Spartacist South Africa No. 5

Spring 2007


Protest Apartheid-Style Police Brutality Against Union Bus Drivers!

The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 893, 25 May 2007.

JOHANNESBURG—According to a City Press (5 May) article, a Johannesburg police unit is being probed for carrying out “apartheid-style torture” of members of the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) who had been on strike for more than two months earlier this year against the Metrobus system controlled by the local African National Congress (ANC) government. The City Press reports:

“According to (Dumisani) Langa [the SAMWU branch secretary], their 12 members were picked up at their houses in the early hours of separate days last month and taken to the Germiston police station. Once there, police officers allegedly tied their hands behind their backs. They then allegedly beat them up, attached live electric wires onto their bodies and doused them with water. The cops then allegedly covered their mouths and noses with an old tyre tube to starve them of air.”

Langa continued that the SAMWU members “were gruesomely tortured and forced to make confessions linking them to the deaths and violence that marred the Metrobus strike and after failed attempts to get our members to sign prepared incriminating statements, they were just released without even being charged or taken to court.”

Langa confirmed the story to Workers Vanguard. The union suspects that the employer colluded with the police by giving them a list of names of workers on strike and their addresses. Langa said that workers were arrested in different parts of Johannesburg, including the city centre, Krugersdorp, and Soweto, and were later taken to Germiston, where they were told on arrival that they had no rights and were going to be beaten if they did not confess or identify those responsible for attacks on scabs.

Examples of this brutalisation included cops forming a boxing ring around one of the victims. One large cop announced he was boxing champ Mike Tyson and said they would fight it out—but only the cop had the right to hit! One of the strikers, arrested earlier and then released, has now been taken into custody again, facing unspecified charges. This is detention without trial! Spartacist South Africa, section of the International Communist League, demands that the union comrade be released immediately: Cops and courts—hands off the Johannesburg bus drivers!

The reason why the bosses are so hostile to the SAMWU bus drivers is that their strike was a powerful example of class struggle that shut down bus operations, in contrast to relying on “conciliation” and arbitration in the bourgeois courts. The strike won real gains, including the reversal of an arrogant move by the employer to stop a long-existing policy of paying workers for accumulated sick leave. The strike also won the reinstatement of three dismissed shop stewards and the rehiring of 19 other workers.

The police atrocities—committed by black cops—are well in line with the Marxist understanding that the cops are part of the capitalist state, together with the military, courts and prisons. Police are enemies of the working class and defenders of capitalist wage slavery. As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin wrote in State and Revolution (1917), “The state is an organ of class domination, an organ of oppression of one class by another.” The bourgeois state cannot be reformed or pressured into acting on behalf of the working people and the oppressed. The capitalist system must be overthrown through workers socialist revolution and replaced by a workers state. One’s attitude toward the bourgeois state is what draws the final line between reform and revolution.

In South Africa it is easy and very cheap to describe the old, white-supremacist apartheid state as reactionary. The fact is that it is the current, “new” South African state under the bourgeois-nationalist ANC—joined by the Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in a popular front—that is responsible for maintaining the wage-slave system. That system benefits the new black elite as well as the same old white capitalist class responsible for the Soweto and Sharpeville massacres and other crimes against the non-white majority.

A massive explosion of workers struggle in the 1980s was a key factor contributing to the negotiated end to apartheid rule. Another was the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state, whose existence had provided the ANC room to manoeuvre in the Cold War divide between the USSR on the one hand and the U.S. and other imperialist powers on the other, with the Soviets providing military aid to the ANC. The white rulers, backed by the imperialists, became confident that capitalist profits could be maintained by installing a black government. The demise of apartheid significantly altered the legal and political superstructure but preserved capitalist property relations and the capitalist state. While it is the ANC and no longer the white racist government that calls the shots, the post-1994 system of neo-apartheid capitalism has kept the overwhelming mass of the population in poverty and maintained intact racial and national oppression.

The fact that the state, including the police forces and the army, contains many more black faces does not mean that it is any less an institution for capitalist oppression. In an effort to propagate the nationalist lie that the only oppressors are white, the ANC goes to considerable lengths to rewrite history. One example is the memorial in the Orlando West section of Soweto to Hector Petersen, a student slain by the apartheid regime during the 1976 student revolt in Soweto, which shows only white cops and soldiers. In fact, numerous black cops were involved in this massacre.

It is the ANC-led government’s police that today act as guardians of capital. Writing after the brutal murder of two miners by security guards at the black-owned East Rand Proprietary Mines in October 2002 following a two-day general strike by COSATU, we warned that “the murders on the picket lines are the face of what’s to come” (Spartacist South Africa No. 3, Summer/Autumn 2003). Today, as a possible strike of several hundred thousand public sector workers looms, the National Intelligence Agency—whose boss is SACPer Ronnie Kasrils!—ominously visited the offices of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) in a naked attempt at intimidation (Sowetan, 10 May). The government attacks impoverished township residents protesting the failure to deliver services while victimising the most vulnerable sections of the working class and the poor—immigrants, prostitutes, hawkers, etc. Workers Vanguard No. 748 (15 December 2000) published an article from Spartacist South Africa protesting the use of three Mozambican immigrants as training bait for police dogs.

As under the old apartheid system, in the “new” South Africa the cops are agents of capitalist organised violence against the working class and the whole of the oppressed population. The police obey only one master: the capitalist class. We oppose the inclusion of police or security guards in the unions and the broader workers movement. For example, COSATU includes the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU), and the SACP recruits cops into their own organisation. Any talk about “democratic control of the police,” “winning over the police” or “raising the consciousness of the police” has nothing to do with revolutionary Marxism and everything to do with reformism. All reformist left organisations in South Africa, namely Keep Left, the Democratic Socialist Movement (formerly the Marxist Workers Tendency in the ANC), and the Workers International Vanguard League, support the membership of cops and security guards in trade unions.

The police are not “workers in uniform.” In What Next? (January 1932), Leon Trotsky—chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, co-leader of the October 1917 Revolution with Lenin and organiser of the Red Army—had this to say in response to illusions that the Social Democratic Prussian police were going to defend the constitution against Hitler: “The fact that the police was originally recruited in large numbers from among Social Democratic workers is absolutely meaningless.... The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.”

In order to hide the capitalist class nature of the ANC regime, the reformist labour leaders of the SACP and COSATU argue that “the post-1994 democratic state is not inherently capitalist, it is in fact, a sharply class-contested reality” or a “democratic breakthrough.” But there is no such thing as a “multi-class state.” There is either a capitalist state or a proletarian state—the capitalists and the proletariat, the two main classes in capitalist society, have historically irreconcilable interests. It is impossible to have more than one class playing a dominant role in the state. The ANC/SACP/COSATU nationalist popular front represents the subordination of the class interests of the proletariat to those of the capitalists. Illusions in the state are greatly reinforced by bourgeois nationalism, with the SACP and COSATU tops validating the ANC’s “liberation” claims and painting the regime as “our” government.

Spartacist South Africa calls to break the Tripartite Alliance—for the class independence of the proletariat from the bourgeois parties and its state! What is necessary is the building of a revolutionary Leninist-Trotskyist party, part of a reforged Fourth International, which can lead the proletariat and all the oppressed forward to achieve workers rule, as part of world socialist revolution.