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Forging a popular Left Front key to counteracting shifting balance of power

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People demonstrate their demand for a universal healthcare system in South Africa. The assent of the NHI into law took much longer than thirteen years, and there is still ongoing opposition litigation. This calls into question how the new Parliament will work to benefit the interests of the working classes and poor South Africans, the writer says. – Picture: Rosetta Msimango / Spotlight / Creative Commons

By Dr Alex Mashilo

The May 2024 national election results raised questions about the role of Parliament and how it will function during the seventh post-apartheid administration. Assuming no major disruptions, this administration will serve for five years, until 2029. Questions arise from the shifting balance of power, using the election results, especially the distribution of seats in Parliament, as a reference point.

While the electorate has reaffirmed the ANC as the largest political party by electoral support, for the first time since our hard-won April 1994 democratic breakthrough, no electoral party has secured 50 per cent plus one to make laws in Parliament and form a national government based on the principles of democratic majority rule.

However, let us be clear about the scenario we are more likely to face on a greater extent than before.

Democratic majority rule did not take place in a vacuum, where there is no resistance. For instance, unlike in the United States, where a president can start their term of office on the first day after inauguration by signing a whole series of executive orders based on their election manifesto or lobbying by powerful forces – more often than not the bourgeoisie who control massive amounts of capital – in our situation, as we have seen over the past 30 years, there are extensive limitations to democratic majority rule.

The process of democratic majority rule in our country takes meaningful and extensive consultation, including the views of the electoral minority, into account, both procedurally and substantively.

The High Court of South Africa in different divisions, the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court have on numerous occasions enforced this practice. The courts declared a number of legislative pieces and regulations unconstitutional and set them aside due to a lack of, or insufficient consultation.

The consultative process includes those who contested elections and either achieved a minority of seats or none at all, as well as those who did not contest elections or vote.

Those who contested elections and either achieved a minority of seats or none at all have mostly maintained their views during consultation. Others are also organised as or function through “civil society organisations”.

However, they expected the ANC, which won elections with outright majorities, to codify their views in legislation or regulations and thus shift from its own views and/or those of its allies.

This has been one of the sources of opposition litigation, with others citing lack of, or insufficient consultation as a basis for their legal challenge against legislation – which is why not all their cases, a continuation of political opposition through “lawfare”, have succeeded.

However, this contributed to loss of time and expenditure of much-needed resources. It also constrained the exercise of executive authority, which, according to the constitution, includes implementation of legislation and development and implementation of policies, including regulations.

Meanwhile, in a number of cases there was a negative impact on the delivery of public goods and services, holding back the extent to which the government could serve the people.

Take, for instance, the necessity to adopt a national health insurance (NHI) to ensure quality healthcare for all. This idea dates back to the Freedom Charter, adopted in mid-1955.

In South Africa’s democratic dispensation, the ANC-led government introduced the concept through a Green Paper in 2011. This initiative was preceded by a campaign, for years, within the ANC-led democratic movement, with alliance partners the SACP, Cosatu and the ANC itself, playing key roles.

In the early 1990s, the SACP took a lead through its hunger eradication, quality healthcare for all and housing provision campaign. Also known as the “HHH Campaign”, it was spearheaded by Chris Hani, the party’s general secretary who was assassinated on April 10, 1993, for his leadership role.

Due to opposition, the NHI introductory consultative process took thirteen years, from the introduction of the Green Paper in 2011, to culminate in its assent into law in May 2024. Considering the campaign that preceded the introduction of the Green Paper in 2011 and the research that informed the document, the assent of the NHI into law took much longer than thirteen years.

Despite the over-three-decades delay, there is still ongoing opposition litigation. This is backed by capitalist interests that profit from the commodification of healthcare.

Foreign forces have also been involved in co-ordinating opposition to the introduction of the NHI in South Africa. Other forces found their way through the budget process, insisting on fiscal consolidation, the euphemism of outright austerity.

Preserving fiscal consolidation, regardless of the quality healthcare needs of millions, is one reason for the opposition to the NHI.

There are no resources to support the transition to the NHI and implementing it will break the fiscal consolidation ceiling or anchors, they say in their opposition. Within this stratum, others argue for maintaining the inequality-based two-tiered public and private healthcare system and keeping separate its related funding pools.

Above all else, ideologically driven, they are opposed to a state-run healthcare insurance system, the principle of solidarity in healthcare resourcing and funding and, as its function, the principle of universality in quality healthcare provision.

The long delay occurred despite parliament having a decisive single-party majority to move the NHI legislation forward.

Now, consider what is likely to happen without a single-party majority. The legislative process in Parliament is likely to slow down even further. Each piece of legislation is more likely to emerge from party-political interest-based negotiations, even before considering public consultation.

Because of this, during this term, Parliament may pass fewer laws than in the past. Besides, the new laws could to a greater extent than before take the form of compromises or be compromised in terms of substance. To the extent democratic transformation and national development depend on new legislation, parliamentary authority to serve the people could be hindered.

A retardation mode characterised by a lot of headline-grabbing party-political campaigning noise and theatrics, devoid of substance, by dishonourable individuals addressed as “honourable members” do not serve the people. At best, such things are a waste of time and perhaps a symptom of what Vladimir Lenin called an “infantile disorder” in politics.

If things do not change, the people should expect more of the same.

To reach a different conclusion, we need a new set of data. At this moment, that is not available.

The working class must monitor what will happen. It must unite both as a class and a political force, including by forging a popular Left Front. It must strive to combat other forms of consciousness, such as racial, ethnic, tribal, regionalist and counter-revolutionary-based consciousness.

Intensified extra-parliamentary working-class political education and mobilisation will be essential to exert pressure on Parliament to decisively serve the people, the working class – exploited workers, the unemployed and generally the poor being the majority.

Without this, we could be facing uncertainty and possible capture of certain sections of MPs or their parties by some segments of capital to obstruct progressive and national-revolutionary legislative advances.

The working-class programme must include vigilance against and combat bribery, the buying of influence or law, and other forms of money politics, as well as other manoeuvres associated with bourgeois dictatorship.

Dr Alex Mashilo is the National Spokesperson of the SA Communist Party.