Who’s your boss? Two South African courts decide in favor of workers

A specter is haunting the global economy: the specter of workers organizing. All the powers of the old and new global economy have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcise this specter, but it just keeps coming back. Actually, it never left. In South Africa this week, organized and organizing workers received encouraging decisions from two separate tribunals. In one case, workers hired through labor brokers, also known as temporary employment services, were told that if they are employed by someone for three months, that makes them employees of the contracting company. In the second case, Uber drivers were adjudicated as employees of Uber, rather than as `self-employed contractors.’ Both decisions will be appealed, but the decisions clarify the status of laborers as they affirm that workers know who they are and they know who their bosses are. Additionally, the decisions have clarified the lines of antagonism. Aspects of class struggle may change, but the essence, exploitation of workers’ labor time, has not.

The case concerning “temporary” workers involved the National Union of Metalworkers, Assign Services and Krost Shelving and Racking. Assign Services provided Krost with workers. Many of them worked for more than three months. The decision by the Labour Appeal Court in Johannesburg means that workers can’t be summarily fired, they have the right to appeal mistreatment, they have collective bargaining rights, and that they qualify for benefits, including retirement and health benefits. In other words, they are permanent workers, no matter what the terms of client to labor broker contract claimed.

This is a victory for workers considered by many to be among the most vulnerable. It also regulates temporary employment services to actual temporary employment status. Once the three months have been hit, the temporary employment services are no longer needed. This also means that workers who have fallen into this double bind, and they are many, can now begin organizing, and litigating, in response to previous damages.

That decision was handed down on Monday, July 10. On Wednesday, July 12, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, CCMA, ruled that Uber drivers are employees of Uber, and so are protected by South African labor laws. In this instance, former Uber drivers, who had organized into something called The Movement filed a complaint concerning unfair employment practices. In particular, they protested having been summarily dismissed by Uber, without cause, reason or possible appeal. They explained that being fired by Uber happens when Uber simply turns off their app. No warning, no process, no nothing. Just silence. Their appeal gained further weight when Uber claimed the CCMA couldn’t hear the case because the drivers are “partners”, not employees. The CCMA didn’t buy that, and so now, Uber drivers have the right to all protections afforded employees: collective bargaining, due process, strike.

Neither case is definitive, and further appeals are already in process, but the cases, individually and taken together, matter. Workers know who the boss is, and they also know the terms of workplace and workforce engagement. Both cases happened at all because of workers’ organizing and organizations raising a ruckus, finding good attorneys, and then raising more of a ruckus. Workers know the difference between temporary and permanent, and they know that permanence, such as it is, is only secured through collective action. The workers also know the entity that fires workers is the employer. Who’s the boss? Ask the workers.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Business Day / The Times) (Photo Credit 2: Quartz / Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)

a petite woman

a petite woman

Emma Mashinini was
we get to hear
on morning radio

a petite woman
that’s what she was

diminutive little elfin
tiny small short

Emma Mashinini has passed
trade unionist pioneer
pioneer trade unionist

a petite woman
that’s what she was

anti-apartheid fighter
fighter for women’s rights
a warrior on all fronts

women described
a woman described
differently to others
to men

(did we see
that appendaged
to late unionist
Ronald (Bernie) Bernickow
or music giant Ray Phiri)

a petite woman
that’s what she was

we have a long way

 

(Emma Mashinini’s short tribute (read by a woman) on SAFM’s (morning) AM Live gets this one going.)

(Photo Credit: Buzz South Africa)

It’s official: Hlengiwe Mhlambo and her 183 neighbors have a right not to be homeless!

This family lives in what used to be a kitchen

“and Makwerekwere drifting into and out of Hillbrow and Berea having split into Berea from Hillbrow according to many xenophobic South Africans and their glamorising media and into Braamfontein to sort out their refugee affairs and the streets of Hillbrow and Berea and Braamfontein overflowing with Makwerekwere come to pursue green pastures after hearing that the new president Rolihlahla Mandela welcomes guests and visitors unlike his predecessors who erected deadly electric wire fences around the boundaries of South Africa trying to keep out the barbarians from Mozambique Zaïre Nigeria Congo Ivory Coast Zimbabwe Angola Zambia from all over Africa fleeing their war-torn countries populated with starvation like Ethiopia”                                                                      Phaswane Mpe: Welcome to Our Hillbrow

Last Thursday, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that judges cannot authorize an eviction order that will leave people homeless. Over the past 25 years, South Africa’s highest courts have ruled consistently that the rights of residents, including occupiers, matter. Even with those protections in place, this decision is viewed as groundbreaking and welcome. The case involves 184 people – 47 women, 114 men, 23 children – who have occupied an apartment building in the Berea neighborhood of Johannesburg’s inner city. Hlengiwe Mhlambo is one of the 184. She is forty years old, a mother of two, and an informal trader. For the past 14 years, Hlengiwe Mhlambo has lived in her apartment, eking out a meager living, raising her children, hoping to find, or better create, the once promised green pasture.

Current residents have occupied the building anywhere from four to 26 years. Vusumuzi Dlamini moved in in 1991, and has been living there ever since. Samkelo Myeza moved in in April 2013, and has lived there ever since. For Dlamini, Myeza, Mhlambo and all the residents, things started changining in 2013. A new owner served the residents with an eviction notice. The residents went to a local ward committee member, who said he’d investigate the matter. In September, the case went to court. The ward committee member attended. Four residents, known as appearers, attended. Hlengiwe Mhlambo was one of the four. The owner’s lawyers appeared. The appearers attended to appeal for a postponement. The ward committee member told the court that an agreement had been reached between the owner and the residents, and that residents had agreed to their own eviction. As the Constitutional Court notes, “The applicants were not legally represented.”

Hlengiwe Mhlambo is clear that she did not have the authority to represent the 184 residents and that she, personally, never agreed to be evicted. The main point is that that applicants were not legally represented. They had no lawyers. No one explained their rights. They never fully understood the proceedings. For example, they did not know that the law states that before a judge can issue an eviction order, she or he must consider “all the relevant circumstances, including the rights and needs of the elderly, children, disabled persons and households headed by women.”

South Africa’s Constitutional Court decided that people have a right not to be homeless: “It is a well-established principle that an eviction from one’s home always raises a constitutional issue … The starting point is section 26(3) of the Constitution which provides that `[n]o one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances’. Accordingly, courts seized with eviction matters are enjoined by the Constitution to consider all relevant circumstances …  An order that will give rise to homelessness could not be said to be just and equitable, unless provision had been made to provide for alternative or temporary accommodation … Where there is a risk of homelessness, the local authority must be joined … Courts must be alive to the risk of homelessness and the issue of joining the local authority to discharge any duties it may have … All of this may appear unduly burdensome but it is necessary if one has regard to the fundamental importance that a person’s home has to the realisation of almost all human rights. More importantly, the procedure is constitutionally enshrined and legislatively enacted”

The residents were represented by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, SERI. After the decision, their attorney Nomzando Zono, explained, “This is a momentous decision for millions of poor people across South Africa who live with insecure tenure and inadequate housing. As of today, our courts are forbidden from making eviction orders – even if they have been agreed to – until those under threat of eviction are aware of and able to exercise their rights, and until a Judge can be sure no-one will be left out on the streets.”

In the worldwide political economy of global cities, in which urban real estate is a driving economic force, we are so far from a politics that acknowledges “the fundamental important tht a person’s home has to the realisation of almost all human rights.” Last week, the South African Constitutional Court called on us, all of us, to remember the place of the home. No one can consent to an unfair eviction. No one can consent to homelessness. Homelessness is a violation of our most fundamental human and civil and Constitutional rights, wherever we live. Let’s join with Hlengiwe Mhlambo and make it so.

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / Candice Nolan)

People don’t sleep because of the violence and crime

People don’t sleep because of the violence and crime. Early in the morning from 5am to 7:30 the screaming starts as people are robbed on their way to work and school. But the police resources continue to follow the apartheid patterns and, with the chance to change that unequal picture, the South African Police Service, or SAPS, is often making the same decisions as they did 25 years ago. So now we campaign for #PoliceResources.

Now they are suggesting building an extremely expensive police station in Muizenberg. People in Vrygrond, Seawinds, Capricorn can’t get to Muizenberg, but no matter. Communities in Delft, Nyanga, Mitchell’s Plain, Harare, Khayelitsha and many more are still not fixed. So, we need actions that join these dots and connect the different communities.

We held a meeting and here are some ideas from the room:

“We are gatvol” We are fed up and done with it.

Why 100 000 000 rand for one building???

We must watch how that money will be spent.

We must organize, not just the people suffering the worst crime and the least protection, but the white and re middle class too.

Interdict the SAPS, stop the building.

Occupy SAPS until we get a real commitment

#PoliceResources

 

(Image Credit: Facebook / Social Justice Coalition)

Bondita Acharya and Micaela Garcia refuse to let women be crushed

In case we needed any reminder, this week has already demonstrated that rape culture is expanding, intensifying and globalizing. Yesterday, across Argentina, thousands marched and protested violence against women, femicide, and rape. They marched under the banner of Ni Una Menos and Justicia Para Micaela. Micaela Garcia was a 21-year-old feminist activist who dedicated her life to the struggle to end femicide and violence against women. Last week, she was raped and murdered. In India, human rights activist Bondita Acharya criticized the arrests of three people for the crime of possessing beef. Very quickly after Bondita Acharya expressed her views, she was threatened with acid attacks, rape, and death. According to Bondita Acharya, “They threatened me with death, rape, acid attacks, and also hurled sexually explicit abuse to defame me … I also feel the anger was directed at me because I am a Brahmin and a woman.”  And in South Africa, yesterday, a prominent cartoonist decided to make his point by graphically describing the gang “rape” of South Africa. The nation was drawn as a Black South African woman, held down by three men.

Women have responded forcibly and directly to each and all of these atrocities. In Argentina, women mobilized by the thousands. As Marta Dillon, of Ni Una Menos, explained, “It is a day of mourning, but we know how to turn pain into power.” Nina Brugo added, “We are going to take revenge for Micaela by getting organized.” In India, Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression strongly condemned the persecution and harassment of Bondita Acharya, and are pushing the State to take action. Others have joined in the cause. In South Africa, women have led the charge against the abuse of their bodies and lives. Kathleen Dey, Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, capturing the feelings of many, wrote, “The impact of rape on survivors is severe, many will lie awake at night and are not be able to sleep or eat properly for days because of the powerful emotions they feel. Feelings of fear, anxiety and vulnerability in particular provide the kind of undermining emotional preoccupation that often prevents women from working, studying or parenting effectively. Reliving rape is easily triggered. It disturbs and disrupts everything rape survivors do and distresses the people close to them who feel helpless to do anything to mitigate these powerful feelings. The fact that these same women often face the stigma of being socially disgraced when they speak out about being raped is another example of rape culture. Challenging rape culture in South Africa and asking ourselves what a culture of consent might look like and how we would build that culture instead would be a worthy subject for the media.”

It would be a worthy subject indeed. In 1986, feminist political economist Maria Mies wrote, “It is a peculiar experience of many women that they are engaged in various struggles and actions, the deeper historical significance of which they themselves are often not able to grasp. Thus, they do in fact bring about certain changes, but they do not ‘understand’ that the changes they are aiming at are much more far-reaching and radical than they dare to dream. Take the example of the worldwide anti-rape campaign. By focussing on the male violence against women, coming to the surface in rape, and by trying to make this a public issue, feminists have unwittingly touched one of the taboos of civilized society, namely that this is a ‘peaceful society’. Although most women were mainly concerned with helping the victims or with bringing about legal reforms, the very fact that rape has now become a public issue has helped to tear the veil from the facade of so-called civilized society and has laid bare its hidden, brutal, violent foundations. Many women when they begin to understand the depth and breadth of the feminist revolution, are afraid of their own courage and close their eyes to what they have seen because they feel powerless vis-à-vis [the] task of overthrowing several thousand years of patriarchy. Yet the issues remain. Whether we – women and men – are ready or not to respond to the historic questions raised, they will remain on the agenda of history. And we have to find answers to them which make sense and which will help us to restructure social relations in such a way that our ‘human nature’ is furthered and not crushed.”

Thirty-one years later, rape remains on the agenda of history but too often not on the agendas of nation-States nor organizations nor the media. We still await that revolution.

 

(Photo Credit: José Granata / EFE / El Pais)

As we scramble to understand and “articulate” the true nature of our political crisis

As we scramble to understand and “articulate” the true nature of our political crisis, unpacking strategies and the “political programme”, how to position ourselves and what positioning this or that way means for where you are perceived to be sitting in the political ideological spectrum (i.e are you woke or not/ radical or liberal/ coconut or sellout…).

I am reminded of the lonely days of struggle as an activist in the Treatment Action Campaign. I was a young person full of the beautiful dreams of liberation. Coming from a working-class family, watching other young, working class people like me die whilst the powerful ones used their power to let them die. This wasn’t Apartheid South Africa. Leaders of our ruling party and democratic government and Tripartite Alliance partners were labelling us agents of drug companies and all manner of descriptors to delegitimise our struggle. There is a particular NEC/alliance meeting we were once “invited” to after we launched our civil disobedience campaign, where I watched the big men of the then ANC Top 6 and alliance partners (Lekotas, Blades, etc were there), perform power in the grossest, most nauseating way. Having been summoned, we were made to sit for hours waiting for them to deliberate important things, then we were given a few minutes to be interrogated, then sent off with nothing. We warned them we would not back down and left. That meeting shuttered all my hopes, it showed the depth of callousness of our leaders, how self-obsessed they have always been…!

Then, as now, the “clever” ones debated, analysed, researched, “articulated” whilst young working class black people, many of them young women, in villages, townships, servants’ quarters in white middle class suburbs, were dying like flies. The clever ones criticized our campaign for not being “systemic”, because we were not speaking in clever phrases about how “neoliberalism must fall”. Mandela’s ANC had chosen GEAR, that meant that public goods like lifesaving medical treatment would remain for-profit commodities, to be traded at the highest margins for shareholders, and government had to toe the line of those who control the rules of international trade, that Government wouldn’t defy WTO rules in defence of their people…

Organizing was all complex then, as now. But then, as now, government had a choice, power to make that choice in favor of justice, accountability for a just future for all, particularly the poor. It was black working class people who were dying, who’d been left to own devices, those with money were dying because of denial and fear of stigma not inability to afford medical care. It was black working class people who showed up, filled the picket lines and fought for their lives and won. Many of the black-like-me’s with education who could interpret medical science to help people understand how to save their lives, who could have given their education privilege to contribute, many did not. As Edwin Cameron said, being “white, privileged and middle class meant he could access lifesaving drugs” at a time when one month’s treatment cost more than a year’s wages of a black working class family. It is unforgivable what our leaders did, the silence and hubris of the middle class illustrated how as the middle class we’re fickle, trapped in our parochial class lens and interests, and are not to be trusted, even when we spew revolutionary rhetoric. The issues were raced and classed and gendered then as they are now. The betrayals from soapbox podiums often dominated by men happened then as they are now.

So then, let’s organize, and march to end racialised, gendered inequality. Let’s organize to end white supremacy, for land, for neoliberalism to fall, for the black young women set up for infection and who still die to live with dignity. For mine-workers to get their fair share of the wealth they dig. For domestic workers not to live in servants’ quarters not even dogs live in and be sent off into the wilderness with nothing when their old legs and hands can no longer hold the weight of the labour needed to prop up white and elite black capital. For men who rape to not be rewarded with more power. For corrupt, captured politicians and their parties to be ejected from power. For women to not live their lives like we’re in a war zone, under brutal patriarchal rule. For an intersectional struggle against corrupt power, in all its manifestations. A society that sustains life and dignity for all. And then, all of us middle class, black white and whatever shade, to have an honest interrogation of our own complicity in the mess. Our cronyism and rent seeking and what it has made of us, and life for many who’re on the wrong side of the game Board. So, I will join the action for intersectional justice Bethuna. And no I don’t mean who’s twittering about it? Who’s organizing it? And no, I have no interest in going to Saxonworld!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Council on Foreign Relations/Reuters/Mike Hutchings) (Photo Credit 2: South Africa News Today)

#RememberKhwezi today more than ever

Ahmed Kathrada died and was buried this week. Part of the funeral and mourning invoked an open letter Kathrada wrote last year, calling on Comrade President Zuma to resign. With Ahmed Kathrada’s death, that letter turned into a warning from the grave. On Wednesday, Ahmed Kathrada was laid to rest. On Thursday, in the middle of the night, President Zuma did what he does. He went for his machine gun and “reshuffled” the cabinet, in particular Pravin Gordhan. Once again, the President has thrown South Africa into uproar and disarray. Once again. In October 2016, Fezekile Kuzwayo was laid to rest. Fezekile Kuzwayo was better known, to the public at least, as Khwezi. Remember the One in Nine Campaign, the purple shirts, the women? Remember the four young Black women, dressed in black, last August, who stood, in silent protest, before President Zuma, and held up five placards: “I am 1 in 3”, “#”, “10 years later”, “Khanga” and “Remember Khwezi”? Remember Khwezi? We should, today more than ever. Today, more than ever, #RememberKhwezi.

Remember how Jacob Zuma responded to Khwezi? He sang umshini wam, Bring My Machine Gun. As Pumla Dineo Gqola has written, “When Jacob Zuma sang the hugely popular struggle toyi-toyi song `umshini wam’ when he was charged with rape, he understood the power of heroic masculinity, having previously embodied it himself and know how to reference it to shame Khwezi … Khwezi becomes the enemy and safe to treat in any way because she is an enemy that has been marked with associations that come from apartheid. All righteous, freedom-loving people are reminded of the wound of apartheid, incited to anger, always ready because the apartheid memory is too fresh in all of us, so that Khwezi becomes possible to burn. It is therefore not a huge leap from seeing her as a political enemy … to chanting `burn the bitch.”

And that strategy worked … up to a point. It didn’t work with Khwezi herself, who remained steadfast and revolutionary to the very end. It didn’t work with the courageous women of the One in Nine campaign. But it did work. Jacob Zuma walked free, while Khwezi and her sister comrades had to look over their shoulders more than once. Zuma has gone on to govern with his machine gun, or at least his love song to the machine gun, always already at the beck and call.

So, today’s tumult has everything to do with Pravin Gordhan, nuclear deals, state capture, and much more. Today’s tumult reminds us we should re-read Ahmed Kathrada’s letter from last year, and we should study it, discuss it, and share it, and make it part of a popular education campaign. And even more, we should remember the four young Black women who last year dared us to remember Khwezi, and we should remember the courageous women of the One In Nine Campaign, who dared to break the silence and challenged us to stand with and listen to the women who refused to shut up. And today, more than ever, we should remember the revolutionary Khwezi. #RememberKhwezi

 

(Photo Credit: Simphiwe Nkwali / Sunday Times)

Watch where you walk

Watch where you walk

Watch where you walk
we are advised
by folks in the know

don’t do a midnight
or an early hours one

(boyfriends bury
their girlfriends
in backyards)

don’t frequent the hotspots
police cannot be everywhere

behind closed doors
in gated mansions
in ivory towers
be-suited in committees

(you know dangerous areas
places like home like school
like the workplace like)

Watch where you walk
twin knifes mom and sister
famine on the horizon
for millions of children
(what way our grant fiasco)

femicide is the order
women besieged
sexual assault the daily custom
(in the broad light of day)

(a woman or girl raped
every 25 seconds down here)

Watch where you walk
International Women’s Day
and our 16 days anti-abuse campaign
has long since passed us by

Watch where you walk

‘Watch where you walk’ – cops (People’s Post Athlone, 14 March 2017). “Boyfriends bury their girlfriends in backyards” (Cape Times, January 31 2017), “Twin ‘knifes’ mom, sister” (Cape Times, February 6 2017); and “Millions of children are facing famine” (Sunday Argus, January 29 2017)

(Image Credit: 702)

What happened at Life Esidimeni and Asha Kiran? The routine torture of the mentally ill

In the past week, two examples of systematic torture of adults living with mental illness have been revealed. In South Africa, a report revealed that at least 94 residents of Life Esidimeni facility died when they were dumped into various “dodgy NGOs”. This week, the Delhi Commission for Women, DCW, conducted a surprise inspection of the government-run Asha Kiran “home” for persons with mental disabilities. Along with disgusting and deplorable conditions and violations of human and women’s rights, they found that, in the past two months, eleven residents, more like prisoners, had died. Asha Kiran never reported the deaths. We live, and die, in an age of global abandonment, and the zone of abandonment is growing as it intensifies.

The stories of Life Esidimeni and Asha Kiran are heartbreaking, first, and then howl-inducing bay-at-the-moon outrageous. The story of Life Esidimeni, or this latest chapter, began in 2015 when the Gauteng government decided to cut costs by cancelling its contract with Life Esidimeni and move close to 1400 residential patients into community care and ngos. According to report and to family members, the move was chaotic, at best, and the residents were treated “like you don’t treat a dog”. Most of the ngos had no certificates, but no matter. The State had decided on its priorities, and the most vulnerable were dumped into hellholes with pretty names, like Precious Angel. Within a matter of months, almost a third of the patients tossed into Precious Angel died. Their last days were slow and agonizing.

The story of Asha Kiran, or its latest chapter, is one of in-house cruelty. Overcrowded and filthy, the place is covered in urine, feces and menstrual blood. Women are forced to line up naked in order to bathe, and of course the corridor is monitored by CCTV. Children are forced to sleep on the cold floors, without sheet or mattress, for the offense of having wet the bed. Asha Kiran is designed for a maximum of 350. In 2015, it housed 900. Since 2001, over 600 deaths have been reported at Asha Kiran, but, as the last two months demonstrate, how many more go unreported remains unknown.

The unreported loss of almost 100 people in Johannesburg or 11 in Delhi is part of the expanding State policy and practice of abandonment: “Zones of abandonment … accelerate the death of the unwanted. In this bureaucratically and relationally sanctioned register of social death, the human, the mental and the chemical are complicit: their entanglement expresses a common sense that authorized the lives of some while disallowing the lives of others.”

As the events surrounding Life Esidimeni and Asha Kiran demonstrate, the abandonment is neither neglect nor forgetting. Rather the abandonment is a full on, brutal, vicious, totalizing assault on body and soul, in which our brothers and sisters, friends and strangers each and all, are slowly and swiftly tortured, and then tortured again.

Life Esidimeni means “place of dignity”. Asha Kiran means “ray of hope.” They are what happens to dignity and hope in the age of abandonment. We are at “the end-station on the road of poverty … the place where living beings go when they are no longer considered people.” Now, as the mortuaries fill up, there is outrage: this must NEVER happen again. Where was the outrage before, as the end-station was being built in plain sight?

 

(Image Credit: The Daily Vox)

From `service delivery’ to #FeesMustFall, protests target decades of neoliberal austerity

According to Ivor Chipkin, the FeesMustFall movement runs the risk of being coopted by the politicians and business people around Jacob Zuma who are stripping state owned enterprises like Eskom to the tune of billions. This after some student activists called for protests targeting the National Treasury and academic Kelly Gillespie pointed to the role of the treasury in making higher education unaffordable for the majority of Blacks.

Chipkin provides no evidence that there is a real danger that the student movements will inadvertently support the looting of the state, which seems to be the project holding the Zuma group together. In fact, he can only make his point by ignoring the politics of the FeesMustFall movement, which on the whole is diametrically opposed to that of both the Zuma and the Gordhan group. Chipkin’s political agenda is not so much that he seriously believes the students are about to support Zuma; he wants FeesMustFall to support the Gordhan group, even if only by not targeting National Treasury with criticisms and protests.

In order to support his political point, Chipkin argues that the National Treasury has not had a policy of neo-liberal austerity over the last 16 years. But the evidence he provides is as weak as his political framing of no possibilities outside of either Zuma or Gordhan.

To review the evidence, we need an idea of what ‘neo-liberal austerity’ is. Is a simple rise in spending on ‘social protection’, even a doubling over a thirteen-year period, proof enough that there is no neo-liberal austerity? This is what Chipkin suggests, but it is simplistic.

Cutting social welfare spending has been a burning ambition of neo-liberal treasuries everywhere. They have not always succeeded, because they had to contend with the balance of forces. Where there was strong resistance to such cuts, all they could do was keep this kind of expenditure as low as possible. In these cases, it does not mean they are no longer neo-liberal; it means they are neo-liberals who are not getting their own way one hundred percent.

The political essence of neo-liberalism is using the state to create the conditions for maximum wealth transfer from everyone else to the richest elite among business corporations. This is exactly what the ANC has been doing over the last two decades. This is precisely why the elite among the capitalist class is showing Gordhan so much love. From water to land to minerals to investment to monetary matters and agriculture, the ANC’s policies have included privatization, deregulation, commodification and all the other building blocks of neoliberal politics around the world. These long words all mean the same thing – state policies that protect and create opportunities for giant business corporations to make profits at the expense of everyone and everything else.

It is laughable to argue that in the middle of this general neo-liberal approach of the ANC, the treasury stands as the lone exception. Yes, expenditure on social grants has risen (though not in Gordhan’s last budget where it dropped in real terms). But these rises were never driven by what the actual needs for poverty relief and eradication were. It was carefully framed to be affordable while the tax regime leaves the wealth of the big corporates untouched and growing. A treasury that was pro-poor and against neo-liberal austerity would not have dropped taxes on these billionaire corporates as Gordhan and his predecessors have done. Instead they would have taxed them heavily not only on profit but also on accumulated wealth, which is the only way to seriously move towards ending poverty and inequality.

Research by Nandi Vanqa-Mgijima and Christopher Webb of the International Labour Research and Information Group (Ilrig) further exposes the claim that social grants is a sign that there is not a regime of neo-liberal austerity at the treasury. They explain how the payment and distribution has been outsourced to a company listed on the stock exchanges of Johannesburg and New York. Furthermore, all along the chain of the distribution and spending of the grants, micro-lenders and giant supermarkets are set up to make profit at the expense of the poor grant beneficiaries. Undoubtedly grant recipients have benefited, but the neo-liberal manner in which the grants have been distributed have benefited the usual shareholders and creditors for whom neo-liberalism is designed.

Quoting percentage increases in spending on social protection allows talk of ‘more than double’ and ‘well above inflation’, which has the sound of opulence rather than austerity. But the word austere means having no comforts or luxuries. To suggest a child grant of R350 per month means there is no austerity is fucking sick. The thing is that the grants started from such a scandalously low base, that even these large percentage increases still leave grant recipients in poverty. If this is not neo-liberal austerity, then the concept has no meaning.

Finally, Chipkin’s own account of the situation in higher education reveals that the treasury has deployed a strategy that is quite common for neo-liberal treasuries and has been used by Trevor Manuel with regard to local government. This is the strategy of ‘unfunded mandates’. An explosive increase in the number of tertiary students, without a corresponding increase in funding, pressured universities to raise the extra funding through fee increases and corporate funding that further subordinate knowledge production to neo-liberalism. The one is a direct consequence of the other and confirms the neo-liberal orientation of treasury beyond doubt.

Vice-chancellors now find themselves in a similar position to mayors. In the Manuel era funding for municipalities were cut by 90% at the same time that their service delivery responsibilities were increased manifold. Hence we had the ‘service delivery’ protests similar to the FeesMustFall protests, both ultimately caused by neo-liberal austerity policed by the treasury.

It is these community protests that won the increases in social spending, just as the student protests has already won increases in higher education spending. Both are up against the neo-liberal regime of the ANC, of which both Gordhan and Zuma are part. FeesMustFall is completely correct in targeting them both.

 

(Photo Credit 1: City Press / Ndileka Lujabe) (Photo Credit 2: Time / Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters)