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by Weizmann Hamilton, Eldorado Park WASP
On 08 May, 2017, simmering resentment at increasingly unbearable social conditions exploded into burning anger in the biggest service delivery protests in Eldorado Park, Gauteng’s largest coloured township, to the south of Johannesburg, since the end of apartheid. Although the looting and violent destruction of property that followed for two days thereafter threatened to overshadow the legitimate grievances that fueled the protests, the overwhelming majority of residents supported them and opposed these actions.
Since then protests have spread across other Gauteng coloured townships including Ennerdale, Lawley, in the south, Westbury and Newclare in the north, Eden Park in the east and Toekomsrus in the west. The social conditions such as those in Eldorado Park – the lack of housing and overcrowding, crime, drugs, domestic violence, abuse of women and children, joblessness and poverty – are common to all of them.
The explosion in coloured townships has attracted attention not so much because service delivery protests are a new phenomenon. Such protests have been taking place in black African townships since 2004. They continue with increasing frequency today – one every second day according to Municipal IQ – with greater intensity and political determination as shown by the uncompromising defiance of Vuwani, Limpopo residents over municipal demarcation. Protests in coloured townships have been met with violent repression as in black African townships which have claimed the lives of several protestors across the country most notoriously teenager Teboho Mkhonza in Intabazwe in north eastern Free State in 2004 and Andries Tatane in Ficksburg in the same province five years later, shot at point blank range by police.
The significance of the coloured township protests lies in the fact that they signal the entry of a section of working class communities for the first time into what at times has acquired the characteristics of a low intensity civil war between the ANC government and working class residents across the country.
In the same way, the #FeesMustFall 2015/16 protests were not the first such actions. Protests against financial and academic exclusion, unaffordable accommodation and for free education had been occurring with such regularity at historically black universities (HBU) and the new predominantly black working class tertiary education institutions that they had virtually become part of the academic calendar. What distinguished the #FeesMustFall protests was their location in historically white universities. The waves of the sea of social deprivation against which HBU students had been swimming for years were now sweeping over the walls of their HWU counterparts.
The difference is that the gap between HBUs and HWUs is far greater than the comparative social conditions of the coloured and African working class. According to all social indices on poverty, unemployment etc., the coloured working class follows their black African counterparts a close second.
Having been made the false promise by the apartheid regime that their status as ‘yard slaves’ was the gateway to a better future on a par with whites, the coloured working class’ experience of democracy and black majority rule seems like a renewed form of discrimination and marginalization with the false promises of government of equality and prosperity for all dashed.
The Mail &Guardian (26/07/2016) reports that “Back in the day, the 47-year-old Hillbrow Flats – the first to be built in Extension 8 in Eldorado Park – were the envy of all. The building was fenced with steel palisades. The colourful walls were attractive and kept freshly painted. The green grass was manicured, trees were planted strategically to create a tranquil environment for residents and everyone looked forward to their brighter future.”
“Today, multiple generations of the same family live in overcrowded Eldorado Park homes and others squat in backyards. Residents say there has been little visible development in the area, even though there is plenty of vacant land.”
“Unemployed mother of three Wendeline Manuel (30) attests to the harsh realities of an uncertain future. “I don’t work and we are living in my mother’s two-bedroom flat. We are 18 people living in this house and my mother is the sole breadwinner.” ”
In public sector employment practice in particular, the ANC government has inverted the apartheid pyramid of apartheid racial discrimination. The Employment Equity Act, for example, was enacted with the promise of breaking down institutional racism to ensure equal employment opportunities for all. However, the ANC government has ignored the Black Consciousness Movement definition of “black” in the legislation as encompassing African, Indian and coloured. A common anecdote is that coloureds who fill in “black” in job application forms are told they are not “black black” in interviews.
Whereas the BCM consciously adopted the definition to resist the apartheid regime’s divide-and-rule policy by pointing out that we were all slaves who must unite against our common enemy, the apartheid slave masters, in government in particular, coloured and Indian job applicants are in effect being told that they were privileged under apartheid and must take their place in the jobs and promotion queue accordingly.
The retention, intact, of racial ownership patterns in the commanding heights of the economy – the banks, the mines, factories and big commercial farms – have been replicated in unchanged residential settlement patterns leaving townships and suburbs with the same racial colouration inherited from spatial planning under apartheid more than two decades since its end. Unsurprisingly there is a widespread feeling amongst coloureds that whereas under white minority rule they were not white enough, under black majority rule they are not black enough. Separated from their black African working class brothers and sisters against the background of the emergence of a sizeable black middle class, this feeling amongst sections of coloureds that the ANC government cares only for black Africans, has been reinforced.
As a captive in of the Tripartite Alliance, Cosatu has subordinated its duty to defend the principle of non-racial working class unity to the ANC’s dictates. Thus a principle so vital in uniting the working class across racial lines in their common struggle against the apartheid regime, in the defeat of which Cosatu was the decisive force, has been sacrificed.
The entry of the coloured working class into the service delivery struggle must be welcomed. However it is vital that coloured communities join forces with their black African brothers and sisters in the more than decade long service delivery struggle. Poor service delivery is not a coloured, Indian or African problem. It is a problem for the working class as a whole. We have all been marginalised by a neo-liberal capitalist ANC government serving the interests of the elite of all races. The fastest growing gap in the distribution of wealth is within the coloured, African and Indian communities between the elite and the working classes.
The Eldorado Park protest was preceded by joint action between the residents of adjoining Pimville and Kliptown. Freedom Park residents protested at the same time as Eldorado Park. All the coloured township protests occurred against the background of the ongoing wave of protests in black African townships across the country.
Equally vital is the need for Eldorado Park and other township residents to unite their communities on a democratic basis. Eldorado Park residents have already taken an important step forward in forging both the unity of the township itself by electing representative in each extension on an interim committee to prepare for a mass meeting of Eldorado Park and surrounding townships on 28 May 2017. This meeting will elect a representative body, develop a common platform of demands and programme of action.
At the same time a number of communities from the whole of the south of Johannesburg have agreed to join forces on a similar basis. These protests come against the background of a political crisis in the main political parties representing the rich – especially the ANC and DA. The coloured working class has suffered the same decline in service delivery, corruption and deterioration in social conditions under DA rule as their black African working class under ANC rule. The outcome of the 2016 local government elections represented not only a resounding rejection of the ANC by the black African working class, but also of the DA by their coloured brothers and sisters. The DA is in power in Johannesburg and Tshwane only because the EFF wishes to be part of a pro-capitalist coalition after 2019.
This will simply mean a different combination of the same corrupt capitalist parties who will continue exploiting and marginalize the working class. It is time we as the working class take our destiny into our own hands and join forces with the new federation, Saftu and students to form a mass workers party on a socialist programme.
Insourcing agreement torn-up by management
Mass meeting of TUT workers
DATE: Saturday 20 May 2017
VENUE: Burgers Park, Lilian Ngoyi & Jeff Masemola, Pretoria CBD
TUT management has broken the agreement that they signed with representatives of outsourced cleaners, landscapers, security guards and caterers on 11 February 2016.
It is clear that management never had any intention of honoring the agreement. The clearest sign over the past 15 months of management’s bad faith has been their refusal to convene the “Insourcing Task Team” which would have seen representatives of outsourced workers involved in decision making around the ending of outsourcing. Attempts by workers to co-operate with management to create this forum have hit a brick wall.
Management is determined to deny a voice to low-paid, hard-working and essential workers.
In the past weeks workers became aware that management was prepared to go back on the most fundamental agreement: to end outsourcing and raise wages to at least R5,000 p/m.
- New tenders have been issued for security services. The 700+ security workers, currently under contract with Smada and Mafoko, were expecting to be insourced at the end of June 2017. They now face uncertainty about even keeping their jobs if new contractors bring new workforces.
- The landscapers that were insourced last month have been employed on a wage of R3,800 rather than the agreed R5,000. A number of older landscaping workers have simply not been employed so that TUT can avoid pension liabilities, throwing vulnerable elderly workers into poverty in their twilight years.
- The catering workers currently employed by Capitol Caterers and the cleaners currently employed by Selahle have been left in a precarious position, with their employment rolling over month by month on contracts that long expired, but with no date for insourcing agreed. Workers complain that with such precarious conditions they are unable to obtain credit or plan for their futures.
All of this has been done behind the backs of workers. At no time did TUT ever consult workers about any of this. Outsourced workers remain second class citizens at TUT. Workers remain exploited slaves!
Workers must organise! We must unite! We must prepare to go to the streets! We need to be ready to shut-down TUT!
‘Affordability & sustainability’?
This is TUT’s big lie! They say they can’t afford to insource. But everyone knows that outsourcing costs more than employing workers directly, even on higher wages and full benefits. This is because outsourcing means involving parasitic middle-men who want to make profits from exploiting workers.
Our answer to TUT’s argument is this: we don’t believe you! If you want us to believe you then invite representatives of the workers, with their own advisors and specialists, to make a forensic audit of TUT’s accounts. Workers must see where the money is going. Until TUT takes that step they cannot be believed.
TUT management will try and divide workers and students. They will claim that decent wages for workers must mean higher fees for students. This is another lie! Students have been fighting for free education. Workers must support this struggle. National government must be forced to introduce free education.
by Mametlwe Sebei, Executive Committee
This article appears in the current issue of Izwi Labasebenzi (Feb-July 2017).
The #FeesMustFall (#FMF) movement swept universities and the entire country with a protest wave against the unaffordable fees that exclude poor students from higher education. Alongside this, the outsourcing of university cleaning, security and other key services, that plunged workers into precarious employment for poverty wages, led to a general questioning of the neo-liberal ‘transformation programme’ of the past 23 years of post-apartheid black majority rule. The movement represented another eruption of the volcanic lava of working class discontent that broke first in Marikana and continues to move through every layer of society.
The movement shattered the wall of media lies about the “apathy of the youth”, which the ruling elite carefully constructed in the preceding decade to create the illusion of a carefree generation of ‘born-frees’ that, they argued, did not know the deprivations of the past, happily enjoying the sweet fruits of ‘freedom’. Sweeping one end of the country to another like a wildfire, in the space of a few days, #FMF politically awakened a whole generation of students and transformed tens of thousands of youth into a radicalised mass that inflicted an unprecedented defeat on the ANC government. They shook not only the political confidence of the ruling elite but also shifted the tectonic plates of the entire political architecture on which the capitalist system rests by laying bare the ‘invincibility’ of the ANC government as nothing more than an illusion. The ANC’s political weakness and vulnerability in the face of a united mass movement was exposed.
Breath-taking images of mass student power were broadcast daily in the news, showing campus assemblies and mass demonstrations to the main seats of political power in the major cities across the country. The scale of the political defeat inflicted on the government in 2015 was huge. They were forced to freeze fees (the zero-percent ‘increase’), allocate more funding to poor students, and even make verbal concessions to the demand for free education. This greatly raised the confidence of the whole working class and inspired outsourced and low-paid workers in universities, as well as other sectors, to rise on their feet and struggle against their ruthless exploitation.
However, today the #FMF movement lays paralysed in the face of state repression and an ideological onslaught against the demand for free education. The incapacity of the movement to defend itself has focused the minds of the activists and the working class on the question of what ideas, strategy and programme are needed to rebuild the movement and take it forward to victory – winning free socialist education.
If the ‘spontaneous’ and ‘horizontal’ character of #FMF was its strength in October 2015, today these features have become its major weaknesses. Attempts to elevate these ideas to theoretically justified organisational principles are not only politically childish but a danger that demands uncompromising opposition from every genuine #FMF activist.
For the masses of the students, the rejection of ‘politics’, ‘organisation’, and ‘centralised political leadership’ mainly meant rejection of the treacherous, collaborationist politics of the ANC-aligned Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) leadership and the SRCs they control. These structures have long ceased to be accountable and democratic, dominated instead by a conservative and bureaucratic leadership unresponsive to the plight of poor students and insulated from the burning desire to fight back against unaffordable fees, academic exclusions, inadequate accommodation and poor infrastructure on campuses.
This degeneration flowed logically from the policy of remaining in alliance with the ruling party, whose capitalist government and neo-liberal policies are responsible for the crisis of public funding in higher education. It is not possible to bark with the hounds and run with the hare. By this policy the PYA became ‘managers’ of student anger and instead of leading them consciously disorganised them.
It is perfectly understandable that after many years of such conservative leadership and treacherous betrayals, the masses of students would be suspicious of ‘political organisation’ and reject any form of centralised leadership. In this sense, the anti-leadership sentiment represented a blind but correct desire for a break with the politics of class collaboration and a recognition of the need to build political independence from enemy class ‘influences’ – a progressive step toward independent revolutionary class politics.
Campus class contradictions
The tendency to theorise, and make a fetish of the ‘flat’, ‘horizontal’, in effect, unorganised movement has however, a different social and class basis. It is predominantly middle-class and reflects prejudices against working class organisation. This layer wants #FMF to continue with its current lack of organisation and co-ordination long after the majority of students successfully broke from the clutches of the political collaborators in the PYA. To finish them off and win free education we need an organised mass student movement. To build such a movement and co-ordinate effective programmes of rolling mass action, we need alternative centres of co-ordination at regional and national level to unify #FMF activists across all institutions of higher learning, which must include developing a movement of TVET college students.
Whereas the concerns about the ‘authoritarianism’ of official structures are legitimate in the light of the political experience of the student movement in the post-apartheid era, to argue that any form of organisation inevitably leads to ‘bureaucratic authoritarianism’ and ‘unaccountable leadership’ would be sweet if it was only a childish naiveté.
Unfortunately, the prejudices of some middle class students against any form of #FMF organisation reflects their deep-seated class prejudices against the political organisation of the mass of poor working class students and resentment at the democratic traditions of revolutionary student movements. The binding political discipline and organisational subordination of leadership to the mass of poor working class students by democratic majority rule would immediately see the self-proclaimed ‘leaders’ of ‘Fallism’ losing any and all influence. But in the absence of a mass democratic organisation, #FMF has been dominated by a self-appointed and unaccountable ‘leadership’ at each campus and social media celebrities who, owing to their privileged education, networks, and superior resources, enjoy disproportional influence in social media and personal access to public media.
For the working class youth, organisation is the only way to mobilise, co-ordinate and actively participate in struggle. It is only by building mass organisations that working class youths are able to voice their interests and assert their collective power. Above all, it is only through organisation that they are able to openly debate and test the various ideas, programmes and leaders that can take their struggles forward.
Disunity & identity politics
In the same vein, these layers have played a divisive role with their crude anti-white identity politics. They have effectively excluded significant numbers of the student population from the #FMF movement, and in so doing, undermined the unity shown at the start of the movement. In a situation where these ideas are dominant, especially in the formerly white-only institutions, where white students are still a significant part of the student population, if no longer a majority, they have led to a complete paralysis and isolation of #FMF activists from the majority of the students, including the black students in whose name they often speak.
The majority of students are repulsed by these divisive politics and alienated by the tactics flowing from them. These include the preposterous attempts to impose boycotts of classes on the same students that have been chased away from #FMF meetings. For these wrong ideas, and the alienation of the student majority they bring, it is ultimately working class students who pay the price as financial and academic exclusions continue and victimisation arising from state repression on poorly organised and ill-disciplined protests is left unanswered.
Now more than ever before there is a burning necessity for a united student front of all grassroots #FMF structures and activists to cut across all the racial and political party barriers to build a broad working class front for free education involving college and school students, organised labour and communities. As a first step #FMF should convene an inclusive National Conference for Free Education to work-out a programme that can broaden the base of political support beyond university students and unify the entire movement around common plan of action including campus shutdowns, class boycotts, mass demonstrations, occupations and national days of actions.
The defeats of 2016 and the current paralysis clearly reveals the limits of student power and sharply points to the need to bring to bear the organised power of the working class. It was not for lack of heroic determination and self-sacrifice that the movement has not been able to win its main demand of free education but the fact that the government can afford to ‘ignore’ students whereas the same cannot be said about the workers, whose power derives from their ability to bring the country to a standstill.