CWI Summer School: Seismic convulsions in South Africa

This year’s CWI Summer School, held in Belgium this week, began with an inspirational account of the recent dramatic developments of workers’ struggle in South Africa, the important participation of the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI South Africa) and the launch of the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP).

On the invitation of ALS (Active Left Students) the CWI holds its Summer School in Belgium this week. Hundreds of CWI comrades from South Africa, Nigeria, Tunisia and the Middle East, the US, Canada and Quebec, Brazil and Venezuela, Australia, China / Hong Kong, Malaysia and all over Europe have come together to discuss current world events, socialist programme, and perspectives for global working class struggle.

Further articles will follow.

The session was introduced by Alec Thraves from the Socialist Party, CWI England & Wales, who has made several recent visits to South Africa and by Mametlwe Sebei from the DSM (CWI South Africa).

South Africa changed utterly by the Marikana massacre

Alec began by outlining the rapid changes taking place following the struggle of the mineworkers and their impact across South Africa and in every section of society. The deliberate murder of the 34 miners by the police – under an ANC government which is supported by trade union federation, COSATU, and the miners’ official union, the NUM (National Union of Mine Workers) – showed the brutal methods employed by the state. The response of the miners showed also the strength and power of the working class and the vital role the DSM and the CWI have played.

The experience of the massacre and the miners’ struggle revealed the true nature of the post-apartheid ANC regime to wide sections of the working class.

As well as returning to apartheid-era repression, the pro-capitalist policy of the government has created enormous inequality in society and rising discontent amongst the working class. Struggles have developed around the demand for a living wage across South Africa but this demand has been rejected by the leader of the NUM who receives a salary of 1.5 million Rand (120,000 Euro) paid by the mining bosses. It is no surprise that workers are rejecting the corrupt trade union leaders and developing their militant struggle.

Under these conditions, the DSM played a key role, organising the co-ordination of unofficial, independent strike committees, posing an alternative to the crisis and building a new leadership.

Alec explained after speaking he spoke to a miners’ mass meeting how workers were enthused by the solidarity from the CWI and news of the huge strikes and struggles that were taking place across Europe, with miners buying 250 copies of the DSM paper at the end of the rally.

The strike committees had to organise illegal meetings in the parks and every day DSM members Liv Shange and Sebei would appear in the press and TV news every day, with constant requests to speak at mass meetings.

One of the most violent societies

As well as struggles on pay, workers face a fight for the most basic services. In the squatter camps workers live in tin sheds where in Europe you would not put animals let alone tools. Alec explained there is ¨no electricity, no water, just misery.¨ These conditions breed problems such as crime and drug addiction but also the growth of revolutionary ideas and the DSM has built branches in these camps across South Africa.

Women activists have also shown enormous courage, especially in Freedom Park where women had been terrorised by brutal rapes of the Golf Club Gang, and against homophobic attacks, ¨correction treatment¨, to cure lesbians of their disease.

Soth Africa remains one of the most violent societies in the world. Recently an AMCU miners’ leader was shot and killed by NUM thugs. The COSATU General Secretary has spoken of his fear of being assasinated. Seventy people were killed during the miners’ strike which would have been more without the presence and role of the DSM. Alec explained how he attended a workers’ meeting with 100 workers during a crucial stage of strike. It was a politically sharp discussion due to danger of miners returning to work. A proposal was made by some activists to send warning to miners and to kill 50 scabs the following morning. DSM comrades successfully intervened to stop the proposal by arguing instead to send out miners delegates to counter bosses threats and build wider support for the strike.

With support of others, the miners and the DSM, the Workers and Socialist Party has been officially launched and is preparing to stand in elections next year. The class struggle is sharper and more violent than elsewhere and socialist consciousness is far higher. It is true we have dangerous opponents in the ANC, amongst big business and also some trade union leaders. However our comrades, like in Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka, put forward our ideas despite these threats. There are dangerous opponents but also powerful support amongst millions of workers, the unemployed and many destitute living in the shanty towns.

The role of DSM

Sebei was asked to give an update of the DSMs work and explain how our small organisation was elevated into a leading role of such a big movement.

The DSM had prepared by making a thorough analysis of the situation facing the capitalist economy and the class relations in South Africa, identifying the weak link of the tripartite alliance (alliance of ANC, South African CP and Cosatu) in their attempt to bind and subordinate the working class to the government, especially its reliance on the extraction of raw materials and understanding how the mining industry would be hit in a crisis, particularly a crisis in Chinas economy. It was this analysis and an orientation to the mineworkers in Rustenburg that placed us in a key position when the struggle broke out; it was our analysis and strategy, not luck as some of our opponents on the left have suggested.

For a very long time it was clear that in Rustenburg there was a brutal and cruel war waged on mineworkers by mine bosses. In the past four years, big fights involving thousands of miners began. The DSM built a base there and extended their influence throughout South Africa. This cruel and bitter war went on but for a very long time.

Five of our members working in the mines in Rustenburg were killed just three weeks before the Marikanq massacre.

The DSM leadership identified that it was in Rustenburg where the resistance of the miners and the working class, as a whole, was developing. This analysis was rejected by all others on the left and dismissed as ultra-left. Many on the left mistakenly concluded from the weakness of COSATU to abandon work amongst organised workers. Against this background the first people miners contacted were the DSM and our intervention elevated us in Rustenburg and beyond to the whole mining industry.

The DSM used the strike to campaign for the idea of an alternative, already in minds of miners, where 300 seconds of violence exposed the reality of the regime, which was willing to drown the workers’ struggle in blood to protect the super profits of the mine owners. Having first intervened in Marikana, the DSM brought together in Rustenburg all the miners strike committees built in defiance of the official NUM, which was acting for the bosses not workers. By bringing them together on a common programme and plan, we managed to break the isolation of the Lomin workers and lay the possibility to win their pay demands and gain a victory. What happened with the break from the NUM was beginning of the unravelling of the tripartite alliance of the ANC, COSATU and SACP which held together the interests of capitalism in South Africa.


The strike did not ebb after the victory at Lonmin but spread throughout the country, to the north in Limpopo and to all mining districts. When the DSM called a meeting that bought together strike committees from all across South Africa, this committee and its authority amongst miners and beyond called for the launch of a new workers’ party, WASP.

The launch on 23 March was a tremendous success beyond our expectations. The gathering planned of 100 turned into 500, with workers walking miles to get there. All radio, TV and newspapers reported the launch. In three areas where miners had not attended, the miners reported from the strike committees marching to the union offices to demand why they had not attended the launch.

What hounds the ruling class, especially the launch of WASP, was that it is in line with the view of wide layers of the working class and amongst activists in COSATU. A labour movement survey shows how the ANC, SACP and the Tripartite Alliance are discredited in the eyes of the rank and file who want COSATU to break with the ANC and form a new workers’ party. In spite of overwhelming support for President Zuma in the ANC conference, a majority reject this in COSATU and call for an end in support for ANC.

Sebei explained, of even more interest is attitude of workers towards socialism. A reporter asked, ¨Why are you hated on the left and called ultra-left by others?¨ We answered the left, in reality, are on the right of the working class in South Africa. 80% of COSATU reps are in favour of nationalisation and workers’ committees to run industry and concluded that workers see need for fundamental change of organising of society, which is socialism. For this reason, the DSM programme of nationalising the mines, banks and monopolies under democratic workers’ control is in tune with active workers and leading layers of the working class. Other DSM principles have gained support.

Last week, the main event was the resignation of 18 ANC councillors, who responded to our demand for election of representatives to be subject to recall and who should only receive the average wage, agreed to join with us.

Developing the DSM

Having launched WASP as an idea, organising on the ground is a difficult but successful task of building the support of the masses for our programme. That task is not simple with just a few experienced party cadres. The DSM have to balance the demands of building WASP and building solid ground for DSM as an anchor and backbone for this new party.

The DSM has increased during the recent period by ten times which is a big success given the difficulty of developing a party cadre with low literacy levels, with those who are militant but who also need to reach our ideas.

Sebei explained how the DSM is succeeding in building solid ground for their ideas. Support has gathered sufficient momentum to add transport workers alongside miners as the backbone of the party but also gaining amongst chemical workers and joined also by the farm workers union that led strikes, last year.

Elsewhere the level of struggle is growing around service delivery for housing and electricity, which some may take for granted in Europe but which is a brutal struggle in South Africa. The DSM intend to call in the next few weeks an assembly of the working class, uniting miners, other industries, the rank and file of COSATU and mobilise service delivery activists and students mobilising for jobs.

It is clear WASP is going to be uniting around programme for all workers, including groups who have helped campaign for the return of leading DSM activist, Liv Shange, who came under recent attack from the regime. The campaign to allow her to return to South Africa has forced the government to capitulate. Such was the impact of the campaign, that Liv was the headline of all TV news reports, ahead of reports on the health of Nelson Mandela.

Above the objective factors and the efforts of the DSM members, Sebei concluded, ¨We had the most revolutionary international whose ideas, perspectives as well as the support of comrades and the sacrifice of all CWI sections, have helped this work. Without this we could not have succeeded.¨

Importance of the developments

During the discussion, Joe Higgins reported briefly on his visit on behalf of the CWI to the launch of WASP: ¨It was thrilling and amazing to see the enthusiasm and élan of the working class to fight for a change and a new society. It was gratifying to see the role of our comrades, our clear ideas, strategy and tactics being taken up by workers.

This year we commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Dublin Lock Out; an enormous struggle against the bosses and the state for a better life. This struggle found revolutionary leaders like Larkin and Connolly who will always be remembered by the working class. It is not slightest exaggeration to compare events in Dublin 1913 with events in South Africa today and the role of the DSM and the CWI.¨

In replying to the discussion, a comrade from England & Wales, reporting on his visit to South Africa said, ¨Our ideas are permeating the working class and being taken up as their own. We are articulating a way forward that the working class instinctively feel. That they have no political voice and they have no interest in maintaining capitalism.

“At the DSM conference in February, after three days of long discussion, a mine worker from the gold field was so inspired he went home and sold 50 papers to his neighbours – we don’t think we lost support when he woke his neighbours. Another young gold miner, who had not joined the DSM, said he wanted to join more than anything else in the world.

“The main issue is to develop our cadre to act independently, in developing support for our ideas. It is labour intensive and poverty hampers this work. To organise events outside the local areas requires a fundraising drive. It is why the financial support of the CWI has been central to our success.

Capitalists looking for safe alternatives

“The General Election will be the most polarised and fraught since the 1994 settlement. The government Tripartite Alliance, the ANC, SACP and COSATU is under pressure of fracturing. Many commentators say the ANC vote will slip below 60%, an important level that allows them to change the constitution. The rulig class fear this and are preparing alternatives. The Democratic Alliance, a white party, is promoting black members to attract black voters. The liberalwing have launched a party around prominent black activists. This is a recognition of decreasing support for the ANC in the working class.

“But most significant is the process on the left towards new parties. WASP is not only the show in town. We have agreement on many points of Malemas’s ’Economic Freedom Fighters’ programme, such as nationalisation, and Malema has an appeal amongst youth and poor.

“But tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are. Number three in the EFF leadership is a gangster-turned business man, who has advised the mines on public relations and is mired in scandal.

¨We have been expecting you¨

“Mirroring splits in the ANC are splits in COSATU, where the most militant unions stand outside COSATU. Farm workers were forced to organise themsemlves, copying the methods of miners. When comrades visited the strikers in the Cape they said ¨We have been expecting you.

“The general election is the first electoral test for WASP. The electoral system and our high profile means the chances of winning an MP are very good (though we can make no promises on that account). Around 42 000 votes are needed nationally and 15,000 euros is the cost to stand, more if we stand on regional lists. We may have to have a financial appeal to support that campaign.

“We are in a position where the advance workers have arrived with the DSM and the masses are coming. If we had not taken the WASP initiative, we would be insignificant now.

“Comrades should acknowledge the work of the comrades of the DSM. This work took several years to develop. If the comrades had not held their nerve and maintained their position we could not have done any of this.

“The work in South Africa should be an inspiration for all the CWI sections. We can go from small groups to mass influence in a short space of time. There is an enormous amount of work to do. With the support of the CWI, the DSM will remain the jewel in the crown of the CWI”.

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July 2013