SOUTH Africa is at a "fork in the road" and looks to be shifting more down a conservative path to the right than to the left, former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils said on Sunday, wading into the debate on the trajectory of the country as its 20th year of democracy approaches.
Left-wing political parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Workers and Socialist Party are set to contest the 2014 polls, at a time when the left within the African National Congress (ANC) is arguably at its weakest.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) is in crisis, with its top brass at loggerheads over the posture of the federation in relation to its allies, the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Mr Kasrils, a member of both the ANC and the SACP, has been increasingly critical of the government, particularly over the so-called secrecy bill and the Marikana massacre. He served in the cabinet of former president Thabo Mbeki and was among the ministers who stepped down after Mr Mbeki’s recall from his post by the ANC.
Mr Kasrils was speaking at the launch of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA’s (Numsa’s) Research and Policy Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand. Numsa is a key player in the battle playing out at Cosatu, staunchly defending suspended general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi in the internal fallout over his admission of an affair with a junior employee.
Numsa is at odds with the ANC over its adoption of the National Development Plan, which the union has likened to the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) policies. Its leadership under general secretary Irvin Jim has largely stepped into Mr Vavi’s role of taking a critical stance towards the alliance partners, particularly on the ANC’s approach to the economy. Numsa supports nationalisation of the mines and monopoly industries as well as the Reserve Bank.
"The forces in our country that want to take us down the road to the right have recovered from the 1994 change," Mr Kasrils said. "A lot of our people and government and parties are part of that approach now, it’s not a conspiracy, the interests have become similar, you see, and are pushing us down the road."
The Marikana massacre marked a turning point for South Africa, he said.
Police gunned down 34 mineworkers at Lonmin’s Marikana operations in Rustenburg in August last year.
Mr Kasrils said he entered the struggle against apartheid because of the Sharpeville massacre — the 1960 protest in which 69 people were killed by apartheid police — but Marikana was "worse than Sharpeville" because it was "premeditated".
"Marikana is the turning point, we are at that fork in the road and we have got to wake up and blow our whistles and wave our red flags.
"I believe I have been an optimist all my life … but I believe that we are moving to the right, we are moving down that road."
He said it was only the working class of the country, who at this point was able to arrest this development and set the country down a more "progressive" path.