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by Federica Miccoli, Tshwane WASP
Life Esidimeni. A name which has become identical with the horrific abuse of the most vulnerable, identical with exploitation, neglect, indifference and inhumanity.
A name that should remain carved in our memories like Marikana, where human beings were sacrificed on the altar of capitalism.
A story whose every detail underlines the ways a neo-liberal society oppresses the needy and steals from them.
The facts are well known: at least 141 mental patients died in unspeakable circumstances in the first months of 2017, after 800 of them had been transferred from a health care facility to a number of NGO’s absolutely unequipped to take care of them. Allegedly the move was made in order to save financial resources. It is a direct consequence of the ANC’s post-2008 austerity programme, strengthened and deepened every year, especially under Pravin Gordhan’s time as finance minister.
Transported like cattle, sometimes tied in bakkies on the route from the health care facility to the NGO’s quarters, mentally disabled persons were deprived of decent accommodation and proper nutrition and left without adequate medical assistance and medication.
Their relatives were not informed of their whereabouts and after at least 141 of them died, often their identity kept and unlawfully used by the same NGOs to receive social grants.
Allegations of devilish collusions between the NGOs and the mortuaries simply add misery to the picture.
Proceedings are still ongoing at the Esidimeni arbitration hearing to acknowledge responsibilities and grant the families of the deceased an opportunity to know the truth about the circumstances of the death of their loved ones and, if available, receive financial compensation.
While we hope that the arbitration will help the relatives of the departed to get closure and possibly also lead to an increased accountability of the government, when loved-ones lives are involved, and our fellow citizens, we cannot get closure just by the unveiling of the individuals responsible.
Can we really believe that the naming and shaming of the few immediately responsible will avert the repetition of similar tragedies in the future?
Are we really convinced that the roots of the problem can simply be found in individual, or even departmental, indifference, negligence, ignorance and greed?
Or shouldn’t we actually ask ourselves what political conviction allowed the Health Department to tramp over the dignity, and ultimately the lives, of hundreds of its citizens and their families?
It is undeniable that capitalist ideas and realities are at the basis both of the problem (mental illness) and of the failure of the solution (totally inadequate treatment).
Roots of mental illness
In his new book, Politics of the Mind, author Ian Ferguson underlines how mental distress in each of its forms, most common as depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies, are on the increase everywhere in Europe. The numbers of individuals affected are high in particular among those who have lost their jobs or are working under pressure or are in fear of losing social benefits. Debt among low paid workers is also a cause of mental issues.
In other words, the pressures and the challenges of living in a neo-liberal society are a great cause of emotional instability which leads to disability.
Does it ring a bell? Can we somehow link this description to the millions of unemployed or precariously employed in our South African neighbourhoods? Does this remind us of the millions of our children in our townships who can’t dream of any future, due to the unaffordable costs of education? Can we apply these words to the uncountable precarious workers who die every day unreported due to the lack of minimum safety measures? And to the thousands of cancer or other chronically ill patients who have no access to treatment, unless they subscribe to pricey insurances?
The book also challenges the medical model, which suggests that mental distress, whether it’s got the labels depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or whatever, is somehow unrelated to what’s going on in people’s lives, what’s going on in society. That particular model individualises mental distress.
The medical model, followed in the last 150 years, takes away the responsibility of mental illness from society to place it on the individual, in the form of physical (brain) or moral weaknesses.
It goes without say that the individualisation, and consequent medicalisation, of distress identifies the pharmaceutical remedies as the only possible cure. This in turn leads to the enrichment of the pharmaceutic sector.
The author, like us, disagrees with the medical model and suggests that with the current levels of mental distress, the increase is very much related to the pressure that capitalism puts on people’s lives. The solution therefore is a turn from medical to social and economic interventions.
Another cause of psychosocial distress, originating from capitalistic economies, is the alienation of the workers not only from the means of production but also from their material and psychological needs, which are not taken into consideration, or get totally twisted and distorted, in the name of enhanced productivity.
In addition, patients and their families are left on their own to fight the right to their non-conformity, to their humanity, to their uniqueness and diversity. They are left in isolation to handle the inconsistent voices that psychotic patients hear, voices that translate the confusion that comes from being part of a society alienated from itself.
Cost-cutting not care
Where the families cannot take care of the “mentally ill”, as just happened in Gauteng: the government’s view is that the burden on the capitalist structures needs to be minimised, the loss of resources invested in taking care of the “non-productive citizens” (in a capitalist view) must be reduced to the minimum.
Quite interestingly, the South African Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2013-2020 identifies “economic deprivation, low education, unemployment, lack of basic amenities/housing” as the main generators of substance abuse and mental illness in South Africa.
The same plan proposes meaningful solutions, including community based interventions, access to education and jobs for persons with mental challenges, anti-discrimination and awareness raising activities, maximum support to families and carers, recovery and rehabilitation programmes.
Pity that they all sound utopian in a context where profitable mines close, leaving 40,000 people jobless between 2015 and 2016; where one of the main candidates to the Presidency of the country was until a short time ago a shareholder in multinationals that reap off its resources, while cleverly avoiding paying its taxes; where free education keeps on being denied to the poorest, and where 42 unidentified corpses are left unattended on the motorway for several hours, after the open trekker that was carrying them (from nowhere to nowhere, for what they matter) overturned on its way.
The Strategic Plan mentioned above repeatedly refers to the limited financial resources devoted by the South African State to Mental Health and to the need of implementing the proposed measures with the resources available. As such it accepts the status quo, it surrenders to the dictates of a capitalist state. We strongly oppose this stance.
Firstly, the numbers of mentally disabled people and of substance abusers, and therefore the relative costs, could be drastically reduced just by providing adequate housing, food, free healthcare and free education to the poor.
A Latin proverb goes: “mens sana in corpore sano” (A healthy mind sits in a healthy body). How can we have a mentally healthy population if tens of thousands of them still struggle to feed themselves and their children? How can we ask a family, and a society in general, to listen to the psychosocial needs of its members, if everybody is engaged in a constant struggle for physical survival? How can we demand from the youth not to be violent and abusive and not to resort to substances to obliterate their desperation, when not only they are deprived of a meaningful future, but their energy is constantly frustrated and redirected towards what the market wants from them?
Secondly, ownership of the means of production and participation of the workers in the management of the economy would alleviate the sense of alienation and detachment and instill life, interest, sense of responsibility, inventiveness and creativity in the workforce and would give them back their dignity and humanity. In turn, this would reduce mental health issues in society.
Thirdly, psychosocial uneasiness (I purposely refuse to use the term “mental illness”) should be considered the responsibility of the whole society, according to what the “social model of disability” proposes, in contrast to the tenets of the medical model cited above. The Social Model of Disability affirms that “disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives.”
Which brings to the next burning question: where were the trade unions, where was Nehawu, in Life Esidemeni’s assault on services case? A similar situation in California provoked a working class response.
In January 2015 more than 3,300 members of the National Union of Health Workers (NUHW) struck at Kaiser Permanente, the largest medical corporation in America. Despite record profits, Kaiser refused to employ sufficient staff to meet patients’ needs. In protest, NUHW psychologists, therapists, social workers and psychiatric nurses launched the largest-ever strike of mental health workers, with 65 picket lines in 35 cities.
The week-long strike was followed with petitions and a “No more Kaiser suicides” campaign to publicise the numbers of patients dying from lack of care. Finally, threatened with an open-ended strike, Kaiser agreed to the union’s demands: the right to advocate for patients; wage and pension protection; and a new scheduling ratio that enables patients to be seen more often and mandates new hires to fill the demand.
Linking the needs of workers and patients produced an unprecedented victory.
We did it with the #OutsorcingMustFall campaign. We can, we must, continue the collective fight!
Only by uniting our forces and struggling collectively can we avoid tragedies like Life Esidemeni hurting our families and our society again.
by Weizmann Hamilton Executive Committee & Eldorado Park WASP
This article appears in the August 2017-March 2018 issue of Izwi Labasebenzi
On 8 May 2017, working class discontent exploded in the coloured township of Eldorado Park, south of Johannesburg, and spread rapidly to coloured townships to its north, south, east and west. Although the protests came to be dominated by the housing question, this was in reality a rebellion against the misery of working class life in general, marked by overcrowding, mass unemployment, poverty, poor service delivery, corruption, drug-related crime, gangsterism and violence against women and children.
Despite the fact that the protests in coloured townships are fuelled fundamentally by the same class issues as in black communities, the political narrative is dominated by race. The feeling is widespread in coloured communities that whereas under apartheid they were not “white enough,” under democracy they are not “black enough”.
A new breed of coloured nationalists has emerged such as the Indigenous First Nations of SA Advocacy group (Ifnasa), Patriots for Equality and KhoiSan Traditional Leadership structures promoting contradictory notions of coloured and KhoiSan identity. Some argue that coloureds are descended from the Khoi and San and others completely reject “coloured” as a label imposed by colonialism and apartheid. They are nevertheless united in accusing the ANC government of ignoring the plight of coloureds/KhoiSan. They claim that only blacks have benefitted under the government run by an ANC that framed its historical mission as the “liberation of blacks in general and Africans in particular”.
What is the situation facing the black majority today? According to Stats SA’s 2017 Poverty Trends Report (covering the period 2011-2015) “the proportions of black Africans and coloureds living below the Lower Bound Poverty Line (LBPL) … increased from 43,4% to 47,1% for black Africans and from 20,2% to 23,3% for coloureds”. The LBPL for 2015 is R441 per month. Below this level, people have to cut down on food to be able to buy non-food items like electricity. In 2015 out of every 100 blacks, 47 lived in extreme poverty compared to 23 coloureds out of every 100. In both absolute numbers and per head of population, blacks make up a significantly greater proportion of the poorest of the poor compared to coloureds.
If these statistics tell us anything it is that it is working class “Africans in particular” that have felt the sharp edge of marginalisation. What then is fuelling the sense of coloured marginalisation? The reasons are rooted both in the post-apartheid experience as well as colonial and apartheid history.
The greatest indictment against the champions of coloured nationalism is their indifference to the plight of the black majority today. To challenge social deprivation on the basis that it is coloureds that are “marginalised”, is not just factually incorrect it is politically reactionary. Engaging in this bizarre “Oppression Olympics” blinds the followers of these ideas to the suffering of the majority of all population groups, inflaming racial suspicions and animosity.
Class divisions clearer post-apartheid
The most striking fact of post-apartheid inequalities is that superimposed upon the continuing disparities between whites on the one hand and all other population groups on the other, is the massive increase of inequalities within the black, coloured and Indian populations themselves. According to a report produced by the University of Cape Town’s School of Economics, by 2010 the Gini Co-efficient (a measure of inequality) had declined within the white population, but it had increased significantly amongst all other groups. The highest level of inequality is now within the black population with the top 10% owning 98% of the wealth.
Almost half of South Africa’s dollar millionaires – those with a net value of R14.5 million or more – are from previously disadvantaged groups, according to the latest report by New World Wealth (Fin24 27/04/16). The report found that 45% (21,000) of SA’s dollar millionaires are black, coloured, Indian or Chinese – that is from groups unable to vote prior to 1994. The 2015 SA Wealth Report says of SA’s 48,000 millionaires, that “The number of Indian millionaires in SA has increased by over 400 per cent since 2000 to reach approximately 6,500 at the end of 2014, whilst the number of African millionaires in SA has gone up by a lower 280 per cent over the same period to reach only 4,900 millionaires at the end of 2014.” With the Chinese a very tiny minority, it is clear that of the remaining 10,200 millionaires, the coloureds have the overwhelming majority – the highest of all so-called previously disadvantaged groups.
Indians make up 14% of millionaires but only 3% of the population; coloureds at least 45% of millionaires but 8,9% of the population and Africans only 10% of millionaires but 80% of the population. This is why Zikalala wants coloureds and Indians kicked out of the BEE self-enrichment trough.
But most important of all, such a mistaken approach, instead of creating strength through unity amongst the working class in struggle against their common oppression, erects barriers among them. It also provides an alibi for the elites of all racial groups, diverting attention from what really lies behind the strident accusations of racism emanating from them: competition for state resource and opportunities for self-enrichment. They use the legitimate grievances of the working class of their “own” racial groups in pursuit of their own separate class interests.
Land restitution and Affirmative Action
Both the setting of 1913 as the cut-off date for land restitution, as well as the ANC’s approach to the Employment Equity Act exposes the narrow, exclusionary, reactionary character of its nationalism. The 1913 date confirms that the only land dispossession that matters to the ANC is that suffered by Africans of Bantu descent.
ANC KZN Leader Sihle Zikalala’s call for the exclusion of Indians and coloureds from the ambit of BEE confirms this. Anecdotes amongst coloureds that they are told they are not “black black” when applying for jobs, promotions or tenders are common. The ANC has inverted the pyramid of apartheid oppression into a historical hierarchy of privilege. Accordingly coloureds should take their place in the affirmative action queue for jobs and promotions that corresponds with the “privileges” they enjoyed under Apartheid.
The discussion in the ANC that has now been reopened on the dispossession cut-off date has blown open the entire basis for restitution, undermining the original aims of the ANC’s African nationalism as the rallying cry of united resistance of all ethnic groups. Instead it has cleared the way for claims based not on the dispossession of the African people as a united whole but of the different pre-capitalist tribal groups. On the basis of this approach, if the boundaries of African nationalism can be redrawn to exclude those of non-Bantu ancestry, why can’t they be redrawn to recognise the different Bantu tribes as they were originally constituted? The tribal claims such as those put forward, for example, by King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulu “nation” for land restitution from the Queen of England are the logical result.
Against this background the champions of KhoiSan marginalization are now putting forward their own claims. They cite these developments as proof of the marginalisation of the KhoiSan by the ANC just as the Dutch and British colonial powers did before. They accuse the ANC, not without merit, of writing them out of history, not recognising their culture and languages and not celebrating the KhoiSan leaders for their role in the resistance struggles against dispossession and colonial subjugation.
But the advocates of “KhoiSanism” are engaged in the same revision of history as the ANC’s “African” nationalists. There was historically no KhoiSan “nation”. These were separate peoples with their own language and culture who fought separate wars of resistance against colonialism. When they first encountered colonialism they were at different levels of cultural development: the Khoi, pastoralists and the San, herders. The claims of today’s KhoiSan champions are an affirmation that race is a social construct.
Different class interests
Both the “African” nationalists and their “KhoiSan” counterparts represent the frustrated ambitions of the elites of the communities whose cause they claim to champion. Lacking the social weight to fight their own class battles in the quest to climb to the summits of the economy, and shrinking from any action that could threaten the capitalist system itself, they exploit the frustrations and fears within their “own” communities, attempting to mobilise the poor and the working class in their service. The heightened racial tensions in society are inflamed far less by the working class but by the competition amongst the coloured, Indian and black elites, alongside the white middle and upper classes.
Whereas the ANC’s nationalists required the construction of the House of Traditional Leaders out of the same system of tribal-rule fashioned by the apartheid regime as instruments of control unrelated to the genuine system of pre-colonial historical chieftainship, the KhoiSan elite has found it necessary to champion the cause of a non-existent nation. As hypocritical as each other, the African and KhoiSan nationalists have distorted history for the same purpose – to deceive and exploit the working class politically to realise their unrealisable aims – to become the new capitalist ruling class.
It is impossible for the coloured working class to emancipate themselves from marginalisation on their own. The working class struggle, which is for equality of wealth under socialism, not equality of poverty, can be achieved only on the basis of the unity of the working class and the poor of all population groups. The coloureds, moreover, are a minority. Unity with the black working class majority is not an optional extra. To argue that coloureds can end their own poverty separately from the black majority is to blind the working class to the source of their marginalisation – capitalism – and to sow illusions in its capacity to meet coloured and poor working class needs.
The greedy ambitions for self-enrichment of the elites of the “previously disadvantaged” groups are not propelled by the searing poverty of the working class. Rather, out of fear that mobilising the working class to displace “white monopoly capital” would threaten the very existence of the capitalist system their wealth would derive from, they have resigned themselves to the cowardly ambition of assimilation into the wealthy white-dominated ruling elite.
Working class unity – the only way forward
The working class in all population groups have much more in common with their class brothers and sisters across racial barriers, than with their “own” elites. In pointing an accusing finger at the coloureds, the ANC leadership not only confirms the shallowness of their political analysis of the inter-play between race and class in SA; they are also displaying an arrogant presumption about the allegiance of the black working and even middle class towards it. The reality is that the capital of the ANC’s liberation credentials has diminished to the point where it enjoys the active electoral support of only 35% of the eligible voting population. The ANC is being deserted by its “own” people.
The combination of all these factors has created an ideological vacuum on the left that has rendered sections of the coloured, Indian and white working class susceptible to the racist appeal of the nationalists in their communities and for their class discontent to take on a racial colouration. This is not unexpected in a country where racism was from the onset historically intertwined with the development of capitalism, fashioning it as a weapon of divide-and-rule firstly and foremostly over the working class. The national oppression of the black middle class was in that sense but collateral damage necessary to conceal the class essence of colonialism and apartheid. After nearly a quarter of a century of democracy, it is mainly the middle class that remains blinded by race, confusing the substance of today’s manifestation of class exploitation with its racial form.
However, these views are still in the minority. The capitalist economic policies of a government elected by the black majority, have ensured that the main thrust of working class consciousness remains class consciousness. Working class affinity for socialism, far from evaporating, has been entrenched by the betrayal of the ANC, Cosatu and SACP leadership and their class collaboration in upholding a capitalist system unable to meet even the most basic needs of the working class.
The delay in the establishment of a mass workers party has led to a vacuum into which the competing African and KhoiSan nationalisms have stepped. These ideas offer no way forward for the working class. The launch of the SA Federation of Trade Unions offers a new opportunity to mobilise the forces of the organised working class for the establishment of such a party. On the basis of a socialist programme it would be possible to provide workers of all races a political home, uniting them in all the three theatres of struggle – the workplace, the education sector and communities – in a common, united struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society.
by Weizmann Hamilton and Tinovimbanashe Gwenyaya
The takeover of power by the Zimbabwe defence force is a military coup in all but name. It represents a turning point in post-independence Zimbabwe and the almost certain end of Mugabe’s reign. The military take-over was precipitated by the dismissal of Mugabe’s most loyal henchman for the past thirty seven years, Emmerson Mnangagwa. This was part of the 93-year old Mugabe’s manoeuvres in Zanu-PF party structures to ensure his 52-year old wife Grace, would succeed him as president.
However welcome the end of Mugabe’s reign may be, the military’s intervention is taking place behind the backs of the masses. To pre-empt the independent movement of the masses, such as the 2016 Tajamuka protests, the military is drawing in the elites, including the opposition, into a political arrangement to impose on the masses a dispensation whose primary aim is to maintain the capitalist status quo. But, notwithstanding this, Mugabe’s removal may be the trigger that re-ignites mass movements, something that would pose urgently the need to draw the lessons of past struggles in Zimbabwe and beyond.
Mugabe’s actions had in the recent period become increasingly erratic. In power through electoral fraud and violence since the 2002 presidential elections, he had presided over an economy that experienced the highest inflation rate in world history rendering the Zimbabwe Dollar completely worthless. It led to the forced abandonment of the currency and its substitution with the US dollar and the SA Rand. The catastrophic economic collapse, 90% unemployment and mass starvation led to a mass exodus, mainly to SA, of at least a quarter of Zimbabwe’s 12 million population.
These developments are taking place against the background of a deepening economic crisis that has compelled Mugabe to go cap-in-hand to China and the West, including the IMF, for economic aid and the lifting of sanctions. According to a September 2016 report by the UK-based Chatham House (Royal Institute of International Affairs) “Zimbabwe is at a watershed, faced with its most serious economic crisis since 2008. A ‘triple whammy’ of deflation, stagnation and low productivity is exacerbated by low commodity prices, weak regional currencies and drought, in the context of a legacy of poor policy and a political succession battle over who will eventually succeed 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe.”
“The gravity of the economic situation has forced the Zimbabwean government into a process of re-engagement with the West. Re-engagement is primarily aimed at attracting new revenue to ease the crisis of liquidity and fiscal deficit. The focus is on improving business confidence and an intensified re-engagement of the international financial institutions (IFIs). However, while there has been some progress in economic reform, there has been little governance and human rights reform.”
The Africa Development Bank analysis of the economy revealed that “in 2016, Zimbabwe’s growth more than halved to 0.5% from 1.1% in 2015. The government responded to the challenging environment by instituting a raft of measures including a temporary ban on imports, issuance of bond notes and introduction of a command agriculture system.
“Zimbabwe’s GDP growth is projected to increase by 1.3% in 2017 spurred mainly by agriculture in view of favourable rains, tourism, manufacturing, construction and financial sectors.”
Independent Online (26/09/16) reported that more than 70 percent of Zimbabweans are living in poverty….“While over the years government has succeeded in halving the population in extreme poverty from 44 percent in 1995 to 22 percent in 2012, however, poverty levels as measured by the Total Consumption Poverty Line has remained high at over 70 percent.”
Grace’s anointment fractures Zanu-PF
According to the same Independent Online article, “Finance Minister Chinamasa said the effects of the country’s economic crisis were mostly felt in the social sectors, where thousands were losing their jobs, children were dropping out of school and hospitals and clinics were running without adequate drugs.”
The events leading up to Mnangagwa’s sacking and those which have followed are the cumulative outcome of the Zanu-PF government’s successive failures since the ‘liberation movement’ assumed power nearly four decades ago.
To many, the crises engulfing the ruling Zanu regime has been precipitated by its long ruling autocratic leader’s failure to appoint a successor. This is only partly true. Zimbabwe has long been in the abyss and this is the unravelling of the political superstructure that Mugabe himself built through that party in order to sustain his unchecked rule over the country.
The initially popular Mugabe won successive landslide victories in elections until he implemented a brutal IMF/World Bank neo-liberal ‘economic structural adjustment programme’ that provoked the uprising of the mid-90s which saw the biggest workers’ protests in Zimbabwean history. However the turn of Zimbabwe’s then trade union leaders towards collaboration with capitalists and rich farmers against Mugabe disarmed this movement and allowed Mugabe to pretend he was a champion of the poor. Since then Mugabe has been able to stay in power by increasingly authoritarian methods backed up by the very same military that has now moved to oust him.
Mugabe’s decision to pick his own successor was the straw that broke the camel’s back. With no record of struggle herself, the military feared that Grace Mugabe would be a force for instability. Grace Mugabe exponential rise to power thus played a decisive role in the expulsion of Mnangagwa precipitating the succession crises now unfolding in Zanu-PF.
Drunk with the euphoria of power, Grace Mugabe and her G40 faction seemed to have assumed Mugabe’s role itself in dictating the programmes of Zanu-PF and by extension those of government. Mnangagwa who claims to have survived food poisoning a few weeks before his sacking has been leading a faction called ‘Lacoste’ which is backed by the military, and securocratic elements within Zanu-PF who have played a leading role in Mugabe’s reign of terror.
A coup in all but name
With Mnangagwa’s flight into exile after his sacking it first appeared that his faction was on the back foot and had been relegated into the political wilderness. But as the events of the past few days illustrate, Mnangagwa’s military backers were not willing to accept defeat.
But the Lacoste faction appears to have moved with the tacit consent of not just SA, but even also after consultation with China. Defence force commander, Major General Constantine Chiwenga is reported to have visited China recently. Mnangagwa himself is reported to have been flown back to Zimbabwe in a SA National Defence force military plane.
The statement by the military that this is not a coup, merely an intervention to clear out the criminal elements that surround Mugabe, appears to be carefully crafted to allow the SADC, chaired by Zuma, and its ‘organ’ for ‘politics, defence and security’, chaired by Angolan president João Lourenço, to allow the military to complete their mission without coming under pressure to take some kind of action to show their disapproval for “regime change” by unconstitutional means.
A military intervention is ruled out. SADC has not even been able to stabilise Lesotho. A military intervention to force regime change in Zimbabwe would ignite a conflagration they would have no control over. Economic sanctions, given the economic crisis, will merely aggravate the situation. The last thing the Zuma regime, which had just initiated steps to repatriate the large Zimbabwean population in SA, is to be obliged to suspend those plans for humanitarian reasons.
It is thus far more likely that the ZDF will be given the time to stabilise the situation by managing Mugabe’s exit and to prepare for the elections due in 2018 with Mnangagwa installed as a caretaker president.
Stabilising the situation will entail a purge of the G40 faction – a process that has already begun. The military will also attempt to portray itself as committed to fighting corruption, restoring conditions for the revival of economic growth and the restoration of social stability.
The masses are their own liberators
The Zimbabwean masses have largely been spectators in the factional battles of Zanu-PF and have in recent days watched with delight as what appeared to be a self-inflicted implosion and the almost guaranteed demise of the Zanu-PF state. Sections of the masses will welcome this development seeing in it the lifting of the yoke of the Mugabe dictatorship.But this would be a mistake. Mnangagwa led the operation during the 1980s Gukurahundi operation murdering an estimated 20,000 Ndebele people. At the same time there is deep distrust in the military and few illusions that it represents hope or an end to the misery of the Mugabe regime. The military has been critical in sustaining the Mugabe dictatorship including carrying out systematic terror to enable Mugabe to keep firm control. Thus there should be hardly any illusions as to whether or not the military represents a tenable alternative for the working masses and poor. In 2016 Mugabe himself revealed that $15 billion of diamond revenue had been looted from the state coffers and was unaccounted for. A recent report revealed that the illicit outflow of diamond revenue was used to prop up the regime and companies which were linked to the military and the Central Intelligence Organisation. This is after the military massacred 200 people severing their limbs when it moved into the Marange diamonds fields east of Zimbabwe to ‘clear’ out ‘illegal’ informal miners in 2008. Neither a transitional government nor it successor will be sable to solve the problems of poverty and mass unemployment.
The atrocities of the military remain well documented; its role in kidnapping and killing opposition supporters particularly during elections remains unquestionable. The military coup is not at all a change of the Mugabe-Zanu regime’s character but represents its continuation and attempt at the regeneration of the military’s control over it in a manner they hope will be self-sustaining. Its purpose is to guarantee the continuation of its autocratic rule and not to usher in a new democratic dispensation under the control of the Zimbabwe’s masses.
The Struggle Continues
The experience of recent years shows that much of the working masses of Zimbabwe understand this very well. This was evident in 2016 when there was a massive uprising and grassroots mobilisation in rejection of Mugabe’s regime. The military responded to this by standing firm and emphasizing its allegiance to Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe. Therefore the general position of the povo (the masses) is that no alternative is to be found in the Zanu-PF state and all its manifestations or the remnants that may remain.
The lesson both of last year’s mass mobilisation, as well as the whole of Mugabe’s tenure is that reliance on external forces such as SADC (Southern African Development Community) and neighbouring governments is futile and regressive. All the administrations of the South African government – from Mbeki through to Zuma – have propped up the Mugabe regime. After Mbeki suppressed the report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry his own government had instituted which found that the 2002 presidential elections were not free and fair, Zuma followed the same policy until forced to release the report by legal action. The South African Communist Party (SACP) followed suit demonstrating its contempt for the Zimbabwean masses by denouncing the mass demonstrations as recently as last year as the work of a “third force” bent on regime change.
The masses are their own liberators, the Zimbabwean experience of the last two decades confirms this. Only they can lead the revolution. It is foreseeable that for expedient purposes a ‘solution’ will be brokered by SADC or the AU, regardless of their claimed opposition to military coups, in order to legitimize the military junta’s rule.
The struggle, however, continues. As previously emphasised by WASP, the masses of Zimbabwe can only rely on their own programme, their own power and their own organisation to overthrow the autocratic, capitalistic and parasitic bourgeois dispensation to achieve the socialist transformation of Zimbabwean society.
The masses must, as they have previously, demonstrate their rejection of the uninvited imposition of rule by a junta that seeks to safe-guard its looting and plunder. Rejection of this dispensation must be carried out urgently and consistently by the masses so as to demonstrate the utter greed and blatant self-servicing motivation behind this military coup. The Zimbabwean masses, which includes the workers, the youth, and the diaspora must now congregate towards building a mass workers’ party. Such a party must learn from the lessons of the failed attempt in the late 1990s to build one and ensure a new workers’ party strives to lay the foundations of a government of workers and poor on a socialist programme so as to inflict a decisive defeat of the Post-Mugabe dispensation currently mutating.
- Reject Mugabe! Reject the generals! No to dictatorship – civilian or military. Full democratic rights! Demand a trial of Mugabe and his cronies by representatives of workers and poor.
- The working class and poor must take the future of Zimbabwean society into their own hands. No to any coalition with leading elements from the old regime or capitalist forces. This demands a government of workers and small farmers. To prepare for this build mass democratic action committees of workers, youth, the unemployed, small traders and small farmers in every area to elect a transitional authority to lay the foundation for elections to a future government of workers and small farmers.
- Such a government must have a program to end low-pay, poverty and unemployment. decisions on the movement of goods, the running of services and other key decisions about the running of society Mass democratic committees of the Zimbabwean workers, small farmers and the poor to take; seize the assets of Mugabe, the generals, Zanu-PF and other regime leaders, placing them under the control of the action committees.
- Defend the people! Action committees to organise accountable and democratically controlled self-defence units to protect protests and activists from regime intimidation and violence; build action committees of rank-and-file police officers, soldiers and air personnel. Elect rank-and-file leaders and spokespeople and take no orders from regime-linked officers! Build links with the action committees of the people for a united struggle.
- No trust in the imperialist dominated anti-working class UN, AU or SADC. Build links with the working class across Southern Africa. Outside of Zimbabwe organise action committees in all Zimbabwean diaspora communities building strong links with local communities and working class and youth organisations. United struggle against xenophobia. Fight for migrants rights. Organise migrant workers in the trade union movement.
- Workers and young people to take the lead in building a mass revolutionary party to struggle for a socialist Zimbabwe.
Struggle for free education must continue
Socialist Youth Movement Statement
After mounting pressure, president Zuma has now released the long awaited Heher Commission report on the feasibility of free higher education. Located firmly within the framework of “free market”, that is, neo-liberal capitalist economics, its conclusion that free education is unaffordable comes as no surprise. The Feesmustfall campaign for free decolonised education must mobilise again until its demands are met.
Whilst endorsing completely free higher education for TVET students, for university students, the commission recommends Income-Contingent Loans (ICL) from commercial banks. Students would take out a loan covering the full cost of study at the beginning of their studies, and only pay it back when (or if) their post-graduation income reaches a certain threshold.
The report aims simultaneously to reinforce the false narrative that free education is unaffordable whilst trying to undermine the unity of #FeesMustFall through the tactic of divide-and-rule. The concession of free education to TVET students, the “poorest of the poor”, is an attempt to pit working class students against each other, reinforce the notion that university education is just for the select wealthy minority, whilst imposing, in the words of Tarryn Naude, a recent UCT Politics and Economic History graduate and queer student activist, a “debt sentence” on them.
Aiming an ideological blow against the demand for free education for all, it “concludes that it is simply not accurate to suggest that higher education is purely a “public good”, ….the primary benefit of higher education is to the individual graduate and their family: for the potential increase in personal or family advancement, status, income, future opportunity or, simply, self-gratification”. (Daily Maverick, 14/11/17)
This conclusion confirms the continuity of class oppression between the post-apartheid and democratic era. As intended by Verwoerd, the architect of Bantu education, the aim of education policy is to exclude the working class whose only role in society remains now as then, that of “hewers of wood and drawers of water”.
Free Education is affordable
Both the affordability argument and the attempt to divide the movement must be firmly rejected and resisted. There is a colossal plundering of the country’s resources, both by big business and the Guptas – the Johnny-come-latelies to corruption. Free education is entirely affordable. A 2014 report by international monitoring organisation, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), covering the period 2003 to 2012, found that R147 billion in illegal capital outflows left the country every year.
“To put this figure in perspective, (former) Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande told parliament that R147-billion could accommodate all university students at all universities in the country.” (Mail & Guardian, 16/12/14). It is estimated that R1.6 trillion is sitting in corporate bank accounts in what amounts to a strike of capital with big business claiming that they cannot find profitable areas for investment.
The Heher report, predictably, has been welcomed only by the DA and FF+. Beyond them it has attracted widespread rejection firstly by students in the #FeesMustFall movement. The ANC Women’s League, Cosatu and the EFF have rejected it for various reasons. The Banking Association has expressed serious reservations about relying on government guarantees for student loans. Universities SA says the report’s proposals are unclear. Even NSFAS has poured cold water on the viability of ICL as a substitute for its own role. In the end ICL merely reproduces the same burden on working class students, as does NSFAS – a lifetime of debt that might never be paid given the dire economic crisis, a shrinking jobs market and mass unemployment. All the institutions of the elite have come out unanimously against the demand for free education not only as a right but as a necessity.
Zuma – a free education messiah?
Given this situation it is not outside the realm of possibility that Zuma will exploit the divisions around the report to proceed with a populist announcement of his own. It is notable that whilst having released it under public pressure, the presidency has not endorsed the report. Instead it has announced that the ministerial committee is still “processing” it. It cannot be ruled out that Zuma may announce his own proposal for free education as a populist gesture either before the ANC’s December elective conference or after in a desperate attempt to arrest the ANC’s declining electoral support ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Against the background of the worst economic crisis since the ANC came to power, with economic growth revised downwards to 0.7% for 2017, a revenue shortfall of R50 billion and the Auditor General’s findings of fruitless and wasteful expenditure amounting, so far, to R45 billion (that could climb to in excess of R60 billion) Zuma’s approach to the question of free education is not driven by the interests of working class students. His priority is the interests of his faction in a life and death struggle to retain control of the ANC, to ensure the succession of Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma to keep him out of jail and to consolidate access to state resources for self-enrichment and corruption.
The R40 billion his advisor is rumoured to have calculated would be needed to fund their “free education” proposal, will not entail taking action against big business – to stop illicit financial flows or to increase corporate taxes which have been reduced to 28% today from 44% in 1994. It will in that sense be no different from the approach of the Hefer Commission – to preserve the status quo of the class divisions in society and to bend the knee to the rating agencies – the financial global police. It will entail redirecting funding, for example, from the Unemployment Insurance Fund or cutting social welfare budgets to fund free education – robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Despite the phony class war against “white monopoly capital” Zuma is a representative of a faction of the post-apartheid black political elite that has overseen the re-ordering of class divisions resulting in inequalities within the black, coloured and Indian communities overtaking the inequalities between black and white inherited from apartheid. The highest level of inequality is now within the Black population with the top 10% owning 98% of the wealth.
Zuma’s indifference towards the impact that a possible further rating agency downgrade could have on the working class, is shown in his willingness (together with his newly appointed Energy Minister Mahlobo) to publicly contradict Finance Minister Gigaba’s statement that the proposed nuclear-build programme is unaffordable.
Zuma’s “free education” will reinforce inequalities
Zuma’s rumoured counter-proposal will leave the current inequalities across the entire education system intact – one that systematically culls the number who start primary school to the point where only 4 out of 100 blacks graduate from university.
As Neva Makgetla has pointed out:
“The quality of state schools mostly reflects their position in the apartheid system of 22 years ago. The top 15% of schools have been integrated, but they remain privileged. The rest – well, you’re lucky to make it to matric, luckier to pass, and very unlikely to have a chance at further education.
In 2015, the wealthiest 15% of schools — virtually all of them historically non-African — accounted for 30% of university passes, while the poorest 25%, most of them in the former so-called “homeland” areas, got about half as many. The richest schools had a pass rate of more than 90%, with half getting university exemptions; in the poorest 25%, just 62% of pupils passed, and under a fifth qualified for university. (Business Day, 22/11/16).
Even worse, the effect of a downgrade would considerably worsen these inequalities as this neo-liberal government, unwilling to defy the ratings agencies and the interests of the imperialist powers they ultimately serve, will be compelled to step-up cuts to comply with their demands to maintain a cap on expenditure. Despite his appointment as Finance Minister, Gigaba, with much fanfare as an assault on “white monopoly capital”, and the setting up of a parallel administration, his first order of business was to reassure rating agencies that he will continue the neo-liberal polices of his predecessor, Pravin Gordhan to make the working class pay for the crisis of capitalism with savage cuts.
The overwhelming majority of students have rejected Heher’s report. But the consensus that underpinned the unity of the #FeesMustFall Movement since 2015 has not been sustained. A number of factors have combined that has led to the break-down that secured the 0% fee increase in 2015. These include the active intervention by the state to subvert the movement. Zuma’s advisor Masutha turns out to have been a spy for the State Security Agency during his time as a #FeesMustFall leader at Wits University. Equally important #FMF has lacked ideological, programmatic and ideological coherence leaving it vulnerable to being used to bolster the factional struggle within the ANC between forces that, despite the strident antagonism between them, represent the same anti-working class interests.
A national conference to unite FMF for free education
The routing of the PYA in the SRC elections this year at Wits however, shows that the many students have seen through theirs and Black First Land First’s radical posturing particularly during the second phase of the #FMF protests. Despite the BLF’s craven collaboration with the corrupt Guptas, they will use Zuma’s attempt to posture as the messiah of free education and present his proposal as a defiance of “white monopoly capital” to try and breathe new life into their campaign to legitimise corruption.
There is an urgent need to establish, ideological clarity, programmatic coherence and organisational unity to take the student movement forward once again. A campaign for free education must be linked to the struggle against capitalism and the socialist transformation of society. As the SYM has argued, the education crisis is rooted in the crisis of capitalism not only in SA but globally.
Student debt in the US is the equivalent of all credit card debt. Students in Spain recently won a famous victory against the state’s attempt to erect additional barriers to university education for working class students. Education cuts and opposition to free education is at the forefront of capitalist governments across the world. The programme for free education must be linked to the struggle for the socialist transformation of society. This in turn requires uniting students in a mass socialist student movement, linking up with the organised working class, and working class communities under the umbrella of a mass workers party on a socialist programme – to place the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working class.
In preparation for this the SYM reiterates its call for a national #FMF conference to analyse the lessons of the struggle so far, thrash out a platform and programme of action, and to systematically link up with the working class communities in struggle and the organised working class.
The SYM counter-poses to the craven cowardice of the capitalist elite, the unity of working class students in SA and worldwide in a common struggle for socialism.
Brutality of outsourcing exposed
By Ferron Pedro, Tshwane WASP & UP Socialist Youth Movement
Mokhiti Johannes Moeti, a worker outsourced to Servest, was killed on Monday when he was pulled into a powerful chipper machine at University of Pretoria’s LC De Villiers campus. Mulisa Mabudafhasi, Moeti’s coworker, found his body, which had been butchered by the machine.
According to accounts from workers, Moeti and Mabudafhasi had been tasked to both operate the machine and gather branches to place into it, which meant that often only one of them was actually operating the machine at a time. Mabudafhasi explains that they had not received adequate training on how to use the machines with the training session lasting only one day. Describing the management’s attitude to training, he said, “It is not qualified, good training. It is a danger to us. You brought a new machine to bring to the workers. You give them only one day training on the machine –no practical, no anything. You just say, ‘We operate the machine like this’. You never show the operators how to start the machine. You never show the operators how to switch off the machine. But you want the operators to operate the machine… It’s not training. It’s only an explanation. ”
A member of General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA) and participant in the #OutsourcingMustFall campaign Moeti had been redeployed from working at the golf course, after fighting with the “client” – the bosses at the University of Pretoria – and didn’t have any experience with the machine but was forced to do the job. When asked for his job title Mabudafhasi explains, “[We] don’t have any job description because they want us to do any job they want at anytime which is not right. I have not been able to read my contract. They forced me to sign it without reading it and I didn’t receive any copies.” Mabudafhasi says they were never shown what safety measures to take when using the machine. On the day of the incident, he explains that the supervisor switched on the machine and left the campus, leaving Moeti and Mabudafhasi to operate it. Mabudafhasi describes the stress and constant pressure placed on them by management: “My colleague was under pressure… The manager shouts at us every day. Their approach to me when they speak to me is not good. They treat people differently based on whether they are white or black. You are shouting at me. Who gives you the right to shout at me at work? You have the right to talk to me. You have the right to show me the work. If I’m doing something wrong, don’t shout at me, “You are a stupid!” How can you call a worker stupid?”
He had left Moeti and the machine to fetch a van but afraid of abuse from management, Moeti continued to place branches in the machine. Mabudafhasi explains, “We have a lot of work. They look at every step we take. They look at every mistake we do. The management victimizes us and so we are stressed. It becomes harder to focus on work. That’s the cause. That’s why this thing happened that way. If your manager puts you under pressure to do your job, you are not concentrating on the machine but on your manager.” While on his own, Moeti continued to work, the branches hooked into his gloves and pulled him into the machine leading to his tragic death.
“There were supposed to be two people on each side of the machine but one of us needs to collect the branches. That machine is fast and powerful. Once it catches something then he goes out like mince meat. Mince meat. You will never see anything that shows that that was a person in the morning,“ laments Mabudafhasi. The impact on workers at the campus is plain. They have been traumatized by the unnecessary death of their comrade. Mabudafhasi says, “To be honest, I am strong but this thing is killing me. I didn’t sleep yesterday. I’m here because I’m strong but I’m not feeling well at all… If I close my eyes I can see that thing happening.“
As a result of the #outsourcingmustfall campaign, workers like Moeti and Mabudafhasi have won salary increases of over 100% from R3,000 to R6,500 with an agreement to increase it further to R10,000 by the end of 2018. The militant activism of GIWUSA trade union organizers, Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) activists and outsourced workers have gained much ground at the University of Pretoria but, as this tragedy shows, there is much work to be done for the strengthening of worker representation and access to workplace rights at this campus and elsewhere. GIWUSA President and WASP leader Mametlwe Sebei explains, “The very fact that they deny these workers their right to union representation is criminal enough firstly because workers are unable to negotiate their health and safety rights and secondly, they cannot be represented during this inquiry owing to lack of trade union representation.”
Workers are demanding the immediate recognition of their union, GIWUSA, by university management including the necessary healthy and safety representation; the immediate suspension of supervisors at their work site as well as legal inquiry into criminal liability of management; an upgrade of the equipment to make it safer including the addition of a belt; certified training in the use of the machinery required to do their work as well as more staff to make sure operations are safe; an increase in salary including hazard pay for operating dangerous machinery; safety equipment including safety trousers, gloves with clips and safety boots for all workers.
GIWUSA organizer, Isaac Malema, says, ‘We are sad by the passing away of one of our own who was chopped by compost making machine. The police have opened a case of inquest and are investigating. The case number of the inquest is 142/11/2017 and the investigation officer is Sergeant Hlongwane of Brooklyn police station. The Department of Labour is also conducting its own investigation. It is almost a week since the incident but no one has been suspended pending the investigation. We met with the family. It was very traumatic and workers received group and individual counseling. May his soul rest in peace.”
The university management has yet to release public comment on the tragic death of a worker at their facility.
A Memorial Service will be held on Friday, 10 November at the University of Pretoria’s LC De Villiers Campus from 12:00 -14:00.
Executive Committee statement
The Workers and Socialist Party congratulates the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA), and all its members, office bearers and officials on their successful National Congress which took place over the last weekend.
This, GIWUSA’s 4th National Congress, saw a landmark decision in the history of the union. Delegates voted in favour of affiliation to the new Saftu federation, founded earlier in the year as a militant alternative to the class collaboration and betrayals of the Cosatu leadership.
It was the rejection of the Cosatu leadership’s betrayals, as far back as 2003, that brought the modern incarnation of GIWUSA into existence. For daring to defend the class and political independence of the workers’ movement by questioning the continued participation of Cosatu in the ANC-led Tripartite ‘Alliance’, 16 office bearers and officials of the industrial workers’ CEPPAWU union were undemocratically removed from office. Supported by more than 6,000 members they became the majority and the backbone of today’s GIWUSA.
The creation of the new federation is a vindication of the correctness of what in 2003 was a view held by only a tiny minority in the workers movement – that the trade union movement needed to reclaim its independence by breaking-out of the pro-capitalist Tripartite Alliance. In WASP and our forerunners we shared this view, however we took the position to its logical conclusion in our consistent championing of, and campaigning for, a new socialist mass workers party. We would argue that this is the only way to genuinely safeguard working class independence from the corrosive and corrupting influence of the bosses.
With the ANC, the main party of capitalism, in its most serious crisis ever, the question of the political independence of the working class is posed more sharply than ever. Now hundreds of thousands of organised workers are drawing the same conclusions in the founding of the new federation and in the developing discussions about the role Saftu could play in creating a new workers party. In the decision to join Saftu after 15 years without any affiliation, GIWUSA’s worker-delegates have sent a clear message that they want their union to be at the heart of the new worker-controlled trade union movement that is emerging in South Africa.
A new team of National Office Bearers were elected, including Mametlwe Sebei as President, left trade union activist John Appolis as General Secretary and Charles Phaahla as Deputy General Secretary. Mametlwe Sebei is also a member of WASP’s Executive Committee.
Over the past two years thousands of workers from the #OutsourcingMustFall campaign have made GIWUSA their home. In Tshwane #OMF activists were key in swelling the ranks of GIWUSA in the capital city to the nearly 4,000+ that are there today. This led to the re-founding of the Pretoria-Brits-Rustenburg GIWUSA branch in April this year. The elections for the branch leadership returned a full-house of #OMF activists, all of whom are also members of WASP.
In Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Mogale City workers from #OMF are also joining GIWUSA. Reflecting the important role that they are now playing inside GIWUSA, both #OMF and WASP were given the honour of addressing the Congress.
WASP is firmly committed to working with all those determined to build GIWUSA into a democratic worker-controlled and militant union and to play a full role in assisting the same traditions to be built inside Saftu.