South African Workers Stage General Strike - 2005

There has been a lot of talk about eradicating poverty in Africa over the past few days. Africa is a continent rich in raw materials. There is no logical reason why it should be poor. But under capitalism there is a logic, the logic of the greedy multinationals, of the capitalists who condemn Africa to this poverty.

The media in these days has presented the struggle to eradicate poverty as something coming from outside. But the people who are going to put an end to poverty in Africa live on the continent; they are the workers of Africa, from Morocco to South Africa. We have seen struggle of the students in Tunisia, upheavals in Morocco, protests in Egypt, powerful general strikes in Nigeria, and the most recent example of class struggle was the general strike in South Africa that took place last week.

In South Africa, a country with a long history of class struggle, the unemployment rate has reached around 40 per cent. Three million people between 16 and 30 are unable to find a steady, paying job. Twenty-two million of the 43 million people in South Africa live below the poverty line.

Monday, June 27th marked the 50th anniversary of the ANC’s Freedom Charter, which called for the “right to work” for all citizens of South Africa. Thousands of workers from across the country lead by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) organized a general strike on that day. Many unemployed South Africans and a wide variety of workers were represented in this strike, including those in the mining, steel, and textiles industries.

The strikers demanded that the Central Bank of South Africa lower the rate of the countries unit of currency, the rand, i.e. devalue the currency. This demand arises from the fact that the strong rand has brought many South African industries to their knees. Because these industries, which depend on the exportation of their products, can no longer make a large profit from selling products with an exchange rate of six rands per dollar. When the rate was lower, more rands could be made per product in exporter earnings.

While we can understand this demand, it in no way can solve the problems of the South African workers. The leaders of the unions, by calling for this measure are ignoring the real cause of the crisis, which is to be found in the very nature of the capitalist system. If all countries devaluate to compete better on the world market we are back to square one. The solution lies elsewhere.

However, in spite of this, parliament was under a veritable siege in Cape Town when many thousands of workers marched up to the gates protesting about job losses. In another large rally which stopped central Johannesburg in its tracks, Willie Madisha, COSATU president, called for a series of general strikes to take place throughout the country for the better part of a year. In his speech he said that many workers are currently making 200 rands per week. That is a little over 30 US dollars. Also, Madisha stated that one of the central problems in the workplace was racism and discrimination.

“We are killed at the workplace, we are not promoted because of racism. All the things which are bad are directed to us because of our skin colour. That is why racism must come to an end,” he said. These words are ironic when we consider that the old apartheid regime, with its blatant racism, was overthrown years ago.

It goes to show that racism was not merely an aberration of the apartheid system, it is an integral part of capitalism. The working class of South Africa has not been liberated. Some middle class blacks have been promoted and some have climbed up the ladder into the capitalist class. But the bulk of the capitalist class remains the same as ever, and the huge majority of the black population remains exploited, living in bad housing, with low wages, bad health care, etc., in spite of some of the improvements that have been achieved since the fall of the old regime.

Capitalism still dominates South Africa, and so long as it does so, none of the fundamental problems will be solved. There is a growing awareness that it is the class structure of society that is at the root of all the problems of South African workers. A radical mood is developing among the youth and workers. This was also reflected in Willie Madisha’s speech. His most inspiring words were about the problems caused by capitalism: “We strike because we are tired. We are retrenched every day by the capitalists. They put profits before us.” These were words met with massive approval and applause.

The working class of South Africa will play a key role in the African revolution. They are the real force that will make poverty history in South Africa!

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