South Africa: Aurora mine scandal highlights the need to struggle for socialism

In October 2009, South African mining company Aurora Empowerment Systems took over Pamodzi Gold Ltd when it went into liquidation. As a result, Aurora started to run two gold mines, Grootvlei mine in Springs, on the East Rand, and the Orkney mine in the North West.

Soon, the company ran into trouble and by February and March of this year, miners at both mines stopped receiving their wages. Aurora had also accumulated debts with the tax office, the unemployment insurance, the miners’ pension fund, as well as creating environmental damage through contamination of water in one of its operations. The company’s 1200 workers, most of them miners who work 1000 metres underground and live in run-down hostels with no schools, have not received their wages since. Since April, there has been no water and no electricity at the hostels.

sowetanThen in August, four bodies were found in Aurora’s Grootvlei mine, after reports appeared in the newspapers that security guards had killed up to 20 “illegal miners”. The investigation has not yet been completed.

The story is even more scandalous because Aurora owners are extremely well connected individuals: Mandela's grandson Zondwa is managing director of the company and Zuma's nephew Khulubuse is chairman. They still live a life of luxury which is paraded everyday in the pages of South African newspapers. In September, Khulubuse Zuma attended the wedding of national police commissioner Bheki Cele in a R2.5-million Mercedes-Benz SLS63 AMG gullwing.

Aurora was supposed to be a model of “Black Economic Empowerment”, the mechanism through which a handful of black businesspeople (many of them with links with the liberation movement and even the trade union movement) have become capitalists themselves while the majority of South Africa’s poor and working class population still suffer from low wages, lack of housing, landlessness, etc.

Now, the miners have taken action demanding the payment of their wages and to get their jobs back. We publish here a letter we have received from South Africa regarding this issue, which expressed the depth of anger which has accumulated over this struggle, and also advocates the only solution to the problem: nationalization under workers’ control.

The scandal of Aurora highlights one of the main issues confronting the workers’ movement in South Africa: the end of apartheid has given everyone political rights, but workers are still oppressed by capitalists. The only difference is that some of these are now black, but they are still capitalists, out to make a profit from the exploitation of the working class. The attempt to solve the “race question” without addressing the “class question” has failed miserably. The only way forward is the struggle for socialism, where “the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole” as is stated in the Freedom Charter. The struggle for nationalization under workers’ control of Aurora should be seen as part of that wider struggle. (Introductory note by Jorge Martín)

Establish workers’ control at Aurora

By Aubrey Ntsako Baloyi (member of ANC, SACP and YCLSA)

I had a bible next to me before writing this piece. The aim to have the holy bible was to check if one can serve two gods at once, but due to my biblical illiteracy, I couldn’t find the right chapter and its verse. The idea was to give a right quote from the bible itself. It should be easy to say you cannot serve two masters. Its either you love one and hate the other. Workers have no choice when it comes to the two masters, capitalism as a cruel master has failed the world and the working class in every corner of the world. It is proposed that the workers be involved in the day to day running of the means of production since eventually the capitalists and the oligarchy will be eliminated. The workers need to be liberated from the chains of exploitation and the means of production to be expropriated from the capitalists and the oligarchy. In brief, they want to socialize the means of production and have a planned socialist economy.

SACP and COSATU want to achieve socialism as the only political force which will liberate the working class from the tight chains of the capitalists and abolish private capital and private property concentrated in the hands of the few. This is the revolutionary theory which has been used in many industrialized countries to liberate workers, and this revolutionary theory was best articulated by Karl Marx and inherited the name Scientific Marxism (Socialism). In socialism, all the commanding heights of the economy should be socialized and put under the control of the workers and the community (stakeholders) around. And I believe the party and COSATU fully agree with me on the latter.

To the point: the former Pamodzi goldmine recently acquired and controlled by Aurora empowerment system. The situation at their Grotvlei and Orkney mines caused me to write this piece. The mines have not been in operation for more than a year now with the president chopping and changing the minister of labour. And it looks like the workers will be penniless this coming festive season. The latter is caused by the situation in these two mines, the capitalists have maximized the profit and they don’t care now. It is highly unlikely that they will go back to work soon, unless another capitalist comes over to re-exploit them again. It is very bad to have two black capitalists exploiting our thousands of brothers and finish by starving them to death by closing the mine. This is possible as comrade Alan Woods once said “the exploiting classes are a small minority of society. They could not rule without the help of a large number of sub-exploiters and sub-sub exploiters.”. The ZUMNDELA1  minority felt it was right to exploit the working class and leave them with hunger. It is important to name the capitalists before we start lashing at them. The mine was managed by ZUMNDELA capitalists after the other capitalists liquidated the operations.

Comrades at large, it cannot be correct that these workers took this long not working and the state is silent while it wants to reduce unemployment. Also, it cannot be correct that we simply run to the courts to solve these matters. We are not going to allow a situation where people who worked their whole lives in these mines cannot be given the option to manage and run this operation. Week in week out we read in the capitalists’ newspapers the menu at the parties of the rich, while the workers go for days without eating . From the labour federation leadership, we are tired of always reading your speeches talking about the luxuries of ZUMNDELA capitalists!2 Those who are close to the family are now gatvol3  to always read in weekend newspapers that one of the capitalists is owning several cars and he just attended some event with his new sports car worth millions of rands. We are tired of the Department of Labour misusing our court rooms to request Unemployment Insurance Fund [from the company] to pay these workers instead of demanding.

We need to act; SACP and COSATU need to take decisive steps and give hope to these miners. The party needs to revive its mandate and prove its vanguard role. The communists need to come up with a winning formula based on the workers’ control revolutionary process in favour of working men and women and the community at large. This is not NATIONALISATION to help a few to digest sushi in their sleep and buy sharp nose shoes and dated alcohol. Here we nationalize to put the workers in control. Why do we waste the legal fees on getting the permission from the state for these vulnerable workers to run the mine? Why not go to court to get the books and accounts of the mine opened? Why don’t we put the workers’ control proposal to the workers? Why are we not organizing the workers through NUM in the operation to get their view on our proposal? I won’t be scared to mention/suggest we auction the property of the ZUMNDELA capitalists and improve the sanitation, drinking water and basic things which are already appalling from the miners’ residence? SACP will agree with me that if the above question can be answered, this is the basics of socializing the means of production!

The only way to save the workers at Aurora from starvation is through workers’ control. Workers have been producing since they worked and are experienced in the work they do in those mines, from the rock-driller, general workers, miners, and shifts supervisors up to the mine captains. These are the people who have always run these operations/mines while the capitalists enjoyed air-conditioning in their luxury offices. I don’t see why these workers, with hundreds of years of experience combined shouldn’t be given the mines to manage themselves. The only thing workers aspire to now is to have their jobs back, so why not initiate this debate through the NUM? Why not form workers’ councils? Why not put our (SACP) Marxism theory into practice? It is not right that we wait for manna to fall from heaven for these workers, as if manna ever existed in the world of capitalists!

In some Latin American countries (like Venezuela), workers’ control and workers’ management have been one of the solutions for companies in a situation like Aurora. Workers’ control means exactly what it says; the working class and its representatives in the factories have the right to check the books of the company or industry, to check and control the input and the outputs and complete the management actions. It is through workers’ control where the average working class knows the marketing, the full process operations, finances and the managing of the entire business.

Workers should at all times guard against the trade union bureaucrats emerging as capitalists in future since they will be part of operation committees. History has showed that some opportunist unionists have sold the interests of the workers down the river in exchange for cigars and dated alcohol provided by the capitalists. It is proper to conclude the paragraph with a legit case study. A good example will be the Alcan smelter in Jonquiere, Quebec. Alcan is the world’s largest producer of aluminium. The big smelter in Jonquiere was scheduled to close in 2014. In early 2004, Alcan suddenly announced they were going to close the smelter. As part of a defensive struggle, the workers’ occupied the plant. They soon became painfully aware of sabotage on the part of management, and removed the supervisors and managers from the smelter. After this, they reported that production was higher than it was before the workers had taken control. I will divorce Marxism if one can tell me that the above is not possible with Aurora.

I will conclude by saying, it is best if the vanguard party and the labour movement do something about the Aurora situation. Failure to do so, would be failing the working class. The struggle to have better working condition in the workplace will never be attained if the state machinery cannot even try to bring the ZUMNDELA capitalists to justice. They failed to comply with safety and health acts, failed to comply with SARS (South African Revenue System) and the re-paying of UIF (Unemployed Insurance Fund) to their employees. This is the same company which hired foreign nationals unlawfully. It’s a pity the workers are still out of their jobs now and the ZUMNDELA capitalists are changing cars like underwear. Soon they will be exploiting our half-naked sisters as trays to serve sushi, and the mini-god’s response will be that we hate black success. It cannot be right that in the country where people go to bed with hungry stomachs, successful people will be buying several sports cars while retrenching and not paying our workers. Workers in Aurora are not looking for luxuries like sushi, dated alcohol and sports cars. They are looking for employment to take care of their families just like the ZUMNDELA capitalists will be taking their families to overseas holidays and enjoy eating on half-naked women.

We cannot depend on the Department of Labour to help the Aurora workers, this is the same department which neglected to thoroughly deal with the bosses and only resolved to negotiate the UIF to be paid to the employees. I am saying that the NUM should go back to the people and organize them to run the mines themselves. We are sending the message to the capitalists that we are not going to allow them to sabotage the operations in the future. This is a workers’ struggle, and whoever stands in our way will be crushed and milled. If the Department really cares about the workers, it should force the bosses to open the books of the company, service provider’s lists included. PIC (Public Investment Company) should inject the monies to help the workers run the mine and their loan will be repaid because we can guarantee production and profit if workers’ control is implemented. The PIC should help in abolishing unemployment rather than funding sushi capitalists who maximize profits and forget to pay wages to employees.

Down with ZUMNDELA capitalists, down!
Forward with workers’ control at Aurora, forward!

(Tuesday, November 9, 2010)

1 .- Aurora Empowerment Systems, the company which bought Pamodzi Gold, is headed by Khulubuse Zuma, nephew of President Jacob Zuma, and Zondwa Mandela, grandson of former president Nelson Mandela. (back)

2 .- COSATU general secretary Vavi recently attacked black gold mining capitalist Kenny Kunnene for throwing a 700,000 Rand birthday party at which “sushi was served from bodies of half naked ladies" (back)

3 .- Fed up.  (back)