WSF (1995): “1994 Elections: A Massive Advance For The Struggle In South Africa”

WSF (1995): “1994 Elections: A Massive Advance For The Struggle In South Africa”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 1, number 1, May-June 1994. Complete PDF is here

Legalized apartheid is finally dead. For the first time in 350 years Black South Africans are not ruled by a racist dictatorship but by a democratic parliament.

Along with this capitalist democracy came a whole series of rights we never had before. We have guaranteed freedom of association and speech. We have the right to strike and protest. We have some protection from racist and sexist practices.

These changes did not come from the benevolent hand of the National Party. They are the result of decades of struggle. We broke the pass laws. We broke the ban on African trade unions [rights]. We broke the racist education system. We broke the Land Act of 1913.


However, the legacy of apartheid is still with us. 2.3 million South Africans suffer from malnutrition. Only 45% of Africans live in houses. Only 2 in 10 African pupils reach matric. Even though South Africa produces 50% of Africa’s electricity, only 30% of the population has electricity. At the same time 5% of the population own 80% of all wealth. Whites on average earn 9 times more than Africans.

The ANC’s RDP has set itself very limited goals to redress this. For example, it aims to build a million houses over, 5 years. This will not ever deal with the massive housing backlog facing Black people.

The RDP also places a heavy reliance on the market mechanism. The RDP only aim to redistribute 30% of the land to Blacks. But most of this will be bought through the market. Why should we pay for stolen land? White farmers will also be compensated for land unfairly acquired after 1913 even when this is returned.

In any case, the RDP’s ability to deliver is doubtful. The RDP will not be funded by increased tax on the bosses. Instead the focus is on make “more efficient” use of existing resources.


The State mechanism is not some neutrall tool that can be used to benefit the poor. The State always prioritise the needs of the bosses. This is one reason why the RDP’s aiMs are so moderate. IT is also why the State continues to attack struggle even with a new government.

The only Black people that the State has helped since the elections has been the politicians. Their lavish lifestyles and salaries are far removed from the oppressive conditions of their supporters. The State aims to build a Black middle class that will help manage and defend capitalism.


The only way we can force the new government to deliver its promises is through struggle. This is the only way our needs will be heard above those of the bosses who are in a business crisis. It is only through keeping up the fight on the ground that we can force the State to give in to our demands. Force the bosses to deliver!

But we need to break out of the cycle in which the needs of the majority take second place to the profits and power of the bosses and their State.

We need to attack and destroy the system of capitalism that caused our hardships and racism in the first place. We need a society without bosses or governments. A society based on workers and community councils which puts people before profit. Build for working class revolution!


About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I have long been involved in union education, and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented or published 100s of papers conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 4 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and produced five books. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. My books includd include 'Politics at a Distance from the State: Radical and African Perspectives' (2018, co-edited with Kirk Helliker), 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' and 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014).