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South Africa: The aftermath of the Marikana massacre and the struggle within the ANC

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On Monday, September 3, most of the miners arrested during the Marikana massacre were released after an outcry of protest forced the state prosecutor to withdraw charges of murder against them. The strike at Lonmin continues as well as strikes and protests at other mines. The incident has clearly revealed the real content of the struggle between left and right in the run up to the ANC Manguang Conference.

Police officers after the massacrePolice officers after the massacreIt is revealing that the 270 miners and others arrested during the Marikana massacre were charged with murder of their 34 comrades who had been killed by the police. It says a lot about how little has really changed despite the 1994 transition from apartheid to formal capitalist democracy. The “common purpose” doctrine which was used to charge them was widely used by the apartheid regime to send MK and ANC fighters to the gaols, without having to go into the trouble to actually find any proof of their guilt. The doctrine states that people involved in a common activity are equally responsible for any damage that results from it, even if they have not physically committed it.

Even if one accepts the legality of the doctrine, how can it be argued that those 270 arrested had a common purpose with the perpetrators of the murder of their comrades! And if they indeed were acting in common purpose with the police who opened fire and killed 34 miners on August 16 at Marikana, then, shouldn’t the police officers and those who gave them orders be also put on trial for murder? So far, none of the police officers have even been suspended nor are any under investigation.

These charges, bizarre as they are, have a logic behind them. The miners who went on an unprotected (unlawful) strike and defied the orders of the police and the mine owners must be collectively punished for their actions. They must serve as an example to others and prevent further wild cat strikes.

Not only the charges but also the treatment of the arrested miners was to set an example. Instead of being charged and given bail within 48 hours, as the law provides for, they were in custody for over two weeks and for a large part of this period they had not even been charged with a crime. Their lawyers attempted to get a bail hearing with no results. The released miners have also complained about being tortured while in custody.

Finally the outcry was such and the embarrassment for the ANC ruling party was so damaging that even Justice Minister Jeff Radebe was forced to ask for a formal explanation from the Prosecutor’s Authority. Finally the charges were dropped. Even as the announcement was being made to the press, the provincial prosecutor who had brought murder charges against the workers, Johan Smit SC, reaffirmed that he had not been wrong and that the charges were sound to the astonishment of the national director of prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba who was by his side.

It was clear that the decision to charge them was political, as was the decision to release them. In fact, only the “provisional murder charge” was withdrawn, the others remain, but most of the miners have been released.

In the meantime, more details have emerged about the massacre itself which contradict the official police version that they had acted in “self-defence”. A detailed report by investigative journalist Greg Marinovich concluded that in fact, at least 14 of the 34 miners killed by the police were shot minutes after the main stampede and shootings, 300 metres away, when they were cornered and defenceless. Some were run over by police armoured cars (Nyalas) when they were already on the floor. The report confirms the initial findings of professor Peter  Alexander of the University of Johannesburg who concluded that it was the police firing on the workers that provocked them to stampede in the direction of the police through a narrow gap in the barbed wire fence that the police had laid surrounding them.

The idea that the background to this massacre was the conflict between rival unions, COSATU-affiliated NUM and ACMU, is also wrong. As a matter of fact many of those killed were NUM members, some of them even elected shop stewards. An example of this is the case of Andries Ntsenyeho, a 42 year old rock drill operator from the Free State, a paid up member of the NUM and one of the small group of workers elected by the strikers to be their leaders. Survivors of the massacre allege that he and other strike leaders were deliberately targeted by the police during the massacre.

The president of ACMU Joseph Mathunjwa himself declared that he was called in to mediate before the massacre and he was quoted by the media as calling on the miners to go back to work.

The truth is that the Marikana massacre starkly reveals a situation in which a small number of blacks, many with backgrounds in the liberation movement, have benefited from the end of apartheid by becoming extremely wealthy, while the majority of workers and the poor have not seen any fundamental change in their conditions.

Former NUM leader and current ANC NEC member Cyril Ramaphosa is a clear example of this. He has become a wealthy businessman and even sits on the board of Lonmin, the company the miners were fighting against. The right wing bureaucratic clique that dominates the ANC and also the South African Communist Party is a firm defender of this state of affairs. The main worry of government ministers after the massacre was not that the police killed striking workers, but the reaction of foreign investors. The Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, who is also a Communist Party CC member, is now to travel to Britain with the aim of reassuring investors.

Within the COSATU federation, the right wing clique is stronger within the NUM, whose leaders have become increasingly out of touch with their members. The wildcat strike by 12,000 miners at Gold Fields on the West Rand, which started on August 29, is a case in point. Here the workers are protesting against a decision by the NUM local leadership to unilaterally deduct R69 from their salaries for a funeral policy without consulting them. The workers also accuse the local branch leadership of being involved in business deals detrimental to the workers, including owning the catering company which provides them with food.

It is in this context that the leader of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, opened a debate about the need to nationalise the mining industry, a call which was received with widespread support across the movement. However the SACP leadership came out strongly against it and the call and it was also opposed by the NUM leaders. The response of the ANC leadership, with full support from the SACP leadership, was to move to expel Malema as well as ANC YL spokesperson Floyd Shivambu. The actual charges levelled against them (bringing the ANC into disrepute) are irrelevant; the real reason is that their call for the nationalisation of mines was providing a rallying point of opposition to the pro-capitalist leaders of within the movement.

The whole movement (ANC, the Youth League, the YCL, COSATU, the SACP, etc) is divided along left-right lines, though the political issues are not always coming clearly to the fore and are many times clouded by personality and power struggles.

Malema and Shivambu, to their credit, have been the only ones to go to Marikana, to help and support the victims of the massacre and their relatives, provide legal defence for the arrested workers and go and speak to other striking workers to defend their struggle.

The left wing within COSATU, represented by the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA), has issued a sharp statement on the Marikana massacre that goes straight to the main points. The CC statement clearly states that the background to the massacre is a “worsening global and local capitalist economy which increasingly will resort to bloody violence to “discipline” the working class in order to defend its falling profits.” It clearly defines Marikana as “the first post-apartheid South African State massacre of the organised working class, in defence of the local and international mining bosses and their profits.” It goes on to explain something which should be ABC to Marxists but which the SACP leaders have forgotten:

“that in a capitalist state or class divided country like South Africa, the state will always act in the interests of the dominant class: the class that owns, control and commands the economy, political and social life.”

And puts that statement in the context of South Africa where:

“we understand the dominant capitalist class to be centred on the Minerals/Energy/Finance Complex and axis. We are therefore not surprised that the post 1994 South African state and government – a state and government whose strategic task and real reason for existence is the defence and sustenance of the Minerals/Energy/Finance Complex - will do anything to defend the property rights and profits of this class, including slaughtering the working class.”

It goes on to call on COSATU and other revolutionary forces to create their own independent commission of enquiry “because… the bourgeoisie and its apologists will in one way or the other use the Marikana tragedy to heighten the already active ideological and repressive offensive against the growing militancy of the working class at the point of production and in communities at large,” and calls for the suspension of those who carried out the massacre and a full investigation on who gave the order “to shoot workers with live bullets when they peacefully assembled on that fateful mountain in Marikana”.

NUMSA’s CC is not shy to use Marxist terminology: “By this singular act, the police have violently reminded us once again what Marx and Lenin taught us about the state: that it is always an organ of class rule and class oppression and that bourgeois democracy is nothing but the best political shell behind which the bourgeoisie hides its dictatorship.”

The statement then concludes that the only way forward is the nationalization of the mines: “NUMSA is convinced that unless the mineral wealth of our country is returned to the people as a whole, mining will continue to be characterised by violence against the working class either, through dangerous working conditions or from the bullets of the police in defence of the profits of the mining bosses. We see no solution to the violence against workers on the mines apart from nationalisation in defence of the lives of all South Africans.”

However, the statement by NUMSA does not limit itself to addressing the question of the Marikana massacre, but draws general political conclusions which are revolutionary in character. As well as demanding the nationalization of mines, the CC of the metalworkers union demands the nationalization of all key sections of the economy:

“We demand that the ANC government, on behalf of all the people of South Africa in general, and in order to accelerate the development and improvement in the wellbeing of the majority of our people, must take control of heavy industry, banks and all key strategic sectors of the economy like Sasol, Acelor-Mittal, the Reserve Bank, and break the back-bone of white monopoly capital which continues to trap our country in Colonization of a Special Type 18 years into our democracy.”

A clear message directed at Blade Nzimande, the SACP general secretary, who has been a fierce critic of the NUMSA leadership and particularly its general secretary Irvin Jim. The statement states that “we must seek no permission from anyone but we must demand the implementation of the above radical revolutionary program and be ready to struggle for it.” It follows with an appeal to mobilize and struggle for such a program: “Our country and the masses of our people have been left with absolutely no choice but to embark on service delivery protests. Numsa calls on Cosatu and the youth of our country to mobilise our people and lead them on a rolling mass action for the implementation of the Freedom Charter by their own ANC government.”

The statement by NUMSA is rooted in a sharp analysis of the reality of the results of the negotiated which put an end to apartheid in 1994:

“Numsa has taken this decision to call for a radical program because, whilst we continue to celebrate the 27 April 1994 political breakthrough, we remain convinced that the negotiated settlement at Codesa delivered a raw deal to the liberation alliance. It is now clear that we won political power without economic power. A tiny white population today, led by Zille’s DA and FW de Klerk, secured for themselves in the constitution the property clause that ensured that they would remain owning and controlling the wealth of our country for ever.”

This is what Marxists have been arguing all along. Unless the economic power of the capitalist class is broken, then no amount of formal democratic rights can satisfy the urgent needs of the masses. This is the key question. Within the limits of capitalism and private property of the means of production there can be no real long lasting advancement of the conditions of the masses of workers and the poor in South Africa.

What is to be done? Marxists have been arguing that revolutionaries in South Africa must defend a bold socialist program within the existing organizations in order to transform them into revolutionary tools. The defeat of the openly capitalist wing of Mbeki at the Polokwane Conference of the ANC proved that this was possible. However, Mbeki was replaced by Zuma based on that the latter appeared to be more left wing. No clear program was put forward.

NUMSA is arguing precisely for this type of strategy. It explains how already “six out of nine ANC provinces demanded nationalization of the key strategic sectors of the economy.” On this basis, NUMSA calls for a struggle to take over the ANC for a working class perspective:

“Numsa is of the view that, within the reservoir of the alliance, we should be able to ensure that the ANC emerges with leadership that is rooted in the working class and that does not seek to change its liberation character. The worst thing that we can do would be to allow a situation where the ANC nMangaung is dominated by leadership that is rooted in the capitalist class; in South Africa today we have got enough right-wing political parties, including the DA.”

The last part of the NUMSA statement is a defense against the attempt by the leaders of the SACP to silence the union’s criticism of their policies, while defending its revolutionary and socialist character:

“We plead guilty about using historic accumulation of revolutionary theory of the SACP as a guide to revolutionary praxis today, to militant working class action; we see ourselves as a union inspired by Marxism-Leninism; we are a red union; we see the Communist Party as a party of revolution not a party of reforms, a party in our view we are at liberty to democratically discuss and we refuse and reject to be banned from expressing ourselves on any matter, including discussing whether the issue of deploying leadership of the SACP in parliament strengthens our party.”

The question of whether the leaders of the Communist Party should serve as ministers in the ANC government has become the rallying point for the left opposition within the party. Currently, both the party’s general secretary Blade Nzimande and his deputy Jeremy Cronin are government ministers. The question is not just a formal one, but reflects the feeling of many advanced worker activists that the leaders of the party are not following a Communist policy but rather defending the pro-capitalist views and actions of the ANC leadership.

Quite correctly, the leaders of NUMSA refuse to be separated from a party which they rightly consider their own: “As metalworkers we disdain to conceal our views about anything! NUMSA stands firm on feet of steel that the SACP remains the property of the socialist and communist revolutionary South African working class. It is not the property of some momentary leaders.”

When they are told by Nzimande that they are mistaken about the role of the union and the role of the party, in essence, when they are told they should shut up and follow the “party line”, they reply by saying that these methods are Stalinist. They further explain their position regarding the office of the general secretary of the party in class terms:

“We maintain that the working class has a duty to safeguard the revolutionary independence and autonomy of the SACP, as the political insurance of the working class in the multi-class NDR, by having its key leadership, such as the general secretaries, full time in office, all the time and not immerse itself in the trappings of the capitalist state.”

We have quoted at length from the NUMSA statement because we think that it sets in very clear terms what are the debates taking place in the run up to the ANC Manguang conference. The right wing pro-capitalist leadership of the movement has already managed to remove the leadership of the ANC YL and bureaucratically destroyed the YCL congress. It also dominated the SACP congress in July.

However the strength of the left wing comes from the fact that their ideas connect with the real living experience and the conditions of tens of thousands of activists, shop stewards, ordinary workers and poor and ANC voters who can see that nothing fundamental has changed for them in the last 18 years.

The left needs to be armed with a clear class analysis of the situation and a socialist program as the only way forward. Then, no matter how many temporary setbacks it might have suffered, it will eventually win. The concrete experience of the crisis of capitalism will push the masses to the left.

Conditions in South Africa are explosive, as shown in the spate of wild cat strikes in the mining industry, despite the Marikana massacre. The Lonmin workers have not returned to work despite the full force of the capitalist state being used against them. These are the genuine forces of the South African revolution. Armed with a socialist program they will be invincible. 

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