The constant smell of smoke from the burning wood fires in the townships, as residents attempt to keep warm from the freezing winter nights in their flimsy tin shacks, is just one of the reasons for the night time smog surrounding Johannesburg.
The other reason is the flames of class struggle that are literally burning across the townships of South Africa in protest at the failure of the corrupt African National Congress (ANC) government to address the grinding poverty and inequality that not only still exists but is actually widening.
Civic (community) protests around the lack of progress in building new homes to replace the thousands of informal settlements, the lack of basic service delivery i.e. access to water, electricity and refuse collections, have taken place regularly in black townships since the ANC government came to power in 1994. But the latest protests have become more violent and are spreading to coloured townships, such as Eldorado Park (Eldo’s), which is adjacent to Soweto in Johannesburg.
The roads of Eldo’s still bare the marks of the violent protests that took place earlier this month. This left residents prisoners in their own community, as burning road blocks on the highway and main arteries, in and out of Eldo’s, prevented any movement. Looters were able to raid and burn down stores, warehouses and petrol stations.
The media initially claimed these protests were a result of alleged discrimination against Eldo’s coloured community, over the preference given to neighbouring black townships in the building and allocation of housing.
The shortage of housing remains a massive problem with some two bedroom flats in Eldo’s accommodating twenty seven occupants. However, such conditions are not unique to Eldo’s but are prevalent also in many black townships, as local Workers & Socialist Party (WASP) members pointed out in a community meeting following the protests.
According to residents it was not just the housing issues that sparked the protests but the acute social problems in the township, especially the rise in drug and alcohol abuse and the increasing violent attacks on women, which the police ignore. This was grotesquely confirmed a few days later when a woman was shot dead in a botched up carjacking.
WASP members who are residents in Eldo’s are playing an important role in organising community action. They put forward concrete demands that can offer a real alternative and undermine the criminal element who have used the justifiable anger of the community to further their own agenda.
As well as convening future action meetings to pressurize local, regional and national politicians, steps are also being taken to link up with other townships across Johannesburg and ultimately to strive to establish a national federation of civics armed with a socialist programme to deliver the homes and services so desperately needed.
Socialist programme needed
The increased levels of violence, the blocking and burning of tyres on roads and the burning down of buildings, are starting to become more common as ‘normal protests’ are ignored by the authorities, who only seem to respond when the flames of anger are burning high. Unless counteracted with united action, under a socialist programme, this tendency could develop further, even in the trade union struggle.
An #OutsourcingMustFall (#OMF) strike meeting in Pretoria, last week, voted for strike action in protest at management at the Twashane University of Technology (TUT) reneging on their promises of full time contracts for outsourcing workers.
Led by Wasp and Outsourcing Must Fall activists, thousands of unorganized workers are being organised into the trade union movement, including the TUT workers, and won significant victories which management now want to claw back. The leadership has led a determined campaign to defeat such attacks. But the dangers of an angry and frustrated workforce were shown when one of the affected workers asked ‘who was bringing the tyres to the picket line’! This comment, dismissed by the leadership and members, nevertheless shows the urgent need for a political alternative to the bankrupt ANC.
The recent launch of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), a new trade union federation, after the split in the Zuma supporting Cosatu federation, has the potential to assist in the creation of a new mass workers’ party.
This is despite the attempts by the Numsa-dominated leadership of Saftu to make the new federation ‘politically independent but not apolitical’ after the experience of the ANC-dominated Cosatu.
However, when a leading WASP member, attending the launch conference as a delegate from OMF, addressed the meeting demanding that Saftu urgently proceeds in the launch of a new mass workers party in preparation for the 2019 general election he was loudly and enthusiastically applauded by the vast majority of ranks and file delegates, particularly those from Numsa.
All these issues were discussed and debated at the Wasp national committee last weekend. Delegates from from Eastern Cape, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Limpopo, Johannesburg and Pretoria grappled with the strategy and tactics necessary to intervene in the mighty class battles taking place in South Africa and the building of Wasp in the cities and townships across the country.
Despite the enormous amount of work on the shoulders of the leadership of Wasp, their international outlook and approach were to the fore in all their discussions. Particularly their awareness and support for the Jobstown not Guilty campaign, in Dublin, and solidarity was sent to the Jobstown defendants under the banner that ‘Protest is not a Crime (even in South Africa’!).