UNITED FRONT NATIONAL WORKING COMMITTEE
29 January 2015
STATEMENT OF THE NATIONAL WORKING COMMITTEE OF THE UNITED FRONT
PROGRESS ON BUILDING THE UNITED FRONT AND CALL FOR A NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION (25th FEBRUARY 2015) FOR A BUDGET THAT PUTS PEOPLE BEFORE PROFITS!
The National Working Committee (NWC) of the United Front (UF) met in plenary session on 28 January 2015. This was for the second time since the NWC was elected at the Front’s Preparatory Assembly in December 2014. This was to review work and progress on UF activities and preparations for various actions towards our National Launch later this year.
Since December, UF structures have been seized with discussions on major challenges that face ordinary and poor people in the country such as joblessness; diminishing access to other forms of sustainable livelihoods; growing levels of inequality; the continuing crisis in our education system; load-shedding and the electricity crisis; the scourge of corruption in both the public and private spheres; growing unresponsiveness by those who occupy political offices; police brutality; the rendering of criminal and justice institutions such as the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) ineffective; and the creeping hollowing of rights that we are meant to enjoy.
The NWC also discussed the roadmap to the UF’s Launch Conference, the National Day of Action for a People’s Budget, the UF’s action response to the outbreak of xenophobic violence, current hearings on a minimum wage and “The South Africa We Want Campaign”. The NWC meeting consolidated the numerous suggestions coming out of the Front structures on how to deal with all these challenges and problems.
SUSTAINED ACTION AGAINST XENOPHOBIA
In addition to the NWC statement issued on 28 January 2015 on the explosion of violent attacks on shops owned by foreign nationals, the Front’s structure in Kagiso convened a successful public meeting to mobilise against this outbreak. The UF steering committee in Soweto, jointly with the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, Gauteng Concerned Residents, Voice of the Poor and the Democratic Left Front will hold a public meeting against xenophobia at 13h30 on Saturday 31 January at CCC Hall, Chris Hani Avenue, Chiawelo in Soweto. The NWC calls all local residents of Soweto and those who are against xenophobia and who want to show their solidarity to attend in big numbers.
As we said in our statement yesterday, this recent outbreak of xenophobia is illustrative of the breakdown in the social fabric and ubuntu, and demonstrative of deep-seated disillusionment with the endemic corruption and mismanagement of service provision in our country.
We call for sustained education and action against xenophobia. We call for solidarity with migrants from other countries who live in South Africa. We call for the redirection of people’s anger and frustrations into sustained and disciplined action against the state of affairs perpetuated by political and economic elites.
The inevitability of load shedding as Eskom plans to shut off several power stations for general maintenance has clearly focused minds on the nature of energy futures that we seek and the role of Eskom in such scenarios. Not only will consumers be affected by load shedding, but also publicly-raised money will be injected into the cash-strapped state utility which urgently needs about R250-billion to upgrade its ageing infrastructure. In October 2014, government said it would privatise “non-essential assets” to raise R20-billion for funding for Eskom.
What is clear to the UF is that over the last 20-years little has changed in the country’s electricity industry where too much electricity is consumed by capital-intensive multinational corporations and rich individuals while poor people consume too little power. The repeated claim by President Jacob Zuma that the reason for load shedding is the generosity of the ANC government in providing electricity connections to poor black people after apartheid ended, defies logic. The new consumers – 50% of all households – use less than 2% of all electricity as power has become extremely expensive in the last eight years and the 50kWh of Free Basic Electricity have proved inadequate for most households. Although there has been massive connections in the early 1990s, between 10% and 15% of households are still not connected.
The UF calls for an emergency civil society conference on the electricity crisis to hammer out the best immediate and medium-term strategies to achieve pro-poor, democratically controlled and ecologically sustainable energy futures and systems. Attempts to find solutions through government and business working groups or “war rooms” are not only undemocratic but give voice to those who have created the mess to parade as today’s saviours. The NWC also believes that a judicial commission of enquiry is required to investigate contracts and tenders that Eskom management has entered into with contractors; senior management packages and remuneration; the voluntary retirement packages; the years of delays in building Medupi and Kusile; and the relationship between consultants and Eskom employees. The commission must also investigate the conditions and impact of loans that Eskom receives from capital markets.
SUSTAINED MASS CAMPAIGN FOR A PEOPLE’S BUDGET
With a great sense of urgency, the UF is calling for a National Day of Action on Budget Day, 25 February 2015. This will be followed by provincial marches on Provincial Budget Days.
On these days, the UF calls on the mass of the people to come and out and march to Parliament in Cape Town and to provincial capitals to demand a Government Budget that works for the people instead of serving the profits and greed of political and economic elites.
Through our action, we demand a Budget that provides for universal access to basic services: water, sanitation, housing and electricity. Water, sanitation, housing and electricity are about basic dignity and are basic needs. They affect large numbers of people. Twelve million people live in informal settlements in urban areas. A large majority of these and others in rural areas are without water and sanitation. Accessing a toilet in an informal settlement or a rural village is dangerous for women and children.
We demand the implementation of the South African Human Rights Commission’s plan for the universal rollout out of water and sanitation. We demand an end to the bucket system by the end of this year.
We demand massive state investment of at least 5% of the country’s GDP for building decent housing located in active economic zones and that can stimulate the depressed downstream industries and create the millions of jobs we desperately need.
We demand a Budget that finances an immediate action plan to end load shedding. We demand an adequately financed ESKOM, financed with public funds based on a redistributive tax system instead of reliance on financial markets. We demand an ESKOM that is publicly owned, publicly accountable, decommodified and efficient. We demand a democratic energy system that moves away from dirty, polluting and inefficient coal, and that prioritises a socially owned renewable energy sector.
Our demands on the Budget are informed by the fact that the ANC government sticks to a set of policies that are failing to address the systemic and structural foundations and drivers of the dire social and economic conditions that face the overwhelming majority of our people. The South African government puts profits first before people and the environment.
The ANC government has stuck to the neo-liberal economic policy script of private sector-led capitalist growth as the silver bullet to all our socio-economic problems. This policy regime has included inflation targeting, high interest rates, punitive fiscal discipline, casualisation and informalisation of work, liberalisation and deregulation of key economic sectors, loosening of capital controls and dependence on external financial flows. Consistent with this neo-liberal logic, the ANC government has not fundamentally transformed the economy away from its domination by minerals, energy and the financial sector. Its failure to do so has resulted in increasing unemployment, increasing exploitation of workers and growing inequality. Despite all the developmental rhetoric of the National Development Plan (NDP), its essence is about the maintenance of private sector-led capitalist growth.
As it has always done, the ANC government is going to dress up the State of the Nation Address and the 2014/2015 Budget under the misleading language of a caring developmental state which will even include a few concessions to social expenditure. Yet, n light of the ongoing global economic crisis and its low growth implications for South Africa the substantive content of the 2014/15 Government Programme of Action and the Budget will be about austerity.
Beyond the planned actions for National and Provincial Budget Days, the UF shall initiate sustained local, provincial and national campaigns to ensure that the Budget process is democratised and used as the key means to meet basic needs, transform the lives of the mass of the people, create decent jobs and take the economy to the hands of the people: The money is ours; Yimali yethu; The economy is ours! A people’s budget and employment is part of the vision of the South Africa we want and deserve.
The NWC decided to ask student and youth organisations participating in the formation of the UF to convene an urgent National Education Crisis Meeting. This meeting is earmarked to develop a joint programme of action to deal with the education crisis. Such a meeting must explore ways to intensify popular pressure and seek alternatives to the ongoing crisis in education.
Key issues that such a meeting must address include the following:
1. Building on the victories of the Equal Education Campaign on Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure;
2. Election of School Governing Bodies (SGBs) across the country (06-28 March) – the UF will mobilise in communities for these elections and post-election training of the new SGBs;
3. Financial exclusion form institutions of higher learning of students from poor backgrounds; and
4. Building a campaign to win free, quality public education.
21st MARCH DAY OF ACTION AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY
The UF will organise a day of mass action on 21 March in defence of human rights, freedom of expression and the right to organise, and against police brutality and general injustices and violence in the criminal justice system (including prison violence). We give notice to Judge Farlam that the United Front will be using 21 March to demand nothing less than justice for Marikana from the Marikana Commission of Inquiry! Further details on this Day of Action will be released in due course.
SUPPORT FOR THE NUMSA-LED CAMPAIGN FOR A NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE AND LIVING ALLOWANCES FOR THE UNEMPLOYED
At the NWC meeting, Numsa tabled its plans to hold pickets for a National Minimum Wage and Living Allowances for the Unemployed outside the hearings that the Portfolio Committee on Labour is convening across the country from 03 Feb to 13 March 2015. The NWC calls on its structures to support the campaign and to participate in the pickets.
With half of working South Africans – meaning 7 million people – receiving a monthly salary of less than R3 033, there is clearly a need for state intervention to set a floor that protects the poor and under which no employer is allowed to pay less than the national minimum wage. Similar to Numsa, the NWC does not think that it makes sense to demand a national minimum wage when close to 40% of those who are able to work in this country, are unemployed. What we need is a National Minimum Wage and Living Allowances for the Unemployed!
SPEAK OUT!…LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE! RECLAIM 27th APRIL! – THE SOUTH AFRICA WE WANT CAMPAIGN
From this year, 27th April must no longer be appropriated by political elites mouthing off meaningless platitudes that demobilise and undermine the mass of the people. On 27 April 2015, the UF will work with others to organise Community Mass Assemblies in communities (in townships, informal settlements, inner cities, rural villages and small towns). These 27th April People’s Assemblies will be a key moment in laying the foundation for “The South Africa We Want Campaign” adopted by the Preparatory Assembly. The Preparatory Assembly unanimously agreed that this campaign must mobilise the mass of our people to democratically define the vision of the country and world they want.
These Assemblies will be real and meaningful platforms for the mass of the people to speak out.“The South Africa We Want Campaign” will be a sustained, democratic mass campaign from below to involve the largest mass of the people in generating demands, visions, proposals and action to win the South Africa and world they want. This Campaign also intends to facilitate space for informed public debate and progressive review of the country’s Constitution from below.
The campaign will be launched in an Alternative State of the Nation Address (SoNA) that leadership of the UF will deliver on Wednesday 11 February; a day before President Zuma presents his misdiagnosis. In its Alternative State of the Nation Address (SoNA), the UF will address parliamentary correspondents through the Press Gallery.
Mass assemblies will be taken forward through to May Day, Workers’ Month and Youth Month as part of mobilisation of workers and youth for both the Launch Conference and “The South Africa We Want Campaign”.
Speak Out!…Listen to the People!
BUILDING THE UNITED FRONT
Since the Preparatory Assembly, the UF has held provincial and local meetings, has started the building of local, regional and provincial structures, and is undertaking local and national campaigns.
The NWC is satisfied with the sterling work that is taking place in different parts of the country to build the Front. Since the Preparatory Assembly and in addition to the four provincial structures that existed then, a provincial structure has been launched in the Eastern Cape. North West and Limpopo intend to launch in the next month.
The UF is a front of sustained mass action and struggle. We are also overwhelmed by many other fighting communities who are turning to the Front for solidarity and support. Just in the last 10 days, the Front has been approached by:
1. The people of Mogalakwena in Limpopo’s Waterberg District who are against corruption in their municipality;
2. Residents of Ingquza Hill and King Mhlontlo municipalities who woke up this week to the announcement that the boundaries of their local authorities were being demarcated and their local states merged with other municipalities – this is undemocratic gerrymandering of municipal boundaries;
3. In Tlokwe, the UF is leading a campaign for quality public education; and
4. 408 families in the informal settlement of Laplant outside Uitenhage who were cruelly evicted on Tuesday (27th January 2015) by a swarm of police in casspirs and nyalas; an action that resembled apartheid forced removals under the notorious apartheid-era Group Areas Act.
We are taking action to support the many people in communities, workplaces, townships and villages who are mobilising against poverty, inequality and corruption. For many communities, the Front is proving to be a viable instrument of struggle. This is how the Preparatory Assembly declared as the best way to build the front. The NWC committed itself to firmly implant the building of the Front in ongoing struggles and campaigns.
These reports are exceptionally promising and build a positive momentum for preparations for our National Launch Conference. They are illustrative of the pressing need for a movement such as ours, given the endemic crisis in the country where the political spectrum cries out for leadership policies and action for social equity and justice, the redistribution of wealth and the building of a caring society that places people, human solidarity and dignity before profits and greed.
LAUNCH CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED FRONT
As stated, all the above developments are also important in the build-up to the UF’s Launch Conference. This Launch Conference shall be a bottom-up conference of primarily black working class women, workers in trade unions, informal workers, the unemployed youth, students, LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and inter-sexed) people, farm workers, farm dwellers, rural dwellers in the former homeland areas, migrants from other countries who live in South Africa, and other oppressed and exploited people.
The UF calls on workers, the unemployed, women, youth and other progressive forces in South Africa to come together in unity in this Launch and make it a People’s Conference to launch the UF as a fighting people’s front.
The Conference will not be a mere event or a talk-shop. It will be a process of bottom-up deliberation in which diverse voices from below shape outcomes and jointly undertake sustained collective action to win the South Africa we want. We are in it to win it!
We will harness existing mass struggles and emerging campaigns, Budget Day, 21 March, 27 April, May Day and workers’ month, Youth Day and youth month to reach out to all sectors of workers, the unemployed and other progressive social forces in order for them to join the UF and be part of the Conference. This Conference will be held at the end of June in Gauteng.
FOR COMMENTS, CONTACT:
1. Kwezilomso Mbandazayo (National Co-Convenor) – 082 817 0097;
2. Mazibuko K. Jara (National Secretary) – 083 987 9633;
3. Dinga Sikwebu (Secretariat Coordinator) – 078 457 9855; and
4. John Appolis(National Campaigns Coordinator) – 073 408 2674.