From the election of president Nelson Mandela in 1994 to 2019

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In the introduction to the previous article[1], we immediately drew the reader's attention to the importance of the issues dealt with in these terms:

"Although, in the face of new social movements, the South African bourgeoisie relied on its most barbaric traditional weapons, the police and military forces, the dynamic of class confrontation was unprecedented: the working class had never before shown such combativity and development of consciousness, faced with a bourgeoisie that had never had to develop such sophisticated manoeuvres, including extensive use of the weapon of rank and file unionism animated by the extreme left of capital. In this clash between the two real historic classes, the determination of the proletariat would go so far as to provoke the dismantling of the system of apartheid, resulting in the unification of all fractions of the bourgeoisie with the aim of confronting the surge in the struggle of the working class.”

And we then showed in detail the extent of the combativity and the development of class consciousness within the South African proletariat, expressed, for example, by placing its struggles in the hands of hundreds of struggle committees called “civics” (Community Based Organisations). We also showed how the bourgeoisie was finally able to overcome the magnificent combativity of the South African working class by relying on its main pillars, namely "white power" (under apartheid), the ANC and radical unionism. Indeed, the overall balance sheet of this battle between the working class and the bourgeoisie shows the leading role played by rank and file unionism in diverting genuine proletarian struggles onto a bourgeois terrain.

Speaking of radical unionism, we said:

“… its main contribution was undoubtedly the fact of having succeeded in knowingly constructing the “democratic/national unity” trap in which the bourgeoisie was able to imprison the working class. Moreover, taking advantage of this climate of “democratic euphoria”, largely as a result of the liberation of Mandela and company in 1990, the central power could rely on its “new union wall” consisting of COSATU and its “left wing” to systematically divert the struggle movements into demands for “democracy”, “civil rights”, “racial equality “, etc. (…) Indeed, between 1990 and 1993, when a transitional government of “national unity” was formed, strikes and demonstrations became scarce or had no effect on the new government. (…) Besides, this was the central objective of the bourgeoisie’s project when it decided the process which led to the dismantling of apartheid and to the “national reconciliation” of all the bourgeois factions that had been killing each other under apartheid. This project would be implemented faithfully by Mandela and the ANC between 1994 and 2014, including the massacre of workers resisting their exploitation and repression.”

In this article, we aim to show how the ANC’s project was implemented methodically by its successive leaders, in the first place by Nelson Mandela. We will show to what extent, having fought the old "white power", the South African working class was able to deal with the new “black power”. Indeed, the South African proletariat did not lose its combativity, as we will see later, but it faced many serious difficulties. In addition to its daily struggle for the improvement of its living conditions, it also had to confront diseases like AIDS with its terrible ravages, the corruption of the regime in power, and the many forms of social violence related to the decomposition of the capitalist system; murders, pogroms, etc. At the same time, as usual, it continued to face a repressive, bloodthirsty power, one that caused the deaths of many miners at Marikana in 2012. But the fact remains that the South African proletariat has already shown its capacity to play an important role as part of the world proletariat for the communist revolution.

The ANC in the exercise of power

In 1994, at the end of the period of the “transitional government”, general elections were held and won triumphantly by the ANC which took all the levers of power to govern the country according to the orientations of South African national capital, with the support, or goodwill, of the principal white South African leaders who had fought against it for so long.

Now for Mandela the serious business could begin, namely the recovery of a national economy severely battered not only by the economic crisis in this period but also the consequences of the workers' resistance to exploitation. So in its first year of office in 1995, the Mandela government decided on a series of austerity measures, including a 6% cut in civil servants' salaries and 10% in spending on health. From that moment on, the question posed was how the working class would react to the attacks of the new regime.

First strike movement of the era of President Mandela

Against all odds, the working class, though stunned by all the propaganda about the “national union" or "new democratic era", could not let such an aggressive attack go by without reacting. We saw the outbreak of the first strike movements under the Mandela government, particularly in transport and public services. For its part, as expected, the new bourgeoisie in power soon showed its true face as the dominant class by violently repressing the strikers, a thousand of whom were arrested, without counting the number of wounded by police dogs. Parallel to the government and police repression, the South African Communist Party and COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions), both members of the government, being unable to prevent the outbreak of strikes, began to violently denounce the strikers, accusing them of sabotaging the policy of national “recovery” and "reconciliation". An important fact should be noted here: while COSATU trade union leaders along with the government denounced and repressed the strikers, the base unionists remained “bonded” with the workers, claiming to defend them against the repression descending on them. We must see here a certain power of the new regime because while associating COSATU with the management of the affairs of capital it did not forget the importance of relying on the sound instrument of recuperation of the workers' struggles constituted by base unionism, of which many of those in government had had practical experience. [2]

The ANC deploys a new ideological device to deflect workers' combativity

Pursuing the implementation of its austerity measures, the new governmental team launched ideological manoeuvres to get them accepted by creating structures claiming to give legitimacy to its economic and political orientation. So, under the guise of the "Truth and Reconciliation Commission” (TRC), in 1996 the Mandela government introduced a programme called "Reconstruction, Negotiation and Reconciliation", then in the following year “Growth, Employment and Redistribution" (GEAR). In fact these gadgets hid the same initial economic orientation whose application could only aggravate the living conditions of the working class. From then on, for the new regime, the question was how to get the "pill” accepted by the masses of workers, some of whom had just violently demonstrated their refusal of such austerity measures. And in this context, with the fear of a workers' response in opposition to the government plan, we saw the first open expression of (tactical) divergences within the ANC:

(...) Is the ANC's political line still really at the service of its former supporters, serving the greatest number of people, especially the most deprived, as it claims? COSATU and the SACP (South African Communist Party) question it more and more, often, even if it is not frontally. They criticize the ANC for not representing the interests of the poorest, especially the workers, for losing interest in job creation and not paying enough attention to the access of all citizens to proper conditions of life. (...) This criticism has been abundantly relayed by intellectuals of the left and often virulently. (...) These divergent points of view nevertheless give rise to questions and debates. Is there a workers’ party to represent workers' interests in their own right? The SACP (South African Communist Party) has for a while evoked the prospect of an autonomous candidacy for elections and some within COSATU have even drafted a project for a workers' party.”[3]

As can be seen from this quote, the governmental team publicly displayed its divisions. But this was above all a manoeuvre or more classically a division of labour between the right and the left at the summit of power, whose main purpose was to deal with the eventual workers' reaction.[4] In other words, the threat of a split to create a "workers' party to represent workers' interests" was above all a cynical political trick aimed at diverting the combativeness of the working class.

The fact remains that the Mandela government decided to continue its austerity policy by taking all the necessary measures for the recovery of the South African economy. In other words, it was no longer a question of the “national liberation” struggle or “defending the interests of the poorest” preached hypocritically by the left of the ANC. And, at first, this policy of economic austerity, repression and intimidation on the part of the “new power of the people” had an impact on the working class, causing great disappointment and bitterness in its ranks. There then followed a period of relative paralysis of the working class in the face of persistent economic attacks by the ANC government. On the one hand, a good number of African workers, who had hoped for faster access to the same rights and benefits as their white comrades, were tired of waiting. On the other hand, the latter, with their racist unions (albeit very small) threatened to take up arms in defence of their “gains” (the various privileges accorded under apartheid).

This was a situation that could not objectively favour the struggle, let alone the unity of the working class. Fortunately, this period was only short-lived, because three years after its first reaction against the austerity measures of the ANC government under Mandela, the working class again reacted by resuming the fight, but much more massively than before.

1998: first massive struggles against the Mandela government

Encouraged no doubt by the way in which it had mastered the situation in the face of the first strike of its reign against its first austerity measures, the ANC government now made them even harder. But without realising, it created the conditions for a broader workers' response:

"(...) In 1998, it was estimated that 2,825,709 days of work were lost from the beginning of January to the end of October. The strikes were essentially for economic demands, but they also reflected the strikers’ political discontent with the government. Indeed, far from living better, many South African workers have seen their economic situation deteriorate, contrary to the commitments of the RDP (Reconstruction and Development Program). As for the unemployed, more and more numerous in the absence of new jobs and with many industries (especially in the textile and mining industries) closing or relocating, their situation was becoming more and more critical. It may be thought that, in addition to the financial demands made by the unions, the strikes also showed the first signs of the erosion of national enthusiasm for government policy.

The movement was widespread since strikes affected sectors as varied as textiles, chemicals, the automobile industry and even universities or security companies and commerce, often long, two to five weeks on average, and sometimes marked by police violence (a dozen strikers killed[5]) and serious incidents, almost all for demands for salary increases. (...) Faced with strikes, the employers initially adopted a hard line and threatened to reduce their workforce or replace the strikers with other workers, but in most cases they were forced to honour the strikers’ demands."[6]

As we can see, the South African working class did not wait long to resume its struggles against the ANC regime, just as it had opposed the attacks of the old apartheid regime. It is all the more remarkable that Mandela's government proceeded in the same way as its predecessor by firing on a great number of strikers, killing some, with the sole purpose (of course unacknowledged) of defending the interests of South African national capital. And without causing any public protest from the "humanist democrats". Indeed, it is significant to note that few media outlets (or field investigators) commented, or even described, the crimes committed by the Mandela government in the ranks of the striking demonstrators. Clearly, for the media and the bourgeois world in general, Mandela was still both an "icon" and an "untouchable prophet”, even when his government massacred workers.

For its part, the South African proletariat demonstrated in this way its reality as the exploited class by struggling courageously against its exploiter whatever the colour of their skin. And by its pugnacity it managed quite often to push back its enemy, as the bosses were forced to honour its claims. In short, there was here an expression of an internationalist class whose struggle constituted a clear unmasking of the lie that the interests of black workers merged with those of their own black bourgeoisie, namely the ANC clique.

Precisely, by uniting the ANC, the CP and the COSATU trade union in the same government, the South African bourgeoisie wanted, on the one hand, to convince the (black) workers that they had their own “representatives” in power to serve them, while also planning to leave the rank and file of COSATU in opposition in case it would be necessary to recuperate their struggles. Clearly, the ANC government thought it had done everything to guard against any consequent reactions from the working class. But in the end Mandela and his companions found the opposite.

In 1999 Mandela is replaced by his heir Mbeki but the struggles continue

In that year, following the presidential elections won by the ANC, Mandela gave way to his “foal” Thabo Mbeki who decided to continue and amplify the same austerity policy initiated by his predecessor. To begin with, he formed his government with the same factions as before, namely: the ANC, the CP and the COSATU central union. And immediately his government was formed, it imposed a wave of austerity measures hitting with full force the key economic sectors of the country, resulting in pay cuts and the deterioration of living conditions of the working class. But, also like Mandela, the next day, hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike and descended en masse into the streets and, as in the apartheid era, the ANC government sent its police to violently repress the strikers, causing a large number of casualties.

But above all it was remarkable to see how quickly the South African workers realised the capitalist and anti-working class nature of these attacks that the ANC team in power had made it suffer. The most significant thing in the workers' response was that in several industrial sectors workers decided to take charge of their own struggles without waiting for, or even acting against, the unions: "(...) the Autofirst strike, which began outside of the union and despite it, is a good example; especially since far from being an isolated case this type of strike tended to become widespread after 1999, including in large factories where the workers went on strike in spite of the unfavourable advice of the union, and even its formal opposition to the conflict".[7]

This was a striking demonstration of the return of combativity accompanied by an attempt to take charge of the struggles that the working class had already experimented with under the apartheid regime. Consequently, the ANC had to react by readjusting its message and its method.

The ANC resorts to “racialist” ideology in the face of the new workers' combativity

To counteract the militancy of the workers which tended to outflank the unions, the Mbeki government and the ANC decided to resort to the ideological legacy of the " national liberation struggle", including (among other things) the "anti-white" rhetoric of this period:

"The return in a renewed form in the governmental political discourse of the question of colour, especially in a number of statements castigating Whites - a notion that must be examined if (and in this case how) it acts as a, racial, social, historical or other marker, and if it also operates in people's ways of thinking.

As a corollary of this new presidential policy, the tensions within the triple alliance (ANC, COSATU, SACP South African Communist Party), still in place after many threats of a split especially on the eve of the 2004 elections, were more and more obvious and more and more vivid. They show the difficulty of the ANC, the former national liberation party, to retain its popular legitimacy once in power and in charge of governing for the benefit, no longer only of the oppressed of yesteryear but for all the inhabitants of the country."[8]

But why was the "rainbow “government, the "guarantor of national unity", which held all the levers of power, suddenly forced to resort to one of the old facets of the ANC of yesteryear, namely denouncing the "white power" (which is presented as preventing the power of the blacks)? The author of the quotation seems to us very indulgent with the leaders of the ANC, when she seeks to know about this "notion that must be examined" to know "if it acts as a, racial, social, historical or other marker". In reality this "notion", behind which lurks the idea that “the whites still hold power at the expense of blacks", was used here by the ANC in yet another attempt to divide the working class. In other words, by doing so, the government hoped to deflect demands for improvements in living conditions into racial issues.

Part of the working class, notably the militant base of the ANC, could not help being "sensitized” by this devious anti-white or even "anti-foreigner” rhetoric. We also know that the current President Zuma, with his populist accents, frequently exploits the "racial question” especially when he finds himself in difficulty faced with social discontent.

Anti-globalisation ideology to the rescue of the ANC

To deal with social unrest and the erosion of its credibility, the ANC decided in 2002 to hold a World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (the "Durban Social Forum"). The whole galaxy of anti-globalisation organisations participated, including several South African ones characterised as "radical” like the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the Landless People's Movement, very active in the strikes of the 2000s. In other words, in a context of radicalisation of workers' struggles the ANC apparatus sought the ideological contribution of the anti-globalisation movement:

"Furthermore, workers' strikes outside the trade unions broke out as in Volkswagen Port Elizabeth in 2002 or in Engen in Durban, in 2001. Some of these actions, like those of the TAC, regularly won victories over government policy. However, on the one hand, no opposition party really relayed these points of view in the parliamentary arena; on the other hand, the capacity of these organisations to influence sustainably, and on their own strengths (without becoming institutionalised or entering the government), the decisions of the state, remained fragile[9]

Here we see a double problem for the ANC government: on the one hand, to prevent or divert strikes tending to escape the control of the unions close to it, and on the other hand, how to find a “credible” parliamentary opposition  with an apparent capacity to "durably influence" the decisions of the state.  Regarding this last point we will see later that the problem has not been resolved at the time of writing this article. On the other hand, regarding the first, the ANC, was able to expertly rely on the anti-globalisation ideology well embodied by some of the groups pushing for the radicalisation of struggles, in particular the TAC and the Landless People's Movement.

Indeed, “anti-globalisation” ideology came at the right time for an ANC government in search of new "ideological breath", all the more so as this movement was on the rise at the global media level. We should note also that in this same context (in 2002) the ANC was campaigning for the re-election of its leaders, for whom it was then timely to show their closeness to the anti-globalisation movement. But this was not enough to restore the credibility of the ANC leaders with the South African masses. And for good reason…

A deeply corrupted ruling class coming from the "national liberation struggle"

Corruption, that other "supreme disease” of capitalism, is a characteristic widely shared among the ANC leaders. Certainly, the capitalist world is very rich in examples of corruption, so it may be useless to add this one. In fact, it is the opposite in that many are still those "believers" in "exemplary symbolic capital" and the "probity" of the old heroes of the national liberation struggle who are the leaders of the ANC.

By way of introduction we reproduce here a quote from an organ of the bourgeois press, namely Le Monde Diplomatique, one of the ANC’s greatest “old supporters”:

“The system of ‘legalised corruption’

Since the presidency of Mr. Thabo Mbeki (1999-2008), the collusion between the business world and the black ruling class is obvious. This mix of people finds its embodiment in the person of Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa, 60 years old, designated successor of Mr. Zuma, elected vice-president of the African National Congress in December 2012. On the eve of the massacre of Marikana (...), Mr. Ramaphosa sent an email message to Lonmin's management, advising it to resist the pressure of the strikers, who he called ‘criminals’.

A McDonald's South Africa owner and president of the MTN telecommunications company, among others, Mr. Ramaphosa is also the former secretary general of the ANC (1991-1997) and the National Union of Mineworkers (1982-1991). A central player in the negotiations for the democratic transition between 1991 and 1993, he was be ousted by Mr Mbeki from Nelson Mandela's succession race. In 1994, he returned to business, boss of New African Investment (NAIL), the first black company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and the first black billionaire of the ‘new’ South Africa. He now runs his own company, Shanduka, active in mining, agribusiness, insurance and real estate.

Among his brothers-in-law are Jeffrey Radebe, Minister of Justice, and Patrice Motsepe, mining tycoon, boss of African Rainbow Minerals (ARM). This had profited from Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) implemented by the ANC: supposed to profit the ‘historically disadvantaged’ masses, according to the ANC’s phraseology, this process of ‘the economic rise of the black people’ in fact favoured the consolidation of a bourgeoisie close to power. Mr. Moeletsi Mbeki, the youngest brother of the former head of state, academic and patron of the audiovisual production company Endemoi in South Africa, denounced a system of ‘widespread corruption’. It highlights the perverse effects of BEE: ‘cosmetic’ promotion of black directors fronting large white firms, huge salaries for limited competences, a sense of injustice among white professionals, some of whom prefer to emigrate.

If the adoption of a BEE charter in the mining sector, in 2002, put 26% in black hands, it also promoted a number of ANC barons to important leadership positions. Mr. Mann Dipico, former governor of North Cape Province, is vice-president of the De Beers diamond group's South African operations. BEE has also favoured the anti-apartheid elders, who have strengthened their position of influence in power. In 2009 Mr. Mosima (‘Tokyo’)) Sexwale, head of the Mvelaphanda mining group, took the leadership of the ministry of human settlements (slums).

As for Patrice Motsepe, he stands out in the 2012 Forbes List as the fourth richest man in South Africa ($2.7 billion). He did a great service to the ANC by announcing on January 30 the gift of half of his family assets (100 million euros) to a foundation that bears his name, to help the poor. Even if they do not emulate this, we cannot blame the black elite for not sharing its money".[10]

This is a ruthless description of the system of corruption instituted by the ANC leaders on their arrival at the South African post-apartheid summit of power. Clearly, like gangsters, it is a question of sharing the spoils that their former white rivals held exclusively under the old regime, distributing posts according to the balance of power and alliances within the ANC. As a result, the struggle for the "power of the black people" was very quickly forgotten in the race for posts that led to the "capitalist paradise", getting richer faster to become (symbolically) multimillionaires in a few short years. Like this former great trade union leader and prominent member of the ANC, Mister Ramaphosa:

"The black bourgeoisie lives far from townships, where it does not distribute its wealth, or very little. Its tastes for luxury and opulence came to the fore under the presidency of Mr. Mbeki (1999-2008), thanks to the growth of the 2000s. But since Mr. Zuma came to power in 2009, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the South African Council of Churches have not ceased to denounce a ‘moral decline’ much more serious than the exorbitant price of the sunglasses of those nicknamed the Gucci revolutionaries. ‘Relationships can be openly venal’, smiles a black business lawyer who prefers to remain anonymous. ‘We talk about sex at the table, and not just about our polygamous president! Corruption spreads ...’ So much so that when a former De Beer executive is accused of corruption by the press, he says: ‘You get nothing for mahala ... (You get nothing for nothing)”.[11]

It is amazing what this quote shows, notably the involvement of the successors to president Mandela, in the construction of the system of corruption under their respective reigns. But we also know that corruption in the ANC exists at all levels and in all places, giving rise to insidious and violent struggles, as in mafia gangs. Thus, Mbeki took advantage of his presidency of the state apparatus and the ANC to, by means of "low blows", oust his ex-rival Cyril Ramaphosa in 1990 and then sacked Zuma, his vice-president, sued for rape and corruption. Evidently these last two (while fighting each other) were able to reply by means as violent as they were obscure against their common rival. Zuma, who had the wit to pretend to be the victim of the umpteenth plot hatched by his predecessor Mbeki "known for his intrigues" (Le Monde Diplomatique). On the other hand, it is worth mentioning the characteristic act of violence that took place in December 2012 in Parliament, where, in the midst of preparations for their congress, ANC members came to blows to get their respective candidates passed by throwing chairs and exchanging punches.

And during all this time the "liberated people" of apartheid are immersed in misery and disease (for example one in four South Africans does not have enough to eat): “Meanwhile the level of despair is visible to the naked eye. In Khayelitsha, they drown their grief in gospel, a popular music that sounds everywhere, but also in dagga (cannabis), Mandrax or tik (methamphetamine), a drug that ravages the township.[12]

What a sad dive into the horror of a moribund economic system which plunges its people into the abyss with no way out!

AIDS comes in the midst of the misery and corruption of the ANC's power

Between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s the working class was not only battling against economic misery but also struggling against the AIDS epidemic. All the more so since the then head of government, Thabo Mbeki, had for a long time refused to recognize the reality of this disease, going so far as to cynically refuse to properly invest against its development.

“Another major element of the situation in South Africa since 2000 is precisely the proven and devastating spread, finally publicly recognized, of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. South Africa boasts the sad record as the most affected country in the world. In December 2006, the UNAIDS and WHO report indicated there were an estimated nearly 5.5 million HIV-positive people in South Africa, a rate of 18.8% among adults aged between 15 and 49 years and 35% among women - who are the most affected - seen in antenatal clinics. The total mortality in the country, from all causes, increased by 79% between 1997 and 2004, mainly because of the impact of the epidemic.

(...) Beyond this calamitous health check, AIDS has become one of the country's major problems. It decimates the population, leaves entire generations of children orphaned, but its impact is such that it also threatens the productivity and social equilibrium of the country. Indeed, the active population is the section most affected by the disease and the lack of income generated by the inability of an adult to work, even informally, sometimes plunges whole families into misery when survival depends sometimes only on these revenues. Social benefits are now granted by the state to families affected by the disease, but they remain insufficient(...) AIDS has indeed invaded all spheres of social life and the daily lives of everyone who is infected with the disease and/or affected by the death of a family member, a neighbour, a colleague...

(...) It seems to me that the closing of the negotiation sequence that was already taking shape in 1999, with the publication of the GEAR, was confirmed by Thabo Mbeki's denial of the link between HIV and AIDS in April 2000. Not so much because of the immense controversy that this statement has aroused in the country and around the world but for tackling the epidemic, which represented a major challenge for the construction of the country and its unity, marking that it was not, in his view, to be one of the main concerns of the state".[13]

As this quotation shows, on the one hand, the AIDS epidemic was (and continues to) wreak havoc in the ranks of the South African proletariat and in the (mostly poor) populations in general, and on the other, government officials did not care, or only partially, about the plight of the victims even though official reports (from the UN) amply illustrated the massive presence of the virus in the country. In fact, the Mbeki government was in denial in not even seeing that AIDS has now invaded all spheres of social life, including the daily life of the productive forces of the country, in this case the working class. But the most cynical in this case was the then health minister:

Faithful to then President Thabo Mbeki, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (...) has no intention of organizing the distribution of ARVs [antiretroviral drugs] in the public health sector. She argues that they are toxic, or that one can be healed by adopting a nutritious diet based on olive oil, garlic and lemon. The conflict ended in 2002 before the Constitutional Court: is the public hospital authorised to administer to HIV-positive mothers a nevirapine tablet that drastically reduces the risk of the child being infected during childbirth? The government is doomed. Other trials will follow, imposing in 2004 the start of a national treatment strategy."[14]

This is the abject attitude of an irresponsible government faced with the millions of AIDS victims left to their own devices, where it had to wait until the intervention of the Supreme Court to stop the criminal madness of the ANC and Mbeki government faced with the rapid development of AIDS, which has largely contributed to the fall in life expectancy from 48 in 2000 to 44 in 2008 (when infected patients died by the hundreds every day).

The decomposition of capitalism aggravates social violence

Readers of the ICC’s press know that our organization regularly deals with the effects of decomposition (the final phase of the decadence of capitalism) on all aspects of social life. These are manifested more bluntly in certain areas, especially the former "Third World" in which South Africa is located.

Despite its status as the continent's leading industrial power with relative economic development, South Africa is one of the countries in the world where you are more likely to die by homicide and where violent aggressions of all kinds are the daily lot of the populations and, of course, within the working class. For example, in 2008 South Africa experienced 18,148 murders, or a rate of 36.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, which puts the country in second place behind Honduras (with a rate of 61 per 100,000 inhabitants). In 2009, a study by the South African Council of Medical Research found that the rate of female homicides committed by male partners was five times higher than the global average.

The killings happen day and night in all places, at home, in the street, on transport, café terraces, sports grounds. Alongside the killings there is the explosion of other violence: incidents of sexual violence against women and children amounted to 50,265 in 2008.

The most sordid thing in this situation is undoubtedly the fact that the South African government turns out to be at best powerless and at worst indifferent or complicit when we know that members of its own police participate in this violence; in South Africa the police are as corrupt as the other institutions of the country and, as a result, many cops are implicated in the vicious killings. Indeed, when the police do not participate directly in the killings, they behave like gangs that racketeer and beat up people, so much so that the latter who suffer violence daily have little confidence in the police to protect them. As for the bourgeoisie meanwhile, many of its members prefer to be protected (in their well-barricaded houses) by heavily armed guards and other "security agents", whose numbers sources indicate today far exceed those of the national police.

The pogrom, epitome of violence

The pogrom, another barbaric aspect of social violence, has raised its head episodically in South Africa since 2008, and again very recently in 2019.

A wave of xenophobic violence has caused the deaths of ten immigrant workers in South Africa since September. A continental economic giant, the country is ravaged by inequality. Unemployment affects 40% of the working population and especially black people” (Le Monde Diplomatique, October 2019)

We know that the decomposition of the capitalist system encourages nihilism, undermines the spirit of human and class solidarity; and in these cases, we can consider that some victims of poverty can become the killers of their class brothers, thus becoming accomplices of their class enemy at the head of bourgeois power. The real responsibility for all this lies with the leaders of the ANC and their boss Cyril Ramaphosa, ex-president Zuma’s successor who was elected in February 2018 on the basis of untenable promises like “the fight against unemployment”, “a better life for all”, or “free schooling for poor families”. In fact, faced with the abominable murders of immigrants he first turned a blind eye and said nothing, before reacting hypocritically without accepting any responsibility for the massacres: “On Tuesday, the South African president, after an inexplicable silence, finally admitted that the attacks were an expression of what in current language in South Africa is termed ‘xenophobia’…but that according to him, South Africa ‘is not xenophobic’. Since the big upsurge in violence in 2008 (which accounted for 60 to 100 victims), an anti-foreign discourse, which seems to be a disturbing reflection of what comes out of the extreme right in Europe, with occasional borrowings from Donald Trump, has been circulating in the elite, and can’t fail to impregnate the poorest layers who are exposed to very difficult living conditions”(Le Monde, 5 September 2019)

And another press organ described more clearly the abject attitude of the “elites”, behind which lies the ANC: “The most widespread stereotypes about the migrants derive from official speeches which present them as criminals, as people who carry diseases and try to marry South Africans to get hold of immigration papers” (Le Monde Diplomatique, July 2018)

So we see very clearly that the ANC leaders in power describe black African immigrants in words very similar to those of the extreme right. The behaviour of the South African regime is all the more absurd when we know that the entire working class is the targeted here, because it has been drawn from many sources, including under apartheid. As in 2008, the pogromists are described by the media, randomly, as the "left-behind", "delinquents/traffickers", the "precarious/unemployed ...” In short, a mixture of the "declassed", "nihilists" and the simply frustrated, without hope and without proletarian consciousness. The pogroms of September 2019 inevitably draw comparisons with 2008. In June that year nearly one hundred immigrant workers died, victims of pogroms perpetrated by armed gangs in the slums of Johannesburg. Groups equipped with knives and firearms appeared at nightfall in dilapidated neighbourhoods looking for "foreigners" and began to beat, to kill, even burn alive the inhabitants and chase thousands more.

The first massacres took place in Alexandra, in a huge township (slum) located next to the business district of Johannesburg, the financial capital of South Africa. The xenophobic attacks spread gradually to the other localities of this region with the total indifference of the country’s authorities. Indeed, it took 15 days of killings for President Mbeki’s government to decide to react weakly (cynically in fact) by sending the police to intervene in certain areas while letting the massacres continue in others. Most of the victims were from neighbouring countries (Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Congo, etc.). There are nearly 8 million immigrants of whom 5 million are Zimbabweans who work (or search for work) in South Africa, particularly in arduous jobs such as mining. Meanwhile others live precariously by starting businesses to survive. But what is more inhumanely terrible in this pogrom is the fact that many victims were there because they were starving in their countries of origin, as in the case of the Zimbabwean survivor quoted by the weekly Courrier international:

“We are starving and our neighbours are our only hope. (...) There is no point in working in Zimbabwe. You do not even earn enough to stay in the worst suburbs of Harare (the capital). (...) We are willing to take risks in South Africa; this is our life now (...) But if we don’t do it, we will still die. Bread today costs 400 million Zimbabwean dollars (0.44 euros) and one kilo of meat 2 billion (2.21 euros). There is nothing more than more than porridge in the shops, and the people who work cannot live on their wages". [15]

Faced with the horrible murders in 2008 and 2019, the ANC leaders use the same criminal methods against the working class

The importance of the imperialist factor in the situation

The other factor weighing on the budgets of these two states is their leaders’ search for imperialist influence. Moreover, if we talk about the "imperialist question” here, it is above all its effects on the relations between the classes, where the bourgeoisie subjects the working class to an economic war effort at home and to killings abroad. To be clear, the South African and Zimbabwean governments compete with the imperialist powers (large and small) who seek to control the regions of Southern Africa and the Great Lakes, by proclaiming themselves "local gendarmes". Thus, these two were massively involved in the wars that ravaged this area in 1990-2000 which caused more than 8 million deaths. It is with this in mind that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe embarked on a decade-long war in the DRC (ex- Zaire), where he dispatched some 15,000 men at an exorbitant economic cost estimated at 1 million dollars a day (representing over 5.5% of annual GDP). This disastrous military adventure was undoubtedly an accelerator of the total ruin of the economy of Zimbabwe, a country that until the 1990s was considered the "breadbasket" of Southern Africa. Moreover, among the causes of the deteriorating economic situation in Zimbabwe we must also emphasize the total embargo imposed by the western imperialist powers against the “dictatorial regime" of Robert Mugabe (who died in 2019). Indeed, he refused to comply with the Western "democratic governance model" by doing everything to cling to the power he had held between 1984 and 2017, when he was “deposed” and replaced by his former right-hand man Emmerson Mnangagwa. And the latter proved himself a worthy heir of Mugabe, wasting no time in carrying out the repressive role of his predecessor against recent movements of struggle against endemic poverty.  

Regarding the specific role of South Africa in the imperialist wars in Africa we refer readers to the International Review nos. 155 and 157. But let us point out that before they came to power, Mandela and his companions were already fully involved in imperialist struggles for influence and then continued, for example, going as far as to dispute with France, in 1990-2000, its influence in Central Africa in the Great Lakes region.

The return of strikes and other social movements

One of the major characteristics of South Africa since the apartheid era is that, when there are no strikes, social tensions give rise to protests, sometimes to other types of violent clashes. For example, according to police data, the country experienced three riots per day on average between 2009 and 2012. And according to a South African researcher quoted by Le Monde Diplomatique[16], this is an increase of 40% compared to the period 2004-2009.This situation is probably related to the violent relations that already existed between the colonial empires and the population of this country, well before the official establishment of apartheid, when successive leaders at the head of the South African state always resorted to violence to impose their order – bourgeois order of course[17]. This is amply proven throughout the history of the class struggle in South Africa, in the era of industrial capitalism. Indeed, the working class saw its first deaths (4 miners of British origin) when it launched its first strike at Kimberley, the "diamond capital", in 1884.

For its part, the population, in this case the black majority of the working class, has always been forced to use violence, especially during apartheid, where its human dignity was simply denied on the historical pretext that it belonged to an "inferior race". Thus, in the light of all these factors, we can speak of a "culture of violence" as a component of the relations between the bourgeoisie and the working class in South Africa. And the phenomenon persists and grows today, that is to say under the rule of the ANC.

Bloody repression of the strike at Marikana in 2012

This movement was preceded by more or less significant strikes, such as that of 2010, by the workers responsible for building the stadiums to host the World Cup that year. A strike was launched by the unions in that sector threatening not to complete the work before the official start of the competition. With this "union blackmail", the striking workers were able to obtain substantial salary increases of 13% to 16%. There was strong discontent throughout the country over the deteriorating living conditions of the population and it is in this context, two years after the final whistle of the World Cup, that the strike erupted in Marikana. From August 10, 2012, the employees of the Marikana pits went on strike to support the lowest paid workers by demanding that the minimum wage be raised to 1250 euros, a demand rejected by the mining employers and the NUM (the largest of the unions affiliated to COSATU).

"The social tension was palpable since, on August 16, 2012, police killed thirty-four miners (and wounded seventy-eight) on strike in Marikana, a platinum mine near Johannesburg. For the population, what a symbol! The forces of a democratic and multiracial state, led since 1994 by the African National Congress (ANC), fired on demonstrators, as in the days of apartheid; on these workers who constitute its electoral base, the overwhelming black and poor majority of South Africa. In this industrialised country, the only emerging market south of the Sahara, poor households, 62% black and 33% Métis, represent more than twenty-five million people, or half of the country's population, according to figures published at the end of November by the national institutions.

The shock wave is comparable to that of the Sharpeville Massacre, whose memory events in Marikana have awakened. On 21 March 1960, the apartheid regime's police (1948-1991) killed sixty-nine protesters protesting in a township against the pass imposed on "non-whites" to go to the city. When the news of the tragedy arrived in Cape Town, the people of Langa, a black township, reduced the public buildings to ashes.

The same chain reactions occur today. In the wake of Marikana, employees in the mining, transport and agriculture sectors are multiplying wildcat strikes. (...) Result: vineyards burned, shops looted and showdowns with the police. All against a background of the strikers’ dismissal. (...) At Lonmin, the miners won, after six weeks of action, an increase of 22% and a premium of 190 euros.

(...) Today, the black unions, with more than two million members, demand from the government a real social policy and better working conditions for all. But – a South African peculiarity here - they are ... in power. With the South African Communist Party and the ANC, since 1990 they have constituted a "revolutionary" tripartite alliance that is supposed to work for the transformation of society. Communists and trade unionists represent the left wing of the ANC, which the party is trying to restrain by distributing power. Communist leaders regularly hold ministerial positions, while those of Cosatu sit on the National Executive Committee of the ANC. Their challenge to the ANC’s liberal management of the economy ANC loses credibility.

(...) For the first time, in Marikana, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), affiliated to Cosatu and among the largest in the country, has been overwhelmed by social conflict. (For a contractor), ‘The politicization of social conflicts, which involve the questioning of the ANC or its leaders, scares the big mining groups.’" [18]

In the tragic events of Marikana we once again witnessed a real class confrontation between the new bourgeoisie in power and the South African working class. Already, without causing much noise, during a strike in 1998-99 the government of Mandela himself had massacred a dozen workers. But the tragedy of Marikana is unprecedented and rich in lessons that we will probably not be able to draw within the framework of this article. But we can say from the outset that the miners who died or were wounded in rising up against the misery imposed by their class enemy deserve a great tribute and salute from their class brothers and sisters everywhere. Especially since at the end of the day none of the perpetrators of this slaughter were sentenced and the ANC president, Jacob Zuma, simply appointed a commission of inquiry that waited two years to make its report that (cynically) simply advocated: "A criminal investigation under the direction of the prosecution against the police" which "points out the responsibilities of Lonmin. On the other hand, it exempts the political leaders of the time".[19]

This conflict shows us the profound and definitive anchoring of the ANC in the camp of the South African national capital, not only at the level of the state apparatus, but also its individual members. Thus, it has previously been shown (see above) that many ANC leaders are at the head of large fortunes or successful businesses. In the course of the Marikana movement, the miners had to face the interests of big bosses including Doduzane Zuma (son of the current South African head of state), the head of "JLC Mining Services", which is very active in this sector. From then on we can understand better why this boss and company categorically rejected accepting the merits of the strikers’ demands by counting first on the police repression and the sabotaging work of unions close to the ANC to overcome the strike.In this conflict we could see the abject and totally hypocritical behaviour of COSATU and the Communist Party, pretending to "support" the strike movement, even as the government of which they are decisive members launched its bloodthirsty dogs on the strikers. In reality, the government's left was preoccupied above all by the eruption into the movement of a radicalised minority of its union base tending to escape its control:

"President Jacob Zuma did not move until a few days after the events. And he did not meet the miners, but the leadership of Lonmin. His political foe, 31-year-old Julius Malema, former president of the ANC Youth League, who was expelled from the party in April for ‘indiscipline’, took the opportunity to occupy the field. Becoming the spokesman of the disappointed base, he sided with the strikers. He accompanied them to court, where they were initially themselves charged with murder under a former apartheid riot law. This law allowed it to return a charge of murder against simple protesters, accusing them of having provoked the security forces. In the face of the outcry, the charge against two hundred and seventy miners was finally lifted and a commission of inquiry appointed. Mr Malema took this opportunity to call yet again for the nationalisation of mines and to denounce collusion between the regime, the black bourgeoisie, unions and ‘big capital’".[20]

Clearly, on one side, we see President Zuma acting without mercy against the strikers, even avoiding meeting them; on the other side, we see this young Malema take advantage of his exclusion from the ANC to present an ultra-radical image with the sole purpose of recuperating the workers outraged and revolted by the attitude of the government forces in this conflict. To do this he pushed for the creation of a new miners' union in radical opposition to the NUM (which is linked to the regime). This explains the highly manoeuvrable and acrobatic attitude of the left wing of the ANC, which simultaneously wanted to assume its governmental responsibilities and preserve its credibility with unionised strikers, particularly its militant base. Fundamentally, this was a division of labour between the leaders of the ANC in order to break the movement in case the deaths would not be enough.

What about the symbolic aspect of this slaughter? Indeed, as noted in the quote above, what a symbol for the population! The forces of a democratic and multiracial state fired on protesters just like in the time of apartheid! As this witness (obviously a survivor of the carnage) describes:

"I remember one of our guys told us: ‘Let’s go’ by raising his arms in the air, says a witness. A bullet hit him in two fingers. He was hurt. Then he got up and said, ‘Men, let's go’. A second time, the cops hit him in the chest, and he fell to his knees. He tried to get up again, and a third bullet hit him in the side. Then, he collapsed, but he was still trying to move ... The man just behind him, who wanted to surrender too, then took a bullet in the head, and collapsed next to the other guy."[21]

Here it is, the ANC police, facing the working class in struggle, adopting the same method, the same cruelty, as the apartheid regime. Of course, the gangster Zuma has now been replaced by his rival Ramaphosa, but the same anti-working class policies of the ANC continue.

For us, marxist revolutionaries, what the behaviour of the present-day South African leaders in this butchery ultimately shows is that before being black-white-yellow ... the oppressors of the strikers are above all capitalist barbarians defending the interests of the dominant class, and this is why Mandela and his companions were put at the head of the South African state by all the representatives of big capital in the country. One can equally see in this tragic event for the working class another far more symbolic aspect in the former apartheid country: the fact that the police chief who led the bloody operations against the strikers was a black woman. This shows us, once again, that the real divide is not race or gender but class, between the working class (of all colours) and the bourgeois class. And this is true despite all those who claimed (or still believe!) that the leaders of the ANC (Mandela included) would defend the same interests as the (black) South African working class.

As for the latter, it must know that before and after the tragedy of Marikana, it always faces the same enemy, namely the bourgeois class which exploits, beats it and does not hesitate to assassinate it. That's what the current leaders of the ANC do, and that's what Nelson Mandela did when he governed the country himself. Although the latter died in 2014, his legacy is assured and assumed by his successors. Until his death, Mandela was the reference point and the political and "moral" authority of the ANC leaders; likewise he was the icon of all the capitalist regimes on the planet who, moreover, honoured him by awarding him the "Nobel Peace Prize", in addition to other titles like "hero of the anti-apartheid struggle and man of peace and reconciliation of the peoples of South Africa". Consequently, it was this capitalist world (from the representative of North Korea to the President of the United States through the representative of the Vatican) which was present at his funeral to pay him a final tribute for "services rendered".

We now come to the end not only of this article, but also of the series of four articles. It is now necessary to conclude what we wanted to be a "contribution to a history of the workers’ movement".

What balance sheet to draw?

Given the breadth of the questions posed, at least one additional article would be needed to draw all the necessary lessons. We will limit ourselves here to succinctly expounding only a few elements of a balance sheet by trying to highlight the most important.

The starting question was: is there a history of class struggles in South Africa? We think we have highlighted this by delving into the history of capitalism in general and that of South African capitalism in particular. To do this, we immediately sought enlightenment from the revolutionary marxist Rosa Luxemburg on the conditions for the birth of South African capitalism (see The Accumulation of Capital), and for the rest we relied for sources on various researchers whose work seems consistent and credible. Capitalism did indeed exist in South Africa as early as the 19th century, and it engendered two historical classes, namely the bourgeoisie and the working class, which have never ceased to clash for more than a century. The problem is that since then we never heard of class struggles, especially because of the monstrous system of apartheid against which Nelson Mandela and his companions fought in the name of the "struggle for national liberation". As we wrote in the first article in the series: "Mandela’s media image veils everything else to the point where the history and struggles of the South African working class before and during apartheid are either completely ignored or distorted by being systematically categorised under the rubric of ‘anti-apartheid struggles’ or ‘national liberation struggles’".[22]

Readers who have read this entire contribution can see the glaring reality of real class struggles and of many victorious or glorious struggles of the working class in South Africa. In this sense we want to focus more particularly on two highlights of the class struggle led by the South African proletariat: on the one hand, during and against the First World War and, on the other, its decisive struggles at the time of the international recovery of the class struggle in the 1960s-70s, after the long period of counter-revolution.

In the first case, as soon as the 1914-18 war broke out, a minority of the working class showed its internationalist spirit by agitating and calling for opposition to this slaughter:

“(...) In 1917, a poster appears on the walls of Johannesburg, convening a meeting for July 19: ‘Come and discuss issues of common interest between white and indigenous workers.’ This text is published by the International Socialist League (ISL), a revolutionary syndicalist organization influenced by the American IWW (...) and formed in 1915 in opposition to the First World War and the racist and conservative policies of the South African Labour Party and craft unions.”[23]

This was an exemplary act of class solidarity in the face of the world's first butchery. This proletarian and internationalist gesture is all the stronger when we also know that this same minority was at the origin of the creation of the truly internationalist Communist Party of South Africa before it was definitively "Stalinised" at the end of the 1920s.

In the second case, the massive struggles in the 1970s and 80s undermined the apartheid system, culminating in the Soweto movement of 1976: “The events of Soweto in June 1976 were to confirm the political change underway in the country. The youth revolt in the Transvaal combined with the rebirth of the black workers’ movement to unleash the major social and political movements of the 1980s. After the strikes of 1973, the clashes of 1976 ended the period of defeat.[24]

At a given moment, the level of combativeness and working class consciousness had "tipped the scales" of the balance of forces between the two historical classes. And the bourgeoisie took note of this when it decided to dismantle the system of apartheid, resulting in the reunification of all factions of capital in order to cope with the resurgence of working class struggle. Very concretely, to reach this stage of development of its combativity and class consciousness, the working class had to take control of its struggles by, for example, setting up hundreds of struggle committees (the “civics”) to express its unity and its class solidarity during the struggle, to a large extent going beyond the "racial question". These civics, a high-level expression of the Soweto movement, were the culmination of a process of maturation begun in the wake of the massive struggles of the years 1973-74.

To cope with this magnificent workers’ struggle, the bourgeoisie, was able to rely in particular on the formidable weapon of "base unionism", without ever forgetting for a moment its repressive arsenal.

Although geographically removed from the most experienced and concentrated battalions of the world proletariat in the old capitalist countries, the South African proletariat has demonstrated, in practice, its ability to assume a very important role in the path to the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of communism. Certainly, we know that the path will be long and chaotic, and with enormous difficulties. But there is no other.

Lassou (October 2019)


1. See "From the Soweto Movement of 1976 to the coming to power of the ANC in 1993” in International Review No. 158.

2. These were in particular members of COSATU, which came out of the Federation of South African Trade Unions, as we can see in IR 158: “FOSATU made use of its ‘genius’ for organising, to the point of being simultaneously heard by both the exploited and the exploiter in order to astutely ‘manage’ the conflicts between the two antagonists – which meant, in the final analysis, serving the bourgeoisie…At the beginning of the 80s, the union current developed an original union project, with the idea of being explicitly independent from the main political forces; it was formed around networks of intellectuals and students…presenting itself as a ‘union left’ and ‘political left’, and a number of its leaders were influenced by the ideology of Trotskyism and critical Stalinism”

3. Judith Hayem, La figure ouvrière en Afrique du Sud, Editions Karthala, 2008, Paris. According to her editor, Judith Hayem "is an anthropologist, lecturer at the University of Lille 1 and a member of CLERSE-CNRS. Specializing in labor issues, she carried out factory surveys in South Africa, but also in England, the United States and France. Since 2001, she has continued her research in South Africa around mobilisations for access to HIV/ IDS care in the mines”.

4. Moreover, 10 years after this episode the various components of the ANC are still together at the head of the South African government, at least as we write these lines in autumn 2017.

5. Our emphasis. In a footnote the cited author specifies the number of victims in these terms: “it is estimated that 11 to 12 people lost their lives, and that many others, strikers or non-strikers, and replacement workers were wounded". And all without any comment, as if the author sought to downplay the importance of the massacre or to preserve the image of Chief Officer Mandela, "the icon of the Democrats".

6. Judith Hayem, Op. Cit.

7. Judith Hayem, Op. Cit.

8. Judith Hayem, Op. Cit.

9. Judith Hayem, Op. Cit.

10. Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2013.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Judith Hayem, Op. Cit.

14. Manière de voir, supplement to Le Monde Diplomatique, November 2015.

15. Courrier International, May 29, 2008.

16. Ibid

17. See the article “A history of class struggle in South Africa” in International Review, No. 154, which shows (among other examples) that in order to overcome a miners' strike in 1922 the South African government decreed martial law and brought together some 60,000,000 men equipped with machine guns, cannons, tanks and even aircraft. In the end, 200 workers were killed and thousands more wounded or imprisoned.

18. Le Monde Diplomatique, Ibid.

19. Manière de voir, Ibid.

20. Le Monde Diplomatique, Ibid.

21. Manière de voir, Ibid.

22. See International Review, No. 154

23. Ibid.

24. See International Review No. 158.



Contribution to a history of the workers’ movement in South Africa (iv)