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

A Symbol of Struggle but Not a Representative of the Exploited

Dec 9, 2013

Nelson Mandela has died. Tributes to him come in from the entire world, from the powerful, from black people and white. But not everyone agrees on what he represents.

In Mandela, black people of South Africa and the oppressed of the entire world want to salute the fight of a people against racial segregation and for freedom and equality.

The imperialist leaders, on the other hand, salute the policy of Mandela which consisted in limiting this fight. They see in Mandela the man of “reconciliation” and of “peace.” But it was a question of the social peace of the bourgeoisie and imperialism, which made it possible for those at the top of society to continue to enrich themselves, while those down below got poorer and poorer!

The fight against apartheid was the fight of an entire people, rising against a disgusting regime that used the club, torture and prison as methods of government. This struggle meant as much suffering and heartbreak as courage and pride.

So through Mandela the oppressed of the entire world are rendering homage to the people of South Africa, the oppressed who rebelled, the people in Sharpeville and Soweto, the miners and massacred workers.

But the battle against apartheid is unfinished, precisely because of the policy of Mandela and his party, the African National Congress (ANC). At the end of the 1980s, the white leaders at the head of the South African regime, confronted with revolts and ceaseless strikes, were pushed to end the system of racial oppression. They chose to ally with Mandela and the ANC, who had credit among the black masses, to negotiate a smooth end to apartheid.

It was a question of ending the laws sanctioning racial oppression, without affecting the hold of the white owners over the economy, without questioning the profit of the multinational companies, without questioning the interests of the imperialists, in particular in the mines.

Mandela was the man for the job. His long imprisonment by the apartheid regime made him the symbol of the fight against racial oppression. But he wasn’t at all against private property in land and mines, against exploitation, against capitalism, against the existence of an elite. He was for them, on the condition that some black people could find a place among them.

The workers and the poor, who expected that the end of apartheid would lead to a redistribution of land and access to jobs, decent housing, health care, running water and quality schools, were asked to wait, in the name of “national reconciliation.”

But the end of apartheid didn’t change the lives of the poor masses. The black ghettos didn’t disappear. Life for the great mass of black people remains miserable; and they suffer from disgraceful working, living and housing conditions.

Inequalities and exploitation are as ferocious as they were under apartheid, as the miners’ strike of Marikana showed in 2012. And today poor black workers are clubbed, imprisoned and assassinated by black police!

The homage that black South Africans render Mandela attests to their thirst for freedom and their hope for a better life. But that will only be accomplished–there as here–by a fight against the capitalist social order, so that there are no more privileges and privileged, either black or white.