Workers Vanguard No. 977

1 April 2011


True Face of Neo-Apartheid Capitalism

Cops Kill Shop Steward on the Picket Line

South Africa

The following article was written by our comrades of Spartacist South Africa.

On March 3, during an attack on a protest by striking bus and refuse workers in Tshwane (Pretoria), cops of the South African Police Service (SAPS) shot and killed Petros Msiza, a 43-year-old shop steward in the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU). Spartacist South Africa, section of the International Communist League, stands in solidarity with Msiza’s union brothers and sisters and shares our grief with his family.

As a March 7 SAMWU statement denouncing the police killing rightly noted: “This is not the first of our members that have been shot, every few months the SAPS violently shoots at innocent protesting workers…. This attack and killing is an attack on the working class, not just SAMWU.” In the same week as the killing, the Tshwane local government responded to SAMWU’s “illegal” strike by firing some 1,000 municipal workers. A week later, some 22 SAMWU workers were arrested in Kempton Park on the East Rand outside Johannesburg during protests demanding the reinstatement of their shop stewards and the same pay as workers in other municipalities. We demand that charges be dropped and the workers be released.

The attacks on SAMWU, affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), come in the context of a sharp increase in murderous police violence and a general police clampdown on all aspects of life of poor and working people, leading the Sowetan (14 March) to warn of a “police state.” A recent report by a member of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation reveals that the number of deaths from police shootings has more than doubled in the last five years to 568 deaths in 2009-2010—the highest level recorded since the Independent Complaints Directorate began gathering statistics on police abuse in 1997. The Sunday Independent (20 March) reported: “Police researchers and lawyers who specialise in litigating against the police have warned that anecdotal reports of giving electric shocks, suffocation and other apartheid-style torture methods have become more prevalent.”

With mounting social unrest come increased attacks on democratic rights and threats of police bonapartism. Recently SAPS cops carried out a raid on the office of the so-called Public Protector, who is supposed to investigate government abuses of power, just one week after she announced an investigation into corruption charges against police commissioner Bheki Cele.

As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin wrote in The State and Revolution (1917), “The state is an organ of class domination, an organ of oppression of one class by another.” The police killing of Petros Msiza is only the latest, most naked, illustration of this Marxist understanding of the capitalist state in neo-apartheid South Africa. While the rigid system of white rule through legally enforced racial segregation and subjugation was ended, the deal struck in the early 1990s bringing to power the Tripartite Alliance of the African National Congress (ANC), South African Communist Party (SACP) and COSATU changed nothing in the superexploitation of mainly black labour for the profits of a filthy rich, overwhelmingly white, capitalist class. The Tripartite Alliance is a bourgeois government responsible for maintaining neo-apartheid capitalism. This means brutal oppression of the black majority and defence of the rule and profits of the same old Randlords who ruled under apartheid, now supplemented by a thin layer of black capitalists and others who’ve enriched themselves by joining in the exploitation of “their own” people.

The reformist COSATU and SACP tops do all they can to cover up this basic fact in order to justify their grotesque class collaboration of participating in the capitalist government. COSATU and SACP leaders were among the most enthusiastic backers of President Jacob Zuma as a supposed “friend” of workers. Since coming to power in 2009, Zuma has delivered on the promise of strengthening the repressive state apparatus to supposedly “get tough on crime,” appointing Bheki “shoot to kill” Cele as police commissioner and unleashing the cops against public sector workers during last year’s strike.

With the same nationalist class-collaborationist logic, the reformists embrace the strikebreaking thugs of the capitalist state as “comrades.” For example, COSATU includes the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU), while SAMWU and other COSATU affiliates organise security guards and cops and the SACP recruits cops into its own organisation. Whether black or white, the cops have the same job in the “new” South Africa as the police had under apartheid: to defend capitalist rule and profits by violently repressing workers and the poor. We oppose the inclusion of police or security guards in the unions and workers movement and fight for the complete independence of the workers movement from the bourgeois state. Cops, prison guards and security guards out of the unions!

Protesters struggling against the brutal conditions in the mainly black townships have been particularly hard hit by police terror. Last September, cops in Free State province shot and killed Nontsikelelo Nokela, a 17-year-old pupil taking part in protests against being forced to take matric exams without adequate preparation. In February this year, Solomon Madonsela was killed and many others injured as police fired rubber bullets and live ammunition at protesters in Wesselton township in Ermelo, Mpumalanga, who were demanding jobs and service delivery. There were widespread reports of beatings and brutal torture by cops trying to extract confessions from protesters in police custody.

The situation cries out for the trade unions to mobilise to defend these protesters against the very same capitalist state which is shooting down trade unionists on the picket lines. Such a struggle, including championing demands addressing the burning needs of the township poor—decent, affordable housing for all; massive improvements in the township schools and infrastructure; skills training; and spreading out the available work amongst available labour with no loss in pay—would be a powerful action to build solidarity between the unemployed and the unions and undercut the attempts by the bosses and their government to pit them against each other. The participation of disciplined, class-conscious union marshals would also help to spike the outbreaks of anti-foreigner attacks which have become an increasing occurrence during the service delivery protests.

This requires a fight for a class-struggle leadership in the unions. The COSATU and other trade-union bureaucracies abandon the township poor to their fate out of class-collaborationist loyalty to the capitalist state which, in COSATU’s case, they are a component part of administering through the Tripartite Alliance. Outrageously, the COSATU-affiliated National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa in Mpumalanga issued a February 16 statement condemning the victims of cop terror in Wesselton for their “violent protests”!

Immigrants from other African countries and Asia also feel the brunt of police repression, from raids on bars and nightclubs in heavily immigrant districts to daily harassment of hawkers, prostitutes and others trying to eke out a desperate existence. To cite just one example, in November 2009 an Angolan street vendor in Pretoria was shot and killed by two (allegedly drunk) off-duty cops when he tried to keep them from stealing his wares. As proletarian internationalists, we fight for the workers movement to take up the defence of these immigrants and to organise immigrant workers into the unions with full rights and benefits. This is both a defence of democratic rights and an act of class solidarity for the unions’ own defence. Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No deportations! This call is particularly important right now, as the government threatens to begin deporting hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans and is proposing draconian amendments to the immigration laws.

In the weeks following the killing of Msiza and other attacks on the union (all of which took place in ANC-run municipalities), the leadership of SAMWU caused unease in the Tripartite Alliance by warning that they “find it impossible to convince our members and the community” to vote for the ANC in the upcoming local elections and demanding that the ANC leadership “intervene urgently to address our concerns.” While COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven assured the ANC that this was “not a Cosatu position,” ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe, who is also a top SACP leader, arrogantly dismissed “grandstanding by the Samwu leadership who want to eat their bread and still have it.”

Despite the hostile reaction by the Alliance tops, the SAMWU leadership’s protests in fact have nothing to do with working-class independence from the bourgeois-nationalist ANC and everything to do with containing the anger of the union’s working-class base within the framework of the Tripartite Alliance, a nationalist popular front through which the interests of the working-class base of the SACP and COSATU are subordinated to those of the capitalist exploiters. Thus the SAMWU leadership’s resolution promotes the illusion that the ANC—a party of the bosses—can be made to be “worker friendly” if enough pressure is exerted.

This is a deadly illusion which will only continue to disarm the workers in the face of increased capitalist attacks and state repression. The working class can never wage a consistent struggle for its interests and those of all the oppressed if it is chained to the exploiters, their political parties and state through bourgeois nationalism. As long as capitalism exists, the gains which the masses have wrested through struggle will always be threatened. We fight to split the Tripartite Alliance along class lines as part of the struggle for a revolutionary Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party. This is the necessary instrument to lead the working class to a victorious socialist revolution that will shatter the capitalist state and erect in its place a workers state—the dictatorship of the proletariat. Break with the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance! For a black-centred workers government as part of a socialist federation of Southern Africa!