January 2013        


The South African revolution betrayed

The recent conference of the ruling African National Congress of South Africa showed a headlong retreat from the ideals of the 1994 revolution that was to end apartheid. The South African ruling class, even with a black face, deepens its collaboration with Western capital and the neo-liberal agenda. Yet for the black majority, de facto economic apartheid is very much a fact of life.
     Nationalisation of the country’s natural resources is a central demand of mineworkers. The conflict is between miners, who work deep inside the bowels of the earth for little pay, creating most of South Africa’s wealth, and the international capitalist mine-owners.
     Yet the ANC now proclaims nationalisation of the mines to be “off the agenda.” Instead it proposes “reforms” that maintain the existing exploitative arrangement. One of these is the creation of a state-owned mining company as a partner of private capital in mining ventures that will further enrich the ruling class and their international business associates.
     The ANC now espouses an openly pro-financier monetary and fiscal policy. Its emphasis on deficit reduction as the linchpin of its fiscal policy conforms to the neo-liberal agenda, which penalises workers and benefits the wealthy.
     The ANC’s monetary policy again shows disregard for workers’ interests, championing inflation targets over employment and growth. Significantly, a recent open letter from South African business leaders urged the ANC to adopt precisely this policy.
     The ANC says it will encourage corporations to reinvest some of their profits to generate economic growth, without saying how. In fact under ANC leadership businesses in South Africa retain their megaprofits. This sector sat on roughly €50 billion in mid-2012, the highest level since 1995, without stimulating real economic growth. Since 1994 there has been no economic progress for the mass of South Africans.
     The president of South Africa and of the ANC, Jacob Zuma, warned against deviation from this anti-worker policy—a reference to the institutional violence with which his government has beaten down labour discontent throughout South Africa.
     The ANC’s conduct regarding the Marikana massacre is a case in point. This incident on 16 August last, when forty-nine peaceful platinum miners striking against their inhuman working conditions were shot by the police, has been compared to the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. Most of the victims were shot in the back, far from police lines. Similar strikes at other mines made 2012 the most turbulent year in the country since the “end of apartheid.”
     The wildcat strike at Marikana was not sanctioned by the National Union of Mineworkers, which is affiliated to the Council of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which in turn is part of the ANC.
     It was led by a dissident union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. The existence of this breakaway underlines miners’ anger with COSATU, which is seen as limiting itself to wheeling and dealing with the ANC, giving mine-owners a free hand to exploit workers.
     The deputy president of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, called the Marikana strikers “criminals” and urged the authorities to crack down on them, so contributing to the conditions that led to the subsequent massacre. Ironically, Ramaphosa, heir-apparent to Mandela in the wake of the 1994 revolution, was the founder of the NUM. However, he left it to establish his powerful corporate empire, aligning himself with former supporters of the apartheid regime. The poacher became an enthusiastic gamekeeper.
     Uprisings by organised labour in South Africa symbolise the corruption of the ANC ruling establishment, which has now abandoned the ideal of social justice and freedom, its one-time bailiwick. It has imposed a neo-liberal economic agenda on South Africa while simultaneously purging dissenting voices and suppressing workers’ uprisings.
     The ANC has betrayed the faith placed in it not only by South African workers but by Irish and international anti-apartheid forces, whose support was crucial in enabling the ANC to gain its present position of power.

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