Following on from the massacre of thirty four striking mine-workers at the Lonmin plant at Marikana in Rustenberg, widespread social unrest continues in South Africa. The largescale strikes that have rocked the mining regions have shaken the South African state to its very core. Any illusions that remained that the ANC government and it triumvirate arrangement with the South African Communist Party and COSATU has been utterly shattered by the blood of the mine workers spilt at Marikana. The National Union of Mineworkers has been exposed as a corrupt company union whose continued existence is entirely dependent on the guns carried by the private security forces of the mining companies.
However, working class people are fighting back. Assisted by the work of members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (sister party of the Socialist Party in South Africa) over 150,000 mineworkers won significant pay increases over the past number of months. Independent workers committees have been established all across the mining regions and activists are taking direct control of their futures by building fighting, combative movements in the mines and the townships that spread throughout the mining regions.
Workers are now engaged in a widespread struggle against the ‘retrenchment’ strategy being carried out by the mining companies, supported by the ANC, SACP and NUM. ‘Retrenchment’ is an active policy by the mining companies and the government to remove worker militants from the mines by locking out thousands of workers and depriving them of food and medication in an attempt to starve mine workers into submission. The latest attempt at ‘retrenchment’ is occurring at the Harmony Gold mine outside Johannesburg, where the company have locked-out 6,000 mine workers. Workers were left stranded without food and water, some after travelling over a thousand miles from their townships following the Christmas shut-down. Harmony Gold Chief Executive, Graham Briggs, quoted in Business Day (15/1/13) said: "The tables have turned. It is us the company, which has demands on the tables now, not the unions". Unfortunately for Briggs, the company caved in to all the mine workers demands this week.
Last week the mine owners opened a second front when AmPlats threatened to shut down four mining shafts and sack 14,000 workers. One worker has been killed and dozens injured in clashes at AmPlats in recent days. The mine owners have a three-fold strategy – 1. re-establish the power of the of the ‘baas boy’ (bosses union) NUM and use it to re-impose ‘discipline' on the mine workers – 2. co-opt the breakaway AMCU as a back-up plan in case they fail to re-impose the NUM as their stooge union – 3. break the independent strike committees who have been leading the strike wave over the past number of months. The strategy is simple, buy off the official unions and re-impose the dictatorship that existed in the mines prior to the Marikana massacre. In effect there is a battle for control for the mining sector underway that will ultimately lead to the taking of the mines into public ownership or to the smashing of the mine workers independent representation in the mining regions.
Tens of thousands of mine workers are drawing the necessary political conclusions and backing the demand for the establishment of a new independent political force for working class people. On the initiative of the Democratic Socialist Movement, the independent workers committees are engaged in the launching of the Workers and Socialist Party with the intention of directly challenging the ANC and the SACP. Even suggestions that the ANC could be saved by former NUM leader Cyril Ramaphosa (now one of the richest men in South Africa) are dismissed given his treacherous role in the Marikana massacre. With Julius Malema removed from the political battleground a huge vacuum has opened up in South African politics. The ruling elites recognising that the ANC is now utterly discredited are so terrified that the WASP can gain political traction that they are scurrying trying to a new right-wing backup political movement to protect their interests. The Economist magazine recently called for the formation of a new ‘liberal’ party in South Africa. They believe this will head off the emergence of a new socialist party representing the masses of the South African working class. The latest attempts at such a new pro-capitalist party revolve around a former anti-apartheid activist and ’soul mate’ of Steve Biko, murdered by the apartheid regime, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, who has launched a ‘platform’ around which such a party she and the capitalists hope could emerge. She is a former managing director of the World Bank and was, until recently, chairman of the mining company Goldfields. This party – ‘Agang’ (‘Build South Africa’ in the Sotho language) – has no clearly defined policies. The WASP is receiving widespread support in the mining communities and its influence is now spreading throughout working class communities across the country. The target of one million signatures of support by the official launch of WASP is now well within its grasp.
These events have seen a dramatic increase in the influence and authority of the Democratic Socialist Movement, South African affiliate of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) and sister party of the Socialist Party. When members of the DSM visited the striking farm workers in the Western Cape region they were greeted with “we were waiting for you!” and the DSM went on to play an important role in this successful struggle. Tens of thousands of farm workers with the assistance of the DSM succeeded in winning a 52% pay increase on their miserly minimum wage. The recent conference of the DSM in South Africa was attended by more than sixty delegates and visitors representing the independent strike committees from all the country’s mining regions (many others were prevented from attending due to police repression in the mining regions) and many of the leading worker militants have joined the organisation. Members of the DSM have played a leading role in the development of the independent workers committees and building defence committees to protect the mining townships from attacks by the police and the private mine companies security thugs. Following the DSM conference, CWI representatives, Peter Taaffe and Alec Thraves, addressed a meeting of hundreds of striking municipal workers in Pretoria where they cheered loudly and ‘toyi-toying’ chanted ‘Viva DSM, Viva CWI’ as they marched through the city’s streets to protest at the council’s offices. The following day hundreds of Harmony Gold mine workers held a meeting to discuss a report back from discussions between the mine owners and their union the AMCU, where the company conceded all the workers demands. The discussions were suspended to allow Alec Thraves to address the meeting, after which strike committee members thanked DSM/CWI for their tremendous support and said that they would be seeking further assistance from DSM/CWI with future confrontations at other shafts. Needless to say, the DSM has come under consistent and vicious attack from the ANC, the SACP and the NUM as its authority and influence continues to grow and as they reel from being utterly discredited in the eyes of the South African working class. However, the political attacks of these degenerate elements are falling on deaf ears in the workplaces and working class communities.
The current strike wave and social upheavals are the biggest since the collapse of the apartheid regime, with South Africa now registering the highest number and the most violent strikes in the world. Political commentators are predicting the likelihood of a movement on the scale of the Tunisian uprising over the next period of a few years. The DSM will continue to build its revolutionary forces in South Africa and assist with the construction of the WASP and the consolidation of the independent workers committees as vehicles for the building of a mass movement of the working class to overthrow the rotten capitalist regime in South Africa.