The history of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU), formed in South Africa in 1919, is replete with lessons for today’s movements. The ICU, which also spread into neighbouring colonies like Basutoland (now Lesotho), Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Southwest Africa (now Namibia) was by far the largest protest movement and organisation of black African and Coloured people of its time. Influenced by a range of ideas, including revolutionary syndicalism, the ICU had both amazing strengths and spectacular failings. This piece explains.
The roots and principles of anarchosyndicalism are worth revisiting for the practice of worker education in movements inspired by these principles and traditions. Emphasising the democratic practice, working class rooted, organic and critical nature of the pedagogy, the practice seeks to intersect employed and unemployed women and men. Practically, the education provides a platform for post-revolutionary practice of direct democracy at the point of production and, thus, naturally included practical skills such as trades, accounting and sciences.
This is a lightly edited transcription of a talk given by Prof. Lucien van der Walt on a panel on the eve of the 2019 national elections in South Africa: the International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG)/ Workers World Media Productions (WWMP) Public Forum, Isivivana Centre, Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa 25 April.
Comrade Mandla Khoza (or “MK,” as his friends and comrades knew him) passed away on Friday 26 July in his home town of Siphofaneni, Swaziland (Eswatini). He had long suffered from sugar diabetes. He leaves behind four children. One of the pioneering members of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (ZACF) founded in South Africa on May Day 2003, MK was committed to a social revolution that would place power and wealth in the hands of the working class, the peasants and the poor. As he would often say: “It doesn’t matter if you change who sits on the throne: you have to get rid of the throne itself.” This obituary commemorates his life as a militant.
Across South Africa, municipalities are in crisis. They are under-funded, anti-working class, anti-poor and anti-township, and riddled with corruption by elites. The working class is oppressed by the state – as well as the private bosses – and we say “Enough is Enough!”
We need to build an alternative: organs of counter-power, which can demand changes and lay the foundations for a deep redistribution of wealth and power to the mass of the people: the working class and poor.
Twenty-five years into democracy the black working class majority in South Africa has not experienced any meaningful improvements in its conditions. The apartheid legacy of unequal education, healthcare and housing and the super-exploitation of black workers continues under the ANC and is perpetuated by the neoliberal policies it has imposed.
The only force capable of changing this situation is the working class locally and internationally. Yet to do so, struggles need to come together, new forms of organisation appropriate to the context are needed; and they need both to be infused with a revolutionary progressive politics and to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Outside the ANC alliance, there have indeed been many efforts to unite struggles – but these have largely failed to resonate with the working class in struggle and form the basis of a new movement. Nowhere is this more evident than with the newly-formed Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP) – which got less than 25 000 votes in the national elections, despite the fact that the union that conceived it, Numsa, claims nearly 400 000 members.