Government repressed the strike savagely and murdered 34 miners

Last 17th August, South African police exerted unrestrained repression against a 3 000-men strong demonstration of Marikana miners on strike (100km from Johannesburg) and murdered 34 strikers and injured 78 more. This event reminds us of the worst repressions of the times of the apartheid and makes us wonder, what has changed in South Africa since the end of that sinister political regime in 1994?

The events of Marikana have been correctly compared to the 1960 Sharperille massacre, a suburb of Johannesburg, and the infamous massacre of Soweto, another suburb of Johannesburg in 1976. Both prove that the deep social unevenness between the white minority (under 10%) and the immense black majority (80%), actually a clear division of classes, did not end with the apartheid nor did the economic-social structure that constitutes the foundation for such deep unevenness.

What is news is the fact that now the regime and the government are controlled by a tiny sector of the black population that now defends the capitalist state and consequently is no longer interested in questioning exploitation and even accepts that the white bourgeoisie should carry on with their immense wealth and keep enjoying their privileges, imposing unrestricted exploitation on to the working class, the immense majority of which is black, That is why, in order to understand the contradictions that erupted Marikana, it is necessary to revisit briefly some elements of the South African history that have led to the current situation.             

The apartheid

South Africa has nearly 50 million inhabitants and is the most developed country on the continent. Their economy hinges round mining, especially gold and platinum (it is the world’s most prominent producer of this metal). At present there are about 500 000 employed miners, the absolute majority of whom are black for – due to working conditions and poor salaries – white do not chose be employed in this industry.

{module Propaganda 30 anos}The country suffered two white colonisations: on of English origin and one Dutch, which spawned the so-called “Afrikaners”. Afrikaners became more predominant and, as from 1910, began to build the apartheid regime in which the Black had no vote or any other political right. This system was completed in 1948. As part of this system, real juridical aberrations were created, such as the Bantustans (as Lesotho), allegedly black “independent” republics whose inhabitants could only leave this territory if they had special permits even if they had to go to their daily work. If they transgressed against this, they would be punished.

The levels of exploitation of the black population were similar to those of slaves. They lived in gigantic favelas or shanty-towns, among which Soweto was the most famous one, with over a million inhabitants crowding in the worst possible conditions, practically without any of the basic services at their disposal.

It was with a base of such super-exploitation and an immense repressive state apparatus that the white South African bourgeoisie associated to British and Dutch capitals built their power and their wealth.

The end of the apartheid

The black population fought relentlessly against this situation and for their political rights. At regular intervals explosions took place and were met with tremendous repressions and massacres some of which are mentioned above.

As part of the struggle against the apartheid, the African National  Congress (ANC) was founded and, as from the 50s, started growing faster and faster until it became the political expression and the leadership of the black majority. Its best known leader and with the highest prestige was Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned between 1962 and 1990.

The struggle of the Black People against the apartheid regime keeps on accruing and became increasingly radicalised and so was the international isolation. The fall seemed inevitable and there was the possibility of the struggle sweeping the regime in a revolutionary manner and might even advance along the path towards a socialist revolution of the Black People; this would destroy the capitalist bases of the white domination.

The possibility of the expropriation of practically all the white bourgeoisie by the struggle of revolutionary struggle was on the agenda.

Faced with this situation and in order to control the revolutionary process, a majority of the white bourgeoisie worked out a plan for a transition to “take down” the apartheid in an orderly manner while, at the same time, warranting their economic power by maintaining the property of factories and banks. Imperialist powers thoroughly supported this plan. One of its operators was the Black Bishop Desmond Tutu who received a Nobel Prize for this service.

A pact was produced in which, in consideration of the elimination of the apartheid, capitalist system and bourgeois economic domination were to be continued. Thus the white bourgeoisie would release the control over the state apparatus and would accept the assumption of the ANC in order to continue with the class domination. For this they had the cooperation of Nelson Mandela (released in 1990) and the National African Congress, who started putting a brake on the struggles of the Black People and participated in the negotiations and the transition until 1994, when Mandela was elected President.

Reality today        

The end of the apartheid was a great victory for the South African people, for eliminating the apartheid meant liberties, political rights and an electoral system based on the norm “one person, one vote”. That was the end of the Bantustans and, for the first time in the history of this country, they chose a president of their own race. But the economic structure of the country remained untouched and was still dominated by the white minority who now had the advantage of having a black regime and a black government defending their interests. At the same time, the new black bourgeoisie took advantage of the access of the ANC to the political power so as to accumulate some economic power and so become part of the dominating class in South Africa.

Because this economic structure was continued, the national level of unemployment is of 25% but among black workers it reaches 40%, 25% of the population live on under $1.25 a day, which is universally regarded as the rock bottom of poverty and famine.

Nearly 20 years after the end of apartheid, the white minority boasts great privileges and wealth while the immense majority of the Black People still live in poverty But now, this black bourgeoisie has the black bourgeoisie, shaped in these last years, as partners. This explosive unevenness is the base for the accruing of social violence: 50 000 murders are committed every year (proportionately 10 times more than in USA.

The ANC and the Jacob Zuma administration

Taking over the administration of the post-apartheid regime and the government, Mandela and the CAN changed their character. Up to that moment, even if with the deep limitations proper of bourgeois nationalist conceptions, they had been the expression of the struggle of the South African People against apartheid. As from that moment on, they became the administrators of the bourgeois state and as from that option, they made a new alliance with their former Afrikaner enemies. Due to this alliance and in consideration of services rendered, the main cadres and leaders of the CAN became the Black Bourgeoisie, junior partners of the White Bourgeoisie, thriving and profiteering on State business. For example, the current president Jacob Zuma has been accused of corruption in 2005, when he was vice-president he was accused of receiving a high in the purchase of weapons abroad. “They live in the same neighbourhoods as the Whites,” Black workers grumbled as they watched their leader get richer and richer.

In 1999, Mandela gave up active politics. Different presidents of the ANC and the elections that followed already began to show processes of crisis and erosion of this organisation. Jacob Zuma was elected in 2009: abroad, he is regarded as a representative of a more “left” wing and contrary to he predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, who put neoliberal policies favouring the admittance of imperialist capitals. Some measures adopted within the scope of health, education and jobs within sate scope (a number of vacancies kept for Negroes alone) seemed to justify this definition.

But the truth is that he represents the continuity of the neoliberal guideline adopted by ANC favouring Black and White bourgeoisie and imperialism. For example, most of the South Africans want mines – most of which are in foreign hands – to be nationalised (e.g.: the Lonmin enterprise , owners of the Marikana mine has its head offices in London). Even the ANC youth leader, Julius Malema, defended nationalisation, but Zuma was firmly against it and evicted Malema from his position in the ANC. The repression of Marikana miners completes the picture where we can see which side Zuma and his administration are.

Crisis in the COSATU?

COSATU is the main South African trade union Central, built in the struggle against the apartheid in opposition to the old trade union “for whites only”. At that time is gained weight and prestige. It was a world-wide example for workers’ struggles.

Today it is allied to ANC and it is actually part of it supporting its governments and its policies. This has rendered great benefits for its leaders to enjoy numerous positions in the government and in the parliament as well as in private enterprises. For example: the former leader Cyril Ramaphoosa, who used to lead miners’ struggles and struggles against apartheid wan he was the head of the National Union of Miners (NUM) and the COSATU, today is partner-owner  and member of the Board of Directors of Lenmin company.

This alignment with the ANC and its anti-workers policies and the defence of the white bourgeoisie, seems to be causing splits in the trade unions that are part of the central. On the one hand, some activists and cadres would be proposing a split with the ANC and getting the central to launch a workers’ party. On the other hand, splits are said to be taking place in the unions that dorm part of this central. Something of all this is very likely expressed even in the very Marikana strike. According to information within our reach, a new trade union, (AMCU), described as “much more active in their demands, has split with the COSATU (known as NUM). AMCU achieved majority in the mine and boosted for a strike for higher wages (they earn about $500 a month and are demanding 1500). The NUM is said to have been against the strike and, that after the massacre they did not express any clear criticism of the government while they did warn against the “divisionists” (AMCU).

But it was the standpoint of the South African Communist Party, together with the NAC and the COSATU of the “tripod” on which the regime is erected. After the massacre, the SACP requested “immediate arrest for the leaders of the AMCU trade Union” whom they accused of “provoking the chaos with the excuse of salary demands”. Shocking!

Some conclusions

The repression of the Marikana miners clarifies South African reality totally. A regime and a government of a “Black” organisation that defends the interests of the national bourgeoisie – Black and White – and of imperialism. A repressive apparatus that does not hesitate at the idea of bloodthirsty massacre in defence of these interests; employers who feel safe and acts with cynical haughtiness: two days after the massacre, the spokesmen for Lonmin warned that workers who did not come to take up work would be fired. In the meantime, miners who extract metals that can produce $1440 an ounce earn $500 a month and live in huts and neighbourhood in the worst of conditions and are massacred if they fight for their demands. This is the reality of capitalism in South Africa.

That is why we believe that it is necessary to draw deep conclusions. In the 1990s, the South African people achieved some liberties and political rights that doubtlessly must be defended. However, they continued subdued to the worst capitalist exploitation for the sake of a white minority and now also of a new black bourgeoisie stemming out of their former leaders. There will be no real liberation of South African people unless the capitalist bases of this exploitation are annihilated. That is why, the necessary struggles for better wages and decent working conditions must make headway towards proletarian and socialist revolution that will put an end to class exploitation that still lingers in the country.

Apart from these deep conclusions, in the face of the Marikana massacre we wish first to express our deepest class solidarity with the miners and especially with the families of those who were murdered. The strike is still on and is beginning to spread to other mines, such as Royal Bafokeng Platinum, which employs 7000 workers.

We support their struggle unconditionally. That is why, in the first place, we summon all the trade unions, political and democratic organisations to hold a great international campaign to repudiate this massacre and demanding punishment of all those materially and politically liable for this bloodbath. We also summon to launch a great campaign in solidarity and support for the Lonmin strike and all the other South African mining strikes. Their triumph will be that of all the workers of the world.

IWL-FI International Secretariat