Spartacist South Africa No. 15
Ramaphosa vs. Zuma:
ANC Factions of Marikana Massacre
“State Capture” Farce—No Side for Working Class
For a Black-Centred Workers Republic!
The African National Congress’s (ANC) 54th national conference, held in December, was one of the most bitterly divided in its 106-year history. And while the official party rhetoric since the conference has shifted to emphasising “unity”, the results of the conference show clearly that the ruling party remains evenly split between the two main factions. On the one hand, the faction behind Cyril Ramaphosa won the prize of getting him elected to succeed Jacob Zuma as president of the ANC. At the same time, the main rival faction—supporters of Zuma, who remains president of South Africa—is well-represented in the ANC’s leading bodies.
The (mainly white) big bourgeoisie and its media mouthpieces were, for the most part, firmly in Ramaphosa’s corner. They breathed a sigh of relief over his victory, with the Rand gaining significantly against the US Dollar. This relief, however, has been tempered by concern that Ramaphosa could be constrained, by a divided ANC leadership, in acting swiftly on the capitalists’ most pressing issues. In particular, the latter are hoping that Ramaphosa can broker a deal to quickly remove Zuma and his close allies from their positions in the government. There are worries that Zuma and Co. could increasingly resort to populist manoeuvring in order to hold on to power.
A case in point was Zuma’s surprise announcement of free higher education for families earning up to R350 000 per annum, made at the start of the ANC conference in an unsuccessful attempt to garner support for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, his preferred candidate to succeed him as ANC president. This policy pronouncement was met with consternation by the capitalists, who are keenly looking to Ramaphosa to cut government spending and for whom it makes very little financial sense to invest in the education of the black masses. While clearly done by Zuma for his own hypocritical purposes, this is a significant concession to the working class and poor which comes after years of on-and-off mass protests against fees.
Under capitalism, such gains are always reversible, and the bourgeoisie and its governments always try to take with the right hand what they “give” with the left. Already there is talk that the money needed to fund free education should be siphoned from the pockets of other poor people, e.g. by cutting social grants or raising Value Added Tax. Meanwhile, the government and university administrations have thrown up hurdles to try to limit the number of students taking advantage of this announcement. To truly address the burning issues like the dreadful state of education for the poor means going up against the limits of what the irrational capitalist system is capable of providing. As we pointed out in SSA No. 14 (January 2017) in addressing the Fees Must Fall protests, to provide quality education for all, from pre-school to doctorate level,
“means not only opening the gates of the elite universities to all, but also using the wealth that is now hoarded by the bourgeoisie to vastly expand the educational infrastructure and programmes for the masses. A black-centred workers government that expropriates the bourgeoisie would use these resources for building modern schools, labs and libraries in the townships and rural areas; providing adult education courses in literacy and science, with instruction offered in all the local languages; and other measures aimed at giving the black, coloured and Indian toilers real access to the scientific and other advances that are now the preserve of a wealthy, mainly white, minority.”
Notwithstanding their bitter quarrels with one another, all factions of the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance are committed to maintaining the system of capitalist exploitation. This was amply demonstrated by the massacre of 34 striking black mineworkers in Marikana five years ago, the blood of which stains the hands of the leaders of both the Ramaphosa and the Zuma factions. At the moment, both factions are pushing for amendments to the Labour Relations Act that would severely restrict the right to strike and impose government arbitration—a blatant attack on the power of the trade unions which must be fought with hard class struggle.
Reflecting the seething anger that many mineworkers in the platinum belt still feel towards the ANC and Ramaphosa, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) responded to Ramaphosa’s election in a 19 December press statement with denunciations of his so-called “New Deal”. Correctly warning that this economic programme is aimed at attacking the right to strike and implementing brutal austerity, the AMCU statement noted: “The reaction of the markets demonstrates how big capital, domestic and foreign, perceive the new leader of the ANC as the gatekeeper to their interests.” At the same time, the AMCU statement promotes dangerous illusions in the bourgeois ANC, including by urging the new leadership to “discard their pro-market, pro-big business programme that has left a trail of social and economic destruction”.
For the working class, it is suicidal to entertain illusions in, or give the slightest political support to, any of the ANC factions. As the wave of wildcat strikes following the Marikana massacre powerfully demonstrated, the working class does not lack for militancy and bravery. This country’s industrial proletariat—centred on the mines, large manufacturing and transport—has the social power and historic interest to bring the racist capitalist exploiters to their knees and begin the reconstruction of society on an egalitarian, socialist basis, under a black-centred workers government. This alone shows the way to achieving the genuine liberation so yearned for by the masses that fought to end apartheid.
This perspective is based on the theory of permanent revolution developed and generalised by Leon Trotsky, co-leader along with V.I. Lenin of the Russian Revolution. Recognising that in the countries of belated capitalist development the national bourgeoisie is too weak and dependant on imperialism to complete the historic tasks of social and economic modernisation, Trotsky posited that in these countries, “the complete and genuine solution to their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation” (The Permanent Revolution, 1929). This places the tasks of socialist construction on the agenda, which ultimately require international extension of the revolution to succeed. Trotsky’s permanent revolution was powerfully confirmed by the 1917 October Revolution.
For the proletariat to lead such a struggle, standing at the head of the non-white toilers and all the oppressed, it must be guided by its own class interests and the strictest political independence from all bourgeois parties—whether the ANC or the bourgeois parties of the opposition. In contrast, for more than two decades the Tripartite Alliance of the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the trade union federation COSATU has treacherously subordinated the mainly black working class to the racist capitalist exploiters. The SACP and COSATU tops were four square behind Zuma when he became ANC president in 2007, and loyally backed him as his government gunned down the workers in Marikana. Currently, they have shifted their support to Ramaphosa. In the days leading up to the Marikana massacre, Ramaphosa acted as a board member of Lonmin to demand that the ANC government take “concomitant action” against the striking mineworkers.
The Tripartite Alliance is a nationalist popular front—a class-collaborationist alliance between the capitalist ANC and workers organisations that serves to enforce bourgeois rule. The ideological glue binding this treacherous alliance is the myth of the “national democratic revolution” (NDR), which asserts the need for a capitalist “stage” during which leadership of the national liberation struggle falls to the bourgeois-nationalist ANC. In reality, the “NDR” has meant writing off the struggle for socialism. It has also served as a justification for the reformist misleaders of the SACP and COSATU to administer neo-apartheid capitalism, which entails the brutal suppression of the workers and popular protests. The Marikana massacre demonstrates what we Trotskyists have always said about “two-stage revolution”, and what has been shown by a long list of Stalinist betrayals stretching back to the beheading of the 1925-27 Chinese Revolution: in the first stage the “progressive” bourgeoisie comes to power; in the second stage workers are massacred.
Neo-Apartheid and the “State Capture” Sham
It is a damning indictment of the current misleaders of the working class and their left coat-tails that, just five short years after Marikana, political life in South Africa is dominated not by the impact of that watershed event but by the farce that is the “state capture debate”. This “debate” is in reality the ideological cover for a struggle over money and influence between competing (though vastly unequal) capitalist factions. On the one hand, the big bourgeoisie—the Randlords, etc.—complains that control over the state has been usurped, under Zuma’s presidency, by the corrupt and nefarious capitalist upstarts of the Gupta family, to whom South Africa is allegedly being “sold”. In response, Zuma, the Guptas and the would-be black capitalist exploiters in their camp call out the hypocrisy of the Randlords and their mouthpieces in order to cynically present their own looting as a valiant struggle on behalf of the oppressed black majority.
Enough of this nonsense! What both sides in this bogus “debate” seek to obscure is the true nature of the neo-apartheid capitalist system, because both are 100 percent committed to its maintenance. Under neo-apartheid, the same white bourgeoisie that ruled under apartheid remains firmly in the saddle, now joined by a small handful of non-white capitalists who’ve “made it”, while the black masses continue to suffer brutal exploitation and grinding national oppression. Whether led by Ramaphosa, Zuma or their predecessors, the Tripartite Alliance rules loyally on behalf of the racist exploiters. It is this system of neo-apartheid that must be reckoned with by the proletariat, which has no interest supporting either side of the farcical conflict around “state capture”.
The hue and cry over so-called “state capture” has many aims, but at bottom seeks to channel popular discontent into defence of the capitalist state and the bourgeois constitution. Exploiting widespread anger at the venal corruption of Zuma and other ANC leaders, this propaganda serves to divert attention from the capitalist rulers they serve and thus is an attempt to shore up the neo-apartheid system and its founding mythology of the “rainbow nation” at a time when they are increasingly discredited. A good example is the report published in May 2017 by the State Capacity Research Project. Appealing for the defence of the state against “capture” by Zuma and Co., the authors plead:
“The nation needs to realise that the time has come to defend the founding promise of democracy and development by doing all that is necessary to stop the systemic and institutionalised process of betrayal that is now in its final stage of execution. It is not too late. The 1994 democratic promise remains an achievable goal.”
—Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is Being Stolen
So the “Beloved Country” is being “stolen”?! And this, several centuries after the white European colonisers began their dispossession of the native peoples and over a century after this dispossession was codified and legalised in the Natives Land Act! Not only are the black, coloured and Indian toilers who bear the brunt of poverty, massive unemployment, crumbling to non-existent health care and education, police violence, and countless other social ills in this wretched, oppressive society expected to believe that Zuma and the Guptas are the source of it all! No, they are also lectured by these sanctimonious bourgeois professors that “the time has come” to rally round the status quo, anointed in 1994, that Zuma and his cronies are allegedly “betraying”.
The “1994 democratic promise” was above all a promise to the rapacious, colonial- and apartheid-derived capitalist class that its rule would be maintained. The pass laws, influx control and other measures that made up apartheid’s rigid, legally-enforced system of racial segregation and white minority rule were done away with. But the underlying socio-economic structure of the society, based on the superexploitation of black labour and ensuring the privileges of the white minority, remained untouched.
Contrary to the pious, deceitful phrases about the state being a benevolent instrument for “democracy and development”, the state, as Lenin explained, “is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; it is the creation of ‘order’, which legalises and perpetuates this oppression” (State and Revolution, 1917). Zuma and Co. have not “betrayed” the system that was put in place in 1994, but have—like Zuma’s predecessors—faithfully administered the state on behalf of the Randlords.
Nothing demonstrated this truth clearer than the Marikana massacre of 16 August 2012, when the cops of the Tripartite Alliance government gunned down 34 black mineworkers in cold blood, injuring 78 others, in an attempt to crush a bitter strike against London-based platinum magnate Lonmin. In the aftermath of the massacre, as the strike wave spread to mines across the platinum belt and elsewhere, a virtual state of emergency was imposed and the army was called in as standby to assist the police. As Lenin pointed out, proletarian rights are always thrown to the wind by capitalist states when the workers begin to rebel against wage slavery:
“There is not a single state, however democratic, which has no loopholes or reservations in its constitution guaranteeing the bourgeoisie the possibility of dispatching troops against the workers, of proclaiming martial law, and so forth, in case of a ‘violation of public order’, and actually in case the exploited class ‘violates’ its position of slavery and tries to behave in a non-slavish manner.”
—The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918
While Marikana is the starkest example to date, it was no aberration but a concentrated expression of what it means for the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance to administer neo-apartheid capitalism. Since 1994, the Alliance government has regularly sent in the cops to brutalise striking workers and protesting township dwellers, round up and deport immigrants, evict landless people, etc.
We have consistently politically opposed all wings of the bourgeois ANC. At the time when Nelson Mandela took office and declared the blood-drenched country “free at last”, virtually the entire left here and internationally called for a vote to the ANC and was ecstatic over the “new” South Africa. In contrast, we told the bitter truth and counterposed a revolutionary programme for black liberation based on the application of permanent revolution to the specific social reality in South Africa. For example, in the 1995 article, “ANC Fronts for Racist Exploiters”, we explained:
“In South Africa the struggle of labor against capital is integrally bound up with the struggle of the oppressed black African people against white domination. The proletarian revolution is at once the supreme act of national liberation….
“We have sought to encapsulate the Trotskyist program for South Africa in the slogan of a ‘black-centered workers government’. Today, the social power and combativity of the black African proletariat is manifest for all to see. However, for the black working class to lead the struggle for national liberation it is necessary to break with the nationalist misleaders of the African National Congress, who now openly act as the junior partners of the Randlords.”
—“South Africa Powder Keg”, Part 1, reprinted in Black History and the Class Struggle No. 12, February 1995
Corruption and Bourgeois Hypocrisy
From the standpoint of the working class and oppressed, it is the betrayal of the non-white majority’s just struggle for national liberation, made possible through the heinous political crime of subordinating the proletariat to the capitalist exploiters through the Tripartite Alliance, that represents by far the biggest swindle perpetrated under the “new” South Africa. The apartheid butchers were granted amnesty for their horrific crimes through the bogus “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” (TRC), which gave the victims an insulting pittance (if anything) in place of justice and retribution. The TRC sham illustrated the bitter truth that the blood of the black masses would continue, under neo-apartheid, to be just as cheap as it was in the days of apartheid.
Today, it is the non-white masses who suffer the most from the effects of corruption, self-enrichment and simple criminal incompetence of government bureaucrats. A chilling example is the outrageous case of almost 150 severely ill mental health patients who died after some 1300 patients were removed from the Life Esidimeni mental institution and dumped in dysfunctional facilities run by NGOs. According to the Gauteng provincial authorities responsible for this, the aim was to save money: the contract with Life Esidimeni cost an estimated R320 per day for each patient, whereas the death traps run by the NGOs cost only R112. In other words, the value of the victims’ lives was about R200 per day according to the cold-blooded calculations of the “health” officials of the capitalist government! The majority of the victims were black Africans, with some coloured, Indian and white people among them. All of the victims were poor people whose only affordable option is the meagre, decrepit public health facilities that exist.
In stark contrast, “service delivery” to the capitalists has been superb (which hasn’t kept them from being “ungrateful” to the ANC). Not only were the Randlords allowed to hold on to their mountains of wealth amassed through land theft and decades of superexploitation. The black front men of successive ANC governments have also made it easier for the capitalists’ profits to be siphoned off and hoarded abroad. Assisted by offshore listings and relaxation of exchange controls, capital flight assumed unheard of proportions, going from around 5 percent of South Africa’s GDP in the 1990s to over 20 percent in the 2000s.
A glimpse into the corrupt dealings used by the bourgeoisie to hide its assets and dodge taxes is given by the recent “Paradise Papers” leak of millions of documents related to the clients of law firm Appleby. Next to global giants like Apple and Nike and royal parasites like Queen Elizabeth, Appleby’s client list includes a host of capitalists that have been hypocritically denouncing the corruption of the “Zuptas”.
Among them, the commodities magnate Glencore—one of the biggest companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange—had its own room in the Appleby headquarters in Bermuda. According to the propaganda over “state capture”, “poor little Glencore” (whose global revenue of some 150 billion US Dollars in 2016 amounted to more than half of South Africa’s entire GDP!) was shoved aside by the Guptas and their backers in the Zuma government and Eskom. Ironically, the Appleby leaks include details of Glencore’s take-over of copper mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo using basically the same methods that the Guptas are accused of, except with much larger sums spent on corrupting the bourgeois-nationalist regime of that civil war-torn country.
Corruption—hardly a new phenomenon in South Africa or in the advanced capitalist countries—is a lubricant of the capitalist machinery. In State and Revolution, Lenin cites Friedrich Engels’ observation, more than 100 years ago, that in a democratic republic, “wealth exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely” by means of the “direct corruption of officials” and by means of an “alliance of the government and the Stock Exchange”. The huge amount of hypocrisy over the Guptas’ corrupt dealings reflects the fact that they are upstarts, seen as barging in on the exclusive preserve of the Randlords and their (American and British) imperialist backers. In comparison, the recent exposure of massive fraud and corruption by retail giant Steinhoff, possibly the biggest in South African history, has barely caused a stir in the bourgeois media. The Steinhoff fraud has led to enormous losses, including to holders of government pensions, that dwarf the amounts attributed to “Zupta” corruption.
Race and Class
In South Africa, the development of capitalism under colonial rule and apartheid produced a near-complete overlap between race and class, and this remains fundamentally the case after twenty-odd years of neo-apartheid. Practically the entire industrial proletariat consists of black Africans, with a significant number of coloured proletarians in the Western Cape and some concentrations of Indian workers in parts of KwaZulu-Natal. The capitalist class remains dominated by the white minority. The small handful of non-white capitalists who managed to claw their way into the club on the back of earlier Black Economic Empowerment deals—the Motsepes and Ramaphosas—are very conscious that their own interests are intimately linked to those of the Randlords, and their positioning in the “state capture” conflict largely reflects this.
While the ANC rests on the votes of the oppressed black majority and employs nationalist demagogy for this purpose, it does so in order to serve the interests of the capitalist rulers, who are overwhelmingly white. Black nationalism—the false view that all black people share a common interest standing above class divisions—is utilised by all sections of the Tripartite Alliance to obscure this reality. That this nationalist false consciousness continues to predominate among the proletariat and oppressed black masses is explained by the overwhelming weight of national oppression felt by the black majority.
The nationalist and reformist misleaders have sought to leverage their positions in the capitalist government (and in the trade union bureaucracy) into business opportunities and other means of self-enrichment. Whatever the ideas of Zuma and his allies may be about using the levers of government to promote a new class of “black industrialists”, however, the dominant white capitalists clearly have other ideas. After the Guptas were essentially shut out of the South African banking system in 2016, investigations are now being carried out by the FBI, the British chancellor of the exchequer and the European Commission to track down their business and financial dealings internationally.
A key concern of the American imperialists appears to be the rumours of Zuma’s nuclear deal with Russia. As senior Business Day columnist Peter Bruce put it: “The Americans are profoundly interested in SA, particularly as the Zuma administration pivots from the West to the East, and particularly towards Russia and China. Long gone are the days when a US president could visit SA and pronounce the occupant of the Union Buildings as ‘our point man in Africa’, as George W Bush once did of Thabo Mbeki” (“Bigger hounds will pick up Zupta scent”, Business Day, 4 November 2016). Notwithstanding these fears, South African foreign policy under Zuma has continued to be fundamentally aligned with the aims of Western imperialism—recall, for example, South Africa’s vote in the United Nations Security Council in support of imperialist invasion of Libya in 2011.
The historic overlap between race and class is also evident in the virulent racism that has accompanied the furore over “state capture”. This propaganda has been wind in the sails of the white racists who pine for the “good old days” of apartheid “efficiency” and are all too happy to vent their spleens against corruption as a code-word for black rule. This was on full display at the various “Zuma Must Fall” protests, largely white, that were held after Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene (in December 2015) and Pravin Gordhan (in March 2017) as finance ministers. It is also encountered on a daily basis. To take one example that made it into the papers, in August 2017 a black university student was assaulted outside a KFC in Durban by a white man who shouted racist epithets at him and threatened him with a stick. “He said that we black people were all the same and that my parents had probably been stealing from the country like Jacob Zuma. It was then that he called me a k----r”, the student said (Sowetan, 11 August 2017).
These days, anti-black racism is promoted mainly through the myth that the terms of racial oppression have been reversed, with the black majority now on top. This was evident around the outcry—led by the white racist Democratic Alliance (DA)—against British public relations firm Bell Pottinger. The DA accused Bell Pottinger of “stoking racial tensions” in South Africa through its PR campaign, on behalf of the Guptas, highlighting the continued dominance of “white monopoly capital” and “economic apartheid” in South Africa.
Bell Pottinger is a highly unlikely antagonist of the white monopoly capitalists, to say the least! Co-founded by one Lord Bell, who got his start as an advisor to the vicious, racist union-buster Margaret Thatcher during the 1970s, Bell Pottinger ran the campaign to free the blood-drenched Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet during the 1990s; they ran the swart gevaar election campaign for De Klerk’s National Party in 1994; and they produced misinformation on behalf of the Pentagon and its puppet regime in Iraq during the 2000s. For the DA and Co., all that is of course not the least bit objectionable: the “crime” of Bell Pottinger was to have the temerity to denounce (however hypocritically) “white monopoly capital”, the masters who shall not be named.
While displaying the anti-black racism of the DA, this episode also exposes the bankruptcy of the ideology of “non-racialism”. Particularly in the early days of neo-apartheid, this ideology was promoted by the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance and their left tails as supposed remedies for the vicious racial divisions promoted under apartheid. In reality, “non-racialism” serves to obscure the material reality of black oppression which continues to define South African society. It covers up the responsibility of the Tripartite Alliance, which maintains the racial hierarchy as administrators of neo-apartheid capitalism, and regularly uses divide-and-rule to pit different sections of the oppressed against each other. This has led to repeated eruptions of murderous anti-immigrant pogroms. At the same time, the liberal bourgeois ideology of “non-racialism” also plays into the hands of right-wing racist opponents of the ANC like the DA, Solidarity and Afriforum.
Against the nationalist fictions of the “rainbow nation” and “non-racial nation-building”, the Trotskyist programme of permanent revolution offers a guide for confronting and overcoming the dramatic divisions along colour, national and tribal lines among the oppressed non-white masses. Addressing these divisions, which have in many ways increased under neo-apartheid, we wrote in a Spartacist South Africa supplement published in December 2015:
“The oppression of coloureds (and Indians) is directly conditioned by the superexploitation of the black proletariat, and any meaningful fight to end this oppression necessarily means fighting for the national liberation of the oppressed black majority. Likewise, any meaningful fight for black liberation means an unyielding fight against black nationalism, which is riddled with anti-coloured and anti-Indian bigotry. This understanding is critical for building a racially integrated Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party that can intervene and fight for revolutionary leadership among all sections of the oppressed. Under a black-centred workers government, there would be an important role and full democratic rights for coloureds, Indians and Asians, and those whites who accept a government centrally based on the black working people.”
—“On Coloured Marginalisation and the Fight for a Black-Centred Workers Government”, reprinted in SSA No. 14, January 2017
A Falling Out Among Thieves and Demagogues
After 1994, the ANC/SACP/COSATU Tripartite Alliance was viewed by the strategically decisive sections of the bourgeoisie as the best option for keeping the restless black masses “in their place” and maintaining wage slavery. The Randlords have reaped huge benefits from this arrangement over the years, but lately there is mounting concern about the ability of the Tripartite Alliance to deliver on the promise of containing the discontent of the black majority.
The Marikana massacre, and especially the wave of wildcat strikes that engulfed the mines and the winelands in 2012, had a big impact in this regard. The wildcat strikes in the mines saw the rank-and-file members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), then the most powerful union in COSATU, openly rebelling against the class-collaborationist union bureaucracy. Following the victory of Lonmin rock drillers after the massacre, the bourgeoisie and its labour lieutenants in the trade union bureaucracy watched with dread as the strike wave spread like wildfire. Highlighting the bourgeoisie’s loss of confidence in the bureaucracy’s ability to keep a lid on worker militancy, in 2013 the Chamber of Mines decided to terminate the longstanding “special arrangement” through which it directly corrupted the trade-union bureaucracy by paying the salaries of national office bearers of the NUM and other unions.
At a political level, the ripple effects on the Tripartite Alliance have been dramatic, accelerating the implosion of the “coalition of the wounded” that brought Zuma to power in 2007. The reformist misleaders of the SACP and COSATU, who in 2007 painted Zuma as a “friend of the workers”, have all cut ties with him and some, such as Zwelinzima Vavi and the NUMSA leadership, have left the Tripartite Alliance. But this falling out in no way means that the reformists have renounced the treacherous class collaboration that saw them loyally support Zuma and the ANC for decades—right up to the Marikana massacre and afterwards. Rather, they have come to recognise that Zuma is a liability for maintaining the subordination of the black proletariat to the bourgeoisie.
The leaders of the SACP and the current COSATU tops are the best example of this servility to the capitalists. After howling for the blood of the striking workers in Marikana, and then doing Zuma’s bidding to purge COSATU of NUMSA and any other union leaders considered dissidents, they have now jumped on the “state capture” bandwagon and discovered that their erstwhile buddy Zuma is corrupt (gasp!) and that the Guptas are the root of all evil.
In a July 2017 interview, SACP leader Blade Nzimande lamented: “Had we known certain things we know now, we would have acted differently. … had we known that our revolution and our struggle were going to be handed over to an immigrant Indian family going by the name of Gupta, we would have behaved differently.” In other words, the SACP tops are happy to betray the working class if it serves the Randlords, but not for those Gupta upstarts! Nzimande serves up his loyalty to the South African bourgeoisie seasoned with poisonous anti-Indian demagogy—something the capitalists have long been adept at using to pit especially black African workers against their Indian counterparts.
For their part, Zwelinzima Vavi and the leaders of NUMSA have long postured as left critics of the Tripartite Alliance, and now that they have been purged from COSATU seek to portray themselves as opponents of the Alliance. But for many years they played a crucial role in selling out workers struggles as part of the nationalist popular front. This included closing ranks with Zuma and the rest of the Alliance tops in the immediate aftermath of the Marikana massacre. After the Marikana mineworkers’ victory in September 2012, Vavi complained via Twitter: “Cosatu and NUM will have to act fast or this deal can collapse … every bargaining system in place … it can communicates [sic] the message workers can lead themselves and get what they want.”
Upholding their fundamental commitment to class collaboration, Vavi and the NUMSA tops have merely tried to build an alternative popular front since departing the Tripartite Alliance. They have consistently proclaimed their loyalty to the ANC’s bourgeois-populist Freedom Charter. The NUMSA leaders call for a return to the ANC of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo and the SACP of Chris Hani and Joe Slovo. (For more, see “Split in COSATU”, Spartacist South Africa No. 12, Summer 2015.)
Consistent with this class collaboration, Vavi and the NUMSA bureaucrats helped to launch Unite Against Corruption (UAC) in 2015. Describing itself as “a broad consortium” that aims “to bring together, in a spirit of unity, all those people who view corruption as an assault on our Constitution’s promise of equality and dignity”, UAC was an unholy alliance including everyone from the NUMSA bureaucracy, Vavi and the fake leftists who tail them, to imperialist-backed NGOs, religious organisations and a host of bourgeois parties ranging from Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to Inkatha. Demands of UAC included calls to strengthen the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority and various other security agencies of the capitalist state.
Like the “Zuma Must Fall” protests and other “anti-corruption” and “anti-state-capture” events since then, the UAC marches in 2015 were supported by bosses organisations like Business Leadership South Africa as well as the right-wing, white-dominated DA. The NUMSA tops later recoiled from supporting the “anti-corruption” marches, after the overt racism of these marches became impossible to ignore.
Not so Vavi, who has continued to attempt to ride the “Zuma Must Fall” wave. After Pravin Gordhan was fired as finance minister at the end of March 2017, Vavi joined SaveSA and other right-wing bourgeois forces for “Black Monday” protests outside the national treasury. He had earlier joined Gordhan’s deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, to speak at a press conference expressing his “disgust” over the axing of Gordhan and Jonas, calling the firing of these fiscally conservative bourgeois finance ministers a “coup against the people” and “the darkest hour [!] in the history of South Africa [!!]” (engineeringnews.co.za, 31 March 2017). This shows vividly that, whatever hypocritical crocodile tears Vavi may have belatedly shed for the victims of the Marikana massacre, the primary “lesson” he learned is how to adapt to continue serving the neo-apartheid rulers as a loyal labour lieutenant of capital.
With considerably less influence, the left groups that tail after the likes of NUMSA leader Irvin Jim and Vavi have done their bit to ensure that the real lessons of Marikana are hidden from the workers and oppressed. For example, there is the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP), formed by the Democratic Socialist Movement (South African affiliates of the Committee for a Workers’ International) in the hopes of capitalising on the discontent following Marikana. Over the “state capture” farce WASP attacked the NUMSA tops from the right, complaining that they “have kept their distance and avoided getting involved on the ground in the campaign against Zuma”. Like Vavi, WASP denounced the firing of Gordhan, and noted, approvingly: “It has rightly been met with outrage.” WASP lauded Vavi for having “in general had a better position” than NUMSA. To give a “left” veneer to their tailing of the right-wing “anti-corruption” forces, WASP rebukes Vavi for having “made poor use of the platforms to push an independent working class position” (“Zuma clings on to power”, 10 August 2017). As if that’s possible in a joint press conference with a deputy finance minister of the bourgeois government!
The Bankruptcy of Bourgeois Nationalism
Marikana was the culmination of a long list of wretched betrayals of the working class by the leaders of COSATU and the SACP as part of the Tripartite Alliance. As we warned, before Marikana, through these betrayals the reformist misleaders helped pave the way for the emergence of populist demagogues like Julius Malema, who came to be seen by many workers as the best representatives of their interests (“Malema’s Populist Mystique and the ANC Succession Battle”, SSA No. 8, Winter 2012). Malema cleverly used the Marikana massacre to further his political ambitions, denouncing Zuma and Ramaphosa while contributing money for funeral and legal costs for the mineworkers. This won him a lot of popularity amongst platinum miners in Rustenburg.
But Malema and the EFF’s posture as “friend” of the workers, like their occasional use of “Marxist-Leninist” verbiage, is totally phony. The EFF is a bourgeois-nationalist party that uses populist demagogy as a smokescreen for its commitment to maintaining capitalism. Malema in particular is an expert at tapping into the legitimate anger of the black masses in order to demonstrate to the white rulers that they need him to contain that anger. A prime example is the EFF’s calls to expropriate the white-owned land and nationalise the mines, banks and other large enterprises. These calls have been at the core of the EFF’s appeal among black youth, workers and others who are fed up with the lack of change under neo-apartheid. But Malema has consistently sought to reassure the capitalists that such calls are not a threat to their rule.
For example, in June 2017 Malema addressed a convention of the South African Property Owners Association in Cape Town. He opened on a confrontational note, telling the assembled property owners that many of them are “beneficiaries of a crime against humanity, yet in addition you are the beneficiaries of the post-apartheid order”. But this was only to promote the EFF as the capitalists’ best hope to preserve their power in the face of growing anger among the black masses, with Malema warning them: “If you are going to invest in property today, it is also going to be wise to invest in the EFF. … There is no future without the EFF.” In response to an audience question expressing concern about their rhetoric against white capital, he reassured them: “When we speak nationalisation in the EFF we are not talking about taking Absa from Maria Ramos and Rupert” (“In appealing to elites, Malema mixes radicalism with new political savvy”, Daily Maverick, 21 June 2017).
Malema and the EFF are increasingly viewed by the bourgeoisie as a viable option. All the more so since the EFF, following the August 2016 local elections, decided to throw its weight behind the racist, union-busting DA to enable the latter to form governing coalitions to replace the ANC in big metros like Johannesburg and Tshwane. Malema has stated his willingness to help “white monopoly capital” if it will help to get rid of the ANC.
Like Zwelinzima Vavi and the leadership of NUMSA, Malema and other EFF leaders spent many years as leading members of the Tripartite Alliance, thus helping to hold the neo-apartheid system together. Like them, the EFF leaders have emphasised their continued loyalty to the ANC’s Freedom Charter—and the EFF is fully justified in doing so, as the Charter represents the bourgeois-populist programme that the EFF embodies. As the ANC leaders have always made clear, the Freedom Charter upholds capitalism. For example, Nelson Mandela explained in his 1956 article “In Our Lifetime” that the Freedom Charter “is by no means a blue-print for a socialist state” and that its allusions to nationalisations were intended to “open up fresh fields for the development of a prosperous Non-European bourgeois class”. Loyalty to the bourgeois-populism of the Freedom Charter in fact unites those Zuma opponents like the EFF and Vavi with some of Zuma’s most strident nationalist apologists.
Take, for example, Christopher Malikane, a Wits economics professor who in 2017 was appointed as an advisor to the finance minister, Malusi Gigaba. Not long after that, Malikane had an article published in the Sunday Times calling for nationalisation of the banks. This, along with his attendance at a forum by Black First Land First (BLF), another nationalist outfit that’s joined the Zuma apologists, led to an outcry from the bourgeoisie, which in turn led to Malikane being reprimanded by Gigaba. Gigaba of course reassured the capitalists that the treasury has absolutely no intention of fiddling with private ownership of the banks. (Malikane expressed his understanding for Gigaba’s response, stating in one interview: “Investors have to be assured …The ANC’s financial policy is still the same.”)
Politically, the main point of Malikane’s articles is to tie the black proletariat to Zuma and the would-be exploiters Malikane calls the “tender-based black capitalist class”. Malikane presents the conflict over “state capture” as having arisen as a result of Zuma and Co. moving to challenge “unfettered white monopoly capitalist domination”. Arguing that the proletariat must bloc with Zuma and his backers, who lack the power on their own to challenge the white monopoly capitalists, Malikane advocates a “broad anti-white monopoly capitalist united front made up of all the classes and strata that suffer from white monopoly capitalist domination”. This, he tells us, “is an integral part of the struggle to consummate the national democratic revolution” (“Concerning the Current Situation”, 7 April 2017).
Although Malikane is a bourgeois academic with nationalist sympathies, much of his arguments are a rehash of what the SACP for decades peddled in order to promote the “national democratic revolution”—except he does not bother to claim that the “NDR” will lead to a socialist “second stage” but at most to the consolidation of a black capitalist class. (Ironically, SACP honchos Jeremy Cronin, Alex Mashilo and Malesela Maleka retaliated against Malikane with a long-winded polemic which, notwithstanding their pseudo-Marxist pretenses, was just a way of justifying the SACP tops’ current policy of openly pursuing a “pro-white monopoly capitalist united front”.) The bankruptcy of Malikane’s perspective is not hard to see. The guy he’s promoting, Zuma, has been at the head of the ANC and Alliance for a decade, during which there has been no dent in the national oppression of the black majority or the dominance of the white minority, and no improvement in the living conditions of the masses. Rather, there has been an increase in state repression of striking workers, township dwellers, landless people, immigrants, student activists, etc., with the Marikana massacre epitomising Zuma’s reign.
South Africa today is living proof that national liberation and the other gains that were promised to the masses by the “national democratic revolution” cannot be achieved within a capitalist framework. Take the land question, which is at the centre of the dispossession of the non-white majority in this country. More than twenty years after the end of apartheid, the government itself admits that it has only redistributed or restored around 10 percent of commercial farmland to the black majority. Farm labourers continue to toil for poverty wages under the lash of the farm Baas. In late December, a white farmer in KwaZulu-Natal shot and killed a member of a black family living at his farm that was burying a loved one, after demanding that they stop the funeral and leave. It is common for landowners to prevent burials by farmworkers and their relatives on the land, in order to keep them from having any claim on the land.
With the reality of continued white domination of the land so stark, there is increasing pressure to be seen to address this burning question. At the end of its December conference, the ANC resolved to amend the property clause of the constitution in order to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. This attempt at populist posturing reportedly nearly brought the contending ANC factions to blows. To calm the anxiety of the capitalist rulers, a caveat was included that this would be done in a “sustainable” way. “Sustainable” for who? As the whole history of ANC-led neo-apartheid rule amply demonstrates, their bottom line is maintaining capitalism and so the limits of what the ANC carries out are determined by the interests of the bourgeoisie.
A land programme based on the perspective of permanent revolution would be fundamentally different, as it would be based on mobilising the proletariat at the head of the landless black masses in an all-out struggle against the capitalists. A revolutionary proletarian party would fight to organise the farmworkers and demand the expropriation of the land without compensation. A black-centred workers government would establish cooperative and state farms, which alone can provide a decent life not only for the farm labourers but for the millions more living in the former “homelands” and other desolate rural areas.
Adequate housing for the millions in the townships and squatter camps, free quality education, decent health care for all, the eradication of lobola and other traditional patriarchal practices oppressive to women: these desperately needed measures require the overthrow of neo-apartheid capitalism. A black-centred workers government would expropriate the bourgeoisie as a class, collectivising the mines, banks and large industry. These would be used not merely to redistribute wealth, but more fundamentally to reorganise and expand production on a socialist basis, which is what is really needed to bring about economic and social modernisation.
The consolidation, or simply the survival, of a socialist revolution in South Africa requires its international extension. Such a revolution would find strategically powerful working class allies within the imperialist centres. In particular, it would have an enormously radicalising impact on black people in the United States, who strongly identified with the struggle against the apartheid system of white supremacy.
The key to all of this is the forging of a vanguard party modelled on Lenin’s Bolshevik Party, the party which led the first and only successful proletarian revolution in history. Building this party is inseparable from the struggle to build an international communist vanguard, i.e. reforging a Trotskyist Fourth International. Spartacist/South Africa, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), is dedicated to this task.