The Workers and Socialist Party (WASP), the South African section of the CWI, held a National Committee meeting, in Johannesburg, at the beginning of September. Delegates discussed the working class responses to the attacks of the Ramaphosa ANC government, the birth of a new socialist trade union federation (SAFTU), the possible launching of a new workers’ party, the continuing service delivery protests in the townships, the violence and oppression of women and the central role that WASP members are playing in confronting a brutal South African capitalist class.
Alec Thraves spoke to some of the 27 representatives in attendance about the key issues facing the South African working class.
AT: Has the support for the new ANC President, Cyril Ramaphosa, that the media has enthusiastically termed “Ramaphoria”, been sustained? Will the ANC retain a majority in the 2019 general election?
Reply from Shaun Arendse, WASP Executive Committee: “Ramaphoria” was a very limited phenomenon. In reality, it originated in the desperate hope of the capitalist class that the political and economic instability of the Zuma years could be left behind.
This infected a section of the middle class, and the media played along, trying to ‘talk up’ the economy, and heralding the start of a so-called ‘new dawn’ for South Africa. But ultimately, the corruption of the Zuma years was a symptom of rotten South African capitalism, and not its underlying cause. On the fundamentals, Ramaphosa is offering the same old neo-liberal diet. The economy remains stagnant and there have been tens of thousands of job losses since he took office.
Ramaphosa may have come to power on Valentine’s Day but there is no love, or even any real enthusiasm for him, amongst the working class – ‘Ramaphoria’ has barely touched them. Especially amongst organised workers and activists Ramaphosa is viewed as an out-and-out big business politician. He is also remembered as the ‘butcher of Marikana’, where, in 2012, as a shareholder of platinum mine, Lonmin, and a senior ANC leader, he demanded the police minister identify a mineworkers’ strike as a “criminal act” and take “concomitant action”. The next day 34 mineworkers were gunned down at Marikana.
In Ramaphosa’s first months as president, parliament passed new anti-trade union legislation increasing the power of the courts and unelected commissioners over strikes and introducing restrictive picketing rules and secret strike ballots. Failure to comply can lead to trade unions being deregistered. He has not left much room for doubt that that bosses have got ‘their man’ in the job.
A general election must be called between May and August 2019. The move to replace Zuma ahead of these elections was in large part driven by the ANC leadership’s fear that they could lose their majority in this election with him at the helm. In the 2016 local government elections the ANC’s vote slid to just 54%. There is no doubt that the ANC will emerge from the 2019 elections as the biggest party but it is possible that they could lose their majority posing a coalition government. Ramaphosa has not been the guarantee against this that many ANC politicians expected.
However, the dominant trend amongst the working class and poor is to abstain in elections. The left-populist Economic Freedom Fighters has been unable to significantly increase its support and the main opposition Democratic Alliance, with its roots in the white middle class, has been embroiled in damaging factional fights reinforcing its image as a ‘white boys club’. However, there could be a certain ‘swing’ back to the ANC from a section of the black middle class alienated by this and a section of the white middle class may be willing to vote for Ramaphosa ‘the man’, while remaining unenthusiastic about his party. This, in the absence of a mass working class alternative, combined with low turnout, could see the ANC hold on to a slight majority.
AT: There are already three major trade union federations in South Africa, COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU, so is the recent formation of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) just going to add further divisions?
Reply from Lebo Phanyeko, National Organiser of SAFTU (personal capacity): The other three federations are led by South Africa’s labour aristocracy, who are chaining the organised workers and frustrating them. These so-called workers’ leaders are determined to keep the status quo and SAFTU’s birth represents a new, fresh hope for organised workers.
I don’t think workers will be more divided because they will and are joining SAFTU as a new fighting, socialist federation.
The last general strike, called by SAFTU, in April, saw workers from the other trade union federations join and participate in the strike despite the opposition of their leaders.
I believe that SAFTU can gradually unite the working class in South Africa where conditions, wages and retrenchments are worsening every day.
SAFTU’s key focus must be on the 76% of workers who don’t belong to a union because the other federations just ignore them, so we must urgently recruit and organise them.
AT: For several months Cape Town has faced a water shortage crisis with severe restrictions put in place. What has been the reaction of city residents?
Reply from Rose Lichtenstein, Wasp Cape Town branch: The water (mis)management crisis in Cape Town rightfully became a ‘common ground’ issue for all layers of the South African working class to organise around. Resistance came in all forms, some successful, others ignored.
Some communities managed to completely block any installations of the dehumanising water management devises that the government have rolled out in their thousands, every week. Petitions and protests have helped in the reduction of water charges. But these have been ineffective, so far, in bringing a much needed revolutionary restructuring of the water supply system and its funding which residents identified were at the root cause of the crisis.
With dams now filling beyond expectations some wealthier residents have fallen away from the struggle. But WASP has committed itself to building amongst the forces that continue to see no relief despite the rains and are continuing to build ‘crisis committees’ in their communities.
Currently we have a powerful force in the Water Crisis Coalition, which was formed at the peak of the drought last January, and will continue to assist in the struggle for an accessible and affordable water supply in Cape Town.
AT: The ‘Total Shutdown’ demonstrations in August (Women’s month in South Africa) mobilised thousands of women protesting against the widespread abuse, rape, violence and murder of women across South Africa. What role did WASP play in this movement?
Reply from Phemelo Motseoka and Ferron Pedro, WASP’s women’s caucus, Pretoria: Women in South Africa are paying a horrendous price for living in a brutalised, violent and poverty stricken society.
Horrifically, in a country of just 57 million, one woman is killed every four hours! Even more disturbing is the fact that 50% of these murders are committed by the women’s partners.
The South African police service has reported the grotesque statistics that a rape takes place every 36 seconds across the country and yet there is only a 4%-8% conviction rate!
Our WASP’s women’s caucus wrote an article in preparation for the #TotalShutdown protests, explaining our position on the issue of violence against women, relating it to the class issues in society and presenting our specific demands.
Our women cadres attended the march in Pretoria and distributed 500 pamphlets and sold-out of our magazine, Izwi. The contacts we received were invited to our branch meeting where we discussed ‘The struggle against women’s oppression’.
We will be collaborating with our comrades in the General Industrial & Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA) and organising some WASP women’s meetings where issues facing women can be discussed out with a socialist alternative on offer.
AT: How important is the ‘land question’ amongst the urban working class and does WASP support the demand of the ANC & EFF for land ‘expropriation without compensation (EWC)?
Reply from Trevor Shaku, WASP Bloemfontein, Free State: People want land mainly for residential and economic purposes. The fact that racial inequalities still persist also mean that some people want land from a historical and moralist standpoint i.e. to correct the historical injustice of land dispossession. From this angle, huge bulks of the masses do not think we should compensate.
We want land to be owned commonly by the people under the democratic management of the working class and communities. The fact is that the majority of our people live as renters of shacks in the backyards of smaller plots in the urban areas, so the expropriation of land will help solve this problem. However, land expropriation must go hand in hand with mass housing projects.
We call for the nationalisation of the commercial farms, as a step in the direction of organising production. As far as compensation is concerned, it must be conditional. Absolutely no compensation should be given for the big landowners and corporation chiefs who have exploited us for generations but compensation should be considered on the basis of proven need for localised farmers and the smallest shareholders.
AT: Service Delivery protests in the townships have reached its highest ever level, increasing from one protest every second day nationwide to three or four every single day! Why has there been such a dramatic increase?
Reply from Executive Mukhwevo, Ennerdale township community activist: South Africa has been experiencing service delivery protests for more than 20 years, since the dawn of our ‘new era’. These struggles are centred on housing, land and the lack of social service delivery in general.
In and around the Soweto townships the protests have skyrocketed to the level of a Gauteng Provincial shutdown in 2017. This forced the government to succumb to the pressure because it was accompanied by many deaths. The citizens were demanding the presence of both spheres of government and for the national and local government representatives to answer to their demands.
In their responses, these combination of crooks just used the usual excuses which are always the obstacles to the provisions of service deliveries. And as usual, they promised to the people that within three months most of the matters they raised would be attended to. However, to this day, nothing has ever happened and not a single matter has been attended to and the service delivery struggle goes on.
AT: After five years of dragging its feet, it appears that NUMSA, South Africa’s largest trade union, will be launching the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party in December. What is WASP’s approach to this development?
Reply from Sheri Hamilton, Greater Eldorado Park United Civic Movement, Johannesburg:Our attitude towards the SRWP is that if it wants to play a role in filling the working class political vacuum then it should be open, democratic and built on the basis of a federal structure, which unfortunately is not the case at the moment. We believe that the only way we can persuade other working class formations to unite under one banner in time for the 2019 General Election is to adopt this approach.
However, there is still time over the next few months to implement the decision of a working class summit convened by Saftu and roll out Provincial Assemblies where a platform of minimum demands can be agreed for a new workers’ party.
AT: What impact has the #Outsourcing Must Fall (#OMF) movement had since its formation?
Reply from Mametlwe Sebei, President of GIWUSA (personal capacity): The hashtag, #OMF, mobilised thousands of outsourced workers across the country in the struggle to end their precarious work and poverty wages. The campaign was initiated by WASP because none of the trade unions were taking up fight against outsourcing.
The campaign organised workers into shop floor committees that coordinated workers across different sectors such as cleaners, secretaries, electricians, security guards etc., on a city wide basis.
In Tshwane, where the campaign started, it won massive victories including at the University of Pretoria. Workers who were previously outsourced and employed on short-term contracts and poverty pay of R2,500, were insourced with permanent contracts, increased benefits and a 300% wage increase over 3 years!
The #OMF, by winning over workers previously unorganised, has contributed to revitalising the organised labour movement. Thousands of new members have joined GIWUSA and the new left trade union federation SAFTU to which the campaign is now affiliated.
For a more detailed analysis of the issues discussed above, visit the WASP website at www.workerssocialistparty.co.za