“Socialism means freedom”… “no strike is illegal!”: Mineworkers, the ANC and the class composition of South Africa

“Socialism means freedom”… “no strike is illegal!”

by A.S. Read

Proletarians around the world should be looking at the situation that has unfolded in South Africa over the last three months. Some 80,000 mineworkers have engaged in wildcat strikes spanning the myriad mining industries from platinum to gold to iron-ore to diamonds and coal. And although the South African ruling class, led by the ANC, is doing everything in their power to promote the illusion of this labor struggle coming to an end (more on this below), on Nov. 10, 2012 miners from the Anglo-American Platinum mine in Rustenberg held a mass rally to build support for their two month long strike. Not only is this wave of labor strikes far from over, its been challenging writing an update as fresh news from comrades directly involved in this struggle comes daily and sometimes hourly. Thus I will attempt to provide as much content as possible in the form of an update. Before highlighting all the latest from the workers and their inspiring actions, its important to identify some important statistics from “post-Apartheid” S.A.

Ben Fogel, a militant in the Eastern Cape of S.A. recently wrote a piece on the autonomous organizing being done from a strategic perspective. The following is taken directly from that article and provides some important statistics: 

South Africa, despite 18 years of majority rule, continues to be one of the most unequal societies on an increasingly unequal planet and is in crisis. Around half the population, mostly black Africans, live below the poverty line.[2] Almost half of all black African households earned below R1670 a month in 2005–06, while only 2 percent of white households fell in that income bracket.[3] South Africa, as of 2011, ranked as the second most unequal country in the world after Namibia—according to the Gini measure.[4] Unemployment consistently hovers unofficially at around 40 percent, and among 18–25 year olds, it is now over 60 percent.[5] Millions of households, despite some improvements still lack access to basic services; the education system still equips most blacks for little other than a future as unskilled labor. This is despite the existence of the much lauded “progressive constitution” with a bill of rights which supposedly insures access to basic socio-economic rights.[6] Essentially South Africa is fucking unequal and black African working class and unemployed Africans continue to be the worst off.” 

Read the entire article here: http://insurgentnotes.com/2012/10/marikana-a-point-of-rupture/

This quote contextualizes a bit of the current class composition of S.A. and reveals a working class powder keg set to explode on the facade of “progressive” South Africa. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that the ANC-led “black bourgeoisie” and all its governing structures: Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), South African Communist Party (SACP), National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and of course the media are all putting out unimaginable propaganda in the attempt to label this unrest as anything BUT class struggle.

Bourgeois media outlets have attempted to spread a “third force” narrative as responsible for the massacre of 34 Marikana miners of the Lonmin mining company on Aug. 16th by ANC police forces. This “third force” narrative consists of labeling the striking miners, both dead and wounded, as under the influence and driven by muti (a indigenous term for medicine in S.A.) which was allegedly to have been sprinkled on them – making them feel invincible to any type of police intervention. These allegations attempt to justify the insinuation that it was the miners who were the aggressors and attacked the police with traditional spears and machetes, thus the police had no choice but to use lethal force. Independent researchers have found that the miners were not charging and were driven from their gathering point by teargas and rubber bullets. Articles from City Press and Business Day described the miners as believing in witchcraft and sorcery. One audacious account highlighted a rabbit being responsible for the deaths of the miners. Apparently, a local medicine man told the miners not to kill the rabbit, an instruction which they didn’t heed, and this was why the “muti” did not make them invincible to police slaughter.  NUM also published claims of the miners being drug-induced. Kglama Mothlanthe, Deputy President of NUM, issued a statement blaming Julius Malema (firebrand politician and former President of ANC Youth League) for the violence in his attempts to destabilize South African mines and  foment an insurrection against the S.A. government. The South African “Communist” Party –

described by Ben Fogel in the articled linked above as:

“the politically, spiritually and morally, but not financially, bankrupt SACP (South African Communist Party), has been unable to forge a viable social compact with local capital capable of benefiting the majority of South Africa.” 

had the nerve to: 1)deny the miners were working class, 2) lacked class consciousness, and 3) deny the massacre narrative and label the situation “a battle” with the police who were “just doing their job.”

For more on the nature of the SACP refer here: http://mg.co.za/article/2012-10-12-00-locals-left-out-of-sacp-mine-venture

Only 3% of media reports have included the views of the striking miners. The Lonmin Company and the mining industry in general all referred to the massacre as a tragedy with the “police doing their jobs” narrative at the forefront as well as “regret” for what took place. Yet, if recent reports from South Africa demonstrate anything its this – these attempts by the ruling class to squash this labor struggle have had no success.

Nov. 10 Rally in Rustenberg – Amplats Miners

On Nov. 10, 2012, miners from the Anglo-American Platinum Company (Amplats) mine in Rustenberg held a mass rally with workers from neighboring mines as well (Xstrata and Limpopo’s Bokone Platinum). Anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 workers attended the rally at Olympic Stadium. The rally was organized by the strike coordinating committee and the Democratic Left Front (DLF), an umbrella organisation of various social and workers’ organizations including the Democratic Socialist Movement, which has been working with the strike coordinating committee in mobilizing workers. A DLF militant describes this united front as, “a new anti-capitalist grassroots movement seeking to advance alternatives and transform South Africa from below.”

The main banner, “Socialism means freedom” – was at the forefront of the rally and was once a slogan from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) when it was still a militant union in the apartheid-era. “No strike is illegal” was also a prominent sound bite heard throughout the rally. Another important development at this rally was the presence of the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) of the South African Trade Union Congress (COSATU).

Advance the Struggle is currently in close contact with a DLF militant through a striking miners solidarity committee in Oakland, and thus have gotten quality info. and sound bites from workers all throughout the mining sector among. The following quote was from a lawyer for the massacred Marikana miners:

It does not matter the color of your skin when a miner goes underground (s)he comes up black, when (s)he goes underground (s)he comes back poorer and when (s)he goes underground and (s)he comes up the boss becomes richer.” 

and the following is from a facebook page of someone who attended the rally:

“Amplats Striking workers’ rally today in Rustenburg was excellent. Huge turnout – over 10-12,000. Well organised by the workers’ committees. Brilliant speeches. Great atmosphere. Unity, cooperation, strength and a message to Anglo American – R4500 one-off bonus payment rejected. Where is our living wage? Many other mines represented – including Lonmin, all heard the call for other mines to come out and join the fight and lots of messages of support for Amplats strike and for Marikana to see justice. It was a great day. Amplats have been on strike for almost 9 weeks and still going strong”

The 12,000 workers turned down Amplats offer for a “once-off” payment of 4,500 Rand, and are demanding a minimum wage of 16,500 Rand. The company has said that if the miners did not report back to work Monday (Nov. 20) they would be fired. However, these mass layoffs have been a common tactic by the employers who, according to a labor lawyer, have no illusions that they can run a productive mine with all new employees. These firings have proven to be a leverage for the bosses but ultimately have not been successful in containing the wildcat strikes. Not only is this strike wave far from over, the link to the article below shows how the miners are reflecting on the quality and quantity of their struggle and planning a unified strike for sometime in January.


Along with this more unified effort from the mine workers, in the last two weeks proletarian actions and strikes have escalated in the farming industry, the first wave began on Aug. 27 when a group of 350, predominantly female, farm workers on Keurboschkloof grape farm just outside of De Doorns walked off the job. Most recently farm workers set fire to several grape vineyards in response to the refusal of the owners to provide them with a living wage. Teachers in neighboring Namibia have also walked out of the classrooms and launched a nationwide strike. Apart from demanding salary increments, teachers also want higher housing and transport allowances. Namibian government workers and healthcare workers have expressed support for the teachers and may soon go out on sympathy strikes.

Eighteen years after the end of apartheid and the rise of the ANC led tripartite alliance (ANC, SACP, COSATU) its absurd that these workers are striking for a minimum wage.  Proletarians worldwide should take inspiration from their sacrifices and look to lend support in any way possible. Here in Oakland a South African Miners Solidarity Committee has been meeting since August and will hold an event this Friday at La Pena    (3105 Shattuck Avenue – Berkeley, CA) featuring Mazibuko Jara – a long time organizer and founder of the Democratic Left Front. The talk will begin at 7pm and a q&a session will follow.  There will be a $5-20 sliding scale at the door, every dollar raised will go to the workers committees. This event will be very informative for all workers engaged in the struggle against capitalism worldwide. Stay tuned.

2 responses to ““Socialism means freedom”… “no strike is illegal!”: Mineworkers, the ANC and the class composition of South Africa

  1. Reblogged this on I am … a Revolutionary! and commented:
    The South African struggle against aparthied plays a critical role in my political conciousness. THey struggled against the apaarthied of the Praetoria regime, now they struggle against the aparthied inherent in the capitalist class system. Down with the Aparthied regime!

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