capitalists dilute freedom charter

MATHEWS Phosa's recent assurances to British capital in London have rattled many cages, most notably of those that consider themselves proponents of social justice and economic equality.

This has been the case both within the alliance as comprises the ANC, SACP and Cosatu as well as the broad society.

If truth be told, we have been receiving mixed and confused ideological signals from the ANC leadership for a while now.

Immediately after elections, Phosa gave assurances to capitalists in London that the government's conservative fiscal and monetary policy would be maintained and all efforts dedicated to cultivating an attractive business environment. These utterances flew straight in the face of progressive resolutions emanating from Polokwane.

When convenient and desperate for the support of the South African working class, many are comfortable in asserting that the ANC is the only and true custodian of the Freedom Charter and all other organisations are merely being opportunistic in their pronouncements on the document.

To a certain extent this remains a valid statement, particularly with regards to the Congress of the People, whose policies on the economy, decent work, nationalisation and many issues are a clear departure from the Charter.

However, once the loyalties of the poor are secured, many leaders, such as Phosa, appeal to the profit-driven interests of their capitalist counterparts in imperial countries, assuring them that nationalisation and many other tenets of the Freedom Charter are not the official policy of the ANC nor are such plans on the horizon.

For years capitalists such as Phosa have been at pains - almost successfully - to dampen the radicalism contained in some clauses of the Freedom Charter.

This is done by limiting the debate on nationalisation of key sectors of the economy such as mining and banking to state ownership when in fact the Charter calls for ownership by the people as a whole.

The people referred to in the Freedom Charter are not the handful of black capitalists as represented by the likes of Phosa and Patrice Motsepe, but rather the working class and the poor.

This means that the aim is to go beyond mere state ownership or the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002 which actually facilitates a parasitic collaboration between the state and a handful of black capitalists at the expense of the poor.

Ambiguity on the issue of nationalisation should come as no surprise though. It is by no means the only ideological tongue-twister that has characterised debates in the ANC and the Alliance.

Opposition, whether salient or silent to the abolition of labour brokers and other forms of atypical employment, constitutes yet another aberration to the Charter which unambiguously calls for the abolition of contract labour and other forms of super-exploitative employment.

This is not an innocent misreading of the Freedom Charter. The Charter has assumed different meanings to different people within the ANC, classes to be precise. The fact that some of our leaders have their hands deep in the capitalist pie, wielding the state and the ANC for their own business interests and tenders, should be seen as a backdrop to claims such as those uttered by Phosa. Their response to matters such as nationalisation and labour brokering is in actuality dictated by their presence in sectors such as mining, banking, security and retail, which stand to be most affected by the nationalisation and the prohibition of labour brokering.

These capitalists both within and outside the ANC are then quick to point out the sub-clause in the Freedom Charter that says that "All people shall have equal rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions".

This Clause is used to justify and legitimise the capitalist profitability at the expense of the poor. It is evoked almost as a stand-alone clause that supersedes all the others before it, including the part that reads "the national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people".

While some of the self-proclaimed crusaders of the Charter are mere opportunists who dangle the document like a carrot in the eyes of the desperate and exploited South African working class, others such as Phosa are in fact diluting the Charter to safeguard their narrow capitalist interests.

Because the ANC adopted the Freedom Charter in 1956 as its official policy guide and there has never been any other gathering that has revoked this decision, the ANC must stamp its authority on the Charter lest it be accused of selectively and opportunistically utilising it for the historic and material currency it still possesses among the South African working class.

l The writer is Gauteng provincial deputy secretary of the Young Communist League