Workers Hammer No. 231

Summer 2015


British divide-and-rule lives on under neo-apartheid

Cecil Rhodes-colonial pig

The following is excerpted from internationalist greetings to the SL/B national conference from our comrades of Spartacist South Africa, dated 7 May.

Recent events in South Africa have served to highlight how much the fates of the oppressed peoples in this region have been shaped by the rise and decline of British imperialism. Beginning a few months ago, students around the country protested against the prominent memorials to Cecil Rhodes and other racist colonial pigs that dot the landscape of this country’s universities — including by appropriately dumping a bucket of shit on the main Rhodes statue at University of Cape Town. In response, the university administrations and other bourgeois representatives mouth empty, hypocritical condemnation of Rhodes’ colonial “excesses” and make pious promises about the need for “transformation” to address “past” injustices. But the reality is that these statues are simply the most overt and obscene symbols of the racist legacy of colonial subjugation that continues to live on under neo-apartheid. In 2003, Nelson Mandela explained the ideological justification for the bourgeois nationalist ANC to embrace the likes of Rhodes, responding to the question of how he could link their names by establishing the Mandela Rhodes Foundation: “To us, the answer is easy, and we have explained the logic of our decision on a number of occasions. We have referred to our constitution’s injunction for us to come together across the historical divides, to build our country together with a future equally shared by all.” These words should echo in our ears when we remember the Marikana massacre of 16 August 2012.

Rhodes’ name stands like no other for the British colonial policy of divide-and-rule in southern Africa. In the final decades of the 19th century, he masterminded the carving up of the Tswana, Ndebele and other peoples in the region as part of his bid to outflank the Boers of the Transvaal Republic and Britain’s colonial rivals (mainly Germany and Portugal). So there is a vicious irony in the fact that the student protests against Rhodes were eclipsed last month by a new outbreak of anti-immigrant violence in Durban and Johannesburg, this time resulting in at least seven deaths and the displacement of thousands to desperate refugee camps. One of the immediate sparks for the attacks was a chauvinist tirade by the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, who referred to “foreigners” living in South Africa as “lice” and “ticks” that needed to be “removed” and put “outside in the sun”, demanding that they pack their bags and leave the country. The reactionary parasite King Zwelithini is another example of how the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance government has adapted the tools of bourgeois rule from the white minority rulers who governed before 1994. Under apartheid, Zwelithini and his uncle Mangosuthu Buthelezi were pampered by the white supremacist regime in return for ruling the Zulu “homeland” in Natal with an iron fist and collaborating in terrorising and murdering ANC and other anti-apartheid activists. In recent years, however, the ANC-led government has attempted to reinforce the power and privileges of Zwelithini and his pals in the House of Traditional Leaders with the Traditional Courts Bill, recognising their usefulness as props for neo-apartheid capitalist rule.

The horrific anti-immigrant attacks underline the necessity of a Leninist vanguard party, acting as a tribune of all the oppressed, to combat the poisonous national, racial and other divisions that the bourgeoisie fosters among the working people. The perspective of permanent revolution, culminating in an international socialist planned economy, uniquely points the way to smashing the racist legacy of colonialism and apartheid rule through a black-centred workers government as part of a socialist federation of Southern Africa.