Black people take action:
South African racism won't die quietly

(The Workers' Advocate, July 1, 1992, front page)

Events in South Africa show that apartheid racism will not surrender quietly through polite talks and handshakes.

For one-and-a-half years, a dialogue has gone on between the racist regime and the African National Congress (ANC). This was to bring democratic rights to South Africa's oppressed black majority. The talks promised much, but have delivered little.

In the wretched townships of South Africa, the black masses are tired of seeing nothing come from these talks. They are groaning under the weight of poverty and bleeding from the violence which has its hidden origins within the racist state itself.

Largely under their pressure, Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the African National Congress launched a new campaign of mass action with a general strike on June 16. The black people stayed away from work in their millions.

But no sooner had they initiated this campaign than a brutal massacre of ANC followers took place in the township of Boipatong near Johannesburg. Though the killings were carried out by the henchmen of the sellout Zulu chieftain Buthelezi, witnesses pointed to the involvement of white security forces.

An outcry of anguish and outrage is sweeping the townships. The masses call out for struggle. The ANC leadership has had to break off the constitutional talks. And a stepped-up campaign of mass action has been declared, including another general strike on August 3.

A war of words has ensued between the De Klerk government and the ANC. Strikes and mass rallies are also taking place. Where will all this lead? On page 11, we carry details on the current impasse in South Africa.

We welcome the renewal of mass action. Life has shown many times that mass struggle is the powerful weapon of the oppressed against the racist slavedrivers. Even today, the mass campaign under ANC leadership -- limited as it is -- has succeeded in forcing the government to retreat a bit from its obstinate stands in the constitutional talks.

But the ANC leaders believe in keeping tight controls over the mass struggle. They merely want to use it as a tool to pressure the regime. This is because they want to simply reform the system, but not do away with it altogether.

South Africa stands at a crossroads today.

There is the immediate question whether the current negotiations will resume on the basis of concessions from the regime, or whether we are headed for a period of renewed clashes between the black people and the racist system.

What is more, behind the negotiations stands a bigger question. The black masses are not just looking towards voting rights and having blacks in government, but they have social demands as well. They want out of the desperate poverty to which the racist system has consigned them. The white rulers do not want to meet such demands. And the ANC leaders, in their search for a deal, are likely to abandon the fight for land rights, for jobs, for improved housing and education.

How can the black masses achieve their social and economic demands? Through their own struggle. Political rights are meaningful to the workers and poor especially if they help them organize for their own class goals. But the fight for social demands will take an even stronger struggle than today's campaigns. they would achieve the most if the black working people an develop a revolutionary challenge to the racist system.

The politics of struggle and compromise

(The Workers' Advocate, July 1, 1992, p. 11)

A new wave of mass struggle has broken out in South Africa.

The racist De Klerk government wants to hold on to as much power as possible in the face of black demands, and so the black masses have become disillusioned with the negotiations going on between the government and the African National Congress (ANC).

The ANC leaders began a campaign of mass action to force concessions from the government. They were not willing to settle for the arrogant stance of De Klerk, and moreover, they were under pressure rom their followers.

In the midst of this campaign, however, terrorist forces within the government carried out a brutal massacre. Since then, the ANC has withdrawn from negotiations and has called for a stepped-up mass campaign.

How did events in South Africda reach this point, and where are things likely headed?

Operation Exit

For the past year and a half the leaders of the ANC, including Nelson Mandela, have been carrying on talks with the racist regime headed up by President F.W. De Klerk. But during this time De Klerk has dragged his feet, trying to find ways to avoid giving substantial power to the black majority.

Earlier this year, De Klerk called a referendum for white voters to express their stand for or against his reform program. He was given a hefty two-third majority in the March 17 vote.

But soon after, negotiations reached a deadlock. De Klerk sought to use his mandate as a bargaining chip against the ANC. He put forward a constitutional plan which would allow the white elite a substantial veto power against black representatives in a future government and legislature. But this plan was too much even for the ANC leadership to accept.

The ANC leadership has a mass base, and they knew that accepting De Klerk's offer would not go well with the masses. The ANC leaders are also aware that their reputation with the ANC rank and file has declined. The masses are tired of seeing nothing come of the promises that their leaders have made about a negotiated solution.

Indeed, ANC officials who carry around briefcases have become a target of ridicule among the masses. Township residents have given the briefcase a new name -- codesa -- after CODESA, the Conference for a Democratic South Africa, the body for constitutional talks. The black masses can see that certain deals have been worked out to give these "codesa" cadres a certain amount of influence within the lower levels of government, and they resent the status climbing by ANC officials going on at a time when their lives remain the same, or get worse.

Faced with De Klerk's arrogance, the ANC was finally forced to call for a campaign of mass action to pressure De Klerk. The ANC sought to tip the balance in the negotiations in their favor. This campaign was dubbed "Operation Exit," the announced goal being to force De Klerk's government to hand over power by the year's end to a regime that would include black representatives.

Mass strike paralyzes the country on Soweto Day

The ANC began its campaign on Soweto Day, June 16. This day marks the uprising of Soweto youth in 1976 against the racist educational system.

Operation Exit began with a general strike on June 16. This was hugely successful. Millions of workers stayed away. The Chamber of Commerce itself admitted that 90% of workers did not come to work in Johannesburg and other major cities.

Massacre at Boipatong

But the next evening there was a massacre of blacks in the township of Boipatong, near Johannesburg. Boipatong is under ANC control.

But nearby, living in hostels are workers affiliated to the Inkatha Freedom Party. Inkatha organizes terrorist squads to murder and intimidate ANC-affiliated blacks. Inkatha is led by the Zulu chieftain Buthelezi who opposes the ANC from the right; he has a long record of scabbing on the mass struggle against white minority rule, preferring instead to work out backroom deals with the white racists.

On the evening of June 17, these Inkatha thugs broke into Boipatong and savagely murdered scores of people, using guns and axes. The murderers than quickly vanished into the night.

There was a strong feeling among the black masses that the Boipatong massacre was a direct reply from the regime to Operation Exit. The outrage was so intense that ANC leaders were forced to call off further negotiations with the government. This was by no means the first such massacre -- some 1,800 people have been killed by Inkatha in the last couple years. But coming at such a time, as a deliberate slap at ANC's mass campaign, the ANC leaders felt compelled to dos something.

White racists organized the massacre

There is strong evidence that the government itself, or at least ultra racists within the security forces, were complicit in the massacre.

The attack was preceded by a barrage of tear gas fired by police, to chase away people standing guard at roadblocks around Boipatong. A number of survivors of the massacre have related seeing white men directing the massacre. Also, survivors saw the killers make their withdrawal in hippos, the armored troop carriers used by the South African army and police. A squad of hippos would not be accessible to Inkatha thugs unless they were acting jointly with government forces. Witnesses have also testified that they actually saw some troops in motion the night of the massacre.

Since the massacre occurred, government investigators have detained some people allegedly involved. And De Klerk declared "mourning" for the massacre victims. But he still insists that these massacres are not government-organized and that government forces are not involved, when evidence proves the opposite.

The racist establishment in South Africa has altered its tactics in the last couple years, from outlawing black political organizations to legalizing them and negotiating with them. This change was forced on them because the old order was no longer tenable, and the ground was slipping away under their feet. Their timing was also influenced by the pressure of the economic crisis, the cost of suppressing the mass struggle, and the economic effect of their international isolation.

But behind the scenes the racists are willing to massacre thousands. If it is just the ultra-racists involved, they clearly want to make sure the negotiations go nowhere and the racist system is preserved. But whether or not the government itself is directly involved, the massacres also help the De Klerk government, by weakening the ANC and ensuring that the balance of power in the negotiations, and their outcome, are maintained in favor of the white minority.

Police shoot down black demonstrators

The apartheid police produced a second massacre at Boipatong a few days later when De Klerk came to visit. On June 20 De Klerk came to the township, supposedly to offer his sympathy. Angry residents chased him out of the township, chanting "De Klerk go to hell." Shortly after De Klerk withdrew, police hippos pulled into Boipatong and disgorged heavily armed troops who began firing into the crowds. Among the many injured, at least three died.

ANC breaks off talks

At a mass rally on June 21 Nelson Mandela declared that the ANC leaders had had enough, and he broke off talks with the government. this was met iwth jubilation from the gathering. People at the rally changed, "Give us arms!" -- their idea of how to deal with Inkatha and De Klerk's government. They also sang a song with the refrain, "Why do you act as lambs while the enemy is killing our people?"

But the ANC leaders are not about to give arms to anyone. And they made it clear, in statements to the press, that calling off negotiations does not mean reviving their armed struggle, and they insist that a negotiated solution is still necessary. Even during the height of their "armed struggle" the activity of the ANC's military wing was limited to a few scattered bomb blasts per decade. It was mostly talk, combined with militaristic posturing, and never included plans for arming the masses.

However, the ANC issued a set of 14 demands to De Klerk. It has also made militant declarations calling for the masses to sweep aside the government. A nationwide strike has been called for August 3.

But it is hard to believe in the ANC's declarations of militancy. For example, when De Klerk attacked them for calling for the overthrow of his government, they replied that this isn't their goal. True enough.

The sticking point: immediate power sharing

If De Klerk were ever willing to seriously negotiate, he would find the ANC leaders willing to accommodate him.

De Klerk's principal goal is that any future constitution preserve special privileges for the white minority. The reformist leaders of the ANCS, while speaking generally of "one person, one vote" are willing to negotiate De Klerk's safeguards, though they disagree on the details of these provisions.

But while De Klerk wants to the present government to oversee the transition process, the ANC wants an interim government. This interim government would be a form of power sharing, with ANC leaders given prominent positions. This seems to be the main sticking point.

Why doesn't De Klerk agree to immediate power sharing, even to a nominal measure? It wold appear that De Klerk is still more interested in appeasing the ultra-rightists within his regime. He apparently wants to drag out the talks long enough that the ANC's potential electoral strength is reduced such that they could not dominate a future government. De Klerk wants time to develop a voting base beyond his traditional base and his party has even won over certain figures in the "colored" and Indian communities.

Meanwhile the economy is entering its third year of recession. Injured by economic boycotts as well as drought and low gold prices, the economy is subject to serious, irreparable damage from black workers' strikes. The major white capitalists themselves are calling on De Klerk to resolve the issue before the economy goes in the dumpster, as it may do if the strike movement escalates.

Where now?

As a result of the present standoff, there are signs that the government is ready to make some concessions to the ANC.

It is allowing international representatives to join an investigation of the township violence, and more significantly, De Klerk is offering to scale back white veto power in the constitution. His demands do not still amount to full democracy and respect for the principle of one person, one vote, but they are a retreat towards what the ANC has signaled its willingness to accept in the past.

Whether this will restore the constitutional talks, or whether other developments will take place, is unclear. The ultra-racists could carry out some other atrocity to polarize the situation further. The black masses may not be in a mood to accept piddling concessions. Or the situation could develop a logic of its own.

The revival of mass action is a welcome development. it has already shown that a few days of mass struggle can have an impact on the government more than months of haggling at the negotiations table. It has the potential to do more. A major problem, however, is that the ANC leaders see the mass struggle as a mere form of pressure to turn on or turn off according to their reformist goals.

The apartheid system is indeed slowly, though torturously, breaking up. But how much of its institutions and legacies remain is another question. Much depends on how far the masses can develop their initiative. A thorough smashup of racist rule by the masses would best clear South Africa of the racism that is so deeply entrenched there. A negotiated compromise offers less, but even during the process in which a reformist deal is being sought, various crises and clashes can break out -- as we see today. And such crises can create conditions where things go beyond what the government offers or what the ANC is wiling to settle for. But to really utilize such crises in the best interests of the masses, a revolutionary alternative has to emerge. That requires that militant activists go from dissatisfaction in the ANC leadership to politically breaking from its reformist framework.

Back to main page, how to order CV, write us!

Last changed on December 12, 2013.