10 years after the end of apartheid

Submitted by Anon on 27 April, 2004 - 9:23

Hope flickers in South Africa

The African National Congress (ANC) won South Africa's general election on 14 April, with 70% of the vote. The queues to vote have shortened slightly after 10 years of democratic South Africa, but the voters are still overwhelmingly backing the ANC.

The BBC website recorded the thoughts of some of the voters. Alvina Masinga, aged 59, ing KwaZulu-Natal said: "I feel like I did when I voted for the first time in 1994 - fantastic." Vicki Morris looks at why black voters are sticking with the ANC and whether their loyalty is being rewarded.
The ANC were the political heirs of the enormous struggles - trade union, political, civil society, youth and students - that brought down apartheid. They were the oldest, richest, best-connected political organisation in the opposition to apartheid.

By 1994 they had achieved political domination in the big trade union federation, COSATU, marginalising the "workerists" who had led the new independent unions in their pioneer years. They had absorbed or marginalised the activists of the "black consciousness movement" of the 1970s and 80s.

By the early 1990s Nelson Mandela had sufficient political authority to go into secret talks with the governing National Party, secret even from his own ANC colleagues.

He negotiated for a South Africa safe to make profits in, in return for one person, one vote, the repeal of apartheid legislation and a partial dismantling of the apartheid state apparatus. (Many of the personnel and much of the practice of the police, army, security apparatus remain the same, racist and brutal).

Black South Africans tend to credit the ANC with the end of apartheid.

Thus Philemone Ngidi can express the feelings of many South Africans when he says: "I'm going to vote ANC because a lot has changed - before we had to carry pass books, and black and white had to stay separate. Now I can go wherever I want."

Lucia Sikhakhane: "We are able to express ourselves in our own languages. Our mothers were only allowed to use Afrikaans. We do what we want to do, in spite of the government."

"We have to vote," said one unemployed man on 24 April, "it will make our lives better." Dissatisfied with the ANC's record of delivering on its promises, who else might working class and poor people vote for? All the major parties accept the rule of capital in South Africa, and neo-liberal, free-market capitalism at that. They include:

  • New National Party: the old governing party of apartheid, reinvented in 1997 as the New National Party. It has fallen from a fifth of the vote in 1994, when it joined a coalition government with the ANC, to 6.9% in the 1999 election, and under 2% support now.
  • Democratic Alliance: strongest in the Western Cape, where it attracts votes of more liberal whites and many coloured people. In the 2004 election it campaigned for free Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) for HIV positive people, a Basic Income Grant for the poorest people - but also for the re-introduction of the death penalty (abolished in 1997) to tackle South Africa's frightening crime rate.
  • Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP): a Zulu nationalist party that gets the support mainly of rural Zulu in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Its leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi has played a poisonous role, fomenting or riding on the back of often murderous Zulu nationalist sentiment against the ANC. He himself was a minister in the last ANC-led government.

The most left-wing of the parties contesting the elections were the Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA), which won 0.1% of the vote, and the Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO), which won 0.27%.

AZAPO's manifesto called for reversing privatisation and "the establishment of a democratic, independent working class movement, which will ensure that government pursues a socialist oriented economic programme geared at eradicating poverty and ameliorating the lives of the workers in general".

SOPA's and AZAPO's votes were a bit up on 1999 (when they got 0.06% and 0.17% respectively), but, generally, South Africa's socialist left has been in retreat since 1994. AZAPO defines itself fundamentally as a black consciousness, rather than socialist, movement, and had a member serving as a junior minister in the last ANC government.

In the 1994 general election Socialist Organiser, forerunner of Solidarity, supported the Workers' List Party (WLP). Initiated by the Workers' Organisation for Socialist Action (WOSA), led by Neville Alexander, the WLP stood on a platform of working-class demands with the overarching slogan "Build the Mass Workers Party". It did very badly, winning only 4,169 votes. Even a small vote can be a marker for the future - that is how we saw the WLP then - but the future we hoped for has not yet arrived.

In 1994, as South African socialist Nina Benjamin puts it, "COSATU and the SACP, as the main organisations of the left and of the working class, were telling workers to be patient. Once political power and access to the state were achieved, the alliance would then be able to deal with the real problems associated with ownership of the means of production, redistribution of wealth, and the meeting of basic material and social needs as well as workers' rights".

And workers bought that. The ANC's "Reconstruction and Development Programme" was accepted as the road to socialism. And so far, anyway, it seems, South African workers have mostly seen the capitalistic outcome as proving that socialism is not feasible (or not feasible yet), rather than moving forward from the ANC's USSR-modelled or Third-Worldist version of socialism to a more independently working-class outlook.

WOSA has declined. A few other small far-left groups have in recent times contested elections, with little success.

This marks a retreat from the 1980s, when leaders of the independent trade union movement talked about launching a new workers' party as a competitor or at least an outrider and spur to the ANC. The SACP won hegemony in the unions, and many radical trade union leaders were wooed over until they now hold posts in the ANC government, and act as poacher turned gamekeeper.

The so-called Triple Alliance of the main trade union federation Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the ANC continues, despite strains as COSATU leaders come under pressure from their base to resist government policies. COSATU has called some strikes in protest against government policies, particularly privatisation; some COSATU unions are more militant and leftist than others; some leftists in the SACP have criticised the ANC government on some issues, or been expelled. But on the whole the alliance holds.

Organisations such as the Anti Privatisation Forum, an umbrella organisation for campaigns against electricity cut-offs, squatter camp evictions and so forth, and the Treatment Action Campaign, an AIDS activism campaign, are the main foci of left activism in South Africa today.

The APF, whose best known spokesperson is Trevor Ngwane, a former ANC activist, campaigned during the recent election not for any particular party, but against working class and poor South Africans giving their votes to any of the pro-bourgeois parties, the ANC included.

The Freedom Charter* of 1955 was the ANC's manifesto for the anti-apartheid struggle.

The Charter was not a socialist programme, but promised radical social improvements: nationalisation of "the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry…all other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the well-being of the people". "The Land Shall be Shared Among Those Who Work It!".

In 1994, according to Nina Benjamin, "The leadership of the [Triple] Alliance successfully sold the RDP [the ANC's Reconstruction and Development Programme] as the natural heir of the core programme that had so long shaped liberation politics in South Africa, the Freedom Charter".

Under the RDP the ANC undertook to:

  • build one million houses;
  • create 300,000 to 500,000 non-farm jobs a year;
  • redistribute 30 percent of agricultural land; provide clean drinking water for the 12 million people currently denied access to it;
  • introduce adequate sanitation for the 21 million people without it;
  • supply electricity to 19,000 black schools, 4,000 clinics, and two thirds of homes, all then without it;
  • redress the imbalance in access to telephone lines - one line for 100 blacks, 60 for 100 whites;
  • make a 10 year transition to compulsory schooling;
  • reduce class sizes to no more than 40 by the year 2000.

The ANC has established non-racial allocation of social grants, free health care for women and children, and new health clinics. It has provided piped water supplies to seven million people and redistributed 1.8 million hectares to landless black people since 1994. But, for example, the supply of new housing has slowed down compared to what the last apartheid government delivered.

According to government figures, unemployment has risen from under 20% in 1996 to 30% in 2003. The number of households living below the poverty line ($60 per month) has increased from 28% in 1995 to 33% in 1999.

Despite its promises of nationalisations, the ANC has privatised public utilities.

In 1996 the RDP was replaced by the neo-liberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) programme. GEAR aims for a free market economy enticing foreign investment and rewarding "enterprise", claiming this will create jobs and let prosperity "trickle down".

In other words, the ANC government embraced the policies pushed on it by the World Bank and IMF.

What was the aim of GEAR? To encourage foreign investment, to reassure capitalist bosses and investors, to have a stable economy at the expense of spending on public services, to get loans from the World Bank and IMF. In fact the inflows of foreign capital have been disappointing.

In 2000 global foreign direct investment was US$865 billion. Just over 1% of that, about $9 billion, went to Africa. South Africa received US$1.4 billion.

The South African economy has stagnated, growing only one to three per cent a year, since the early 1990s. COSATU and the ANC estimate that South Africa needs an economic growth rate of at least 6% to reduce unemployment. Unemployment is probably about 50%. Good public sector jobs have been lost through privatisation. The global decline in the gold industry, once South Africa's biggest earner, has not been offset by much rise of new industry.

Everyone, from the trade unions to the capitalist class that conceded one person, one vote, expected economic dividends from the end of apartheid. But some of those are being wiped out by the effects of the AIDS epidemic. That process will accelerate for decades to come, as those now newly or recently infected begin to develop the illnesses that come with HIV.

Some in the government try to play off the securely employed in the public sector, or in the formal as opposed to informal sector, against poorer members of society. Trade unions that fight against contracting out of public work to private companies, for example, or for wage increases or to defend employment conditions, are accused of being greedy and depriving poorer people of the chance to have a job through job creation schemes or the private sector hiring workers - on lower wages and worse conditions - in order to fill government contracts. It is an attack on a supposed "aristocracy of labour" that actually comprises already highly exploited, hard-working people who might be keeping a whole extended family on a single worker's wage.

Yes, poor South Africans need jobs, but unemployment will not be solved by squeezing those in work. It will be solved by the unity of all working and poor South Africans against the system that sits on top of them.

The right to water is in the Bill of Rights - part of the South African constitution. In 1994 12 million South Africans had no access to clean water, and 21 million had inadequate access. The government claims to have got clean water to seven million more people, a lot of the supply is by private companies, and government money is being spent shoring up private profits. There have been vigorous campaigns in some townships against attempts to introduce water metering, which effectively undercuts the right of poor people to have adequate water supply.

In the schools, classes are still large, sometimes huge, but overcrowding is not the only problem. One teacher says:

"Learners come to school with no food - they haven't even eaten overnight - we have to share our lunch with them." A government-funded school meals scheme covers primary but not high schools.

Schools charge fees of R150 (about $25) a year, more than many can afford. Schools are not supposed to turn away students who cannot pay, but some almost certainly discourage such pupils.

South Africa still has an economy geared towards delivering a very wealthy lifestyle to a small majority on the backs of the toiling majority. How could it be transformed into an economy that can deliver a decent life to everyone?

In world terms, South Africa is a "middle income" society, a bit behind the Czech Republic or Argentina, a bit ahead of Croatia or Costa Rica, but it is more grossly unequal than those other countries.

Inroads into wealth - even just heavier taxation of profits - and more rational use of resources, reducing military spending, corruption and waste, would bring improvements, even short of a socialist programme of public ownership of all major productive wealth.

Even while they are unwilling to argue for equality within their own country, South Africa's leaders argue for the resources of the world to be shared more evenly between countries of north and south.

They are right, but we should set our sights far higher. Just as workers of the global "north" took action against apartheid - for example, in 1988 Liverpool dockers boycotted South African and Namibian uranium - so also today workers of the global "north" must support poor and working class South Africans against the capitalist system that continues to exploit them, starve them, and watch them die.

* View the Freedom Charter and the Workers Charter adopted in 1987 by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) here

More information

AIDS: apartheid's legacy, Mbeki's arrogance

In 1991 South Africa's HIV/AIDS rate for adults was below one per cent. By 2001 it was as high as 20%. The migrant labour system, with many men living away from home for much of the year, disrupted family life and meant many more men using prostitutes, then coming home to infect their wives or girlfriends.

Apartheid's brutalising legacy in every aspect of life extends to men's treatment of women. There were 12.5 reported rapes per 10,000 South Africans in 2001, while the USA had 3.2 rapes per 10,000 people. In such a climate it is extremely difficult for women to negotiate safe sex practices with male partners.

Then, from 1999, the second ANC government, under president Thabo Mbeki, fanned the flames of the HIV disease into a veldt fire.

Mbeki simply does not believe that HIV causes AIDS. Time and again the government has been forced to concede the scientific truth, yet still resists making freely available treatments such as MTCT which can prevent mother to infant infection.

  • Perhaps one million South Africans have died of AIDS since the epidemic began; by 2010 the deathtoll is projected to be six million.
  • By 2008 life expectancy is likely to fall from a pre-epidemic high of 65 years to 40 years.
  • In 2001 there were 660,000 AIDS orphans in South Africa. By 2010 there are likely to be nearly two million, 5% of the population.
  • About five million of the 45 million South Africans currently have HIV.
  • A 2002 survey of 2,400 households found that South Africans spend 25.3% of their time tending the sick, 11.5% dealing with orphaned children and 33.7% taking care of their own illness.
  • AIDS accounted for about 40% of the deaths of South Africans aged 15-49 in 2000.
  • Nearly 30 million of the 42 million people infected with HIV worldwide are in Africa.
    More: The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) is an activist NGO whose campaigns include for the distribution of free anti-retroviral treatment (ART)

    The state and ANC attack right to protest

    By Harry Glass

    The repression of social movements in South Africa continues, with attacks on landless and anti-privatisation activists in the run-up to the elections.

    On election day, 14 April, 62 members of the Landless People's Movement (LPM) attending a meeting in Thembelihle were rounded up by the police. Their alleged crime was to participate in a political meeting that breached the cordon of a polling station, even though they were well beyond the minimum distance and had permission from police and the Electoral Commission.

    The LPM meeting was to discuss why, 10 years after the end of apartheid, the old divisions remain unchanged in rural areas where land ownership is still monopolised by white farmers and tribal authorities. The LPM said the police subjected their members to physical and psychological abuse while in custody.

    This was not an isolated incident. On 12 April, a gang of 60 ANC members attacked, assaulted and stole equipment from a small group of Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) members engaged in political outreach activities in the community of Kanana.

    The APF said: "These events, once again, reveal the extent of the ANC's blatant hypocrisy on matters of political tolerance andcontempt for the basic democratic (constitutional) freedoms to which all South Africans are entitled, as well as the police force's collusion with local ANC leaders and bias against the APF and its community activists."

    It added: "We are facing an ANC-controlled state and its repressive apparatus that are clearly intent on smashing our movements organisationally, criminalising our legitimate exercise of basic political/civil rights and denying the urban and rural poor/landless basic services, socio-economic equality and human dignity. While the ANC celebrates its electoral victory and the evident 'triumph of democracy' and while the media and corporate capital trip over themselves in their now predictable cheerleading roles, millions of poor and landless continue to be denied real democracy, which can only be enjoyed on the basis of socio-economic equality and justice."

    The Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) was established in July 2000 by activists and organisations involved in anti-privatisation struggles.

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