We continue our series on the class struggle in South Africa, with a study of the period between the outbreak of the mass resistance movements in Soweto in 1976, and arrival in power of Mandela's ANC in 1993. In particular, we will look here at the way the new radical trades unions were used to break the back of the resistance, and drive the black working class into the arms of the nationalist ANC.
This article highlights the formidable effect of the apartheid system on the class struggle, combined with the action of the trade unions and parties of the bourgeoisie, up until the end of the 1960s when, faced with the unprecedented development of the class struggle, the bourgeoisie had to “modernise” its political apparatus and revamp its system.
The main purpose of this article, the first in a series on South Africa, is to restore the historical truth about the struggles between the two fundamental classes, namely the bourgeoisie (for whom apartheid was only one means of domination) and the proletariat of South Africa that, for most of the time, was left to struggle for its own demands as an exploited class, from the epoch of the Dutch-British colonial bourgeoisie and then under the Mandela/ANC regime.In other words, a South African proletariat whose struggle fits perfectly with that of the world proletariat.
In the latter part of his life Nelson Mandela was widely considered to be a modern ‘saint’. He appeared to be a model of humility, integrity and honesty, and displaying a remarkable capacity to forgive.
A recent Oxfam report said that South Africa is “the most unequal country on earth and significantly more unequal than at the end of apartheid”. The ANC has presided for nearly twenty years over a society that threatens still further deprivations for the black majority, and yet, despite having been an integral part of the ANC since the 1940s, Mandela was always seen as being somehow different from other leaders, throughout Africa and the rest of the world.
In the last three months in South Africa 80,000 miners have been involved in a wave of wildcat strikes in gold, platinum and coal mines. In WR 356 (“South Africa massacre of miners: The bourgeoisie uses its police and union guard dogs against the working class”) we looked at the massacre of 34 miners in Marikana. We showed how unions and government acted together against the working class. At the time it was not clear what direction events would go. Since then we have witnessed the largest strike wave since the ANC came to power in 1994.
Before the World Cup there was all the usual hype about how it would benefit the country. Yet, for all the more than six billion dollars worth of investment in stadiums, roads, airports and other projects, there has been very little that will benefit the vast majority of the population.
There's been some media cynicism over recent strikes and protests in South Africa. But chatter about a so-called winter ‘strike season' can not detract from the scale of recent struggles. When Jacob Zuma was campaigning in elections earlier this year he put the ANC forward as a party that would improve things after the Thabo Mebeki era. Workers have yet to see any differences.
The word ‘pogrom' was most often used to
describe mob attacks on Jews in mediaeval times, often fomented by the state
authorities as a means of deflecting popular anger away from them and onto an
easily recognisable scapegoat. The persistence of anti-Semitic pogroms in
Czarist Russia in the late 19th and early 20th century
was often pointed to as an example of the extremely backward nature of that
In June a four week strike in South Africa involving between 600,000 and a million workers closed most schools, reduced hospitals to a skeleton run by army medics and had an impact on much public transport and many offices...
Over the summer South Africa has been rocked by the largest wave of strikes since the ANC took power in 1994. With economic growth stagnant at 0.6%, unemployment running at 30%, and inflation at 7.3%, the new ANC administration led by Thabo Mbeki have committed themselves to "fiscal discipline", which can only mean attacks on the living and working conditions of the proletariat.
In May the media was full of stories about the success of 10 years of 'democracy' in South Africa. The pictures of tens of thousands of workers queuing up to vote for the first time in May 1994 were dragged out the vaults to remind us of what a benefit democracy is for humanity. The reality for the working class has been worsening living and working conditions: 76% of households in South Africa live below the poverty line, an increase of 15% since 1996; unemployment has doubled since 1994; income in black households fell by 19% between 1995 and 2000 (Insights, issue 46). All of this presided over by the 'liberators' of the African National Congress.