Zabalaza 11 Editorial

Zabalaza 11 has a distinct local flavour to it as compared to our previous issue. This is partly as a result of South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, which has dominated the socio-political landscape this last year. The excessive money spent by the state on preparations for the event (before and during) highlighted, once again, a complete disregard for the plight of the working poor and impoverished domestically and the stark reality of its anti-poor, pro-rich policies. Despite the tournament being ‘sold’ to the public as an economic opportunity not only for South Africans, but Africa as a whole, the major beneficiaries have been a small band of domestic and global economic and political elite.

Zabalaza 11 also focuses attention on the repression suffered by social movements based amongst some of the poorest in South Africa. In response to these attacks and subsequent arrests, the ZACF worked closely with the Poor People’s Alliance to create networks and actions of solidarity with those organisations.

Social movements have also gained and suffered at the hands of the South African judicial system recently. We focus attention on constitutional law and offer both a critique of the use of the state’s legal system by social movements as well as a way forward for embattled movements locally.

Continue reading “Zabalaza 11 Editorial”

At the End of the Baton of South African Pretensions

by Warren McGregor (ZACF)

Post-1994 South Africa is usually seen and promoted as a country of moral and political exceptionalism. The spawn of negotiations between the bourgeois nationalist and voluntarily neo-liberal African National Congress (ANC) under the guidance of Nelson Mandela and the hierarchy of the vicious apartheid state, post-apartheid South Africa was to provide a shining example of reconciliation and socio-economic progress. During a few dark days in May 2010, these claims were finally and mercilessly put to rest. So it seems and has been for those who survive in and who are social activists at the layer of society most subject to the oppressive nature of the state and capital: the working class and poor. The Landless People’s Movement, a shack and rural township dwellers organisation based in the Gauteng province, suffered attacks at the hands of their fellow community members. These attacks were designed by local community members to harass and expel prominent local activists and to destabilise the organisation and its constructive community work. Most of the LPM’s activism is directed against the state and its representatives at a local and municipal level, and thus an attack on activists can be seen to benefit a larger state desire of quietening social movements throughout the country. Lack of initial police intervention to prevent further attacks on the night of the attacks, and the subsequent arrest of prominent community activists speak to this desire.

The attacks on social movements and activists should be viewed within a socio-economic context that sees South Africa as one of the most unequal societies on the planet (according to its Gini coefficient – the income inequality indicator, literally the gap between the rich and poor). This inequality persists, bred during the last century and exacerbated by the ANC government’s grasping at neo-liberalism. Added to this cauldron of inequality was the morally criminal and immense spending by the state in hosting the recent 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup which revealed what the staging of the event was designed as and who it ultimately will benefits –  a capitalist and corporate state project for the benefits of the very few (domestically and globally).

Continue reading “At the End of the Baton of South African Pretensions”

Electricity Crisis in Protea South

by Lekhetho Mtetwa (ZACF)

It was on Sunday morning, the 28th of April 2010 when people from the bond houses took out illegal connections in Protea South. They were returning from a funeral when they made these disconnections by removing electricity wires.

The person who brought them to my yard, framing me as the one in charge of illegal connections, is a taxi owner named Nkosi. He kept on saying illegal connection meetings are held in my yard, as he often saw people gathered outside my yard connecting. The question is: do I have the powers to stop all people living in the informal settlement from connecting electricity? No! I don’t have any power to stop them. Only Eskom could maybe do that with the help of the state.

I was also threatened that if the main electricity box is burnt, they’ll also burn my shack. On that night people wanted to burn the main box and I contacted the Landless Peoples’ Movement (LPM) comrades to check what was happening outside our shacks. There we found angry community members planning to wake the rest of the people of the informal settlement to go and burn the box. We tried our best to stop them from burning the box and they all listened, although they were not satisfied.

Continue reading “Electricity Crisis in Protea South”

Conned by the Courts: How Working Class Movements are diverted from Struggle

by Sian Byrne, Komnas Poriazis and James Pendlebury

Despite the fact that organisations of workers and the poor are often quick to recognise and point out the massive injustices they face at the hands of the so-called organs of “justice”, some of these very same movements are looking to the courts – those very same organs of “justice” – for a solution to their problems. This has gone on for many years – but in 2009 the courtroom strategy came to a climax, with two key cases decided in the Constitutional Court (Concourt). One of these cases was a complete defeat for the social movements, the other a partial victory. In Mazibuko versus City of Johannesburg, the Concourt ruled that prepaid water meters (as installed in Phiri, Soweto) are entirely legal – meaning in practice that poor people are compelled to cut off their own water, the source of life itself, when they cannot pay for it. In Abahlali baseMjondolo versus KwaZulu-Natal, on the other hand, the court overruled a law that made it easier for the provincial government to evict people from their homes – thus apparently securing the poor against yet another peril. And this victory, whatever it meant in real life, infuriated the state: indeed, it may be one reason why politicians and cops turned to murder as a response to the Abahlali shack-dwellers’ movement.

But even if Abahlali have won something in the courts, they and other social movements would do well to reflect on how far such victories can really go. And the Phiri case should ring alarm bells. The social movements expected to win that case, and they did win earlier on, in the High Court (HC). But the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) partly reversed this apparent victory, after which the Concourt went on to turn it into a complete defeat. This is the very same Constitutional Court that has been hailed as the most progressive branch of the South African legal system! How could the social movements come to have such illusions in the courts and the law? What lessons can we learn for future struggles?

Continue reading “Conned by the Courts: How Working Class Movements are diverted from Struggle”

Death and the Mielieboer: The Eugène Terre’Blanche Murder and Poor-White Canon-fodder in South Africa

by Michael Schmidt

The Death of the AWB

Sixteen years ago, as impoverished, browbeaten South Africans of all races were herded towards the slaughterhouse mass betrayal of their liberation dream by the African National Congress (ANC) and their midwives the National Party (NP), in the first multiracial elections aimed at propping up the teetering neo-liberal state, armed groups of the 70,000-strong far-right Afrikaner Resistance Movement (Afrikaner Weerstands Beweeging, AWB) played their last desperate hands. These outriders of an ever-receding dream of ruling their own conservative white God-fearing state on the African highveld, the AWB embraced its Götterdämmerung.

Continue reading “Death and the Mielieboer: The Eugène Terre’Blanche Murder and Poor-White Canon-fodder in South Africa”

COSATU’s Response to the Crisis: an Anarcho-Syndicalist Assessment and Alternative

by Lucien van der Walt

COSATU's ResponseSouth African unions, centred on the 2 million-strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), have consistently articulated a policy vision that breaks with crude neo-liberalism. This is remarkable – but is it enough? Just how viable and desirable is this vision, particularly as the neo-liberal era lurches into a serious slump? And is there an alternative?

This question is posed particularly acutely by the hammer blows of the global recession from 2007. Despite the rather predicable pretence that South Africa is unaffected (notably by Trevor Manuel), the country is far from immune.

2009 saw world economic growth fall to just over 1 percent, trade growth to just over 2 percent, with 50 million job losses worldwide (2 million in SA) and 200 million plunged into the direst poverty. In South Africa, manufacturing shrunk by 22,1 percent in the first quarter of 2009, mining by 32,8 percent, and agriculture by 2,9. The previous year saw a 75 percent increase in business failures. From January to September 2009, a staggering 770,000 jobs were lost.[1] This is, of course, the exactly opposite of the Zuma ANC’s promise to quickly create a half-a-million jobs.

Continue reading “COSATU’s Response to the Crisis: an Anarcho-Syndicalist Assessment and Alternative”

Sharpening the Pangas?: Understanding and Preventing Future Pogroms

by Michael Schmidt

The 2008 Pogroms shattered the illusion among many Leftists – despite numerous early warning signs – that South Africa’s poor was an essentially undifferentiated class of the righteously angry oppressed. The killing spree left 62 people dead, 670 wounded, more than 100,000 displaced and 35,000 languishing in displacee camps. Although most of the dead were foreigners, 21 were South Africans – demonstrating that all of the victims were seen as “outsiders” in one way or another by those wielding the panga’s [1] (machetes). Some of the killers used the unrest as an excuse to settle personal scores; some were driven by ethnic hatred, others by calculated greed. A year ago, in September 2009, I travelled to four townships around Gauteng, three of which had seen pogroms in 2008 (Atteridgeville, Tembisa and Jeppestown) and one of which had not (Soweto), speaking to community activists and to survivors of the 2008 attacks to try and take the temperature at the grassroots regarding “outsiders,” in other words, had the threat of killings receded? After all, for the first week of the 2008 killings, the authorities sat back and cynically watched the damage being done, assessing, perhaps, xenophobia’s usefulness in future as a divide-and-rule strategy. The bad news is the ugly fact that many in our townships believe another pogrom is being planned for sometime after the World Cup, now that the world’s eyes are turned elsewhere. So how did the original Pogroms flourish – and how can they be stopped in future?

Sharpening the pangas?

Continue reading “Sharpening the Pangas?: Understanding and Preventing Future Pogroms”

Riding to Work on Empty Promises

by Jonathan Payn (ZACF)

Riding to Work on Empty PromisesEver since former transport minister Jeff Radebe announced that the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system prototype would be implemented in time for the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup hosted in South Africa, we have been hearing a lot about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Needless to say the deadline was missed, but the hype continued up to the launch in August 2009 and far beyond.

The promise of safe, reliable and affordable public transport comes as welcome news for the majority of working class and poor South Africans and immigrants to the country. The segregated town planning left behind by the system of racialised capitalism known as apartheid has meant that the majority of the population – also those who can least afford it – are often the ones who have the furthest to travel to work, schools, hospitals and so on. The burden of having to walk long distances to one’s destination or to a taxi route is all the more difficult for pregnant women, disabled people and the elderly. The lack of affordable public transport often means that, because there are not enough schools in poor communities, children either have to walk long distances to school, or maybe just don’t go regularly if their parents cannot afford the transport – not to mention the cost of school uniforms, books, stationery and school fees. Unemployed workers cannot afford the transport necessary to go out and look for work, and many workers must spend what little savings they may have – or be forced to borrow from ruthless loan-sharks – in order to pay for the transport needed to go back and forth to the Department of Labour trying in vain to get their Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) paid out. People who suffer from treatable diseases and injuries die because they cannot afford the transport needed to take them to a hospital or clinic to get treatment, and the public ambulance system is insufficient.

Continue reading “Riding to Work on Empty Promises”

Short-Changed: Egyptian Struggle for Democracy founders on Obama’s stinginess

by Michael Schmidt

US President Barack Obama’s military regime (for as commander-in-chief of the world’s largest military machine, his is not merely a mild “administration”), has proven once again that when it comes to American imperialism’s dealing with the darker majority of humanity, having a black man in the Oval Office simply doesn’t matter.


As we argued in the last edition of Zabalaza, the widespread myth that Obama’s skin-colour automatically made him a better man was a deeply racist argument that would be proven to be threadbare as soon as Obama ordered the invasion of his first “country of colour” – and this happened in under a month of his inauguration when he authorised sending 17,000 extra troops to Afghanistan.

Short-changed by ObamaBut American imperialism is not just about the stick of armed intervention or enforced regime-change: we must not forget the carrot of aid, aid that can be temptingly held out, and then withdrawn if the recipient nation is not suitably compliant.

Egypt, the most populous nation in the Arab world, and, along with Nigeria and South Africa, one of the most economically and militarily powerful states in Africa, has been the largest recipient of US aid after Israel since it signed a peace accord with Israel in 1979 – sometimes topping US$2 billion/year, US$1.3 billion of that in military aid and between US$100 million to US$250 million in economic aid. Ironically, under President George W Bush, the Americans gave US$45 million to “good governance” and “democratisation” programmes, with a substantial chunk of that bypassing the state and going directly to civil society organisations. But over the past year, Washington has slashed this civil society aid to Egypt by more than half, down to US$20 million.

Continue reading “Short-Changed: Egyptian Struggle for Democracy founders on Obama’s stinginess”

Massacre as a Tool of the African State

by Michael Schmidt

As Zabalaza goes to press, the West African country of Guinea is preparing to go to the polls in the second round run-off of its first democratic presidential elections ever (the first round was held in June), half a century after its ‘independence’ from France. Its first president, former postal worker Ahmed Sékou Touré, drew heavily from Marxist-Leninism in building a one-party state and ruling with an iron fist until his death 27 years later in 1984, with the blood of an estimated 500,000 people on his hands. He was followed by Lansana Conté who likewise ran an authoritarian military regime until his death in 2008. But is the dawn of bourgeois democracy a guarantee to the Guinean popular classes that they shall be freed from five decades of oppression and exploitation? I argue that when both privateering states such as Guinea that have plundered their citizens and their neighbours, and conventional ‘contractual states,’ have resorted to massacre to ensure the dominance of their parasitic elites, the only solution is a class-line, anti-nationalist social revolution.


Pirates of the SomalianIt was a black day in the Guinean capital Conakry on Monday 28 September 2009, when troops loyal to junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara opened fire on a rally of pro-democracy activists, killing an estimated 157 people. Camara had seized power in December 2008, just 21 months after I warned in the mainstream South African press that a coup was imminent in Guinea. I’d based my prediction on the observations of different interest groups, including the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), an independent organisation used by the United Nations as a bellwether, which had noted as far back as 2004 that there were isolated uprisings in Guinea, directly related to the collapse of state services. The ICG stated in early 2007 that while the ‘fragile but successful peace processes in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia have greatly diminished the external threats to the stability of Guinea … its internal instability remains a source of immediate concern for the whole region as Guinea is at risk of becoming West Africa’s next failed state.’

Continue reading “Massacre as a Tool of the African State”