The struggle for a new mass workers’ party with a socialist programme

On 18 September, after six weeks of defiant strike action - when over 40 miners were killed by police acting on behalf of the mining bosses - Marikana platinum miners in Rustenburg, South Africa, won a significant 22% pay increase.

The Marikana strike action has spread throughout the mining industry provoking the anger of the bosses and African National Congress (ANC) government ministers alike.

On 5 October Anglo American Platinum fired 12,000 miners striking for better wages but with little hope of replacing these workers.

The strikes and the government response have also ignited a political volcano among South Africa’s working class with the demand for a new mass workers’ party finding an increasing echo.

In the following interview Democratic Socialist Movement, DSM, (CWI South Africa) member Mametlwe Sebei - who is playing a leading role in the miners’ Strike Coordinating Committee - explains the political tasks facing the workers’ movement.

"The mineworkers’ rejection of their traditional negotiators has allowed rivals such as AMCU and the Committee for a Workers International, a communist group, to recruit platinum miners and lead the strikes." Sunday Tribune, 7 October 2012, South Africa

Extracts from an article on the Daily Maverick, a South African online news site, 4 October, by Mandy De Waal:

The industrial action isn’t only about better wages, says Mametlwe Sebei, a leader in SA’s Democratic Socialist Movement, which is helping to coordinate independent strike committees in Rustenburg and beyond.

"We are campaigning for a new party, for a labour or socialist party to emerge," says Sebei, who added that the Democratic Socialist Movement was mandated to draw up a resolution that can be voted on by mine workers to make a case for a party.

The paper, which has not yet been circulated amongst workers, would also highlight the programme and ideology of what would be a new socialist, labour party.

Mametlwe Sebei, DSM

"This is not an idea that emerged from us at the Democratic Socialist Movement, but in actual fact it has emerged on the ground," says Sebei. "That is not to say that we haven’t been consciously campaigning for this, but the circumstances and conditions in Rustenburg have rapidly changed consciousness.

"What the workers are asking is: ’What are we doing about this government that is killing us?’ The ANC has never represented the working class, and even though this country has been built on the blood of mining workers, neither does Cosatu [the main trade union federation]."

"The illegal strikes show that the NUM [National Union of Mineworkers - the largest affiliate of Cosatu] has consciously acted against the mandate it has been given by the workers, and if anything they are the conscious agents of the mining bosses.

"NUM through Cosatu is knotted into the tripartite alliance that of and by itself ties itself to the interests of the mining bosses who are represented by the ANC."

A case in point, believes Sebei, is the sponsorship of Cosatu by Patrice Motsepe, who ranks as the fourth wealthiest man in South Africa with a net worth of some R22.75 billion [£1.6 billion] as at March 2012, according to Forbes.

Motsepe has interests in platinum, gold, coal, iron and manganese through African Rainbow Minerals, the company that helped build his billions, and was one of the first big Black Economic Empowerment winners post democracy, when mining rights were only granted to ’empowered’ companies.

In its profile, Forbes talks about how Motsepe is labelled as an ’oligarch’ in this country.

"Motsepe has been sponsoring Cosatu for years. If you look at the report for the congress before this one, Motsepe was the biggest donor. This means that Cosatu is highly compromised," says Sebei.

"A debate has emerged about whether it is time to reconstitute the labour movement," says Sebei. "This is a debate that is emerging within our own ranks, but the events of Rustenburg and the workers’ own action in defiance of mine bosses and NUM show that the move to earnestly rebuild the labour movement from scratch has begun.

"The workers will reclaim the labour movement for their own control and their own struggle, and I think that is a warning to Cosatu and to the rest of the other unions in Cosatu who think that they have a God-given right to lead the workers."

Sebei said that the Democratic Socialist Movement was campaigning for a new socialist, labour party to emerge. "We need to be able to build a mass political party that will unite all the workers in the mining industry with all other workers in all other industries, but also with all communities in struggle, and with youth in campuses... this is an idea that has found its echo in Rustenburg and beyond."

The call for a mass political alternative, which Sebei said would be based on the ideas and programme of socialism, would be given a loud voice on 13 October 2012 when workers, activists and youth march from Church Square in Pretoria to the Union Buildings.

"We are saying that the entire mining industry, and the rest of the economy, must be brought under democratic control and management of the working class.

"This means that mines must be nationalised first and foremost, so that the economy can be planned to meet the needs of the people, and not for the profits of those who have become rich at the expense of all of us during the past 18 years of democracy," Sebei says.

"The working class needs a political party and government of their own, one that will take the entire economy under democratic control to ensure that our sweat and blood is not for the few, and to ensure that the misery we are wallowing in isn’t a natural order of things.

"Our country is enormously wealthy - wealthy enough to create a better life for those living in misery, poverty and unemployment.

"All the parties that exist currently are different shades of capitalism. There is no one party that represents the interests of the working class.

If you look at the number of people who are qualified to vote and who don’t vote, it is not because of a lack of political interest, it is because no one represents the workers. There is no one to take our issues to government," he says.

Sebei says that the first matter to attend to should be the strikes, and anticipates it is likely that the new labour-driven political party will be launched next year.


DSM members are travelling thousands of kilometres every week across the Rustenburg region and beyond, helping to coordinate the action of the striking miners. The DSM is appealing to members and supporters of the CWI to help finance this activity.

Make donations payable to Socialist Party and send to ’South Africa Appeal’, PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD. Online: Put ’South Africa Appeal’ in the message box - www.socialistparty.org.uk/donate

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