South Africa: Defending the space to debate our country’s economic policy

As part of the debate on the nationalisation of the mines in South Africa we re-publish here an article by Mojalefa Musi and Zico Tamela, both of whom are SACP, ANC and labour movement activists. While we do not necessarily agree with all their positions, we think it is an interesting contribution to the debate.

The call by the ANCYL in 2 009 for the nationalisation of the mines presents a golden opportunity for a wider debate to take place on the immediate task of democratically reconstructing South Africa’ s economy towards meeting the needs of the masses. This important debate needs to be rescued from subjectivism and its current degeneration into personal attacks and counter-attacks among comrades. Working class organisations and activists should robustly, but soberly, engage in this debate and support the call to nationalise the mines. Hopefully, the SACP will soon adopt such a sober attitude towards the debate and provide political and ideological leadership on this important question currently facing the working class.

The debate on nationalising the mines is an appropriate intervention from the point of view of the Freedom Charter, attempts to reinstall lost left traditions onto the ANC and, above all, the need for social and economic transformation towards tackling the plight of the masses. As such, the ANCYL should be engaged appropriately so as to enrich the debate. The SACP should defend and deepen the call for nationalising the mines under the guardianship of a democratic, developmental state. Since, according to the Tri-Partite Alliance and the entire Mass Democratic Movement the immediate task of the ‘national democratic’ revolution is the implementation of the Freedom Charter, nationalising the commanding heights of the economy, starting with the mines, should be carried out urgently. This would give concrete meaning to the socio-economic clauses of the Freedom Charter.

Admittedly, nationalisation is not alien to capitalism. Certainly, its implementation a la ANCYL or the Freedom Charter would not make South Africa socialist. Comrade Jeremy Cronin is quite correct that various capitalist regimes, including apartheid South Africa, did utilise nationalisation in order to industrialise especially after WWII. Interestingly, many post-colonial societies also industrialised through nationalisation, among others, and thereby addressed many challenges of social deprivation and under-development. While most remained capitalist, they still enhanced their industrial and human development capacities as compared to the colonial era. Moreover, the ANC’ s 52nd National Conference called for a developmental state as a key player in South Africa’s developmental trajectory. This is progressive compared to GEAR. Even the RDP recognised the centrality of the state in socio-economic transformation. Currently, nationalisation is part of the reawakening of democratic and socialist ideology and practice in Latin America. Therefore, the SACP’ s disapproval of the call to nationalise the mines, citing some reactionary capitalist economic experiments without due regard to left traditions in this country and other positive international experiences, is politically wrong and ideologically treacherous.

Nationalisation is the transfer of strategic sectors of the economy onto the state. Socialisation is a deeper process whereby the exploited classes, themselves, control and own the means of production. Clarifying the (capitalist) essence of the socio-economic clauses of the Freedom Charter, comrade Nelson Mandela, in the 1950s, explained this fundamental difference between nationalisation and socialisation very well. Responding to the ANCYL, the SACP falsely and opportunistically counter-poses nationalisation to socialisation. Actually, nationalisation of the means of production can be a stepping stone towards their socialisation on condition that it is either executed by a working class state or (if pursued by a capitalist state) is preceded or followed by workers’ control. Therefore, in pursuing socialisation the SACP should support, and provide the necessary ideological leadership on, the call by the ANCYL for the nationalisation of the mines precisely because this could be a route towards their socialisation. Critical though, is the need to agitate and mobilise for workers’ control of the mining industry and, ultimately, all the key sectors of the economy. Needless to say pursuing this economic goal would necessitate a political struggle for a working class state.

The 1999 Strategy Conference of the SACP adopted a Resolution on the socialisation of the economy as part of the objectives of the SACP. Furthermore, the 11th National Congress of the Party adopted a Programme that accommodated both nationalisation and socialisation of the economy. Moreover, the 12th National Congress adopted a Resolution calling for the nationalisation of SASOL and MITTAL STEEL as a prelude to the nationalisation and, ultimately, socialisation of the commanding heights of the economy. Why is the SACP now betraying its own positions?

Even where nationalisation was pursued towards saving or promoting (crisis-ridden) black mining capital, as Cronin alleges, that would still be a progressive economic step. This would still be part of democratising and transforming the economy. The working class, as the most consistent fighter for democracy, should definitely lend active support to, and actually champion and lead, the struggle for the nationalisation of the mines even if it remains within a capitalist national-democratic framework for that would still represent a radical departure from current racist monopoly ownership.