The shocking massacre last Thursday, August 16, of 34 miners at the Lonmin company’s platinum mine in Marikana, exposes in all its brutality the nature of the ‘new’ South Africa dominated politically by the African National Congress (ANC) since the 1994 general election which marked the sweeping away of the barbaric apartheid system. The question that leaps out is, ‘How much has life changed for the mass of the black working class and the poor since black faces largely replaced white in the national parliament and government?’ The answer, very little.
Of course the enforced segregation of the races and the vicious pass laws that turned this beautiful country into a nightmarish prison camp for its native peoples are no more. But the same rapacious capitalism that gouged massive profits for multinational corporations from the enslavement of an entire nation in the apartheid era, still rules post apartheid, and therein lies the explanation for the horror that has unfolded. It is the same economic dictatorship presided over now by a minority black elite which has joined their former apartheid bosses in the continuing exploitation of the majority of South Africa’s 48 million people.
Apartheid was swept away in the early ’nineties as a result of the heroic resistance of the oppressed black majority. Black youth in particular made enormous sacrifices in their struggle for freedom. The Soweto uprising of 1976 in which they were massacred in their hundreds, was but the best known of thousands of acts of resistance.
The ANC was looked to as the political leadership of the liberation struggle and was propelled to power on the sacrifices of that struggle. ‘The Freedom Charter’ promulgated by the ANC in 1955 enshrines the fundamental principles on which a new South Africa was to be built. It declared: ‘The national wealth of our country- shall be restored to the people’ and ‘The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.’ The ANC governments which have ruled since 1994 have systematically and shamefully betrayed these principles.
The ANC refers to itself as a ‘social democratic’ political party and is affiliated to the Labour and social democratic parties of Europe which are imposing savage austerity on working people to rescue the crisis ridden markets system.
The ANC in alliance with the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU), the largest trade union federation in South Africa are the new establishment replacing the old apartheid ruling class. They have kept South Africa safe for the bosses of the major mining companies, of the big financial institutions and other elements of big business. Hence massive profits continue to me made on the backs of the black working class which endures horrific working conditions, squalid living conditions and misery wages.
It is little wonder that this bitter strike broke out in the platinum mines where both the working and living conditions of the rock drilling miners are shameful. But the strike by about 3,000 workers at Marikana also represented a revolt against the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers which is detested by increasing numbers of miners as an apologist for the ANC failures. Many press reports crudely belittled the strike as a ‘turf war’ between the NUM and a newer union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. Socialist colleagues who have been on the scene in solidarity with the striking miners report that, in fact, the strike has been led by a committee independent of these two unions reflecting the disenchantment of many workers with their failure to give a lead.
This is not unlike the situation in Ireland in the first decade of the last century when Jim Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union as an alternative to the established unions that had failed to mobilise workers against horrific poverty and living conditions reminiscent of what the South African workers endure today. The Irish bosses’ reaction to this challenge resulted in the 1913 Lockout designed to crush any challenge to their desire to freely profit by exploitation. The management at Lonmin attempted the very same tactic before being forced to back down.
The traumatic events of the last week at Marikana may well give rise to a new, powerful movement of workers that could prove to be a defining a moment in South Africa’s post apartheid history. The need for democratic and fighting trade unions to launch a nationwide campaign against poverty wages and squalid living conditions, the need for a new mass party to really represent workers and the need to challenge the brutal workings of South African and international capitalism by campaigning for the wealth to be put in the hands of the majority in a socialist South Africa are all issues inherent in this fraught struggle.
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