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The Workers and Socialist Party unequivocally condemns the xenophobic attacks on foreign-owned spaza shops that began in Soweto, and spread to the West Rand, Alexandra township, Khayelitsha in the Western Cape and Inanda in Kwa Zulu Natal.
A partially-deaf 74-year-old Malawian man is amongst the half a dozen dead so far. He was disembowelled before being set on fire. A child was trampled to death by looters. Like us, the majority of residents in the townships affected will be horrified. Hundreds more have fled their homes and abandoned their businesses.
There can be no justification for the violence and singling out of the foreigner-born. The overwhelming majority of them, like their South African counterparts in this small business sector, are trying to make an honest living. Ordinarily they are welcomed into the townships, their businesses surviving, even prospering from the custom of township residents because of the convenience of being able to shop virtually on your door step, the option to purchase on credit until pension and welfare payments come through which is of course impossible at supermarkets normally at least one taxi ride away.
Working class solidarity to unite across ethnic, racial and national divisions
The South African working class has a well established tradition of international solidarity, the best example of which is the mineworkers. Coming from across the whole of Southern Africa, the unity of the mineworkers irrespective of nationality has been the basis of their power. Similarly, Cosatu’s tradition of non-racial class solidarity enabled it to unite workers of all races and to sweep aside the racist white trade unions of the apartheid era.
Shockingly, tribalism has penetrated Cosatu affiliates, polluting one of its most sacred principles – non-racial class solidarity. At its last congress, battle for control of the NUM is widely known to have been fought on a tribal basis – Nguni vs non-Nguni leaving only one national office bearers as non-Nguni. SACP Deputy-General Secretary Jeremy Cronin could have taken his denunciation of the 2012 mineworkers that culminated in the Marikana massacre straight from one of colonial SA’s overlords when he described it as the action of a “Pondoland-vigilante mafia.”
It is no accident that the erosion of Cosatu’s power, cohesion and political authority today lie in ruins. It has been infected by the ideological and political degeneration of its alliance partners – the ANC and SACP. With Cosatu, the ANC and SACP having degenerated ideologically, the Tripartite Alliance has individually and collectively become a source of all the backwardness and divisions on which apartheid was built, there has never been a greater need for the unity that a mass workers party would bring. Disgracefully Cosatu and the SACP have maintained a deafening silence on the xenophobia. Worse, Cosatu Kwa Zulu Natal secretary, Zet Luzuko, has supported Nomvula Mokonyane’s xenophobic statements (see below).
ANC’s denies xenophobia to protect reputation
We also condemn the ANC’s government’s absurd insistence that these attacks are not xenophobic. Breaking out as a SA government delegation was attending the World Economic Forum, where they claim to be punching above their weight with what is claimed to be amongst the most progressive constitutions and human rights laws in the world, the xenophobia threatened to derail efforts to promote SA as an attractive foreign investment destination. This denialism is clearly driven by the government’s desperate desire to protect its international image especially on the African continent where it is attempting to play the role of leader and where it promotes South African capitalist interests.
The capitalist powers hypocritically condemn xenophobia whilst their imperialist foreign policies trample over ‘human rights’ and democracy. But more than that, the ANC knows they have helped to create the conditions for xenophobia to rear its ugly head. It is also an irresponsible and misleading oversimplification to denounce the violence as “pure criminality.”
Xenophobia rooted in ANC’s capitalist policies and corruption
The tragic events of this week can only be understood by recognising that that they are rooted in the brutal social conditions of the capitalist system that has created the most unequal society on earth, whose barbaric underbelly has once again been exposed as it was in 2008 as we explained in our previous statement. It is these conditions that provide the breeding ground for crime, drug addiction and violence against women and children. Like alien vegetation, they also provide fertile soil for the breakdown of the solidarity that the working class has had to develop to survive and resist exploitation and oppression, replacing it instead with suspicion, hatred and bigotry.
Layered over these levels of gross inequality is the rampant corruption of an arrogant political and economic elite. The ANC’s determined campaign to shield the president of the country from accountability for the corruption surrounding Nkandla has entailed not only the abuse of state resources to enrich his lawyers in court battle after court battle, but now even parliament itself into which the Riot Police have been called to protect him.
Corrupt leaders are rewarded with domestic and international diplomatic postings. The judiciary and state security agencies are manipulated to ensure that Zuma will not face prosecution for the arms deal-related corruption. Big business is rapped over the knuckles with feather duster fines for corruption which they pay for from budgets specially set aside for this purpose. As the early 90s Codesa negotiations were putting together the final touches of the post apartheid constitutional dispensation, a bread cartel, including Tiger Brands colluded to push up the price of bread – a staple of the poor. Over the subsequent two decades, the impotent Competition Authorities have had their hands full as big business engaged in an orgy of looting by price collusion across almost every significant industry. Very little can compete with this for cynicism! For the capitalists the freedom that came with democracy — a constitutional dispensation for the continuation of the economic dictatorship of the capitalist class under the mask of parliamentary democracy — was the freedom to loot and exploit.
The combustible material for the latent xenophobia simmers stubbornly particularly within the most marginalised layers of society, kept on slow boil by the miserable social conditions affecting the working class majority. But even the new black middle class the ANC leadership has taken to boasting about exaggeratedly as their ‘achievement’, lives a precarious existence. A significant proportion of these ‘one-carat diamonds’ as one commentator described them, are just one pay cheque away from destitution.
Competition in small business sector
But it is in the small business sector that this sense of uncertainty as to what tomorrow holds is felt most sharply, resting on the necks of small entrepreneurs like a sword. SA has one of the biggest expanses of retail floor space in the world competing with countries like Brazil whose population dwarfs its own. Malls are mushrooming no longer in places beyond the reach of working class consumers, but increasingly near townships – a new standard of ‘development’ as municipalities compete for the patronage of the wealthiest who own the big brand names like Shoprite.
Unable to afford the extortionate rentals inside the malls, small business owners have been squeezed out of business. 70% of small businesses in Soweto go bankrupt within less than 5 years. The path of self-employment is strewn with the obstacles of government incompetence and corruption. Many small businesses have failed simply because government cannot pay on time for goods and services procured from them.
It is this section of the SA population that feels particularly bitter towards foreign-born traders operating in the townships who they believe wrongly to be receiving government support for their businesses whilst South Africans are starving. Yet foreign-born small businesses get not more help from the state than their SA counterparts. They ensure their success by cooperative procurement within their communities to benefit from economies of scale, operating on very low profit margins, cutting overheads by sleeping in their shops, working long hours and developing relations with their customers by extending credit to those dependent on pensions and other social grants. Squeezed between the malls and the thriving businesses of their foreign-born counterparts SA small business associations have often been the most strident in their denunciation of foreigners “who don’t pay tax and sleep in their shops.”
Drugs and the foreign-owned spaza shops
Rumours, whether substantiated or not, that foreigners use their spaza shops to supply drugs to township youths amongst whom nyaope has become an epidemic as they seek an escape from a life that amounts to a mere existence – with no prospect of a job or further education – have added fuel to the fire of xenophobic antagonism. If foreign-born traders are involved in drug-peddling, then action should be taken by the authorities in the same way as they should against any SA citizen.
But it is clear that the drug problem is facilitated by government impotence, police incompetence and corruption. Zuma and former Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane’s much hyped promise to eradicate the drug problem in Eldorado Park has come to nothing.
The increase in drug use – which has resulted in a significant increase in house-breaking and theft by addicts desperate to feed the habit unleashing mayhem in the townships — is undoubtedly driven by highly organised international drug cartels powerful enough to draw in the likes of the wife of the former Minister of Intelligence, Cheryl …. (now serving a long term jail sentence) and brought disgrace on the former Commissioner of Police, the late Jackie Selebi.
ANC leaders fan flames of xenophobia
This toxic antagonism towards the foreigner-born is reinforced by the latent xenophobia within the ruling political elite which periodically finds public expression in incendiary outbursts by senior political leaders. Shockingly the task team government has now established to address the xenophobia, has implied, in a thinly veiled xenophobic statement by team leader, Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, that foreign-born traders have brought these attacks upon themselves. In a piece of advice that is astonishing in its ignorance and is racially inflammatory, she calls upon foreign-born traders them to share their “trade secrets” with their SA counterparts who, she advises, have been disadvantaged by apartheid from learning business skills!
This was preceded by a statement by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe suggesting that the problem lies in a lack of immigration controls which need to be tightened to prevent the establishment of Boko Haram cells. Not to be outdone, Water Minister Nomvula Mokonyane, in famous for insulting Bekkersdal voters by saying the ANC did not want their dirty votes, has now gone onto Facebook to blast Somali and Pakistanis. In a statement that can only be interpreted as incitement to “cleanse” the townships of their presence, she claims that every second spaza shop or general dealer is run by Somalis and Pakistanis”. Our townships cannot be a site of a subtle takeover….Our people have moved out of Chief Mogale houses to give way to this. Never! This must stop!”
Such remarks are reckless and inflammatory, fan the flames of xenophobia deepen suspicions and divisions. “There are too many of them”, “they sell drugs” ”they habour Boko Haram cells”… these are the ignorant rumours that constitute the language of pogroms reinforcing existing prejudices by lending them the cover of legitimacy of senior government spokesperson. As in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, unscrupulous warlords will use such inflammatory rhetoric, to organise pogroms confident in the knowledge that senior political leaders agree with them whatever the official position of government may be.
Government immigration policy is becoming increasingly xenophobic, designed to maximise the inconvenience for immigrants, and calculated to keep out the poor and welcome the rich. At the new immigration centre in Tshwane immigrants have over the past few days protested against the insulting manner in which they are treated, the lengthy delays in the processing of applications for permits and the rampant corruption of police demanding bribes and assaulting them.
Ministers at all levels give voice to these prejudices blaming the failing health system for example on the pressure allegedly placed on it by foreigners. In this atmosphere some health workers have refused to treat African foreigners. Police regularly physically attack foreigners, illegally confiscating their goods, and exact bribes from them with impunity. In sharp contrast to the contemptuous treatment of poor mainly African foreigners at the country’s borders, the ANC government has been prepared to lick the boots of the repressive Chinese regime embarrassing itself in front of the world over the Dalai Lama question.
The ANC government’s capitalist policies have in other words created the social conditions and the atmosphere for xenophobia. Indirectly blaming foreigners provides the government with a convenient and on the face of it, plausible excuse for service delivery failures. In the absence of a different explanation – one that points out that the real root of the problem is capitalism — the idea that without foreigners we would all have jobs and the government would have more resources to provide decent social services seems to make sense and finds an echo amongst the most marginalised.
To the people who resorted to the levels of depravity witnessed this week, appeals to humanity and internationalist solidarity are no more than moral bleatings. They do not put bread on the table. That this can happen in a country governed by a party that was supported sometimes at significant cost by other countries is an indictment of the ANC and a measure of the decline of its moral authority.
The ANC has created the sense that criminal behaviour is not morally reprehensible. In fact it is how to make your way in life. The SABC’s Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s defiant refusal to vacate his post despite having been found to have lied about his qualifications, the near doubling of his salary through illegitimate increases he awarded himself and Zuma’s refusal to pay back the money he owes the for the security upgrades at Nkandla are morally indistinguishable from looting a spaza shop – except that it is against the country as a whole that the crime is being committed.
Xenophobia a warning –build a mass workers party for working class unity internationalism and socialism
That is why the establishment of a mass workers party set into motion by the Marikana massacre that led to the formation of WASP, the EFF and the resolutions of Numsa’s historic December 2013 special national congress, needs to be concluded as a matter of urgency. If the political vacuum that currently exists is not filled, explosions of anger and all the brutal consequences of misdirected rage will be a recurring feature of society. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If the vacuum is not filled with progressive content, with a political party that promotes workers unity, internationalism and socialism, it will be filled with reaction.
The social conditions and the backward views within the ruling elite will pit not only South Africans against foreigners but South Africans against each other. The nationalism that courses through the ANC’s veins has never been cleansed of tribalism, ethnicism, racism and discrimination against women. There is a widespread view that whereas under Mbeki the country was ruled by a ‘Xhosa nostra’, under Zuma it is believed that there is a ‘Zulufication’ of the state.
In Malamulele tribalism has marked service delivery protests as XiTsonga people accuse this Limpopo municipality of favouring the VaVhenda people at their expense. Within KZN there are periodic outbreaks of anti-Indian sentiments by ANC leaders and ANC aligned business organisations and expressed even in songs by popular artists. A fact little commented upon is that of the 62 who were killed in 2008, 21 were South African Shangaans who were confused with foreigners because they were dark-skinned. The rival gangs of tenderpreneurs battling for control over state resources for self enrichment have no compunction about mobilising communities on a tribal basis
The capitalist class’s inability to overcome the 7-year Great Recession despite forcing the working class to pay for it with mass unemployment and attacks on social welfare has provided the breeding ground for similar prejudices worldwide as the capitalist class actively encourages divisions in the working class to head of a revolt against the brutal measures they have taken to save their system.
The revolt has now led to the election of a new left party for the first time in 70 years in Greece as Syriza emerged as the biggest party. The political winds are blowing in the same direction in other parts of the world. Events in SA are being closely followed by the working class worldwide with expectations raised by the resolutions adopted by Numsa’s historic special national congress to explore the formation of a workers party. Such a party must be based on a socialist programme.
WASP calls for:
- Rallies and community meetings of foreigners to address the immediate crisis of xenophobic attacks
- For the establishment of joint foreigner and community associations to manage conflict, integrate foreigners communities into the SA community
- No to police brutality, bribery and corruption – police unions to adopt anti-corruption and anti-xenophobic policies
- No to xenophobia – for education programmes in schools to educate learners and encourage
- Combat drug abuse – organise youth anti-drug programmes
- No to exploitation of foreign workers – trade unions to organise workers and demand equal pay and conditions and the full protection of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and LRA
- For a mass socialist civic open to membership by foreigners
- For a mass workers party on a socialist programme
The only way to understand the tragic events of this week is to examine their roots in the brutal social conditions of the capitalist system. South Africa is a country scarred by mass unemployment, crippling poverty and gross inequality. Nearly 40% are unemployed; among the youth unemployment is over 50%. Half of all black households (not individuals, but entire households) struggle to survive on less than R2,500 per month; over 16 million depend on social grants. Yet alongside the poverty of the masses is the eye-watering wealth of the elite; Johann Rupert and Nicky Oppenheimer have more wealth than the poorest 26 million. Society is a giant heap of combustible material. That is does not burst into flames more regularly – as it has done this week – is the real surprise.
The events of this week again demonstrate the consequences of the political vacuum that exists. Explosions of anger and all the brutal consequences of misdirected rage will be a recurring feature of society as long as there is no mass working class party putting forward a socialist alternative. We need such a party to voice the anger of communities but to also explain that the capitalist system and the politicians that defend it are the real causes of people’s suffering. Crucially, we need such a party to point the way out of that suffering – united mass struggle for a socialist society.
Despite our sympathy with the justifiable anger felt by those who took part in looting this week at their terrible social conditions, the Workers and Socialist Party nevertheless condemns the xenophobic attacks on foreign-run spazar and tuck shops in Soweto. The lack of humanity shown in these attacks is terrible. Like us, the majority of Soweto residents will be disgusted. At least three people have died and hundreds more have fled their homes and abandoned their businesses. We stand in solidarity with our foreign-born class brothers and sisters who have been targeted in this violence and call on all working class fighters and socialists to do likewise.
The spark that set Soweto alight has been described in detail by the Daily Maverick. Late afternoon on Monday, an 18 year-old nyaope addict allegedly attempted to steal from a Somali-run spaza shop in Snake Town. According to local people he regularly stole from the shop and was known to the staff. He was confronted by a Somali staff member but refused to leave. A second Somali staff member pulled out a gun to scare the boy away. But the boy remained defiant and an argument developed. A crowd gathered to watch and the police were called when the gun was spotted.
The trigger for the violence was the police’s failure to find the gun when they searched the shop. Fuelled by xenophobic fears the crowd decided it was unacceptable for ‘foreigners’ to have firearms and if the police would not do something then they would. With the police still outside the Somali-run shop, the crowd went round the corner to a Pakistani-run shop and looted it. It was only when the crowd moved on to a second Pakistani-run shop that 14 year-old Siphiwe Mahori was shot dead, allegedly by the Pakistani owner. Whether he intended to kill Siphiwe we cannot know. But a second person was shot three times in the arm and other shots did not find a target suggesting general panic and mayhem.
Roots of violence in social conditions
Mass poverty, unemployment and inequality are the real cause of the anger felt by the tiny minority of South African-born Soweto residents who took part in the violence. But these problems will not have been addressed by attacks on foreigners and foreign-run shops. In 2008, xenophobic violence spread across Johannesburg. Thousands of foreign-born residents were displaced and 62 were murdered. Then, like today, people talked about foreigners ‘stealing’ jobs, not paying taxes and taking business opportunities from South Africans. But unemployment, poor service delivery and poverty have continued and worsened in the seven years since that brutal ‘culling’ of foreigners from communities. Clearly they were not to blame for the terrible conditions of the poor majority. Nor are they to blame today.
A partially-deaf 74-year-old Malawian man is amongst the dead this week. He was disembowelled before being set on fire. Tragically, those involved in the violence will have more in common with this man than they do with ‘fellow’ South Africans, black or white, who are members of the rich elite. One of the ‘complaints’ is that foreign-run spaza shops do not pay their taxes. Leaving aside the sudden concern for SARS and leaving aside the enormous government corruption when spending tax-money (e.g. Nkandla!), the few thousand Rand per year that SARS might be able to claim from foreign-owned spaza shops is less than a drop in the ocean compared to the tax avoidance of the rich and big business. Just 9,000 rich individual avoid paying R48 billion of taxes every year. Further, R140 billion leaves the country each year in the untaxed transactions and profits of big business. It is this money that could make a meaningful difference to the unemployment and poverty faced by the residents of Soweto, not taxes on those selling mealie-meal out of garages.
The majority of foreigners living in townships have travelled here from other poverty-stricken neo-colonial countries to try and find some sort of normal life. In particular, people from Somalia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malawi have all been mentioned as targets in the current violence. Somalia is a war-torn ‘failed-state’ run by war-lords and pirates; the population of Pakistan are terrorised by Taliban suicide-bombers and other anti-working class jihadis, the bomber drones of US imperialism and the arbitrary terror of their ‘own’ rogue military; Malawi ranks 174 out of 187 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index (56 places behind South Africa); in Bangladesh over 40 million people survive on less than R14 per day. The brutal conditions of world capitalism are the main reasons that people leave their homes, friends and families to come to South Africa.
Xenophobia divides and lets the capitalists rule
The police and the ANC government are desperate to say that the attacks are not ‘xenophobic’. Unfortunately, there is no other description for the singling-out and targeting of foreign-born residents. The ANC do not want to admit xenophobia because they are worried about South Africa’s international reputation. The world capitalist powers hypocritically condemn xenophobia whilst their imperialist foreign policies trample over ‘human rights’ and democracy. But more than that, the ANC knows they have helped to create the conditions for xenophobia to rear its ugly head.
The ANC has been in power for over twenty years. In that time they have implemented capitalist policies that are completely unable to address the problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality. With these problems come others – crime, drug-addiction, domestic abuse and other social-ills. The ANC government must take responsibility for the violence this week.
But it is not just indirectly through its capitalist policies that the ANC government encourages xenophobia. They also use it explicitly in order to divide the working class. Zuma himself rubbished Malawians last year when defending his anti-working class e-tolls policy. He said “we’re in Johannesburg… This is not some national road in Malawi.” Capitalist politicians are always willing to encourage xenophobia to try and divert the attention of the working class and poor from capitalism’s responsibility for unemployment and other problems.
Following the lead of the capitalist politicians, xenophobia is widespread in the police. No one can forget the murder of Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia in Daveyton in 2013. Police handcuffed him to their van and dragged him through the township until he was dead. On Friday, The Times showed pictures of three police officers walking away from a crowd looting a foreign-run spaza shop. Eyewitness News reported on the radio that another policeman had been caught taking-part in the looting! All of this says that the police will not treat crimes targeted at foreign-born residents seriously. This has emboldened those who have taken part in the violence this week. It is also not surprising that foreign-born residents in the townships have purchased guns to defend themselves rather than relying on the police. The arrest of eight foreign-born residents in Soweto for the illegal possession of firearms this week is another aspect to the human tragedy that has unfolded.
Drawing a division between South African-born and foreign-born divides the working class and damages the struggle to change society by disuniting the working class. We must unite against our common class enemy – the capitalists. The trade unions must make efforts to organise foreign-born workers. Likewise, the trade unions must struggle to organise the unemployed and wage a mass campaign for job creation. In such a campaign, the Socialist Youth Movement could be an important bridge between the organised working class movement and the township youth.
A country-wide socialist civic, jointly organising South African-born and foreign-born residents, is also necessary. Not only could such a civic address the service delivery issues of communities through united mass struggle but it could also address the social problems and community tensions that sparked this week’s riots. For example, the issue of democratically organised cross-community self-defence is posed when the police and social services fail to act on issues of crime, drug-addiction, the control of guns etc. NUMSA’s United Front could start to raise such ideas as part of its community campaigning.
All of our struggles must set socialism as the goal. A socialist society will be organised to meet the needs of all and not just the profits of the rich. Upon such a basis the social conditions that give rise to xenophobia will be abolished and replaced by human solidarity.
The contradictions of South African society were illustrated in brutal form in the course of 2014. At the end of October it was reported that the two richest people – Johann Rupert and Nicky Oppenheimer – possess more wealth than the poorest 50% of society. Two people have more wealth than 26 million people. This staggering statistic grates against the modest demands of the 70,000 platinum mineworkers who were forced to struggle in the longest strike in South African history just to win an extra R1,000 per month in wages. This contrast of rags and riches confirms that on the basis of capitalism the future is one of poverty for the majority, inequality and mass unemployment.
The capitalist class have confirmed as much in their forecasts for 2015. The IMF predicts growth of just 2.1% in the South African economy this year. By the ANC’s own admission, this is less than half of what would be necessary to even make a dent in the near 40% unemployment level that leaves millions languishing in poverty, their potential wasted. The IMF has said that the slowdown of the South African economy since the 2008 world economic crisis began has been “more profound” than other emerging economies. Their recommended ‘medicine’ is to “improve productivity” and introduce “structural reforms”.
In the sanitised language of the IMF they are issuing a call to arms for the South African capitalist class and their political representatives to wage a battle to offload the crisis of their profit system onto the working class and poor. The IMF will find willing partners in the ANC government, supported by the capitalist opposition of the Democratic Alliance. The new finance minister Nhlanhla Nene already indicated in his October statement the willingness of the ANC to continue their twenty years of subservience to the interests of the capitalist class into a twenty-first year.
Privatisation and public sector ‘wage restraint’ will be the order of the day in 2015 as the government tries to plug their 4.1% budget deficit (the gap between what they receive through taxes and the amount they spend). Such is the dire position of the economy that the ANC has been forced to revisit privatisation, something that in the past has carried grave political consequences. As reward for this capitulation, the threat by world capitalism’s ratings agencies to further downgrade South Africa’s sovereign debt rating in December was narrowly avoided.
The working class must be on their guard for the double-speak that the ANC’s February budget will be couched in. When they say “improved productivity” workers should hear “retrenchments and wage cuts”; when they say “structural reforms” communities and the youth should hear “privatisation and reduced government spending on health, education and social grants”. As a side-dish to the ANC’s grip on Cosatu, the DA continues to call for the introduction of anti-strike legislation in a vain attempt to head-off explosions of struggle.
Class struggle to continue
But struggle is guaranteed in 2015. The public sector will be a crucial field of battle as the ANC resists the modest wage demands of teachers, health workers, prison officers and social workers amongst others. They will bemoan the government deficit – that they themselves have created – as a reason to maintain low wages in the public sector. But in doing so the ANC is making an anti-working class choice.
In 2012, SARS reported that of 9,300 ‘high-net-worth’ individuals, only 300 paid their taxes! If these super-rich individuals coughed up just what they should, a further R48 billion per year would be raised. Further, it has been reported that on average R140 billion leaves the country each year in “illicit financial outflows” via the unreported, and therefore untaxed, transactions of big business. Platinum miner Lonmin was fingered as a major culprit in 2014. Big business and the super-rich, simply by paying what they should under the ANC’s minimal pro-rich tax regime could plug the deficit several times over.
Also of great importance will be the battles that will be waged by the students on the campuses as the squeeze on higher education funding continues. The Socialist Youth Movement will once again be to the fore in leading student strikes against academic and financial exclusions in 2015. It is vital that the students reach out to higher education staff – both academic and administrative – to support and join their struggles. A joint struggle of workers and students would send shivers down the spines of Blade Nzimande and the other apologists for capitalism in the SACP.
In both the metal and mining industries workers will be forced into struggle yet again to defeat retrenchments as the bosses retaliate for the wage concessions they were forced to make in the platinum mineworkers strike and the five week strike of 230,000 metalworkers in June. As the parastatals are primed for privatisation we can expect struggles to develop as workers resist attempts to make these enterprises attractive to capitalist buyers and investors at the workers’ expense. Service delivery protests will continue unabated and the work to create a socialist-led country-wide civic that can bring coordination and common demands to the struggles of the communities must be stepped up.
In all these battles we will lend our unwavering support. But we will not just be passive cheerleaders. We will be raising socialist and Marxist ideas that can illuminate the best methods of struggle and broader political aspects of the class struggles being waged in the workplaces, communities and on the campuses. Crucially, 2015 must be utilised to further advance the progress made toward the creation of a mass workers party with a socialist programme in the course of last year and unite these three theatres of struggle. It is vital that the struggles of 2015 find their generalised expression in the unity of the struggle for socialism.
2014 bequeaths a new political landscape
2014 will be remembered as a critical year that changed the political landscape. Despite winning 62% of the vote in May’s general election the ANC has never been weaker. Only 36% of their vote came from the urban areas and there is the real possibility that they could lose control of most of the major metros – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay – in the 2016 local elections. Significant sections of the working class, especially around NUMSA, are breaking with the ex-liberation movement turned capitalist government, a process accelerated by the 2012 Marikana massacre. At the ANC Youth League’s consultative conference in November, Zuma admitted in his speech that the ANC was “in trouble” before quickly being called to order. At the ANC’s November NEC meeting, ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe’s normal bluster was briefly forced to reflect reality. He admitted that the ANC risks losing power. However, returning to form, he tried to place the blame anywhere and everywhere but with the ANC’s slavish support for capitalism.
Even the boast that the ANC would rule “until Jesus comes back” has been dealt a blow. The religious elite in the SA Council of Churches have been forced to reflect the anger of their working class congregations, belatedly waking up to the ANC’s ‘false’ “wealth religion” of blatant self-enrichment. The Methodist church has even withdrawn their ministers from acting as chaplains for the ANC. As 2015 unfolds and the 2016 local elections draw nearer we can expect the tensions within the ANC to reach new heights, meaning fresh lows of manoeuvring and squabbling which will only reinforce their decline.
The Economic Freedom Fighters will no doubt play a role in catalysing the tensions in the ANC in 2015 if, as is likely, they maintain their disruptive high profile in parliament. But despite the role they have played in exposing this toothless institution, 2014 demonstrated that the EFF is not a party that will break with the cronyism so characteristic of capitalist political parties. Unfortunately, the EFF is confirming that it cannot be the vehicle for the revolutionary and socialist aspirations of working class interests. In the EFF’s so-called ‘People’s Assembly’ voices critical of Malema and the ex-ANC Youth League leadership were increasingly side-lined or pushed out of the party. The thin veneer of democratic process was little more than a cover for the dominance of Malema and his loyalists. Even so, we can expect the EFF to escalate its socialist rhetoric in 2015 from the luxury of opposition.
Many genuine working class activists who went into the EFF with illusions have now found themselves outside the EFF with a bloody nose. We will engage these groups in principled discussions in the course of 2015 and continue our fraternal dialogue with those genuine forces, of the youth in particular, who have remained in the EFF for now.
Prepare for rapid developments in the trade union movement
Despite the enormous significance of the emergence of the EFF to the left of the ANC the most important development in 2014 was the slow motion implosion of Cosatu, culminating in the expulsion of NUMSA. The depth of the split was demonstrated by the opposition of a further seven Cosatu affiliates to NUMSA’s expulsion. The realignment of the trade union movement will continue in 2015 and the battle for Cosatu will enter its final phase. It remains to be seen whether the pro-ANC right-wing leadership of Cosatu will hold to their promise of convening a Special National Congress. Even if they do, the indications are that NUMSA will not be allowed to attend and will have to wait until the scheduled Cosatu congress later in the year to appeal their expulsion. If that is the case, the Special National Congress would become little more than a gerrymandered rallying event for the pro-ANC leaders in Cosatu, used to fortify their defences in advance of NUMSA’s appeal.
Even so, it cannot be ruled out that the ANC, in an attempt to bolster their weakening position will try and broker a deal that brings NUMSA back into Cosatu. Their cynical motivation would be to try and head off the danger of NUMSA leading a wave of struggle fully outside of the ANC’s control and spearheading the formation of a workers party to unite those struggles and challenge them electorally. But the ANC will likely try in vain. NUMSA has come too far and would have to sacrifice too many of their principles to be readmitted on any basis other than their complete capitulation to the ANC.
Recognising the political character of the battle for Cosatu is crucial to determining the correct course of action. NUMSA is going to court to try and force the calling of a Special National Congress and win their reinstatement back into Cosatu. We have no principled opposition to using the courts as one front in the struggle. But the battle for Cosatu cannot be fought in the courts alone. The battle for Cosatu is a battle for the entire working class. Unity is essential to maximise the fighting capacity of the working class. But unity must be built through struggle. The sort of ‘unity’ that has existed in Cosatu for the past period was maintained only by the total abandonment of struggle. NUMSA and its allies should begin implementing the dormant Cosatu resolutions adopted in 2012 and lead struggles against retrenchments, e-tolls, labour broking and rising living costs to begin reforging the unity of the working class.
We have consistently argued for the creation of a Socialist Trade Union Network to unite in struggle – including the struggle to reclaim Cosatu – all those trade unions, trade union structures and groups of workers committed to advancing the interests of the working class through militant struggle. Such a Network would be the best organisational form to maximise the unity of the class at the current political conjuncture and lay the basis for a socialist trade union federation in the future. This demand has lost none of its urgency as we enter 2015. Whether a socialist federation would be under the banner of a politically reborn Cosatu, should NUMSA succeed in their battle to reclaim the federation, or a new formation should they fail, can only be decided by the living struggle. But the realignment that will pick up pace in 2015 and beyond will only mark a step forward for the working class if the trade union movement is rebuilt upon the basis of struggle, solidarity and socialism.
Will 2015 clarify the “NUMSA moment”?
NUMSA’s equally significant role in reconfiguring the political landscape is set to strengthen and deepen as 2015 unfolds as long as NUMSA seizes opportunities in a more timely fashion than was the case in 2014. A year has passed since NUMSA’s own Special National Congress (SNC) withdrew support from the ANC in the 2014 elections. This was an historic decision as we have noted many times. However the creation of alternative political vehicles agreed at the SNC proceeded too slowly in 2014. In effect, NUMSA shelved the implementation of the resolutions until after the general election, wasting the first four months of 2014 and leaving a vacuum now partially filled by the EFF.
We have participated enthusiastically in NUMSA’s United Front (UF) and other NUMSA organised meetings throughout 2014. We have argued that the outcome of the process must be the creation of a mass workers party with a socialist programme as the best vehicle, at this stage, for advancing the interests of the working class in their struggle for a socialist society. We will continue to participate and put forward our ideas in 2015. But should NUMSA sit out the 2016 local elections, or fail to link their industrial struggles to the political work of the union in the course of 2015 – as was the case in the metalworkers strike last year – their credibility amongst the working class, not least of all their own members, will be sorely tested. For the working class to enter a second post-Marikana national election without a mass force putting forward a socialist alternative to the crisis of capitalism would only expand the existing vacuum and further complicate the creation of a mass workers party in the future.
After May work began to establish the UF but progress was slow. The national launch is now scheduled for April. Steps toward the creation of a Movement for Socialism and a possible workers party have been virtually non-existent though an announcement out of NUMSA’s March CEC has been promised and the plan to hold a Conference for Socialism early this year has been raised regularly. However, with the postponement of the UF launch to April, that timetable may be in doubt. We believe that it is vital that the March CEC makes a clear statement on their commitment to the building of a new workers party and goes ahead with the Conference for Socialism, using it as a springboard to begin that task. Over the past year, the uncertainty in the ranks of NUMSA, and the working class, over where exactly NUMSA stands on the question of a new party – are they launching one or aren’t they? – has been a factor in the lack of active participation amongst NUMSA members in the UF. The entire process will be reinvigorated if clarity is given on this question, drawing more NUMSA members into active participation, which in turn would provide far more secure foundations.
NUMSA has broken from the ANC, but as is to be expected the UF has become hotly contested ideological terrain. As is always the case, the climbing of the first mountain is not met by the end of the journey, but the realisation that another mountain lay concealed behind the first. We of course welcome democratic debate and the debates taking place within the UF will be an enormously beneficial political school for genuine working class fighters. But it is astounding that a debate needs to take place at all about the centrality of socialism to anything initiated by NUMSA!
The increasing dominance of the middle class and academic left in the UF leadership poses the danger that hard-learned lessons of the international working class struggle, generalised in the ideas of genuine Marxism, will be unlearned. The rightful hatred of the ossified Stalinised ‘Marxism’ of the SA Communist Party must not lead to the throwing out of the genuine Marxist baby with the filthy Stalinist bathwater. Rejection of Marxism and the central role of working class struggle is second nature to the class prejudices of the middle class. If they come to dominate the UF it could become a centre for ideological opposition to NUMSA and those who have so firmly defended socialism, Marxism and the role of the class struggle in changing society.
Despite that danger, there is every opportunity for NUMSA and the process they have begun in the UF to culminate in the creation of a mass workers party on a socialist programme. But there is no guarantee. It is beholden on all those who support the idea of a workers party to deepen their understanding of Marxism, in the first instance by entering the ranks of the Workers & Socialist Party, in order to organise and wage the ideological battles that we are faced with in 2015. Given the excellent class instincts of NUMSA members and their education in the class struggle we are confident that our ideas will gain the majority in any democratic debate held with and in front of the working class.
WASP in 2015
The new political landscape poses fresh challenges for the Workers and Socialist Party. We were the first party to emerge on the left out of the seismic events around the Marikana massacre. But we are no longer alone. On one side of us the EFF is posing as a radical alternative, particularly electorally. On our other side the NUMSA process continues to unfold, based, potentially, on the heavy battalions of the working class. This raises important questions about the type of party we must be to most effectively intervene in the new landscape.
Our task is what it has always been – defending the ideas of Marxism in order to point the way forward for working class struggles and their ultimate victory in the creation of a socialist society. But how we are organised must always be tailored to ensure we are the best fashioned tool for that task. This must be the subject of urgent debate and discussion within our ranks in the coming months. We must ensure we maximise the vast opportunities that will open up for winning significant sections of the working class and youth to the ideas of Marxism and the revolutionary struggle for a socialist society in 2015 and beyond.
The Workers and Socialist Party is an internationalist party committed to the worldwide struggle for socialism. We salute the heroic struggles of the working class and poor which took place on every continent last year and stand in solidarity with all the struggles that will unfold in 2015. We recommend reading, in conjunction with this statement, the ‘World Perspectives’ document of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) which was adopted in December 2014. The CWI is the socialist international to which the Democratic Socialist Movement – an affiliate and founding member of WASP – is affiliated. The document can be read here.