Demonstrations and clashes reminiscent of apartheid era

On March 1, in South Africa’s third local government elections since the apartheid regime, the African National Congress (ANC) won control of 200 out of 237 councils. This is an increase from the 170 councils it won in the last election in 2000. The ANC’s crushing majority came at the expense of its two main rivals – the white-led and dominated Democratic Alliance and Gatsha Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party based in KwaZulu Natal. Buthelezi was the agent of the apartheid regime’s so-called black-on-black violence in the 80s and early 90s.

Predictably the media has portrayed the outcome as continuing evidence of the ANC’s overwhelming support. Commentators have claimed that this ‘victory’ is a vote of confidence in the ANC, or a confirmation of “identity politics”. This ‘theory’ argues that voting for the ANC was an expression of the “essence of their being” of poor working class black voters. They even claim that the low turnout – 48% (no higher than the local elections in 2000) – is confirmation of the “maturity” of democracy in South Africa, reflecting ‘international trends’.

The ANC leadership and capitalist commentators have breathed a sigh of relief that the expected punishment through a slump in turn-out or votes for the opposition parties failed to materialise.

Working class opposition becomes more organised

Yet this victory is anything but an endorsement of the ANC and its pro-capitalist policies. A huge gulf has opened between the classes in South Africa. Disenchantment with the ANC government has grown to unprecedented levels. Mass protests against the ANC prior to the elections and a closer analysis of the elections show a qualitative turning point in the political situation, especially in the attitude towards the ANC.

The 48% poll is only of those registered to vote. As with the 2004 general elections, this pre-election registration drive was a dismal failure. Against the total eligible voting population, not just those registered, a 48% poll means that a massive 64% did not vote. This compares to 45% who did not vote in the 2004 general. In the 2004 election 5 million failed to register and 7 million of those registered failed to vote – more than the 11 million votes given to the ANC.

The 2006 poll fell in 7 out of the 9 provinces. Whilst the ANC appeared to sweep the board and defeat all opposition it suffered significant setbacks in the Western Cape losing the Cape Town Metropolitan Council which it had captured in 2003 as a result of the despised “crosstitution” process which allows elected representatives to cross over to other parties once a year.

In the 2004 general elections the protests at the neo-liberal policies of the ANC took the form of a more passive ‘stay away’. In the recent elections and during 2005 there was a massive increase in protests against corruption, poor service delivery and the ‘re-demarcation’ of provincial boundaries (whereby municipalities straddling provincial borders are relocated to another province). These mass mobilisations have taken place in the same year that South Africa’s economy has experienced its highest level of economic growth since the 1960’s.

Poor Services, Corruption and Forced Removals

The Department of Safety and Security reported that 5085 protests took place last year alone. The front cover of the September 2005 edition of the glossy capitalist journal the Financial Mail, carried the headline “The stench of corruption”. It reported that “in eMbalenhle (Mpumalanga) 40 000 citizens recently showed their disgust at the overflowing sewage by marching 11 kilometers from the township into town to confront Govan Mbeki municipality mayor Tsheke. The meeting never took place. Tsheke fled after the angry crowd attacked his armoured vehicle. “Asked how he thought recent developments would affect the ANC’s election chances, Tsheke said with little emotion: The ANC will win the election.”

This arrogance, together with the anger provoked by the ‘re-demarcation’ of entire populations in three districts, (Matatiele in KwaZulu Natal, Moutse in Mpumalanga and Merafong which includes Khutsong in Gauteng) into the three poorest provinces in the country – the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and North West ignited the flames of mass protest and discontent. These ‘re-demarcations’ were in effect the mass expulsions of populations reminiscent of the mass evictions of the apartheid regime.

The insolence of the ANC leadership towards the masses was most clearly shown in Khutsong, a township near the mining town of Carletonville. The ANC government decided this township should be removed from Gauteng and incorporated into the North West. Reflecting the mass opposition to this proposal the Merafong District Council, the provincial portfolio committee and the demarcation board – all opposed this move. After overwhelming opposition to the government recommendation at pubic hearings, the ANC Minister for Constitutional Affairs and Local Government, Sydney Mufamadi referred the matter to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP -- the equivalent of an upper house of parliament). Yet, despite the ANC’s massive majority the proposal went through by 1 vote – that of the Speaker!

Merafong and Moutse declared no go areas for ANC

Less than two years after its winning and overwhelming 70% majority in the 2004 general election the ANC faces its deepest divisions in its history. This is reflected in the ongoing power struggle between Deputy President Zuma and President Mbeki. To prevent Zuma succeeding Mbeki instigated a series of corruption exposures which have included Zuma being prosecuted for rape. The ANC was unable to campaign for the local government elections in Khutsong and Moutse. The anger of the residents in these areas was so militant that these townships were declared no-go areas for the ANC in protest against the forced removal into provinces they did not wish to go to.

Khutsong residents twice took ANC national chairperson and Defence Minister, Mosioua “Terror” Lekota hostage and held him at the local stadium. He was forced to flee under armed escort with stones raining down on his convoy. Lekota, dismissed residents’ demands as nothing more than a desire to keep Gauteng Province number plates on their vehicles and threatened to use troops against the population. He failed to live up to his nickname as 2000 women wearing “100% Gauteng” t-shirts and carrying placards reading “Lekota jy vat ‘n kans”(Lekota you are taking a chance) refused to be cowed. These women and others disrupted a rally aimed at restoring “law and order”. They held marches, mass rallies, pelted ANC meetings with stones, burnt council offices, libraries and councilors’ homes and properties causing R20m worth of damage.

Jomo Mogale, spokesperson of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the residents committee informed a DSM delegation that visited Khutsong on Election Day that Lekota’s threat to bring in the troops led to an immediate mass mobilisation at the stadium. Former members of Umkhonto we Sizwe and Azanian Peoples Liberation Army (the ANC and PAC’s former armed wings), now integrated into the army, refused to be deployed to Khutsong.

TV News reports reminiscent of the anti-apartheid struggles showed daily pictures of roads blockaded with rocks and burning tyres, and youth making petrol bombs in full view of the cameras. These protestors defied the police tear gas and rubber bullets fired by police. 14 councilors had to flee the township after their homes had been attacked and were forced to seek refuge in the mining compounds housing estates in the nearby mining town of Carletonville. One ANC candidate resigned after pressure from family and friends. Another ANC councilor was arrested for shooting a resident after ANC members were pelted with stones as they tried to hold a meeting.

Such was the fury of the Khutsong residents that they rejected the local South African Communist Party proposal to stand candidates in the elections and threatened to disband the SACP-dominated Anti-North West Committee if they did not concentrate on fighting the re-demarcation.

At a mass rally the week before the election Khutsong residents vowed they would never allow the ANC to campaign in the area. No party political posters were visible, torn down as soon as they were put up. Schools and churches, which were to serve as voting stations, received written warnings not to open on Election Day. Members of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas), an organization of school students that played a leading role in the struggle against the apartheid regime, pledged there would be no schooling this year if they received any documentation bearing the North West education department letterheads.

The election boycott, led by the subsequently renamed Merafong Committee (to avoid the impression that they were against the people of the North West) was so effective that only 232 out of just under 30,000 cast their votes. A mass rally days after the election resolved that students would return to school yesterday but the residents refused to recognise the new, ANC dominated council. The ANC ‘won’ virtually all the wards on the strength of the 232 votes! The residents of Khutsong have now agreed to elect their own alternative representatives to be known as Community Activists.

“If the Tripartite Alliance breaks, it breaks”

In Moutse, Mpumalanga, 11 SACP members defied the national leadership and stood as independent candidates. Moutse district SACP chairperson Mothiba Rampisa said that threats by the Limpopo SACP secretary to terminate the membership of all who opted to stand did not worry him. “If they want to expel us, let them do it. The (Tripartite) Alliance (ANC, SACP and COSATU – Congress of South African Trades Unions) should not survive at our expense. If the Alliance breaks it breaks and we say halala! (congratulations). We are going to stand as the community of Moutse not the SACP, so that our outcry over incorporation is heard.” Mail & Guardian (17 – 23/02/06).

In the KwaZulu Natal municipality of Matatiele, a new political party, the African Independent Congress, led by former mayor, Cedric Canham, fielded 23 candidates in 23 of the 24 wards winning 14% of the vote. Represented by the Matatiele/Maluti Mass Action Committee, like their counterparts in Khutsong, residents have taken their challenge to the ‘re-demarcation’ of Matatiele into the Eastern Cape to the Constitutional Court. In Khayelitsha in the Western Cape several ANC members, expelled after clashes following allegations of the imposing of councilor candidates lists, are standing as independent ANC members.

Most significantly three Cosatu affiliates, the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) and the South African Democratic Teachers Union refused to campaign for the ANC. Samwu decided to withhold funding to the ANC.

These developments have not dropped from the sky. The anger seething beneath the surface first exploded in what the press refers to as the “September insurrection” in 2004 in the Free State townships. These protests claimed the life of 17-year-old Teboho Mkhonza, who was shot dead by police using live ammunition as youth blockaded the highway. Police initially wanted to charge residents with sedition and public violence!

These protests are part of a nationwide movement against corruption, poor services, unemployment and poverty much of which is not reported. The South African Broadcasting Corporation’s television and radio services are now widely viewed as a propaganda weapon of the ANC government – His Masters’ Voice.

Widespread working class discontent

The discontent is not confined to working class townships. The Transport and Allied Workers Union is preparing for a nationwide strike against so-called ‘restructuring’ on March 13. This follows rock solid preparatory rolling strikes throughout all the major metropolitan areas. These brought the passenger rail network to a complete standstill. February saw the week-long shut down of the Mamelodi campus of the University of Pretoria by a student strike. February also witnessed the victorious conclusion of a 9-day strike at the University of KwaZulu Natal which united students, workers’ and academic staff.

These events are a resumption of the class struggle after the Xmas break. Last year saw the biggest strike wave on wages since the ANC came to power, as well as one of the biggest general strikes in years. Incredibly, some on the left describe the situation as a lull in the class struggle.

Class s polarisation leads to political differentiation

As we have explained it was inevitable that at a certain stage the class polarisation would lead to a political differentiation towards the ANC. The class conflict and the opposition groupings that have sprung up in working class communities confirm this perspective. The DSM pointed out that the ANC’s 2004 landslide and electoral majority did not reflect mass support. The parliamentary arithmetic concealed a growing disillusionment and alienation amongst the masses. The ANC secured 70% of the seat with only 38% of the eligible voters.

The fact that more independent candidates stood reflects the higher level of organisation that now exists in working class communities. There are now 97 political parties, 20% more than in 2000, which contested the elections. Although a layer of these are disgruntled at being denied a place on the gravy train, a significant number reflect a growing number of people who are genuinely looking for an alternative. The opposition has grown beyond those on the left like the Trevor Ngwane-led Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (standing as Operation Khanyisa Movement) and EcoPeace in KwaZulu Natal. It now includes communities in struggle and even ANC splits.

Although the new mainly community-based opposition parties achieved less than 2% of the vote nationally, the issues that brought them into existence will not go away. The DSM accordingly has approached the Khutsong residents, EcoPeace and the Anti-Privatisation Forum affiliated Operation Khanyisa Movement (which won one seat in the Johannesburg Metropolitan Council), and the largest social movements like, Abahlali Base Mjondolo (Shack Dwellers Movement) with a proposal to call a conference of communities in resistance to discuss coordinated struggle and the adoption of a common platform.

For a Mass Workers Party on a Socialist Programme

The illusion of wealth of the newly formed black middle class can evaporate overnight with onset of an economic recession or slump. Whole layers of the ‘new middle class’ can be impoverished and thrown back into the poverty they believed they had escaped. This will also radicalise these layers. The DSM believes these developments provide a unique opportunity for the left to forge greater unity and to aid the process towards the formation of a mass-based alternative – a workers’ party of struggle with socialist policies.

Gulf between the classes

These developments have their roots in the deep gulf that has opened between the classes. The new black elite and the still predominantly white capitalist class engage in an orgy of self-enrichment. In his book “Thabo Mbeki and the battle for the soul of the ANC” Mervin Gumede explains that on a per-job ratio, “South Africa has wiped out more employment opportunities than any other developing country in history.” A report published by the National Bureau for Economic Research in January 2006, reveals “that average incomes have fallen by about 40% between 1995 and 2000 and notes that there has been little improvement since then. The changes in income … disproportionately affected younger workers, women and blacks.”

Cosatu has pointed out that wages as a share of national income have fallen from 57% in 1994 to 46% in 2006. The Financial Mail (8/07/05) reports that “In 1997, ‘workerless households’ were home to about 5,8million people. By 2002 this had grown to roughly 7,4m. There has also been a marked increase in the working poor (those who have jobs but still earn less than US$2/day from just over 900 000 in 1995 to 2million in 2003.”

Freedom is good for business

The employers and the new black capitalist elite are making fabulous profits. In what amounts to a confession that the ANC government is running the economy as servants of the capitalists, Mbeki said in his 2006 State of the Nation address that “freedom is good for business.” The ANC government’s black economic empowerment policies have ensured the development of an obscenely, shameless and smug wealthy black capitalist elite. Fin Week (23/11/05), in an article headlined “pass the shares comrade”, reveals that “to date, 40 government ministers, premiers and former directors general or their deputies have emerged as key players in empowerment consortia. At least 10 members of the influential National Executive Committee are involved in consortia that are playing an increasingly important role in SA’s economy”. This represents only the tip of the iceberg.

The sense that the ANC represents a greedy, corrupt, self-serving elite feeding on the trough of the state has been reinforced by the conduct of the new Deputy President Phumzile-Mlambo Ngcuka. She is embroiled in a number of scandals hardly a year in office. These include the diversion of R12m of state money to a shady businessman with strong links to the ANC elite and involves an oil deal with Iraq; a diamond tiara gift she accepted whilst Minerals And Energy Affairs Minister and lately over a claim that she had commandeered a South African Defence Force jet to take her family and friends to Dubai on a “working holiday” to study project management in the crane construction industry to empower women!

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