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.]

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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

ANC accused of airbrushing allies and rivals out of anti-apartheid struggle

South Africa’s ruling party said to be rewriting the past to give itself the starring role as it celebrates its centenary

in Johannesburg

guardian.co.uk, Saturday 31 December 2011

History may be written by the victors, but who gets top billing? South Africa‘s ruling African National Congress, one of the most famous political movements in history, has been accused of “airbrushing people out” of the liberation past as it prepares to celebrate its centenary.

The ANC, the oldest liberation movement in Africa, turns 100 years old next Sunday, the cue for year-long commemorations costing 100m rand (£7.8m).

While no one questions the central role of Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders in winning freedom from racial apartheid in 1994, rival political organisations and various commentators say the anniversary will be manipulated to sideline the contributions of others.

“The ANC are rewriting history,” said Allister Sparks, a veteran journalist and analyst and the co-author of Tutu: The Authorised Portrait. “They’re airbrushing people out. I don’t know of a street named after Desmond Tutu, and he was effectively the leader [of the anti-apartheid movement] for 15 years. I’m not trying to belittle the ANC, but they didn’t do it all.” 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

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 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