The wave of looting that occurred in South Africa in July showed the bankruptcy of the ANC/COSATU/Communist Party tripartite model of government. The left in general and the reformist left in particular try to minimize the events in this country. This text will try to demonstrate: a) that 300 dead show how repressive Mandela’s Rainbow nation is; b) that the mass looting is the expression of the poverty of the masses; c) that the Stalinist model of revolution by stages imposed by the Communist Party, the ANC and the trade union central COSATU, failed. The reformist left and the Stalinist left in particular prefer not to discuss the failure of this model, the bourgeoisie and its big press are more realistic and speak of the end of a cycle. Some even make a link between the twenty-seven years of ANC/COSATU/CP government with the twenty-seven years of Kenneth Kaunda’s government in Zambia. There are many similarities between these two processes: their origin of struggles, their political decline and repression against those who fight back.


By: César Neto and Yves Mwana Mayas  –  September 21, 2021


At the present moment, in the first half of July, it might superficially seem as if everything had more or less returned to normal. As a matter of fact, within the depths of the proletariat, as well as among the summits of the ruling classes, a well-nigh automatic preparation for a new conflict is now going on.” Leon Trotsky[1]


The heroic struggle against apartheid

The apartheid regime was implemented in 1948 by the then Prime Minister and Protestant pastor Daniel François Malan of the National Party. Apartheid had a clear economic objective, insofar as the backward South African industry was unable to compete with the big European capitalist companies, and in order to be able to minimally resist, it needed to reduce the cost of production and produce in slavery-like conditions. Thus, it was necessary to oppress and demoralize the workers in order to subdue them. Preventing blacks from frequenting squares, hospitals and schools intended for whites, in addition to criminalizing interracial marriages, was part of this system of oppression-exploitation to produce at low cost.

Resistance to apartheid imposed in 1948 began in the early days and gained momentum in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Resistance to the apartheid regime inspired the struggle of black activists and the labor movement around the world. In the 1980s and 1990s, struggles were radicalized with the outbreak of mass general strikes, student strikes, various forms of boycotts, land occupations, etc. At the height of the struggle to overthrow the apartheid regime, several townships (favelas) became true liberated areas where the State did not enter and the community self-organized for the tasks of education, distribution of food and services, and self-defense. Workers and youth armed themselves to defend their communities against the representatives of the South African state.

At that time, the black masses, often with the support of white workers, were sweating hatred against apartheid, against the South African state, and were striding towards an understanding of the need for the destruction of capitalism. It was an ongoing revolutionary process that frightened the national and foreign big bourgeoisie.


Negotiation or deepening of the struggle? Revolution by stages or permanent revolution?

The enormous pressure of the revolutionary situation forced big capital to open negotiation channels. Is it correct to negotiate, to make concessions, to demobilize when we are on the offensive? That question was asked by many activists. In reality, activists wondered about the best path: negotiation or deepening the struggle. Thinking on a more theoretical, Marxist perspective, the old debate arose between the Stalinist theory of revolution by stages or that of revolutionary Marxism, of the Message to the Central Committee of the League of Communists written by Marx, of Lenin’s April Theses, or of Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution.

Negotiation meant the withdrawal of the workers and youth from the streets, the slowing down and demobilization in exchange for the concession of democratic rights.

The deepening of the struggles meant building dual power organizations that would put into discussion the famous “who is in charge here”, the workers or the bourgeoisie, and also the development of the armament of the workers and the youth that already existed in some townships. Is that radical? No. The workers had been fighting since 1948 against apartheid and, as we said, the 1980s and 1990s were years of deep radicalization.

Negotiation was imposed on the mass movement by the political organizations ANC (African National Congress), the Communist Party of South Africa, and by the trade union center COSATU.

The negotiation took place with the use of a tripod composed of co-optation, demobilization and demoralization of the movement.

In the process of co-optation important figures were incorporated into the negotiation, among them, Thabo Mbeki, who began his militancy as a student leader, studied in Russia and was later elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Party; Jacob Zuma, who was imprisoned for ten years on Robben Island together with Nelson Mandela; the main leader of the miners, Cyril Ramaphosa. These three characters ended up as presidents of South Africa. Coincidentally, Mbeki lost power and control of the ANC to Zuma, and was forced to resign. Zuma took over and suffered impeachment imposed by his own party, led by Ramaphosa.

In addition to these three important figures who became President of the Republic, there were a myriad of other leaders who were co-opted into various types of political and trade union control organs of the workers, who at that time were in struggle.

The consequence of the co-optation was the demobilization, the withdrawal of the workers from the streets and the control of the independent organizations that had been built. And by co-opting and demobilizing it was possible to delude the workers and  youth with the promise of a Rainbow Nation.

The first major act of demobilization was the assassination of Chris Hani, leader of the Communist Party of Southern Africa and chief of staff of uMkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). He was assassinated by Janusz Waluś, a Polish immigrant member of the far-right organization AWB (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging – Afrikaner Resistance Movement). Chris Hani’s murder caused a national uproar and came at the height of the anti-apartheid struggles. Hani’s body was laid to rest at the First National Bank Stadium in Soweto. Buses, cabs and any other vehicles were confiscated when they tried to travel from the stadium to the burial site. During the night vigil held in memory of Hani, a crowd of black youths set fire to nearby houses and attacked passing cars[2]. At least two people were killed in those riots; a white man who was a member of the AWB leadership was burned to death in one of the burned houses. Almost every major urban center in South Africa was looted by angry mobs. This happened in a country presided over by Frederick de Klerk of the National Party. Nelson Mandela, the main opposition figure, already negotiating with the apartheid regime, went on TV to mourn the death of Chris Hani, to call for peace and for people to stay at home and pray for the soul of Chris Hani.

The case of Chris Hani is an example of demobilization with a political bias. There were other forms, for example through the hollowing out and destruction of popular, youth and union organizations.

In the case of trade unions, there was a deliberate policy of hollowing out trade union organizations through the institution of NEDLAC. In 1994, at the beginning of Nelson Mandela’s government, the National Economic Development and Labor Council (NEDLAC) was created. The function of NEDLAC[3], among others, was “to promote economic growth and to seek consensus and agreement on social and economic policy”[4]. In other words, the primary function was to seek consensus among employers, employees and government, and to reach agreements on labor issues.

Initially, given the correlation of forces favorable to the working class, the government voted in this tripartite body with the workers. It was the consensus between workers and government, to which the employers “submitted”. As time went by, the government gradually sided with the employers. Since NEDLAC was the result of a law, to disregard its decisions is an infraction, a crime.

Thus, at present, before a strike can take place, it is necessary first to seek consensus. In this way, months and years go by without consensus being reached. If a strike is not “authorized” by NEDLAC, it is illegal. In May 2020, a strike by Volkswagen[5] workers in protest against the Covid-19 infection was considered illegal and the activists were dismissed. To carry out the dismissal, Volkswagen resorted to the law supporting NEDLAC and the workers were accused of being radicals for not seeking consensus.

Thus, with this repression legalized by the National Council for Economic Development and Labor, the incredible union movement of the 1980s and 1990s was controlled, gutted and repressed.


1994: the lost opportunity

The African National Congress (ANC), the Communist Party and the trade union central COSATU came to power in the presidential elections of 1994, backed by a long history of struggle, of formation of cadres, of insertion in social struggles, but above all, with an enormous weight of the masses.

The ANC Congress of 1955 had approved the Freedom Charter document, which defended the nationalization of mining, banks and monopoly industry as follows. “The people will share the wealth of the country! The national wealth of our country, the inheritance of all South Africans, shall be returned to the people; the mineral wealth under the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole; all other industries and trade shall be controlled to aid the welfare of the people; all persons have equal rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter into all businesses, trades and professions.”

The Stalinist stagism of the Communist Party and the ANC was clearly presented in the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), as early as 1994. Mandela, in the Introduction to the RDP states: “… we are ready to assume the responsibilities of government and we must move beyond the Charter to a real program of government. This RDP document is a vital stage in that process. It represents a coherent, viable and broadly supported structure.”

As Mandela himself says in the Introduction: “it is a coherent, viable and broadly supported structure”. Thus, nationalism was being exchanged for democratic tasks, as a first and infinite stage. “The RDP is an integrated and coherent socio-economic policy framework. It seeks to mobilize all our people and the resources of our country for the ultimate eradication of apartheid and the building of a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist future” (Point 1.1.1 of the RDP). Thus, with the RDP, sovereignty over minerals was changed to “building a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist future”.

Less than two years in government, the Communist Party and the ANC showed what their real economic policy was. The phase of democratic gains and the “coherent, viable and broadly supported structure”, as Mandela put it, was transformed into a neoliberal plan with the implementation of the GEAR Plan (Growth, Employment and Redistribution). GEAR emphasized fiscal austerity, deficit reduction by tying taxation and spending as fixed proportions of GDP. Through GEAR, the government’s stated macroeconomic priorities became inflation, financial market deregulation, tariff reduction and trade liberalization, in addition to limiting government spending. A neoliberal plan born from the entrails of Stalinist stagism.


The opening of the economy and deindustrialization

As part of the negotiations involving the ANC/Communist Party and the national and imperialist big bourgeoisie, was the opening of the economy for imported products. Thus, the emerging bourgeois democratic regime commanded by Mandela accepted the imperialist impositions, just like the neoliberal governments of Menem in Argentina, Collor in Brazil, among other governments of that time. As a consequence of this process[6], the national industry could not compete with foreign technology, and could not compete by intensifying the exploitation of workers and using semi-slave labor as in the apartheid era. The radicalization of the workers did not allow such an attack. The result of this process was that the national industry closed its doors or went into bankruptcy, de-industrializing the country, increasing unemployment, which was already very high. With de-industrialization, mining exploitation totally controlled by imperialist companies, became the center of the country’s economy. In other words, imperialism controls the economy today much more than in the apartheid era.


Imperialism does not forgive: Strategy of Minners in Africa

There is no doubt about the role of imperialism in this phase of capitalist decline. Its political, economic and military control is gigantic. For that reason, we do not believe that a revolution can be made in stages. Or as the Stalinists, Castroists and Chavistas say, first we conquer and consolidate democratic rights and then we move on to economic issues.

This two-stage policy led Stalinism, which had control of the mass movement, through the ANC and COSATU, to patiently accept and apply the policy of the World Bank, called the Strategy of Minners in Africa[7]. The Strategy of Minners in Africa contained two central issues: a) sovereignty over natural resources, and b) the end of the exploitation of these resources by state enterprises. Whoever has the opportunity to read the World Bank document will see that it was literally applied in these twenty-seven years of government by the Communist Party and the ANC. The document imposes: a) to continue developing economic adjustment programs to pay the debt; b) governments must clearly define their mining development strategies. The private sector should take the lead; c) incentives for mining investors should be clearly determined in investment legislation; d) mining taxation needs to take into account tax levels in other mining countries to maintain or establish the competitiveness of the domestic industry; e) mining legislation should reduce risk and uncertainty for potential investors and ensure easy access to mining licenses and mining concessions; f) government institutions should discontinue operational and marketing functions; and, g) control of artisanal mining.


The unpayable public debt

The huge mobilizations against apartheid since the 1970s were growing day by day and endangering the existence of the South African regime, and of capitalist South Africa itself. In addition to the internal struggle, the international repudiation of the racist segregation regime was growing at the same time. In 1976, the United Nations General Assembly voted Resolution 31/33, by which it urged banks not to provide financial assistance to the white minority government and extended the recommendation to all states to stop further investments and financial loans to South Africa.

The regime, while repressing internally, also attacked neighboring countries in its anti-colonial struggle, especially Angola, Namibia and Mozambique. To this end, in the midst of the blockade imposed by the UN, it was necessary to buy arms and ammunition, provide training and assistance, and carry out espionage work. Sold on the black market, the price of arms increased by 25 to 30%.

Even with the blockade imposed, many banks lent money to South Africa. Thus, we can say that the South African public debt is a) heinous debt, since it was made to buy arms and repression inside and outside the country; b) illegal debt, since it was made at the time of the blockade imposed by the UN, where commercial and financial transactions with South Africa were prohibited while apartheid was in force, and c) illegitimate debt, since it was made to favor one sector (apartheid), and against the interests of those who fought against apartheid and colonialism.

Despite being heinous, illegal and illegitimate, the government that came to power in 1994 agreed to pay the debt.

Poverty in South Africa is a consequence of the theft of natural resources and unsustainable debt.

After twenty-seven years of ANC/CP and COSATU trade union central government, applying the Stalinist theory of first conquer democracy and then advance, we must make a very serious assessment of the mining policy, of the policy towards public debt, because the living conditions of the working class did not advance. In many aspects, it worsened.

The workers lost all their rights, their pensions, unemployment increased and, if they want to fight, they must first ask for authorization from Nedlac. And in this context, they saw their union leaderships tamed and destroyed. The majority of the working class lives in the big slums (Townships), without water and sewer.

Education is no longer free at all schools and all levels. The law course at Cape Town University costs 70,000 rand per year, and a worker earns at most 48,000 rand in the same period. Teachers’ salaries are paid partly by the state and partly by the students. The government has completely shaken off its commitment to education and health.


Finally, demoralization

The application of Stalinist stagism, just when the masses were at full steam, was undoubtedly a betrayal on the part of the ANC and the Communist Party. The measures of preservation and expansion of mining exploitation by the transnationals, the payment of the debt, the neoliberal policies of deindustrialization, flexibilization of workers’ rights, and cuts in spending on health and education applied over twenty-seven years are the first and last reason for unemployment, poverty and Covid deaths.

As we said before, the negotiated solution was given with the use of the tripod composed by the co-optation of the fighters and activists, and being in the power structure, those co-opted tried to divert all attempts of mobilization. Demoralization came throughout these twenty-seven years of government of the ANC, the Communist Party and the trade union central COSATU.

The co-optation served to make these activists rise socially. Ramaphosa, the current president was a student leader, an important leader of the mining union, and became a director of the English company London Mining (Lonmin). Several were transformed into petty bourgeoisie or directly into bourgeoisie. This assault on the structures of the State and enrichment is visible to any attentive observer. But even those who only follow politics through mass media, end up discovering that the main leaders are involved in fraud, theft and corruption.

Thus, that vanguard that defeated apartheid, that suffered all kinds of persecution, that was exiled, that served long years in prison, in the end capitulated to the process of co-optation. Co-optation is not a moral problem, it is a political problem. Political problem, since they applied in full the Stalinist conception of revolution in stages, which resulted in the shift from the Freedom Charter to the RDP, GEAR, and a series of economic policies that are the basis of the economic and social disaster that South Africa is living through.

We all know that in the struggles there are several factors to be considered. In the specific case of the workers, we need to look at the role of their leadership, and that leadership, the ANC, the Communist Party and the COSATU trade union center, caused demoralization. They consciously acted to get the people out of the streets and guarantee the much needed governability or “social peace” that the bourgeoisie needs so much. And they consciously acted to co-opt, demobilize and demoralize.


The explosion of the mass movements. It is still the first act

COSATU, the main trade union organization in the country, is part of the government. The other organizations, especially NUMSA and SAFTU are a break from the left of COSATU, but, being a break, they bring the marks of the old trade unionism, without participation of the rank and file and controlled by leaders who were educated by the old Stalinist cadres on the basis of privileges, authoritarianism and class conciliation.

Thus, the anger and rage of the workers does not contain an organizational form that unifies them, that discusses a plan of struggle and a program to be achieved.

An event external to the daily life of the workers ended up serving as a stoppage. The internal fight of the ANC-CP-COSATU bloc led one sector, commanded by former president Zuma, to organize some small looting in order to put pressure on the other faction. It could be a good tactic if it were not for the desperate situation of the masses in that country.

Immediately, Zuma’s skirmishes turned into a tremendous social movement, with looting of large supermarkets, shopping centers, stores and goods trucks. The reaction of the South African state was the same as it had been during apartheid: more than 300 dead.

But that was only the first act. The masses have already shown their strength and will return to the streets or, as Trotsky said in “The situation in France in 1936”: “it may seem at first sight that everything is more or less back to normal, in reality, in the depths of the proletariat as in the heights of the ruling classes, the almost automatic preparation of a new conflict is underway”.


Looting: theft or expropriation?

From the point of view regarding workers’ struggles there are many polemics about looting. There are those who recognize that spontaneous struggles do not serve to organize the working class and therefore do not defend them. And there are those who place themselves in the working class camp and recognize looting as a legitimate form of struggle. That is a polemic among those of us who fight shoulder to shoulder with the workers.

There is another polemic that considers that if all merchandise is the product of labor, which the bourgeoisie appropriates, looting is nothing more than the expropriation of that which already belonged to the working class. Only the bourgeoisie, which benefits from the expropriation of the labor of others, can say that it is theft.

The Communist Party says that it is theft and that it should be criminalized.

The CP, through the Gauteng Provincial Executive Committee, took a clear stand against looting and in defense of the capitalist order. The statement issued in the days of the looting is very clear: [The Gauteng Executive Committee] “unanimously resolved to condemn the ongoing violence and looting in the strongest possible terms. As SACP in Gauteng, we regard these acts of criminality and economic sabotage as part of a well-coordinated counter-revolution”[8].

In another statement, the Communist Party of South Africa, a tripartite member of the government, openly defends the repression that resulted in the death of 300 people. On the day the statement was made public, according to them, there were 72 dead. In other words, the measure they defended resulted in more than 220 deaths. The statement speaks for itself:

“Those responsible for the deaths, other violent acts, destruction, looting and associated human rights violations must be held accountable. The supremacy of our constitution and, based on it, the rule of law, must be protected and upheld. It is in this context that the measures announced by the government to ensure the safety and security of law-abiding citizens and other nationals in South Africa, while taking steps to hold those responsible accountable, were widely welcomed by South African peace-lovers. The State must strengthen its intervention in accordance with its constitutional mandate, to put an end to violence, looting, destruction and sabotage, with immediate effect”[9].


It is necessary to prepare for the struggles to come

The workers, especially the unemployed, youth and the inhabitants of the poor neighborhoods joined the struggle outside their organizations, they did not wait for Cosatu, Numsa or Saftu. It is true that many times they were mistaken for Zuma’s lumpens, but this does not invalidate their willingness to fight. More than anything else, they showed that when they take to the streets, they put fear into the government and the bourgeoisie.

The needs, obviously, were not met, because in that process the greatest of all weaknesses was presented: the absence of a program and a leadership that would transform radicalization into victory.

The bourgeoisie and the government are preparing the counterattack. It will not be against Zuma. It will be against the poor. The first acts were the invasion -without warrant- of the poor houses in the townships, and all merchandise found without receipt or invoice was seized and returned to the bourgeoisie. The second measure was the wave of imprisonment and criminalization of the hungry, with the explicit support of the Communist Party.

The masses counted their dead. But they also proudly counted their acts of rebellion and bravery. The masses felt, at the very least, semi-victorious. They were surely repeating the old refrain sung since the apartheid era: “the struggle goes on”.

But, for “The Struggle Continues” it is necessary to go beyond the existing organizations, especially the ANC, the CP and COSATU. It is necessary to help the working class, the youth and the poor people in the construction of an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist program. A program in total opposition to the one that was applied in the last twenty-seven years. In addition to the program, it is also necessary to build labor and political organizations that apply this program. We, of the International Workers League, very modestly, place ourselves on the side of those who want to build the program and the political organization for that purpose.


[1] TROTSKY, León, Whither France?, 1934-36 third paragraph

[2] The Death of Chris Hani: an African Misadventure. In:

[3] ttp://



[6] África: nationalize and state control of mineral production to survive. Disponible en:, 18/2/2020

[7] The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/ The World Bank . Strategy for African Mining – Washington/DC – 1993



Article published in, September 16, 2021