WSF (1996): “No To Privatisation!”

WSF (1996): “No To Privatisation!”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 2, number 1, first quarter 1996. Complete PDF is here

In early December 1995, the government announced that it was going to privatise many State assets. It wants to sell off part of SAA, Telkom and Airports Company, and all of Autonet, Sun Air and Transkei Airways.

This was met by opposition by the unions, spearheaded by the 1,6 million strong COSATU federation (Congress of South African Trade Unions). Mass actions were organised in the postal and public transport sectors. COSATU also called a general strike for January 16 1996. This strike was called off at the last minute when the government agreed to halt its privatisation plans and enter into negotiations with the unions over economic restructuring.


The government says privatisation will “create new jobs” in the “medium- to long- term.”

Lies! We have had privatisation in South Africa since the 1980s. And there is still mass unemployment! Nowhere in the world has privatisation created jobs. Privatisation means job losses. It will put us and our families on the streets.


The government says that there must be some privatisation of services. They say this will help “deliver services”.

But business only cares about one thing- PROFITS! It won’t deliver services to people who cannot afford to pay charges. And business will erode the quality of the few services we do have so it can make more money. They will not improve services to the poor because the poor are not a “financially viable proposition.”


The government says that privatisation will contribute to “black empowerment.”

But only a tiny elite of Black businessman and politicians have money to buy shares. Black economic empowerment must mean more than a few rich Motlanas and Mosenekes. It must mean an improvement in the living conditions of the workers and the poor. It must mean real grassroots democracy.


*Mass actions and strikes against privatisation.

*Workplace occupations and strike action by workers threatened by job cuts. This must be backed up by maximum solidarity from other unions. We must demand continued unemployment with no cuts in pay or workers rights.

*Workers in the service sector must fight attempts to erode, privatise or cut off services. We must fight for more and better services to the communities of the workers and the poor.


We say no to privatisation. But nationalisation is also not socialism because the government will never serve the workers. It was built to serve the bosses and the rulers and still play this role. We must fight for real worker control of the economy through our trade unions.

Phantsi nge Capitalism! (Down with Capitalism!)

Phambili basebenzi! (Forward Workers!)


About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also 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 papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. 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. I have several books, including '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).