June 20, 2018


Bheki Charles Stofile


theweekly-coIn a wide-ranging interview The Weekly’s Ramosidi Matekane this week spoke to South African Communist Party boss in the Free State Bheki Charles Stofile about a number of topical issues ranging from struggling middle class families to industrial pollution to the #FeesMustFall campaign. Matekane also asked Stofile about the state of the party in the province and its programmes in the months ahead. Excerpts:

What is the state of the SACP in the Free State? Is the party growing in the province or how is it doing?
We have been present in this province since before 1994 and we are still here. The party’s official membership is growing gradually and now stands at 13 000 members across the province, and this number does not include the members of the Young Communist League (YCL).

What is the party’s programme in the province?
There is no organisation that can exist without a programme; we are now at the phase of re-establishing the party (in the Free State). Key among issues that we are passionate about is the Know Your Neighbour Campaign, which seeks to make sure people are aware of each other’s socio-economic conditions.

Let’s talk about the national democratic revolution, what is the SACP’s view on the state of the revolution?
What I can tell you is that since the dawn of democracy – and note I am not saying freedom — because we are not yet free, the historically excluded majority climbed the middle class ladder. 1994 led to the founding of this mass middle class strata which has since been trapped in a cycle of debt and are losing properties including their cars and homes.

We want to fight for this strata which bought houses for R500 000 and must repay triple that money over the 20-year bond repayment period. We have to ask, who benefits under such circumstances? And the answer is the painful truth that it is the banks that which continue to rip our people off.

But how does the party get involved in the personal choices of individuals to get themselves into debt, fully aware of the huge repayment costs involved?
A number of factors can be attributed to this failure to pay by our people.

There was this economic recession that hit the whole globe of late, and there has been slow growth of South Africa’s economy and the shedding of jobs on a large scale in a number of sectors; these factors have had a direct bearing on the ability of our people to pay. And all we are saying is that someone cannot pay a bond for a house for five years and then when they miss three instalments they get evicted — that cannot be right.

So in short you are saying banks have been unjustly enriching themselves by ripping off the black middle class?
You must appreciate that historically black people in this country were not even allowed to bank. So it is important to get them to participate in the matters of the country driven by the interest of the country. They (banks) cannot just continue ripping our people off.

How bad are the home repossessions that you talking about? Do the figures support you claim that black middles class families are losing homes to banks?
The situation is very bad and heart breaking. Remember that the Free State is leading the pack with evictions as it stands at 70 percent, the situation is made worse by those evictions that take place in farms, where farmworkers get chased out of farms which they had worked for periods in excess of 30 years.

So how is the SACP going to rectify matters, seeing these issues you are raising do require more than just yourselves alone to deal with?
That is the same reason we are meeting with Nehawu today as our fellow comrades and social partners, we aim to strategise on how to advance the struggles against these evictions and how to collaborate in fighting a number of social ills.

I hear your programme on social ills sir, however the main bone of contention these days is the economy; how do you plan as the SACP to make sure the economy of the Free State works for the good of everyone not just a few?
You will remember that Sasol used to be owned by the state … we want the state to take it back, and this talks to the concept of nationalisation. This will help in making sure that this multi-trillion business does not benefit some people living abroad and instead benefit the local population.

Sasol has been in the lips of many political leaders of late, especially with calls that the entity should be nationalised, even Cosatu has made that call, why is this the case?
For starters it is now an open secret that Sasol pollutes the environment in Zamdela and surrounding areas. Flying over the area it is easy to see the effects of the emissions coming from the factory, the soil is now red and this has everything to do with pollution. Locals in this area are also asthmatic and Sasol is not helping the situation at all.

So, apart from Sasol and its pollution what other issues is the SACP prioritizing for action in the coming year?
It will have to be Sasol still, you must appreciate that the chemicals and all the stuff that is used at this firm are explosive in nature, and we are concerned that in case of a fire the area does not have a hospital suitable to treat burn wounds. So we are aiming at having Sasol build a suitable hospital in this area to be able to deal with such kind of emergencies should they happen.

What is the SACP’s position regarding the call by students for free university education?
You see big business like Sasol should be the ones funding free education because at the end of the day it is the same business that benefits from hiring qualified skill. I believe the students as they fight for this call, should be directing their anger at big business and not government, because government on its own has done more than enough to make education accessible to all, especially the poor majority.

But these companies will tell you that they have students that they pay tuition for and are also supporting them financially to get accommodation and textbooks, so what do you mean by saying they should fund free education?
Well, what I mean is that they should not be grandstanding by taking two or three students to university as part of the corporate social responsibility, I’m talking about business funding the programme, instead of three students getting bursaries from them, and I’m talking about them being the main financiers of the free education programme.

And once again it boils down to the question of how can this be achieved? How are you going to get business to agree to fund education?
Like I said before, we are already in talks with our social partners, government and non- governmental organisations and churches to buy into the idea and support it. Obviously we are also going to be roping in the support of our alliance partners in government to make sure that our programme has the support needed to materialise. We will hold pickets and marches at these big businesses to raise their attention to this.

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