The Spark

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

Nelson Mandela:
Fighter Against Apartheid ... and Instrument of Transition for the South African Bourgeoisie

Jun 24, 2013

Nelson Mandela, the former leader of the African National Congress (ANC), the South African black nationalist party, and the first black president of the country between 1994 and 1999, is seriously ill, and may not reach his 95th birthday. For many, he remains the symbol of the struggle against the apartheid regime for over forty years. That system was imposed by the white bourgeoisie on the majority black South African population.

The National Party, made up only of Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch settlers from centuries before, won the 1948 whites’ only election and set up the apartheid system. It strengthened segregation and violence and the determination of a minority, which already owned all the economic wealth of the country, to cut off the black majority, that is, the poor and the working class.

For forty years, black people and coloreds (mixed-race people), were shoved into bantustans or poor rural reserves and townships, ghettoes on the outskirts of the big cities. They had to carry a written pass to work in a white zone. For years, the government systematically used oppression, scorn, the club, prison and torture.

Revolt never stopped against this unbearable widespread legal discrimination. In 1976, students confronted the government in the black township of Soweto. Then there were massive struggles from 1984 to 1986, including a miners’ strike, which threatened the government so much that it sought a negotiated settlement, even while it carried out ferocious repression against the opponents of apartheid. It wanted to prevent revolts and strikes from being transformed into a deep movement of the population, and especially the working class, which could endanger the bourgeoisie’s domination and the immense profits which it and its imperialist allies drew from the exploitation of the black South African workers.

The ANC and its leaders, including Nelson Mandela, took part in these negotiations with the white nationalist party in power. For a long time, the black nationalist party had been the leader of the anti-apartheid struggle. The government got rid of the racist laws, the official segregation and legalized political parties. In March 1990, it publicly opened negotiations with the ANC. Apartheid in law was ended in June 1991. From the moment the apartheid regime was ready to talk to the ANC, it tried to orient the revolt and workers’ struggles toward conciliation, which kept million of workers away from power.

In fact, even while taking into account the anger of the black population, the South African bourgeoisie thus preserved its domination. A referendum during the following year showed that 69% of the white population approved of the white president de Klerk. As a sign of recognition by the world bourgeoisie, Nelson Mandela was given the Nobel Peace Prize at the same time as President de Klerk. Mandela won elections in April 1994 as president of South Africa. The ANC formed the government together with the white National Party and the Zulu nationalist party.

Misery didn’t disappear. But, in the richest country in Africa, there was room for a black middle class and a black bourgeoisie to develop. Far from being revolutionaries, Mandela and the other ANC leaders collaborated in the leadership of the bourgeois state, allowing the leading layers of the black population to occupy positions and get rich. But it wasn’t the same for the poor population, the great majority of whom were black, who continued to suffer, if not from legal apartheid, at least from social apartheid. And this State always considered the workers who raised their heads as enemies.

Recently, in August 2012, during the strike at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, 34 strikers were killed by black police, who defended the capitalists’ profits. Then the black governmental ministers, members of the ANC, defended the action of the police and condemned the miners. Thus unfortunately, the policy of Mandela and the ANC, even if it led to the end of apartheid, maintained just as ferocious an exploitation.