspapers tell us that CoPe was supported by the black middle class, but this is an obvious lie since the black middle class is not so numerous. Actually, it is quite clear from the huge numbers of expensive cars sporting ANC stickers in the recent election campaign that a lot of the black middle class — probably the bulk of it — supported the ANC. (Naturally, since they were the biggest black beneficiaries of ANC rule, though not the only ones.) Besides, if CoPe really were backed by the bourgeoisie, then why would the bourgeois newspapers be so hostile to them (even after they had fulfilled their function, from the bourgeois perspective, of splitting the ANC)? It is evident, then, that a lot of working people were dissatisfied enough to walk away from the ANC in 2009. Most probably a lot of working people did not walk away from the ANC, but were definitely dissatisfied.
This is something which a serious working-class organisation could build on if it wished to.
Setting up an alternative structure to the ANC is thus possible. The question could, of course, be asked: why not just enter the ANC and take it over? The answer is partly historical and partly structural.
The historical issue is that the ANC is currently led by people who are known to have struggled in the past for the freedom of South Africa and to whom a great number of junior people have pledged their allegiance. In order to overthrow these people from within, it would be necessary to demonstrate to everybody that the leadership have abandoned their principles and that the lesser lights have either abandoned their principles, stopped seriously thinking about issues, or simply been fooled because they are gullible. This is a difficult thing to do, especially since the bulk of the ANC branch chairs have voted for those junior people at conferences and therefore have a psychological and political investment in the status quo. It would be very difficult for a newcomer to the struggle to argue, for instance, that s/he knows more than Zuma or Ndebele or Nzimande, and even if the argument succeeds, the struggle record of those luminaries is unanswerable — at least for someone whose struggle record was insignificant or nonexistent. (Also note how Shilowa and Lekota, who had comparable struggle records with Zuma’s, were simply brushed aside and declared enemies of the people; it isn’t only your record which counts, it’s your control of the propaganda around that record.)
The structural issue arises, in part, out of that moral and political authority which Zuma’s cabal possess despite having no longer any real right to it. They have used this authority, and the organisational confusion which was created by their struggle to take the organisation over (which meant that various people allowed them to take what seemed to be temporary decisions which defied democracy in order to pursue the greater goal of overthrowing Mbeki) to seize a great deal of power. Provincial premiers and important mayors are still appointed by the Presidency, and meanwhile the NEC also has acquired the right to hire and fire people all the way down to ward councillor level, and to manipulate provincial and district structures almost as they see fit. As a result, if a branch elects a chair of whom the leadership disapproves, the present ANC leadership can impose its will on the branch. Such powers never existed before (in practice, at any rate), and they make it extremely unlikely that anyone could “pull a Polokwane” on Zuma and get him, or his anointed successors, removed from authority.
That means that an alternative structure is the only real option to remove the painful disease of Zumatism from the body politic. This is good, because working within the ANC would inevitably bring with it much of the corrupt and undemocratic baggage which marred the ANC even in its best days. It is bad, because even though conditions are extremely favourable for a new organisation, it’s definitely going to be an uphill climb to set one up and make it work out.
How to begin that uphill climb? Definitely, the place to start is not to show up with a banner, a few fistfuls of money and free T-shirts, and call on everyone to renounce the ANC and all its works and instead pledge to follow you uncritically wherever you lead, after which you go back to. This method is the most nearly democratic and support-building system used by the far Left in South Africa, and it has failed on every occasion it has been tried. (The alternative method is to make contact with some or other existing organisation, generally a front for the local shacklord or hoodlum, and undertake to do something for the boss-man in exchange for his undertaking to provide some numbers for your next demonstration to create the illusion that you have some support — this method is the most commonly-used, alas.)
No, the place to start must be to familiarise yourself with the situation. You need to have the facts about what the government is purporting to do, what promises have been made and, insofar as it is possible to find this out, how far those promises have been fulfilled. This can be put into a small booklet for activists to read, and placed on the Web. People in particular provinces need to have the facts about their provinces, people in municipalities need to have the facts about their municipalities. The official facts, that is, which are relatively easy to obtain in most cases.
Then you call a small meeting in a ward and to ask what the situation is there, and how people feel about the provision of services and their access to governmental and party structures. If you do that a few times you can find out what is going on at the lowest level. You will most probably find that at ward level people are unhappy about these things. They will blame the wrong things — of course. They will blame foreigners, or they will blame outsiders getting all the best service. Or they will say there is not enough money. Or they will say that the ANC wants to help them but the local people are no good and they don’t know how to contact the higher-ups. Or they will say that they have got a little and are happy to have got that much, because in the past they got nothing at all. Or they will blame themselves. A lot of them will blame themselves. Most of them will be ANC supporters. Some of them will have contacts which you can use.
If you can persuade people of that kind that you are in earnest about trying to turn things around, you can begin to win them over. Your goal should not be to make them fanatical supporters of your party, but just to recognise that there might be a better way of doing things than the way in which things are currently working. If you know that the municipality has received ten million rands from central government that year, you can ask how much of that ten million rands the ward received — for most people don’t realise how heavily municipalities are subsidised, or how much of that subsidy is creamed off to pay the salaries of officials and of municipal workers who often do much less work than they are paid to do. You can then gently point out that if the municipality and the party people lived up to their promises, a lot more could get done, and those people would also be a lot more accessible.
Yes, but don’t assume that everything is wrong at municipal level, or any other level.
The reason for trying to work at basic level is to try to make friends and allies. This is roughly the way CoPe started out, and as an organisational plan it makes excellent sense. However, it is not enough just to ask if people are not pissed off, or at least have reason to be pissed off, with the way that things are done. It is absolutely necessary to have some ideological structure holding things together, and this ideological structure needs to be made plain, and there needs to be a link between the ideological structure and the organisation at grassroots level.
So, for this, you need media, and you need meetings. In the cities, small meetings of a few hundred people can be quite effective. Obviously you’d like to fill the City Hall; you’d like to fill the soccer stadium for that matter. But to do that you need to already have a vast organisation and plenty of money, and you don’t have that. What you have, in the city, is a couple of dozen committed activists and a few thousand rand. You hold a couple of meetings, put up posters (the cardboard can often be reused, and should be) and explain what you are about to the people who come. You put your case, which is that the government is corrupt and getting more corrupt, and in thrall to a rich ruling class who don’t care about the working class or the middle class and that your party can do a lot better in running city, province and country than the present government can. Depending on who you are talking to, you can probably win at least some people over. You can try to get them to join up — to try and set up some sort of small-scale neighbourhood structure which you can liaise with.
Eventually you can put together an organisation of cells and branches and paying subscribers to your newsletter and people who attend conferences and discussion groups and contribute. You have a movement. You have, one hopes, in the city at least, a movement of people with some money. That might not be true in the countryside, where you might have to subsidise your branches — not financially, but providing them with fliers and stickers and handbooks. In most small towns you could have at least one person with a computer with an Internet connection, from which the word could get out. You would need to have people prepared to travel around in rural municipalities to see how things are going with the organisation, but also to see how the municipality is doing and how the organisation is interacting with it. You would be careful to tip your hat to the local leadership, whether ANC or DA or CoPe — why not?
Funding? Membership would require payment. Twenty rand a year from twenty thousand people would bring in R400 000, which isn’t much but amounts to something. But the old SACP method is effective. Ask people how much they earn. If they earn, say, R100 000 a year, then they can easily afford to chip in a thousand. If people above a certain level of wealth can be persuaded to pay one percent of their wealth, you would be talking about a million rand or more — and, of course, there could be donations from some affluent but guilty-minded people.
With an organisation like this, which could be built from scratch in a year or so provided that you had the determination, you could make a huge dent in, say, Buffalo City or Nelson Mandela Metropole. Maybe you could take a place like Queenstown or Dutywa or Butterworth or Graaf-Reinet using methods like that. If you could do that, your party would be on the map.
The next municipal election is two years away.