South Africa: Interview with Floyd Shivambu, suspended ANC YL spokesperson: “This is an anti-capitalist struggle for economic freedom”

Floyd Shivambu was a leading member of the South African Students Congress (SASCO) as well as a leading member of the Young Communist League (from which he was suspended in 2010). As a leading member of the ANC YL he played a key part in developing this organisation’s stance on the need to nationalise the mines which has now become a central issue of the political debate in the revolutionary movement in South Africa.

Together with expelled ANC YL president Malema, he has intervened actively in the strike by Lonmim platinum miners at Marikana. Their support for the miners at Lonmin, and in other companies who have walked out in the last weeks, has earned them the hatred of the capitalist media and of the state. According to union representatives at the South African Broadcasting Corporation there is a veto on any mention of Julius Malema in the company’s outlets.

There have also been threats on their lives. On Saturday, Julius Malema was prevented by the police from speaking at a rally of striking mineworkers who had invited him. Armed with automatic rifles, they threatened to arrest him, bundled him and his supporters (amongst them Shivambu) into a car and then followed them with police cars and a helicopter to make sure they were on the highway on their way out of Rustenburg.

These are all violations of basic rights which any consistent democrat should oppose. Whatever the views Malema and Shivambu might have about the miners’ strike, nationalisation, the leadership of ANC and the National Union of Mineworkers, the workers and public opinion in general should be free to listen to them if they so wish and make up their own minds about their ideas. If other leading figures of the ANC, the unions and the SACP have different views on these questions, they should also address the workers and the communities and engage in a serious debate.

Instead, what we are witnessing is a heavy handed orchestrated attempt to suppress their views using the full force of the state apparatus. If this is done with the expelled and suspended leaders of the ANC YL, who are known public figures, we can only imagine the extent to which the state and the mine owners are going in order to suppress the views of the strike leaders themselves.

For all of these reasons we thought it would be of interest to our readers to know Floyd Shivambu’s views directly. We asked him a number of questions and we are grateful that he was willing to answer them. This does not mean that we agree with or endorse all of his opinions, but we think that they are a legitimate part of the debate. Our own views have been made clear in other articles.

There is one particular point we would like to clarify. We think that both the NUM and the SACP are working class organisations, made up of hundreds of thousands of workers who joined them in order to struggle for better conditions and for fundamental transformation of society. Certainly, we think that their current leadership is not representing the interests of their members and does not stand for socialism. This can be seen clearly in the position they have taken against the nationalisation of the mines, and the way in which their leaders have been co-opted into the very capitalist state they are supposed to be fighting against. However, we think it would be wrong not to distinguish between  the organisation as a whole, with its mass membership, and its leadership. Our position is to appeal to the working class to reclaim these organisations, taking them back to their best traditions so they can become tools of revolutionary struggle.

We fully agree with the central idea expressed in the interview: “The attainment of political freedom in South Africa was never accompanied by economic liberation and transformation. The racist apartheid capitalist Masters are still in control of the economy and have only co-opted a few previously oppressed individuals into the higher echelons of capitalist domination.”

This is something we have repeatedly explained in our articles about South Africa for the last 18 years. The Freedom Charter states as one of its aims that “the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.” We fully agree. In our opinion the only way forward is the nationalisation of the banks and monopolies, of all key sectors of the South African economy (and mining is the most important one of all, representing about 18% of the country’s GDP). This nationalisation (with compensation only on the basis of proven need) should be under workers’ control to allow for the democratic planning of the economy to the benefit of the majority of the population. This is what we understand for economic freedom, and it is the only way in which the promise of the Freedom Charter, that the “national wealth of the country... shall be restored to the people”, can be achieved.

Interview (our emphasis throughout)

In Defence of Marxism (IDOM): First of all, let us deal with what happened at Marikana on August 16 when 34 striking miners were killed. The official version of the police states that they acted in "self-defence", but there is now a growing body of evidence that this is not true. What can you tell us based on new information which has emerged and your own contact with the survivors?

Floyd Shivambu (FS): From the information we received from so many eye witnesses, it appears that the South African police had intended to arrest more than 5000 workers for what they call an “illegal gathering” and “possession of dangerous weapons”. Part of the arrest strategy was to place barbed wire around workers and then arrest all of them. When workers tried to escape from the barbed wire, the only way out was through the open space where armed police were waiting with guns and live ammunition and then the massacre took place. In three minutes, 16 people died and the remaining 18 were killed at close range by the police when they were trying to arrest all of them and some as a result of being hit and injured by the police vehicles that drove over their heads. That is the information workers gave to the police and told everyone who cared to listen, but thus far no action has been taken. Workers never confronted the police; they were running away from them; and that explains why forensic evidence indicates that most were shot on the back.

IDOM: Why did you and other expelled leaders of the ANC Youth League go to Marikana?

FS: We went to Marikana because for a considerable amount of time we have been at the forefront of the oppressed and exploited masses of South Africa in the mines, informal settlements and townships and it then became our revolutionary obligation and responsibility to join in the demands of workers like we have done on many occasions before.

IDOM: There have been allegations that arrested miners were then subject to torture. What can you tell us about that?

FS: The arrested workers were subjected to torture because elements of the State wanted these workers to wrongly “confess” that our involvement in Marikana had led to the violence and catastrophe, but they never found anything of that nature.

IDOM: What is your opinion of the reaction of the NUM leaders to the massacre?

FS: The NUM is a useless Union, led by Career Unionists who are now co-opted by big business. The NUM has lost ground and does not represent workers; hence they become petty and only shout from offices when we go to the ground to speak to workers.

IDOM: Most of the capitalist media try to present the conflict as one between NUM and AMCU. What are the real demands and conditions of the striking miners and how are they organised? What are the arguments in favour of their claim of a wage increase to R12,500?

FS: There was never any conflict between NUM and AMCU in Marikana. Workers resolved to confront the bosses without any Union representation and both AMCU and NUM joined the workers after they had taken action to demand the wage increases. The conflict was between the mineworkers and the mine bosses, and the State joined in on the side of mine bosses to kill, arrest and threaten mineworkers.

IDOM: More generally, what does the Marikana incident tell us about the situation for the majority of workers and poor in South Africa 18 years after the end of apartheid?

FS: The attainment of political freedom in South Africa was never accompanied by economic liberation and transformation. The racist apartheid capitalist Masters are still in control of the economy and have only co-opted a few previously oppressed individuals into the higher echelons of capitalist domination.

IDOM: As a leader of the ANC Youth League you campaigned around the issue of the nationalisation of the mines. How do you see that in the light of what happened at Marikana?

FS: Marikana strengthens our call for the Nationalisation of the Mines, and no proper thinking individuals, apart from those with class prejudices and interests, can now oppose the Nationalisation of the Mines and other strategic sectors of the economy.

IDOM: Julius Malema, you and other expelled leaders of the YL have been visiting striking miners in different locations. What is your experience of the conditions facing mineworkers in South Africa today?

FS: Conditions of workers in the Mines are inhuman, with no electricity, no running water, no sanitation. Workers are forced to live like animals and the surrounding municipalities do not provide any services to these mineworkers.

IDOM: The issue of the nationalisation of the mines has become an important question dividing the left and the right within the broad mass democratic movement. The SACP leaders and the NUM leaders are surprisingly opposed to such a demand. How do you explain that?

FS: The SACP and NUM are not Left formations. They used to be on the Left, but have now been hijacked by Careerists who think and believe that their individual promotion into senior government posts means workers and the oppressed people are free. It is actually useless to discuss the SACP because we would just be giving it the dignity it does not deserve.

IDOM: Nationalisation of the mines would go contrary to the sunset clauses in the Constitution and would immediately bring forth the wrath of the capitalists, both national and multinational. How would you respond to that?

FS: The sunset clauses period has long passed and as we have said in our perspectives before, now is the time for radical and decisive policy shifts which will restore wealth and natural resources to the ownership of the people as a whole.

IDOM: A recent statement by the NUMSA CC has clearly come out in favour of nationalisation of the mines, but also of all major industries. Would you agree with that?

FS: Our view on Nationalisation has never been limited to the Mines only and we have said in our congress resolutions and in the ANC, that there is a need to discontinue private ownership of other strategic sectors of the economy like Petroleum, Iron Ore and Steel corporations and the banks.

IDOM: In the light of the worldwide crisis of the capitalist system, do you think socialism is the answer? In your recent visit to London you visited Marx's grave, do you think his ideas are relevant?

FS: Our tools of analysis and guide to action and our ideological telescope is deeply rooted in Marxism-Leninism and we have never made any secret about that. We are leading an anti-capitalist struggle in South Africa, and we aim to achieve a society inspired by the Freedom Charter objectives and whether the Freedom Charter is socialist is a question we should discuss in great detail

IDOM: Coming back to the Marikana strike, the workers are still standing firm for their full claim of R12,500 – what is the situation on the ground? Are they confident they can win?

FS: There is progress and workers have been given between R11.000 and R13.700 as a result of the protest action. We are happy that workers accepted this victory and what needs to be done is to consolidate it into a national minimum wage in all Mines of not less than R12.500 and we are on it.

IDOM: You have been expelled from the ANC YL – do you still consider yourselves as part of the Congress movement? 

FS: We are still part of the Congress movement, and we have defined ourselves as Economic Freedom Fighters whose mandate is to lead and influence a political and ideological battle that will result in discontinuation of private ownership of the key means of production. We were isolated from the ANC by a Jacob Zuma led faction because of these views but we will win this battle.

IDOM: In the run up to the Manguang Conference there is a lot of talk about personalities, but what are the real political differences at stake?

FS: Our view which we express everywhere is that the 53rd National Conference of the ANC should never be about personalities, but about policy and perspectives which should lead to what we say is the attainment of Economic Freedom. Unfortunately as revolutionaries you cannot afford to ignore the subjective elements that can undermine the success, pace and direction of a revolution. With good resolutions, some subjective weaknesses of leadership can undermine the revolution. So we are vigilant on all fronts. 

IDOM:  Is there any message you want to convey to In Defence of Marxism readers?

FS: Let's all continue in the struggles against capitalism and let's inspire each other to fight on because victory is certain. We have learned a lot from In Defence of Marxism and have, at times, considered your analysis of South Africa, because such analysis is not full of the racial prejudices that characterize our society.