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The bosses’ know that they are in a war with the working class. That is why they are upgrading their weapons. They want to make it harder for workers to defend themselves from exploitation, job losses and poverty pay by going on strike. For this the bosses need to undermine workers’ control in the workers’ movement and in its place increase the powers of the capitalist state over the trade unions. That is the essence of the changes the government plans to make to the Labour Relations Act (LRA) on their behalf.
Workers will no longer be allowed to decide how democratic decisions are taken in their own organisations. Even when workers are perfectly happy with a show of hands to start a strike, the new amendments will require secret strike ballots with unions required to keep the records for three years. There will be new rules for issuing strike notices to employers which include notifying them of the time and date that the strike will begin. This will allow the bosses to plan and stop strikes from being effective. New picketing rules will require the boss to agree about picket line rules. When agreement cannot be reached (which will always be the case!) an unelected commissioner can step in and impose picketing rules on the union.
Finally, the amendments will allow the Director of the CCMA or the Minister of Labour to create an “advisory arbitration panel” to impose strike settlements. They can do this if they believe the strike may become violent, damage property or affect “the normal, social and economic functioning of the community or society”. The bosses’ propaganda already claims this about every strike! Now their biased point of view will be given legal standing.
There is nothing original in these amendments. Internationally, they are “best practice” for every neo-liberal capitalist government. The ANC is simply catching up with itself.
What lies behind this attack?
There is no end in sight to the crisis of the capitalist profit system. The economy is stagnant. Big business will not invest its huge wealth to create jobs or raise wages – leaving us stuck with mass unemployment and poverty. The anger of the working class, the poor and unemployed is ready to boil over. In places it already is. Just in the past week the national bus strike and the Mahikeng community uprising against corruption have shown the huge frustration in society. This terrifies the ruling capitalist class. They want to prepare better weapons now because they know they urgently need them to stay in control of the economy and society.
The trade union movement remains the biggest potential threat to capitalism. Until recently the bosses were able to rely on the ANC’s dominance over the Cosatu leadership to keep the working class under control. But Cosatu has suffered serious splits and lost its dominant position in the workers’ movement. It is also unclear if the ANC will keep their majority in next year’s elections. The old framework of bosses’ control has weakened.
The ruling capitalist class needs something more decisive to rely on. They understand that when the class struggle intensifies the corrupt and cowardly trade union leaders they rely on now will be swept aside. The long-stifled democratic structures of the workers’ movement could start to reflect the wish of a radicalised working class for fundamental change. Most dangerously for the ruling class the trade unions can organise this mood into a mass struggle.
To limit this and to try and stay in control it is better for the ruling class to strengthen the powers of unelected judges and commissioners over the trade unions. They calculate that in ‘normal’ times this will give them a way of ‘lowering the temperature’ of workers’ struggles. It will also strengthen their hold over conservative trade union leaders who will be able to hide behind the amended laws as an excuse for doing nothing. When this fails and workers’ struggle ‘crosses the line’, the bosses will be able to call on the armed power of the capitalist state in defence of ‘law and order’.
The 25 April strike organised by the new Saftu trade union federation is an important start to the campaign against the LRA amendments. The Workers and Socialist Party played an important role in campaigning for the action to go ahead. The strike must be used as a platform to reach-out to the workers in every union and federation. The members of the Cosatu, Nactu and Fedusa federations will be extremely angry that their leaders have gone along with this attack. Open and democratic co-ordinating committees should be established to lay the basis for a mass united campaign of rolling mass action until the amendments are scrapped.
The campaign must not end if the amendments become law. If this happens the entire workers’ movement must be prepared for a campaign of defiance to make the new laws unenforceable.
Open political front
The LRA amendments were proposed, developed and gazetted under Zuma’s ANC government and will become law under Ramaphosa’s. The Democratic Alliance supports the amendments. They only wish they were tougher! No party in parliament has championed opposition to the amendments. This is because there is no party in parliament that represents workers’ interests. These parties are all competing with each other to take over the management of capitalism which will always require weapons to attack workers.
The LRA amendments underline more than ever that the workers’ movement requires a ‘political arm’ – a socialist mass workers party. It would allow us to open another front in our struggle with the bosses. Workers’ MPs – strictly under the democratic control of workers – could use their platform to explain the real calculations of the bosses which lie behind the amendments. They could break the unchallenged lie that the amendments are to deal with “violent strikes” and expose the real views of the capitalist parties expressed in the closed parliamentary committees. This would be important assistance to the central task of building a mass movement.
These attacks show that under capitalism workers’ cannot rely on ‘the law’ or ‘the constitution’ to defend their rights. We live in a capitalist democracy where the influence of the bosses will always remain dominant because they own and control the economy. To defend capitalism the ruling class has no choice but to limit democracy and the rights of workers. All the legal gains of workers are temporary as long as capitalism exists – they can only be guaranteed in a socialist society where the capitalist classes’ control of the economy is ended, removing the source of the class struggle that requires the minority to hold the majority in chains.
by Weizmann Hamilton, Executive Committee
With the passing of Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela, the ANC has lost arguably the most beloved and certainly one of the greatest of the leaders of her generation. Denied an opportunity in life to acknowledge her role, she is now being celebrated in death by the thousands. The magnitude of public sympathy has been such that a deeply divided ANC leadership, the majority of whom either actively or passively contributed to her isolation, ostracism and the erasure from history of her stellar contribution to the struggle that put them in power, are now putting on a display of nauseating hypocrisy in an attempt to bask in her reflected glory to avoid electoral Armageddon in the 2019 general elections.
This rogue’s gallery of latter-day Winnie praise singers includes the corrupt collaborator with the Gupta family on the run from the police, ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule and former Free State Premier. He has yet to explain what happened to the millions set aside ten years ago for the conversion of the Brandfort house in which Winnie served her banishment into a museum.
The drama that was Winnie’s life entailed being sent into internal exile twice. The first by the apartheid regime to separate her from and prevent her from fanning the flames of revolt of the youth uprising that began in Soweto where she lived; the second by her own party and its predecessors beginning in 1989 to clear the way for the ANC’s capitulation in the negotiations at the Convention for a Democratic SA (Codesa).
A hurricane of vilification and slander engineered by the apartheid regime completely engulfed the leadership of the movement. It saw Winnie being denounced by the ANC’s predecessor, the United Democratic Front, charged and convicted of the kidnapping and assault of Stompie Sepei, separation from Mandela in 1992, her exclusion from the VIP seats at Mandela’s inauguration as president in 1994, the subject of the reopening of the Stompie Sepei murder case twice under Nelson Mandela’s reign despite the conviction of the actual murderer, and the only ANC leader hauled before the TRC under instruction by her own government. The TRC hearing was calculated to humiliate in quasi-judicial proceedings that not even lowly apartheid police had been subjected to, and timed to take place shortly before the ANC’s 1997 conference where she had been nominated as deputy president and possible successor to her ex-husband.
Embarrassingly for the ANC leadership, confessions on radio and television by an apartheid era security police, the republication of an expose first published in 1995 in the Mail & Guardian and most of all the screening on a cable network this week of the Sundance award-winning documentary, “Winnie” , contain revelations of the astonishing scale of the apartheid regime’s State Security Council’s psychological warfare against the mass movement and the ANC with the discrediting of Winnie at the centre of the Covert Strategic Communications (Stratton) division’s Operation Romulus. Former apartheid security police Paul Erasmus, in an interview on television, said he had received a commendation, especially for drawing into this network half of British Prime Minister John Major’s cabinet and Baroness Nicholson, for the most successful such “Black Ops” in history. Social media has erupted with outrage with headlines such as all these years “we praised the wrong Mandela”, “Nelson Mandela sold out”. Even leaders of the corrupt ANC Youth League are demanding that the documentary be screened on the public broadcaster. (See accompanying article)
But her ostracism has not erased from the popular consciousness memories of her unbreakable defiance in the face of police raids on her home, twenty-four hour surveillance, repeated banning and house arrest orders, imprisonment and torture in solitary confinement. Throughout all this she remained unbroken and unbowed. She was the living embodiment of the slogan “wathinthi’ bafazi wa thinti’ mbokodo” – you strike a woman, you strike a rock. No other political leader in SA history, man or woman, has endured such persecution.
In one of the more touching tributes Shireen Hassim, Professor of Political Studies, WiSER, University of the Witwatersrand writes in The Conversation (03/04/2018): “No other woman – in life and after – occupies the place that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela does in South African politics. A stalwart of the African National Congress (ANC), she nevertheless stands above, and at times outside, the party. Her iconic status transcends political parties and geographical boundaries, generations and genders. Poets have honoured her, writers have immortalised her and photographers have adored her.”
The outpouring of emotion that has followed Winnie’s death is comparable to that for Chris Hani, leader of the South African Communist Party and Chief of Staff of uMkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), assassinated in April, 1993 –a year before the historic first democratic elections.
Throughout the period since the death of the “mother of the nation” at 81 years of age on Monday 2nd April, her Soweto home has seen daily pilgrimages, virtually entire radio and television programmes dedicated to providing tributes, commentary and blanket coverage of countrywide memorial services. Musicians and poets have come together to provide concerts and recitals. Thousands up and down the country have flocked to town hall rallies and church services to pay homage. Even the full squads of the country’s biggest football clubs, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, have been to her home to pay their respects. A ten-day official period of mourning will end the day before her burial on 14th April, after a special category one state funeral.
This outpouring of sympathy and her eulogizing is a reflection not only of the role she played in the struggle but also the current political mood. In circumstance where the economy is in the grip of a deep crisis, the masses facing searing poverty, equality and mass unemployment, and the country swimming in the sewage of corruption scandals, Winnie has in death as she did in life, partly acted as a lightning rod for the discontent of the masses. The eulogies have offered an opportunity, particularly for young black women, to deliver a public rebuke of the political class, especially the ANC elite for ostracizing her. Their greed, factionalism, and indifference to the plight of the masses are being counterposed to Winnie’s unflagging dedication to the masses, her selflessness and her sacrifices.
Winnie’s passing has also provided the occasion for an acknowledgment and criticism even from within the ANC itself, of her marginalization by her own party, for howling along with the wolves in the sullying of her reputation. In an article headed “Winnie Mandela was deserted by the movement”, Ayanda Dlodlo, Minister of Public Service and Administration and former MK operative, points an accusing finger at her own party, reminding it of the great risks MK operatives and Winnie took to be in contact with her undergound: “It is a stain on the ANC flag that Mam’ Winnie hoisted outside her house for decades, that our organisation ostracized her, and sought to banish her from the collective life of an organization that means so much for her and around which her identity was built.” (Sunday Independent – 08/04/18)
In a sense Winnie’s death is a new, more palpable phase in the demise of the ANC. With her passing, the last flame of what was once progressive about the ANC that flickered in Winnie, has been extinguished.
Drawn into struggle young
Winnie experienced her political baptism as personal tragedy. Pondoland, in the Eastern Cape, where she was born in 1936, formed part of the Transkei homeland headed by Kaizer Matanzima. In 1951, the apartheid regime introduced the Bantu Authorities Act. This was one of the legislative cornerstones for the construction of ethnic entities, “homelands” – bantustans located in the remotest, barren, and under-developed 13% of the land reserved for blacks to exercise their “citizenship” as “independent” states outside the 87% appropriated for whites by since 1913.
Her father, Columbus, would not cooperate with the people in the resistance against this measure. The resistance, organized as Intaba by the elders, attacked the family home, burning the hut to the ground and assaulting Winnie’s step-mother so severely that she was paralysed, later succumbing to her injuries. The struggle against the apartheid regime had exacted its first sacrifice from her. The family was split by her father’s betrayal. She lost her second mother – her first, biological mother having being claimed by tuberculosis along with her elder sister when she was only nine years old.
Winnie’s independent identity
Winnie may have been catapulted to national and international fame through her marriage to someone who would become the world’s most famous political prisoner, Nelson, but she carved out from this political marriage her own independent political persona.
Her journey into a lifetime of political activism, however, preceded her marriage to Mandela. Her independent involvement began not long after she had come to Johannesburg, starting work as the first qualified black social worker at Baragwanath Hospital. She joined the ANC Womens League and the Federation of SA Women. She participated in the 1958 march from Soweto to Johannesburg to protest the introduction of pass laws for women organized by Adelaide Tambo and Lillian Ngoyi.
Although her marriage to Nelson was without doubt the most significant factor that shone the political spotlight on her at the time, Winnie’s role, especially after his imprisonment, assured her the place she rightly occupies as a colossus of the struggle against apartheid in her own right. As she wrote in one of her letters to Mandela in prison 12 years after their marriage, she recalled the: “trembling little girl of 23 in a shabby little back veld church… it was not to you only that I said ‘I do’. It was to you and all you stand for. The one without the other would have been incomplete for me. ” (Sunday Times — 08/04/18)
The little time there was in the first 6 of her 38-year marriage was constantly disrupted by police harassment. Nelson’s political activism required him to go underground to evade arrest before the first Treason Trial in which he and his comrades were acquitted. For the first two years of their marriage, she was regularly attending the Treason Trial, effectively a single parent to their two infant daughters. After the Sharpeville massacre in March 1960, a state of emergency was imposed and Nelson was detained for five months. Despite the acquittal of the Treason Trialists, Mandela was again detained in July 1962 where he was to remain until he was found guilty and narrowly avoided the death penalty, sentenced to life in 1963. This meant that Winnie, who described herself as the “most unmarried of married women”, hardly ever experienced the “normality” of married life.
In the same letter she wrote “We were hardly a year together when history deprived me of you. I was forced to mature on my own. Your formidable shadow which eclipsed me, left me naked and exposed to the bitter world of a young ‘political widow’. I knew this was a crown of thorns for me but I also knew I said ‘I do’ for better or worse. In marrying you I was marrying the struggle of my people”.
As Nelson Mandela and his comrades were thrown into jail to begin began their life sentences, she was thrust into the role of a living symbol of the liberation struggle. She became not just the unofficial representative of the leadership on Robben Island and in exile, but the Olympian bearer of the torch of resistance and defiance that played a critical role in retying the knot of history between the generations of the 50s and the 70s. If anyone demonstrated, when confronted with adversity, the meaning of the Sesotho idiom: “Mma ngwana o tshwara thipa ka bohaleng” (A mother holds the knife by the blade), it was Winnie.
This role was thrust upon her by the callous, vengeful cruelty of a white minority regime enraged by her unbreakable will and defiance. But she embraced it as a duty imposed on her by history, doing so fearlessly, courageously and with complete devotion. Whilst Nelson was doing hard labour in the lime quarry on Robben Island, Winnie was subjected to relentless persecution.
In 13 years there were only 10 months when she was not under a banning order. Even before Nelson’s trial was over, Winnie was slapped with her first banning order on 28 December 1962. It restricted her movements to the magisterial district of Johannesburg; prohibited her from entering any educational premises and barred her from attending or addressing any meetings or gatherings where more than two people were present. Moreover, the banning order also stipulated that media outlets were no longer permitted to quote anything she said, effectively gagging her voice too.
At this time she became the subject of continuous surveillance and spying by individuals who befriended but were agents of the security police. One such was Gordon Winter who posed as a journalist and published a book about his exploits. She was subjected to increased police harassment and intimidation, with regular police raids. In 1965, a new more severe banning order followed, barring her from moving anywhere other than her neighbourhood of Orlando West. This made it impossible to keep her job at Baragwanath Hospital in Diepkloof. The police intimidated prospective employers denying her even menial job opportunities.
Torture in Solitary Confinement
In 1969 Winnie was to undergo her most harrowing experience of all. The security branch raided her Soweto home at 3am and took her away after denying her the opportunity to ask her sister to look after her nine and ten year old daughters who were alone with her .
She was detained under the Terrorism Act which allowed for indefinite detention without trial or legal representation. She spent 18 months at Pretoria Central, in a concrete cell located close to the gallows furnished with three thin bug-infested and urine-stained blankets, a plastic water bottle, a mug and a sanitary bucket without a handle. The electric light bulb was left on constantly, robbing her of any sense of night or day.
For 469 days she was kept in solitary confinement with one interrogation lasting for five consecutive days and nights. She was not allowed to wash or go out for exercises. She was denied sanitary towels and water to wash when she had periods, so the blood caked on her. The “crown of thorns” metaphor she used in her letter to her husband was to prove prophetic. The barbarity of her persecutors descended to the level of making her parade in front of male prison officials and police naked with only a crown of thorns on her head.
This level of humiliation would have broken a lesser person. But Winnie maintained her pride. “She experienced blackouts, panic attacks, abnormal bleeding, bronchitis, anaemia, a heart condition. She received heart treatment, anti-depressants, and injections for the bleeding. At one stage she expresses fear that she may be becoming addicted to the drugs. Some of her physical conditions were clearly the result of acute psychological stress.
Yet her defiance never deserted her.” A psychiatric interview, with a ‘Dr Morgan’, was arranged. “Do you hear God’s voice sometimes telling you to lead your people?” Winnie was asked. “Would you ask Vorster’s wife the same question if the situation was reversed?” she shot back. “(Daily Maverick – 03/0418)
To keep her sanity, in a prison where the screams of prisoners being beaten were constant, she made friends with cockroaches. She was released after the police failed to sustain a case. Despite this barbaric treatment, Winnie did not break. This experience merely reaffirmed her political convictions, strengthened her resolve, and deepened her hatred for the regime.
Almost immediately after her release Winnie was served with another, even more stringent banning order. This time it was valid for five years and forbade her from leaving the house between 6pm and 6am making it impossible to see her husband on Robben Island even on the spiteful twice-a-year basis then in force. At the same time the police raids continued relentlessly, sometimes up to four times a day. Her house was routinely burgled, vandalised and even bombed.
In May 1973 Winnie was arrested again, this time for meeting with another banned person, Drum magazine photographer, Peter Magubane. She was sentenced to twelve months at Kroonstad’s women’s prison, but was released after six months. By July 1976 Winnie was back in jail. She had thrown herself fully behind the youth following the eruption of the Soweto Uprising. She helped establish the Black Parents Association, to unite parents, organize legal representation for the detained, and support for families of those killed by the police. Her house became a refuge, a political gathering place, and also a conduit for sending recruits to MK.
Released in December 1976, she was served with another 5-year banning order the following January. Fearful of the potency of her influence on the youth, the regime this time elected to remove her from Soweto altogether banishing her into internal exile in what she described as the “living grave” of her “little Siberia” – Brandfort in today’s Free State. This dusty town in the middle of nowhere 350 km to the south west of Johannesburg was to be her prison of the next eight years.
Banishment to Brandfort
But Winnie was not going to bow her head in the face of this latest act of repression.” When they send me into exile, it’s not me as an individual they are sending. They think that with me they can also ban the political ideas. But that is a historic impossibility… I am of no importance to them as an individual. What I stand for is what they want to banish” she said.
She set about immediately working on winning over a community who had been subjected to a six months long campaign of intimidation to dissuade them from interacting with this “terrorist” and “communist”. Although required to report to the police station twice daily, she found the time to successfully put pressure on a local white-owned clothing store to allow blacks to try on clothing using the same change rooms as whites. She had demanded to know how black people money was different from that of whites.
“We were in the dark about what we needed to do to fight for liberation” says Selialimo Makhwe, who was 17-year old at the time and now chairperson of the Brandfort ANC Womens League. “After she arrived people became rebellious.” (Sunday Times- 08/04/18)
With the aid of Albertina Sisulu, Lillian Ngoyi and Sally Motlana, she raised resources to establish a local gardening collective, a soup kitchen, a mobile health unit, a day care centre, a vehicle and an organisation for orphans and juvenile delinquents as well as a sewing club. The crèche and clinic were run from her backyard.
The increased human traffic provided Winnie with the cover to deceive the police who watched
the house from a nearby hill. Using a local woman as a double to maintain the pretence she was in the house, Winnie was able to drive to and from Soweto overnight where she could meet her comrades and continue her political activities.
These political activities, which entailed maintaining contact with the exiled ANC leadership in Lusaka, Zambia, recruiting thousands of recruits to join the ANC’s military wing, was to elevate her to the position of the ANC’s most senior underground MK leader in the country.
Return to Soweto
Removed from Soweto to prevent her from fanning the flames of the youth uprising, Winnie was allowed to return in 1986 — in the middle of the countrywide state of emergency the regime had declared. However, despite intensified repression, including occupations of the townships by the army, mass arrests, torture and killings, the limitations of the regime’s power was becoming increasingly evident.
Whilst Winnie was in Brandfort, the United Democratic Front had been launched. The UDF spearheaded the campaign to boycott the elections for the Tricameral Parliament – a toy telephone parliament which provided for special chambers for Coloureds and Indians alongside the white one to break their solidarity with blacks. 77% of Coloureds and 80% of Indians stayed away from the polls dealing the regime a severe blow. Even more ominously for the regime, Cosatu had been launched in December 1985 with over 500 000 members in the middle of the partial state of emergency. The regime conceded to Cosatu’s demand for the scrapping of the pass laws and to declare May Day an official holiday.
Secret talks and armed struggle
In 1986, the ANC’s January 8 instatement declared it “The Year of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the People’s Army”. It called for the destruction of local councils, and looks forward to ‘the gathering collapse of the apartheid economy’. The government, it said, had lost the strategic initiative and its attempts at reform were collapsing. The slogan for the year, coined by Thabo Mbeki, is ‘Every patriot a combatant, every combatant a patriot’.
Winnie became even more central to MK’s operations in this period. She coordinated weapons importation and distribution. She was part of the planning of internal MK activities the identification of strategic infrastructure installations for sabotage like Sasol. The ANC also launched Operation Vula an underground operation aimed at facilitating the infiltration of MK guerrillas into South Africa and maintaining open communication links between the ANC leaders in exile, at home and in prison. Amongst some of its operatives are Mac Maharaj, Ronnie Kasrils, Pravin Gordhan, Siphiwe Nyanda and Billy Nair.
Yet the ANC had neither the political strategy, programme nor military means to contemplate the overthrow of the regime. However heroic and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice the MK cadres were, as they were to discover when the leadership unilaterally suspended the armed struggle, the strategic role of the armed struggle was as armed propaganda – to bring the regime to the negotiating table. It is precisely at this time that the apartheid regime’s intelligence services, the government and big business took the first steps in secret talks with a willing ANC leadership, in prison and exile that would ultimately lead to the negotiated settlement at Codesa, the formal end of apartheid and one-person-one-vote.
The tactic of the regime was to combine the granting of political concessions as slowly as possible diluted as much as possible whilst stepping up the repression. “Black-on-black” violence, the dirty tricks, “Black-Ops” operation to vilify, slander and completely discredit Winnie, and the assassination of Chris Hani with whom she had developed a close collaborative relationship, formed different elements of the regime’s strategy to neuter the ANC and to secure a negotiated settlement on as favorable terms as possible.
Albeit posthumously, it is fitting that evidence is now emerging that exonerates her from responsibility for Stompie Sepei’s death Winnie’s criminal record must be expunged posthumously.
The attainment of the right to vote for the black oppressed was an historic victory. It liberated the black majority from chains of national oppression and ended one of the most hated systems of racial discrimination on the planet.
Although Winnie was ostracized by her own party, demonized by the bourgeois in SA and internationally, was excluded from the warmth of the immediate after-glow of the democratic victory, it was the masses far less than the leadership that made that victory possible.
Long before the ANC was officially unbanned, Winnie was its personification under apartheid. It was banned everywhere except wherever she appeared in ANC colours at the head of rallies, marches and funerals of activists. For her role as a figure of hope determination and defiance, she has earned her place in their hearts.
Winnie’s critique of Codesa agreement
But there are two sides to the reality of the Codesa negotiated settlement. It was at one and the same time a triumph of the black majority in the quest for democratic rights to be full citizens in their country, as well as well as the successful preservation of the economic dictatorship of the capitalist class. Capitalism had been placed under new management, through the engineering of a transition from white minority rule to majority rule.
Nelson Mandela’s role in the 1950 Defiance Campaign as volunteer-in chief, his declaration during the treason trial that he was prepared, “if need be” to die for freedom, his nearly three decades in prison, his leading role in the establishment of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, his defiant rejection of an offer of release conditional on accepting in effect the citizenship of a bantustan – all of these, earned him his place in history.
However, this is overshadowed by the central political role he played in the imposition of the neo-liberal capitalist post-apartheid order. Far more than the allegations of personal infidelity, it was the differences over the approach to the negotiations that sowed the seeds of their separation and divorce. It was Mandela’s political infidelity to the Freedom Charter rather than her personal infidelity that explains the end of their marriage. So determined was the ANC leadership to clear the path to power to take their turn to eat that they issued Mandela with an ultimatum: Winnie or the presidency.
Yet it was Winnie who had seen through the regime’s scheme of manipulating Mandela. After his hospitalization in 1989, they separated him from his fellow prisoners at Pollsmoor moving him to a fully-furnished house at Victor Verster prison offering an excited Mandela the privilege of his family moving in with him. Winnie, understanding immediately that the idea was to soften up Mandela ahead of the negotiations, rejected the opportunity to become “glorified prisoners”. In his last discussion with Mandela before his release, head of the Bureau for State Security (BOSS), Neil Barnard warned Mandela that Winnie was a problem. In his first speech he should not make any reference to the armed struggle, apartheid, or anything from the past. He should simply issue a call to forge the past and to move on.
Under Winnie’s watchful eye at his first speech after she accompanied him from prison, Mandela stated that the conditions under which the armed struggle had commenced had not yet changed, shocking the establishment. Winnie was able to accompany Mandela on his first visit to the US, only after pressure for the US civil rights movement. Stratcom had ensured she was placed on the US terror watch list. In an interview on the Phil Donahue show she stated it was true that she was much angrier than Mandela and trusted the apartheid regime far less. She made it clear that she was watching the negotiations very closely. Should they go wrong she would be the first to pick up her gun to back to the bush and fight.
Winnie was to refer scornfully to the negotiated settlement that ensured the continuation of the very servitude Mandela had, in 1956, condemned colonialism and apartheid for plunging the people into for centuries, as “an agreement between the elite of the oppressors and the elite of the oppressed to get into bed together.” She went even further and described Mandela as a sell-out and the TRC as a farce acting on behalf of Stratcom.
Winnie’s criticism of the direction the ANC had taken was not limited to the negotiated settlement. She sided publicly with the Treatment Action Campaign demanding anti-retrovirals, marching with them during the 2000 World Aids conference wearing a TAC t-shirt. She exposed the arms deal corruption and was the author of the so-called “De Lille Dossier” – the information then PAC leader Patricia De Lille handed in parliament becoming the first MP to be suspended from parliament.
Her proximity to the EFF’s Julius Malema, whom she defended at his disciplinary hearing, lends credence to the belief that she played a role in its formation. Her public efforts to encourage a reconciliation between the ANC and the EFF is consistent with the efforts she made to prevent a stand-off between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma at the Polokwane conference in 2007 which she feared, rightfully would precipitate a split.
Alarmed by the crisis in the ANC which she said only those who are fooling themselves would deny, she stood by those who were persecuted. “For African Democratic Change leader and former ANC MP Makhosi Khoza, the loss of Madikizela-Mandela was a very personal blow.“When I was facing persecution, she was phoning me on a daily basis,” she told Timeslive. “She actually gave me the strength to go on.” (DM 03/04/2018).
Only socialism can resolve impasse
Dedicated as Winnie was to the plight of the poor, however often she visited informal settlements, however warmly she was welcomed there, and however much she suffered for the post-apartheid dispensation, and continued to suffer under it, she was a radical left nationalist rather than a socialist. Her criticisms of the betrayals of the ANC were accordingly subjective. She could see no further therefore than to fight for unity in the ANC and to be a voice of moral rectitude. Heroic as her radicalism was, its weakness was precisely that it was nationalist. Although she discerned that the main opponent in the negotiations was in fact Capital, she had no answers to overcome the problem.
In common with the rest of the leadership, from the radical to the moderate wing, the ultimate objective was not to overthrow the regime, but to negotiate a settlement with it. She returned to Soweto at a time when the struggle against apartheid was on the cusp of reaching insurrectionary levels. Having no developed understanding of socialism, she located herself amongst the youth. She did not understand the centrality of the role of the working class. Despite the SACP”s “the working class is the motive force of the revolution” rhetoric, they did not point her in the direction of Cosatu at its most powerful organizationally and radical ideologically.
Whilst the working class had drawn the conclusion that apartheid and capitalism were “two sides of the same bloody coin”, that “only socialism means freedom”, the SACP captured Cosatu ideologically, secured the surrender of its class independence and therefore political independence, and subordinated it to the capitalist aspirations of the ANC leadership to fight the National Democratic revolution, that is a democratic non-racial non-sexist capitalism, that would clear the way for the development of a black capitalist class. In the final analysis, unfortunately, that was the logic of Winnie’s position.
Her sympathies for the EFF’s radical rhetoric, understandable as it was, were mistaken. She may have believed that the corruption allegations against Malema were part of the same kind of plot as against her, but this is not true. The EFF may justifiably claim they were her “children”, but operated, at best with the same illusions as Winnie had in the possibility of a capitalism that could meet the needs of the people. Malema is corrupt and is shamelessly appropriating Winnie’s legacy as a negotiating tool, possibly to secure a way back to the ANC with the aim of not only ensuring himself a cabinet position but also amnesty.
However true it was that the selflessness of the struggle days amongst the best of them had given way to greed, corruption and obsession with self-enrichment, the ANC’s betrayals are rooted in its class character. Herself from the middle class, whose aspirations the ANC was created to fulfill, she was unable to point a way out of the impasse of capitalist society for the working class and the poor.
Even at its most radical, after the ANC had adopted the Freedom Charter, it remained committed to capitalism as Mandela made clear unambiguously in an article in New Age in 1956. By the time the ANC was unbanned, neo-liberalism was the dominant form of capitalism worldwide. The undertakings the ANC had given in the secret talks throughout the 80s, were translated into ANC government policy at Codesa and adopted before the elections to be implemented after its accession to power. It abandoned the Freedom Charter but moved very rapidly, after a brief flirtation with the Reconstruction and Development Programme to the adoption of the brutal neo-liberal capitalist policy Gear.
After nearly a quarter of a century of democracy, the results for the working class and the poor have been catastrophic. SA is the most unequal society on the planet; 30 million live in extreme poverty, 15m go to bed hungry every night and unemployment stands at 40%.
All the major parties, the ANC, DA and EFF, have embraced Winnie and sought to bask in her reflected glory. But, as parties committed to capitalism, they cannot provide a solution to the fundamental problems facing society.
The masses saw in the defeat of apartheid the opportunity not just to end national oppression but to achieve their social emancipation. The bosses saw in the end of apartheid the means to consolidate capitalism and the class subjugation of the working class. The irreconcilable contradictions between the two main classes in society have created an impasse in society. The only way forward is through the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society. The task therefore is the creation of a mass workers party on a socialist programme.
Winnie approached the struggle liberation of the masses, even within the limitations of the ANC’s programme, with fearlessness, passion and dedication to the end. Not the least of her contributions was to set a living example of the role of woman in the struggle capable of more than matching that of any man.
As socialists we must draw on that example of the commitment required to overthrow capitalism and bring about the socialist transformation of society.