by Weizmann Hamilton*, 2013

The murders of 34 workers at Marikana on August 16 last year, and the tumultuous events that ensued, illuminated with blinding clarity all the accumulated political and social contradictions in SA society. It clarified relations between the classes like no other event before and threw the political role of the ANC government, the state and the trade union leadership into sharp relief. The same conclusion is drawn by opposing classes: we cannot continue like this. Marikana drew a line in the sand dividing the post-apartheid era into two epochs.

In the first 18 years the economic dictatorship of the capitalist class was preserved by political agreement in the negotiated settlement and legitimised by parliamentary democracy. Marikana exposed the purpose of ANC rule for what the capitalist class intended it to be: maintaining the grip of white capital on the commanding heights of the economy whilst assimilating a tiny black capitalist minority. This has perpetuated the exploitation of the black working class, and allowed the accumulation of extreme wealth for the economic and political elite.

The second epoch has begun with the working class resumption of the march towards the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society from which it had been diverted by the dead-end of parliamentary democracy. This epoch will be marked by the battle between the classes. The working class is no longer prepared to endure. This year has opened with class confrontation on the farms and in the mines and an uprising against municipal re-demarcation by the residents of Zamdela.

The ANC and Mangaung

Marikana formed the backdrop to the ANC’s Mangaung conference. Mangaung concluded its business without even a minute of silence for the victims of the worst massacre since Sharpeville. Delegates adopted the youth wage subsidy, the National Development Plan and erased ‘nationalisation’ from economic policy documents. Now, the Zuma government is proposing to declare teaching an essential service and to ban teacher strikes.

To add insult to injury the butchers of Marikana were in- stalled in their ANC positions with overwhelming endorsement of conference delegates. Ramaphosa who condemned the Lonmin strike as criminal is now in prime position to succeed Zuma as president, and Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa, who would have had to give the order to crush the strike in blood, was voted onto the NEC. Zuma, who must have authorised the massacre, was returned with over 70% of the vote. But Zuma’s popularity inside his party is in inverse proportion to his standing in society – a chasm separates the ANC and the working class that elected it.

The country is no longer in the hands of the ANC. The political atmosphere is pregnant with the idea of an alternative. The idea that the ANC is the party of liberation is no longer enough to keep the allegiance of the masses.

Bosses counter-offensive

The mining industry’s threat of mass retrenchments confirms its determination to avenge itself on the workers. They want a restoration of the pre-Marikana dictatorship and have been encouraged by the decisive shift to the right of the ANC at Mangaung.

That they have reacted to public outrage by substituting the stick with the carrot, offering housing and an employee share ownership scheme at Lonmin, does not alter these objectives. The mining bosses are set on a counter-offensive.

Normally the ideologues of capital dilute their language to hide the class divisions in society. But in a Business Day – the mouthpiece of capital – editorial the day after the massacre, their language was clear. Soaked with class antagonism and contempt toward the mineworkers, it bemoaned the failure of ‘the majority black establishment (of which the NUM and the ruling ANC and the union umbrella Cosatu are leaders) to come to terms with the majority of black, marginalised, poor and desperate people.’

NUM – policing the workers

This same editorial embraced the ‘venerable’ NUM. Terrified by the rejection of NUM by workers across the mining sector, Business Day describes NUM as ‘the thoughtful, considered heart of the union movement… It appreciates and values private capital and strong companies. Business everywhere should be hoping the union finds a way to defend itself…’ The NUM, they tell us, is a tool of the mining industry bosses in maintaining the slavery of the mineworkers.

NUM worked hard to earn this praise. In the Rustenburg mines NUM had made itself infamous as the ‘National Union of Management’ for some years ahead of Marikana.

NUM’s role in the 2012 Lonmin dispute was no different. It denounced the workers’ demands for R12500 as unreasonable and condemned the increase won as having set a bad precedent.

Strike committees

It was this rejection of NUM and the elevation of independent rank-and-file strike committees that simultaneously represented the greatest danger to the mining bosses and the greatest achievement of the workers. This process unshackled the mine workers and allowed them to rise to their feet to wage a determined struggle. The uniting of these strike committees across the mining sector – at the initiation of the DSM – in a national strike committee is a new foundation and tradition that no number of retrenchments can erase. The consciousness of the working class has been raised immeasurably.

NUM’s recognition of the significance of this development lies behind their reactionary attitude to the workers. The prison gates of the collective bargaining system have been breached. The NUM leadership’s authority has been broken and the groundwork laid, through the independent strike committees, for the emergence, in time, of an entirely new union movement outside of their control.

Role of SACP & Cosatu

Egged on by the South African Communist Party (SACP), the Cosatu leadership soiled the reputation of a once great trade union federation by taking the unprecedented step of attempting to turn worker on worker through the ‘Hands Off NUM’ campaign in a desperate but futile attempt to force the NUM onto workers who had decisively rejected this rotten gang of class collaborators. It is not the DSM’s method to use insults as a substitute for reasoned arguments. We believe, however, that this action of the SACP through the dominant faction it controls in the Cosatu leadership, qualifies as counter-revolutionary. Had a major confrontation occurred, it would have done incalculable damage to the unity of the working class and set back the struggle against the bosses and capitalism for years. Fortunately this potentially disastrous campaign found very little echo amongst Cosatu members.

The impact on the political dynamic within Cosatu is not limited to the damage flowing from their blind support of NUM and the failure to organise solidarity with the mine workers. The cowardly capitulation of the anti-Zuma faction at the Cosatu congress played a critical role in determining the scale of the Zuma-faction’s victory as well as the ideological triumph of the right wing.

Cosatu’s ideological roots and militant socialist traditions can only be revived if it splits from the Tripartite Alliance. That task can be undertaken only by the rank-and-file. We are past the point where a political alternative – a mass workers party – could emerge out of Cosatu in its present form.

Political vacuum

For capital, the ANC’s role as the main instrument of their rule has passed sell-by date. The debate amongst the elite is now about how the decline in ANC support will manifest itself. The bourgeoisie is actively preparing for an alternative. This is what lies behind the active encouragement by the capitalists of the blackening of the Democratic Alliance. Plans by Mampela Ramphele to launch a new party will not offer the working class an alternative. Her mandate would be to prettify capitalism.

The same fears the ruling capitalist class had in the 1980s – that continued white minority rule would threaten capitalism as an insurrectionary working class embraced the ideas of socialism – now stalk the boardrooms of the captains of industry.

The key lesson of Marikana is that the working class needs to rebuild its political independence. That this process has begun – with the founding of the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) by the mine workers and the DSM – will profoundly change the social and political landscape of SA in the months and years ahead.

*Originally published in Izwi Labasebenzi as a spread by Weizmann Hamilton & Liv Shange