The Spark

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

South Africa:
The vote ten years after the end of apartheid

May 3, 2004

In the April 14 elections, once again the ANC (African National Congress), party of Nelson Mandela, won overwhelmingly, and it increased its share of the vote slightly. For the first time, it came in first in every region in the country. Overall, the ANC won almost 70% of the vote.

There were 21 parties on the ballot in South Africa. The number two party was the Democratic Alliance, which for decades under apartheid was the party of the liberal white middle class. Its vote was only 12%. Number three was the Inkatha Freedom Party, which is a Zulu-nationalist party, and had almost all its votes in Kwazulu-Natal. The old party of apartheid, now called the New National Party, came in fourth. It did not oppose the ANC, but rather it pledged to work with it, in exchange for the ANC's promise of governmental positions in the Cape province, and maybe in the national government.

This new alliance is not as strange as it seems. The old National Party, which had run the apartheid government since 1948, brought the ANC to power in 1994 when force alone was not able to contain the long militant struggles against apartheid. The National Party – once the defender of apartheid – decided to dismantle it, in order to save capitalism. It made an alliance with the ANC to do so.

The ANC used its tremendous prestige to convince the black workers that now was the time for the reconciliation of all races. That meant that those torturers and murderers from the apartheid state apparatus who confessed openly to what they did were let go without punishment. The old repressive state apparatus was carried over. For years under apartheid, black people had waged rent strikes because they couldn't afford the high rents. Now the ANC told them that the country couldn't move forward unless rents were paid – which were higher than ever, and black people were no richer. Those who insisted on rent strikes were evicted by the government's security forces. The same applied to the refusal to pay utility bills for water or electricity.

Black workers have seen many union and ANC leaders join the boards of corporations where they received handsome salaries and became millionaires. The black middle class has grown, while the ANC has told black workers that they need to sacrifice for the economic development of the country.

Housing is a good touchstone of the ANC in power. Under apartheid the mass of black people lived in hovels and shanty towns. The ANC government has boasted that it built 1.2 million homes over the last ten years. But many are "starter homes," which are tiny one-room buildings that often develop cracks and even fall down. Yet three million families don't have even these shacks. The homeless build shelters in squatter camps. The government has been bulldozing these camps, and evicting squatters who move into empty buildings, including shooting those who don't move. Meanwhile, the black middle class has been able to move into the formerly all-white suburbs, where they are guarded behind walls and electric fences, with armed security guards for extra protection.

Today, the unemployment rate in South Africa is officially given as 41%, higher than the 28% at the end of apartheid. The mass of the black population lives at a level of poor underdeveloped countries, while the middle class enjoys a standard of living similar to that in Europe or the United States. No wonder that South Africa is shown by U.N. statistics to be one of the most unequal countries in the world – and it's becoming more and more unequal.

Ten years ago, TV stations around the world showed the picture of long lines of people who had never had the chance to vote coming out for the first time. Today, the number of registered voters is down 3 million from 1994, and the abstention rate in the recent election was 25% of the registered voters, compared to only 11% just five years ago. The catastrophic situation faced by the black workers certainly can explain their growing disillusion.

Nevertheless, the recent elections also show that the ANC still enjoys enormous respect from an important part of the black population due to the struggle against apartheid. But the experience and lessons drawn from the many struggles of black workers under apartheid still live on. The working class still makes South Africa's mines and industry run, which are by far the richest in Africa. They have every reason to turn their backs on the nationalism of the ANC which only holds them down, to fight for their class interests against the bourgeoisie, whether it be white or black.

The current issue of the Spark magazine Class Struggle has an in-depth article "South Africa: A decade of ANC rule – nationalism's exorbitant cost for the masses."