17 April 2003
We cannot allow the victory of the working class to be stolen
The life and memory of Chris Hani has become one of the major symbols for the aspirations of the working class and the poor in South Africa. His life, sacrifices, dedication and example captured a person whose entire life was dedicated to the service of ordinary working people and the poor. Whilst South Africa has many heroes and heroines who lived and died for similar aspirations, but Chris Hani was murdered on the eve of the beginnings of the realisation of the aspirations of the majority of South Africans. His assassination also directly led to the securing of 27 April 1994 as the date for the first ever democratic elections in South Africa. His memory lives fondly in the hearts and minds of millions of South African, particularly the working class and the poor. This Institute would serve to institutionalise his memory, but most importantly, as a monument to the aspirations of the ordinary working people and the poor in South Africa.
One of the many outstanding qualities of comrade Chris Hani was his ability to make socialist ideas accessible to workers and the poor and his dialectical understanding of the primacy of mass democratic struggle.
An important aim of the institute would be to continue this legacy, by researching and developing socialist alternatives, making socialist ideas accessible, promoting and popularising socialist alternatives. In this task the Institute should aim to equip shop stewards, trade union officials, community activists and the children of the working class and the poor with the knowledge and the confidence to take the struggle for socialism to their communities, their workplaces, public spaces, the media, government – essentially all of society.
The working class movement is faced with the enormous task of defending and advancing workers struggles in a harsh climate that is not currently favourable to working class interests. The current phase of capitalist globalisation is marked by huge assaults on workers through massive retrenchments, casualisation and privatisation and through intensified ideological attacks.
We are launching this Institute in a conjuncture where the class contradictions in our country are sharpening and the workers and the poor of our country, through their own daily experiences, are increasingly becoming aware of the class dimension of the national struggle. It is well worth important to highlight some of these conjunctural developments. The invasion of Iraq by the US and the UK is becoming understood by a growing number of the workers and the poor of our country for what it is: a bloody pursuance of the interests of imperialist interests and those of their transnational corporations. The current accumulation regime characterised principally by the jobloss bloodbath and loss of income for millions of our people, serves to underline the class realities and the capitalist nature of our society.
The SACP has characterised the current period as that expressing a sharpening contradiction between pursuance of the objectives of the NDR and the deepening penetration of the capitalist market into every corner and nook of our society. Put differently the realisation of the objectives of the NDR is increasingly facing the barriers of an unfettered capitalist market economy. Through this the workers and the poor of our country are increasingly understanding that tackling the national question without squarely facing the class contradiction runs the danger of a stagnation of the NDR. In other words, the precondition for any further qualitative advance in the NDR, is a decisive qualitative breakthrough on the economic front. Ours is to deepen and consolidate this growing class awareness, as part of deepening the socialist outlook of the working class. Short of decisive interventions – by both the democratic government and a mobilised working class – in the mainstream of our economy, to roll back the capitalist market and direct considerable public and private capital towards job creation and poverty eradication, we cannot make any further qualitative advance in the NDR!
It feels ironic that when thousands of workers and the poor, fought and died to liberate our country, like Cde Chris Hani, the capitalist class threatens to steal this victory on the economic front. Our liberation struggle has in fact liberated South African private capital from the constraints it faced towards the end of the apartheid regime. Instead of this private capital focusing on domestic growth and development as a priority, significant sections of it – the major beneficiaries of the apartheid order – have prioritised job-shedding global competitiveness and offshore listing. Instead of seeking the best responses to the domestic challenge of job creation and sustainable livelihoods, this private capital is preoccupied with “international best practice”, whilst reinforcing local worst practice. Instead of implementing, for instance, the sectoral determination on a minimum wage for farmworkers, agricultural capital is resisting and firing workers, ostensibly defying the laws of the country. Instead of locating their activities within the overall context of reparations through job-creating investment, they blackmail all of us by complaining about the rising costs of investment in our country. Through our democratic transition, fought for by the workers and the poor of our country, productivity has risen and South African companies are awash with cash. Yet they are not investing back onto our economy. It is for these reasons that our freedom is being exploited – literally and in good old capitalist fashion – by private capital to further their narrow pursuit of profit, as if things have not changed. These are in fact some of the very critical challenges facing the growth and development summit.
We are gathering at this historic occasion, acutely aware of the many advances made under the democratic government. Great achievements and strides have been made in transforming our country and the expansion of the social wage. It is absolutely critical that we ensure that these advances are deepened and sustained. The Chris Hani Institute will have to focus on analysing and researching the question of sustainability of the gains made. In a capitalist environment there is always a threat of the capitalist market eroding and undermining some of these many gains. The very sustained pressure on government to privatise, liberalise and outsource, is but one example of how capitalist relations pose a persistent threat to the deepening and consolidation of the gains we have made. The very welcome extension of the provision of clean, drinking water, electricity and telephony to the workers and the poor, in urban and rural areas, is being seriously threatened by the persisting job loss bloodbath. This is because of the growth of the indigent in our society; millions of our people who are unable to pay for these services, no matter how affordable they can be if they were employed.
One of the most important things that Chris Hani said was “Don’t just transfer power, but transform it”. This statement has become even more important in the current period, now that the liberation movement is in power. This perspective become even more critical as we seek to transform both the state and the economy. We cannot simply use power transferred from the apartheid regime for the purposes of taking forward the NDR; we need to transform it in order to serve a new agenda. This means, amongst other things, that we need to seriously look at the class and gender, nature and consequences of the exercise of that power, and seek to use it to reinforce the working class bias of society. A related issue that flows out of this would be to constantly examine the class beneficiaries of our policies and exercise of state power at all times. For example we hope that one of the tasks that the Chris Hani Institute would need to undertake – working with other progressive institutions and foundations – is a very careful examination of both the intended and unintended class consequences of our policies. Which class forces have benefited most from which policies and what is the overall score for the working class! This is particularly important as part of evaluating the first decade of our freedom.
It is to these and many other related challenges facing the workers and the poor that we hope the Chris Hani Institute will focus its energies and programmes on. In the light of these changes and challenges there is a dire need to equip working class cadres to engage with and analyse current realities, and to be able to envision alternatives beyond capitalism and its “free market”. We need to create space for revolutionaries to reflect on alternatives, to envision and struggle for the real possibilities for change. Whilst these are principally organisational challenges, the Chris Hani Institute has a very important role to assist the working class to have a deeper understanding of these realities and challenges.
The Chris Hani Institute is being established for all these reasons. We wish to thank the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation for being the very first partner of the Chris Hani Institute, through concrete co-operation around a number of projects – which are the very first projects for the Institute! How historic it is as well that the names of these two 20th century revolutionaries (who both died from the bullets of counter-revolutionaries) will forever be connected and immortalised through this cooperation between the two institutions!
Rosa Luxembourg, born in 1871, was arrested on 15 January 1919, together with two other leaders of the German Communist Party, Karl Liebknecht and Wilhelm Pieck. They were taken for questioning at the Adlon Hotel in Berlin. Rosa and Karl were taken out of the hotel, and knocked with rifle butts until they were unconscious. They were quietly driven away in a German military vehicle, shot and thrown into the river.
Both Rosa and Chris died at a relatively young age (Rosa at 47 and Chris at 50). They both were passionate and courageous fighters for the working class, but at the same time both were well known that even in the midst of struggle and difficulties they never lost their tenderness and sensibility.
Let the Chris Hani Institute strive and be a perpetual symbol of Chris Hani stood and died for: democracy, social justice, freedom and socialism.
** Published in Umsebenzi Online Volume 2, No. 8, 17 April 2003