Parliament must pay more attention to defence: SACP

South African Communist Party (SACP) deputy secretary general Jeremy Cronin says the country’s fourth Parliament, which will be elected in the next few months, should pay more attention to matters defence.
Cronin, who also chairs the National Assembly`s Portfolio Committee on Transport, told defenceWeb Parliamentary oversight of the executive largely has been weak.
The SACP leader says he wants a stronger Parliament, more oversight and more debate on important issues, including defence. Recently introduced legislation that for the first time allows MPs to amend money bills will help in this he says.
He was commenting on a SACP position paper published last year that proposed a “serious strategic evaluation” of the country`s defence capabilities and needs, along with an assessment of the military`s state of health.
The paper, titled “The SACP and State Power: The Alliance post-Polokwane – ready to govern?” notes that “Marxism has classically regarded the armed forces as central to the question of state power.”
Position paper
The paper, published in the SACP Central Committee`s information bulletin Bua Komanisi prior to the party`s policy conference in late September, added that in “the light of this, it is embarrassing to admit how little strategic attention since 1994 the SACP (and, indeed, the [SACP-African National Congress-Congress of SA Trade Unions] Alliance in general) has paid to the question of the armed forces in our country.
“Our 12th National Congress resolutions and programme have a few passing and minor references to this topic. The ANC`s 52nd National Conference resolutions provide no strategic thinking on why we need an SANDF [SA National Defence Force], on what kind of SANDF we have and/or need (in terms of size, the profile of personnel, weaponry, deployment, democratic culture and doctrine), on what strategic considerations (including “threat analyses”) might ground such views; and, above all, on what we have learned over the past 14 years.
“The ANC`s Polokwane resolutions` only significant reference to our armed forces is by way of
an important (from a human point of view) but entirely welfarist resolution on the plight of military veterans. That is, we are dealing with one symptom of a major systemic challenge, without engaging comprehensively with the substantive issue itself.
“In the broader public debate, we have allowed the ‘arms deal` debacle to become the centrepiece, while abandoning serious strategic and technical military analysis to think-tanks dominated by former apartheid-era military intelligence operatives and officers. ([This] is not to say that everything the latter write is worthless, on the contrary. But it surely needs strong ideological filtering at the very least). It is unclear what strategic policy input our parliamentary committees and study groups in this area have made over the last 14 years, and the same applies to the NEC`s relevant subcommittee.
“Meanwhile, many reports suggest that the technical and skills situation in much of the SANDF is unravelling, that morale is low, and that the R50bn first phase of arms procurement has resulted in the purchase of equipment that is often irrelevant to current challenges and deployments, or that we are unable to maintain operationally. The Chinese arms shipment destined for Zimbabwe exposed gaps between our military and our political policies and relevant state apparatuses, and, according to at least some reports, our country did not even have the capacity to continuously monitor the location of the Chinese vessel as it sailed around our coast. (This may, or may not, be true).
“In many ways what has transpired on the military front in regard to the SANDF is a microcosm of the overall impact of the 1996 class project on the new South African state. Many of the senior ANC/MK deployees into the SANDF appear to have willingly allowed themselves to be compradorised by the international arms companies working with and through former SADF senior commanders. Many of these ‘deployees` have left the SANDF and set themselves up in a variety of defence-related companies and consultancies, with their ‘deployment` having served the personal purpose of primary accumulation. According to reports much of the remaining black senior command level in the SANDF is content with a ceremonial role and endless overseas conferences, playing little active role in the management and strategic direction of the SANDF. Effective operational command is said to be largely in the hands of a second layer senior command dominated by white officers from the previous era,  while the mass of black junior officers and NCOs feel marginalized, abandoned by their erstwhile MK seniors, and disgruntled.
“Many middle-ranking personnel (from both the former statutory and non-statutory forces, as well as from the police service) have set themselves up in private security companies operating nationally, continentally (often protecting South African mining enclave interests in various African countries), and internationally (notably working with US-occupation forces in Iraq). All of this has further contributed to the privatisation and hollowing-out of the state – including the potentially very dangerous proliferation of armed private companies,” the document`s writers argue.
An agenda
“Have we been too complacent about these developments? Have we seen (along with monopoly capital in South Africa) the compradorism, the primitive accumulation, the multiplication of private security companies, and the significant numbers of former apartheid trained forces working in places like Iraq as “regrettable” but at least a helpful “escape valve” to rid us of the unpredictable threat of too many highly trained and disgruntled military personnel sitting around in barracks? As tempting (and as partially valid) as this might be, it is a very short-sighted perspective that plays directly into the hands of an agenda of weakening, enclaving and compradorising the new democratic state.
“While the SANDF situation might not be as dire as some reports suggest, it would be hard to deny that as the SACP and as the wider ANC-led alliance we have been relatively careless about the armed forces situation in our country. If we are serious about advancing, deepening and defending the NDR [national democratic revolution], and if, as the SACP, we are serious about our [medium term] vision, then we can no longer afford this carelessness.
“So what is to be done?
a. Together with our allies we must ensure a serious strategic evaluation of our defence capabilities and needs, and we need to assess the state of health of the SANDF and its various components. In other words, no less than any other sector, the defence sector must come under political strategic evaluation, coordination and control. Like any other sector, defence no doubt has its own technical and professional requirements, and there are also national security considerations requiring confidentiality – but none of this can be an excuse to evade serious political (and indeed public) scrutiny and debate.
“b. Which also means that, as we take forward the reconfiguration of the state at a high level, it is imperative that the defence sector is coordinated within an overall strategic developmental plan, and does not exist in a strategic stand-alone enclave.
“c. More specifically, the role of the SANDF in regard to a wide range of national priorities needs to be much more carefully thought-through, analysed and integrated with other initiatives, including in regard to:
i. Job creation and skills development;
ii. The NDR in Africa – what is our strategic understanding of peace-keeping missions?
iii. The protection of our economic assets, including marine resources.
iv. Safe-guarding our medium- and longer-term national energy security.
Broader security issues
Turning to the criminal justice system, the position paper argues at if “the SANDF has been relatively run-down, compradorised, privatised, and if there are serious challenges in regard to discipline and morale, then these problems are, unfortunately, even greater in some parts of the criminal justice system, and especially in the SAPS.
“Much of our criminal justice system is failing the people of South Africa, and particularly the working class and the poor. The recent revelation that some 700 000 criminal dockets were turned away by the courts in one year is just one shocking indicator of the state`s inability to protect the lives and property of its citizens.
“A comprehensive review of the many challenges confronting this sector is beyond the scope of this discussion paper, but the radical transformation of the criminal justice system must be a central priority of any incoming government in 2009. The Polokwane resolution on the dissolution of the Scorpions has helped to open up one small corner of the challenge for democratic debate and evaluation. It is critical that we broaden the process to consider the entire criminal justice system.
“In carrying forward such a transformation a number of key principles need to be observed:
a. The SACP (like the ANC and COSATU) has consistently argued that we stand for the rule of law and that we unambiguously support our Constitution (indeed, all the core values of the Constitution and Bill of Rights have emerged directly and organically from our struggle). Of course, there is still a class “war of position” over the meaning and interpretation of the Constitution. It is a “war” that progressive forces in SA have, so far,
generally succeeded in hegemonising, sometimes in the face of opposition from 1996 class project forces within our own movement – see, for instance, Constitutional Court and/or High Court rulings on HIV/AIDS treatment, the right to housing, water metres, etc.;
“b. For the SACP this commitment to a progressive rule of law and to our democratic
Constitution is not only a matter of principle. Almost invariably, particularly in developing
countries, where there is the suspension of the rule of law (and whatever the initial reasons advanced for its suspension – often “anti-imperialist” demagogy), communist parties, trade unions, and other progressive forces soon become the major victims of crack-downs and persecution (from Indira Gandhi`s states of emergency to Mugabe`s Zimbabwe, Mswati`s Swaziland through to the even more horrific cases of brutal communist suppression in Sudan, Indonesia, Iraq, Chile, etc.)
“c. The struggle to build a coherent, working-class biased, developmental state involves a struggle against the grave dangers of factionalising the state apparatus, and particularly sensitive areas of the state apparatus like courts, prosecutorial authorities, SAPS investigators, and the intelligence services. Unfortunately there have been worrying developments over the last several years in this regard. The SACP needs to be in the forefront of fighting against such tendencies. We need to fight for the integrity, the professionalism and the independence of the Criminal Justice System and its component parts.
“d. However, integrity, professionalism and independence must not be understood to mean that the Criminal Justice System and its component parts (e.g. courts, or intelligence services) are above criticism, or should be aloof from and beyond public scrutiny. On the contrary, the best defence of the rule of law and of the Constitution is an active, vigilant, informed citizenry – and particularly an organised working class. (The unfolding Venezuelan reality is a prime contemporary example of just this.)
“e. Which is also to say that the transformation of the Criminal Justice System must, in part, be led from the ground up. This is why the SACP has supported the ANC`s call for the formation of street committees to help communities to build cohesion, and to protect and to defend themselves against criminal depredation while working closely with community policing forums, neighbourhood watches …AND with the police.
“f. This last point is important. Among some (still) relatively isolated groupings (groupings that might be quite properly characterised as “ultra-left” [or “social movements`]), a central objective is to “prove” to workers that the present ANC state is “inherently bourgeois and reactionary”. While often taking up legitimate popular grievances, these forces seek to provoke the police and other state authorities into repressive measures in order to “prove” their point – i.e. that “the present state cannot be transformed, it must be overthrown”. (Whatever the provocation from these quarters, this does not of course justify unacceptable police actions that we have sometimes seen). This kind of sterile politics of heightened  confrontationalism with ordinary police-men and women who are, after all, also workers, is potentially dangerous and easily plays into the hands of seriously reactionary forces.
“g. In other words, our strategy in building street committees and other organs of localised popular power is NOT a dual power strategy. It is not a strategy of building an alternative power with a view, sooner or later, to displacing the present democratic state. It is not a strategy whose objective is a sudden “war of manoeuvre” “when the time is ripe”. It is a “war of position” strategy – i.e. a strategy to progressively transform society and the state, a strategy of building working class hegemony in all sites of power.”