It is clear that the rights of the working class and poor people on the ground are not recognised by those in power, and will never be. After the 1994 elections, ordinary people thought that they will feel and enjoy real democracy. But to their surprise, things didn’t work the way they thought. People are being demoralised, threatened and killed when they stand up. It is now difficult for people to exercise their democratic rights.
It’s clear that voting won’t bring any change in people’s lives. The whole system is run by a small ruling class. Voting does not change the system. By voting we are just fooling ourselves about our rights. People voted in 1994 because they thought their votes will bring complete changes in their lives. No one thought of suffering after voting in the first elections. Promises were made by so-called leaders in order to be voted into power. Their promises were a big lie.
Many people in South Africa were shocked by the death of at least 13 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops when rebels overran their base in the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). Amongst the public and within the media questions soon started arising around the possible reasons why troops were in CAR to begin with. When it emerged that troops were possibly partly deployed to protect businesses in CAR linked to top African National Congress (ANC) officials, there was widespread outrage. The fact that South African troops were involved in protecting the political and economic interests of wealthy people linked to the South African state in CAR, and other African countries, should perhaps, however, not come as a surprise. Throughout its history, whether during apartheid or post apartheid, the South African state – which is controlled by the ruling class and headed up by members of this class – has been most willing to deploy troops in parts of Africa to protect the political, economic and strategic interests of the South African ruling class. (more…)
The series of strikes and protests that recently took place in and around farms in South Africa’s Western Cape Province was fuelled by the deep-seated anger and frustration that workers feel. On a daily basis, farm workers face not only appalling wages, bad living conditions and precarious work, but also widespread racism, intimidation and humiliation. The extent of the oppressive conditions run deep and it is not uncommon for workers to even be beaten by farm-owners and managers for perceived ‘transgressions’. Indeed, life for workers in the rural areas has always been harsh, but over the last two decades it has in many ways gotten even worse and poverty has in many cases grown.
by Shawn Hattingh
The South African state’s oppression of the ongoing wildcat strikes, including at Marikana, is clearly deepening. Over the weekend, troops were deployed in the platinum belt in what has been a barefaced bid by the state to stop the protests by striking workers, and essentially force them back to work. As part of this, residents at the informal settlement at Marikana have been subjected to a renewed assault by the police. Many residents in the process were shot with rubber bullets; their homes were raided; and tear gas, at times, lay over the settlement like a chemical fog. In practice, a curfew has also been put in place and anyone gathering in a group has been pounced upon by the men in blue. Threats have also emerged from the Cabinet that a crackdown on any ‘trouble-makers’, that are supposedly inciting workers to continue to strike, is going to happen.
by Shawn Hattingh
This article explores, from an anarchist perspective, the sugar industry in southern Africa, and how the two dominant companies – Illovo and Tongaat-Hulett – exploit and oppress workers and communities surrounding their operations.
Southern Africa has become well known for being one of the cheapest places to produce sugar. Consequently, million of tons are produced in the region every year. Two companies have come to dominate much of this lucrative industry: Illovo Sugar and Tongaat-Hulett. It is little wonder (given how profitable the sector is), that in 2012 these two South African headquartered sugar giants once again declared massive annual profits. In fact, Illovo and Tongaat-Hulett have been reaping in billions of Rands from their operations in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Swaziland over the years.
by Shawn Hattingh
The sight of policemen brutally gunning down striking mineworkers at Marikana was truly galling. At the very least 300 rounds of live ammunition were fired at workers (and not only those seen on TV) by the police using automatic assault rifles in a military style operation [i]: the infamous consequences being 34 workers killed and perhaps as many as 87 injured [ii], with some workers still unaccounted for [iii]. Many of the workers were also reportedly shot in the back [iv] and some executed [v]. To add insult to injury, and with what was clearly some relish, the police arrested 260 workers in the aftermath [vi]. This often even involved policemen literally sticking the boot into injured workers. Allegations have also subsequently emerged that 190 of these arrested workers were tortured, some for up to 3 days, whilst being held in surrounding police stations [vii]. One worker also claims that he was taken to a room on Lonmin’s property, who owns the mine at Marikana, and handcuffed to a chair and beaten with a rubber pipe by police in a bid to extract information about the ‘leaders’ of the wildcat strike [viii]. Not to be outdone in callousness, Lonmin issued an ultimatum that unless the rest of the striking workers returned to work by 7am on the 21st of August disciplinary actions would be taken against them [ix]. The strikers though have ignored Lonmin’s threats, and at the time of writing, most remained out on strike [x].
by Shawn Hattingh (ZACF)
For many people on the left, within and outside of Southern Africa, the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ is seen as a beacon of socialist hope in a sea of capitalist despair . The reason why many leftists feel so strongly attached to this project, and promote it as an alternative, is because they have come to view it as a move by the Venezuelan state towards creating a genuine, free form of socialism  or at the very least an experiment that profoundly breaks with the tenets of neo-liberalism  . Many articles have, therefore, been written lauding the state’s nationalisation of some industries , its land distribution programmes , and its attempts to supposedly create participatory democracy in workplaces (through co-management and co-operatives)  and in communities (through community councils) . Linked to this, a great deal has also been made of the state using some of revenue generated by the Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to roll out social services such as education, subsidised foodstuffs and healthcare . Much ink has, consequently, been spilt arguing that all of these are socialist inspired moves and passionate calls have been made for other states, like the South African state, to adopt Venezuelan style ‘Socialism for the Twenty First Century’ .
by Shawn Hattingh (ZACF)
As the crisis in Europe has intensified, class war and imperialism have deepened in Greece. Indeed, the Greek working class has been subjected to further attacks from the local ruling class – comprised of capitalists and high ranking state officials – and imperialist powers. In order to receive the latest ‘bailout’ from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB), a bailout that goes straight to the banks that own most of the Greek state’s debt, the Greek state was told by the German, French and US ruling classes to once again reduce pensions by more than 15%, to fully privatise public utilities, to yet again cut social spending, and to implement more wage cuts, including a 22% reduction in the minimum wage. By 2014 it is planned that the Greek state would have cut spending, mostly on social services, by a further 12 billion Euros. All of this has come on the back of earlier rounds of austerity measures and the Greek working class has been under severe pressure: homelessness has been growing at a rapid rate and the unemployment rate has shot past 20%.
by Shawn Hattingh (ZACF)
Once again much media fanfare has broken out in aftermath of the South African state’s budget speech. The budget, however, is yet more proof of the ANC’s ruling class agenda: free markets, budget cuts for the poor and subsidies for the rich. From the budget and other utterances it is clear the ANC has, despite media hysteria, no interest in nationalisation. The state will, therefore, try and deal with the global economic crisis largely through business-as-usual.
The business media, however, has fallen all over itself with the news, from the budget, that the state will be spending billions of Rands on infrastructure and the development of ‘Special Economic Zones’, supposedly to create employment and help the poor to find a job. Much too has been made of the state spending over 50% of the budget on social services. Messages, from the state and the private media, and from the party leaders of the SACP and ANC, have been about how the budget is intended to help the poor and drive job creation. The Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, has been presented as giving hope to the dispossessed, and as giving a helping hand to the most marginal sections of society through the budget. Since, however, the budget does nothing to remove the causes of poverty, the welfare part of the budget is in reality about providing tiny grants and propping up crumbling state hospitals and township schools.
by Jonathan Payn (ZACF)
Anarchism is an idea that stands for the reorganisation of society and the economy in order to meet peoples’ needs and not for profit, according to the principle, ‘from each according to ability to each according to need’. It stands for a world in which there are no longer bosses and workers, masters and slaves; a world in which everyone is a free worker, and exploitation and oppression have been abolished.
It was recently reported by various newspapers that ‘a “notorious gang of anarchists” with links to cash heists is attempting to destabilise the Gauteng ANC’. Newspaper articles [*] quoted ANC provincial secretary David Makhura as saying that an ANC investigation would ‘expose the hidden hand of business people who are fuelling and financing activities that seek to disrupt the functioning of the ANC’.
The following article was recently published in the CNT periodical
The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front, or ZACF – Zabalaza meaning ‘struggle’ in isiZulu and isiXhosa – is a specific anarchist political organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa. It is a unitary organisation – or federation of individuals, as opposed to a federation of collectives – whereby membership is on an individual basis, by invitation only. This is because we have seen – through our own experience, as well as that of global anarchism historically – that we can accomplish more as an organisation, and be more effective, when our members share a certain level of theoretical and strategic unity, and collective responsibility.
By James Pendlebury, ZACF
Cleaning workers throughout South Africa have been on strike since Monday 8 August. They are demanding a living wage of R4 200 per month, as well as a 13thcheque and shorter hours.
Many of these workers are now paid R2 000 per month or even less, and work under the harshest conditions. The vast majority are black, and a great many are women; their supervisors are often racist and sexist bullies of the worst kind. They are frequently compelled to use dangerous chemicals, without even the protection of gloves; these chemicals can make them sick, and some have died as a result.
Comrades, this presentation covers the themes of global redistribution, economic growth of a new type, and renumeration and what these may mean in an economy based on anarchist principles. I was mandated to examine how these themes related to the two required readings for this week:
(i) Read’s Kropotkin: Selections from his Works, and
(ii) Albert’s Parecon
It has become common knowledge that South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. Only 41% of people of working age are employed, while half of the people employed earn less than R 2 500 a month . Worse still, inequality is growing with wages as a share of the national income dropping from 50% in 1994 to 45% in 2009; while profit as a share of national income has soared from 40% to 45% . In real terms this means that while a minority live well – and have luxurious houses, swimming pools, businesses, investments, and cushy positions in the state – the majority of people live in shacks or tiny breezeblock dwellings, are surrounded by squalor, and struggle on a daily basis to acquire the basics of life like food and water. Likewise, while bosses, state managers, and politicians – both black and white – get to strut around in fancy suits barking orders; the majority of people are expected to bow down, do as told, and swallow their pride.
Despite being expected to be subservient, however, protests in working class areas are spreading. People have become fed up with being unemployed, having substandard housing, suffering humiliation, and having their water and electricity cut off. In fact, per person South Africa has the highest rate of protests in the world . It is in this context of growing community direct action, even if still largely un-coordinated, that the state has felt it necessary, at least on a rhetorical level, to declare its intentions to lead a fight against unemployment and reduce inequality. To supposedly do so it unveiled a new economic framework, The New Growth Path (NGP), late in 2010 with the declared aim of creating 5 million jobs by 2020 .
Worker Co-operatives, Markets and the South African State: An analysis from an Anarchist Perspective
by Oliver Nathan (ZACF)
Worker co-operatives in post apartheid South Africa have all too often been championed by certain sections of the labour movement and some on the left as part of the solution to the ‘structural unemployment’ facing the popular classes in the current dispensation. Moreover, and often framed in purely ideological, often Proudhonist terms (in particular from the SACP and from various ex SACP members); worker co-operatives are understood as an equitable way of organizing production so that workers have control over the labour process, on the one hand, and ownership of the means of production, on the other.
Certain ‘enabling’ legislation and policy such as the Co-operatives Act of 2005, the National Co-operatives Policy of 2007 and the national Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) stepping in as the ‘custodian’ of co-operative development South Africa has, at least on paper, meant that co-operatives are part of the national development agenda currently embodied by the New Growth Plan (NGP) policy framework. However, if one does some research into how various co-operative development projects, including trade union, state initiated, and community initiated and worker occupation-type co-operatives have fared in the post-apartheid era, one would see the dismal performance of these co-operatives in relation to their original objectives. These are, in particular, providing sustainable employment for their members while at the same time maintaining member control and popular participation in administration and production.
This article seeks to tease out some of the pitfalls of organizing worker co-operatives trying to compete in the market and often with the ‘assistance’ of the state. The benefits and limitations of co-operatives have long been the topic of discussion amongst anarchists and other libertarian socialists. This paper draws on the ideas of Bakunin (as against Proudhon) around the question of how co-operatives relate to and are affected by the state and the market in capitalist society. It subsequently evaluates the realities faced by co-operatives operating in the market through an analysis of ‘worker control’ and ‘social ownership’ in the former Yugoslavian co-operatives and ‘degeneration of worker control’ in the Mondragon Co-operative Complex in Spain. We then move onto the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality’s state sponsored co-operative development project as the South African case study.
The 21st century is a time of both despair and hope: despair at the evils of contemporary society, hope that a new world is possible.
The ideas of the broad anarchist tradition can contribute greatly to this new world. They are integrally tied to an inspiring body of practice in working class, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and civil rights struggles, back to the 1860s. And they are relevant to South Africa today.
Anarchism’s basic aim is the most complete realisation of a revolutionary democratic vision, abolishing hierarchy and exploitation:
- ending social and economic inequality, including by race, nation and gender, to create a society based on free, cooperating individuals;
- revolutionary reconstruction of the family as a site of freedom and cooperation;
- participatory-democratic control of the means of production, coercion and administration, through multi-tendency worker/ community councils, not corporations and states; and,
- self-management at work, global economic participatory planning, and distribution on the basis of need, not markets.
Picking Up the Slack in Waste Collection and Ecological Protection: the Struggle of Recyclable Waste Pickers in Uruguay and Brazil
by Jonathan Payn (ZACF)
Across South America there is a growing movement – assuming different forms and characteristics, but with similar origins, demands and objectives – that, despite it being located at a strategically important intersection between two critical social issues – class struggle and ecology – seems to me to have received little attention in South African academic and activist circles. And this is true despite the fact that the social and economic conditions that gave rise to this movement prevail in South Africa, as they did – and continue to – in many South American countries. Perhaps this is due to the fact that this movement concerns people largely marginalised by industrial society and so-called ‘brown’ ecological issues – such as the pollution and contamination of rivers and dams surrounding poor communities, most acutely effecting the workers and poor – as opposed to the much more sanitary ‘green’ ecological issues – such as conservation and animal welfare – often associated, in South Africa at least, with liberal white activists from the middle and upper classes .
This is the movement of the catadores, as they are known in Brazil, and clasificadores in Uruguay; the recyclable waste pickers and sorters who, similarly to South Africa, constitute a growing informal sector in the industrial production cycle. This includes all people – not formally employed by public or private waste management services – who collect, transport, classify and sell recyclable waste for a living – or ‘work with scrap’ – thus “reducing demand for natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions” . A category of work which, according to the World Bank, is performed by 15 million people globally – or one percent of the world population  – and has become increasingly common in South Africa in recent years.
The biggest single strike since the 1994 parliamentary transition in South Africa showed the unions’ power. It won some wage gains, but it threw away some precious opportunities. We need to celebrate the strike, while learning some lessons:
- the need for more union democracy
- the need to use strikes to link workers and communities
- the need for working class autonomy
- the need to act outside and against the state
- the need to review our positions: against the Tripartite Alliance, for anarcho-syndicalism
When we celebrate May Day we seldom know or reflect on why it is a holiday in South Africa and in many parts of the world. Sian Byrne, Warren McGregor and Lucien van der Walt tell the story of powerful struggles that lie behind its existence and of the organisations that both created it and kept its meaning alive.
Faced with neo-liberal globalisation, the broad working class movement is being forced to globalise-from-below. Working class internationalism is nothing new; we need to learn from the past.
- Download this text as a PDF leaflet here
May Day or international workers day started as a global general strike to commemorate five anarchist labour organisers executed in the United States in 1887. Mounting the scaffold, August Spies declared: ‘if you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor movement – the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery –the wage slaves – expect salvation – if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there, and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out.’
by Shawn Hattingh (ZACF)
On the 13th April, people in South Africa were stunned. On the evening news the sight of six police force members brutally beating a man, Andries Tatane, to death was aired. The images of the police smashing his body with batons and repeatedly firing rubber bullets into his chest struck a cord; people were simply shocked and appalled. Literally hundreds of articles followed in the press, politicians of all stripes also hopped on the bandwagon and said they lamented his death; and most called for the police to receive appropriate training to deal with ‘crowd control’ – after all, elections are a month away.
Andries Tatane’s death was the culmination of a protest march in the Free State town of Ficksburg. The march involved over 4,000 people, who undertook the action to demand the very basics of life – decent housing, access to water and electricity, and jobs. They had repeatedly written to the mayor and local government of Ficksburg pleading for these necessities. Like a group of modern day Marie Antoinettes, the local state officials brushed off these pleas; more important matters no doubt needed to be attended to – like shopping for luxury cars; banking the latest fat pay check; handing tenders out to Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) connections and talking shit in the municipal chambers. Therefore, when the township residents had the audacity to march, and call for a response, the police were promptly unleashed with water cannons and rubber bullets. If the impoverished black residents of Ficksburg could not get the hint, in the form of silence; then the state and local politicians were going to ensure that they got the message beaten into them.
Counterpower, Participatory Democracy, Revolutionary Defence: Debating Black Flame, Revolutionary Anarchism and Historical Marxism
by Lucien van der Walt
This article responds to criticisms of the broad anarchist tradition in International Socialism, an International Socialist Tendency (IST) journal. I will discuss topics such as the use of sources, defending revolutions and freedom, the Spanish anarchists, anarchism and democracy, the historical role of Marxism, and the Russian Revolution.
The articles I am engaging with are marked by commendable goodwill; I strive for the same. Paul Blackledge’s article rejects “caricatured non-debate”. Ian Birchall stresses that “lines between anarchism and Marxism are often blurred”. Leo Zeilig praises Michael Schmidt’s and my book,Black Flame: the Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, as “a fascinating account”.
by Shawn Hattingh (ZACF)
The economic crisis in South Africa has seen inequalities, and the forced misery of the working class, grow. While the rich and politicians have continued to flaunt their ill-gotten wealth, workers and the poor have been forced to suffer. It is in this context that the majority of the leaders of the largest trade unions have, unfortunately, elected to once again place their faith in a social dialogue and partnerships with big business and the state . So while the state and bosses have been on the offensive against workers and the poor, union officials have been appealing to them to save jobs during the crisis. Not surprisingly, this strategy has largely failed. While union leaders and technocrats have been debating about the policies that should or should not be taken to overcome the crisis, bosses and the state have retrenched over 1 million workers in a bid to increase profits . It is, therefore, sheer folly for union leaders to believe that the state and bosses are interested in compromise – without being forced into it. As seen by their actions, the elite are only interested in maintaining their power, wealth and lifestyles by making the workers and the poor pay for the crisis. For the elite, social dialogue is simply a tool to tie the unions up and limit their real strength – direct action by members. In fact, even before the crisis, social dialogue had been a disaster for the unions contributing towards their bureaucratisation and having abysmal results in terms of them trying to influence the state away from its pro-rich macro-economic policies .
Over the last few years, many on the left have been trying to formulate a vision of socialism based on democracy. As a consequence countless papers and talks have been produced internationally about how socialism needs to be participatory if true freedom is to be achieved. Some have given this search for a form of democratic socialism evocative names, such as ‘Twenty-First Century socialism’, ‘socialism-from-below’ and ‘ecosocialism’. In South Africa the desire for a democratic socialism has also inspired initiatives such as the Conference for a Democratic Left (CDL); while even the South African Communist Party has outlined a need for a more participatory socialist agenda.
- This text can be downloaded as a PDF pamphlet here
“In this struggle, only the workers and peasants will go all the way to the end”
The anarchist movement has a long tradition of fighting imperialism. This reaches back into the 1860s, and continues to the present day. From Cuba, to Egypt, to Ireland, to Macedonia, to Korea, to Algeria and Morocco, the anarchist movement has paid in blood for its opposition to imperial domination and control.
However, whilst anarchists have actively participated in national liberation struggles, they have argued that the destruction of national oppression and imperialism can only be truly achieved through the destruction of both capitalism and the state system, and the creation of an international anarcho-communist society.
This is not to argue that anarchists absent themselves from national liberation struggles that do not have such goals. Instead, anarchists stand in solidarity with struggles against imperialism on principle, but seek to reshape national liberation movements into social liberation movements.
Such movements would be both anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, would be based on internationalism rather than narrow chauvinism, would link struggles in the imperial centres directly to struggles in the oppressed regions, and would be controlled by, and reflect the interests of, the working class and peasantry.
In other words, we stand in solidarity with anti-imperialist movements, but condemn those who use such movements to advance reactionary cultural agendas (for example, those who oppose women’s rights in the name of culture) and fight against attempts by local capitalists and the middle class to hijack these movements. We oppose state repression of anti-imperialist movements, as we reject the right of the state to decide what is, and what is not, legitimate protest. However, it is no liberation if all that changes is the colour or the language of the capitalist class.