Thu Jun 01, 2023
June 01, 2023

South Africa| The end of illusions and the struggle against Mandela's legacy

Several events taking place in South Africa in recent months show the increasingly tense political situation in the country. Among these events, we can highlight a metalworkers’ strike, massive looting, the rise of the extreme right-wing, and the expulsion of President Ramaphosa from the May Day rally.
By Cesar Neto
Originally published in Portuguese here
Mandela and the Rainbow Revolution:
When the apartheid government ended and Mandela’s Rainbow Revolution was introduced, a deal was negotiated: the revolt against the segregationist state was to be controlled and disciplined. The incoming political order would work to maintain the exploitative and capitalist regime; a political revolution without social revolution.
Mandela’s economic plan removed protections and opened the economy for import and export. The immediate consequence was a violent process of deindustrialization, the closing of countless companies, and unemployment, which, in recent years, has reached 35% of the population. Furthermore, the new government promoted the total withdrawal of labor and social security rights. Schools are no longer free and teachers’ salaries are paid in part by the State and in part by the students and their unemployed parents.
Unemployment, hunger, and misery equal to apartheid
Before the pandemic, levels of unemployment reached 35% of the population. Today there is talk of more than 45%, and among young people, it is around 70%. Hunger hits the homes of working families particularly hard. Due to nutritional deficiencies, 25% of school-age children are below average height levels. Misery today, without a doubt, is on the same level as the notorious apartheid. All this in a strong and powerful economy on the level of those of Argentina and Colombia.
Reconciliation with the bourgeoisie and the creation of a black elite
The banks that financed apartheid and the companies that used apartheid to overexploit the workers emerged unscathed. They transferred easily from the government of racial segregation to the Rainbow “Revolution”. No businessmen were convicted; after all, this had already been negotiated in advance with the African National Congress with Mandela and his team at its head. When the communist leader Chris Hani, a staunch opponent of the agreements that were being made, was assassinated, the masses were inconsolable. The already weakened government did not have the strength to face the popular anger, and it was the very same Mandela, who went on television to ask for calm and serenity.
Reconciliation would not be possible without the incorporation of a small number of blacks into power. Thus, plans were made for the “empowerment of black people” that resulted in a new bourgeois fraction that now governs the whites and applies economic plans just like the apartheid government.
Looting and striking: the working class in the streets puts the government against the wall
In July of last year, the pandemic raging on, and workers were already out on the streets looting big stores and supermarkets. Armed police and para-police groups killed almost 400 people in less than a week. In November, already encouraged by the wave of looting and pushed by low wages, the metalworkers went on strike. There were three weeks of radicalized strikes, marches with more than 20,000 people, and two workers murdered.
From these two major events, the working class felt strengthened and a wave of strikes began, like the emblematic strike of the workers of Glover Dairy, a company whose boss is a Zionist. The union leadership employed an international solidarity campaign to great effect.
The Sibanye Stillwater gold mine has already been on strike for two and a half months, and the workers are not tired [1]; on the contrary, they have enough energy to continue the struggle and are impacting other mining sectors. The mining bosses have already understood the message from the workers: more strikes will come! The companies are scared and say that: “South Africa’s platinum production will fall below pre-Covid-19 levels by 2022 as the risk of strikes looms.” [2]
Ramaphosa, leader of the Marikana massacre, is expelled from May Day

Ramaphosa is an experienced leader. He started out as a student leader, went on to become a miners’ leader, a recurring figure in photos with Mandela, and today is the country’s president. His biography was forever tarnished when he was no longer a miners’ union leader, but the head of a British mining company, Lonmin, and authorized the repression of striking workers. The result was the murder of 34 people and Ramaphosa has been known as the Butcher of Marikana ever since.
But Ramaphosa finally got a taste of what he deserves. He went to the first of May convened by Cosatu (the ultra-government trade union central) and there he encountered the striking workers of the Sibanye Stillwater gold mine. On strike for ten weeks, the radicalized workers would not allow him to speak. They all shouted out and advanced on the stage [3]. Ramaphosa was forced to leave the stage, along with Communist Party of South Africa leader Blade Nzimande and Cosatu leader Zingiswa Losi, escorted by police. They got into a police car and left the stadium.
The working class weakened, both in organized labor and politically
The central unions, under pressure from the economic crisis, are no longer raising as much money as before. SAFTU and NUMSA, both so-called opposition unions, are mired in debt and internal crises, and leaders are exchanging accusations of corruption and largesse. The officialist trade union COSATU is divided between Ramaphosa’s supporters and supporters of former president Zuma, who was impeached for corruption.
The Communist Party is another question altogether. It is part of Ramaphosa’s coalition government, has ministers and members of parliament, and yet it has not paid its employees’ salaries for six months. And as if that were not enough, when the wave of looting began and 72 people were already pronounced dead, Ramaphosa proposed more state intervention and more repression. The end result of “more state intervention” was the murder of almost 400 people.
Most Marxist currents have little by little abandoned the program of the Third and Fourth International and have ended up as appendages of the left bureaucracies. They did not have the Leninist patience to build a party of cadres and now, when the class starts fighting again, they do not have the militants necessary to organize programmatic debates and dispute reformism, nor do they have the strength to impose a workers’ and anti-capitalist program.
The masses: blind and directionless
The working class has been playing its role in the struggle. Long, violent strikes, where the workers lay to rest their dead. In the metalworkers’ strike, for example, the amount agreed with the bosses, because of the size of the strike and its radicalism, was an embarrassment. Three weeks of strike action to get only a 6% raise. That is the accumulated annual inflation until October, or between 0.6 and 1.4% above what the bosses initially offered.
An exception has been the struggle of the Glover Dairy workers and their union Giwusa (General Industries Workers Union of South Africa). They waged a hard struggle against the Zionist boss, with the union leadership seeking support among Palestinians and workers from different countries.
The violence against immigrants and against the leaders of the land occupations have so far not deserved the decisive and mobilizing support by the unions and most of the so-called Marxist left.
The rise of the extreme right
Twenty-eight years ago, when the apartheid regime ended, nobody would have imagined that less than three decades later the country would return to the same poverty, and the same social and political violence. Moreover, no one would believe that a new cycle of violence would emerge and that this violence would be exercised by blacks who had risen socially with the politics of Mandela and Co.
So today the reality is that as the economic crisis advances and unemployment increases, the middle class and the petty bourgeoisie lose their privileges. Their desire to find solutions to their problems grows. The middle class and the petty bourgeoisie are wanting to get rid of the ANC-COSATU-PC government, and when they don’t see alternatives to the left, they move with their bags and baggage to the most retrograde and reactionary ideas and join extreme right-wing parties like ActionSA and Patriotic Alliance.
And it is this sense of change that creates the breeding ground for the growth and strengthening of three forms of violence against workers and poor people. They are:
The bourgeois South state ruled by the ANC-COSATU-PC, have announced successive laws that prevent migrant workers from working and further allow all kinds of violence practiced by the extreme right against migrant workers. National workers who go on strike are violently repressed by the police and there have been several beatings and deaths;
The homeless, especially those linked to the organization Abahlali baseMjondolo, have been the target of successive murders of their militants and no one has been arrested for such crimes. Everyone knows where the bullets come from except for the capitalist state.
The migrants live hidden in their homes, unable to work and earn a living. Even so, members of Operation Dudula continue to impose terror as in the case of Elvis Nyathi, a migrant from Zimbabwe, who was taken from his home, beaten, killed and his body burned. It is no longer just a case of xenophobia, it is also a case of terrorism to which the state is omitting itself.
Operation Dudula is an extreme right-wing movement run by blacks who have grown rich and, upon losing their privileges in the economic crisis, accuse African migrants of being responsible for the crisis. The leader of this organization that preaches and practices violence, Nhlanhla Lux Dlamini, gives interviews on TV, in newspapers, and is active in social networks where he shamelessly preaches violence against immigrants.
Three Urgent Tasks: Self-Defense, Ramaphosa Out, and Building Independent Workers’ Organizations
Faced with the violence of the extreme right and the complicity of the state and the Ramaphosa government, it remains for the black working class to organize itself and prepare self-defense organizations. Faced with what Trotsky described as “all the putrid vapors of the disintegration of bourgeois society,” the working class has no other alternative but to organize and fight to defend itself against the violence of the still-nascent extreme right.
Ramaphosa Out: The slogan that was chanted by the mining workers and civil servants at the May Day rally in Royal Bafokeng Stadium, should be taken to all workers, youth, and residents of the townships. Ramaphosa Out.
The workers’ union organizations, bureaucratized and corrupted by their economic shenanigans, can no longer fulfill the role of a consistent organizer of workers’ struggles. They only mobilize to negotiate better conditions. It is necessary to reorganize the working class and put it at the center of the political struggle and for this, it is necessary to rebuild the organizations and expel the putrid bureaucracy and manage the unions with workers’ democracy. Banish the union bureaucrats.
For a government of the workers and the poor:
After 28 years of conciliation with the white national and imperialist bourgeoisie, the model created by Mandela is being questioned globally. But the central problem is not Mandela, the central problem is Mandela’s orientation based on class conciliation and the development of a new black bourgeoisie linked to the state apparatus.
On June 25-26, the Working Class Summit will be held in which the central discussion has to be the construction of an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist program towards the construction of a socialist society without bosses and run by the workers’ grassroots organizations.
In 2018 the First Working Class Summit was held and among its resolutions was the construction of a workers’ party. Due to inter-bureaucratic disputes, a party at the service of a sector of the union bureaucracy was created. Now we have the possibility to rediscuss and actually start building a working-class party.
For the construction of self-defense organizations.
Out Ramaphosa, the ANC, and their satellites.
All Convene for a Working-Class Summit
For a government of the workers
[3]     –   Ramaphosa leaves May Day event

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