The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

South Africa:
The Working Class Strikes Back

Sep 27, 2010

The following article originally appeared in the October-December 2010 issue of Class Struggle magazine, published by the British Trotskyist group, Workers Fight.

The situation in South Africa may have been a regular news topic during the World Cup soccer matches in July, but little was said about the social struggles taking place in the background. Yet this year has witnessed the most powerful wave of strikes since the downfall of the racist apartheid regime 16 years ago!

This strike wave actually began long before the World Cup and was only partially interrupted by the official “truce” agreed to by union leaders during the matches, so as not to spoil the “image of South Africa.” But then the struggle resumed with a vengeance.

In fact, if anything, the World Cup extravagance aggravated the deeply-felt resentment of workers against a government prepared to spend between 5.6 billion dollars (what it admits) up to 22 billion dollars (what some estimate as the true cost) on a few soccer matches, while the majority still lives in abject poverty.

No one should be surprised by the workers’ anger against ANC politicians. Both under the current president, Jacob Zuma, and his predecessors, the politicians have proved incapable of delivering the promised improvements in living standards and, most importantly, in the social infrastructure. But they were quite capable of lining their own pockets! So, over and above the immediate economic demands put forward by the strikers, this anger helped to generate the wave of strikes. Remarkably, the strikes swept over the whole country, from the smallest towns to the biggest cities, often bringing together private and public sector workers spontaneously, despite the reluctance of the union leaderships to organize this kind of cross-sectional action officially. Such solidarity is essential if workers are going to win substantial gains—rather than the empty “solidarity” that leaders made several threats about, but which never came to anything.

Good Reason to Be Angry

Wages were the first issue raised in each strike. Workers are deeply frustrated by the struggle to live on the existing level of wages. The breadwinner must stretch these wages to keep, on average, another four or five people alive, given the current level of unemployment and the minimal social benefits available. Purchasing power is constantly eroded by inflation—which peaked before the World Cup, since prices went up for the occasion. Just to take one example, electricity rates increased by 25% this year, with plans to increase prices by another 25% in 2011 and 26% in 2012!

While workers are told government and private sector bosses cannot “afford” to pay decent wages, they see the white elephants of the World Cup (huge superfluous stadiums) standing there as evidence of the profligacy of these same bosses and politicians. But worse, they see the scandalous self-enrichment and “family favors” for members of the government, which are the subject of almost daily, outrageous revelations in the media. As one striker’s handwritten placard at a hospital in Soweto put it,“Money from World Cup Fallen into Wrong Hands.” Another in Cape Town read, “Zuma, your wives deplete state funds;” or “Ons is vol,” meaning “we’re fed up” in Afrikaans!

“Housing allowances” are also very important among strikers’ demands.

The “luckier” poor may (finally) have managed to get an RDP house—so-called for Mandela’s 1994 “Reconstruction and Development Program,” which promised three million such homes. But 16 years later, far fewer have actually been built. But they are smaller than the “apartheid era” brick township houses and they are notorious for their shoddy construction. They have a tin roof, 3 tiny rooms, with a toilet and sink, but no proper bathroom. They can be bought for between $8,000 and $12,800, but they are still largely unfinished. Even at this relatively low price, most people cannot obtain loans to buy them.

Meanwhile, at least a fifth of the population is still living in tin shacks. In the summer, these shacks are too hot to stay in during the day. In the winter, they are too cold. And when it rains, they leak badly. They usually have no electricity and therefore no light except candles or paraffin lamps. A September 26 press report about a Johannesburg squatter camp illustrates the all-too-frequent horrific consequences: “A fire ripped through the Mangologolo informal settlement near Denver .... Four people were killed.... More than 230 shacks were burnt to the ground and 513 people were left homeless.” Yes, the shanty towns are dangerous. They have no water supply—although old established shanty towns may have a faucet with clean water, where residents must line up. Dwellers have sometimes built their own “shack bucket”—or pit toilet, but there is no sewage system. Other services, like trash removal, don’t exist unless organized by residents themselves.

At the bottom of the social ladder is a growing category of so-called “back-yarders,” who rent a tin (or even brick) “box” behind a shanty or behind an RDP house. This is an even more precarious existence, since they are subject to the whims and frustrations of landlords who are only slightly less worse off than they are.

After 16 years, successive ANC governments have delivered an increasingly unequal society. South Africa now has a wider gap between rich and poor than Brazil. Social apartheid is alive and well, and it still often coincides with the old lines of racial apartheid, with the continued domination by the white minority of the best in education, housing, jobs and healthcare.

A recent COSATU document puts it like this: “As of 2009, the rate of participation of Africans in the labor force was 52% and for whites it was 68% .... Among Africans of working age (between 15 to 64 years), only 36% are absorbed into employment while, on the other hand, 65% of Whites of working age are absorbed into employment.”

The Strike Wave Spreads

The present strike wave started and developed against this backdrop of social discontent and anger against the regime. It would be impossible to detail every strike here, as there have been so many. So this article will only try to give an idea of the most significant.

In fact, the strike wave really began in April 2009, when truckers went on an eight day strike that stopped vital supplies. This strike won an 11% wage increase, plus four months paid maternity leave. Then tens of thousands of council workers struck for five days, winning a 13% pay increase. In July 2009, the first national co-ordinated 8-day strike of 70,000 construction workers (taking advantage of the World Cup infrastructure deadlines) won a 12% pay increase. In August 2009, some 4,500 Telkom telecommunications workers struck for two weeks and won a 7.5% wage increase, also forcing Telkom to back down on its plan to cut jobs. In September 2009, workers at Anglo-American’s Impala Platinum (one of the biggest platinum mines) struck for two weeks, winning a 10% increase.

This year’s first big strike was carried out in May by Transnet rail and port workers. After a three week strike, which effectively blocked imports and exports, these workers won an 11% pay increase. In June, workers at Eskom, the state electric utility, won a 9% wage increase and a $216 per month housing allowance after threatening a strike that could have caused electricity blackouts during the World Cup.

Then came a series of National Union of Metal Workers (NUMSA) strikes. First, on August 11, 20,000 workers in seven factories (Ford, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, VW, Daimler, GM) who had been offered a 7% pay increase, downed tools. They demanded a 15% pay increase, plus 100% lay-off pay, reduction of the work week to eight hours per day, Monday to Friday, as well as six months paid maternity leave. They also insisted on getting rid of “labor brokers”—who contract out temporary workers. These workers have no rights and are paid wages below the minimum.

The strike lasted eight days and completely halted car production, forcing the auto companies to agree to a 10% increase this year, and another 9% in both 2011 and 2012. These companies also agreed that as of January 1, 2011, they would stop using “labor brokers” and that, in the meantime, pension and medical benefits would be extended to the contract workers.

Less than a week later, NUMSA called out 7,000 rubber workers at Dunlop, Bridgestone, and Continental, over similar demands—for an 11% wage increase. After nearly five weeks of strike (except at Bridgestone where the dispute has continued up until the time this article was written), the strikers finally won a 9% wage increase and 7.5% for inflation, whichever is greater in the following two years. Temporary contract workers also will receive medical benefits and severance pay, previously denied.

On September 1, NUMSA launched a “third wave,” involving 70,000 car parts workers, car repair mechanics, and service station workers. The strikers stayed out for two weeks, winning wage increases of between 9% and 10% (having been offered 6%) and concessions on “labor brokers” similar to those gained in the car factories. Moreover, the very low-paid gas station cashiers won a 35% wage increase.

In the mining industry, where miners’ average pay is between $448 and $560 per month (with a cost of living similar to that in Britain), discontent broke out. There was a 12 day strike at the titanium mine, Exarro Sands in Kwazulu Natal. Workers won 8% and a lump sum. At another titanium mine, Richards Bay Minerals, owned by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, 1,700 workers struck for seven days, gaining 8% in pay and a 5% increase in their housing allowance. At Northam Platinum, a black-owned platinum producer, 8,000 workers have, at the time of writing this article, been on strike for over four weeks, for a 15% raise and a $480 per month “living allowance.” And now, notices to strike have been given at the huge Kumba iron ore mine.

Finally, on September 24, the 27,000 workers at Pick’n Pay, a supermarket chain, staged a three-day strike, threatening to extend it indefinitely if wages were not increased by $80 per month, that is, by 12%. They also demanded a guaranteed minimum of 120 hours per month for part-timers and the banning of labor brokers who hire the temporary workers.

At the same time, the issue of “labor brokers” has become the focus for the union federation, COSATU—and a national march and strike over this issue is planned on October 7.

Contrary to what happens so often, these strikes are not “stay at home strikes.” Workers are out picketing and demonstrating in force most days, even when their marches are banned by the courts, and despite the arrests and clashes with police trying to enforce these bans.

An Unprecedented Public Sector Strike

Although the strike wave in the private sector was huge, the strike wave in the public sector, which started on August 18, had a far bigger impact on the country’s political scene. The high number of workers involved (an estimated 1.3 million) constituted a gesture of defiance against the policy of the ANC government.

Indeed, beyond economic demands similar to those of the private sector, the public sector strike also exposed the criminal negligence of a regime whose lack of funding of the social infrastructure is threatening to bring about disaster, while officials openly loot public funds.

This negligence is particularly striking in Public Health. Obviously South Africa’s public health service is under a huge strain, not least because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The public health sector has been underfunded and undermanned, not to mention mismanaged—and this has been getting progressively worse for the past 16 years. Only those who can afford to pay for access to the private sector can get decent health care. Of course, this is not possible for the vast majority of the population.

In 2009, when Zuma became president, things were expected to improve. The new health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, did indeed initiate programs to begin to treat HIV and AIDS, in an effort to regain ground lost during the years under Thabo Mbeki with his government-led “AIDS denial.” However, it’s still a lot of words on paper and still too little too late.

Hospitals are understaffed by at least 40,000 jobs, with a need for 11,000 doctors. There are also shortages of basic equipment and supplies like bandages, syringes etc., not to speak of the critically needed drugs required to treat HIV infections, antibiotics, etc. Over one million people are still waiting for anti-HIV treatment. This means that patients continue to die needlessly. The severely overworked staff can never keep up.

The state school system is scarcely any better than the health system. Their management is chaotic. Some teachers are working without pay—and standards continue to fall, mainly due to poor material conditions. One report about primary schools in the Eastern Cape region described schools with no toilets or washing facilities for the pupils, and classrooms without furniture, doors or windows. It described how pupils had to fetch drinking water from a stream. Teachers—when they are actually paid—are near the bottom of the wage scale, earning between $960 to $1,120 per month.

The public sector unions, which include health and education workers, as well as social service workers, immigration officers, court officers, police personnel, prison guards and army personnel, had already formulated their pay claims last April. The unions demanded a one-year deal, with an 11% wage increase from April 1, 2010, plus a housing allowance of $128 per month. In addition, they demanded a subsidy that would extend medical insurance from a small fraction of the workforce to everyone.

The government’s first offer was a three-year deal, with a 5.2% wage increase in the first year, commencing July 1, and a wage freeze for the next two years. By June 9, after six rounds of negotiations, the government produced a “final offer” in which the only concrete elements were a 6.5% wage increase from July 1 and a housing allowance of $96 per month. By this time the union apparatuses had themselves “compromised down” to a claim of 8.5%, backdated from April 1, and an $128 per month housing allowance. By June 29 it was clear that the government was not budging and a strike was in the cards.

A public campaign of marches, protests and one-day strikes was first organized to allow the government to come forward with a better offer. Police and prison officers, who wanted to join a two-day stoppage planned to start July 30, were not permitted to strike, since they were deemed part of an “essential service.” The courts then banned their union, POPCRU, from even expressing their support for the strike!

Since no improved offer was forthcoming, the leaders of the public sector COSATU unions finally resigned themselves to industrial action, calling an indefinite strike from August 18. The main non-COSATU union, the PSA (Public Servants Association), followed suit.

On that day, health workers, including nurses and doctors, as well as teachers and other education workers, immigration officers and court officers throughout the country walked out. Some workers, unsure about whether they were “called out” or not, arrived at work in their red NEHAWU (health union) tee-shirts and then walked out, joining pickets outside. The immediate and hysterical campaign of the media and politicians against the strike provided unquestionable evidence of its power.

In Gauteng, the province with the largest population, the strike shut most health facilities, public schools and offices, and there were severe clashes between the police and strikers. On the strike’s second day, at Soweto’s Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and Johannesburg’s Helen Joseph Hospital, tear gas and rubber bullets were fired, seriously injuring at least one striker.

On the third day, the government said it would reintroduce the instant kangaroo courts it had set up during the World Cup, in order“to bring hooligan strikers to book.” On the previous day, 51 hospital workers had already been charged with “public violence” in KwaZulu Natal.

From the very beginning of the strike, the media and government launched a vicious campaign against the health strikers, accusing them of “letting patients die” by not allowing emergency staffing of clinics and casualty departments. Health Minister Motsoaledi went as far as to denounce the strikers’ “willingness to murder in order to improve their wages.” Of course, this was a lie. Emergency cases were simply treated by private health care providers. And in many cases, the strikers themselves dealt with emergencies, until military forces at many hospitals stopped the practice.

Indeed, the campaign against the hospital workers provided a convenient justification for soldiers wielding automatic rifles, atop armored cars to “guard” hospital perimeters, so that the scene looked very much like it did in the old apartheid days. Fifty-seven hospitals were taken over by the military in this way.

On August 26, the ninth day of the strike, workers demonstrated in Cape Town, Johannesburg and other cities. COSATU also announced that on September 2, miners, metalworkers and municipal workers would be carrying out sympathy strikes and that this would “close down” the whole country. At the same time, the two unions organizing soldiers defied the government by denouncing the way the army was being used against the strike. One of these unions issued a statement which said, “Soldiers’ social and economic conditions are much worse than that of the teachers and nurses. We are calling on our members not to act as scab labor during this period.”

The support of a large part of the public for the strike most likely pressured the news media to produce exposés about how bad the public health care system actually is. Nurses and doctors interviewed on some radio stations described how “patients died” all the time because of the dire lack of resources. They also said that if anyone should be called “murderers,” it was not the strikers—as the health minister had labeled them. It was the minister and his whole department who had the responsibility for failing to provide the resources for proper health care. Time and again, people referred to the billions which could be found for the World Cup, or to line the pockets of the insiders in government! This kind of coverage mitigated the effect of some anti-strike campaigning in the media.

Teachers also came under fire for abandoning high school students who were supposed to write their final “matriculation” exams. But the teachers responded. They pointed out that classes were suspended for the duration of the World Cup, so it was gross hypocrisy to criticize them for suspending classes to improve the pay and conditions of teachers, and therefore ultimately improving education!

By the fifteenth day of the strike, the Public Service minister, Richard Baloyi, put forward a revised offer of a 7.5% wage increase, backdated to April, and a $115 per month housing allowance, while complaining, “Obviously, we will have to borrow the money!

Union Leaders Organize the Return to Work

Despite this new government offer, the demonstrations planned for September 2 went ahead, with several thousands marching in the main towns. But the union apparatuses called off the solidarity strikes, using Baloyi’s latest offer as an excuse. Over the following days, union leaders met with their shop stewards in each province and were surprised by the rejection of the new offer by members in SADTU (teachers) and NEHAWU (health). According to the newspaper daily, City Press, on September 6, NEHAWU leaders in Johannesburg were chased out of a meeting by angry workers when they announced a decision to suspend the strike. Said one striker, “Members are angry and they want to protest by going to the national office to burn their membership cards.” Nevertheless, the local leader of SADTU confirmed that teachers were expected to report back to work the next day. “Teachers are not happy but after we learnt that some unions belonging to COSATU and the ILC (‘independent’ unions) accepted the government’s offer, we realized we can’t carry on with the strike alone.”

The union bureaucrats were using the tried and tested old trick used by union bureaucrats around the world. When bureaucrats want to call off a strike, they claim others have already returned to work. In fact, union leaders had obviously already decided to put an end to the strike. Evidence of this was the joint statement they issued to call it off, even before the shop-stewards’ consultations over the wage offer had been completed and despite the opposition expressed by many of them. To contain the strikers’ frustration, leaders used another well-worn bureaucratic device: they said the strike was only “suspended” for a period of three weeks “to allow for further consultation” with the members and negotiations with the government. In the meantime, the union apparatuses told workers to go back to work.

On September 30, the COSATU-affiliated public sector union, NEHAWU (representing 250,000 mainly health, education and welfare workers) said it would accept the government offer of a 7.5% raise and $116 per month housing allowance. The 10 Independent Labor Caucus unions representing 460,000 government workers were still “consulting” at the time of writing this article.

In some provinces, local agreements to reduce the burden of wage losses due to the strike were reached. But in Gauteng, NEHAWU and SADTU were involved in a vicious tug-of-war with the provincial authorities—so much so that a court injunction banned NEHAWU from organizing activists’ assemblies, presumably to pre-empt the risk of a vote in favor of resuming the strike! In other words, a new explosion of anger cannot be ruled out!

The strikers have succeeded in forcing the government to concede some ground, even though they may not have gotten what they demanded. Moreover, part of the strike days will be paid, de facto, thanks to the lump sum resulting from the backdating of the wage increase. Above all, the strike has given such a fright to Zuma’s regime that it is now bending over backwards to be seen as a champion of “massive investment” in the health service—investments which will be “even bigger than those made for the World Cup,” according to the health minister.

The Union Leaders’ Agenda

The COSATU leader, Zwelinzima Vavi, spoke the truth about the public sector strike when he told a union meeting, “Of course the strike is political. It is workers making political statements. Two years after Polokwane, we have nothing to celebrate. We lost more than 1.1 million jobs. As a result, 5.5 million South Africans have been pushed into poverty.” Nevertheless, Vavi and the other union leaders did nothing to ensure that the public sector mobilization achieved as much as would have been possible, given its scale and its political content.

The union leaders simply went along with the workers’ militancy. They took a number of initiatives that allowed this militancy to gain momentum. But they did this only within well-defined limits that constrained what this militancy could achieve. In the private sector, the strikes were confined within strict sectional boundaries, while in the public sector, the strikers were never offered the chance to fight for objectives that the enormous mobilization had the potential to win.

The point is that in this strike wave, union leaders had their own agenda, which had little to do with the strikers’ aspirations. Their real agenda had to do with the ongoing power struggle within the ANC and ruling Tripartite alliance. It was not an accident that the COSATU apparatus chose to suspend the public sector strike before and during the ANC’s National General Council in Durban. This meeting is one of the last stepping stones leading up to the next ANC national conference in 2012, when President Zuma’s ruling clique in the party will face reelection.

COSATU leadership’s intention was clearly to demonstrate to the ANC leading circles—and, in particular, to Zuma’s clique—that it is a force to be reckoned with. It demonstrated how it can set the working class in motion and then put a lid on its militancy, even while continuing to threaten a possible resumption of the public sector strike.

By the same token, this was a way for COSATU, the SACP (South African Communist Party) and the ANC Youth League to remind Zuma who facilitated his promotion to the helm of the ANC at Polokwane in 2007 and subsequently to the national presidency—and that his failure to reward this support might result in retaliation.

Too Many Snouts in the Trough

What is at stake in these factional rivalries within the ruling coalition is quite simply the self-enrichment and personal patronage that come with the elevation to political office.

The political settlement leading to the first multiracial election in 1994 involved an explicit endorsement by the capitalists—both white South African and the big shareholders of the multinational companies operating in the country—of the need to artificially co-opt a layer of the black middle-class into their ranks. This was achieved in 2003 through a mechanism legislated by Thabo Mbeki’s ANC government, cynically called “Black Economic Empowerment” or BEE.

Companies are supposed to recruit black people to their highest levels of management, creating black partnerships and ensuring that a portion of shares are in black hands. This guarantees, for instance, that these companies will be awarded government contracts.

The early days of this process produced a small number of “Rand Billionaires” like ex-miners’ leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, made rich by the Anglo-American company. In recent years a whole new layer of black capitalists has come into existence, thriving on joint ventures with foreign investors or deals on formerly state-owned facilities. What is worse, ANC politicians who brokered these deals also became filthy rich after taking their “cut,” leaving the political scene to move into sumptuous mansions in the richest districts of the country, where they could brush shoulders with the high flyers of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

However, with the passing of time, the size of the cake that could be shared out has shrunk, while the number of aspiring millionaires has continued to increase. And this has fueled increasingly acrimonious factional fights within the leading spheres of the ANC.

Not surprisingly, scandals have broken out over BEE patronage in the ruling circles.

One of these scandals was caused by the ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) deal which “could permanently tarnish BEE,” according to the metal workers’ union, NUMSA—as if BEE was not already discredited! ArcelorMittal “complied” with BEE by transferring 21% of AMSA’s assets to the Ayigobi consortium, for 1.2 billion dollars—a consortium part-owned by one of President Zuma’s sons. But in order to regain prospecting rights which had lapsed in Kumba Iron Ore’s Sishen mine, AMSA had to acquire Imperial Crown Trading (ICT) whose only asset is a 21% prospecting right in this mine! Indeed ICT, which is also linked to Zuma’s son, seems to have been set up expressly to obtain these prospecting rights, which the government conveniently awarded it in March 2010. NUMSA called it a“get rich quick scheme involving a so-called BEE consortium, Imperial Crown Trading.” COSATU added that it was hard to“dispel the perception that AMSA was buying political clout.”

Then there is the case of the gold mining company called Aurora Empowerment Systems, headed by Nelson Mandela’s grandson and President Zuma’s nephew. Aurora had purchased several of the Padmozi group mines, in bankruptcy, for a song, hoping to make a lot of money. But instead, it got into deep trouble. In March, the “temporary shedding” of 2,160 jobs at two of the mines was announced. But workers had already downed tools over nonpayment of their February wages and job loss threats. And still worse was to come. Aurora had been deducting workers’ pension contributions from their wages for five months previously, but had not paid these into the pension fund. Aurora also owed two million dollars to Eskom, the state electricity company. Soon its mines were shut down as Eskom cut off its electricity. But then something even more horrific happened. On August 9, security guards at one of the closed mines, Grootvlei, shot dead four illegal miners. Illegal miners, who have multiplied over the past years because of the huge job cuts (over one million in the mines), try to eke out an existence in the tunnels of abandoned mines, extracting leftover gold ore, despite the danger. But what did Zuma’s nephew have to say about this murder?“It’s an unfortunate situation what the illegal miners are doing. To me it’s pure crime.” To date, 20 bodies have been recovered from this mine!

The Working Class and the Anti-Zuma Demagogy

Predictably, such scandals have caused deep anger among the black working class, which was widely expressed during the protest marches and on the picket lines over the past year. Tapping into this anger, the factions seeking to put pressure on Zuma have made public some of the scandals.

The most prominent critic of Zuma has been ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who once said he would “kill for Zuma.” Not any more. He now accuses Zuma of graft and corruption and threatened not to support him at the 2012 ANC congress. But Malema’s agenda has, of course, nothing to do with the interests of the poor. A 29-year-old millionaire, Malema belongs to a new generation of ANC leaders who, as opposed to previous generations, have no “left” leanings, nor any sympathy for the working class movement, let alone for communism, not even in its Stalinist version. His condemnation of the public sector strikers speaks for itself!

Vavi, the COSATU leader, has also made severe criticisms of the regime’s “tenderpreneurs” (those who use their office to collect bribes in exchange for “influence” and government contracts), talking about a future scenario of “a predator state controlled by political hyenas that would make looting a normal activity.” But what do such criticisms mean? After all, leading circles of COSATU themselves have turned with ease into affluent businessmen, thanks to BEE.

Perhaps in their role of accusers, these people think they will not be accused!

David Masondo, the chair of the Young Communist League (YCL), published an article on September 5, entitled “BEE has evolved into a family affair: ZEE”—meaning Zuma Economic Empowerment. The article states: “The BEE model has promoted competition among politicians for access to institutional power and co-option by white business. This competition finds expression in political conflicts within the ANC and the state.... BEE has become a family affair.

Apparently this was too much even for Zuma’s critics. A rebuff was issued by the Executive of the YCL (probably prompted by the Communist Party leadership), which only goes to show that they have no intention of rocking the boat!

The truth is that the anti-Zuma campaign is not motivated by a political will to put an end to the corruption and self-enrichment of the political elite. The demand which Malema and others now put forward for “nationalization of the mines” clearly exposes the truth. Initially, it was the National Union of Mineworkers that demanded mine nationalization, as a response to the deterioration of workers’ conditions in the mining industry, shrinking employment and general mismanagement of the facilities by companies eager to make a quick buck, regardless of the consequences.

Since, subsequently, the ANC Youth League leader became the loudest proponent of nationalization, the demand has changed. That an ambitious businessman like Malema should endorse the idea of nationalizing the mines could only mean that he sees this nationalization as a potential cover for future deals, even more profitable than those organized under BEE.

This aspect of the mine nationalization ploy was shown clearly in the Communist Party’s September 10 issue of the African Communist magazine. The party stated that “narrow BEE interests have been behind recent ANCYL calls for nationalization of the mines.” As the article explains, “Even before the onset of the global capitalist crisis in 2007, many BEE mining interests were in trouble as a result of their high levels of indebtedness and also as a result of many being positioned within marginal mines. With the collapse of commodity prices from 2007 through to early 2010, the entire mining sector was adversely affected. Given their vulnerability, BEE mining interests were especially impacted... Many months before the ANCYL president began publicly to campaign on this [nationalization] ticket, forces closely linked to the ANC (and to some of the corporations noted above) had quietly begun to lobby for the government to nationalize the platinum sector.” And this article concluded that it was not hard to see that this could be a ploy “to bail out indebted BEE interests, diverting billions of rands of public funds to serve the interests of a narrow black (and white) capitalist stratum.”

Eventually, however, when the ANC’s National General Council meeting opened, the previously very vocal anti-Zuma campaign just fizzled out. Zuma’s policy was certainly not put into question. With the announcement of “policies” like the relaunching of the idea of a compulsory-for-all National Health Insurance (which had up to now disappeared from the Zuma administration’s agenda), Zuma seemed to have found something with which to placate everyone. While the threat of further industrial action was still looming over the conference, union leaders did not choose to use this card against their rivals. The anti-corruption crusaders exposed nothing but their own reluctance to rock the regime’s boat. And Zuma came out of the meetings unblemished.

The whole simply confirms that the working class can expect nothing from the anti-Zuma opposition. Their criticisms of the regime are only designed to serve their ambitions to improve access to the state’s coffers.

In any case, the anti-Zuma demagogy is unlikely to defuse the anger of millions of workers who are beginning to understand that the leaders of the ruling Tripartite Alliance have been in it for themselves all along. These leaders have now turned into full-fledged capitalist parasites, directly responsible, despite the legacy of apartheid, for the complete failure to alleviate the shocking poverty of the overwhelming majority of the population.

We hope that the South African working class will have seen, during the strike wave, what enormous potential power it has when mobilized. The working class may come to realize that the only effective weapon it can use to make changes is this collective power. But this time, it must find within its ranks a leadership it can control. It must unite all its forces in a common fight for objectives designed to resolve the social catastrophe that the parasitism of capitalism, black and white, has caused and continues to cause for the whole society.