"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." It's one of Milan Kundera's most famous lines, from his novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. It's one worth keeping in mind as we ponder the interesting shenanigans in our political discourse.
Was it not Karl Marx who wrote in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice?
Indeed, even in South Africa, the dead of the Congress of the People rose up again - as Marx correctly remarked in the same work: "the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionalising themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time honoured disguise and this borrowed language."
Thus; men and women, young and old, black and white, peoples of this country led by the National Planning Commission donned the mask of Professor ZK Mathews, for ONLY they could freely express themselves on the recent conditions that prevail in our country and the necessity for a new vision, their language was always translated back into the gathering in Kliptown, for in great historical events the new perform the tasks of the time in costumes and traditions of all dead generations.
The National Development Plan (NDP) has come to symbolise a journey and hope of a people 'engaged in revolutionising themselves and things' and in creating a South Africa that was well articulated by the dead generation in Kliptown.
The Daily Maverick had a headline; 'NUMSA ready for war over the National Development Plan and Vavi' (8/03/2013). They quoted National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) as saying the NDP is 'principally overtaking the Freedom Charter as the Chief policy of the national democratic revolution'.
So, I decided to read, as NUMSA spokesperson had suggested, the Central Committee statement which says; 'The adoption of the NDP amounts to a postponement of the key challenges of resolving the triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality until 2030. It is also, in our view, fundamentally incompatible with the core tenets of the Freedom Charter.' The union continues to call the NDP a 'DA policy' and therefore the fact the ANC endorsed this policy further 'buries whatever differences existed between it and the DA on matters of socio-economic transformation'.
One cannot help marvelling at the struggle of memory against forgetting during these times. The inability of some to comprehend the significance and poignancy of the NDP in the history of South Africa is overwhelming. One would wish to argue that the NDP is a step forward from the Freedom Charter. The preparations and level of mass participation in the adoption of the NDP are similar. Mass assemblies of people representing all sectors and races in every town, village' farm, factory, mine and kraal contributed to the NDP.
Mzala (1985) writing about the relevance of the Freedom Charter quotes a document entitled, Congress of the People that was annexed to the report of the National Executive Committee at the Tongaat Conference of March 21st 1954 (where Chief Luthuli was banned and banished), where it says: 'The South African people's movement can be proud of its record of unbroken struggle for rights and liberty, but never before have the mass of South African citizens been summoned together to proclaim their desire and aspirations in a single declaration — a Charter of Freedom. Never in South African history have the ordinary people of this country been enabled to take part in deciding their own fate and future.[my emphasis] There is a need to hear the voice of the ordinary citizen of this land, proclaiming to the world his demands for freedom.'
Indeed, the Congress of the People finally became the biggest single gathering of representatives of the people's grievances ever known in South Africa. Today, we can now speak about the NDP in a similar vein as the Freedom Charter.
The NUMSA Central Committee (CC) raised 'great concern that the NDP has been elevated to a status above the Freedom Charter, and appears to have sent into oblivion the RDP. The CC holds the view that the NDP is embedded in the failed neoliberal economic framework of GEAR as religiously pursued and imposed on the ANC and the democratic government by the 1996 Class Project'.
The Charter remained largely dormant in the South African politics until the emergence after 1976 era, the formation of the UDF and, recently, when abused by elements in the ANC Youth League. After the banning of the ANC no movement claimed allegiance to the Charter and more strikingly the renascent black trade union movement of the early 70s never perceived the Charter as relevant to its exigencies.
Now, it is understandable that there is a de facto obligation on progressive organisations (and unions) to define at some point their position vis-a-vis the Charter. This almost seems to be a condition of their being to establish a political identity in the current context. However; defining a position vis-a-vis the Charter involves more than its simple assertion.
Back to the NDP. The whole nation was made aware of the coming process of the NDP, various organisations were consulted and the masses were imbued with the feeling of the tremendous importance of this process. A zealous campaign of propaganda was launched, side by side with hundreds of briefing meetings. The main purpose of these activities was to get people to speak for themselves and to state what the future South Africa should look like.
The vision statement puts it succinctly; "Now in 2030 we live in a country which we have remade, ...the faces of our children tell of the future we have crafted".
At the time prior to the Kliptown People's assembly similar campaigns were implemented. Let us speak together of Freedom', said one popular flyer 'and of the happiness that can come to men and women if they live in a land that is free. Let us speak together of Freedom!
The significance of the NDP is found in the democratic process it followed. A process that yielded an outcome of victorious masses and the conquering democratic forces at the helm. The fact that it is a kind of an outcome born of a revolutionary victory by the whole people, therefore it is capable of achieving the aims of the Freedom Charter and subsequently of defending the new state of people's democracy against counter-revolutionary forces.
At this point again it may be worth noting that the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC, in 1985, saw the need to address the people of South Africa and warn against 'super-revolutionary' and 'socialist' phenomenon. The NEC warned; 'We further call on the struggling people of our country to be vigilant in the face of the determined efforts of those who, while posing as socialists, champions of the working class...... seek to divide the people and divert them from the pursuit of the goals enshrined in the Freedom Charter (read NDP).'
The Freedom Charter's ideological meaning has always been a 'holy grain' issue in the South African politics. The invocation of the so called '1996 class project' is an attempt to characterise the NDP as a product of a dominant force that 'has consolidated itself and has become dominant in our movement and the state, spreading its influence to other layers of society, including sectors of the media'. (Nzimande, 2006)
Cronin and Suttner defined the Charter as a 'people's charter'. It is not, they argued, to be defined as socialist, petty bourgeois or bourgeois in nature. It articulates the interests of all those oppressed by and opposed to apartheid. The Freedom Charter 'is a document that seeks to win the support of all those who oppose apartheid, all classes and strata who have an interest in its destruction', they argued. This argument was based on the fact that national oppression and capitalist exploitation were inextricably interlinked in South Africa.
Therefore; the NDP consecutively can neither be socialist, petty bourgeois nor bourgeois in nature. Nelson Mandela, also, cogently denied the Charter, at the ANC Bloemfontein Conference of 1955, as 'blue print for a socialist state' or at least 'anti capitalist'. He stressed that the dispossession of the white 'mining kings' and 'land barons' called for in the charter would result, not in socialism, but would, on the contrary, '....open up fresh fields for the development of a prosperous non-European bourgeois class'.
I find it no coincidence that NUMSA 'consistently argued that there are very strong, incontestable similarities and parallels between the NDP and DA policy'. A left wing off shoot - Azania National Forum - described the Charter as 'co-optable by the capitalist structure'.
The NDP, like the Freedom Charter, is not a socialist document but a national democratic document based on the historic and prevailing realities of our country, and one of those realities is that all people, workers and non-workers, are involved in a thorough-going political struggle for social transformation. To ignore this, to favour only the production of slogans that correspond more with one's fancy than concrete reality, would be childish playing at politics, and irresponsibility.
I guess Mzala was correct when he said; 'The strength of our ideological creed must therefore not only be in its unifying force, but also in its ability to withstand the test of factionalism and ideological opposition. The leading place of our movement derives also from our vigilant attention to the ideological aspect of the revolutionary movement of the oppressed masses. Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. To defend such a theory, which to the best of our knowledge we consider to be true, against unfounded attacks and attempts to corrupt it is not to imply that we are an enemy of all criticism. We are defending unity against the disrupters of unity, we are defending the theory of revolution that has been historically proven.'
The NDP defines the South African challenge, in the current conjuncture, as a need to roll back poverty and inequality. The NDP is said to be a plan that 'provides broad strategic framework to guide key choices and actions.'
To argue specific arguments raised by NUMSA is not the purpose of this input except to say that flouting a truly representative vision and equally to disregard the overwhelming democratic opinion of the masses, for NUMSA to dissociate itself from the solemn vision of the people, is to advocate, at best, opportunism and, at worst, factionalism.
'Socialism' is undoubtedly the most fashionable slogan. However; it is very important (for our theoretically-grounded cadres) to give to our people a concrete understanding of the course our revolution is following, that is, the stages it will necessarily pass through. Such an understanding will clarify, instead, that our immediate aim has been to win the objectives of the national revolution expressed in the Freedom Charter.
But, the Charter is a statement of aims, it is a definition of the goals of our liberation movement, it is sum total of our national democratic aspirations and the new democratic life that we need. An on the basis of the Charter are corner-stones of our principles of freedom and democracy. The NDP is step forward from this basis seeking to put in place a trajectory to realise these demands. The NDP gives 'flesh and blood meaning' in the current setting.
A moment came when the struggle against racist supremacy ended, and the period of building a South Africa that everyone envisions is upon us. Within the bounds of the national democratic revolution, however, there is a basis for all peoples and strata having a common will; and the National Development Plan is such a common political will for a better South Africa.
It is no patchwork collection of utopian demands, it is no jumble of reforms clothed in socialist rhetoric, but a uniting force of all the people sharing a better future for South Africa and therefore a mirror of a South Africa yet to be won.
Chief Albert Luthuli said, in a special Presidential message at the end of 1955: 'Faced as we are with the battle for freedom it seems a wise stand to say that the African National Congress should not dissipate its energies by indulging in internal ideological feuds - a fight on ísms'.'
The vision as enshrined in the National Development Plan is a kind of vision which most nations achieve, a vision for which men and women stubbornly and heroically resisted torture in detention and gruelling lives in exile, ideals for which our martyred dead stood firm and unflinching to the last minute of their lives. Such a vision cannot be taken lightly. Such a vision needs to be defended from malicious slanders and ill-conceived political theories.
Each and every one of us must play a role to ensure that a better tomorrow is possible, and thus join in the struggle of memory against forgetting. ENDS
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