South Africa: Black working class fights back

FRFI 162 August / September 2001

ESKOM, the government-owned company which supplies 98% of South Africa’s electricity, is busy cutting off electricity to Soweto residents. Soweto is the biggest township in South Africa, where more than a million black working class people live. According to ESKOM, it is disconnecting 20,000 per month in a bid to recover more than a billion rand (US$120 million) that it claims residents owe.

This is happening under the government of the ANC. In December 2000 the party campaigned and won the local government elections on a ticket of providing free water and free electricity to all South African citizens to meet their basic needs. The government felt compelled to introduce this policy because more than 35% of South Africans are unemployed and about the same number do not have access to clean water and electricity.
The residents of Soweto are not taking the cut-offs lying down. Last year activists formed the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC) to fight the cut-offs. This organisation has embarked on increasingly militant action which has attracted youth and militants who are sick and tired of living in darkness because they are poor.


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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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COSATU strike sharpens the contradictions in the South African class struggle

FRFI 170 December 2002 / January 2003

Was the national general strike against privatisation on 1 and 2 October, organised by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a success or a failure? This was a major question in the war of words between the African National Congress (ANC) government and COSATU leaders that followed the strike. TREVOR NGWANE reports.

The strike revealed deep cracks in the ANC-SACP-COSATU Tripartite Alliance. The Alliance represents the hegemony of the ruling party over the working class: it delivers the votes and is the chief political mechanism to ensure social stability in neo-liberal post-apartheid South Africa (SA). After the strike the government quoted figures to prove that many workers did not strike, while COSATU provided its own figures proving the contrary. In fact, the strike was smaller than the previous one in 2001 but it was not a flop.

Before and after the strike, senior ANC government ministers came out vehemently against it in the media. President Thabo Mbeki was particularly vicious, calling COSATU leaders ‘ultra-leftists’ and ‘counter-revolutionaries’ betraying the people’s ‘national democratic revolution’ and whose agenda had a lot in common with that of the (white) ‘right-wing’. In response, the embattled COSATU leaders justified their strike on socio-economic grounds: the failure of the government to implement agreements made with labour around privatisation. They claimed that, as union leaders, they were not malicious or anti-ANC, but were carrying out the mandate of their members.


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South Africa: struggle against water privatisation

FRFI 175 October / November 2003

Greetings, once again, from the Anti-Privatisation Forum. Below is an update on the struggle against pre-paid water meters in the community of Phiri, Soweto that is being waged by the community with the active support of the APF and its affiliate, the SECC.

After holding a mass meeting and door-to-door campaign, more than 1,000 Phiri residents marched to the Soweto offices of the Metropolitan Council on 20 September, despite the march having been banned by the police. It succeeded in increasing awareness and support for the struggle against Johannesburg Water’s Operation Gcin amanzi and the fight against privatisation of basic services as well as support for the comrades who had been arrested and gaoled for carrying out acts of resistance. Those comrades appeared in court and, after being gaoled for two weeks on the grounds that they were a direct threat to public security, our legal defence team succeeded in getting bail.


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South Africa: Social Movement Indaba condemns arrests of Anti-Privatisation Forum activists

FRFI 178 April / May 2004

Press Statement 21/3/04: The Social Movement Indaba (SMI) condemns the arrests of Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) activists that took place today in Johannesburg.
As the SMI was engaged in crafting a programme of action for social movements in the country, as part of a three-day SMI conference in Johannesburg, we received the reprehensible news about the arrests of 52 activists of the APF, including six children and innocent bystanders. The arrests happened around 11.15am in Pretoria Street, Hilbrow. Subsequent to that, 100 APF activists were attacked by the police outside Hilbrow Hospital. Once again, the brutal police force used violence and shot metal ball bearings, stun grenades and teargas injuring APF activists. Two injured comrades were taken to Johannesburg General Hospital.

Earlier in the day, police had unlawfully stopped APF activists from boarding buses from Soweto and Thembelihle. These buses were going to join the action that was to take place at the opening of Constitutional Hill. Other activists who had gathered at the Workers Library in Newtown were forced, under the threat of arrest, to submit to completely illegal finger-printing procedures by the police. We object strongly to such repressive tactics which were commonly used during the days of apartheid!


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Remember Soweto: youth in South Africa

40thanniversary of theSoweto Uprising 16 June1976

From our archive we highlight an article on the 1976 Soweto Uprising written for FRFI by Trevor Ngwane, South African anti-apartheid activist, on the 10th anniversary of the end of apartheid in 2004. He asks ‘What has happened to the youth of 1976? What is happening to the youth today?’. On this 40th anniversary of Soweto we can ask the same questions, and, sadly, our conclusion would not be very different from Ngwane’s.


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