A Faustian Pact With Neoliberalism
South Africa’s young people today are known as the Born Free generation. They enjoy the dignity of being born into a democratic society with the right to vote and choose who will govern. But modern South Africa is not a perfect society. Full equality – social and economic – does not exist, and control of the country’s wealth remains in the hands of a few, so new challenges and frustrations arise. Veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle like myself are frequently asked whether, in the light of such disappointment, the sacrifice was worth it. While my answer is yes, I must confess to grave misgivings: I believe we should be doing far better.
There have been impressive achievements since the attainment of freedom in 1994: in building houses, crèches, schools, roads and infrastructure; the provision of water and electricity to millions; free education and healthcare; increases in pensions and social grants; financial and banking stability; and slow but steady economic growth (until the 2008 crisis at any rate). These gains, however, have been offset by a breakdown in service delivery, resulting in violent protests by poor and marginalised communities; gross inadequacies and inequities in the education and health sectors; a ferocious rise in unemployment; endemic police brutality and torture; unseemly power struggles within the ruling party that have grown far worse since the ousting of Mbeki in 2008; an alarming tendency to secrecy and authoritarianism in government; the meddling with the judiciary; and threats to the media and freedom of expression. Even Nelson Mandela’s privacy and dignity are violated for the sake of a cheap photo opportunity by the ANC’s top echelon.
Most shameful and shocking of all, the events of Bloody Thursday – 16 August 2012 – when police massacred 34 striking miners at Marikana mine, owned by the London-based Lonmin company. The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 prompted me to join the ANC. I found Marikana even more distressing: a democratic South Africa was meant to bring an end to such barbarity. And yet the president and his ministers, locked into a culture of cover-up. Incredibly, the South African Communist party, my party of over 50 years, did not condemn the police either.
South Africa’s liberation struggle reached a high point but not its zenith when we overcame apartheid rule. Back then, our hopes were high for our country given its modern industrial economy, strategic mineral resources (not only gold and diamonds), and a working class and organised trade union movement with a rich tradition of struggle. But that optimism overlooked the tenacity of the international capitalist system. From 1991 to 1996 the battle for the ANC’s soul got under way, and was eventually lost to corporate power: we were entrapped by the neoliberal economy – or, as some today cry out, we “sold our people down the river”.
What I call our Faustian moment came when we took an IMF loan on the eve of our first democratic election. That loan, with strings attached that precluded a radical economic agenda, was considered a necessary evil, as were concessions to keep negotiations on track and take delivery of the promised land for our people. Doubt had come to reign supreme: we believed, wrongly, there was no other option; that we had to be cautious, since by 1991 our once powerful ally, the Soviet union, bankrupted by the arms race, had collapsed. Inexcusably, we had lost faith in the ability of our own revolutionary masses to overcome all obstacles. Whatever the threats to isolate a radicalising South Africa, the world could not have done without our vast reserves of minerals. To lose our nerve was not necessary or inevitable. The ANC leadership needed to remain determined, united and free of corruption – and, above all, to hold on to its revolutionary will. Instead, we chickened out. The ANC leadership needed to remain true to its commitment of serving the people. This would have given it the hegemony it required not only over the entrenched capitalist class but over emergent elitists, many of whom would seek wealth through black economic empowerment, corrupt practices and selling political influence.
To break apartheid rule through negotiation, rather than a bloody civil war, seemed then an option too good to be ignored. However, at that time, the balance of power was with the ANC, and conditions were favourable for more radical change at the negotiating table than we ultimately accepted. It is by no means certain that the old order, apart from isolated rightist extremists, had the will or capability to resort to the bloody repression envisaged by Mandela’s leadership. If we had held our nerve, we could have pressed forward without making the concessions we did.
It was a dire error on my part to focus on my own responsibilities and leave the economic issues to the ANC’s experts. However, at the time, most of us never quite knew what was happening with the top-level economic discussions. As Sampie Terreblanche has revealed in his critique, Lost in Transformation, by late 1993 big business strategies – hatched in 1991 at the mining mogul Harry Oppenheimer‘s Johannesburg residence – were crystallising in secret late-night discussions at the Development Bank of South Africa. Present were South Africa’s mineral and energy leaders, the bosses of US and British companies with a presence in South Africa – and young ANC economists schooled in western economics. They were reporting to Mandela, and were either outwitted or frightened into submission by hints of the dire consequences for South Africa should an ANC government prevail with what were considered ruinous economic policies.
All means to eradicate poverty, which was Mandela’s and the ANC’s sworn promise to the “poorest of the poor”, were lost in the process. Nationalisation of the mines and heights of the economy as envisaged by the Freedom charter was abandoned. The ANC accepted responsibility for a vast apartheid-era debt, which should have been cancelled. A wealth tax on the super-rich to fund developmental projects was set aside, and domestic and international corporations, enriched by apartheid, were excused from any financial reparations. Extremely tight budgetary obligations were instituted that would tie the hands of any future governments; obligations to implement a free-trade policy and abolish all forms of tariff protection in keeping with neo-liberal free trade fundamentals were accepted. Big corporations were allowed to shift their main listings abroad. In Terreblanche’s opinion, these ANC concessions constituted “treacherous decisions that [will] haunt South Africa for generations to come”.
An ANC-Communist party leadership eager to assume political office (myself no less than others) readily accepted this devil’s pact, only to be damned in the process. It has bequeathed an economy so tied in to the neoliberal global formula and market fundamentalism that there is very little room to alleviate the plight of most of our people.
Little wonder that their patience is running out; that their anguished protests increase as they wrestle with deteriorating conditions of life; that those in power have no solutions. The scraps that are left go to the emergent black elite; corruption has taken root as the greedy and ambitious fight like dogs over a bone.
In South Africa in 2008 the poorest 50% received only 7.8% of total income. While 83% of white South Africans were among the top 20% of income receivers in 2008, only 11% of our black population were. These statistics conceal unmitigated human suffering. Little wonder that the country has seen such an enormous rise in civil protest.
A descent into darkness must be curtailed. I do not believe the ANC alliance is beyond hope. There are countless good people in the ranks. But a revitalisation and renewal from top to bottom is urgently required. The ANC’s soul needs to be restored; its traditional values and culture of service reinstated. The pact with the devil needs to be broken.
At present the impoverished majority do not see any hope other than the ruling party, although the ANC’s ability to hold those allegiances is deteriorating. The effective parliamentary opposition reflects big business interests of various stripes, and while a strong parliamentary opposition is vital to keep the ANC on its toes, most voters want socialist policies, not measures inclined to serve big business interests, more privatisation and neoliberal economics.
This does not mean it is only up to the ANC, SACP and Cosatu to rescue the country from crises. There are countless patriots and comrades in existing and emerging organised formations who are vital to the process. Then there are the legal avenues and institutions such as the public protector’s office and human rights commission that – including the ultimate appeal to the constitutional court – can test, expose and challenge injustice and the infringement of rights. The strategies and tactics of the grassroots – trade unions, civic and community organisations, women’s and youth groups – signpost the way ahead with their non-violent and dignified but militant action.
The space and freedom to express one’s views, won through decades of struggle, are available and need to be developed. We look to the Born Frees as the future torchbearers.
Ronnie Kasrils was a member of the national executive committee of the African National Congress from 1987 to 2007, and a member of the central committee of the South African Communist party from December 1986 to 2007. He was the country’s minister for intelligence services from 2004 to 2008. This is an extract from the new introduction to his autobiography, Armed and Dangerous.
South Africa’s ruling party has officially endorsed Palestine’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel, making it the first major non-Muslim political faction to throw its weight behind the nonviolent resistance movement.
The African National Congress issued a resolution in support of the boycott campaign making it a part of its official policy, and specifically called for “all South Africans to support the programmes and campaigns of the Palestinian civil society which seek to put pressure on Israel to engage with the Palestinian people to reach a just solution.”
A press release issued by activist group BDS South Africa called the move “the most authoritative endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign.”
Previous moves to support Palestine’s nonviolent resistance movement from state actors have restricted their backing to the boycott of Israeli settlements, shying away from targeting the Jewish state. In September, the Irish parliament voted to ban Israeli settlement imports. Earlier this month, an Israeli newspaper reported that the EU was looking into boycotting settlement goods, after Israel defied calls to stem construction of the illegal houses.
Another clause of the resolution lashed out at Israel’s mistreatment of Africans, which culminated in the mass deportation of South Sudanese this year: “The ANC abhors the recent Israeli state-sponsored xenophobic attacks and deportation of Africans and request that this matter should be escalated to the African Union.”
The move is the latest in a series of actions by the ANC to pressure Israel into ending the Jewish state’s racist policies, particularly against indigenous Palestinians.
This August, South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim advised South Africans not to travel to Israel “because of the treatment and policies of Israel towards the Palestinian people.”
Palestine activists have long worked to draw attention to parallels between South Africa’s apartheid period and Palestinian repression under Israel’s ethno-religious-exclusive government system. Palestine’s BDS movement is said to be largely inspired by South Africa’s own boycott movement, which is credited with playing a major role in dismantling apartheid in that country in 1994.
South African Apartheid was declared official policy in 1948, the same year the state of Israel was created and thousands of Palestinians were expelled or put under martial rule.
In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights. The launch followed a historic ruling at the International Court of Justice that Israel’s apartheid wall, which greatly restricts movement in the West Bank and expropriates large swathes of Palestinian land, be demolished.
The BDS movement has garnered support from activists and labor unions worldwide, as well as from a growing list of artists, including Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Santana, Cat Power and the late Gil Scott Heron.
Full BDS South Africa Press release
MEDIA RELEASE: S. Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, reaffirms boycott of Israel resolution
South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), at its 53rd National Conference, reaffirmed a resolution supporting the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign.
In October 2012, the ANC’s International Solidarity Conference (ISC) declared its full support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign (ISC Declaration, page 2, point 10).
Today, Lindiwe Zulu (member of the ANC’s International Relations Sub-Committee and special advisor to President Jacob Zuma) announced at the ANC’s 53rd National Conference plenary session, the ANC’s official endorsement, as captured in Resolution 39 (b), of the ANC’s October International Solidarity Conference (ISC) and all its resolutions, which includes a resolution on BDS. Giving muscle to resolution 39 (b), the ANC has committed to set up a steering committee to implement these ISC resolutions.
In addition, the ANC adopted resolution 35 (g) that specifically called for “all South Africans to support the programmes and campaigns of the Palestinian civil society which seek to put pressure on Israel to engage with the Palestinian people to reach a just solution.” In 2005 Palestinian civil society issued a call to the international community for a program and campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to be applied against Israel as a way to pressure Israel to end its violations of international law, respect Palestinian human rights and engage in fair negotiations for a just peace.
Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of BDS South Africa welcomed today’s decision: “This reaffirmation by the ANC’s National Conference, its highest decision making body, is by far the most authoritative endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign. The ANC has now taken its international conference resolutions, and officially made it the policy of the ANC. We look forward to working with the ANC and specifically the ISC steering committee to expedite its implementation.”
Another hard-hitting decision on Israel that was adopted by the ANC was resolution 35 (j): “The ANC abhors the recent Israeli state-sponsored xenophobic attacks and deportation of Africans and request that this matter should be escalated to the African Union”. In June this year Israeli anti-African protests turned into full-fledged race riots. Israeli racism and xenophobia against Africans is shared and even encouraged by Israeli politicians including the Israeli Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said: “If we don’t stop their [African immigrants’] entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence…and threatens the social fabric of society.” Israel’s Minister of Interior, Eli Yishai, has said that African immigrants “think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man.” And the Israeli parliamentarian, Miri Regev, has publicly compared Sudanese people to “a cancer”.
Finally, in a blow to the Israeli lobby, the ANC also adopted resolution 35 (c) stating: “The ANC is unequivocal in its support for the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination, and unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel.” In the build up to the ANC’s National Conference the Israeli lobby, including the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, demanded a “balanced” and “nonpartisan” rather than a decisive and solidarity role by the ANC in the Palestinian-Israeli issue.
ISSUED BY MBUYISENI NDLOZI FOR BDS SOUTH AFRICA
When thousands of miners went on strike at South Africa’s largest platinum mine, in Marikana, they were confronting not only the London-based owners, but the South African state, which since 1994 has been dominated by the African National Congress (ANC); COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions; and the South African Communist Party. This week, the full weight of the state was brought down on the Black miners, 34 of whom were massacred by police gunfire. Many of the survivors face charges of murder in the earlier deaths of two policemen and eight other miners.
The National Union of Mineworkers, whose representation the strikers rejected, and the Communist Party head in the region claim the strikers are at fault, that they have committed the sin of choosing an alternative union to argue their case for higher wages and, therefore, deserve severe punishment. They are “anarchists,” say these two allies of the South African state, and guilty of fomenting “dual unionism” – which is now, apparently, a capital crime. With a straight face, the Communist Party had the gall to call on all South African workers to “remain united in the fight against exploitation under capitalism.”
That is precisely what the Marikana miners were doing – the struggle they gave their lives for. However, since the peaceful transition to state power to the ANC and its very junior partners, the COSATU unions and the Communist Party, in 1994, the South African state has had different priorities. The “revolution” was put on indefinite hold, so that a new Black capitalist class could be created, largely from the ranks of well-connected members of the ruling party and even union leaders. It is only logical that, if the priority of the state is to nurture Black capitalists, then it must maintain and defend capitalism. This is the central contradiction of the South African arrangement, and the massacre at Marikana is its inevitable result.
The 1994 agreement between Nelson Mandela’s ANC and the white South African regime was a pact with the devil, which could only be tolerated by the masses of the country’s poor because it was seen as averting a bloodbath, and because it was assumed to be temporary. But, 18 years later, the arrangement has calcified into a bizarre protectorate for foreign white capital and the small class of Blacks that have attached themselves to the global rich. Apologists for the African National Congress regime will prattle on about the “complexity” of the issue, but the central truth is that South Africa did not complete its revolution.
The fundamental contradictions of the rule of the many by the few, remain in place – only now, another layer of repression has been added: a Black aristocracy that has soaked itself in the blood of the miners of Marikana.
South Africa remains the continent’s best hope for a fundamental break with colonialism in its new forms. But, as in all anti-colonial struggles, the biggest casualties will occur in the clash between those who truly desire liberation, and those who are intent on an accommodation with the old master.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
- Echoes of the Past: Marikana, Cheap Labour and the 1946 Miners Strike (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- South African miners’ families back Julius Malema’s call for nationalisation (guardian.co.uk)
On August 4, 1946 over one thousand miners assembled in Market Square in Johannesburg, South Africa. No hall in the town was big enough to hold them, and no one would have rented one to them anyway. The miners were members of the African Mine Worker’s Union (AMWU), a non-European union which was formed five years earlier in order to address the 12 to 1 pay differential between white and black mineworkers. The gathering carried forward just one unanimous resolution: African miners would demand a minimum wage of ten shillings (about 1 Rand) per day. If the Transvaal Chamber of Mines did not meet this demand, all African mine workers would embark on a general strike immediately. Workers mounted the platform one after the other to testify: “When I think of how we left our homes in the reserves, our children naked and starving, we have nothing more to say. Every man must agree to strike on 12 August. It is better to die than go back with empty hands.” The progressive Guardian newspaper reported an old miner getting to his feet and addressing his comrades: “We on the mines are dead men already!”
The massacre of 45 people, including 34 miners, at Marikana in the North West province is an inevitable outcome of a system of production and exploitation that has historically treated human life as cheap and disposable. If there is a central core – a stem in relation to which so many other events are branches – that runs through South African history, it is the demand for cheap labour for South Africa’s mines. “There is no industry of the size and prosperity of this that has managed its cheap labour policy so successfully,” wrote Ruth First in reference to the Chamber of Mines ability to pressure the government for policies that displaced Africans from their land and put them under the boot of mining bosses.
Masters and Servants
Mechanisms such as poll and hut taxes, pass laws, Masters and Servants Acts and grinding rural poverty were all integral in ensuring a cheap and uninterrupted supply of labour for the mines. Pass laws were created in order to forge a society in which farm work or mining were the only viable employment options for the black population. And yet the low wages and dangerous work conditions kept many within the country away, forcing the Chamber of Mines to recruit labour from as far afield as Malawi and China throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Sordid deals between Portuguese East Africa and Apartheid South Africa ensured forced labour to be recruited for the mines and by 1929 there were 115,000 Mozambicans working underground. “It has been said,” wrote First in her study of migrant Mozambican miners, “that the wealth of Reef gold mines lies not in the richness of the strike but in the low costs of production kept down by cheap labour.”
When AMWU was formed in 1941 black miners earned 70 Rand a year while white workers received 848 Rand. White miners had been organized for many years, but there was little solidarity between the two groups as evidenced by the 1922 Rand Rebellion led by the whites-only Mine Workers Union. White miners went on strike against management’s attempt at weakening the colour bar in order to facilitate the entry of cheaper black labour into skilled positions. Supported by the Communist Party of South Africa under the banner of “Unite and Fight for a White South Africa!” the rebellion was viciously crushed by the state leaving over 200 dead. The growth of non-European unions in the 1940s was dramatic and for the very first time the interests of African mineworkers were on the table. Their demands threatened the very foundations of the cheap labour system, and so in 1944 Prime Minister Jan Smuts tabled the War Measure 1425 preventing a gathering of 20 or more on mine property. Despite these difficulties the union pressed on and in 1946 they approached the Chamber of Mines with their demand for wage increases. A letter calling for last minute negotiations with the Chamber of Mines was, as usual, ignored.
By August 12th tens-of-thousands of black miners were on strike from the East to the West Rand. The state showed the utmost brutality, chasing workers down mineshafts with live ammunition and cracking down on potential sympathy strikes in the city of Johannesburg. By August 16th the state had bludgeoned 100,000 miners back to work and nine lay dead. Throughout the four-day strike hundreds of trade union leaders were arrested, with the central committee of the Communist Party and local ANC leaders arrested and tried for treason and sedition. The violence came on the cusp of the 1948 elections, which would see further repression and the beginning of the country’s anti-communist hysteria.
National Union of Mineworkers Poster on Fortieth Anniversary of 1946 Strike
While it did not succeed in its immediate aims, the strike was a watershed moment in South African politics and would forever change the consciousness of the labour movement. Thirty years later Monty Naicker, one of the leading figures in the South African Indian Congress, argued that the strike “transformed African politics overnight. It spelt the end of the compromising, concession-begging tendencies that dominated African politics. The timid opportunism and begging for favours disappeared.” The Native Representative Council, formed by the state in 1937 to address the age old ‘native question,’ disbanded on August 15th and ANC president Dr. A.B. Xuma reiterated the demand for “recognition of African trade unions and adequate wages for African workers including mineworkers.”
The 1946 mineworkers strike was the spark that ignited the anti-apartheid movement. The ANC Youth League’s 1949 Program of Action owes much to the militancy of these workers as does the Defiance Campaign of the 1950s and the emergence of the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) in the 1960s. It is too early to say what sort of impact the current Lonmin strike will have on South African politics, but it seems unlikely that it will be as transformative as those of the past. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), arguably the heirs to the 1946 strike are currently engaged in a series of territorial disputes with the breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). Meanwhile COSATU’s muted response has echoed the ANC’s line of equal-culpability and half-mast public mourning. The increasingly incoherent South African Communist Party has called for the arrest of AMCU leaders with some of its so-called cadres defending the police action. Former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s plea for miners to hold the line and form a more militant union reek of political opportunism.
Still Dependent on Cheap and Flexible Labour
What no one has dared to say, aside from the miners themselves, is that the mining industry remains dependent on cheap and flexible labour, much of it continuing to come from neighbouring countries. This has historically been the source of most miner’s grievances. A recent Bench Marks Foundation study of platinum mines in the North West province uncovered a number of factors linked to rising worker discontent in the region. Lonmin was singled out as a mine with high levels of fatalities, very poor living conditions for workers and unfulfilled community demands for employment. Perhaps most significant is the fact that almost a third of Lonmin’s workforce is employed through third party contractors. This form of employment is not new in the mining industry. In fact, since minerals were discovered in the 19th century labour recruiters have scoured the southern half of the continent for workers. The continued presence of these ‘labour brokers’ on the mines and the ANC’s unwillingness to ban them – opting instead for a system of increasing regulation – is the bloody truth of South Africa’s so-called ‘regulated flexibility.’
There are a number other findings from the Bench Marks study that are worth mentioning as they illuminate some of the real grievances that have been lost amid photos of waving pangas. The number of fatalities at Lonmin has doubled since January 2011, and the company has consistently ignored community calls for employment, favouring contractors and migrant workers. A visit by the Bench Marks Foundation research team to Marikana revealed:
“A proliferation of shacks and informal settlements, the rapid deterioration of formal infra-structure and housing in Marikana itself, and the fact that a section of the township constructed by Lonmin did not have electricity for more than a month during the time of our last visit. At the RDP Township we found broken down drainage systems spilling directly into the river at three different points.”
In fact, the study predicted further violent protests at Marikana in the coming year. The mass dismissal of 9,000 workers in May last year inflamed already tense relations between the community and the mine as dismissed workers lost their homes in the company’s housing scheme.
Once again, these facts are hardly new in the world of South African mining. Behind the squalid settlements that surround the mine shafts there are immense profits to be made. In recent years the platinum mining industry has prospered like no other thanks to the increased popularity of platinum jewellery and the use of the metal in vehicle exhaust systems in the United State and European countries. Production increased by 60 per cent between 1980 and 1994, while the price soared almost fivefold. The value of sales, almost all exported, thus increased to almost 12 per cent of total sales by the mining industry. The price rose so dramatically throughout the 1990s that it is on par with gold as the country’s leading mineral export. South Africa’s platinum industry is the largest in the world and in 2011 reported total revenues of $13.3-billion, which is expected to increase by 15.8% over the next five years. Lonmin itself is one of the largest producers of platinum in the world, and the bulk of its tonnage comes from the Marikana mine. The company recorded revenues of $1.9-billion in 2011, an increase of 25.7%, the majority of which would come from the Marikana shafts.
For risking mutilation and death underground workers at Marikana made only 4000 Rand, or $480 a month. As one miner told South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper that, “It’s better to die than to work for that shit … I am not going to stop striking. We are going to protest until we get what we want. They have said nothing to us. Police can try and kill us but we won’t move.” These expressions of frustration and anger could be from 1922, 1946 or today. They are scathing indictments of an industry that continues to treat its workers as disposable and a state that upholds apartheid’s cheap labour policies.
1. Monty Naicker, “The African Miners Strike of 1946,” 1976.
2. Ruth First, “The Gold of Migrant Labour,” Spearhead, 1962.
3. Ruth First, “The Gold of Migrant Labour,” Spearhead, 1962.
4. Monty Naicker, “The African Miners Strike of 1946,” 1976.
5. Dr. A.B. Xuma quoted in Monty Naicker, “The African Miners Strike of 1946.”
6. The Bench Marks Foundation, “Communities in the Platinum Minefields,” 2012.
7. The Bench Marks Foundation, “Communities in the Platinum Minefields,” 2012.
8. Charles Feinstein, “An Economic History of South Africa,” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 211.
9. Marketline Advantage Reports on South Africa’s Platinum Group Metals, 2011.
Chris Webb is a postgraduate student at York University, Toronto where he is researching labour restructuring in South African agriculture. He can be reached at christopherswebb_AT_yahoo.ca.
- Striking South African miners defy Lonmin ultimatum (guardian.co.uk)
- South Africa tells Lonmin to drop threat to sack striking miners (guardian.co.uk)
Increased police brutality and the prospect of conservative politicians using public money to sue and bankrupt organizations they ideologically oppose – these are the likely outcomes of last week’s Constitutional Court judgment against protest organisers.
In a judgment which upheld a repressive clause in the apartheid-era 1993 Regulation of Gatherings Act, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng ruled that members of the public who suffer damages from protestors have the right to recoup their losses from whoever hosted the protest – whether the damages were caused by members of the organisation, or not.
There is no onus on the person suing the organisation to prove that the damages were caused by members of the protesting organisation – the mere fact that the damage happened during the march is enough in the way of proof for anyone to be able to claim damages from the organisers.
In May 2006, after a security guards’ strike by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) turned violent, then Cape Town mayor Helen Zille decided to sue for damages on behalf of individuals who had suffered losses from the strike.
Ever since then, the DA has been trying to get Parliament to pass their private members’ bill aimed at “holding unions liable for strike damages”. The Constitutional Court has now done their job for them, supported by ANC police minister Nathi Mthethwa who also weighed in on the side of the DA.
However, the judgment has a far broader reach. The head of the Freedom of Expression Institute’s law clinic, Mbalenhle Cele pointed out “assemblies, with all their potential for disruption, are often the only way for individuals to give voice to their grievances, and to do so effectively.” This is primarily because politicians only listen to the language of disruption. While unions normally follow the correct channels and apply for permission to hold marches, making their leaders easily identifiable as organisers, social movements and communities often protest spontaneously or together with other small organisation. If a small non-profit organisation or a refugee rights group happens to support one of these protests, will they be held responsible for damages as the easily identifiable party?
Unions survive off their members’ subscription fees and while some have made shady forays into the murky world of union investment companies, many unions have little reserve funds, using the bulk of member fees to cover legal costs and maintain basic offices. The DA’s hostility to organised labour and protestors in general is no secret.
The conservative opposition party has been unable to mount any effective propaganda campaign against the unions, which continue to organise high numbers of workers. Having failed to find a working class audience willing to adopt failed free market ideas, it is unsurprising that the DA would resort to finding means to financially cripple the unions – effectively the only way of silencing them.
The process of financially crippling the unions can now be accelerated by anyone with an interest in doing this – the DA, big business, some factions of the ANC and the intelligence services. Any of these groups can land unions with a R2 million damages bill simply by inserting undercover agents into a march with an instruction to cause damage to property. This is not a far-fetched notion – it has happened before and indeed, with a judgment like this already working in their favour, anti-union groups would be foolish not to use dirty tricks to finish the unions off altogether. The DA, big business, some factions of the ANC and the intelligence services are all aware that in marches of over five thousand workers, it would be difficult for participants to identify non-union members in their ranks, especially since the trade unions have a tradition of inviting supporters ranging from family members, neighbours, churchgoers, priests, and assorted leftists to their marches.
The judgment ignores the police track record of deliberately sparking violence during protests. In the judgment, Mogoeng said unions would not be held liable in the event of a policeman discharging his gun “by accident” into a crowd, causing a stampede. However, he made no mention of violent police who regularly go on the attack – deliberately and not accidentally – against protestors. The case of Andries Tatane, slain by police last year, is an example. The well-publicised case of the residents of Hangberg is another example.
When the people of this hillside community in Cape Town’s Hout Bay stood together to protect their long-standing community from gentrification, the police broke their own regulations by firing rubber bullets at close range into the residents’ faces, taking out the eyes of four people, and provoking pandemonium.
It is well-known that peaceful union marches are unlikely to end quietly because police normally attack the tail end of a march, or pick off a group of people on their way home who have become separated from the crowd. At a union march two years ago in Cape Town, police became extremely annoyed after workers burnt tyres across the road – even though there was no damage to property or person. The police later embarked on a chaotic armed, hunt of workers through the taxi rank – with the workers running for their lives and the police in hot pursuit, firing rubber bullets as they ran. The current culture of police brutality is likely to worsen as a result of this judgment.
The judgment also opens the way for politicians to use public money to promote their own political agendas. Mogoeng made much of the need to protect innocent bystanders who did not choose for their property or persons to be damaged. Yet in the SATAWU case, Zille said she herself instructed lawyers to sue the union on behalf of individuals whose cars and other property had been damaged during the march. These individuals received the assistance of the DA because the case dovetailed with the bill the DA was trying to push unsuccessfully through Parliament. Zille has never made a similar offer to pay for lawyers for the blinded residents of Hangberg to sue the police who shot their eyes out, and this was clearly an ideologically skewed use of public funds rather than a genuine defence of ordinary people.
The judgment also opens the way for politicians to attempt to claim damages even where nothing has been damaged. Zille was furious five years ago when 93 Cape metro police protested by travelling in a pre-planned convoy for two hours along the N2 highway, bringing traffic to a standstill. The protest was entirely peaceful yet if it happened today, the city could make an attempt to quantify the time spent by commuters in the traffic jam as money, and sue for these costs.
A similar scenario is already unfolding in Australia where unions are fined for every day of an unprotected strike. Under the guise of saving the public from “havoc and turmoil”, political leaders in New South Wales are currently seeking to fine unions the equivalent of R1.5 million for every day of a wildcat strike – raising the fine from the current R150 000 a day.
In Australia, workers are individually fined if they embark on unprotected strikes. Earlier this year, 13 companies that claimed to have been affected by a seven-day strike at a construction company sued more than 1000 Australian workers for striking. These workers were fined a total of R56 million, suspended for seven years – as long as they didn’t strike again during that time. In this case, private companies were able to argue that the strike had “disrupted work on a site of economic significance to the Australian economy”, the Australian newspaper reported last month.
The Mogoeng judgment in favour of the DA and police minister Nathi Mthethwa has clearly started South Africa down a similarly slippery slope.
Majavu is a writer concentrating on the rights of workers, oppressed people, the environment, anti-militarism and what makes a better world.
Read more articles by Anna Majavu.
Pretoria – Amidst reports that pro-Israeli lobbies in the United States have secured an assurance from the Obama administration to relentlessly pursue countries seen to be wavering in their compliance with rigorous sanctions on Iran, South Africa has been singled out for punishment. Though largely under-reported in the local media, pressure is building on the ANC-led government to immediately suspend its economic ties with Iran or risk being barred from the US economy.
While there were initial signs of panic with different government departments giving contradictory statements on this highly contentious US demand to shut off the country’s petroleum lifeline from the Islamic Republic, very little is currently known about South Africa’s ultimate decision as the deadline grows closer. However, a recent statement issued by the South African Petroleum Industry Association [PIA] gives a clue of frantic behind-the-scenes talks. Claiming that it sought to expedite requests to the United States for a postponement and temporary exemption from the sanctions, it also clearly alludes to political pressure.
PIA Executive Director Avhapfani Tshifularo is reported to have said: “This is not a business decision for us. It involves a political decision about political pressure”. Following the initial flurry of uncertainty as to whether the SA government had succumbed to demands made by clandestine visits by senior US Treasury Department officials, it now appears that a formal decision by the Zuma Cabinet has yet to be made.
What may have irked Israeli lobbyists in America is that South Africa’s crude oil imports from Iran have increased to $434.8 million in March from $364 million in February. Instead of a reduction, imports from the Islamic Republic represent 32% of the country’s total crude oil supplies, suggesting that the ANC-led government is reluctant to have America dictate its economic policy.
While these figures project a country unwilling to disrupt its trade with a stable reliable source such as Iran, it is aware of the enormous power possessed by Israeli-lobbies that in effect have manipulated US domestic and foreign policies. It certainly would be aware that the push for war on Iran is high on the agenda of these lobbies and that unilaterally imposed sanctions by the US therefore cannot be treated lightly.
While this conundrum confronts decision makers in Pretoria, it is equally intriguing that the European Union has called on South Africa for funding to bolster the banking systems of some EU member states on the brink of collapse. Commenting on this, the convener of UCT’s Applied Economics for Smart Decision Making course Pierre Heistein, said that there is something inherently perverse about this situation.
He explains that looking for $400 billion to prevent the collapse of a few EU member economies causing the others to fold like a pack of cards, the International Monetary Fund [IMF] has turned to Brics for aid after the US and Canada refused to contribute. It appears that Brics economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have between them agreed to provide funding to the tune of $72bn, though exact individual amounts will only be released next month, according to Heistein.
He speculates that South Africa’s proportionate share of the Brics amount could amount to R16bn. Though not a “crippling sum of money” it could increase spending on economic infrastructure by as much as 10 percent or lift health and education by 5 percent. “But does it make sense that a country as poor as South Africa should be contributing funds to traditionally wealthy European states? Consider that in order for South African farmers to export to Spain they have to compete with annual farming subsidies amounting to more than E7 billion [R72.7bn] and now Spain is calling for South Africa’s financial aid”, is the all important question posed by Heistein.
This question alongside others including whether President Zuma and his cabinet will succumb to Washington’s blackmail ought to feature in the national discourse related to socio-economic challenges. Global disparities as they exist in both political and economic spheres make it imperative for emerging economies to jealously guard their capacity to grow. This means that they must shun foreign interference especially if such meddling undermines job creation and service delivery.
While the IMF’s stretched hand may provide South Africa [a means] to enhance its leverage within this seat of power, it may be short-lived if American pressure becomes more ruthless to force it to abandon Iran. Unfortunately, the current malaise in which the ANC finds itself – both as a formidable political formation and as the de facto government, may not allow it to snub either the US or the IMF. After all such firmness of principle requires a strong moral underpinning.
– Iqbal Jassat is an executive member of the advocacy group, the Media Review Network.
- South Africa may be hit with US sanctions over Iran oil imports (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- South Africa Must Resist Sanctions on Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- South African telecom to face US sanctions over Iran, Syria operations (alethonews.wordpress.com)