Workers Vanguard No. 1008
14 September 2012
ANC/SACP/COSATU Tops: Front Men for Mining Bosses
Striking Miners Defiant After Massacre
SEPTEMBER 10—The leaders of South Africa’s Tripartite Alliance government, led by the African National Congress (ANC), no doubt figured that the August 16 massacre of strikers at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine would break the workers’ resolve. They figured wrong. The 3,000 rock drill operators, organized mainly by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), defied a company ultimatum to return to work or face mass firings. One striker told CNN that the brutally exploited workers would hold out in their demand for a pay increase to honor their 34 slain comrades, “otherwise they will have died in vain.”
The strikers’ firm determination was evident on September 5 when several thousand marched through the streets of Marikana, a mining center in North West Province not far from Johannesburg, in the biggest mobilization since the August 16 bloodletting. Hundreds broke through cop barricades, pushed past half a dozen armored cars blocking the route and marched to the Lonmin mine in nearby Karee. They demanded that the company shut down all operations and made absolutely clear their intention to stop all scabbing.
In South Africa and internationally, outrage over the August killings was redoubled when the courts invoked a law from the white-supremacist apartheid era to charge 270 arrested strikers with the murder of their comrades by the police. Feeling the heat, the government provisionally withdrew the murder charges, further fueling the militancy of the month-long strike, which has itself touched off other miners’ strikes throughout the country. At the same time, other charges remain and many strikers are still detained. It is the urgent duty of miners and other trade unionists around the world to act in solidarity with the embattled Marikana strikers and demand: Drop all charges! Free all arrested miners! Victory to the miners strike!
In most of these battles, the workers have been pitted against not only the mining bosses but also the misleaders of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the largest component of the COSATU trade-union federation that is part of the ruling Tripartite Alliance along with the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP). This was seen earlier this year when workers shut down for six weeks the world’s largest platinum mine, Impala Platinum (Implats) in Rustenburg, in defiance of the NUM bureaucracy. On August 22, workers launched a fight for better wages at the Royal Bafokeng platinum mine near Marikana and also demanded permanent posts for rock drillers who had been hired on a short-term basis by low-wage contractors (labor brokers). After only one day, NUM leaders got them back to work without their demands being met. The next day, workers at Anglo American Platinum’s Thembelani mine refused to go down the mine shaft until their wage demands were addressed, but that action too was quickly derailed by NUM bureaucrats.
But miners continue to defy these misleaders and the capitalist government they are beholden to. On August 29, 12,000 workers at Gold Fields’ KDC mine downed tools and demanded the rescinding of deductions from their wages as well as the resignation of the local NUM leadership. Even though the national NUM office got strikers back to work a week later by suspending the local union leadership, yesterday another 15,000 launched a wildcat strike at another section of the mine demanding resignation of their own local NUM leaders, whom they accuse of falsely promising wage increases. At Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the industry leader with about 40 percent of global supply, workers were reported to have selected delegates among themselves to make wage demands on their behalf in defiance of NUM officials.
Meanwhile, the state continues its repression of workers. On September 3, some 200 miners at the Gold One company’s flagship mine east of Johannesburg, many of whom had been fired through cell phone text messages for striking last June, demanded their jobs back in a protest that was fired on by security guards. Thirteen strikers were arrested.
An August 23 leaflet on Marikana by Spartacist South Africa (printed in WV No. 1007, 31 August) declared, “Make no mistake: the blood of these massacred workers is on the hands of the leaders of the ANC/SACP/COSATU Tripartite Alliance and their government, who have demonstrated yet again their reliability to the Randlord rulers and their imperialist senior partners.” As under apartheid rule, the role of the capitalist state in “democratic” South Africa is to defend the rule and profits of the South African bourgeoisie—and its senior partners on Wall Street and in the City of London—against the oppressed black, coloured (partly Malay-derived, mixed-race population) and Indian toilers.
The fundamental racial divide between the white minority that lives in First World conditions and the mass of the populace living in Third World poverty continues to exist—and, in fact, has deepened under the Tripartite Alliance. The “new” South Africa has now surpassed Brazil as the country in which the chasm between the wealthy at the top and the masses at the bottom is the largest in the world. Here is the bitter fruit of the SACP’s 80-plus years of subordination to the bourgeois-nationalist ANC in the name of the “national democratic revolution.” The workers killed in Marikana, like the many who were assassinated in the heroic struggles against apartheid, will be avenged when the working class, leading all the oppressed, sweeps away neo-apartheid capitalism and establishes a black-centered workers government.
Cops’ Killing Spree Exposed
Shortly after the Marikana massacre, South African president Jacob Zuma declared that he had instructed the police “to do everything possible to bring the situation under control and to bring the perpetrators of violence to book” (New York Times, 16 August). The cops had no difficulty divining the “perpetrators” Zuma had in his crosshairs. ANC mining minister Susan Shabangu assured a meeting of mining executives that the government was “determined to isolate bad elements” such as the Lonmin strikers.
In the aftermath of the massacre, considerable evidence has surfaced proving that trigger-happy cops hunted down and killed strikers in cold blood. Academic researcher Peter Alexandra, survivors of the shooting and other sources report that police erected a barrier of razor wire and barbed wire around the workers’ meeting place, leaving only one exit, where armored cars were parked. When cops began to shoot at the trapped workers, some ran toward the exit and were mowed down, in scenes filmed by television cameras.
An investigation by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Greg Marinovich indicates that only a minority of those killed died in the events that were filmed. Other workers ran from the exit and hid in an outcropping of rocks. Cops used tear gas to flush them from their hiding places and, as the workers appeared, shot them like wild beasts. One of the strikers told the Johannesburg Star (5 September): “People were shot for fun while down on their knees with their hands up in the air and begging for their lives.” The gut-wrenching footage of South African cops using high-calibre assault rifles to gun down striking miners armed with little more than homemade wooden spears evoked the 1879 slaughter at Ulundi carried out by British colonial forces, who mowed down similarly armed Zulu warriors by the hundreds using Gatling guns, an early type of machine gun.
There are also widespread reports of beatings and torture of miners arrested following the cop massacre. One of them recalled that at the police station he was made to stand against the wall with his hands above his head while police beat him in the ribs with a club. He witnessed others having their fingers stomped on with boots. One strike leader, Noki Mgcineni, was shot in the foot and was taken to Andrew Saffy Hospital, which is owned by Lonmin. A striker recounted (Associated Press, 5 September): “Police then went to the hospital and dragged him away. They beat him up and they killed him. We found him in the mortuary.”
The Marikana massacre is a bitter illustration of the fact that the police—black and white—are paid enforcers of racist capitalist rule. In South Africa and elsewhere, the International Communist League demands: Cops and security guards out of the labor movement!
Neo-Apartheid Capitalism: Bosses Profit, Workers Starve
Mining has powered the South African economy from the late 19th century under British colonial empire-builder Cecil Rhodes up through the apartheid Afrikaner regime installed in the 1940s to today, under neo-apartheid capitalist rule. While the economy has somewhat diversified in the last half century, mining still accounts directly or indirectly for well over a quarter of the country’s economic activity and employs half a million workers.
South Africa produces the vast majority of the world’s platinum, the key ingredient for emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles. However, with the global auto industry caught in the doldrums of the world capitalist recession, the previously high prices for the metal, which led to a profit boom in recent years, have plummeted more than 25 percent in the past year. This is a major factor behind the bosses’ campaign to drive down their main cost, labor. The class battles at Lonmin’s Marikana complex, where workers are fighting for a steep hike in their miserably low wages, follow months of attempts by platinum mining companies in South Africa to close mines or otherwise cut back operations.
Platinum mining is particularly labor-intensive and dangerous. Rock drillers toil in some of the deepest mines in the world at temperatures approaching 115 degrees in cramped, damp, poorly ventilated areas where rocks can fall at any time. Drill operators, who perform the most grueling and dangerous work, are mostly migrants, mainly from the Eastern Cape but also from other South African provinces and neighboring countries like Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In the shantytowns, where they live in makeshift tin shacks, outside toilets are shared among up to 50 people. There are few water taps, raw sewage leaks from burst pipes, and children scavenge in rubbish dumps.
Government statistics tracking mine fatalities—on average one miner in South Africa dies every three days in underground accidents—deliberately understate the dangers by not including those miners who contract tuberculosis, silicosis and other work-related diseases. These victims of brutal exploitation are simply sent back to their homes in rural areas or in neighboring countries to die.
A third of the underground workers at Marikana are employed by labor brokers at lower wages than their co-workers and with no medical, pension or other benefits. In Spartacist South Africa No. 7 (Winter 2011), our comrades called for “smashing the parasitic labour-broker middlemen through class-struggle means.” Their article stressed: “The fight to defend brokered workers should be tied to a struggle to organise the unorganised and to defend immigrant workers and others of the most oppressed layers in the working class” (see “For a Class-Struggle Fight Against Labor Broker Parasites!” WV No. 985, 2 September 2011).
Originating as a split from the NUM in 1998, the AMCU has been growing especially among the lowest-paid sections of the mining workforce. In “The Rise and Rise of AMCU” (miningmx.com, 2 August), a mining trade journal noted that the NUM was originally born out of the lowest job categories of miners, mainly from gold mines, with 60 percent of its members coming from outside South Africa. These were mostly illiterate migrant laborers. But now that number has dropped to below 40 percent, with an increasing portion of the NUM membership consisting of white-collar mining staff.
In the aftermath of the Lonmin massacre, NUM bureaucrats, SACP spokesmen and other Alliance leaders were calling for state repression against the AMCU. In a 24 August statement, the COSATU leadership claimed to see a “co-ordinated political strategy to use intimidation and violence, manipulated by disgruntled former union leaders, who have been discredited, expelled for ill-discipline, in a drive to create breakaway ‘unions’ and divide and weaken the trade union movement.”
This treacherous violence-baiting has been echoed around the world by reformist “socialists” that have long been in the camp of the bourgeois ANC. In the U.S., the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) snidely posed whether “the AMCU or any other force deliberately led workers into a situation hoping for a massacre” (Liberation, 4 September). The PSL’s political cousins in the Workers World Party (WWP) posted a statement, “Police Massacre Striking Miners” (workers.org, 20 August), that hails the SACP, NUM and ANC for their reaction to the police massacre, favorably quoting a statement by the SACP Central Committee bemoaning “the tragedy” at Marikana. But that SACP statement does not denounce the police for gunning down the strikers! Instead, it directs its fire at the “violence associated with AMCU.” The WWP favorably cites an August 20 NUM statement (“Behind the Lonmin Violence”) while editing out a portion that “appeals to all workers to go back to work and for the law enforcement agencies to crack down [on] the culprits of the violence and murders”!
Denouncing the backstabbing by the NUM/COSATU tops, the Spartacist South Africa leaflet stated: “We defend AMCU against state repression, and we defend the right of the mineworkers to be represented by AMCU if that’s what they desire.” In general, revolutionaries favor organizing workers in one union in a given industry as a means of maximizing the strength of the working class against the capitalist oppressor. However, we do not condemn all splits within the trade-union movement out of hand; these need to be judged on a case-by-case basis. For example, the breakaway of the CIO from the craft-union-based AFL in the 1930s in the U.S. laid the basis for the organization of the mass production workers.
In South Africa today, the NUM’s class treachery is fundamentally responsible for undermining workers’ unity in the mining industry. Many of the lowest-paid workers have sought redress by joining the AMCU. To be sure, new unions are not in and of themselves an answer to the attacks mounted by the bosses. What is necessary is the forging of a class-struggle leadership in the unions, based on unswerving independence from the bourgeoisie and its state. This is bound up with the fight to forge a revolutionary vanguard party.
Fat Cats vs. Wannabes
Many in the top echelons of the COSATU bureaucracy have become integrated into the post-apartheid black elite, a thin layer that has been showered with privileges by the (still mainly white) capitalist rulers in return for upholding their class rule against the (mainly black) working class. The black “gravy trainers” are exemplified by Cyril Ramaphosa, an ANC leader and former NUM general secretary. Ramaphosa was a leading negotiator for the “power sharing” deal that, after years of massive struggles by the working class and the township poor, replaced apartheid rule in 1994 with the ANC-led government. Today Ramaphosa is one of South Africa’s richest men, with an industrial empire worth some $250 million—including a partial ownership stake in Lonmin. When Ramaphosa offered a few slivers of that wealth to pay the funeral costs of the slain Lonmin miners, one striker said, “They should have used it to increase our wages.”
The capitalist ANC has enjoyed the overwhelming political loyalty of the black majority because it is seen as the party that brought liberation from white minority rule. A Mail & Guardian (31 August) article noted that former president Thabo Mbeki urged the capitalists to support the ANC because “people trust us, we fought for them.... They will be patient.” After 18 years of neo-apartheid administered by the Tripartite Alliance, the patience of much of the country’s dispossessed masses has run out. The current wave of strikes is but the latest outpouring of union struggle and comes on top of steadily growing township protests, in which blacks demanding decent houses, electricity, running water and toilets are regularly met by police firing rubber bullets.
The massive anger at the base of society is reflected in a distorted way in bitter divisions at the top of the ANC and the Alliance. With populist appeals to disillusioned workers and youth, former ANC Youth League (ANCYL) president Julius Malema has emerged as the most outspoken representative of anti-Zuma forces in the ANC. Four years ago, he was among the foremost promoters of Zuma’s ascendancy in the ANC. Now, having been expelled from the party earlier this year, he goes around denouncing ANC and NUM leaders as “bloodsuckers.” As always, he spews racialist demagogy in order to divert workers from a class understanding of the neo-apartheid order. Marxists give no political support to any of the politicians of the capitalist ANC, regardless of their particular policies.
Malema, who heads four companies, sports Gucci suits and has a penchant for luxury cars, has nevertheless gained a lot of popularity by calling for nationalization of the mines. As the SSA has written:
“The Malema/ANCYL nationalisation policies are bourgeois reform schemes which would not end the superexploitation of the mineworkers. Their policy document proposes joint share holdings between the current mine owners and the government (with a majority share for the latter), meaning that the bourgeois state becomes a partner in directly exploiting the workers.”
— see “Populist Demagogue Malema and the ANC,”
WV No. 1006, 3 August
Counterposed to bourgeois “nationalization” schemes, the SSA fights for a black-centered workers government that will expropriate the mines, banks and industry without compensation, linking that struggle to the fight for workers power in the imperialist countries. Seizing the mine shafts, machinery and mountains of finance capital—now mainly in London, New York and other banking centers—that the mining bosses have heaped up through more than a century of superexploitation of mainly black labor will be a necessary step in liberation from capitalist oppression.
However, the proletariat cannot realize this potential when it is chained to its exploiters through the Tripartite Alliance, a nationalist popular front—the South African variant of a governmental coalition binding reformist workers organizations to the bourgeoisie. Through such class-collaborationist coalitions, Stalinist Communist parties have derailed working-class revolutions from China in 1927 to France and Spain in the 1930s and Italy and Greece following World War II.
The Tripartite Alliance was the key agency by which South Africa’s capitalist rulers diverted the huge confrontations in the 1980s between the apartheid regime and the oppressed masses. The SACP, the leading political force in COSATU, bears central responsibility for sacrificing a rising wave of black labor militancy on the altar of nationalist class collaboration. Writing after the 1994 elections, when Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president, we warned: “The ANC-led nationalist movement cannot achieve any semblance of ‘liberation’ for the nonwhite masses since it is committed to maintaining South African capitalism, which has always been based on the brutal exploitation of the black toilers” (“South Africa Powder Keg,” Black History and the Class Struggle No. 12, February 1995). This truth is hammered home every day in the mines, factories and townships.
The liberation of the black and other non-white masses can never be achieved short of the overthrow of South African capitalism. South African workers, who are exploited by a capitalist class whose holdings extend throughout southern Africa, have the social power to liberate not only the downtrodden masses in their own country but those of the entire region groaning under neocolonial misery. As part of a socialist federation of southern Africa, a black-centered workers government would expropriate the bourgeoisie as a class, thus laying the material foundations for social equality. But this perspective can be fully realized only through the extension of socialist revolution to the most advanced capitalist countries and the establishment of a collectivized, planned world economy. What is necessary is to break workers from the Tripartite Alliance and to forge a Leninist-Trotskyist party to lead the fight for proletarian rule.