WSF (1998): “The Alliance: An Unhappy Marriage — Communists must choose — COSATU must be independent”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

The Alliance: An unhappy marriage/ Communists must choose GEAR or the workers/ COSATU must be independent

Nationalisation is the fundamental policy of the ANC”
– Nelson Mandela, 1990.
“Privatisation is the fundamental policy of the ANC”
– Nelson Mandela, 1994.

At the heart of current problems within the Tripartite Alliance (ANC, SA Communist Party, COSATU) is a central fault line- GEAR. There is a conflict between two basic agendas- the GEAR programme of privatisation, retrenchment, and cuts in government spending, and the demands of the Black working class for redistribution and empowerment. The two agendas are mutually incompatible. That is, the two agendas cannot be reconciled. This is the basic factor undermining the Alliance, splitting it into two camps: ANC, which supports GEAR, and SACP/COSATU, which do not.


Leaders in both sides have tried to cover up the divisions. The ANC’s basic approach has been to try and silence criticism of GEAR. This is why Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela have lectured both the SACP congress and the COSATU central committee mini-conference that the ANC will not retreat on GEAR. The ANC approach is this: to save the failing marriage by asserting the authority of the ANC as head of the household. The ANC is not looking for a democratic family, instead, it is telling its partners to toe the line and know their place. At the SACP congress, Mbeki went so far as to claim opponents of GEAR remind him of White right-wingers. When Mandela spoke, delegates were instructed, like little children, to stop singing Asifune GEAR. The ANC is skilfully manipulating workers loyalty to Congress to silence workers voices and to impose anti-worker policies.


The recent Alliance discussion document that hints at a review of GEAR does not change the situation. ANC blames the failure of GEAR to create jobs and growth on international factors (the world economy is in depression), and on slow implementation. It does not see any basic problem in GEAR itself. Therefore it is certain that ANC will NOT retreat on GEAR. Could the document be an attempt to create a mirage of consultation so near the elections?


SACP members must now choose- either the alliance with the ANC (and GEAR), or the fight for socialism and workers power.

COSATU members must choose- to turn the organisation into an independent fighting movement of the working class, or to be reduced to a “silent partner” which cannot challenge anti-worker policies like privatisation, and which tries to solve all problems by “discussions in the alliance”.

Workers must begin to break from Congress.




The SA Communist Party originally entered into alliance with the ANC because it believed the ANC was the main force for progressive change in South Africa.

This position can not be justified after the events of the 1998 SACP conference.

At this conference the SACP was told in the clearest possible terms that the ANC was NOT going to get rid of the anti-worker GEAR policy.

If the SACP stands for the workers struggle, and for socialism, then it must realise the Alliance with the ANC no longer serves a progressive purpose. A vote for ANC in the next elections is a vote for GEAR.