1997 march on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE)

The Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) was actively involved in the student struggle, often participating in actions by the South African Students Congress (SASCO) or the Socialist Student Action Committee (later, Socialist Worker Students, later Keep Left). Below is a newsclipping of a regional SASCO march in Gauteng, in which WSF participated. That did not mean uncritical support for SASCO, which was part of the African National Congress (ANC)-led movement: in the case below, SASCO was responding to serious cuts on higher education spending by the ANC-led state by marching on big business (the Johannesburg Stock Exchange/ JSE), a sleight-of-hand that avoided dealing with the contradiction of SASCO supporting the ANC despite ANC neo-liberalism.



“Education is a Right, Not a Privilege!”: WSF leaflet for university struggles (1997)

This was issued by the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), in early 1997, and condemned proposed cuts by the state to public universities.  It holds up very well: 20 years onwards, the university system is underfunded, marked by job insecurity and outsourcing, and substantial exclusion of black working class students. The division between historically advantaged (“white”) and historically disadvantaged (“black”) universities is entrenched. Today, of course, white students are a minority in the universities, but the skewed transformation that resulted means that most black students in historically advantaged (“white”)  universities are middle and upper class.

Get the PDF here.

ARM – March 1995 – march and “Forward with the Student Struggle”

On the 23 March 1995 ARM joined big protest at Wits with large banner, alongside the South African Students Congress (SASCO) and the Muslim Students Association (MSA). It plastered a statement “Forward with the Student Struggle” across the campus as a poster, as well as handed out. A poster Join the All-Students March” was also issued.

Get the “Forward with the Student Struggle” poster in pdf here (2 pages).

WSF (1998): “Nigeria: Death of a tyrant, death of a democrat – but no freedom until capitalism is dead too!”

WSF (1998): “Nigeria: Death of a tyrant, death of a democrat – but no freedom until capitalism is dead too!”

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

Ordinary Nigerian people took to the streets in celebration on June 8 after hearing that murderous dictator General Sani Abacha, 54, had died of a heart attack. Abacha’s death brought to an end a four-year iron-fisted reign that saw the hanging in 1995 of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others who had dared to speak out against the oppression of the workers and the poor by wealthy western oil drilling companies exploiting Nigeria.


But Abacha was swiftly replaced by Nigeria’s ninth military dictator, Abdusalam Abubakar, a career soldier trained in the United States and Britain like so many Third World strongmen, who immediately ordered seven days of national mourning for Abacha. Abubakar then appeased the regime’s critics by releasing several jailed unionists and activists. Then on July 7, Social Democratic Party leader Chief Moshood Abiola, 60, who was jailed after apparently winning the 1993 presidential election, conveniently died of a heart attack during a visit by American officials. Abiola was no angel: a multimillionaire shipping tycoon who used his military friends to try for the presidency, he boasted four wives and 19 girlfriends and was widely believed to have stolen millions intended to upgrade Nigeria’s telephone system. Supporters of the corrupt Nigerian state claimed that Abiola was the only leader able to unite a country deeply divided between the largely Christian Yoruba and the mostly Muslim Hausa. But Nigeria does not need more robber-baron leaders. It needs a strong workers movement to organise, rise up and throw off the yoke of capitalist-sponsored terrorist dictatorship.


At the Organisation for African Unity summit in Burkina Faso shortly after the dictator’s death, his cronies who oppress other African countries underlined exactly what they had in mind with their vision of an “African Renaissance” when they paid their respects to the man who ordered the detention without trial of pro-democracy activists, jailed newspaper editors for reporting the truth, and whose police shot dead at least 10 workers dead during May Day celebrations earlier this year.

The Nigerian regime earlier this year tried to whitewash its image by sending armed forces to Sierra Leone on the West Coast to oust another military junta and install United States- approved “democracy” (i.e. protection of western mining interests).


Abacha the Butcher was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by his sipporters, but the opposition United Action for Democracy – an umbrella of 26 human rights and pro-democracy groups in Nigeria – strongly opposed this stupid suggestion. The UAD listed Abacha’s crimes as:

1. The arrest and detention without trial of Abiola.
2. The arrest and secret military trials of pro-democracy activists.
3. The hangings of Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni activists.
4. The closing of newspapers and secret military trials of journalists for “plotting to overthrow the state”.
5. The banning of some unions and the detention of union leaders following a strike in the oil industry to protest the political crisis.
6. The expulsion of student activists and the imposition of military- appointed administrators in the universities.
7. The death in prison of ousted General Shehu Musa Yar’adua and the sentencing to death of other opponents.
8. The overruling of the courts and the law by the army.
9. The promotion of conflict between tribes and between the Muslim north and Christian south.
10. The plundering of national resources and the collapse of social services due to officially tolerated corruption.

Amnesty International notes that there are “scores of prisoners held in life-threatening conditions in Nigeria’s jails” and has urged Abubaker to release Nigeria’s 250-plus prisoners of conscience – those jailed simply for their beliefs like so many South Africans were under apartheid.


Nigeria’s military dictatorships have all drawn strength from the international oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Mobil whose operations earn the country 80% of its national budget (about R51,5-billion a year). The wealth of the dictators and of the American, British and French oil companies is directly derived from the continued class inequality of the Nigerian social economy.

Despite all their rhetoric about democracy, the big capitalist powers like the USA are desperate to ensure that this oil exploitation does not falter, and so have never taken up the obvious weapon of sanctions to force the army to quit. It would be all so easy, but the profits are just too fat and the capitalists fear that the power vacuum created by the removal of a strongman will cause the country to split in half. The US, which imports half of Nigeria’s oil production, has not banned the sale of arms to Nigeria’s fascist military either: profits before people is their motto.

Abacha’s corrupt regime allowed Nigeria’s once vibrant agricultural sector to decay. What was once the world’s biggest palm oil industry has collapsed. Cocoa output halved since the 1960s, rubber production has fallen.

Abacha’s legacy has is a country pinched between demands by the capitalist overlord International Monetary Fund that Nigeria slash its already threadbare social services and public sector- which will lead to more popular unrest – and the threat of a coup by fat-cat army officers terrified of any challenge to their power and looting of the country.


This is the country that Abubakar takes control of. He has signalled his readiness to comply with the US’s and European Union’s insistence that there be “a genuine transition to civilian rule” by October 1.Of course, what the US and the EU really want is a civilian ruler installed in Nigeria to prevent the world’s seventh-largest oil export industry from being disrupted by those who want an end to oppression. They don’t care that the oil industry is the main exploiter of poor and working class Nigerians. The Western capitalist governments want democracy in name only: continued rule of the chiefs, military brass and company bosses – not real control of Nigeria’s assets by the Nigerian workers. And already, the local strongmen and robber barons have been scrambling to create new “democratic” political parties.

In August, Abubakar flew to South Africa where he was honoured at a state dinner. But his change from military uniform to a flowing white robe for the cameras should not fool anyone. He is no angel and his backers remain the brutish armed forces and the capitalist exploiters.

We support a move from military government to parliamentary rule. This will create better conditions for the working class and peasants to organise for further struggle.

In the end, however, only free socialism (anarcho-syndicalism) can redistribute wealth and power in Nigeria- and across the world. The solution is not a “good” government but workers power.


WORKERS OF SOUTH AFRICA! We cannot allow the tragedy befalling our fellow workers in Nigeria to continue! We cannot stand by and ignore our comrades’ pain, we cannot be silent.

IN YOUR COMMUNITIES: Support Nigerians who are genuine refugees of oppression against attacks by police. The cops are oppressing these visitors on behalf of the ruling class, falsely blaming all Nigerian immigrants for our country’s problems.

IN YOUR UNIONS: Tell your shop stewards, your leaders: “We demand justice for Nigeria. We boycotts of Shell and Mobil until Abubakar’s regime is toppled and democracy comes to Nigeria!”


Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, with 104 million people, has only had 10 years of civilian rule since independence from Britain in 1960. It is hardly surprising that here we find the biggest anarcho-syndicalist organisation in Africa: the Awareness League. From its roots as a radical student’s group, the League has become directly involved in the Nigerian workers’ struggle, and now has more than 1000 members across Nigeria.

Some members are rotting in Nigeria’s inhumane prisons. Others have written a book, African Anarchism- the history of a movement, that clearly shows a way out of Africa’s sad, battered love affair with brutal military dictatorships, cruel capitalism and so-called “socialist” exploitation: libertarian socialism. The League is an affiliate of the International Workers’ Association, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation formed to fight capitalism through revolutionary trade union activism worldwide.

ZACF, 2007: ZACF statement on Wits University protests

The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF, then the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation) was active in  range of areas in the 2000s, including struggles by black students and workers at the University of the Witwatersrand. Below is a leaflet issued by ZACF militants in 2007 (no month given).

Scanned PDF is here.


It is clear that what is happening at Wits -the fee increases, privatisation of residence etc -is part of the ANC government’s plan for the general neo-liberal restructuring of the universities in order to turn them into “market universities” orientated first and foremost towards generating profit. This is a hard fact which both the ANCYL [ANC Youth League] and Sasco [South African Students Congress, also linked to ANC] students leading the protests have tried studiously to avoid admitting.

In the same way that government’s neo-liberal policies (eg Gear and Asgisa), which say that service delivery must be based on cost recovery and ability to pay, affect primarily the working class and poor, so too does the restructuring at Wits and other universities. The proposed 25% increase in upfront fees, the 500% increase in admin fees for students coming from outside the SADC and increases in residence fees are obviously going to affect poor and working class students the most.

The proposed outsourcing of some residences to the commercial for-profit wing of the State, the Public Investment Corporation, in conjunction with various banks, shows clearly that the intention of the government and Wits management is not to improve the university and quality of education, never mind the access of underprivileged students to higher education, it is about making profit and needs to be resisted.

Since government and Wits started implementing this restructuring by adopting the Wits 2001 plan in 1999 more 600 support jobs have been outsourced, as a result of which workers’ wages were cut in half, their unions were smashed and their working conditions became extremely harsh. Departments have been closed, posts frozen and there is a continual pressure on lecturers to research and teach more with declining funds. Ongoing fee increases and stricter cost recovery measures such as the proposed increase in upfront payments are affecting students. Indeed, before 2000 upfront payments did not exist at all; by introducing them, management blocked the way into higher education for many poor students, and the barrier has been getting higher ever since. Declining conditions in the residences, increasing prices of food and class sizes, and overcrowded facilities are affecting student’s ability to concentrate, apply themselves and do well in their studies. Coupled with Wits management’s decision to cut bursaries in 2004, working class students are particularly hard hit by fees increases. In contrast, the power, size and power of senior management has increased dramatically throughout this period.

As anarchist communists we support the students’ struggle at Wits not only because it is in the interests of all students to resist the implementation of this restructuring, which turns Wits into a profit-driven enterprise accessible only to those who can afford to go there, an ever-decreasing number, but also because it is an important struggle against the marketisation and commercialisation of higher education in general.

We call on students not to put their faith and hopes in the student leaders, some of whom have been shown to ignore the essential cause of the crisis at Wits because of political party affiliation, but to take matters into their own hands.We urge students to carry on with protest action until all their demands have been met. We encourage students to make their voices and concerns heard by carrying out direct actions, such as occupations, sit-ins and boycotts, rather than by negotiations and appealing to management who, after all, are only implementing the ANC government’s neo- liberal for-profit policies at a local level. In order to be more powerful we urge students to join forces with the support services staff at Wits (cleaning, catering, etc.) who have also been hard hit by the outsourcing of their jobs as part of the neo-liberal restructuring of Wits into a for-profit university. We also encourage students to seek allies amongst the many activists from poor and working class communities who are resisting and fighting back against neo-liberalism, privatisation of services and cut-offs in their communities.

What is happening at Wits is happening all over the country, at every university and in every poor community. The entire economy is undergoing neo-liberal restructuring by central government, the purpose of which is not to make education or service delivery more accessible, but to make sure that it will only be accessible to those who can afford it. This has devastating consequences for millions of the population and must be fought to a standstill before it goes any further.

We support the following demands, and urge students, workers and progressive staff not to give up, not to stop occupying, disrupting and resisting until these demands are met:

*Rather than the increasingly authoritarian style of management under Wits 2001, students and staff should manage their affairs collectively, and be directly involved in that which affects them

*Student fees must be immediately cut, as must the proposed administration and residence fee increases

*Bursaries for the children of both outsourced and non-outsourced support staff must be reinstated immediately

* Financial aid for poor and working class student needs to be increased dramatically

* Wits needs to defend itself from capitalist and neo-liberal influences and against the commercialisation of the university

*Wits must send a strong message to government that it firmly opposes subsidy cuts

* The ongoing outsourcing of support services needs to be halted, and outsourced staff brought
back into permanent and secure jobs at Wits

We emphasise again that these demands will not be achieved by negotiating and appealing to Wits management, nor by leaving things in the hands of the student leaders. The only way for this struggle to be successful is for every working class student to become directly involved in the struggle, by participating in direct actions such as occupations, disruptions, sit-ins and the like.

An injury to one is an injury to all!!

Poster – Workers Solidarity Federation – 1998 – “The Poor Must Seize the Land”

This was a poster was one a series produced by the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), in this case for recruiting members at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in its opening (Orientation or “O”) week. WSF was the direct predecessor of today’s Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF). Scanned PDF is here.

WSF - 1998 - The Poor Must Seize the Land poster


WSF (1997): “Higher education: Government cuts exclude the poor”

WSF (1997): “Higher education: Government cuts exclude the poor”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 3, number 1, first quarter 1997. Complete PDF is here

Last year students from universities and technicon protested against racism on campus, fee hikes and financial and academic exclusions. If the government goes ahead with its plan to drastically cut funds for higher education, students will be facing the same problems this year. Conditions will probably get much worse for students from working class backgrounds.


The government says it has very little money for education in general. The government tells students from higher education to be happy with their lot and not to complain about the funding cuts. The government says that if they give any more funds to higher education the government will have to take money away from the other levels of education (primary and secondary education)

The argument that there is no money for education is a lie!

We know that this country does have wealth. Every year we see the bosses make record profits. Telkom made R6 billion profit in 1996.

The reason why the government does not give more money to education is not because it it is broke. It is because the government does not want to spend money on education and health. This is part of governments’ economic strategy- “GEAR”

In the past the government contributed 60% towards of the total cost for higher education. This is not a lot if one compares this figure to other African countries who pay up to 100% of the higher education budget. In fact, the South African government is ranked amongst the five countries in the world who contribute the least to higher education. In 1997, this will get even worse.


The government argues that the main reason behind the budget cuts is to address the inequalities in higher education caused by Apartheid by shifting funds to historically Black universities (HBUs). Clearly these inequalities need to be addressed as HBUs are extremely under funded, severely lack resources and in some cases are overcrowded. Many HBUs also have to pay back massive debts to the State.

Despite this, the government plans to cut back on HBUs funding. For example, the University of the Western Cape may have to deal with a 27 million subsidy cut. These cut backs on funds will not address the inequalities of the past. Cut backs will only worsen conditions and place these HBUs under severe financial pressure. HBUs need more money not funding cuts!


Historically black tertiary institutions will not be the only to suffer the funding cuts. Workers staff and students, especially black students from working class backgrounds, will also suffer.

Students will have to pay high fees for their courses and residences. These students will have no where to turn for financial help because bursaries will be slashed. Students will also face academic problems as many courses and academic support programs will be discontinued due to the funding cuts.

This means that us the workers and the poor are financially excluded from higher education because we can not afford to attend. Also, without academic support, many students will not be able to cope with their work and will face academic exclusions.

Workers and academic staff may face retrenchment and lay off. Wages and salaries, which are in many cases low to begin with, will not improve


It is clear that cutting back university and technikon funds will not benefit historically black universities, students, staff and workers. It is also clear that the government has the money and does not have to cut funds. Therefore, we must resist the higher education budget cuts!

All progressive student bodies should unite with staff and workers to resist the fund cuts on a national level. We Demand:
— An end to any tertiary education subsidy cuts!
— Increase the education budget (for all levels of education)