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).
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.
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?
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.
by Lucien van der Walt
South 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. This is, of course, the exactly opposite of the Zuma ANC’s promise to quickly create a half-a-million jobs.
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  (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?
by Jonathan Payn (ZACF)
Ever 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.