A few years ago, an important leader of the ANC (African National Congress) said, “I fear the wheels are coming off”, referring to the economic and political situation of South Africa. He was right, and the wheels continue to loosen. Throughout these years, in general terms, we may say that there was a violent deindustrialization process and with it, unemployment increased and the BRICS have become an open door against national interests. At the same time, mass movements has been showing its strength. The struggles of the university students (#Fees must fall and #Rhodes Must Fall), mobilizations against the Marikana Massacre, the struggle for the end of the Zuma administration and the general strike last April.
By Cesar Quiximba
An economy in rapid decadence
For some years, South Africa has been suffering an accelerated process of economic decadence, expressed in the downfall of the economic growth rate, the deficits of the payment balance sheet and the low increase in the employment rate, specifically for less qualified and young workers. The key to understand this decadence is in the deindustrialization process. In 1994, industrial production represented 21% of the GDP; in 2016, it was in 13.3%. Mining fell from 13% to 7%. From the 2008 world crisis, the situation has worsened and the annual growth of mining and industry has been insignificant. Economists state that considering the stage of development of South Africa, the contribution of the industry in the GDP should be between 28 and 32% today. In theory, this would have created between 800 thousand and 1.1 million jobs. From 1995 to 2016, the population grew from 45 million to 55 million, but unemployment grew from 3.7 million to 7.7 million. Since 2008, only half a million jobs were generated, most in the service sector and most being precarious jobs offered by the government.
BRICS: small fish among big fish
The successive ANC governments celebrated South Africa joining the BRICS Block. In a river filled with big fish like Brazil, Russia, India and China, South Africa is the small fish that will be devoured by the big ones.
For example, with the chicken production chain. This sector employs approximately 100.000 people, between direct and indirect jobs. Now, with the BRICs agreement in functioning, Brazilian chicken received subsidies and extremely reduced import rates. The result is that the Brazilian chicken, which is cheaper, is leading this sector to bankruptcy and generating more unemployment.
The example of the chicken is the most emblematic, but as a whole, the manufacturing sector is being dismounted. South African sugar used to be highly competitive, but now it enters the deindustrialization process. Las June 25, there was a significant demonstration of the KwaZulu-Natal producers against sugar imports with low prices. The government itself acknowledged, “Much sugar enters the country and the industry is bleeding”.
BRICS: in service of denationalization of economy
Two important state enterprises in South Africa, devastated by the economic crisis and the corruption process, will need capital injection. Eskrom (the electric energy company) received $5 billion from China and others and $2.4 billion from countries members of the BRICS. The Transnet (trains, ports and pipelines) received another $4 billion from the Industrial and Trade Bank of China.
Until now, the Treasury and the government have been extremely reluctant to disseminating details related to these loans. The PSA (Public Servants Association) presented a motion to the High Court to discover the details of the loans. There is a growing social clamor to know the details of the Chinese loans, especially in light of the Sri Lanka recent experience. In 2010, this insular nation received loans from China to build a new port in Hambantota, in the Southeast of the country. When the loan payments were not met, the government was forced to accept leasing the port for 99 years to a Chinese company. The PSA foresees the denationalization of Eskron and Transnet.
The desperate situation of the working class
The unemployment rate is 26.7%, where the youth between 15 to 24 years of age represent over 3 million. About one in every three youth workers is not working. It is a tragedy for workers, but for the employers it is an element to pressure the workers into accepting worse conditions.
Minimum wage is 20 rands per hour. For example, a school janitor earns 4 thousand rands per months, or a thousand rands per week, or 200 rands per day. A kilo of meat is 100 rands, two bus tickets are 40 rands. Therefore, this wage is barely enough to pay a ticket, a kilo of meat and there is just 30% of the daily wage for other expenses.
In Cape Town, the area of the great manufacturing factories, it is common to see women sitting on the sidewalk at lunchtime, eating. Lunch is usually bread and sardines, sausages or bread with avocado.
Work accidents are constant. At the end of July, six workers died in a mine. In early September, eight died in an industry. It is not a “fatality” as the COSATU union federation (Congress of South African Trade Unions) stated, but it is part of the capitalist exploitation and the abuse against workers.
The Massacre of Marikana
The working class is massacred by unemployment, low wages and labor accidents. In 2012, there was a different type of massacre, 34 workers in strike were killed. The Lonmin mining company, of English capital, with 28 thousand workers, faced a 3,000 people picket that lasted over a week. The company did not face the workers, the South African state, led by ANC/COSATU/Communist Party, placed in service of the company 400 men armed with AR 15 rifles, vehicles, helicopters and pasmem: two cars to transport up to 10 bodies each. This mean that before the operation took place, they foresaw the massacre.
At the time, one of the Lonmin executives was Cyril Ramaphosa, an old union cadre from the ANC leadership, currently the President of the Republic. During the investigations, different emails were found from Ramaphosa defending an exemplary lesson!
Malnutrition and hunger: the daily sufferings of South African workers
The cruelest form of massacre of the South African workers and poor people are hunger and malnutrition. South Africa produces enough calories to feed its 53 million inhabitants. However, one in every four people suffers hunger and over half the population has the risk of suffering hunger according to the state body Stats SA (Statistics South Africa). The number of people affected by hunger is around 13 million.
Malnutrition exists when the individual cannot sustain his natural body capacities like growth, pregnancy, breastfeeding, learning, physical work and resistance, besides the overcoming of sicknesses. Malnutrition may exist being underweight or overweight. Child malnutrition in South Africa affects 26.5%, and obesity rates are among the highest in the world. 42% of women are obese.
The reasons for this situation are the low wages and unemployment, in the first place. However, capital concentration is very important since the five greatest food retailers control 60% of the market, promoting low quality processed foods, bankrupting minor retailers and informal tradesmen, and re-selling expired foods to smaller chains that sell the products in the poorest regions.
The wheels begin to loosen and a new leadership begins to emerge
After almost 25 years of tripartite governments of the ANC, CP of South Africa and the COSATU union federation, the masses’ experience accelerates. The wear of the last elected president, Zuma, was such that the very ANC as the majority force in Congress imposed Zuma’s renunciation and the ascent of a new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, famous for his part in the Marikana Massacre.
Approximately since 2010, a faction of COSATU began to difference form the majority leadership and to build its own unions. In Marikana, an alternative union was built, and when it managed to affiliate 51% of the workers, it called for a strike. The first repression of the strike, with two deaths, came from the hands of the bureaucracy. Afterwards, the union bureaucracy joined the enterprise and the State to repress and kill 32 more workers. Cyril Ramaphosa then acted, who was a former mining union leader and at the time, he was the Lonmin company director.
In 2012, the national metalworkers union – NUMSA (National Union of Metalworks of South Africa) – refused to support the ANC/CP candidates. Therefore, they were expelled from the COSATU Union Federation. In 2013, NUMSA, in its extraordinary congress, launched the idea of building a workers party with the name of Works Revolutionary Socialist Party. In 2017, the SAFTU (South African Federation of Trade Unions) was founded, with over 20 national unions affiliated, breaking NUMSA’s isolation.
In 2018, the union leaders decided to push the building of the Workers Party.
The comparisons with the Brazilian PT in its origin are unavoidable and even stimulated. For us, there are similarities and differences. First, because the PT was backed by an enormous mass upsurge in its origin, and left wing groups had important influence in the disputes with the bureaucracy regarding the paths of the PT. The Workers Party actually wins important strength with the downfall of President Zuma and the general strike of the last month of April, but this is very far from the Brazilian upsurge of when the PT began.
The absence of strong left wing groups implies a lack of opposition to reformist standings. If this does not suffice, in the Workers Party organization, there are NGOs financed by organizations that stand for humanized capitalism.
The program must be the synthesis of the standings expressed within the union movement, the NGOs and some Marxist groups with little influence. One of the most important unions, the FAWU (Food and Allied Workers Union), for example, is part of the national campaign against chicken imports. The campaign is correct. However, it is mistaken to build a permanent united fronts with entrepreneurs. It is never a good alternative for workers to hold hands with the enemy.
The unions behind the articulation of the Workers Party gather around 800 thousand workers. This is a significant number in the current situation.
A great challenge for the Marxist left
By late 1980s and early 1990s, the working class carried out great battles for the end of the segregation system, known as the Apartheid. The main leader of this process was Nelson Mandela, who had spent 27 years in prison. The heroic life of Mandela for the end of the Apartheid cannot be confused with his political option. Mandela was freed thanks to the mass mobilizations, but he accepted impositions like the opening of the economy, uneven competition and the closing of hundreds of companies with the consequent unemployment. This was the same policy applied by Menen in Argentina and Collor in Brazil.
Almost 25 years later, workers and poor people have broken with Mandela’s political heritage and are going to the streets with youth struggles, struggles in the neighborhoods and mainly in the April 2018 General Strike. They are recovering their strength.
In this period, new struggle bodies are necessary, therefore a new labor federation is being formed, the SAFTU, as well as a new party, the Workers Party. Both organizations are the most important tools of the reorganization process of the working class. This is a rare phenomenon; the last time it happened was 30 years ago. Marxist groups must know how to seize this opportunity, building factions within these organizations and disputing them politically.