January, 2020

now browsing by month


Service delivery struggles unite and coordinate

Written by Trevor Shaku and featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

On 14 January 2020, nine members of Ikgomotseng community appeared before Brandfort magistrate court on charges of public violence related to  a September 2019 service delivery protest. Due to the backlog in social services, unemployment and grinding poverty, the community of Ikgomotseng, just outside of Bloemfontein, embarked on a protest to demand jobs and service delivery.

From a chaotic runaround with police, WASP cadres re-orientated the protest and rallied the entire community behind the struggle, based on a clear fighting strategy.

Just as revolutions are not chaotic riots but disciplined and organised struggles to wrestle power from the ruling elite, Marxists use interventions in day-to-day mass struggles to instill revolutionary organisation and discipline. This creates new traditions for working class actions, and also acts as education and preparation for the ultimate struggle for socialism. Revolutionary programme and discipline are vital to make our struggles sustainable.

The community submitted a 14-point memorandum with demands such as: the allocation of residential sites, state (RDP) housing for the existing shack dwellers, completion and opening of community hall and library, fencing of the landfill and sewage, eradication of the bucket system and unemployment.

These demands are similar to those of thousands of community protests that have engulfed the political landscape for years.

The backlog in service delivery is not only created by rife corruption, but by the structure of the political economy itself. Public funds serve to make the system just about work for the capitalist ruling class but do not match the needs of the vast majority. Raising funds through tax collection has severe limits in an economic system built on exploitation of workers, with mass unemployment and poverty wages as key pillars – especially in the era of neoliberalism where governments have bowed to big business by cutting corporate taxes. Municipalities are largely funded by electricity and water tariffs, fundamentally a tax on the poor. Many state-owned enterprises are bankrupt and rely on state bail-outs.

This leaves the state with little in its coffers to deliver basic services like those required in Ikgomotseng. Its interest in doing so only awakes when it fears that the pillars of the system may be shaken. But the resources are there – in the pockets of the super-rich.

The 6 303 people in Ikgomotseng make up 0.8% of Mangaung’s 787 930 population, out of whom 3 415 are neither ”economically active”, nor in any form of education. This includes pensioners but many are youth, ‘Not in any form of Education, Employment and Training’ (NEET). Less than 10% of those who matriculate in Ikgomotseng make it to higher education.

The high number of NEET youth in the community is not surprising – Ikgomotseng is a microcosm of the nation which has 10 million ”NEETs”.

The ANC government has no solutions for the crisis that has resulted in the high unemployment rate, widening levels of inequality and grinding poverty for the majority. Not because it has leaders who cannot think, but because of the structural makeup of capitalism – a system they have fought to preserve since coming into power in 1994.

Since government cannot voluntarily solve this backlog on service delivery – if anything, they have been privatising provision of these essential services to corporates – what will?

When we organise and fight, communities can force through change, but to go beyond rage to concrete gains, coordination is needed. There were on average four protests a week in 2018. Communities are up in arms fighting for service delivery, but their struggles are isolated from one another and from the crucial force of organised workers. This has weakened their ability to make concrete gains despite the high levels of fierceness and determination.

WASP calls on the Ikgomotseng community to ally with other communities within Mangaung Metro, appealing for trade union solidarity in action, in order to launch a coordinated and powerful movement to fight for service delivery and jobs.

Can Eskom leaving SA in the dark be the spark for rebellion?

Written by Mametlwe Sebei and Newton Masukuu

Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

Eskom’s load-shedding has once again plunged us into darkness, marking the beginning of a ‘black Christmas’ season for South Africa. This time the ‘black Christmas’ nightmare will not be limited to the most ‘unfortunate’ – the entire working class and many middle-class people are affected.

Implementing Stage 6 load-shedding in order to cut a record level 6 000 megawatts from the grid has pushed the country over the cliff. Major mining corporations, including Sibanye, Impala and Harmony, as well as big manufacturers, and other high energy users have announced interruptions in operations. This is costing the economy billions and can push it into another devastating recession.

Eskom is only a fraction of the deepening and prolonged agony of South African capitalism plagued by a vicious cycle of multiple ecological, economic, social and political crises.

Corporate ruling class cheers aside, business confidence in South Africa is lower than during the “lost nine years” of Zuma and capital formation has plummeted from 9% annual growth to 0,6%, meaning capitalists are not investing in new equipment, machinery and businesses. The claims of sabotage behind load-shedding serve only to deflect attention from the growing disillusionment with his ‘crusade’ against the ‘state-capture’ blamed for all the grave ills of the economy and the country. The extreme volatility in SA economy since the Great Recession of 2008/9 has been due to a stagnation and instability in the world economy, especially due to weak recovery in advanced economies and the slowing down of China. If Zuma’s regime was a period of dangerously low growth, Ramaphosa’s is characterised by downturns. These economic crises have aggravated a social crisis.

Unemployment is at its highest since the 2008/2009 recession, with over 10.2 million people unemployed, which includes everyone who could be working. Poverty levels plunged to record lows. A total of 56% (30.4 million) South Africans are living on less than R41 a day, according to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group. Hunger, homelessness, physical and mental illness are skyrocketing. Gender-based violence (GBV), child abuse, crime, drug and alcohol abuse are on the rise too. The quality of life of the working class is violently plumme-ting to new depths every day.

Devastating floods in the Tshwane area in December resulted in deaths, loss of property, and swept away shacks from the informal ‘Marikana’ settlements in Mamelodi. This, along with floods earlier this year in areas like KZN, highlight the increasingly cata-strophic impacts of climate change. At the same time five-year droughts have plagued the Western Cape, Limpopo, and Eastern Cape. In the Eastern Cape, five out of seven districts were declared ‘disaster areas’ in the 2015/16 season. Now, in the worst affected areas of Nelson Mandela Metro, Sarah Baartman, Amatole and Chris Hani Districts, loss of livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) totaled 310 000. Weather authorities project drought conditions to continue into 2020, threatening almost 4 million animals.

R30 million per day is required to aid the worst impacted 1440 commercial, 8700 small-scale, and 55 000 subsistence farmers. To provide animal feed for the province, R1,8 billion is required, and tens of billions for the entire country. At the same time, it is reported that R220 million is ‘missing’ from the State’s emergency relief fund. In the meantime, chronic water shortages and dramatic loss of livestock continue across the country, in spite of heavy rains and floods.

Lack of relief funds for the farmers, working class people and the poor is in-deed a major problem in a context of an estimated R1 trillion lost to corruption and state-capture in the past decade. However, it is secondary to public debt.

The national debt equals R3 trillion and is expected to grow to R4,5 trillion in the next four years. In February, Mboweni reported the projected debt-to-GDP ratio (how much we owe compared to how much we produce and earn) of 60.8% for this financial year. This means what is borrowed makes up two-thirds of what is produced. This is likely to increase faster than expected with the looming recession in the global and South African economies.

High unemployment rates have eroded the tax base that grew by only 3.7 % this year. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the state to raise enough money to meet its expenses. As the state fails to collect enough revenue, the cost to service SA’s growing debt has reached R204 billion a year. During his medium-term budget statement, Mboweni warned that if nothing changes, “by the end of the three-year framework, debt service costs will be bigger than spending on health and economic development.”

Government itself is bankrupt and incapable of bailing out farmers and millions of starving people. The bankruptcy of many departments, municipalities, and SOEs responsible for providing essential public services meant to relieve the people in worsening crises, will do the opposite – aggravate an already dire situation.

Capitalism has no way out of these crises except through brutal austerity. This will mean mass retrenchments, growing levels of poverty and with it, xenophobia, GBV and ecological disaster of unimaginable proportions. Eskom’s rolling blackouts could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, where we say enough is enough.

The working class must fight back and wrestle power from the elite. Struggles to save SOEs, to defend jobs and public services against corrupt politicians and their decaying capitalist system are vital.

The worldwide radicalisation of women and youth, fighting for their lives and for a future, mark a turning point in the development of the forces digging the grave of capitalism, forces that will revive the working class movement for socialism.

We have to organise and rebuild a united workers, youth, and civic movement against privatisation, unemployment, poverty, climate change, and GBV. Together we must demand free quality public services, including free education, health care, and decent housing for all. To ensure that production in SA is based on the needs of the vast majority of the country without further environmental destruction, and not the profits of the capitalists, we must nationalise the SOEs, mines, the banks, and large-scale agriculture to be democratically controlled by us, the working class. To move outside of struggles in isolated silos, we need to build a mass workers party that will campaign and unite the working class on a programme for a socialist alternative and do away with the decaying capitalist system, its crises and growing barbarism

SAFTU: Confront GBV in the federation and workplaces! Fight for working class unity!

On 23 January, General Secretary of SAFTU, Zwelinzima Vavi, released a statement outlining that the National Spokesperson for the federation, Ntozakhe Douglas Mthukwane, had had his employment withdrawn after a series of background checks revealed that Mthukwane is currently on trial for three rape charges and was convicted in 1995 of attempted rape. 

We applaud SAFTU for acting swiftly in suspending and ultimately dismissing Mthukwane upon learning of this information. There are however serious problems regarding the commencement of his employment and the discovery of this information and subsequent actions taken.

As the Workers and Socialist Party we are outraged that a man charged of several cases of sexual assault, even convicted, has worked for SAFTU – a trade union federation where all workers, irrespective of gender, should feel welcome and safe. SAFTU as a fighting union federation building to overcome the very issues that divide the working class, and striving towards a society free from sexism, racism, and exploitation at work places, could have completely prevented the storm it finds itself in now.

That Mthukwane worked at the head office of SAFTU, as the voice of the federation, is particularly disturbing. The question as to how an alleged serial offender, in the wake of growing movements against Gender Based Violence (GBV), could be appointed by the leadership of a federation that claims to seriously fight against GBV should be closely examined. 

Unfortunately the statement released by SAFTU does not shed any light on how Mthukwane came to be employed when his unacceptable history is easily revealed by a google search. In the statement SAFTU also fails to indicate what further actions will be taken to prevent such lapses in judgment taking place in the future. 

The recorded number of women assaulted, raped and murdered in South Africa in 2017/2018 increased by 11% from the previous year to 36 731 cases. In 2016 the World Health Organisation reported that South Africa had the fourth highest female interpersonal violence death rate out of 183 countries listed. The appointment of Mthukwane in October 2019 came in the wake of the national outrage against these very statistics, triggered by the gruesome rape and murder of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana in September last year. Even in June 2019 we were inspired by the  brave strike action of the Lanxess mine workers against sexual harassment. It must be stated in no uncertain terms that the fact that Mthukwane flew under the radar of SAFTU regarding his past, in the context of mass awareness campaigns and uprisings worldwide, is a grave injustice to all victims of GBV and those of us fighting against it. 

The consequences for Mthukwane’s actions should not only end with his dismissal, he should also be brought to justice before he is able to victimise anyone else. We must however question why someone like Mthukwane is afforded bail for such serious charges as 3 separate rape allegations, after a conviction. The oldest pending case is from 2016, which is an absolute indictment on the bourgeois legal system’s inability to deal decisively with cases of sexual assault, allowing individuals with serious convictions free reign no matter the danger they pose to society. Between 2016 and today, Mthukwane has been confronted with two more charges of sexual assault. 

And the danger someone like Mthukwane poses to SAFTU is also important. If SAFTU is serious about becoming the fighting weapon for all workers and their communities in South Africa, including the growing number of precariously employed women, it must ensure that every single member and potential member feels safe from harm in the federation. The only way for SAFTU to overcome this storm is to face it head on and learn from it, which must necessarily include confronting the culture of patriarchy that permits GBV and sexual harassment that is unfortunately still a problem in the federation and her affiliates.

WASP calls on SAFTU to launch a thorough investigation into the mistaken appointment of Mthukwane. It is crucial that this investigation is conducted by committed, active members of the federation, with women at the helm. In order to prevent re-victimisation of the survivors of Mthukwane’s actions, SAFTU must take an all-encompassing, principled gender-sensitive and political approach to the matter. In addition to this we call on SAFTU to work out an internal programme to make visible and combat the full spectrum of gender oppression – from GBV, rape, sexual harassment, derogatory language, ridiculing, belittling, silencing etc – in the work place. This will assist the federation in advancing gender consciousness, which is clearly lacking in fatal ways. This programme must ensure that concrete processes are set in place to aid the membership in reporting violations against them within the federation, and that these processes are sensitive and supportive of the victims.  

Our main enemy is the capitalist class, who super-exploit women workers through low wages and insecure employment, as well as undermining the standing of women in society in other ways – through objectification and commodification of women’s bodies, unequal pay, lack of social services etc. 

In order to usher in a socialist world free from oppression, SAFTU must unapologetically be a federation that consciously fights for the liberation of society from the ills of all violence, including GBV – an integral part of class society and of the divide-and-rule through which the capitalists manage to keep the working class in fear, confusion and submission.

Build for a general strike against the bosses’ resistance

By Mametlwe Sebei

The outcomes of the strikes and collective bargaining of 2019 signify a shift in the capitalists´ industrial policy, from political pacification to hardened resistance and the outlines of an impending generalised offensive. This is underlined by stalemates such as the recent SAA and Spar strikes, following the Transpharm strike and defeats such as at Sibanye Gold and in the plastic industry. In Sibanye Gold, the employer dug its heels in for five months against AMCU´s demands. In the plastic industry, NUMSA lost the year-long strike which started in October 2018. In some workplaces, workers remain locked out unless they accept the slashing of minimum wages by 50% from R40 an hour to R20, adding five hours to a 40-hour working week and reducing leave days, amongst other ruthless terms of the ultra-reactionary Plastic Convertors Association of South Africa. NUPSAW also suffered a crushing defeat in Dischem where the employers dismissed all but two workers after the strike over wages.

All these still pale in comparison to what lies ahead in many sectors if the brutal austerity and counter-reform programmes of the capitalist class are not checked in time; with massive retrenchments in the mining, steel and banking industries, the “restructuring” of Eskom.

Behind the defeats of the workers is as much the determination of the bosses to resist as the failure of the trade union leaders to appreciate the qualitative changes in the political and class relations. On the industrial plane, the bosses have been hardening the resistance to workers demands and in instances, such as the plastic sector and Dischem, shifted to a full offensive. The use of the harsh anti-trade union labour law amendments in these strikes reveals the brutal class interests of the ANC regime. The purpose is to emasculate the trade union movement and disarm workers in preparation of the war the capitalists want to unleash on the working class. 

Behind the cruel aims of the capitalist class and the Ramaphosa regime is the deepening crisis of capitalism. Notwithstanding Cosatu support and his former trade union credentials, the millionaire Ramaphosa’s regime is a one of class war. The capitalists have been clamouring to restore falling profitability and open new outlets for investments. Relentless propaganda against trade unions, workers´ rights, state-owned entities and public spending serves to demoralise organised labour and reconcile public opinion to neo-liberal counter-reforms on worker rights, and to facilitate massive retrenchments and wage cuts, privatisations of SOEs and public services.

Already the impact of this propaganda is evident in the treacherous capitulation of the Cosatu leadership on, and growing public support for, the privatisation of South African Airways. Once SAA goes, Eskom, PRASA, and many others will follow. The trade union movement needs to counter this propaganda, developing a clear transitional programme to transform SOEs to become socially useful to the vast majority, instead of plundered by the parasitic corporations and political elite.

Most importantly, the trade union movement needs to develop a strategy to smash the capitalist resistance on the industrial plane. Well-organised, rolling mass actions organised on industrial and/or citywide basis along the lines of #OMF will be a great start. Such mass action should form part of a nationwide mobilisation for a general strike, involving not only workers but linked to the growing working class and youth revolt in community shutdowns, the movements against gender-based violence, xenophobia and climate change amongst others. 

SAFTU has a leading role to play. It must appeal to Cosatu, Nactu, Fedusa and AMCU for united action – to the rank-and-file, not only to the leadership. Massive leafleting and campaigning in industrial areas, cities and rural areas will have a tremendous impact in the current situation.

The Working Class Summit must be reconvened to prepare for this. With mass uprisings across the world, a plan for a three-day general strike and mass occupations of main cities is realistic if based on a unifying programme of demands, action plan and aggressive campaigning and mobilisation.

Such an action will enormously boost the political confidence of the working class and its organisations and sharply pose the question of the mass workers party which the SAFTU CC recommitted to launching.

The bosses are testing the waters for a full-scale clash with the working class, with the ruling party and all other parties in parliament on their side. Our answer must be to prepare for a serious struggle to end their rule and build a socialist South Africa, taking up and uniting all the struggles that have no solutions within this system.