WSF (1998): “EDITORIAL: South Africa’s transition goes sour”

WSF (1998):  “EDITORIAL: South Africa’s transition goes sour”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

IN 1994, people danced in the streets after the results of the elections were announced. How far have we come in the five years since that time? Not far enough. The elections were a great victory because they ended legalised racism in South Africa- the oppressive laws created by the bosses to ensure an endless supply of super-cheap Black labour.

But while the law has changed, conditions on the ground have not. Working and poor people have been increasingly impatient with the slow pace of “delivery” of the goods and services promised in the 1994 elections. Worried about its election prospects, the ANC has done its best to excuse the broken promises. It has manipulated the loyalty of many workers to blame the failure of delivery on unnamed “forces” who want to return South Africa to the past. It has done its best to label critics anti-patriotic or right-wing. And it has asserted its domination in the Tripartite Alliance, demanding that COSATU and SACP toe the line and stop criticising ANC policies.

Of course, there are right-wing forces in South Africa. But the NP left the Government of national Unity years ago. As for the other big conservative group, the IFP, the ANC is hinting of a merger between Congress and the IFP.

The real blame for the ANC’s lack of delivery lies in its GEAR (Growth Employment and Redistribution) policy. GEAR is an attack on the jobs, incomes and social services of the working class. It is based on the idea that the bosses must be allowed to make more profits from cheap labour. So instead of taking money from the bosses and using it to benefit the Black working class majority, the ANC policy tells the bosses to become richer, promising the poor that crumbs from the bosses’ banquet table will fall to them.

However, we do not see the solution to GEAR as a new party to replace the ANC. The ANC did not adopt GEAR because it was “bad”. ANC adopted GEAR because the bosses -who include many top ANC members and funders- demanded GEAR. We live in a time of class war- war by the employers against the working class. The only solution can be mass struggle, not elections – THE UNION IS YOUR PARTY, THE STRUGGLE IS YOUR VOTE


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).