South Africa Strikes: The Struggle Continues

Published on 1st October 2012

“Somebody tell me
what’s the word...?
Tell me brother
have you heard?
Somebody tell me
what’s the
Sister woman
have you heard?
They tell
me our
are defiancing
the man.
And we don't
know for sure.
Because the news
we get is
Yes, I hate when the blood
But, I'm glad to see
They tell me
that our Brothers
over there
refuse to work in the mines
—they may not get the news
But. They need to know
that we on their
…Sometimes distance
brings misunderstanding
But deep in my heart I'm demanding
Somebody tell
what’s the word?

(Brother Gil Scott Heron and Brian Jackson, “Johannesburg” 1975) 

Miners in SA demonstrating     P.Courtesy
A number of supporters of the anti-Apartheid seem to only understand the struggle of South Africa only as a struggle against apartheid and some further still view it as the white institutionalization of white supremacy by some of the more nationalist sentiment in South Africa and by a number of activist in the West. In the bitter struggle against the arrogance of the white supremacist apartheid state, a number of forces seem to have forgotten that white supremacy was the rationalization for the exploitation of resources and labor over and of the question of land and the nature of white settler state colonialism. The nature of apartheid was more than racial feel good of white people or white supremacist. It was the profane ruling stench of “class struggle” that has found its soil in kicking Black people off the land and turning them into a reserve army of labor at the beck-and-call of white capital.

However, at the point of the height of the anti-Apartheid movement the ANC leadership never dealt with the land question in qualitative way. The ANC movement never advocated the seizure of land or the means-of-production. Its goals were primarily a struggle against the legal restrictions of apartheid, housed in its “Freedom Charter” back in June 26th, 1955. Thus the question of the vast majority of Black workers were never questioned in relation to South African capital and the open gates of international capital from abroad and this would come further into light as the ANC would assume power back in 1994. For under the ANC freedom or liberation would never address the question of exploitation.

The approach of the ANC was legal bourgeois equality. But in any class society, it is more than axiomatic classes are never equal and as the ANC were to become more capitalist and began to acquire the resources of capital, they began in earnest to formulate the protection of capital because now capital was part “Black.”
For this would be the undercurrent of struggle of the Black miners in South Africa. The shooting of the miners by the police to protect the profits of the mine owners and to try to tame the demands of the miners for a living wage was the dynamic that led to a show down at the Marikanna platinum mine plant, that was in essence the ugly confrontation and resistance of labor against capital that has been the motion of South African history.

The strike wave that began at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine is now plunging into South Africa’s coal mining, gold and platinum, gold industries, and has spread to the transport and other sectors. At this point in absolute terms, there are more than 100,000 workers on strike across South Africa.

The spark that started this fight-back was when on August 16th, the police opened fire on striking Marikana workers, killing 34 and wounding 78. The bitter struggle was only called off after the strikers had secured a 22 percent wage increase. Their resolute stand has emboldened many more to struggle against the employers.

Mr. David Davis, who is a SGB Securities gold analyst, warned the APP “[That] Workers are now demanding wage increases according to the ‘Lonmin settlement.” He went on to say that the contagion of illegal strikes “will likely engulf the industry.”

 Anglo American Platinum, or Amplats, the world’s largest producer, has said it has 21,000 employees out on a wildcat strike who have defied threats of dismissal to demand a wage increase equivalent to Marikana. Only 20 percent of the workforce at four mines at Rustenberg had reported in Friday.

Like the Marikana workers, Amplats miners view the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and other unions as flunkies for the mine employers and have spurned them completely. They have not turned to the breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) as of yet, but have elected a leadership from the rank and file. This did not stop AngloGold from affirming that the strikes were “obviously coordinated.”

NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said, “We do not have anything from them.... Our greatest worry is that if you are going to have sporadic demands throughout the industry, then it will undermine collective bargaining and that’s going to be chaos.”

Wildcat strike action has broken out at Gold Fields, AngloGold and other company mines. Fully 39 percent of South African gold mines’ capacity has been hit, with workers again demanding a 22 percent wage increase.

It must be noted that AngloGold Ashanti,  the third-largest gold producer in South Africa, has stopped all its South African operations this week. Most of its 35,000 workers throughout the company have joined a wildcat that began two weeks ago at Kopanong on September 20th.

The major anxiety and concern of management is that the workers have been bypassing the trade unions, the industrial policemen for capital. “The real concern is the apparent breakdown of the collective bargaining system that has operated effectively since the mid-1980s,” As the spokesman for AngloGold Mr. Alan Fine said to the Financial Times, “Our challenge is to ensure the system survives.”

Now the Coal of Africa has also declared that employees at its Mooiplaats colliery have struck in the first industrial action to hit the coal sector since Marikana. Now, also a strike by some 20,000 workers in the freight and transport sector to demand a 12 percent wage increase has become increasingly angry, despite the official control of four unions—the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union, the Professional Transport and Allied Workers' Union South Africa, the Transport and Allied Workers' Union of South Africa and the Motor Transport Workers' Union.

A number of trucks have been looted and burned, and emergency services have been placed on high alert after fighting ended in the hospitalization of scabs.

At this point the chief executive of Anglogold Ashanti, Mark Cutifani, warned that demands for higher wages were now “a risk for the country.”

The employers have made more and more combative warnings, with Amplats having started disciplinary proceedings Friday and threatening sackings, and Gold Fields obtaining a second interdict against striking workers at its Beatrix mine that meant “Firing the striking workers is an option.”

But the reality that all workers in South Africa must face is that the main threat to the miners and other workers comes from the state and the African National Congress (ANC) government.

Labour Minister Ms. Mildred Oliphant has stated that there is “no justification for the recent wave of unprocedural [illegal] strikes.... [and] no excuse for lawlessness.”

In New York, President Jacob Zuma told APP Wednesday that the rise of “illegal” strikes was not due to inequalities but was “influenced by this particular [Marikana] strike and it has also been influenced by the manner in which the resolution has been undertaken, whereas the unions that were in the forefront in this case because of the circumstances were not necessarily in the forefront.”

This had “influenced some other miners to go on strike,” he said.
The renunciation and rejection of the trade unions poses a major political crisis for the entire bourgeoisie. Alexander Joe, writing for AFP, states, “The violent crisis that has shaken South Africa's mines shows workers' distrust for traditional trade unions, up to now the guardians of social peace despite the country's deep inequality.”

He cites analyst Daniel Silke informing, "[That] Marikana holds the potential for an era in South African labour relations where violent strike action forces the hand of weakened management, as opposed to historical collective bargaining promoted by COSATU and its affiliate unions."

"The key issue here is whether the trade union movement, whether COSATU itself, can keep a handle on the more militant workers who have smelled blood with management as a result of Marikana," said Silke.

The rising mass political and social movement of the working class and the undermining of its central and most important ally, the Confederation of South African Trade Unions, has driven the ANC into crisis, with the intensifying factional disputes between Zuma and his supporters and those of Julius Malema, the expelled former head of the ANC’s youth wing, only the most open expression.

On Wednesday, Malema come out before the Polokwane Regional Court on charges of money laundering. A corrupt “tenderpreneur,” he is nevertheless an amateur in comparison with some of those who have organized the prosecution such as Zuma himself.

To fortify his hand, Malema advances himself as the friend of the miners and has called for the industry to be nationalized. But his aim is only to secure the dominance of his faction within the ANC, however he has no intention to challenge the role as the chief political defender of the South African bourgeoisie and the transnational corporations and banks.

He was only able to mobilize a demonstration of around a thousand people outside the court, but did marshal his supporters in the ANC, including former ANC Youth League (ANCYL) secretary general Sindiso Magaqa, now leader of the Friends of the Youth League, and from his power-base in Limpopo.

Outside the court, Malema made a point of praising ANC leaders Kgalema Motlanthe and Fikile Mbalula, whom he supports as challengers to the Zuma leadership.

He advocated, “We must make sure Jacob Zuma does not become president of the ANC…. The next day we must remove him as a president and the day after we must charge him.”

In reaction, COSATU president Sidumo Dlamini said that the trade unions wanted “stability of leadership” at the ANC congress in Mangaung in December. Closing COSATU’s annual congress, he said, “This country does not need factionalism, it doesn't need divisions of leadership, it needs stability of leadership.”

Nonetheless, this is just an empty dance of posturing and a fractional fight for the major crumbs on the backs of the South African people. For these fractions have no interests in the liberation or development of the African people of South Africa as the rightful owners of the land and whatever is produced from the land they have a right to the profits and abundance of the land by the redistribution of the wealth that has been produce.

For the working African masses of South Africa, history is on their side, but, not time.

By Malik Sekou Osei.

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