The victory of the ANC in the South African election has yet again shown it is the capitalists’ chosen party for running South African capitalism. Its primary role is organising and enforcing the exploitation of the working class even when this means downing strikes in bloodshed as we saw at Marikana in 2012 (see leftcom.org).
On a more general level it has also illustrated the complete failure of so called “national liberation” to benefit the working class. The South African working class were mobilised behind the ANC, as the organisation’s foot soldiers, and brought the organisation to power in 1994. Consequently they had massive illusions of a better future under the black nationalists. In many ways the condition of the working class is worse today than it was in 1994. For its part the ANC has during its 25 years in power consistently pursued the interests of capital against those of the working class. It has disciplined the working class which apartheid repression was unable to do, it has attracted international capital investment, which again the apartheid regime was incapable of doing and increased the rate of profit on South African capital. All this has resulted in a doubling of GDP since 1994. In other words the ANC has done precisely what the capitalist class as a whole intended it should do, it has rescued SA capital from the catastrophic state into which the apartheid regime had trapped it. However, in the decade since the global crisis of 2007/2008, the period of the Zuma presidency, the ANC regime has failed to revive SA capitalism, administered the economy with spectacular incompetence and shown itself to be riddled with corruption. Over this decade economic growth has averaged 1.6% which, when the increase in population is factored in, equates to approximately zero. The replacement of President Zuma by Ramaphosa in February 2018 was an attempt to drag the regime out of the cul-de-sac into which it had been led. Ramaphosa promised a new start and to weed out corruption. The fact that he was himself deputy president for the last 4 years of the Zuma presidency, so was part of the leadership which oversaw rampant corruption and thieving did not appear to matter. He was considered the man to rescue the situation. The May election result shows that to some extent this strategy has been successful though both capitalists and working class remain thoroughly dissatisfied.
The ANC won the election with 57.5% of the vote, down from 62.1% in the 2014 election; not a disaster but still the worst result since 1994. According to Fikile Mbalula, head of the ANC’s election campaign, the ANC share of the vote would have dropped to 40% if Zuma had remained as president.1 However the election gave expression to a general disillusion with the regime and parliamentary politics. Most registered voters did not bother to vote. The percentage poll was only 46% whereas in 1994 it was 86%. While the main parties, ANC and opposition Democratic Alliance both lost votes, the smaller dozen or so parties gained. The main winner was the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) which stands for nationalisation of mines, banks, and land without compensation. It increased its support among the unemployed youth and doubled its share of the vote to 10.7%.
ANC — Corruption and Incompetence
The liberation which the so called “national liberation” movement achieved has amounted to the elevation of a narrow echelon of ANC politicians into the ranks of the South African bourgeoisie and little else. This has occurred through the programme of “Black Economic Empowerment” (BEE) or simply through looting the state via the spoils of office. Ramaphosa is the epitome of those who have made fortunes out of BEE. He began political life as the founder and leader of the National Union of Mineworkers and was thus able to mobilise miners in the anti-apartheid struggle. Once the apartheid regime was overthrown he advanced via BEE to shareholder and board member of numerous companies2 including the platinum miner Lonmin. He holds 9% of Lonmin’s shares!
Lonmin are, of course, the owners of the Marikana mine. He described the 2012 strike as “dastardly criminal” and it appears he supported the police intervention which resulted in the gunning down of 34 miners. Although there are allegations of shady deals no charges have ever been brought against him and he is able to claim his net worth, of $550 million, has been got hold of legally though this is difficult to believe. Legally, of course, means through exploitation of the working class and appropriation from other members of the bourgeoisie. His ability to amass such a fortune and his apparently clean hands has stood him in good stead against the Zuma faction of the ANC who have quite openly engaged in rake offs on government contracts, accepting bribes and thieving state revenues. Ramaphosa can thus appear as a competent capitalist who will sort out the incompetent management of the economy and put an end to government corruption.
Corruption has indeed been spectacular. After 25 years of ANC rule corruption is actually worse than it was under apartheid. Transparency International has a scale where 0 represents totally corrupt and 100 represents totally transparent. Whereas under apartheid the South African index was 57 it is now 42, which means corruption is 26% worse than it was under apartheid. An example is Ace Magashule the ANC’s secretary general who is known as “Mr Ten Per Cent” for his looting of the Free State province while serving under Zuma. The state run utilities have suffered from both corruption and incompetence. The prime example is the electricity generator Eskom where corrupt coal contracts, embezzling of funds, lack of maintenance and general mismanagement have resulted in rolling blackouts, closing down industry and mines. Eskom has the installed capacity of 45 Giga Watts of power. This is the amount of power it should be able to generate but all the above have reduced the actual generation available to 28 GW3 – a reduction of almost half! The construction of enormous new coal fired stations, Kusile4 and Medupi have been so badly managed, and contract funds pilfered, that the original cost of $10.4bn has so far doubled and construction is at least 5 years behind schedule. In fact the position is so bad that there is talk of simply abandoning these stations and never bringing them into service.
A further consequence of ANC rule has been a complete failure to decrease inequality which the apartheid regime generated. The World Bank now classifies SA as the most unequal country in the world. The richest 10% of the population hold 71% of the net wealth while the poorest 60% hold 7%.5
Condition of the Working Class
Unemployment officially 27% but increases to 37% if those who have given up looking for work are included. Youth unemployment is 55%. The official rate is almost double the rate in 1994 when unemployment was 15%. 8.3 million people of working age are today unemployed6 and some 17 million, nearly a third of the population, are receiving social grants to survive.7 At the same time there is massive homelessness. For example, Abahlali baseMjondolo, the organisation of homeless shack dwellers has 55,000 members in the province of KwaZulu-Natal alone. All this leads to desperate poverty. More than half of all South Africans, 55.5% or 30 million people, live below the national poverty line of $69 per month.8 This situation is far worse than in 1994 there were only 2 million people living on less than 1$ per day, the present day equivalent of $52 per month. Though the figures are not directly comparable this indicates an increase in the numbers in poverty by a factor of at least 10. As a consequence of this there has been a vast increase in criminality particularly rape and murder.
All the statistics available show conditions of the working class have generally deteriorated significantly during the 25 years of ANC rule.
The ANC is supported by what is known as the tripartite alliance. This is a political alliance which consists of the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP), and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). The way the alliance worked was that the SACP and COSATU kept the class struggle under control and mobilised their members to vote for the ANC in elections while the ANC advanced the leaders or their alliance partners. The first serious split in the alliance came after the Marikana massacre which the SACP and COSATU both supported. The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) which had supported the striking miners and which was the largest member of COSATU was expelled from the confederation and set up an alternative grouping the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU). Other unions not linked to COSATU and the ANC have been set up and joined this federation. NUMSA refused to support the ANC in the 2014 general election and has subsequently set up a political party the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP). This party claims to be Marxist Leninist and stands for nationalisation of the economy under workers’ control. Its slogan is equality, work and land! Its leading members are mostly ex-SACP and it appears to support state capitalism. However it has attracted a certain amount of radical support. An example is the shack dwellers alliance Abahlali baseMjondolo who put out the following statement before the election:
"A vote for the ANC is a vote for the izinkabi (hitmen used by criminals in taxi wars and by ANC to kill abahlali leaders - CWO), for the gangster councillors, for the Anti-Land Invasion Unit and the casspirs (Armoured vehicle used by police and army to break up demonstrations - CWO). A vote for the ANC is a vote for violent dispossession, violent repression and death. A vote for the ANC is a vote for corruption. A vote for the ANC is a vote for capitalism, for land to be allocated on the basis of money rather than need.
We have decided to make a collective tactical vote for the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party, a newly formed workers’ party with a base in the trade union movement. The SRWP has called on all working class people, employed or unemployed, to join forces and destroy the exploitative class system that is monster capitalism and build a society free of oppression and economic exploitation where power will rest in the hands of the majority."9
In the election the SRWP fielded candidates but only got 24,400 votes, 0.15% of the vote, and failed to win any seats in either the provincial governments or the national assembly. Clearly, despite encouraging their supporters into the swamp of electoral politics, many refused to follow. After the election the SRWP justified their strategy with typically leftist declarations:
"By this singular feat we have demonstrated our Socialist revolutionary readiness to govern" and of course "the bourgeois electoral system is ... a necessary terrain of struggle for the working class in our struggle for Socialism"
As noted above discontent was fuelled into the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) who doubled their share of the vote in the election. This organisation is a split from the ANC and was set up in 2013 after its leader Malema, who led its youth wing, was expelled. His expulsion was apparently over conviction for hate speech but there were also fraud, money laundering and racketeering charges which never came to court. The organisation stands on a state capitalist programme derived from the ANC Freedom Charter of the 1950s. It calls for nationalisation of the economy and land under control of the EFF.
National Struggles, Trade Unions and Political Struggle
On a general historical level the developments of the last 25 years show the disastrous consequences for the working class of supporting the nationalist struggle. Instead of the issues in South Africa being posed in terms of class the ANC posed them in terms of race. Once in power the ANC has betrayed all its promises to the working class. Subjection of the SA working class to the bourgeois nationalist forces of the ANC has been a tragic mistake for which the price is now being paid in sweat and blood. The justification for such a subjection put forward by Stalinists and Trotskyists is shown to be complete nonsense as we have explained in previous texts.10
On the more immediate level, these developments described above show that while there is significant disillusion with the ANC this is not sufficient to break its grip on power. The ANC retains the support of South African capitalists who at present see no viable alternative and are happy to see it in power for the next 5 years. For its part the ANC has proved able to marginalise and oppress its opponents in the working class, both employed and unemployed, and integrate the new unions into the structure of its labour laws. Where workers have turned against the ANC they have looked to state capitalism as a solution. Instead of seeing the ANC as another capitalist organisation which is implacably opposed to working class interests they see it as having betrayed its programme enshrined in the “Freedom Charter”11 of the 1950s. This document calls for sweeping nationalisations of all major sectors of the economy. Since the ANC is incapable of implementing the “Freedom Charter,” it is argued, this task must fall to new organisations and since COSATU is in alliance with the ANC the class struggle must be conducted by new unions. However, in view of the corruption and mismanagement of those sectors of the economy which are nationalised, such as Eskom, further nationalisations would be suicidal for South African capitalism even if the workers were nominally in control. In any event the relationship of workers to capital would not be affected. As we wrote in a previous text The ANC’s South Africa: Kleptoracy and Exploitation:
"Socialism can only be created with the abolition of wage labour and ending of the means of production taking the form of capital. The means of production need to be socialised, converted into social property, in a free association of producers producing for human needs. The system needs to be controlled by workers councils with revocable delegates. Nationalisation represents the transferring of the ownership of capital from one set of persons to those controlling the state and does not in any way affect the relationship of the workers to the means of production. This relationship remains one of labour to capital."12
Conducting the class struggle through new unions will also lead nowhere. The new unions will become the negotiators of the sale of labour power. This role will inevitably cause them to become tools of capital. We have seen this in Europe, notably in Italy where “base unions” or “Cobas” were formed in the wake of the massive struggles of the “autonomist” movement in the late 60s and 70s which had discredited the existing unions. In a relatively short period these unions were integrated into the state machinery. This occurs because any permanent organisation of the working class can only negotiate the rate for the sale of labour power within the capitalist system and the laws enacted by capital, laws specifically designed to undermine effective class struggle. Such laws exist in all capitalist countries and in South Africa it was the ANC itself which legislated them in the “Labour Relations Act” of 1995. This law makes legal strikes difficult to organise. For example:
· Disputes must be referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA)
· The CCMA must issue a certificate of an unresolved dispute or
· 30 days must have elapsed since the referral to the CCMA before a strike can take place
· The employer must then be given written notice of intention to strike at least 48 hours before the strike starts.
The new unions have registered themselves with the government and go through these procedures to organise strikes, for example in the 2014 platinum miners’ strike. They are therefore acting within the framework of the capitalist state. Working for better conditions within the present system of wage labour entails recognising the logic of the system. This is to recognise the need for profit and hence the exploitation of workers to produce this profit.
Most of the successful strikes in South Africa’s recent history, like the 2012 Marikana strike, have been wildcat strikes outside of the union control. This is the way forward. Workers need to control their strikes through strike committees and mass meetings. The key to success is extension of strikes to other sectors. These are the very things which the state legislation prevents and the new unions are complying with. As we wrote in our article about the Marikana massacre the alternative to the horrors of capitalism is:
“…the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system and the ending of wage labour, a path which no union will take. The only organisations which can take such a path are political organisations. The struggles of workers worldwide desperately need political orientation towards the construction of higher social form of production. This means the class struggle needs to be given a revolutionary orientation. There is a desperate need for a global political organisation of the working class.”13
That need is all the more pressing as this rotting capitalist society’s contradictions deepen.
- 1Quoted in Financial Times 13/05/19
- 2See Wikipedia entry en.wikipedia.org
- 3Quoted in Financial Times “Rolling blackouts” 25/3/2019
- 4Kusile when complete will be the 2nd biggest coal fired power station in the world.
- 5See timeslive.co.za
- 6See tradingeconomics.com
- 7Reported in Financial Times 6/4/17
- 10See leftcom.org
- 11This was drafted by the Stalinist so-called Communist Party of South Africa.
- 12See leftcom.org
- 13See leftcom.org