Has the South African state become an instrument in the hands of the class of predators that dominate our politics?

Think a crowbar or a 9mm automatic and think of the Nkandla or Limpopo crews using that tool to rip or rob huge sections of  provincial and national budgets.

Cosatu is clearly suspicious of the ANC dominated state, but believes that the struggle is not over.

Corruption Watch, launched by Zwelinzima Vavi Thursday last week is premised on, and shaped by, the assumption that the state is contested terrain; that if you put enough pressure on it you can slow the process of it becoming an “instrument” or a “tool” in the hands of the bad guys .. and perhaps reverse that process.

On the same day that Cosatu launched its initiative – Thursday last week –  the SACP journal Umsebenzi Online published a “Red Alert” by deputy secretary general Jeremy Cronin critiquing

the liberal notion of society as being constituted by two realms – the “state” on the one hand, and a distinct “civil society”, on the other.

and, in particular

This anti-majoritarian liberalism (that) treats rights almost entirely as rights of citizens/civil society AGAINST the state – and not, for instance, the right of a democratic state (and the right of a democratic majority to actively HELP that state) to vigorously implement an electoral mandate in the face of equally vigorous opposition from powerful class forces lurking behind the fig-leave (obviously he means “leaf” – NB)  of “civil society”.

Thus the SACP is deeply and supportively engaged with government and the state – indeed Jeremy Cronin is Deputy Minister of Transport – and appears to be directly backing Jacob Zuma for re-election at Mangaung in December. Clearly the SACP has made a practical estimation that Zuma is the better of some bad options.

Cosatu is also, ultimately, engaged with the state and government – and appears to have also given support to Zuma’s re-election – but in a far more conditional and ambiguous way than the more open-ended support offered by the communists.

Corruption Watch is indelibly stamped as a ‘civil society’ initiative – and one that has individuals in its leadership that skirt close to Cronin’s faintly Stalinist definition of “anti-majoritarian liberalism (that) treats rights almost entirely as rights of citizens/civil society AGAINST the state.”

Explore Corruption Watch’s website here  – and decide if you are going to sign the pledge.

The Executive Director is David Lewis – ex-independent trade union movement in the 1970’s, constructor of SA’s competition framework and until recently chairperson of the Competition Tribunal.

The Chairperson Vuyiseka Dubula is also the Secretary General of that bastion of civil society and thorn in the ANC government’s flesh, the Treatment Action Campaign.  She is  also Chairperson of the board of directors in the AIDS Law Project.

Vuyiseka Dubula - civil society multitasker and luminary: TAC Chairperson; Corruption Watch Secretary General and Chairperson of the board of the AIDS Law Project

The list of board members includes Bobby Godsell, Mary Metcalfe Supreme Court judge Kate O’Regan and Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane – just to give a sense that the initiative is likely to be a constant source of criticism of the spread of corruption in the ANC and government.

Cronin directly warns against some of the features of Cosatu’s previous “civil society” conference that caused so much anxiety in the ANC and the SACP last year (and I put the quote in full here because it speaks to the heart of the differences of emphasis between Cosatu and the SACP):

Obviously, the SACP expressed support for COSATU`s right to convene a conference that mobilized a range of social movements and NGOs to address, amongst other things, corruption in the state. However, we believed then, and we still believe now, that it was a mistake to exclude COSATU`s own party political alliance partners – as if there were something inherently pure about supposedly non-political “civil society” formations, and something inherently predatory about those more directly engaged with the state. It was a confusion that reflects the hegemony within our society of the liberal “civil society vs. the state” paradigm.

It is probably useful to read the full text of Cronin’s intervention, which you can see here.

As it happens ANC heavyweight and Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe spoke at the launch of Corruption Watch alongside thorn-in-the-ANC’s-flesh Public Protector Thuli Madonsela – thus tentatively addressing some of Jeremy Cronin’s and the SACP’s insecurity about Cosatu taking more and more oppositional stances in relation to the ANC and government.

The two main organisations within the ruling alliance to the left of the ANC appear to be launching something of a rescue bid to stop the ruling party slipping more unambiguously into the hands of a predatory political elite – although the SACP appears more concerned that the rescue bid stays out of the hands of “anti-majoritarian liberals” than it does about the success or otherwise of the endeavour.

Cosatu is the “bad cop” and the SACP is the “good cop” (vis-à-vis the ANC) but they are both operating under the assumption that there is something still worth saving in the state and the ruling party.

If the rescue bid fails and the ANC and government pass some abstract point of no return Cosatu is poised to give up on them first.

The SACP is likely to stick with its ally to the bitter and awful end.

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