Remember Mandela and his advice if ANC lets us down

The Workers and Socialist Party offers condolences to the Mandela family and all those in South Africa and internationally who are mourning his passing. Mandela is a symbol of the struggles and sacrifices of millions over decades to end apartheid and win democracy. The hopes and aspirations of that heroic struggle – with the mighty black working class playing the decisive role – were invested in Mandela. We recognise him for his role in the defeat of one of the most odious systems of oppression and exploitation in history.


But whilst we salute Mandela’s role in ending apartheid, and acknowledge the mighty step forward that democracy represented, the situation for the vast majority has not improved. South Africa is more unequal now than under apartheid. As we mourn let us remember that Mandela himself called upon us to act against the ANC government if it does not fulfil the expectations of the masses, in the same way as we did against the apartheid regime.


Today there is a widespread discontent expressed in service delivery protests that have made SA the protest capital of the world, including student protests and strikes. Under the Zuma administration we have experienced what would have been previously considered unthinkable — that a democratically elected government would train its guns on workers striking for the very things Mandela championed — a better life for all — slaughtering them in an act of premeditated murder. More than any other event the Marikana atrocity – which revealed once and for all that this is a government of the mining bosses and the capitalist class as a whole and not the government of the people that elected it into office — should  inspire the working class to act on Mandela’s advice.


How do we account for the fact that today’s self-enriching ANC leadership is removed by light years from the liberation movement of yesteryear? The answer does not lie in the moral failings of the current leadership plentiful as these are. The reason is simple: the ANC came to an accommodation with capitalism rather than ending it.


One of the most extraordinary features of the mourning in the country and across the world is its universality – all classes are united as one in grief. Yet we revere Mandela for different reasons. Mandela’s famed policy of reconciliation meant different things to different classes. The capitalists worship reconciliation because it guaranteed the preservation of capitalism – the protection of the foundations of class exploitation and oppression under the new constitution, the legitimisation of the economic dictatorship of the capitalist minority over the working class majority.  That is the purpose of democracy under capitalism. The working class accepted reconciliation in the hope that under democracy poverty, unemployment and inequality would end. It has not. Under capitalist, or bourgeois democracy, it could not have been otherwise. 


Reconciliation sought simultaneously to bring together the races and the classes. It achieved neither. Whilst the legal frameworks and administrative apparatus of racial oppression has been dismantled society looks much the same after two decades of democracy, like the rainbow in nature “the Rainbow Nation” recedes constantly the more we march towards it.  As Gwede Mantashe said SA is stratified like Irish Coffee– black at the bottom, white on top with a sprinkling of chocolate floating on the cream.  The ‘promised land’ described in the Freedom Charter could only ever have been realised on the basis of a decisive break with capitalism and the construction of a democratic socialist society.


Mandela’s ANC – the ANC that defeated apartheid – is dead and cannot be resurrected. We must not allow the grief that millions feel – and WASP shares – at Mandela’s passing distract us from the urgent tasks facing the working class today. The greatest way to honour what Mandela represented to the working class is to continue the struggle for a society where all can live free from the scourges of deprivation, unemployment, inequality and poor services: a socialist society. This is what WASP, born in the furnace of Marikana, stands for.

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