Jay Naidoo, respected former trade union leader and a Minister under Nelson Mandela’s presidency, has laid into the ANC government in no uncertain terms.
In an ‘Open Letter to South Africa‘ he attacked what he called “the political elites plunder our public coffers and take the precious resources that are supposed to deliver the vital health services our people have a constitutional right to.”
Naidoo cited a report on the disastrous state of health care in the Eastern Cape, published by the campaigning groups Section 27 and the Treatment Action Campaign.
In his Open Letter he says this:
“Six million people depend on public health services in the Eastern Cape. Its collapse has been presided over by a parasitic elite that has, for over a decade, abused the public trust and used our public coffers as their private slush fund. This is a monumental cover up of Watergate proportions. But in our democracy it is conveniently swept under the table.
Reading it makes me rage. How many clinics could have been built, how many babies died because vaccines were not available or the cold chain was dysfunctional, how many nurses and doctors could have been hired to deal with the dire staff shortages? I reflect on the anger of the 1976 generation, which made millions of us stand up and build the powerful tsunami of struggle that toppled the brutal Apartheid regime.”
A hollow ring
It would be hard to disagree with a word he says, particularly when he concludes that: “The public needs a plan that defines the decisive action we want to see against corrupt bureaucrats. We want to see them fired and jailed.”
Yet Naidoo’s attack rings somewhat hollow. On the one hand, should he not have seen this coming and on the other, what action is he prepared to take now?
It is, perhaps, worth a brief glance at what took place in the past to understand the present.
When the non-racial trade union movement was reborn in the 1970’s, there was a determination not to repeated the mistakes of twenty years earlier when the unions became political tools of the ANC and the Communist Party.
This lesson was encapsulated in the landmark statement by Joe Foster, the leader of the Federation of South African Trade Unions (Fosatu) in April 1982.
Speaking for 100,000 workers, his speech, entitled ‘The workers’ struggle – where does Fosatu stand?’ – charted a political course for the movement.
The statement, which was then adopted as Fosatu policy, was a challenge to what were described as the ‘populist’ politics of the ANC.
Foster warned that like other movements in Africa before it, the movement would in the end turn on its own supporters.
The speech concluded: “It is, therefore, essential that workers must strive to build their own powerful and effective organisation even whilst they are part of the wider popular struggle. This organisation is necessary to protect worker interests and to ensure that the popular movement is not hijacked by elements who will in the end have no option but to turn against their worker supporters.”
While carefully not repudiating the ANC, the Fosatu statement spelt out the ANC’s limitations, and demanded action to ensure the protection of workers’ interests. As one workers’ leader put it at the time: “Of course we want Mandela to be Prime Minister, but we must make sure that when he is, workers control him.”
As a result Fosatu played its part in the fight against apartheid, but kept its independence from the ANC and the Communists. This outcome challenged the political hegemony both of these movement believed was their birthright.
Mobilising every ounce of their support, the ANC and Communist Party gradually persuaded some workers leaders to abandon this position.
Jay Naidoo was among those who were won round in secret negotiations that have still not been fully explained.
In 1985 Fosatu was abandoned in favour of Cosatu – with the Congress name clearly indicating the new political direction of the movement.
Just eight days later, in December 1985, Naidoo went to Harare to meet the ANC for talks.
Despite Cosatu adopting a resolution in February 1986 that it would be independent of all political organisations, Naidoo and a small group of the leadership pressed ahead with these contacts.
In March 1986 Naidoo, together with other union leaders, like Cyril Ramaphosa, went to Lusaka, and reached an agreement with the ANC and the Communist Party that saw Cosatu become part of the ANC led Alliance.
The take-over was complete. Despite protests from some unions that this had not been discussed or authorised by the movement, it was a done deal.
The ANC had taken control of the levers of power within the union movement.
Fast-forward to the present and we find the union movement in severe crisis.
Zwelinzima Vavi – Cosatu Secretary General, has been attacked, isolated and driven from the leadership of Cosatu.
How many truly believe this was for his dalliance with a junior member of staff?
Vavi had been under intense pressure from President Zuma and the ANC for attempting to follow a path critical of government.
Vavi’s relentless attacks on the corruption that surrounds so many in the ANC leadership had become intolerable and he had to go.
As Joe Foster predicted back in 1982, the ANC has been “hijacked by elements who will in the end have no option but to turn against their worker supporters.“
That moment has now come.
For Jay Naidoo to wring his hands and complain of the “corrosive corruption that eats into the soul of our nation,” lacks credibility.
It is the chronicle of a death long foretold – the death of the independent union movement that so many sacrificed so much to build.
How to make amends
This brings us to the present – the ‘what is to be done’ question.
Next year’s general election looms large on the horizon. What stance will Naidoo – and others like him – take towards the ANC?
Will they wring their hands, but argue that the ANC must be given ‘one more chance’ to reform itself?
It is clear that the ANC is now rotten to the core: a once proud movement is now tolerant of violence, criminality and rapacious corruption.
For the sake of South Africa’s democracy the ANC government must go.
Only once the ANC has been swept from power can the party pick itself up, dust itself down and bring about the wholesale cleansing of itself that all political movements must undertake from time to time.
All power corrupts and 20 years of power has corrupted the ANC absolutely. Only in opposition can it be reborn as the fine party that it once was.
If Jay Naidoo is doing more than shedding crocodile tears for the millions left without a health service in the Eastern Cape, then he must play his part in this cleansing of the Augean stables.
He must come out and fight for one or other of the opposition parties now attempting to end the ANC’s hold on power.
This is the path before all South African democrats. Standing on the sidelines and wringing their hands is feeble and self-serving.
This is the moment for action and commitment.