One of Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci’s most quoted phrases is his 1930 statement in the ‘Prison Notebooks’: ‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear’.
This describes accurately the multifaceted crisis South Africa has come face to face with over, nearly three decades after “liberation” from apartheid.
South Africa’s 2024 elections will be taking place against the background of the country’s deepest economic, social and political crisis since 1994. The 1994 dreams of the masses that the African National Congress (ANC) government would fulfil its promise of a “better life for all” deferred for nearly three decades, lie shattered. For the tiny parasitic capitalist elite, it has been a festival of self-enrichment that has turned SA into the most unequal society on the planet. Ten per cent own eighty-four per cent of the income and assets and the bottom fifty per cent has negative wealth.”
The obscenity of SA’s inequality is shown in SA’s income disparities. The CEOs of SA’s big banks earn jaw-dropping salaries, R120 000 per day. One, the CEO of Investec Fani Titi’s earnings amounted to R177.6 million. This works out to a whopping R486,575 per day. The official minimum wage in SA is just under R5000 per month earned by nearly 50% of the economically active population fortunate to have a job and if so, if the minimum is enforced which it is often not. The government’s so-called job creation programmes like the Extended Public Works Programme in its many incarnations deliberately exclude over a million workers from even this starvation minimum wage by defining them not as employees but as volunteers, beneficiaries and participants.
Nearly 20 million people go to bed hungry every night. Thirty million (of the 60 million population) run out of money every month. For young men and women, nearly 70% of whom are unemployed, there is no income support of any kind between the ages of 18 and 59. Women of the same age group can claim only the miserable child benefit of R420. Even the insulting R350 “social relief of distress grant” introduced during the Covid19 pandemic, has been granted to only 4.5m of the 11m in need.
One in four children are so malnourished, they are classified as stunted. The level of desperation is captured in a recent report by Gift of the Givers in the Daily Maverick, of the actions of an anguished mother in the Eastern Cape, where children in one village are reported to be eating cow dung to line their stomachs to take their antiretrovirals. On 6th August 2023, unable to provide for her children, she fed rattex to her two younger children, stabbed the elder daughter in the neck, and then hanged herself, presumably because there isn’t enough food to poison all four family members. Many such cases are recorded as “no foul play suspected” in police case files.
The dreams of a decent education for which hundreds died following the 1976 youth uprising against the Apartheid regimes, have similarly been betrayed. Children are still dying in pit toilets in schools without proper sanitation, libraries, computers or laboratories.
Corruption and incompetence resulting in the appointment of unqualified persons for senior positions run through every level of government. In her 2023 Report, the Auditor General highlighted that of the country’s 257 municipalities, only 38 got a clean audit; nearly three in four didn’t have proper financial controls in place; irregular spending ballooned to R136bn. Water quality standards have collapsed as corrupt tenders lead to a breakdown of water treatment works, and sewage seeping into oceans, rivers, streams, and into streets.
A bitter life for the working class
For the vast majority, it has turned into a bitter life for all. The working class majority feels under siege from every angle. Support for postapartheid’s “democratic state institutions – the police, the criminal justice system, the judiciary, social services” and democracy itself. The main political parties are either in decline or stagnant. To the economic exploitation by the bosses and the government, many of the new political formations have added the political exploitation of the masses offering nothing to improve their lives. Instead, they are seeking to take advantage of the ANC’s loss of support and the DA’s decline to trade off their voters’ support to the highest bidders. This enables them, whilst promoting xenophobia and racism to exploit opportunities to get into coalitions at the local government level for self-enrichment as mayors, mayoral and other portfolio committee members with multimillion rand budgets.
Working class despair has now turned into a rage over the betrayal mainly by the ANC. There is a feeling that society needs a root and branch transformation. The dominant sentiment is that the ANC must go. But that has so far taken the form only of abstention from registering, voting and/or withdrawing their votes from the ANC In the absence of a party representing working-class interests, rooted amongst and accountable to them. Working class voters have sometimes resorted to “lending” their votes to other parties, not out of conviction, but to punish the ANC.
For the first time since 1994 consequently, the ANC is poised to lose its outright majority. A coalition government is likely to be formed. The near thirty-year post-apartheid political dispensation is facing a complete reconfiguration.
Uncertainty and political instability lie ahead for society as a whole including the possibility of a post-election constitutional crisis. This is a political crisis for both the two main classes, the capitalists and the working class alike for completely opposite reasons.
For the ruling capitalist class, the stability of rule by the ANC whose authority over the black working class, is so critical for keeping their boots on their necks, has dissipated.
A turning point of the post-apartheid era
For the working class, the uncertainty and instability that now lies ahead is not welcome either. They have no party of their own yet. Repeated signals have been sent to the leadership of the trade unions of their desire for a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme from the early 80s already – well before the 1994 elections – and much more strongly in the post-apartheid era. The 2024 elections will be a post-apartheid turning point irrespective of the size of the ANC’s vote. With the experience of three decades behind it, the working class can resume the incipient socialist revolution against capitalism that was derailed by the negotiated settlement whose strategic aim from the standpoint of the capitalist class and the ANC/SACP was to preserve it.
The organised working class has been consciously thwarted by the ANC with the aid of the SA Communist Party and its erstwhile supporters in the labour movement. The latest of these attempts is by the Numsa SACP 2 cabal that has the union leadership in a corrupt iron-like grip, prepared to destroy Numsa and Saftu. It is within Numsa that the yearning for a workers’ party on a socialist programme first resurfaced in the post-apartheid era and then taken forward into Saftu which convened a Working Class Summit in 2018 that adopted a declaration to establish such a party.
In an act of political strike-breaking, the Numsa leadership defied the Saftu congress founding resolution it supported. It attempted to collapse the 2018 Working Class Summit. Having failed to do so, it launched the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party with funding from a multi-millionaire linked to the Chinese Communist Party’s state capitalist police dictatorship. It was in fact a SACP Mark 2. Following the massacre of mineworkers at Marikana, whose strike the SACP had denounced as “counter-revolutionary”, the rage of Numsa members made it impossible for the leadership to stay in the Tripartite Alliance. Whilst they broke organisationally with the SACP, the Numsa leadership remained loyal to the training it had received from it, in Stalinist ideology and organisational culture.
Saftu leadership‘s actions amount to a public repudiation of 2018 Working Class Summit. After several stops and starts towards the implementation of the 2018 WCS declaration, we have now arrived at a point where the Saftu leadership has publicly repudiated the federation’s commitment to the summit aims. That is the meaning of comrade Ntlokotse ’s attendance of the EFF’s 10th birthday rally on 29th July 2023 and the praises she lavished on it.
This follows comrade Vavi’s televised public renunciation of the WCS’s intention to establish a worker’s party on 5th June 2021, after the North West WCS’s provincial rally. The most reasonable inference the working class can draw from the most senior worker leader, its president, comrade Ntlokotse ’s actions is that it follows the logic of that of its most senior official, its General Secretary on 5th June 2021.
Saftu’s two key public figures have abandoned their commitment to the formation of a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme at a time of the working class’s greatest need.
We assume that with the Saftu NEC having accepted the EFF’s invitation to support its so-called shutdown earlier this year, that comrade Ntlokotse had a mandate from Saftu to take this position. There has however been no consultation with WCS affiliates which have previously rejected comrade Vavi’s proposal for a united front with the likes of the EFF. No Steering Committee was called ahead of such a critical decision. The agreed May 13, 2023 meeting has simply not been convened without explanation.
These actions amount to a public repudiation of the 2018 WCS declaration. Instead, the Saftu leadership has tied the federation’s mast to the sails of the EFF ship. The EFF has made it abundantly clear that it is prepared to enter into a coalition with the ANC provided it is led by Mashatile above whose head corruption allegations are swirling. We believe that the EFF will drop those “conditions” as easily as it has dropped its many other “principles” and will enter a coalition regardless of who leads it under the same pretext it used when jumping into bed with the same DA it denounces as a racist party of white monopoly capitalism in 2016. Then the argument was they did so ”to avoid chaos. It cannot be excluded that it will attempt to portray itself in 2024 as a “responsible party that wants to sing along with the capitalist class about the need to “unite the nation” in a new Government National Unity.
We warned ahead of the “shutdown” that the EFF will very happily agree to the Saftu leadership’s conditions without meaning a single word. A party that has so far failed to find support amongst organised workers, and established its own labour desk undermining the unions, is now calculating that without the “nuisance” of a worker party, the Saftu leadership’s support will lend it greater credibility amongst the working class. But the Saftu members and the organised working class have a much clearer grasp of the EFF leadership’s petty-bourgeois nationalist class character and cynical electoral calculations than the Saftu leadership.
The Saftu leadership is thus allowing itself to be invited on board as the EFF ship sails into the treacherous waters of a post-2024 class-collaborationist coalition with the ANC. The Saftu leadership’s position is irreconcilable with the aims of the 2018 WCS. The Saftu leadership has in effect announced that it cannot be relied upon to reconvene the WCS. The WCS affiliates have been left with no alternative but to reconvene the summit themselves, with a direct appeal to the trade unions rank-and-file.
Bourgeois parliamentary elections are the lowest form of class struggle – but a class struggle remains, nonetheless. The capitalist ruling class’s main political vehicle, the ANC’s support has plummeted to levels never seen before and unity is hanging by a thread. The DA and the EFF are in reality external reflections of the ANC’s divisions between the zealous neo-liberal faction and the ever-changing radical economic transformation one – both equally committed to capitalism despite their mutual factional hatred. The EFF’s recruitment of Mzwanele Manyi, leader and MP of the African Transformation Movement (originally created under Zuma’s inspiration to weaken Ramaphosa), as well as its overtures to recently expelled ANC secretary general, Ace Magashule, shows it has a vested interest in deepening the ANC’s divisions. Similarly, its acceptance of the corruptly awarded SACP 2 cabal’s donation to it whilst inviting comrade Ntlokotse are calculated to sew divisions within Numsa and Saftu. The working class is no more than voting fodder for the EFF.
Whilst the bourgeoisie prepares to defend its interests …
The DA has indicated its willingness to partner with a Ramaphosa-led ANC; the EFF with a Mashatile-led ANC. Both, in other words, have a vested interest in the perpetuation of the factional divide if not a split in the ANC. The capitalist class is scrambling desperately to create other bourgeois reinforcements like Rise Mzansi, Bosa and others to reinforce the Ramaphosa so-called reform faction for the post-election coalition negotiations or the creation of an alternative if the ANC splits.
As we warned at the 2017 Saftu launch, whilst the capitalist class is doing everything to protect its interests on the political plane, the working class had no electoral army of its own ahead of the 2019 general elections. The 2017 congress then cleared the way for establishing a worker party by forming a Political and Ideological Commission. The SACP 2 cabal sabotaged PIC meetings aggravating the crisis of a vacillating Saftu leadership. The SRWPs 2019 failure provided the opportunity to break the paralysis. The WCS process was restarted in 2021, only to relapse again.
As the 2024 elections loom, the working class will once again be unprepared for the elections and more importantly, with unions and federations still divided, for the escalation of the class war that will follow. Yet the central question in these elections is the fate of the working class; how to continue their exploitation and oppression and make them pay for the crisis of capitalism. The working class will once again have their fate decided by parties representing the interest of their class enemy – the capitalist class, whatever the composition of any coalition.
The ANC, the two main opposition parties, the DA and EFF and all the many smaller parties that have mushroomed over the past decade are firstly pro-capitalist – the economic system until now under ANC’s exclusive superintendence. Secondly, they are mostly opportunists and try to establish a base by appealing to xenophobic and/or racist sentiments to get into parliament to enrich themselves. They are putting up their small voter support base for sale to the highest bidder between the struggling bigger parties for access to prestigious positions and with access to lucrative portfolio committee budgets they could never come near on their own.
Capitalism lies at the root of the unmitigated disaster facing the working class. The capitalist class fears a united working class especially if ideologically armed with socialism. It needs a divided working class. The EFF and a number of the new formations have placed themselves at their service. They are mimicking the xenophobia the ANC is unofficially promoting like the UK’s Sunak, India’s Modi and the US’s Trump whose return to office cannot be excluded, to deflect attention from their responsibility for the crisis and to divide and weaken the working class at a time when it needs unity like never before.
…the working class remains without a party of its own
As a result of Saftu’s 5-year paralysis and abdication of responsibilities, the working class remains without the point of reference the building up towards the launch of a workers’ party would have provided. A number of initiatives have taken off. None have succeeded in unifying working class struggles either across or within the three main theatres of struggle in communities, students/youth and the workplace. There are well-intentioned sincere initiatives for socialism on the Left. But the problem is not the disunity of the Left that is the key challenge. The NGOs are predominantly middle class and want to reform capitalism, not abolish it. Nor, as Lenin said, is there a sincere meter in politics. The test lies in the ability to unite the working class. A mass workers’ party on a socialist programme is needed for this.
The trade union struggle established a tradition of recognizing the link between the broader political struggle and that in the workplace from the onset. That remains as true today after apartheid as it did before. The traditions of working-class struggle in SA have always been political.
The working class is also the only class that has the power to overthrow capitalism and a vested interest in the creation of a socialist society. An orientation to the trade unions is a fundamental principle.
But a distinction needs to be made between the leadership and the rank-and-file. They can no more be held responsible for the betrayals of the leaders than the mass of the working class for the betrayals of the ANC government. Trade unions are organs of working-class workplace struggle. They are not the private property of their leaders. No left formation that identifies itself as Marxist has the right not to know what Trotsky says on the role of trade union leaders, in general, in his pamphlet, ‘Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay’: that they are the lieutenants of capital in the labour movement. Our role is to arm the rank-and-file with the ideology, strategy and tactics to reclaim their unions and place them under their democratic control. Therefore, an orientation to the unions is fundamental.
A workers’ party will be important not only for the elections but especially for the escalation of the struggle that will follow it. It is homeless on the electoral plane and divided in the day-to-day struggle between federations with only 30% organized. Outside the workplace, there is no unifying organisation in service delivery protests nor amongst youth and students. These three theatres of struggle need unity, a platform and a programme of action not only within them but across them under a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme built as a party of struggle: