On May 7th, South Africa will hold the 5th national and provincial elections to take place since the downfall of apartheid. This year marks the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic elections. However, the elections are not marked by a jubilant mood. The past few years have seen a very sharp increase in the class struggle. At the same time the political establishment is stumbling from one crisis to another. This is a reflection of the sick nature of capitalism.
There is little doubt that the ANC will once again receive the majority of the votes. An lpsos poll predicted that it will win around 63 percent of the vote. The ANC has been in power for 20 years. It is still by far the most dominant party in South African politics. It has consistently scored electoral victories of well over 60 percent in each national election since 1994, with the biggest margin being 69.7 percent in 2004.
The ANC is the traditional organisation of the South African masses and is seen by many South Africans, as the standard bearer the South African revolution. Therefore, against the bourgeois parties the masses have always closed ranks to defend what they view as their organisation.
However, this does not mean that the working class is happy with the ANC and that its support is uncritical. On the contrary! Over the last 5 years the ANC has faced the wrath of the working class and the poor as protests and strikes have shaken the country to its foundations. In fact, since 2007 protests have risen by 100 to 200 percent every year!
At the heart of these protests lies anger and frustration from poor communities over issues such as the lack of delivery of basic services like water, adequate housing and sanitation. While millions of people have gained access to housing, clean water, electricity and sanitation, many cannot afford these and experience regular cuts in utilities.
In a country which is sitting on a sea of minerals and precious stones, unemployment is around 25 percent although for black South Africans it is above 30 percent. More than 40 percent of the population live below the poverty line.
On top of this, while millions are struggling to live, the ruling party is entangled in an endless stream of revelations about its looting and stealing of state assets and other forms of corruption. There is not a single week without reports of new crises ranging from internal power struggles, scandals, corruption and through to tribalism and patronage.
These crises have spread like a cancer through the ANC from the local level and up to the government. Several of its ministers have been implicated in allegations of fraud, corruption or maladministration. This rotten state of affairs has reached the highest office of the President with a seemingly never ending series of scandals which are following President Zuma everywhere.
The latest major scandal involves a palace that Zuma has built for himself for 246m rand (£13.7m) of taxpayers' money. Situated in one of the poorest areas of South Africa it is a clear reflection of South African society which is one of the most unequal societies in the world. Even worse was his arrogance when he tried to justify this open theft by claiming that government funded visitors centre, cattle kraal, chicken run, swimming pool and amphitheatre were all built for security purposes. For example, the swimming pool was classified as “firefighting equipment”.
But the most horrendous legacy of the last five years was the police massacre of 34 and the injuries to 78 other workers of London Mining platinum mine in Marikana on 16 August 2012. This was yet another turning point in the bloody history of the country. Here the ANC government, which in the eyes of the masses was supposed to be the government of the black majority, stood exposed as a government in defence of big business that would send the police to brutally massacre innocent black workers. For many people this massacre was reminiscent of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 where the Apartheid regime attacked and killed dozens of unarmed protesters.
It is clear that the ANC leadership is rotten to the core. Their shameless greed is a reflexion of their degeneracy and complete detachment from society. The arrogance of these so called leaders is causing disgust and rage amongst the mass of workers and poor. This has been reflected in a series of crises and struggles inside the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance (The ANC, the Communist Party (SACP) and the main trade union federation COSATU).
Since 2007, the ruling party has seen a series of fractions and splits, both to the left and to the right. First was the right wing split after the 2007 Polokwane conference when a section of the liberal wing broke away to form the Congress of the People (COPE). This was the result of the massive mobilisation of youth and worker activists of the Communist Party and COSATU which ended up ousting the then president Thabo Mbeki - and replacing him with Jacob Zuma who was the candidate of the left back then. Mbeki then split away to set up COPE.
Then there were the upheavals in the ANC Youth League which, reflecting the mood amongst the youth of the country became radicalised and moved sharply to the left. It started to campaign for the nationalisation of the mining sector and the expropriation of land. This resulted in a clash with the ANC and SACP leadership who had swung to the right by that time. When the campaign was defeated, the ANC moved to disband the entire executive committee of the League and expel its president, Julius Malema, from the party.
The expelled leadership of the Youth League then set up the Economic Freedom Fighters. The EFF has made rapid growth in the 8 months of its existence with some polls making it the third largest party in the country at around 8 percent. Promising “economic freedom in our lifetime,” it has attracted support mainly from the township youth who most often bear the brunt of unemployment. With its radical speech and calls for nationalisation the EFF has launched the most lively and radical campaign of all the parties. However, the “fighters” while correctly criticising the corrupt leaders, have also had a confronted and provocative attitude towards the mass of workers who still have illusions in the ANC leadership. Therefore they have not been able to make significant inroads into the working class.
The youth can, of course, be mobilised against the capitalist system and play an important role in building a revolutionary movement, but only if they are educated in the ideas of Marxism and turned towards the working class, which is the strongest and the most important force in society. Before being expelled from the ANC the Youth League leaders failed to organise a systematic political campaign within the ranks of the ANC. Today, that task remains the same: to develop a systematic and patient political campaign aimed at the working masses who still have illusions in the ANC leaders. Only by patiently explaining the shortcomings of the ANC leadership to its ranks and by presenting a clear socialist program can the EFF become a mass revolutionary force.
There are also a number of indicators that the EFF leaders are hesitating in taking a clear Socialist position. An excellent assessment of EFF was made by the special congress of the metal workers union, NUMSA, in December 2013:
* Expropriation of South Africa’s land without compensation for equal redistribution in use.
* Nationalisation of mines, banks, and other strategic sectors of the economy, without compensation.
* Building state and government capacity, which will lead to the abolishment of tenders.
* Free quality education, healthcare, houses, and sanitation.
* Massive protected industrial development to create millions of sustainable jobs, including the introduction of minimum wages in order to close the wage gap between the rich and the poor, close the apartheid wage gap and promote rapid career paths for Africans in the workplace.
* Massive development of the African economy and advocating for a move from reconciliation to justice in the entire continent.
* Open, accountable, corrupt-free government and society without fear of victimisation by state agencies.”
There are two key gaps, from a working class perspective, in the position of the EFF:
The EFF supports nationalisation but has never indicated any support for that nationalisation to take place under workers’ control. In fact it has indicated recently that it might include, at least temporarily, the state taking majority shareholdings. We know that nationalisation by itself is not necessarily in the interests of the working class.
* One example is Argentina in the 1940s: nationalisation of the railways as well as foreign-owned gas, electricity and communication companies was an example of populist nationalism (called Peronism) not socialism. Trade unions were tightly controlled and the regime was repressive
* Another example is Britain, also in the 1940s: the nationalisation of the British steel industry was carried out in order to enable capitalist manufacturing to flourish, not to empower the working class.
So, whilst NUMSA’s position is a clear class position, the position of the EFF is not.
The EFF is explicitly anti-capitalist, but it is not socialist. In the 22 page EFF manifesto, whilst there is a commitment to anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism, the word “socialism” does not appear at all. So the organisation is committed to a struggle against capitalism but it does not clarify what kind of society it is struggling for.”
While the leaders of the Communist Party are today occupying the right-wing of the ANC, their role as the focal point of the most radical workers has been taken by the NUMSA. Over the past period the union has grown to more than 330 000 members, the biggest any union has ever been in the history of the South African labour movement.
This has been due to the increasingly radical positions that it has taken. In its special congress held in December 2013 it passed an interesting document which should be read in full. Here are a few excerpts:
“1. The working class is under siege from the forces of capitalism. These forces are within and outside of the movement. Inside the movement, capitalist forces are pushing for the open adoption of neoliberal policies, advance a deliberate petit-bourgeois and revisionist interpretation of the Freedom Charter, and are extremely intolerant of even an iota of criticism of the state.
2. The forces of capitalism within the movement seek to stifle workers' discontent. The working class is restless because of the continued dominance in South Africa by the white monopoly capitalist class. Since the 1970's and before 1994, white monopoly capitalism suffered from the long-term structural crisis of falling profitability.
11. Such is the brief political economy context within which we operate. The on-going cyclical crisis of capitalism is embedded in the long-term structural crisis of colonial capitalism in this country. As we have mentioned repeatedly, this long-term structural crisis cannot and will not be resolved unless the basic wealth of our country is transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole through first and foremost, the nationalisation of the mines, banks and other monopoly industries and through an active industrial and trade policy to control other industry to assist in the well-being of the people.
13. We have boldly maintained that at the heart of the crisis in COSATU are two opposing forces: the forces of capitalism and the forces socialism. The capitalist forces within the Federation seek to make workers to understand and tolerate the continuation of white monopoly capitalist domination, by accepting elements of the neoliberal NDP.
The socialist forces seek to mobilise the working class to break the power of white monopoly capitalism through the implementation of the Freedom Charter as historically understood by the working class.
14. It is also within this context that we should understand the recent speeches by senior leaders of the Alliance that are aimed at NUMSA. As we have always maintained, NUMSA is an unashamedly a socialist union, guided by Marxism-Leninism. We are convinced that the recent attacks on NUMSA by senior leaders of the Alliance, in the context where COSATU is in a state of paralysis, cannot be understood outside the on-going conflict between the working class and the capitalist class both within and outside of the Alliance.” (Ideological Reflections and Responses to Some of the Recent Attacks)
It is these radical positions which have made NUMSA the focal point of the most radical workers in South Africa. If the NUMSA leaders turned boldly towards the ANC with this programme they would have a good chance of repeating the results from the Polokwane congress and win over the whole of the ANC to revolutionary socialism. But this is not the direction they are taking.
During the above mentioned congress, the union also decided to cut its political ties with the ANC and investigate the possibility of the setting up of a new party. This is yet to materialise. However, by not building a clear platform within the ANC - but instead cutting its political ties with the party - and at the same time not proposing any political alternative the NUMSA leaders have effectively tied their own hands. A large part of the ranks of the ANC are sympathetic to the radical stances of NUMSA. If NUMSA appealed to these on a clear socialist programme it would have a big impact. Not posing an alternative though only serves to sow confusion.
NUMSA is not a small organisation. It is the leading revolutionary force within the South African working class. By using this position to appeal to the South African working class it could deal a serious blow to the corrupt petit-bourgeois (and bourgeois) leaders of the ANC. By not posing any political alternative however it is leaving power in the hands of the rotten right wing clique around Jacob Zuma, practically uncontested.
Recently a draft document has surfaced where NUMSA declares its determination to build a new socialist party. The document states:
“It is important for the Numsa central committee, including the nine unions [which constitute the majority of the members of COSATU - ed.] who are working with us, to be categorical. The door of the stable is open and the horses have bolted. We can’t tamper with the formation of a movement for socialism. Workers and their trade unions like Numsa, which remains a trade union while being a catalyst for a movement for socialism, need a working-class party.
This cannot be postponed any longer,”
The setting up of a working class party could be a positive step forward and could serve to clarify the class lines which have been blurred to a large degree by the “multi-class” composition of the ANC. However, the actual setting up of such a movement and the development of its programme is planned for an unknown future.
Again, this means that until that time, and especially in the crucial pre-election period where the masses are agitated and are looking for political alternatives, NUMSA is failing to provide one. At the same time, the NUMSA leaders should not forget that their main task for the next period, whether within the Alliance or within a new party, would be to turn towards the ranks of the ANC and organise an energetic, political campaign to win them over to the ideas of Marxism.
The Bourgeois Opposition
Despite the problems of the ANC, the main party of the bosses - the Democratic Alliance (DA) - has not made any significant inroads into the ANCs support base. Although the party has grown over the last 20 years, it has mostly been at the cost of smaller opposition parties. Although the workers hate the ANC leaders, they are also fully aware of the class character of the DA, which they see as a remnant of the Apartheid regime.
The fact that the DA cannot make any dent in the ANC’s support base proves that the balance of forces is heavily in favour of the working class. Therefore, the capitalists have been compelled to govern through the leadership of the ANC for the last 20 years.
The rottenness of the DA was graphically exposed during the election campaign. In a deeply embarrassingly indecent, the DA tried once again to swallow a small opposition party, Agang Sa, which was formed by a former World Bank director, Mamphela Ramphele. Ramphele was also an anti-apartheid activist and partner of anti-apartheid hero Steve Biko.
The DA opportunistically tried to enlist her as their presidential candidate for the elections to give themselves a “black face” with “struggle credentials” and to ward off any criticism that it is a party that represents the white elite. All seemed to be going well. With much fanfare, there was even a media conference by the leaders of the both parties with the DA leader, Helen Zille, making the ”historic announcement” that Ramphele has accepted the offer. Zille, seated next to Ramphele, said this was a “game-changing” moment for South Africa. For her part, Ramphele said that the decision to join the two parties was made “in the best interests of the country as we head into turbulent waters.” However, this turned out to be a complete farce. The “game-changing moment” lasted for all of 5 days! Rather embarrassingly the deal fell flat on its face. It turned out that neither of the parties had consulted their respective memberships about the merger and therefore they both suffered internal ramifications. This episode exposed the opportunistic nature of the DA and has been an endless source of laughter and ridicule during the campaign.
The DA is the governing party in the Western Cape where it graphically shows that it is a party for the wealthy. Although the rich suburbs of Muizenberg and Clifton in Cape Town receive world class services, the same cannot be said for poor communities such as Nyanga and Kayelitsha. In fact, Cape Town is an extremely unequal city. More than 36 percent of the city’s households earn less than R3500 a month. More than 30 percent of African people are unemployed, compared to less than 6 percent of whites. Another problem is the crisis of housing. 51 percent of applicants for houses in the city live in shacks, 31 percent live in backyards and 12 percent shares a house with other people and 63 percent are unemployed. Yet, most of South Africa’s richest people live in Cape Town with its splendid beaches and wine-growing estates.
Other political parties are also in crisis. The once dominant bastion of the apartheid regime was Afrikaner nationalism. However, there is only one party represented in parliament that still represent this ideology, namely the Freedom Front Plus. And it is only represented in parliament with 0.8 percent of the vote. The rest of those parties that still adhere to Afrikaner nationalism are either insignificantly small or have been swallowed up by the Democratic Alliance.
The so called left wing organisations are in no better shape. The most ‘prominent’ one of them is the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) which was set up by the Democratic Socialist Movement and is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers International. Initially there were talks between EFF and WASP on forming a possible alliance, but this soon collapsed allegedly because they could not agree over the term “nationalisation” WASP spokesperson, Mametlwe Sebei explained:
“Our demand for nationalisation is not an end all by itself. It is necessary to expropriate capital’s private ownership but for the purpose of bringing society into public ownership. Their [the EFF's] position is nationalisation to bring sectors of the economy into state control, which doesn’t resolve the problems of the working class. It only poses the question of who owns the state and who benefits.”
So, instead of forming a united front with the EFF on some common issues and working within the ranks of the EFF to win them over to a socialist programme, WASP decided to abandon it and is instead running on a “true socialist programme!”.
“Anyone [of our candidates - ed.] who [leads] WASP and fails to meet our demands and honour their commitment, we will not wait five years to remove and we will address this as a principle. All candidates are going to be selected on principle of worker priorities. None of our representatives will take the hefty packages which are way above the figures or wages of the workers…” Mr Sebei said.
These words sound very compelling, however actions speak louder than words. The main candidate presented by the WASP is the former leader of NUMSA who has been member of ANC, SACP and COPE, Moses Mayekiso. Mayekiso, a regular party hopper, has also been implicated in a major corruption scandal around an arms deal with the Swedish company Saab in 1999. Not only this, Mayekiso has, until recently, served in the Gauteng legislature as a member of the right wing COPE where he was one of the biggest neo-liberal advocates. In the legislature, he was also involved in unseemly power struggles that practically decimated the COPE caucus. Of course WASP is not advertising the last part of Mayekiso’s CV.
The selection of Mayekiso who until a few months earlier represented a bourgeois party, as the main candidate and the complete dismissal of any rapprochement with the ranks of the Alliance show the rottenness of these groups. Their main aim is not to boldly put forward their programme amongst the working class, which is not an easy task, but to isolate their activists and avoid the inconvenience of actually having to defend their position. In doing this they show their utter opportunist approach and a complete lack of confidence in the working class. One day they denounce the actual workers organisations as through and through rotten and bourgeoisified, and the next day they engage in the most opportunist deals with rotten petit-bourgeois elements.
No outlet for the frustration
Over the past few weeks, a group of ANC veterans led by anti-apartheid activist Ronnie Karils has launched the “Vote No!” campaign which calls on voters not to vote for the ANC or the main bourgeois party Democratic Alliance in the elections or, alternatively, to spoil their ballots to show their level of dissatisfaction. This campaign has received a lot of attention from basically all the major parties which are claiming to “protect the right to vote.” But Karils has defended the campaign,saying: ”We cannot stand idly by when we see these crimes of corruption and murder.”
This campaign is a clear symptom of the levels of dissatisfaction with the ANC leaders. However it shows no way forward for the masses and would, if successful, mainly lead to demoralisation amongst the workers and poor. The main task of revolutionaries in South Africa today is not to be in opposition to the ANC leadership. The majority of South Africans are already disgusted by them. The main task is to to develop an alternative to them and to patiently explain this alternative.
Although he is making a mistake in regards to the elections, Kasrils is a good reflection of the frustration within the ANC ranks. From the point of view of the masses, there is no clear working class alternative to the ANC. This is also the reason why Zuma will most probably win the elections - although it is not clear how comfortable his victory will be. The class struggle is not dampening. On the contrary, South African capitalism is in the throes of a capitalist crisis with no end in sight. Two decades ago, the establishment of bourgeois democracy with a bill of rights was a major advance for the working class and the poor of South Africa. But formal democratic rights have not solved the problems of housing, unemployment, inequality and poverty. These problems are caused by the capitalist system, but they will not be solved by abstentionism. Only by mobilising the working class in order to expropriate the wealth stolen by the capitalists can the problems of society be solved. The task of the Marxists is to begin the building of a leadership that can put these ideas at the head of the movement.