General strike sweep South Africa

(The Workers' Advocate, December 1, 1991, front page)

South African industry was paralyzed by a two-day general strike November 4-5. It was the most successful general strike in the country's history. At least three and a half million workers stayed home from their jobs. Even the racists' South African Chamber of Commerce was forced to admit that the strike was 80-100% effective in the major industrial areas of the country.

The strike shut down enterprises throughout the major cities. In addition, it also enjoyed support from miners, farm workers, and residents of small towns. Some 40,000 mine workers stayed off the job, shutting down hundreds of mines.

The strike was called by a coalition of the major trade unions and anti-apartheid political organizations. It called for scrapping the new value-added tax, a national hidden sales tax that adds 10% to the cost of necessities like food, medical care, transport, and local government services. The burden of this tax falls disproportionately on the poor and working class people, who of course are largely the black masses.

The strike also demanded that the government cease its "unilateral restructuring of the economy." The white racist government headed by President F.W. De Klerk, while talking about eventual transition to black majority political rule, is in the meantime setting up economic structures that will ensure the permanent economic dominance by the white racists.

Attempts to undermine the strike

The general strike was opposed by Inkatha, Chief Gatsha Buthelezi's conservative black political organization. Inkatha publicly opposed the strike and in some areas offered to provide bosses with scab labor. This is no surprise, since even the government has now admitted that for years it secretly funded Inkatha.

The employers and authorities also attempted to use sectarian violence as a means to undermine the strike. At the President Steyn gold mine near Welkom in the Orange Free State, on November 4th, 19 men were killed in strike-related violence. And in the following week another 57 were killed. Finally, on November 11, as the mine was closed by its owner, the Anglo American Corporation.

The violence began as friction between striking mine workers and those opposed to the strike led by management's "team leaders" (also called "boss boys" and known to the workers as izimpimpi -- informers). Management uses ethnic differences between workers to drive wedges between them, promoting "boss boys" heavily from one ethnic group, and using them as whiphands against workers from other ethnic groups.

Then, when the violence broke out, the media revived all their old stories of "black on black violence" and "tribalism" to promote that blacks are inherently violent and cannot rule themselves. This is the same sort of lie that the media have been telling about Inkatha-instigated sectarian violence for years, although in this case it wasn't Inkatha but other forces doing the dirty work. The truth is that behind most of the sectarian violence stands the hidden hand of the racist system and their instruments.

Constitutional talks begin in December

In late December, talks are to begin on a new constitution for South Africa between most of the political forces in the country. President De Klerk had promised these talks in the spring of 1990 when he decided to seek a deal with the ANC and its allies.

The huge mass upsurge of the 1980s had forced the racist ruling class to recognize that it could no longer rule in the old way, through apartheid backed by mass repression of the black majority. Instead, it was now going to try maintain as much of the political and economic privileges of the white minority as possible through a deal with the black movement. Most likely, the deal with be brokered with the ANC, but at the same time, the racist establishment set out to weaken it and the rest of the anti-apartheid opposition through encouraging Inkatha-style violence and similar dirty acts.

South Africa needs radical change to sweep away the racist backwardness. Struggle by the oppressed masses is vital to realize such change, though this does not preclude raising militant demands in constitutional talks. However, the reformist ANC is too accommodating to the establishment. Nor has a revolutionary leadership congealed among the black masses, despite widespread revolutionary and militant sentiment.

Many in the anti-racist movement had demanded a constituent assembly based on elections open to all citizens to be responsible for drawing up a new constitution. But the racist government did not want such an assembly. And the ANC, despite giving lip service to the demand, was not interested in fighting for it. Instead, constitutional talks will take place between the government, the ANC and its allies, the white liberals of the Democratic Party, Buthelezi's Inkatha, and the apartheid-appointed leaders of the so-called "black homelands." This is a convention stacked in favor of the racists. But it doesn't mean that al is settled in their favor.

The November general strike was a dramatic display of the power of the black masses. Mass struggle and a revolutionary policy is the best means to ensure that the oppressed majority makes the biggest gains out of the negotiations in the works.

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Last changed on December 12, 2013.