The Spark

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

South Africa:
Poverty Riots

Jul 19, 2021

Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

South Africa has been rocked since July 10 by protests that became riots. The army was called in to reinforce the police. The crackdown has already left more than 70 dead.

The struggle between two clans within the ruling ANC party was the trigger. Several years ago, current President Cyril Ramaphosa and his supporters dismissed their rivals, grouped around former President Jacob Zuma, who was charged with corruption. He had to give way to Ramaphosa in 2018, before the end of his term. For two years, he refused to respond to summons from the courts, which eventually sentenced him to 15 months in prison for contempt.

After Zuma’s arrest, pro-Zuma protests began in KwaZulu-Natal province. The highway that connects the port of Durban to the country’s economic capital, Johannesburg, was cut off. The turmoil then changed in nature, reaching Johannesburg and especially the poor and densely populated suburbs surrounding the city. Riots led to the looting of businesses, including of food.

These old townships like Soweto are where the black population had to live during the days of the racist apartheid regime. They still hold concentrated poverty. The problems of the population of this country, one of the most unequal on the planet, are particularly acute.

A bourgeois minority, traditionally white but admitting a few rich blacks after the ANC came to power in 1994, monopolizes all the wealth. But at the other pole of society, poverty is concentrated. Thus 90% of black households cannot afford medical insurance. Unemployment rose in 2020 and has since remained officially at 32%. More than 7.2 million workers are unemployed. The lack of Covid vaccines has further accentuated this unsteady social situation, which has led to the current outbreak of revolt. The pro-Zuma unrest was only the trigger.

Before coming to power, the ANC represented a political hope for the black working class. It no longer offers any prospect for those whom poverty drives to revolt.