How the Marikana Movement Stunned Neoliberal South Africa

The day after the Marikana massacre, wives and mothers of the victims gathered in rage

[By all accounts and assessments, the Marikana mine massacre has marked a major turning point in the ANC-led “post-apartheid” South Africa.  But what sort of turn is being made?  A radical commentator and analyst, Patrick Bond, delves into this in some depth, and comments:  “this is potentially the breakthrough event that independent progressives have sought, so as to unveil the intrinsic anti-social tendencies associated with the ANC-Alliance’s elite transition from revolutionaries to willing partners of some of the world’s most wicked corporations……..What is definitive, though, is the waning of any remaining illusions that the forces of ‘liberation’ led by the ANC will take South Africa to genuine freedom and a new society.”  The following article, though long, is well worth exploring. — Frontlines ed.]


by PATRICK BOND, in Counterpunch

How long can the amazing upsurge of class struggle in South Africa go on? Living here 22 years, I’ve never witnessed such a period of vibrant, explosive, but uncoordinated worker militancy. The latest news from the labour front is that 12 000 workers were fired on October 12 by Angloplats for a wildcat strike (it is likely most will be rehired in coming days if an above-inflation wage settlement is reached), and thousands of others are threatened by the mining houses. Jacob Zuma’s government is panicking about lost elite legitimacy, calling on October 17 for a pay freeze for top private sector, parastatal and state management to make a token gesture at addressing unemployment.

As the African National Congress (ANC), Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and SA Communist Party (SACP) continuously fail to put a lid on the boiling labour pot, no one can offer sure predictions. To try, nevertheless, to assess the durability of this surge of working class revulsion, now two months after the August 16 Marikana Massacre of 34 wildcat-striking platinum mineworkers (plus 78 wounded), requires sifting through the various ideological biases that have surfaced in the commentariat, as well as first considering precedents. How much can the balance of forces be shifted if the ruling elite overplay their hand – and what organizational forms are needed to prevent divide-and-conquer of the forces gathering from below?

Metaphors for Marikana from the bad old days

We must be wary of drawing a comparison to the South African state’s last mineworker massacre, in 1922 when Johannesburg’s white goldminers rebelled against the increasing use of competing black labour (to the sound of the Communist Party of South Africa’s notorious slogan, ‘Workers of the World Unite for a White South Africa!’). They were resoundingly defeated and then coopted, a fate that Marikana workers and 100 000 others who went wildcat in recent weeks have so far avoided. Those workers are now moving by the tens of thousands from Cosatu affiliates to upstart – albeit economistic, wages-oriented and openly apolitical – unions like the Association of Mining and Construction Union (AMCU), predictably labeled by tired ANC Alliance hacks as the new ‘counter-revolutionaries’.

The aftermaths of more recent political massacres may have more to teach us. After March 21, 1960 at Sharpeville, where 69 were shot dead for burning the apartheid regime’s racist passbooks an hour’s drive south of Johannesburg, there was an immediate downswing in mass-resistance politics, followed by a hapless turn to armed struggle and the shift of resources and personnel to ineffectual exile-based liberation movements. It was not until 1973 that mass-based organizing resumed, starting in the Durban dockyards with resurgent trade unionism.

The next big apartheid massacre was in June 1976 when in Soweto as many as 1000 school children were murdered by the police and army for resisting the teaching of Afrikaans and taking to the streets. In the 1980s and early 1990s, there were periodic massacres by men who apparently fused ethnic interests of migrant workers (mainly from KwaZulu) to the Inkatha Freedom Party and the regime’s ‘Third Force’ provocateurs. But that era’s most comparable event to Marikana was the Bisho Massacre in which 28 were shot dead by a Bantustan army at the conclusion of a march in the Eastern Cape’s Ciskei homeland.

In 1960, the effect of the killings was first desperation and then more than a decade of quiescence. In 1976, the Soweto uprising put South Africa on the world solidarity map and along with liberation movement victories in Mozambique, Angola and then Zimbabwe, kickstarted other communities, workers, women and youth into the action-packed 1980s. In 1992, the revulsion from what happened at Bisho followed by Chris Hani’s assassination in April 1993 were the catalysts to finally set the April 1994 date for the first one-person one-vote election. Is there a historical analogy to pursue

In other words, if today’s struggle is against what might be termed class apartheid, then is the disparate resistance signified by Marikana similar to the early 1960s and hence will there be much more repression before a coherent opposition emerges? Or will the contagion of protest from this and thousands of other micro-protests across the country start to coagulate, as in the 1976-94 period, into a network similar to the United Democratic Front (implying an inevitable split in the ANC-Cosatu-SACP Alliance, led by genuine communists and progressive post-nationalist workers), and then the formation of Worker’s Party to challenge ANC electoral dominance?

Or, might something happen quite suddenly to rearrange power relations, as in 1992, and as we saw in Egypt in the wake of independent labour organizing against state-corporate-trade union arrangements in the years prior to the massive Tahrir Square mobilizations in early 2011? ‘Tunisia Day’ for South Africa could come in 2020, according to high-profile commentator Moeletsi Mbeki (younger brother of the former president). But if the strike wave continues to build and if capital insists the state put its foot down on the workers, aided by sweetheart unions, as the Cosatu-affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is now known, things may come to a head sooner. On October 17, Zuma’s remarks about the need to ‘get back to work’ had an ominous sound, and the next day the Marikana workers went on another wildcat strike because the police moved in to the platinum mine once again, arresting a few central leaders. Continue reading

Local community and class struggles in South Africa pose challenges to revolutionaries

Protest and Repression in South Africa

from Counterpunch by PATRICK BOND, July 17, 2012

Durban, South Africa.

The recent surge of unconnected community protests across South Africa confirms the country’s profound social, economic and environmental contradictions. But if activists fall before a new hail of police bullets, or if they lack an overarching political strategy, won’t their demonstrations simply pop up and quickly fall back down again – deserving the curse-words ‘popcorn protests’ – as they run out of steam, or worse, get channelled by opportunists into a new round of xenophobic attacks?

It’s been a hot winter, and we’re just halfway through July (the Centre for Civil Society’s Social Protest Observatory keeps tabs: Consider evidence from just the past two weeks, for example, in Johannesburg’s distant Orange Farm township south of Soweto, where residents rose up against city councillors and national electricity officials because of the unaffordable $250 installation charged for hated prepayment (i.e. self-disconnection) meters, not to mention a 130% increase in electricity prices since 2008.

Nearby, in Boksburg’s Holomisa shack settlement, 50 activists were arrested after blocking roads with burning tyres. Likewise, in the port city of East London’s Egoli township, house allocation controversies led to a brief uprising, and down the coast, high-profile Port Elizabeth road barricade protests again broke out over failing services in Walmer township.

Near the Botswana border close to Northwest Province’s Morokweng village, a dozen residents angry about inadequate state services were arrested for arson, public violence and malicious damage to school property, following months of frustrated non-violent protest; while in the provincial capital of Mahikeng, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate began an investigation into a death on July 4: “The deceased was allegedly shot and run over by a police vehicle during a service delivery protest in the area.” Continue reading

South African women: ‘Give patriarchy a red card!’

CRIME BUSTERS: South African women have the highest murder rate in the world (see second article)


Give Patriarchy a Red Card: No to Violence Against Women and Children

Tahir Sema, South African Municipal Workers’ Union of COSATU

26th November 2010

At the launch of yet another 16 Days of Action Campaign, it is worth asking ourselves if the campaign is having any impact, because just about everywhere you look there are indications that some things are getting worse.

School children are being charged with statutory rape, film clips are made and distributed widely showing young women being abused, people in positions of responsibility are abusing those they are supposed to be taking care of, same sex couples, particularly young lesbians continue to be subjected to the horror of so-called ‘corrective’ rape. The list is endless. Apart from the headline grabbing stories sensationalised by the media, the ‘everyday’ abuse of children and women remains unabated, even if behind closed doors.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, we have the degenerate spectacle of a wealthy business leader flamboyantly celebrating his birthday by eating sushi off the scantily dressed body of a woman half his age, brazenly boasting the treatment of a human being as a sex object.

These events do not occur by accident. They are not divorced from what is happening in our society. The economic and social condition that many people are trapped in provides a feeding ground for much dangerous and damaging behaviour. Ask any young women who is on a short term contract if she thinks that sexual harassment is a thing of the past. And listen carefully to her answer. Young women in particular who are caught in the short term contract trap in both the public and private sectors are increasingly subject to inappropriate advances by their employers, or their agents. The deal is to provide sexual favours, or re-join the mass army of the unemployed.

Look on the streets of our cities and towns. Yet younger girls and boys are making themselves available for prostitution in order to escape a deepening impoverishment. In the context of HIV/AIDS this is catastrophic for future generations.

We believe that at root of these developments has been a reassertion of patriarchal values and practices, and the idea that men, and especially those with power and influence, are beyond reproach. How can it be possible that a national youth leader is able to openly flaunt the ruling of part of our State equality machinery without being called to order by his seniors, or the Womens League? Could it be that these ‘personal’ and patriarchal matters are now considered beyond criticism, and therefore out of bounds? Continue reading

South Africa in 2010: The Roller Coaster Country

Trevor Ngwane

2010-10-28,  Pambazuka News

The social weight of organised, mobilised workers is beginning to consolidate in South Africa. The September public sector strike was a shining example, writes Trevor Ngwane.

South Africa is a country on a roller coaster to disaster. A recent paper written by the leadership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) attests to this. While the paper argues that the country is at a crossroads, a close reading reveals a deep anxiety and even panic among union leaders who are very worried and suggest that the country is heading towards crisis. I would say South Africa is already in crisis and unless there is a drastic and sharp turn to the left, the wheels are going to come off the roller coaster.

What is exciting about a roller coaster ride is its hurtling speed and unpredictability, simultaneously evoking feelings of exhilaration and fear. That is how it feels like living in this country these days. In the last couple of months or so, for example, one moment people were giddy with excitement as South Africa hosted the World Cup in June 2010. The government pulled out all the stops to make a success of the event: Nothing was allowed to stand in the way of achieving a successful hosting with up to R70 billion (US$9.6 billion) of public money spent.

Hardly a month later, health, education and other essential government services ground to a halt as 1.3 million public sector workers went on strike demanding a living wage. The government pleaded poverty but this was not convincing and the strike went on for three weeks, with dire consequences for ordinary people: Babies dying for want of medical care, students worried sick as they lost valuable time preparing for high school exit exams, families at a loss as government morgues failed to release the bodies of deceased loved ones for burial, and so on. The common humanity and collective excitement that was shared during the World Cup was replaced by anger and fear as the strike turned violent. It was as if it was not the same country.

The strike by government employees was the culmination of a year of heightened protests and strikes that had gripped the country beginning immediately after the April 2009 national elections, which saw Jacob Zuma of the African National Congress (ANC) become president of the country. Many would find the analogy of a roller coaster appropriate to describe Zuma’s rise to power. Indeed, during his campaign to become ANC president, he was described by his supporters as an unstoppable tsunami. Continue reading

ANC’s South Africa is like Obama’s USA in some ways

Black Agenda Report, October 19, 2010

One should not overstretch the similarities between Black South Africa and Black America. But both communities have been in denial about their nominal leaders. “After all these years of believing that labor – Black labor – was on the inside of power in South Africa, the unionists of COSATU are forced to a different realization.” The same realization looms for African Americans.

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

“All we have done is to change the skin color of the driver.”

In the words of Zwelinzima Vavi, the president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, COSATU, “All we have done is to change the skin color of the driver, but in terms of economic policy the direction remains the same as the one the apartheid regime was traveling, which was inspired by Margaret Thatcher.”

Thatcher was, of course, the right-wing British Prime Minister who had a political love affair with U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Their policies, with minor alternations, remain in place in the United States and Britain, today.  And, according to union leader Zwelinzima Vavi, the same is true in South Africa, despite 16 years of nominal Black rule.

On the face of it, COSATU is in a much better position to influence South African government policy than unions in the United States. The struggle to overthrow apartheid was led by a triumvirate of the ANC – the African National Congress – COSATU and the South African Communist Party. With the Left comprising two legs of the stool, and the ruling ANC Party enjoying overwhelming majorities, one would think that the Left would be in an unchallenged position to transform South African society. Yet, again quoting trade union leader Vavi, “This road we have travelled has not only reproduced but deepened inequalities and unemployment…. Various measures indicate that income inequality has widened.”

In the United States, income inequalities have been widening for the past 30 years. Republicans have held national power for 20 of those 30 years, but unions exercised virtually no strategic influence in the eight years of Democrat Bill Clinton’s reign, when corporate free trade became law and Wall Street was liberated from the rule of law through deregulation. President Obama did not lift a finger for labor’s number one priority: a bill that would have made it easier to replenish depleted union ranks. Instead, he bailed out Wall Street to the tune of $12 to 14 trillion. Continue reading

South Africa: Government Perpetuates ‘Apartheid Economics’

[As the economic crisis in South Africa continues to intensify, the Tripartite Alliance (ANC, COSATU and SACP) resembles a dysfunctional family more than an effective leadership.  The alliance divides in sharp public debates between nationalization of industries linked to a broader Keynesian safety net, on the one hand vs. the NEPAD “neo-liberal” economic plan with its reliance on neo-comprador relations with imperialism, on the other.  Here is the latest from COSATU.–ed.]

Bekezela Phakathi

Business Day, 19 October 2010

Johannesburg — Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi yesterday accused the government of failing most South Africans and perpetuating apartheid-era economic policies. Speaking at the third annual Irene Grootboom Memorial Lecture Series in Cape Town, Mr Vavi called for the urgent implementation of the new economic growth path.

Mr Vavi’s latest comments feed into the debate about the direction of the country’s economic policy, which Cosatu has said needs a radical departure from liberal policies.

He said the trade union federation is worried about SA’s economic direction. “All we have done is to change the skin colour of the driver, but in terms of economic policy the direction remains the same as the one the apartheid regime was travelling, which was inspired by Margaret Thatcher,” Mr Vavi said.

“This road we have travelled has not only reproduced but deepened inequalities and unemployment … Various measures indicate that income inequality has widened. “In 1995, the Gini coefficient stood at 0,64 but it increased to 0,68 in 2008,” Mr Vavi said. Continue reading

South Africa’s Zuma slaps down nationalist ANC youth wing

Pres. Jacob Zuma & ANC Youth leader Julius Malema

[More public, internal divisions in the African National Congress and its ruling alliance are revealing the growing conflict between the peace agreement made with international capital (ending the apartheid state) and the growing discontent and nationalist sentiments of the masses who have gained little from the deal.–ed.]

September 20, 2010

Johannesburg, Sep 20 (DPA): South African President Jacob Zuma Monday slapped down the nationalist youth wing of his African National Congress (ANC), telling a key party conference the Youth League’s conduct was “unacceptable”.  Zuma was addressing some 2,000 ANC delegates at the opening of a week-long party policy conference in the port city of Durban.

He wasted no time in putting the rebellious ANC Youth League in place, accusing the league of “regrettable” and “unacceptable” behaviour at a recent conference and reminding that the ANC, not its youth wing, was top dog.

Zuma also warned ANC members against launching a premature battle to replace him or his top lieutenants before the expiry of their current term in 2012.

The Youth League, which is headed by the notoriously outspoken Julius Malema, was one of Zuma’s staunchest allies in his campaign to become party leader in 2007. Malema vowed he was ready “to kill” for Zuma. In recent weeks, however, Malema has taken to openly attacking Zuma’s policies and suggested the Youth League may not support Zuma for a second term in 2012. Continue reading

Confederation of South African Trade Unions criticizes ANC economic program

[Since the ending of South African apartheid and the election of President Nelson Mandela in 1994,  the leading “Tripartite Alliance” (ANC, African National Congress/COSATU, Confederation of South African Trade Unions, and SACP, the South African Communist Party) has been formally united but actually far from united.  It has become known to represent the interests of the bourgeois (both nationalist and comprador), revisionist quasi-Marxists, and radical trade-unionists.  The deals which were made in the early 90’s with international capital, at the expense of the apartheid movement’s promises for economic democratisation and nationalisation, have created an ever-widening gap between the very rich and the very poor.  Rampant privatisation of national resources has become commonplace, and unemployment is now in the millions.  The working class, in both private and public sectors, has been squeezed to the breaking point, as the recent national strike has demonstrated.

Rumors are rampant that the Tripartite Alliance is now at the breaking point.  The following  proposal by COSATU may indicate the terms they are demanding today–protectionist trade and monetary policy, and hints of nationalization.  The article says that such measures will not be accepted by the ANC.  If so, when will the other shoe drop–and what form will it take?  How will the working class, and the landless and jobless, respond?  And how will those who carry the revolutionary spirit of the people of Azania meet the challenge?–ed.]

Business Day (Johannesburg), 15 September 2010

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) yesterday proposed a radical overhaul of SA’s monetary and financial policy, calling for controls over commercial bank loans and capping gold exports to increase national reserves.

Cosatu says in an economic strategy paper that it also wants a state bank to have “control and ownership” over the balance sheets of the Reserve Bank, so that it can direct economic policies.

Cosatu will present a range of interventions it says will boost job creation and economic growth, as well as redistribute both income and power, at the African National Congress (ANC) national general council next week. Continue reading

South African strike suspended for 3 weeks

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times


Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa– South African public-sector unions announced a return to work Monday after an acrimonious three-week strike marked by violence against several nurses who continued to work.

Leaders of the 19 unions said they were suspending the strike while they seek to explain the current government offer to their deeply divided 1.3 million members. Some unions last week rejected the offer of a 7.5% pay increase — about double the rate of inflation — and a $108 monthly housing allowance for all workers. But other unions accepted it.

The government has said it can’t afford to increase its offer and would have to borrow to pay for a 7.5% hike, meaning the nation’s 6.2% deficit might rise. Unions were demanding an 8.5% raise and a $136 housing allowance. The government’s current budget had projected a public-sector raise of only about 5%. Continue reading

South African Public Workers Strike: Class Struggle Challenges Ruling Alliance

State blindly follows a recipe for disaster

The strike by public service workers, supported by Cosatu, the largest workers’ federation in the country, brings up many lessons, especially for working people and the rural and urban poor.

Aug 31, 2010 |

by Tiyani Lybon Mabasa, Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA)

Let me state right at the beginning that the Socialist Party of Azania (Sopa) unequivocally places its support where it rightfully belongs – with the workers.

Their demands enjoy our full support. The government, which is the employer, cannot remain intransigent while it is guilty of spending about R900billion on the Fifa World Cup, which was nothing more than a public relations effort for South Africa and the continent as a whole.

They must now show the same mettle and resolution in dealing with the workers who are citizens of this country.

In the first instance, the target for this strike is the government, which under normal circumstances should be more positive and sensitive when it deals with their employees who belong to the most essential services such as health, education and those directly involved in service delivery.

We want to state that workers who have gone on strike are not insensitive or irresponsible but are forced by the economic realities that this government knows quite well. What is good for government officials should in the same vein be good for the workers. Continue reading

South Africa: Violence Erupts as Zuma Orders Police to Crush National Strike

[Since the end of South African apartheid was accompanied by extraordinary deals with international capital to forestall the popular demands for national liberation and economic equality, the government has faced round after round of mass protests, largely localized and short-lived.  But now the crisis of the regime, driven by the crisis of the global imperialist system,  is unraveling the “tripartite alliance” (ANC, COSATU trade union federation, and the South African Communist Party) as mass struggles and class struggles erupt with new intensity.-ed.]

A worker is sprayed by a water canon during a strike by civil servants outside a hospital in Soweto August 19, 2010. Strikers blocked the entrances to two hospitals around Johannesburg and teachers vowed to blockade a main highway as a stoppage by more than 1 million civil servants expanded on its second day on Thursday. Photograph by: SIPHIWE SIBEKO Credit: Reuters

By Daniel Howden, Africa Correspondent

Friday, 20 August 2010

South Africa’s schools and hospitals were transformed into battlegrounds yesterday as a nationwide strike escalated into a sometimes violent test of strength between the government and unions.

Police fired rubber bullets to disperse crowds blocking roads in one area while healthcare workers picketed hospitals, preventing patients from seeking help.

Public-sector unions have launched an indefinite strike demanding an 8.6 per cent pay rise, which the government has insisted the debt-stricken country cannot afford. The struggle could be critical to the future of President Jacob Zuma as well as damaging for sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy.

“This is more than an industrial dispute,” said Professor Sakhela Buhlungu, an expert on organized labour at the University of Johannesburg. “It is a political testing of strength in which Zuma can’t be seen to be weak.”

Crowds who blocked a main road near a hospital in Soweto, holding up traffic and blocking entrance to patients, were broken up by police firing rubber bullets and water cannons. Elsewhere in Johannesburg striking teachers threw bricks and stones at police, while nurses tore down a gate at one hospital as pickets struggled to block colleagues who wanted to go to work as normal. Continue reading