South Africa: the struggle against privatisation

FRFI 164 December 2001 / January 2002

Loyalty to the African National Congress (ANC) no longer makes sense to ordinary workers in their everyday life as they face the ANC government as an employer – a boss who attacks them at work and at home. The 15-year alliance between the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU; the largest South African union federation, with 1.8 million members), the ANC (the ruling party) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), is under great strain.

On 29 and 30 August more than 5 million workers went on a two-day general strike called by COSATU against privatisation. Unlike in the UK, in South Africa political strikes are allowed if the long-winded procedures are followed under the terms of the Labour Relations Act (LRA). This is one of the gains made by the victory of the struggle against apartheid and the installation of a ‘worker-friendly’ government in 1994.

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The struggle for anti-AIDS drugs in South Africa

FRFI 165 February / March 2002

The leading killer in South Africa (SA) is the pandemic AIDS which, according to a 2001 government study, accounts for 40% of deaths. At a rate of 4,800 deaths a week, many people in the country are demanding that HIV/AIDS be declared a national emergency. But the ruling African National Congress (ANC) government of President Thabo Mbeki continues to dither while people die. Mbeki is more concerned with reducing social and healthcare expenditure and keeping company taxes down. He does not want to seem to be attacking the interests of the capitalist class.

No single issue has lost the ANC government more credibility than the AIDS crisis. Mbeki became the laughing stock of the world when a few years ago he claimed that HIV did not cause AIDS and that the disease was possibly a fabrication by Africa’s enemies. The president’s ridiculous views stopped being a laughing matter when the South African government refused to take vigorous steps to fight the pandemic because of the ‘unproven’ nature of its existence and hence the efficacy of measures to combat it. Under pressure from public opinion to retract his unfounded statements, Mbeki appointed an expensive but dubious advisory panel to ‘investigate’ the link between HIV and AIDS.

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South Africa - SAMWU stares down ANC council bosses

FRFI 168 August / September 2002

The strike of municipal workers led by the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) ended with no outright victor. The strike lasted 17 days, the longest national strike in South Africa since the formal demise of apartheid in 1994.

The council bosses conceded wage increases slightly below inflation and imposed a three-year wage agreement on the union. The workers demanded 10% and were given 9% for lowest paid workers and 8% for others; inflation is 9.8%. The strike pitted workers against their employer, the African National Congress (ANC) government, exposing cracks in the political alliance between the ANC and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the leading 1.8 million-strong trade union federation to which SAMWU is affiliated. Many workers saw the strike as a struggle against the ANC government’s capitalist policies.

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Norma Kitson

FRFI 168 August / September 2002

8 August 1933-12 June 2002

Our dearest possession is life. It is given to us but once. And we must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live, that dying we might say: all my life all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world – the fight for the Liberation of Humankind. Nikolai Ostrovsky, How the Steel was Tempered

This was the opening of Norma Kitson’s book Where Sixpence Lives.1 It accurately portrays her philosophy of life: the philosophy of a revolutionary who had unremitting energy to change the world.

She was born Norma Cranko to a large Jewish bourgeois family in Durban, South Africa. Norma did not fit any mould. She soon rebelled against stifling post-war family life. (‘Girls! Never allow perfume to touch your pearls. It makes them porous.’ Norma’s mother’s advice to her daughters.) At the age of 15 she ran away to be near her sister and ended up working as a secretary at a gold mine in the Orange Free State. Apartheid had been introduced following the Second World War – ostensibly it was ‘separate development’, in reality it was the brutal oppression and dispossession of black people. Influenced by her non-conformist father (divorced from her mother), appalled by the narrowness of Boer existence and by the treatment of black miners, Norma left for Johannesburg after eighteen months. She was determined to meet other ‘progressives’. She soon joined the campaign of Defiance against Unjust Laws led by the ANC. On 26 June 1952 she prepared herself to go to gaol (carrying extra underwear in her handbag). She did not know where to go so she sat on a bench marked NIE BLANKES – NON WHITES in Joubert Park, waiting to be arrested. Several hours later, ignored by everyone, she went home.

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South African working class challenges W$$D

FRFI 169 October / November 2002

When heads of state from all around the world arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 31 August for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), they were met by two marches. The first, ‘red’ march was arguably the biggest in post-apartheid South Africa: 10km-long and 25,000-strong. The demonstrators called for the shut down of the WSSD and denounced the heads of governments as enemies of the people. The second, smaller march was led by the African National Congress (ANC), the party in power, and its Tripartite Alliance partners, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Trevor Ngwane reports.

The clash between the two marches on the same day and on the same route was an unambiguous contest between the anti-ANC left in South Africa and the ANC government. Victory went to the red march. These events crystallised the issues for the masses and exposed the ANC government’s class collaborationist role in world politics.

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