South Africa: The Flames of Revolution

Umkhonto we Sizwe

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 5 July/August 1980

The flames of revolution are once again engulfing the racist apartheid state in South Africa. On the 20th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre, on the 4th anniversary of the Soweto uprising, the South African racist state is again being challenged by a massive and powerful revolutionary assault.

In FRFI 3 we hailed the victory of ZANU and ZAPU saying that it would give enormous impetus to the struggle against the racist South African regime. And today, inspired by the victory in Zimbabwe, the revolutionary black masses are doing battle for democracy and freedom against the blood sucking racist state and its imperialist backers, of which British imperialism is the main one. The black student's struggles, the spectacular ANC(SA) military operation against SASOL, the long and bitter workers' strikes and the uprising of Capetown blacks on 17 June brings the revolutionary movement in South Africa to a new and higher stage.

One year ago, in June 1979, we wrote:

‘The magnificent struggles of the South African blacks, at its height during the Soweto uprising, is now simmering again beneath the surface as the South African racist state backed by British imperialism, intensifies its brutal oppression. But the courage and example of ANC freedom fighters like Solomon Mahlangu, murdered recently by the South African racist regime will not go unavenged. The ANC(SA) has now stepped up its activities in South Africa itself — the armed struggle will intensify.'

On Monday 2 June, units of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the ANC, struck a brilliant and devastating blow against the apartheid racist state. Three SASOL oil-from-coal plants were bombed causing £5m damage. The enormous significance of the operation is more than the damage and humiliation it caused the racists and imperialists. Despite incredible difficulties, despite the vast state security apparatus, the ANC guerilla fighters penetrated these high-security plants, vital for the regime, executed the mission and retreated without casualty! There is no better evidence of the military calibre of the ANC army. There is no better evidence of the mass support enjoyed by the ANC. Planning, organising and executing such a mission would not otherwise be possible. The racists and imperialists now stand in terror of the further blows. This operation, the biggest so far, follows the steady build up of the ANC's armed struggle which will now increase in scale, intensity and success. Neither the terror machine of the apartheid state, nor the arrest, torture and murder of ANC freedom fighters will shield the racists and imperialists from further and more damaging blows.

The words of Nelson Mandela, written two years ago are fitting for the new phase of the revolutionary struggle.

 ‘Between the anvil of united mass action and the hammer of the armed struggle we shall crush apartheid and white minority racist rule.'

The Umkhonto we Sizwe operation came in the midst of the tremendous student struggles. Since April 1980, the apartheid state has faced wave after wave of student battles against racist education and against the whole racist capitalist system. From Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein, from Durban to Pretoria hundreds of thousands of students have boycotted their schools, organised mass protest meetings and mass demonstrations declaring: ‘Don't force us out of school to supply cheap labour for capitalism!'

The revolutionary, anti-imperialist character of their fight is exemplified best in the words of one young black school student, who wrote: ‘First the oppressors, racists, fascists, imperialists and colonialists will have to be got rid of and then all that remains will be the blacks, the rightful inhabitants of South Africa. Then Nelson Mandela will become premier. He will have a communist government.'

It is this revolutionary movement and this revolutionary spirit that the apartheid regime tried to crush with bullets, teargas, dogs and batons. In Capetown police shot dead two students. In Johannesburg 800 were arrested when police attacked a demonstration with dogs and batons. In Bloemfontein armed police ringed a black township and tried to smash a demonstration with guns and teargas. Such scenes have been repeated throughout the country. Thousands have been arrested and hundreds injured.

But the movement was not subdued. Defying death and injury the students continued to courageously fight knowing that for them and all black people there can only be complete destruction of the apartheid imperialist system or continued oppression, poverty and suffering.

The imperialists have rightly judged this movement as ominous — ominous that is for the imperialists. One of their representatives, quoted in the Financial Times said:

‘These students are arguing in terms of the class struggle ... that could be an ominous development.'

Indeed an ominous development for the apartheid regime, for the white racists and British imperialists who have grown wealthy and fat on the back of the black masses. Especially ominous for imperialism as the mass student struggles coincide with a new wave of massive workers' strikes. The black working class, kept in abject poverty, denied the right to organise in trade unions, denied all political rights — solely in order that British and other imperialists can make profits — is now making its mighty voice heard loud and clear. Hundreds of imperialist firms have been hit by strikes against the racist apartheid system, by strikes for decent wages and for the right to organise, democratic and independent trade unions.

In October 1979 workers at Fords in Port Elizabeth struck demanding the immediate reinstatement of Thomazile Botha sacked for his role in organising the black community in the Port Elizabeth Black Civic Association (PEBCO). Within two days they won, but continued the struggle for better pay, conditions and the removal of racist foreman. The apartheid state, at the request of Fords, moved in to break the strike arresting Thomazile Botha and other leaders under the Terrorism Act. Despite this, the strike received the overwhelming support of the community. Mass meetings of lOs of thousands were organised by PEBCO and workers in General Tyre and a paper mill struck in solidarity. In January 1980, the strike was partially won. But Thomazile Botha, first banned has now been forced to flee the country. In Durban, 3000 textile workers went on strike demanding better wages, the response of the regime was to send in the police and break up a workers' demonstration with teargas.

The whole of the Cape area has been affected by the tremendous struggles of black meat workers, who have now been engaged in a two month long battle for the right to be represented by their own elected bodies. The struggle which began in one meat processing plant soon gathered solidarity from most other meat workers in the area. The regime and the employers fearing for their profits refused to grant the workers demands, but the workers, fighting against the racism of the regime received tremendous backing from the community. Students began organising a meat boycott, which was then supported by the rest of the community. This outstanding unity of workers, students and the community has been repeated in numerous other workers struggles and the response of the regime has been the same — repression. The fear of the black working class by the imperialist racist regime was demonstrated best by the virtual general strike in Uitenhage an industrial estate near Port Elizabeth. Workers at Volkswagen struck for better wages, the strike immediately spread to eleven other factories and the whole estate was paralysed. Coming a week after the Capetown uprising, the apartheid regime fearing another revolutionary insurrection encircled the estate with armed police and troops and put armed guards on the factories!

The united revolutionary challenge of all sections of the oppressed masses in South Africa combined with the ANC's armed struggle has brought forth cold blooded savagery from the apartheid regime. It tried to drown the current revolutionary uprising in the blood of the oppressed when on 17 June during the uprising of Capetown blacks it shot dead over 60 people. But it failed and the battle continues and will escalate.

And this battle is also a battle against British imperialism without whose support the apartheid state and all its barbarity would not survive another day. It is British imperialism which nourishes and sustains the South African racist state. It is British imperialism, with its massive investments of over £7000 million which supports the brutal reactionary state's oppression of black people in order that with these investments it can continue to rob and the plunder the wealth created by black people.

British imperialism has therefore responded to the latest wave of the freedom struggle with fear and horror. Fear and horror that the black masses led by the ANC will not only smash the racist state, but expropriate all imperialist monopolies which have enriched themselves whilst the masses suffered and starved. It was the true voice of imperialism which spoke in the Financial Times:

‘The events of the past few weeks (we should now say months — FRFI) in South Africa give one an oppressive feeling: the bloody events of Soweto in June 1976 seem to be happening again.'

‘There is growing concern in the business community especially among foreign investors (over half British — FRFI) about the resurgence of unrest.'

The freedom struggle in South Africa, the tremendous courage and heroism of the black masses gives the imperialists 'oppressive feelings'! Imperialism feels oppressed by the fight for freedom and democracy! British imperialism which so hypocritically sings the virtues of democracy and freedom, means only democracy and freedom for the imperialists to rob and oppress the black masses. British imperialism, represented by Labour and Tory governments has sought every means to bolster the racist regime. It has refused, always in the interests of the banks and monopolies, to break economic, political and military ties with the regime. Today, when the regime is shooting down school students and workers, the British state is giving its blessing to the British Lions rugby tour of South Africa, whilst at the very same time as part of its reactionary anti-Soviet campaign it mounts an hysterical campaign to boycott the Moscow Olympic games. Whilst British imperialism is full of phrases of democratic reform, justice and freedom, it has Mr Ian Mackenzie of the British Standard Chartered Bank joining the South African Government's defence advisory board which specialises in the best way to crush the struggle of the oppressed masses.

Despite British imperialism and against it, the latest wave of the revolutionary struggle will continue.

The anti-imperialist and working class movement in Britain has only one interest: to give its unconditional support to the black masses of South Africa and to the ANC(SA) which is leading the liberation movement. Every blow which is delivered to the racist regime in South Africa is a blow to British imperialism whose reactionary and bloody system of imperialist democracy has brought nothing but suffering and exploitation to all who come under its rule — to the Irish people, to the people of Zimbabwe, to black people in Britain, and to all the oppressed and working class throughout the world.

Eddie Abrahams.


We have always said that the British petit bourgeois socialist groups refuse to support and have opposed the anti-imperialist struggle of national liberation movements. In FRFI 1 we exposed the IMG's and SWP's opposition to the ANC(SA).

What was the response of these two organisations to the ANC's brilliant military operation against the SASOL oil plants. Nothing but a calculated insult, an expression of petit bourgeois, chauvinist contempt for the ANC and the black masses of South Africa who support the ANC!

The IMG and SWP dared not make any comment, were too cowardly to make any comment. Faced with an event of enormous significance these two organisations refused to say anything about it. The IMG newspaper Socialist Challenge said:

‘Bombs planted by guerillas of the African National Congress blew up three top-secret oilplants in different parts of the country. Millions of gallons of petrol, diesel, aviation fuel and chemicals were destroyed in fires which raged throughout Monday. Two of the explosions were at SASOL plants south west of Johannesburg; the other bomb went off in the centre of an oil complex at Secunda east of Johannesburg. At least £5m worth of damage was caused.'

The IMG said nothing more — no comment, no explanation!

The SWP newspaper Socialist Worker said:

‘And this week the Spear of the Nation struck. Two oil refineries were bombed — £4 million pounds of oil went up in a spiralling cloud of black smoke. The "sophistication" and the "coordination" of the attack startled the white regime. "After all," they seemed to be saying, "these people are black. Who would have thought them capable of this?"'

The SWP said nothing more — no comment, no explanation!

Is this not an insult to the ANC! Is it not an expression of profound petit bourgeois contempt for the ANC! The operation proved that the ANC's army is of the highest calibre and that the effectiveness of the armed struggle in South Africa is beyond dispute. It proved that the armed struggle, which has been slowly escalating, will further intensify and score more and more successes. It furthermore proved that the ANC has the mass support of the blacks in South Africa. It proved that the ANC is capable of delivering deadly blows to the racist apartheid regime. The SWP and IMG chose to remain silent on these points. And their silence was no accident.

Before the ANC operation these organisations repeatedly opposed, denounced and criticised the ANC: The SWP has said

‘The leadership of the national liberation movements including the ANC have typically been petit bourgeois both in social position and ideology.

The struggle for national liberation in South Africa requires critical examination and ... the rejection of the ideology which has given rise to that struggle — African nationalism.' (Southern Africa after Soweto, 1978, Alex Callinicos and John Rogers.

The IMG has said

‘(The ANC's) ability to influence the course of events in South Africa remains nil.' (Socialist Challenge June 1977)

It has attacked the ANC for:

‘. . . posturing as the leader of everything that goes on in South Africa.' (Socialist Challenge June 1977)

To have made any comments on the ANC operation against SASOL, the IMG and SWP would have had to retract all their attacks on the ANC. They would have had to admit to the readers of their petit bourgeois newspapers that they have lied and slandered the ANC. They would have been forced to acknowledge the leading role of the ANC in the South African liberation struggle and offered it full and unconditional support. This the IMG and SWP refuse to do, for they refuse to openly side with the oppressed against British imperialism.


Morning Star on the IRA bombing of gasholders at Canvey Island:

Headline: ‘When Will They Learn’

‘Anyone who thinks that blowing apart Canvey or tearing the guts out of Greenwich is the way to winning the hearts and minds of the British people for Irish freedom and unity is as politically primitive as the most obtuse Tory back-bencher.' (Morning Star 19 January 1979)

Morning Star on the ANC's bombing of SASOL oil refineries


‘Rebels Light Freedom Torch’

‘South Africa's freedom fighters struck their most spectacular blow so far against the country's hated apartheid regime when they blew up three top-secret oil plants in different parts of the country.' (Morning Star 3 June 1980)


Since completing our article on South Africa, the scale of the latest imperialist backed South African military intervention into Angola has increased dramatically. The South African regime's ground-and-air invasion is only the latest of its attempts to destroy SWAPO and its army the People's Liberation Army, and to weaken the People's Republic of Angola which provides support for the Namibian liberation movement. The British imperialists, of course, have not raised their voice in protest! Whilst denouncing the USSR's role in the Afghanistan revolution, they have remained silent in the face of this imperialist aggression. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! demands the immediate withdrawal of all South African imperialist backed troops from Angola.

Victory to the Namibian People

Victory to SWAPO and the People's Liberation Army


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