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Workers Vanguard No. 1081

15 January 2016

South Africa

Race and Class Under Neo-Apartheid

For a Black-Centered Workers Government

Part One

The article reprinted below was published in December as a supplement to Spartacist South Africa, newspaper of the International Communist League’s South African section. The term “coloured” refers to the mixed-race, partly Malay-derived population in that country.

It is now 21 years into the “new” South Africa, and of the myths proclaimed in 1994, that of the “rainbow nation” today stands exposed as perhaps the most threadbare lie of all. To anyone with eyes to see, it is clear that today’s South Africa is anything but a paradigm of racial harmony. Indeed, in many important respects racial antagonisms have increased in recent years, and a real hardening of racial attitudes can be seen both among different oppressed racial groups and among the privileged white minority. Expressions of ethnic and racial exclusivism—like car stickers and T-shirts proclaiming “100% Zulu” and “100% Venda,” or pronouncements of being “Coloured and Proud”—have increased noticeably. Meanwhile, a survey released last year by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) revealed that only 52.8 percent of whites surveyed in 2013 agreed that apartheid was, in the words of the survey, “a crime against humanity”—down from 70.3 percent in 2003.

As Marxists, we understand that these retrograde developments at the ideological level are fundamentally a product of the brutally oppressive, racist material and social reality that continues to define life in South Africa. More than two decades after the end of the apartheid system of rigid, legally enforced racial segregation and white supremacy, the vast majority of the country’s non-white masses still live in “Third World” misery, alongside a “First World” inhabited mainly by the white minority. Despite some moderate increase in socialising and other interactions across racial lines—mostly among the wealthy—the relationships between whites and blacks largely remain those of masters and servants. Racial oppression and degradation are the material basis for white racist ideology, as is clearly reflected in the numerous cases of white racist attacks on black domestic workers that get reported in the media. On a much larger scale, the 2012 Marikana massacre was a bloody reminder that the lives of black workers are just as cheap today as under apartheid.

The growth of racial, tribal and other divisions among the oppressed non-white masses is also a product of the racist neo-apartheid system, which the capitalist ANC-led [African National Congress] Tripartite Alliance government is responsible for administering and maintaining. Far from delivering the “better life for all” that was “promised” in 1994, this government acts as enforcers for the superexploitation of mainly black labour by the same capitalist class that ruled under apartheid—now with a sprinkling of non-white faces. In order to deflect the growing anger at the base of society away from itself and the racist capitalist rulers, the ANC-led Alliance inevitably resorts to pitting different sections of the oppressed against each other.

Since the 1990s, we have repeatedly warned that if the seething discontent of the masses does not find expression along class lines, it will fuel and embitter every other kind of division. The deadly anti-immigrant pogroms of 2008—in which 62 people lost their lives—and the smaller outbreaks of anti-immigrant violence that have become a grotesquely common feature of life in the years since are stark proof of this grim fact.

The goal of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), of which Spartacist/South Africa is a section, is the establishment of a world communist society. Only then will economic scarcity be eliminated as a result of the qualitative advance in production made possible by collectivising the wealth and resources of society in the service of human needs. In a communist society, all forms of racial discrimination and oppression—along with the very existence of race, ethnicity and nationality as categories of any social significance—will be nothing but memories of a barbaric capitalist past. But getting there requires a series of workers revolutions to sweep away capitalist rule, including especially in the imperialist centres. Combating the very real racial, national and other prejudices that today divide the working class is a crucial part of forging the revolutionary leadership—i.e., a Leninist vanguard party—needed for working-class victory.

Snapshots of Black-Coloured Divisions Under Neo-Apartheid

Racial tensions between the black majority and the coloured minority have various expressions and causes, but a big factor is feelings of coloured marginalisation in post-1994 South Africa. As one popular saying goes, many coloured people feel that “there’s no brown in the rainbow nation.” This marginalisation has served to reinforce anti-black resentment, as the bourgeois-nationalist ANC is perceived to represent the black majority and favour them at the expense of coloureds. The tensions and mistrust are, of course, stoked and manipulated by the capitalists, their political parties and media mouthpieces, who exploit them for their own benefit. While they are not always openly expressed, often smouldering beneath the surface, there are plenty of cases where these tensions break out in the open because of one thing or another that lights the spark.

A recent example is the conflict between black and coloured parents and teachers following the appointment of a black principal and two black deputy principals at Roodepoort Primary School, an integrated school with a majority of black pupils that is situated in the predominantly coloured neighbourhood of Davidsonville, Roodepoort (west of Johannesburg). Feeling that the appointments had snubbed the coloured residents and pupils, protests were launched in February 2015, led by the Davidsonville Community Forum (DCF), to demand that the three be removed and replaced with coloured candidates. While the DCF and some protesters have tried to claim that their grievances are “not about race” but rather about alleged corruption in the appointment process, it is clear that they have everything to do with racial tensions. The DCF’s anti-black politics are revealed on its Facebook page, where in July an invitation was posted to “Anyone and any organisation that believes that Coloureds, Indians, Khoisan, Afrikaner and other marginalised minorities now needs [sic] to stand politically on their own” to attend the Gauteng launch of the Patriotic Association of South Africa in Davidsonville!

The protests had an unmistakable anti-black thrust, with parents demanding the school’s coloured pupils “needed a principal of their own race” (, 22 February 2015) or complaining that it’s “only just black people that are...making it violent” (, 20 February). They have also been vitriolic in their denunciation of the teachers’ union SADTU, with a DCF statement accusing SADTU members of bribery and demanding a Hawks [Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation] investigation into the union. The DCF also blames the union for the wretched state of education, denouncing it for having “no prospects or ideals...other than focussing more on its growth and the protection of its members.”

As Marxists, we oppose interference by the capitalist state into the trade unions as a matter of principle. We have sharp political criticisms of the pro-capitalist leadership of SADTU, as well as that of the other unions. But our perspective is to replace these misleaders with a class-struggle leadership that would seek to strengthen the fighting capacity of the unions against the bosses. Calls like that of the DCF for state intervention are aimed at crippling the unions. Labour must clean its own house; this is not the task of the class enemy.

The racial polarisation in Davidsonville serves to undermine the conditions of all teachers, and inevitably makes it more difficult to fight against funding cuts and other attacks that will worsen the conditions of the pupils. Black teachers at the school have rallied around the principal (their boss), while coloured teachers boycotted class demanding her removal. In June, it was reported that disciplinary letters were handed out to 14 teachers. Amidst this nasty racial polarisation, the school was shut down more than once and at least one protest—where black and coloured parents faced off along racial lines—was brutally dispersed by cops with rubber bullets. In August, a petrol bomb was hurled at the principal’s car outside the school.

Another incident occurred in the Western Cape farming town of Grabouw (east of Cape Town) in March 2012. It began with protests against massive overcrowding and lack of resources at the area’s Xhosa-language school, where some 1,900 pupils were crammed in a building with a capacity of 600. According to The Times (20 March 2012), the protests initially included plans for black and coloured residents to travel to stage a protest in Cape Town. The night before that was to happen, black residents started burning tyres and setting up barricades in the street. During this protest, a classroom in a nearby Afrikaans-language school, where the majority of the pupils are coloured and roughly 40 percent are black, was set on fire. This triggered a tense standoff and a day of running battles between blacks and coloureds, during which racist insults were hurled back and forth and several people were attacked by mobs.

As is especially common in the Western Cape—the one province where the ANC is not in government, and where the coloured people are the majority—the tensions were fanned by the ANC and its bourgeois political rivals of the neoliberal, white-dominated Democratic Alliance (DA), the ruling party in the province. Both parties were campaigning at the time for a by-election in the area, and sought to win votes by implicitly and explicitly mobilising racial antagonisms and prejudices (while, of course, cynically denying it). For example, then DA leader and Western Cape premier Helen Zille inveighed on Twitter against “education refugees” from the Eastern Cape who were supposedly overburdening the Western Cape—a transparent attempt to stoke racist anti-Xhosa sentiment.

The Times quoted a coloured woman in Grabouw who was part of the crowd that gathered at the Afrikaans school: “They, these blacks, came and burnt our children’s school. Why? We waited for this school for so long. They must wait their turn.” Indeed, at the root of most racial clashes among the non-white oppressed masses is the desperate struggle over a few wretched crumbs from the capitalists’ table. This is a basic part of how the bourgeoisie—a fabulously wealthy, minuscule minority amidst a sea of misery—maintains its rule. It is hardly unique to South Africa; in the 1800s, the notorious American “robber baron” Jay Gould once boasted, “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”

For communists, breaking through these retrograde divisions is centrally about advancing the vital objective interest that black and coloured workers have in united struggle against their common enemy—the racist capitalist ruling class and its political representatives, which include both the ANC and the DA. This class unity is in no way an automatic outcome of growing mass discontent, but must be fought for. That means fighting against all manifestations of racial oppression and against all racial, ethnic and national prejudices.

A popular cliché to describe feelings of coloured marginalisation post-1994 is: “First we weren’t white enough and now we’re not black enough.” Mohamed Adhikari, a coloured academic from the University of Cape Town who has written extensively on coloured identity, notes:

“A principal cause for Coloured dissatisfaction with the new that members of the Coloured community, especially the working classes, see themselves as having gained little, if any, tangible benefit from the new dispensation.... In the Western Cape, the unwinding of distortions caused by the Coloured Labour Preference Policy is not only affecting the Coloured community adversely but is also perceived to be the result of government policy unfairly advantaging Africans.”

—Not White Enough, Not Black Enough—Racial Identity in the South African Coloured Community (Double Storey, 2005)

In many respects, the living standards of the coloured masses have deteriorated significantly since the early 1990s. To cite just a few examples, the number of coloured people living in poverty increased by 20 percent between 1996 and 2012; the incarceration rate among coloured people—who make up 18 percent of the prison population—is far higher than among other racial groups; and social ills like gang violence, drug addiction and alcohol abuse hit the coloured poor more severely than other communities.

On top of this, government ministers and other high-ranking officials from the ANC have periodically launched vicious anti-coloured diatribes that give the lie to the ANC’s charade of “non-racialism.” Sometimes these chauvinist rants retail the nationalist line that since coloured people were “privileged” under apartheid, their oppression was less real and they deserve to suffer more today. For example, Tokyo Sexwale once said he wanted to “vomit” when “others try to use (our) legitimate grievances” (Cape Times, 19 September 1994). Other times, they simply promote vile racist stereotypes of coloureds, like when Roderick Blackman Ngoro—at the time media advisor for the ANC mayor of Cape Town—railed in 2005 that coloureds would “die a drunken death” if they did not “undergo an ideological transformation,” i.e., vote for the ANC (not surprisingly, few heeded his directive).

It is crucial to expose and combat this nationalist filth as part of fighting the influence of anti-coloured prejudices among the black proletariat and poor. Black workers must be won to the understanding that they too have a vital interest in fighting against the capitalist ANC government’s attacks on the coloured people, as this fight is crucial to the integrity of the working class and its ability to wage class struggle against the common enemy. A particularly clear illustration was in 1997, when Sexwale’s ANC provincial government in Gauteng moved to begin collecting back rates and rent from tenants in the coloured township of Eldorado Park, justifying this with nationalist demagogy about settling the score for coloured “privileges” under apartheid. Since then, the ANC government has launched the same attacks on tenants in black townships.

Coloured Sectoralism: A Dead End

At the same time that we combat the anti-coloured demagogy of the ANC and other black nationalists, we also recognise that the “not black enough” cliché is an expression of backward consciousness in response to the very real marginalisation and continued oppression of coloureds under neo-apartheid. Though manifesting itself in various, often contradictory, forms, a feature of this false consciousness is pseudo-nationalist coloured sectoralism: the interests of the coloured people are seen as separate from (and, in many cases, antagonistic to) those of the black majority, and therefore coloureds supposedly need to “look out for their own.” In practical political terms, this has in fact mainly translated into support for the DA and other white bourgeois parties as a purported “lesser evil.”

The politics of bourgeois lesser-evilism are often accompanied by anti-black prejudices that play on racist stereotypes of Africans as inherently corrupt, violent, etc. For example, in 2003 award-winning coloured actor Anthony Wilson spoke at an arts festival forum on coloured identity, railing: “The Boers stole, but at least they budgeted and did not steal everything. They stole the cream, but the darkies are stealing the cream, the milk and the bucket. We swapped five million farmers for 34 million blacks” (Cape Argus, 2 April 2003). This poisonous anti-black racism would be music to the ears of the late P.W. Botha, who in the 1980s launched the Tricameral Parliament—offering a phoney franchise to coloureds and Indians, and excluding blacks—in an (unsuccessful) attempt to bolster white minority rule by promoting divide-and-rule.

Wilson’s rant was polarising, including among coloured political commentators. Cape Town radio personality Nigel Pierce sharply condemned the racist poison spewed by Wilson and others who promote the myth of swart gevaar (the “black peril”) and notions of racial superiority among the coloured population, saying, “If we go that route, we’ll marginalise ourselves.” In contrast, Rhoda Kadalie apologised for Wilson’s rant, saying it was “very encouraging, because I think people need to talk about it.... Coloured people rightly feel that they have been left out of the pie, and that they get the crumbs.” This argument, like Wilson’s own attempt to justify his racist remarks by warning that “the oppressed should not become the oppressors,” plays on and promotes a widespread misconception that the racial hierarchy in post-1994 South Africa has somehow been inverted, and that coloured people are suffering because blacks are now on top.

This is a profoundly false picture of the nature of neo-apartheid capitalism. At an economic level, it is simply absurd. By almost any social measure—poverty, unemployment, life expectancy—it is blatantly obvious that the racial hierarchy that existed under apartheid remains intact, with whites on top, Indians and coloureds occupying intermediate strata, and blacks at the very bottom. For example, in 2012 the average household income of whites was 1.5 times that of Indians, 3.6 times that of coloureds and six times that of blacks.

Coloured sectoralists often draw an analogy between the ANC post-1994 and the National Party (NP) post-1948. This is just as false. Whereas the policies of the NP really did economically benefit the white population as a whole, eliminating any trace of white poverty and insuring that even less skilled whites got well-paid jobs in the civil service, the ANC has obviously done no such thing for the vast majority of blacks, whose conditions have in many respects gotten worse since 1994. Nor could it be any different, for the main source of profits for the South African capitalists remains, as it has been for over a century, the superexploitation of black labour.

This heavy overlap between class exploitation and racial oppression is a unique product of European colonisation as it played out in South Africa. That overlap did not fundamentally change in 1994—otherwise there would have been no possibility of a negotiated settlement between the ANC and the white rulers. What changed is that the ANC-led Alliance was installed in government as black front men for the capitalist rulers, who are (still) overwhelmingly white. To be sure, this has also resulted in the growth of a privileged black elite, including a handful of black capitalists like Patrice Motsepe and Cyril Ramaphosa, who have used their political connections to become exploiters in their own right.

The big lie—promoted by both the likes of Anthony Wilson and the Tripartite Alliance—is that the bourgeois government and the black elite are representative of the black majority. If anyone needed any proof that this is a lie, they got it with the Marikana massacre—including Ramaphosa’s role encouraging police action on behalf of the Lonmin board. Marikana starkly exposed that this government does not represent the interests of the black masses, but those of the South African capitalists and their imperialist big brothers.

Coloured sectoralism is a dead end that only serves to isolate the coloured oppressed from their best potential ally—the black proletariat—and tie them to their worst enemy—the racist white bosses. The clearest demonstration of this is the considerable coloured support for the DA and other white parties, particularly in the Western Cape, in the 1994 and subsequent elections.

Many leftists impressionistically believed that the collaboration between black and coloured anti-apartheid activists meant that racial divisions had been eliminated. For example, the ANC-aligned United Democratic Front (UDF), which led the campaign to boycott the Tricameral Parliament elections in 1984, had a mass base among the coloured population in the Western Cape. UDF and other leftist coloured activists promoted “coloured rejectionism”—the idealist notion that a distinct coloured population was simply an artificial invention of the white rulers—as a response to apartheid’s racist divide-and-rule.

These leftists were shocked when in the 1994 elections a majority of coloureds in the Western Cape voted for the National Party, who won the province in large part through a campaign of crude swart gevaar propaganda. As the ICL observed at the time, “The actual prospect of a black nationalist government, however liberal its ideological stance, opened up clearly visible fissures within the nonwhite population” (“South Africa Powder Keg,” Black History and the Class Struggle No. 12, February 1995).

The ANC gained control of the Western Cape in the 1999 and 2004 elections—albeit with a minority of the vote in both—as the NP went into terminal collapse and the DA was emerging as the main white opposition party. Since 2009, the DA has won the Western Cape with clear majorities, both by exploiting coloured disillusionment and resentment over the ANC’s attacks on the poor and anti-coloured demagogy, and by stoking anti-black prejudices with swart gevaar tactics.

One certainly doesn’t have to be an apologist for the bourgeois-nationalist ANC to recognise that the neoliberal DA is (also) bad news for all the oppressed, including not least coloured people. In Cape Town and the Western Cape, local and provincial DA governments have meted out vicious cop terror to all who dare to stand up and fight against racial oppression and grinding poverty—from coloured fishing communities and backyard dwellers, to black shack dwellers, to black and coloured farm workers. State repression and union-busting provocations show the real meaning of the DA’s nauseating “open, opportunity-driven society” neoliberalism: “open” season for untrammelled exploitation by the racist capitalists.

The DA dresses up its defence of white privilege by presenting itself as the saviour of “minority groups, fearful of majority tyranny and single party domination,” as Helen Zille put it in 2008. But what the DA racists stand for is just one (white) minority. Cape Town, which has been governed by the DA since 2006, is widely regarded as one of the most racist cities in the country. Media reports of white racist attacks were so frequent that the city government launched a bogus “Inclusive City” campaign in March 2015 to try to fix its image problem. It is not uncommon to hear stories of even black celebrities and politically well-connected members of the black elite being turned away from Cape Town’s “up-market” restaurants and hotels because they’re not white.

Some bitter lessons from the history of white minority rule are worth recalling for anyone with illusions that white bourgeois parties like the DA are some kind of “friend” of the coloured people. Beginning in the early 1900s, successive white minority governments pursued the tactic of aiming the most severe racist measures first at the black majority, only to later follow them up with similar attacks against other non-whites. An example was influx control and residential segregation. The 1923 Urban Areas Act provided for the compulsory registration of black Africans and gave local authorities the power to keep them out of urban areas and deport those deemed “idle and undesirable.” This and other laws were used to deport tens of thousands of blacks from the Western Cape, especially in times of economic downturn when the capitalists had less demand for cheap labour to exploit.

The white rulers cynically and demagogically passed off these measures as an act of benevolence for the coloured community, “protecting” them against competition from black labour. Pettybourgeois coloured misleaders like Abdullah Abdurahman, president of the African Political Organisation (APO, later renamed African People’s Organisation), sometimes opposed these attacks on black Africans in words. But in practice, the APO and Abdurahman aided and abetted this racist divide-and-rule, for example by appealing to the government to merely exempt coloureds from residential segregation, or even calling on the white baas to replace black workers with coloureds. The APO’s right-wing opponents among the coloured political elite were even worse, openly embracing Barry Hertzog’s racist National Party.

The end result was only to weaken resistance to the white racist onslaught and sabotage the possibilities that existed at the time for common struggle by the black and coloured oppressed. With apartheid, the system of racial segregation was taken to a whole new level, and even the limited concessions to coloureds, made to promote divide-and-rule, were scrapped. For example, following the 1950 Group Areas Act some 150,000 coloured people were forcibly evicted from their homes and communities in the Cape Peninsula between 1957 and 1985, most of them relocated to desolate coloured ghettoes like the townships in the Cape Flats.



Workers Vanguard No. 1081

WV 1081

15 January 2016


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For a Black-Centered Workers Government

Part One


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