Solidarity with South African miners and strikers!

To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
September 25, 2012
[Invitation to discussion group meeting]

Join us this Sunday . . . to discuss the massacre of strikers at Marikana, South Africa, the resulting strive wave, and the nature of the post-apartheid government. (Text of the talk.)

34 striking platinum miners were shot down by the police on August 16 at Marikana, South Africa. After this horrible crime, the government continued to send in police to suppress the workers' struggle at Marikana while the mining company, Lonmin PLC, threatened to fire the strikers if they didn't return to work immediately. And then threatened them again when they refused to return. And then set yet another deadline for them to return.

But the striking miners, fed up with continuing poverty and ill-treatment, were not intimidated. With true heroism, defying threats and bullets, they persisted in striking, and this month won a 22% pay increase. This was not the doubling of wages they had demanded, but it was enough to electrify workers throughout South Africa. A strike wave has broken out throughout the mining industry, while the police are still being used in a frenzied attempt in to suppress the workers. This continues until the present. Among the strikes are those at Anglo American Platinum mines near Rustenberg. Also, on September 21, workers at Beatrix, in the South African province of Free State, went on strike against Gold Fields, the second largest gold mining firm in South Africa, while the strike against the West section of its KDC gold mines in the West Rand municipality continued. That's 25,000 strikers at Gold Fields alone. And on September 22, over 20,000 freight workers went on strike in the transport industry, showing that it's not just miners who are upset with the present conditions in South Africa.

These events are shaking up South Africa. Marikana was the worst massacre since the fall of apartheid two decades ago. There were many in South Africa who said it reminded them of the Sharpeville massacre  of 1960 when the white racist government of those days shot down at least 69 people and wounded many more  in an attempt to suppress protests against the racist passbook laws. Indeed, reminiscent of the bad old days, the ANC of today has even brushed off apartheid-era  laws to outrageously charge the striking miners at Marikana with having murdered themselves, although mass pressure has forced the prosecutors to back down. It's one thing that such atrocities occurred under apartheid: one would expect a diehard racist regime to do such evil things. But today, in 2012, there is no apartheid in South Africa. There are no pass book laws. And the ruling party is the African National Congress. And yet these atrocities take place.

Apartheid has fallen. But this hasn't brought universal prosperity. Some leaders of the ANC and of the ANC-affiliated COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions)  have joined the white bourgeoisie and become millionaires. But the mass of South African workers still live in poverty, and their struggle faces diehard opposition from the ANC leadership. It is also opposed by the ANC-affiliated National Union of Miners, which workers have been abandoning in large numbers in favor of a rival union.

These events show that the South Africans workers need to develop new organizations of class struggle in order to defend themselves. Just as in the US workers are held back by the Democratic Party and the pro-capitalist trade union leaders, so in South Africa, the leaders of the ANC and COSATU have sought to keep the masses quiet while the bourgeoisie accumulated more and more money.

How has this situation come to be? The ANC did carry out a struggle against apartheid, but in the end the ANC leaders abandoned the promises of the famous ANC Freedom Charter and came to power through a deal with the apartheid-era capitalists. This deal allowed the end of apartheid, but it also let the racist apartheid ruling class keep all its economic positions, and it turned the ANC leaders into diehard followers of market- fundamentalist policies.

This shows that it matters whether the democratic struggle is carried out in a revolutionary way or whether the mass struggle is simply used as a bargain chip with the ruling reactionaries. This shows also that the democratic struggle is but one step, albeit a vitally important one,  in the struggle for liberation. The South African masses are bound to rise again to shake off their economic oppression, and when they do so, they may well set Africa aflame.

It also shows that the disagreements in the left aren't just squabbles but are over real issues.  The South African Communist Party has long been an ally of the ANC leadership. The SACP rank-and-file fought with determination against apartheid, but the SACP leadership supported the rotten plan of a deal with the apartheid bourgeoisie, and the rotten international policies promoted by the leadership of the Soviet Union. And today, this has led to the SACP General Secretary bitterly condemning the  striking miners in a statement of September 17  to COSATU's 11th National Congress. Real communism means support for the class struggle and for working class militants; revisionist "communism", the false communism that existed in the oppressive state-capitalist regimes and which was supported by the SACP, means becoming an oppressor of the working class.

Join us this Sunday to discuss the historic strike wave in South Africa and the situation
that has led to the ANC leadership carrying out the Marikana massacre


To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
October 19, 2012
[Text of the talk on South Africa]

The talk on the South African strike wave

(From the presentation at the DWVDG meeting of September 30, 2012, with some corrections and additions)

The meeting today is on the South African strike wave and how a post-apartheid government ended up in the situation of shooting down 34 workers at Marikana. I'll deal with the strike wave itself, how things reached this situation, the role in this played by the revisionist South African Communist Party, and how we get out of this situation.

About the strike wave

A month and a half ago, on August 16, people around the world were shocked to learn that in South Africa, supposedly a free country after the fall of apartheid, 34 platinum miners striking against the Lonmin company were shot down in cold blood at Marikana. This meeting, and the information about Marikana we had in the Detroit Workers' Voice leaflet we circulated at Labor Day, and in our journal, Communist Voice, are part of international solidarity with the militant workers of South Africa.

Now the original story from the South African government was that armed miners had charged the police. But the facts that have trickled out afterward are that this massacre took place when the strikers and families were gathered at an out-of-the-way gathering point. The police blocked off one part of the location, channeling strikers in a direction that led them towards another police line. And then the police opened fire; they continued shooting at fleeing miners, so many were shot in the back; and they even hunted down individual miners to kill.

The government acted quickly -- indicting not the police, but the strikers! It used two vicious laws from the apartheid era, the Dangerous Weapons Act of 1968 and the Regulations of Gathering Act of 1993, and charged the miners with murdering themselves. Only mass outrage forced the government to drop these outrageous charges, but it has continued to seek to forcibly repress the strike.

Meanwhile the mining company, Lonmin, threatened to fire all the strikers if they didn't return to work, and the ANC-affiliated union, the National Union of Mineworkers, came to its own agreement with the company on September 5. But despite all this, the miners persisted in the strike, and won a major victory with their own settlement with Lonmin's on September 18. According to various accounts, the miners had been demanding wages of 12,500 South African Rands a month. They received a pay rise of between 11% and 22%, along with a one-time settlement bonus of 2,000 Rands ($240). Rock-drill operators, the lowest-paid section of the miners, received the biggest percentage increase and ended up with a bit more than 11,000 R a month. These figures contradict what we had read earlier about the miners' demands, where it was said that the poorest-paid miners, who were at the heart of the strike, received 4,000 R a month, and 12,500 R would be triple their pay. Now it is said they will have 11,000 R as a 22% increase. I haven't been able to sort out this inconsistency in figures. But what is certain, is that the settlement at Lonmin's inspired workers throughout South Africa. (Later consultation with a South African activist provided some clarification -- the 4,000 R figure was for the basic pay at the bottom end of the wage scale after various deductions from the gross pay and excluding such things as the housing allowance, while the 11,000 R figure was the total expense to the company.)

The horrible conditions in the mines in South Africa have resulted in discontent and scattered strikes over the last year or more. Now a strike wave has broken out. In the notice I sent out for this meeting, I listed strikes at more platinum mines, this time owned by Anglo American, as well as 25,000 miners going out against the Gold Fields company. A few days ago, 35,000 miners struck AngloGold Ashanti, the world's third largest gold producer, which yesterday announced that the strikes had forced it to close down operations throughout South Africa. Strikes have also broken out in transport, at Rebone furniture at Mogwase, and elsewhere, at places where the pay may be 1,200 R a month.

This has resulted in panic among South African capitalists, who fear being forced to pay reasonable wages. It has resulted in panic in the South African government, with the politicians from the ruling African National Congress threatening a big stick against strikers. And it has sent the leadership of ANC-affiliated unions, like the National Union of Miners, into hysteria. They are bitterly denouncing the various strikers and actions, and in fact the strikes have taken place against their will. Workers have been streaming out of the NUM -- some into AMCU, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, and others simply into strike actions. The settlement at Marikana went over the head of the NUM; its agreement with Lonmin's was simply cast aside. The Economist wrote that "The deal at Lonmin was brokered by a committee set up by miners, along with the South African Council of Churches and other civic leaders, not by the government or the unions." ("South Africa's trade unions: could the deal be contagious?", September 19, The Economist online.)

The strike wave has thus been a crisis not only for the capitalists, but for the official South African institutions that claim the mantle of the struggle against apartheid. The post-apartheid government is in crisis; the ANC is in crisis, with in-fighting heating up between the faction led by President Zuma and that led by the expelled youth leader Julius Malema; and the ANC-affiliated COSATU union federation is in crisis.

Moreover, this strike wave may help bring to the world knowledge of the shocking poverty among the working masses of South Africa. It is 18 years since the overthrow of apartheid, and still large masses of black workers live in shacks; indeed, in the eThekwini municipality, which includes the major city of Durban, a third of the population lives in shacks. They have access only to poor education for their children, are lucky if they get clean water, and are treated like dirt. As for mine workers, 30% or more of them are subcontracted workers rather than regular workers, receive much less pay than regular miners doing the same job, and only the AMCU will organize them. Many regular miners are migrant workers, who are forced to be apart from their families for the length of year-long contracts; they don't live in barracks like in apartheid-days, but instead in miserable shacks without running water, electricity, or proper sanitation.

Of course there have been other changes since the end of apartheid. The hated pass books are gone, and legal segregation has been abolished. More black workers are in skilled positions, and there is also a larger black professional class. But inequality has grown tremendously. The leaders of the ANC and COSATU are rich, sometimes fabulously so. Times have changed, but economic destitution on the bottom has remained, and the gap between rich and poor has only become larger. Today, the gap between the lifespan of blacks and whites in South Africa is about 22 years, 49 for blacks, 71 for whites. But among whites, too, there is a growing divide between rich and poor.

How did things get into this situation?

How did this come about? The struggle against apartheid was one of the major struggles for freedom around the world. So long as apartheid existed, it meant the utter denial of the humanity of the black, so-called colored, and Asian masses. Apartheid was a blight not just on South Africa, but on Africa and the world as a whole. So why has racial apartheid been followed by such horrible conditions that it is being called economic apartheid?

Well, the dominant force in the struggle against apartheid was the African National Congress. It and its allies raised their flag of liberation in the famous Freedom Charter of 1955. It promised that South Africa belonged to all its people, black or white, and it demanded, not just the end of the various segregationist laws, but a fundamental change in the economic system. All the people were to share the wealth of South Africa. The land was to belong to those who worked it. The mineral wealth of South Africa was to belong to everyone, and the mining companies and other monopolies were to be nationalized. There was to be universal education, health care, and other essential rights.

But as apartheid tottered in its final years, the ANC leadership held a series of meetings with the leaders of the apartheid government and the Afrikaner National Party. A deal was worked out. This is not a conspiracy theory. These meetings were reported at the time in the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, and they are discussed today in the Wikipedia or in any serious account of the fall of apartheid. The deal was that the Afrikaner leadership would agree to allow elections and the expected formation of an ANC government, in exchange for various concessions including the ANC giving up on radical economic reforms. The white bourgeoisie was to maintain its economic positions, while, in effect, the promises of the Freedom Charter were to be cast aside.

So when the ANC government took power, it didn't carry out land to the tiller; it didn't nationalize the mines or other monopolies; and it adopted a strategy based on letting some blacks rise up into the bourgeoisie. This includes ANC leaders, some of whom have become multimillionaires with vast fortunes, including Cyril Ramaphosa, a major leader, at various times, of the ANC, of the COSATU union federation, and of the NUM, who has since founded an investment company which is a shareholder in the Lonmin mining company.

The basic strategy of the ANC government has been what is called Black Economic Empowerment. The idea is that the economy shouldn't be restructured, but instead black people should be able to climb into various positions in an old-style economy. In part, it's affirmative action. Now, affirmative action has been an important reform fought for in the US and elsewhere, and it has played a positive role here with regard to black workers, Latino workers, women workers, and others. But in the US, we didn't have the possibility of actually taking over the economy at the time. If one can take over industry and restructure it, one can, as part of this, radically eliminate segregation and racism. In South Africa, there was a possibility of major economic changes, and the ANC gave it up in return for BEE.

The ANC itself laments every so often that the results of BEE have been pitiful, and wrings its hands over what went wrong. President Zuma himself has shed crocodile tears over its failings, and admitted that BEE has resulted mainly in "a few individuals benefiting a lot," while leaving the leadership of most big companies in white hands and giving few gains to the black masses. (The Economist, March 31, 2010)

The Economist, the smug voice of neo-liberal orthodoxy and champion of capitalist interests, itself comments that: "The idea of legislating for black economic empowerment was originally promoted by big white businessmen to ward off post-apartheid calls for nationalisation. If a few well-connected black people were given chunks of the action, big business would, they hoped, be left alone. In that sense, BEE has been a roaring success, as whites still own the bulk of the country's wealth. Although renewed calls for the nationalisation of the mines and banks have recently been heard within ANC ranks, Mr Zuma, urged on by the new black capitalists, has repeatedly said that this is not on the government's agenda."

Along with BEE, the ANC government has carried out an increasingly market -fundamentalist economic policy. It has worked closely with the world bourgeoisie, and the IMF, and the World Bank.  Privatization, market fundamentalism, and close integration with world capitalist institutions were set forward in 1996 in the long-range economic blueprint called the GEAR program ("Growth, Employment and Redistribution"). And just as elsewhere in the world, the result has been to foster economic inequality. It has given profits to the capitalists, and fostered the growth of a black bourgeoisie, but it has left the masses in the dirt.

Of course, the ANC governments have carried out some social programs. But the overall orientation of their policies goes against the masses receiving much benefit from them. For example, the ANC government has fostered the building of a large number of modest houses for the poverty-stricken. But the number has been entirely inadequate, and forests of new shacks have proliferated around major cities and industrial areas. And, at the same time, the ANC government has fostered the tearing down of many houses of the poor in the name of "beautification", slum elimination, or for this or that economic project. For example, a couple of years ago, the ANC government decided to build the Moses Mabhida soccer stadium in Durban for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. There was no need to do this, as there was an already an existing stadium, Kings Park, that could simply have been upgraded. The new stadium was part of the general frenzy of the bourgeoisie to make profits from big sports projects--and it was, as is frequently the case with such projects, a financial disaster. But along with this project came the program to beautify Durban by tearing down the homes of working people. In Durban and elsewhere, the ANC government has fostered the so-called "Red Ants", red-uniformed poor people hired to tear down the homes of other poor people, with especial viciousness against immigrant blacks from outside South Africa.

The problem of water and electricity for the masses still isn't solved, and the neo-liberal orientation towards the privatization of water and electricity is one of the main reasons. The South African government has also worked with the infamous World Bank to set up one of the largest coal-burning plants in the world, the Medupi Power Station, near the coal mining town of Lephalale in the province of Limpopo. It claims that this is an environmentally-sound step because the Medupi plant will supposedly generate less greenhouse gases than previous coal plants, and this method of destroying the environment in the name of saving it is typical of how the South African government works on other issues. And moreover, this electrical plant won't even solve the electrical crisis for the masses, since it is designed mostly for the needs of mining, and mining and other power-hungry capitalist industries are charged low energy prices while the black masses pay much high charges.

The point here is not that South Africa could have jumped to socialism if only the ANC hadn't made a poor choice. The point is that the leadership of the ANC abandoned the idea of radical reforms, and took up a market-fundamentalist program, hand-in-hand with the world bourgeoisie. It made its deal with the South African bourgeoisie because for years it had followed a policy of seeking rapprochement with it.

So what we see is that a great democratic victory, which the fall of apartheid definitely was, has resulted in an intensified class struggle. This is the general role which democratic struggles usually play. Nevertheless, it wasn't inevitable that the economic fruits for the working masses of the fall of apartheid would be so small. The servile policy toward the world bourgeoisie by the ANC leadership, and the rapidity with which the ANC leaders have shared the fruits of bourgeois enrichment, are a real betrayal of the interests of the South African working people.

The role of the South African Communist Party

I have been talking about the role of the ANC in bringing South Africa to the current crisis. But one can't ignore the role of the South African Communist Party, which has been closely tied to the ANC for decades and has an interlocked leadership with the ANC.  It's no accident that the Moses Mabhida soccer stadium in Durban I mentioned earlier is named after a former General Secretary of the SACP.

The South African Communist Party, along with the ANC, suffered in the struggle against apartheid. It is not just Nelson Mandela, but many other ANC members who were imprisoned for long periods or assassinated, and the SACP also suffered in the same way. In criticizing the policies of the ANC and SACP, it is not my intention to minimize the sacrifices their members and leaders made in the struggle against apartheid. But with regard to the leadership of these groups, it must be kept in mind that those who take it upon themselves to lead the masses are also responsible for where they lead them.

The South African Communist Party had a turbulent early history, but unfortunately was eventually corrupted by the influence of Soviet revisionism, which it followed slavishly for decades. So it fought for and backed the policy of seeking rapprochement with the Western bourgeoisie. And since apartheid fell, the SACP has gone hand-in-hand with the policy of the ANC governments. For example, the renowned Joe Slovo was General-Secretary of the SACP at the time the ANC made its deal with the Afrikaner bourgeoisie. He was not just the leader of the SACP, but a leading member of the ANC, and his supporters boast of his role in obtaining that deal. And he became minister of housing in the first ANC government. The SACP has maintained its close connection with the ANC until this day. The political foundation of the ANC government is the so-called tripartite alliance between the ANC, the SACP, and COSATU.

So it may not be surprising that the SACP has bitterly denounced the strikers at Marikana. In a statement a week and a half ago to COSATU's 11th National Congress, Blade Nzimande, the present head of the SACP and, coincidentally, government Minister for Higher Education and Training, vehemently supports the government crackdown on the strikers, demands the singling out and punishment of the "ring-leaders" of the "misled strikers", and calls for purging the ANC of anyone sympathetic to the strikers or to the expelled former president of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema. It's a disgusting performance, and it mimics the way dictatorial heads of state-capitalist regimes denounce dissidents as thugs and CIA agents and justify massacring protesters. The SACP's service to the ANC is that it carries out such savagery in "communist" or "socialist" guise.

A true communist party would stand with the masses, not with their oppressors. Its activists would be found among the "ring-leaders" who are being persecuted, and not among the government ministers who are demanding more persecution. The party would have a tripartite alliance with other organizations of the workers and oppressed minorities, not with the multimillionaire leaders of the market-fundamentalist government and sold-out, discredited trade unions.

The sad example of the SACP is one reason why the Detroit Workers' Voice stands for a fight against the revisionist parody of communism, that drags the name of socialism and communism through the mud. The SACP isn't an isolated example. In the current issue of the Communist Voice, we carry a denunciation by Ukrainian Marxists of the local Ukrainian Stalinists who justify a bloody massacre of strikers that took place in Kazakhstan last year.

How to get out of this situation

Well, these are some of the problems that have led to the current situation. Now, how could the South African masses get out of this situation?

There clearly needs to be radical reform of the economy. There was a chance for radical changes when apartheid fell, and with the coming economic and environmental crises there will again be a chance for such change. What is needed is a major restructuring of the economy, the mobilization of the masses into these changes, thus dealing with unemployment and reconstruction simultaneously, and the replacement of market fundamentalism with major steps of economic planning.  But in order to make such changes in the economy, there needs to be a force that will fight for them against both the old and new bourgeoisie. There needs to be a force that will fight the bourgeoisie and the tripartite alliance of the ANC, the SACP, and the COSATU leadership.

This gives additional significance to the current strike wave. It shows that anger among the mass of workers is building up at the present situation, and the ANC and COSATU aren't able to hold it in check. If 100,000 workers are involved in the strike wave today, it is a sign of discontent among millions of the workers and poor of South Africa.

It is an encouraging development that the workers are refusing to be shackled by the COSATU leadership. At Lonmin's and in mining, workers are abandoning NUM and either joining AMCU, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, or fighting independently of any union. AMCU is viciously denounced by the NUM and COSATU leaders, but is reported by more reliable sources to originate from NUM shop stewards who were expelled for opposing bad settlements of previous strikes. It apparently presents itself as a non-political union, which perhaps is what one might expect in a country where left politics appears to be monopolized by an oppressive government and its backers, and it is also reported to be organizing not just regular workers, but subcontracted workers as well. We don't know enough about the AMCU to have a definite overall assessment of it, but clearly its formation and growth shows a desire for new organization.

The exodus from existing unions and the rise of new attempts at organization is a sign of the possibility of major changes in the workers' movement. There are other currents of protest in South Africa as well. There has been a lot of struggle among the poor against losing their electricity or water rights or having their homes removed. In the region around Durban, this has given rise to the formation in 2005 of an organization of shack-dwellers called Abahlali baseMjondolo. Much will depend on the outcome of this impetus toward new organization.

There is also crisis within the ANC. Just as the rank-and-file was not happy with the abandonment of various of the promises of the Freedom Charter back in the early 1990s, so today there is dissension in the ANC. Meanwhile Julius Malema, one-time president of the ANC Youth League, was removed from his position and expelled from the ANC. He called for nationalizing the mines last year, and has spoken in support of the Lonmin strikers this year, and taken other dissident stands in the ANC. But just as South African President Zuma posed as more representative of the masses than the former president Mbeki, and nothing serious changed with Zuma coming to power, so it's doubtful that Malema represents anything much different from the rest of the ANC leadership. But his popularity reflects substantial discontent.

The South African left faces a crisis of orientation, just as the left does here and around the world. It needs to develop, not just another faction in the ANC, but a political movement with a fundamentally better orientation. The strike wave and other struggles among the masses show that a mass base for the development of an independent workers' movement is growing, a movement based on carrying forward the class struggle. This would be a major step forward for South Africa, and transform post-apartheid politics. We are still a long ways from this happening, but the strike wave is an encouraging development, and perhaps the beginning of a South African awakening.

South Africa is the most economically-developed country in black Africa. What happens in South Africa will have influence far beyond its borders. It's important to learn from what is happening in South Africa and to stand in solidarity with the militant South African strikers. <>


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