South Africa - After the 7th May election: ANC discredit and working class militancy

Summer 2014

The picture after South Africa's 7 May election is one of bitterness and unanswered questions. Social discontent and working class militancy have not died down.

Most significantly, the election took place while 70,000 mineworkers from the 3 main platinum producers, Lonmin, Anglo-American and Impala were on strike for a basic wage of R12,500 (£715). And although few of the election's contenders found anything to say about this strike, which has turned out to have been the longest in the country's history, the miners were eventually proved right. Six weeks after the election they forced the platinum giants into a humiliating retreat.

But this is not all. The protests over lack of homes, lack of toilets, lack of clean water, and the complete lack of response of the local authorities - not to mention the brutal and often lethal police repression against protesters, continue unabated in townships and the many, huge, informal settlements (shanty-towns) up and down the country - including in the platinum belt, in the north-eastern part of the country, where the miners' strike was taking place.

And it should be pointed out that a large number of the shanty dwellers were never counted in any census and did not register to vote in the 7 May election - when they were not actually chasing the Electoral Commission officers out of their settlements or burning down their big tents. So how representative of opinion is the election result anyway? Also discounted are the large number of migrant workers, employed and unemployed, many of whom are even worse off from a social point of view and who often face systematic police harassment.

The EFF taps into the ANC's discredit

There was never any doubt that the ruling African National Congress would win a majority this year, as it did in the previous 4 general elections.

But for the first time in its history, it was openly discredited by many prominent figures within its own ranks - like veteran South African Communist Party leader Ronnie Kasrils who called on people to either vote against the two main parties, or spoil their ballot papers. And the vote of the poor majority of the population which it could rely on thanks to being seen as the party that fought against apartheid, and the party of the just-deceased Nelson Mandela, was unequivocally in question this time round. It showed in the scores. The ANC got 62.15% of the valid votes cast, almost 4% fewer than in 2009, when its score was 65.9%.

Nevertheless, commentators like the BBC called this a "commanding" and "huge victory" and their man in town declared that it showed that voters had not "lost faith" on the ANC.

In fact it shows nothing of the sort. The ANC vote is and has been, in steady decline. It had dropped with each successive election - just as its non-delivery and its alienation from its electorate has grown. Not to mention the growth of the blatant trough-feeding and wealth flaunted by its top officials at the expense of the population. This is what its positive discrimination - its "Black Economic Empowerment" (BEE) strategy - which was meant to redress the legacy of decades of under-privilege and racial oppression, led to in reality: the emergence of a thin layer of super-rich who occupy political positions, or are top CEOs of multinational company partnerships and/or, state-contracted businesses - otherwise known as "tender-preneurs".

At the same time, the apparent upstart "Economic Freedom Fighters" political party (EFF) managed to get almost 7% of the vote, with few funds for the campaign and just bare-bones electioneering.

The EFF were launched only 2 years ago by the expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema, on the site of the Marikana massacre in Rustenburg, where 34 striking platinum miners where shot by the police in August 2012.

Malema, who supplied supporters with bright red berets and party officials with military fatigues, is, of course, a great opportunist, populist and obviously extremely good at being a demagogue! So much so, that he got away with pointing a finger at President Jacob Zuma (who he had himself helped into power in 2009) calling him - and his party - corrupt, particularly over Zuma's use of taxpayers' money to build his Nkanda homestead complex in KwaZulu-Natal. Never mind the fact that Malema himself used and abused his position to get wealth, property and state contracts for friends and relatives, while still in government favour, as Youth League president, and is still busy having to make court appearances over several tax "issues"!

No, despite it all, Malema had no problem getting those votes - and certainly those from disaffected urban workers in Gauteng (the province around Johannesburg) and the platinum belt. And that says it all. The EFF said it stood for the part-nationalisation of the mines and return of farming land to the rural population among other things - with Malema even claiming at times to be "Marxist-Leninist", although few EFF members probably knew what this really meant! But these demands are really popular, even in the already watered-down form issued by the EFF. And above all, the EFF spoke to the frustration and anger against the ANC, which had promised all and delivered nothing.

And then, to rub in its success, and show itself to be a true "party of the people", the 25 EFF MPs thus elected, appeared at the first session of the 400-member parliament on 21 May, in red cotton coats and aprons. What a spectacle! The male MPs wore overalls and hard hats and the women MPs came dressed as domestics. Their line-up at the inauguration was a sight for sore eyes. Especially since it contrasted so powerfully with the disgusting exhibitionism of the ANC and opposition MPs, who always use the red-carpet occasion to parade themselves in absurdly expensive designer gowns and suits which cost about the same as the annual salary of a domestic worker. Indeed, they treat parliament's opening as if it was some kind of lavish gala for their own exclusive pleasure.

Fiddling while Alexandra burns

A closer look at the election results is necessary to understand just how deeply discredited the ANC is. And to understand too, how completely out of touch its leadership must be, if it allows second-time-around president Jacob Zuma to fiddle while Rome burns. Which is precisely what is happening.

There it was: the spectacle of Zuma doing his little dance at the ANC's celebrations after 7 May - jiving and stomping while striking platinum miners and their families were going hungry, and while Johannesburg's Alexandra township was still literally burning in a wave of violence sparked by alleged voting fraud. Yes, exactly 5 years after his first such celebratory dance.

Mostly the voting went peacefully enough. However Tickeyline voting station near Tzaneen in the north-eastern Limpopo province, was excluded from the count because staff at the voting station were attacked at the close of voting and "the security of the ballot could not be assured". Sacks of ballot papers were found in Tshwane (Pretoria) and Alexandra Township in Johannesburg among other places, where protests started spontaneously against ballot fraud, later joined by EFF supporters - and rioting lasted at least a week. The police reaction was violent - they fired rubber bullets, injuring several people and making arrests.

The final results were announced on 10 May. But as has been said, the ANC's so-called "victory" was achieved in the context of bitterness and reluctant votes. The ANC got its lowest score yet. The official turnout, going by the official number of voter registrations - 25,381,293 - was 73%, down from 77.3% in 2009.

And this is where it gets interesting. Numsa (National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa), which decided at its December conference not to campaign for the ANC in this election, claims that there are as many as 31,434,035 "eligible" voters - when including those who did not register. This statistic is probably even an under-estimate, for the reasons given above - including the contempt for the whole electoral process shown by the "organised poor" population, who keep protesting in the shanty-towns.

So, according to Numsa's researchers, out of 31,434,035 "eligible" voters (that is, those over 18 and with citizenship), only 59.34% (18,654,457) actually voted. In other words 40.66% (12,779,578) stayed away. That means the ANC only received the endorsement of 36.39% of eligible voters. It is a low figure. And when compared with each previous election, using the same methodology, a sharp downward trend becomes obvious.

The following table makes it easier to compare these figures for every election since 1994 (percentage out of all those eligible to vote): - election year - %who turned out - %who voted ANC

1994 - 85.53% - 53,00%

1999 - 62.87% - 41.72%

2004 - 55.77% - 38.87%

2009 - 59.29% - 38.55%

2014 - 59.34% - 36.39%

So today, at 36.39%, there's been a drop of 16.6% in 20 years. Does this show continued "faith in the ANC"? Hardly. No, the fact that the drop is not more than this, is what is worth remarking upon, given the anger and discontent expressed by the poverty-stricken populations all over the country constantly, before, during and after the election. So let us remember that figures are unreliable and never tell the whole story!

The other highly significant loss for the ANC was its vote in the urban ("metro") conurbations - like in Gauteng, which includes the commercial and gold-mining centre of Johannesburg, and in the Eastern Cape, where Port Elizabeth is, the heartland of car manufacturing. In Gauteng, its share of the vote fell below the "magic" 60%, to 53.55%. Here the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) gained 30.88%.

The DA brings together the liberal "centre" of mainly white, but also black petty-bourgeois. Its stronghold is the Western Cape (the province surrounding Cape Town) where it has been winning a majority in each of the last 4 elections - and this time it did so again, with 57.26%. in fact, the DA's overall score was significantly up - at 22.23% compared to 16.66% in 2009. Which makes the DA the second largest party, with just 89 MPs.

But the ANC also lost votes in North West province, Mpumalanga and Limpopo - the home of the platinum, coal, diamond and other metal mineworkers. Indeed comparing the results of 2009 and 2014 in Northwest province, the ANC vote fell from 73.84% in 2009 to 67.79% in 2014, the EFF got 12.53%, double their national vote of 6.35%.

In Rustenburg itself, the town nearest to the Lonmin Marikana mine, the ANC vote fell from 73.87% in 2009 to just 57.35% this year! Here, the EFF scored an impressive 20.22%.

As mentioned before, the EFF is now the third largest party with its 25 assembly members. But the other ANC offshoot in this election, Cope (the Congress of the People which was launched in the aftermath of Zuma's ousting of former president Thabo Mbeki, in 2008) came far behind, losing 27 of the seats it won in 2009. This was a disaster for Cope, and literally hard to swallow for its leader, "Terror" Mosiuoa Lekota. He had promised to eat his hat if the party did worse than in 2009 and was held to his word on live television.

"Agang SA", the new DA-type party which had been launched by the widow of Steve Biko turned businesswoman, Ramphele Mamphela, got only 52,350 votes and 0.28% - but still got 2 seats despite its poor performance.

So how successful were the "none-of-the-above" voters? As many as 251,960 people spoilt their ballot papers or 1.35%. This makes the spoilers the 6th largest "party" by "votes" in the long list which totals 29 different parties! A lot more than Cope and Agang put together! Compared with previous elections, this is up - in 2009, 239,237 people spoilt their papers. But abstentionists - or more accurately, those who did not vote, for whatever reason - are the second biggest party with 27%.

Zuma's thieves' gallery

In terms of seats in the national assembly, the ANC has the fewest it has ever occupied - at 249 out of 400. This did not stop Zuma from including in his 72-strong cabinet, many old bad faces and a lot more new bad faces. Part of the reason for this is for his own protection - given his growing unpopularity and the possibility of an internal coup, pushing him out of the Number One seat, sooner, rather than later.

That said, it is with utter contempt for the Marikana miners, that Zuma has not only reappointed Riah Phiyega, who has consistently defended this action, as operational police chief, but has made Cyril Ramaphosa his deputy president.

This top appointment is a first for Ramaphosa. And it is his ticket to Number One next time round, or maybe even beforehand, given the hatred which exists for Zuma in many quarters.

Ramaphosa, of course, remains a prominent Lonmin shareholder and former board member, and as such, is known to have given the state police the go-ahead to "end" the Marikana miners' strike at Lonmin's mine in 2012, resulting in the ambush and shooting in cold blood of 34 miners. He is one of the richest men in Africa, largely thanks to his own unbridled ambition - but also thanks very much to government policy in the shape of the so-called "Black Economic Empowerment". Never mind his beginnings in the trade-union movement: irony of all ironies, as leader of the National Union of Mineworkers he led its first national strike in 1987, when the mineworkers armed themselves and fought against the apartheid police. But today, workers brandishing pieces of wood are, according to him, to be shot as "a danger" - to his profits!

Meanwhile, in the background, the public enquiry into the 2012 Marikana massacre continues. And the more it goes on, the more it becomes clear as day that the state, police and Lonmin bosses as well as National Union of Mineworkers officials, were involved in planning the assault - from beginning to end. Is the public still following these proceedings? Not at all. The media is now looking the other way, showing on worldwide TV the trial of girlfriend-killer (or intruder-killer, take your pick) Oscar Pistorius, the Paralympic "blade-runner", while the court sittings of the Farlam Commission investigating the killing of the 34 Marikana miners are largely invisible.

So, with the anarchic expansion of squatter camps all over the country; with 13.4% living in shacks and an estimated 26 million, or half the total population living in poverty; with 7 million unemployed; with South Africa the most unequal country on the planet -  what brave new plan has Zuma and his party come up with for the next 5 years?

In fact he has offered nothing more than to continue with his National Development Plan - "our road map which outlines the type of society we envisage by 2030". What this means is anybody's guess.

But Zuma shows clearly what his priorities are, by the few "new" things he has announced: the first black African finance minister, Nhlanhla Musa Nene; a ministry for "Small Business Development"; two separate ministries for communications (no doubt to help refurbish his image); and a new ministry of water and sanitation to be headed by former Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane, which is certainly important in a county where the lack of toilets leads to regular dirty protests, but does not guarantee that anything more will be done to resolve the problem.

The miners force the platinum bosses to cave in

On 23 June, five months to the day after their strike started, tens of thousands of strikers joined a rally to celebrate their victory, in one of the giant stadiums built near Rustenburg for the 2010 World Cup. And, in an atmosphere of enthusiasm, they decided to resume work the next day.

This followed a deal offered on 12 June by the 3 platinum companies involved which Amcu (the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which has led this strike) had been prepared to take back to the workforce.

Unsurprisingly, the platinum bosses had been refusing to budge up until 12 June, saying there was no way they could remain viable if they had to increase wages so much. Of course, they expected that workers would drift back to work out of desperation. But this did not happen: their attempts to "sms" workers and threaten and cajole them back all failed. In the run-up to the election, thousands of workers manned pickets despite heavily armed police and police vehicles all over their settlements and around the mines. Every week there were deaths reported of miners, who were usually murdered, perhaps because they were blacklegs, perhaps because they were gangsters - it is hard to know - and some were killed by the police.

Yet Amcu was not even asking for R12,500 basic per month up front. It was quite prepared to receive this in increments over a period of 3 years. And the workers rightly refused to accept the lame excuses of the billionaires who own the mines in which they slave away their lives.

This is what the arrogant and contemptuous Amplats CEO Chris Griffiths said, after it came out that he earned R17.6m (£1m) last year - when Amplats alleged it made a R1.5 billion loss...: "Must I run this company for nothing? I'm at work (sic);I'm not on strike. I'm not demanding to be paid what I'm not worth". He then added that the focus of the unions should be on "affordable wages, rather than comparing salaries of educated, skilled executives [like himself] with workers with few or no skills and limited education". Sure, his "work" brings up tons of ore every day? This ignorant reactionary had to apologise for his "inappropriate choice of words" but still claimed that the basic wage of R12,500 was unaffordable "as it would increase our costs by approximately R4.5bn per annum". And he continued to condemn the strikers of course!

Yes, somehow workers are meant to be able to live on less food - or perhaps they are expected to have smaller bellies, when they do the hard physical work which parasites like Griffiths feed off. £12,500 is just £715. But most mineworkers are on wages equivalent to £400 per month, in the context of food prices which are probably only 25-30% less than here in Britain! And that is the permanent workers - it does not take into account the casual workers, who are paid far less and are not even included in these wage negotiations.

It was also hardly surprising that the media tried smearing the Amcu leadership, accusing general secretary, Joseph Mathunjwa, of a lavish life style, of owning 3 BMWs etc. Of course it may well be true. Amcu is just another union in the same mould as all others, as long as its members do not control it.

The 12 June deal has now increased the entry-level basic wage by R1,000 (£54 or 20% of the current rate) in each one of the first two years of the deal and R950 in the third year. In addition most allowances are to be inflation-linked. This is still far from the immediate R12,500 entry-level basic wage demanded by the strikers (which would have amounted to a 100% increase). But it is still a significant achievement given the companies' insistence for months that they would not go higher than 10%.

Nevertheless, while agreeing to these terms, the thousands of strikers who attended the mass meetings organised by Amcu put forward a number of preconditions before endorsing this deal, in particular that all sacked strikers should be reinstated and that they should be paid an immediate "return to work" bonus.

As it happened, the platinum companies must have been in a hurry to end the strike, since they agreed to most of these conditions. Although they did resort to one last trick: in order for it not to be said that the strikers were being paid for some of their strike days in the form of a "return to work" bonus, they backdated the deal to July 2013 so that the strikers will be able to claim some back pay for the period between July 2013 and January 2014. But this still means that they will get a minimum of R7,000 (£378) on returning to work, which will help them to wait until their first payday.

In any case, these concessions made by companies which had refused to budge for so long, represent an unquestionable victory for the strikers - and one which has few precedents in recent South African history.

What is regrettable is the missed opportunity for the rest of the working class, which was never given a chance to do more than show its solidarity, by contributing to the mineworkers' strike fund.

In fact, the platinum miners were not the only workers on strike during the election period. At the time of writing, for instance, an "illegal" and sometimes violent strike (with petrol bombings) has been taking place for over 8 weeks, at the Ngqura container terminal near Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape, over working conditions and against casualisation. Although only Numsa members are involved, comprising around a third of the workforce, their strike affects the movement of goods to and from the region's car factories. Another example is that of the 723 Numsa workers at Continental Tyre SA in Nelson Mandela Bay metro area who recently ended a one-month strike (in mid-May) over wages and conditions.

Would it have been possible for these strikers and, maybe, for other sections of the working class to join ranks with the miners in a fight for common objectives? No-one will ever know, because no voice raised this as a possible perspective while the miners were on strike - neither their union, Amcu, nor any affiliate of the country's largest trade-union confederation, nor anyone else.

Cosatu's bureaucratic paralysis

Unsurprisingly, the special conference held by the trade union federation and government partner, Cosatu, on 26-29 May paid no attention to such issues. Indeed, not a word was said about the platinum belt strike which was still on at the time and which was becoming increasingly attritious. Why? Because Amcu is not a recognised Cosatu affiliate? Whatever the reason, it certainly confirms Cosatu's bankruptcy.

Of course the formal purpose of this conference was to discuss the federation's leadership crisis, in the context of the threatened disaffiliation of its largest affiliate, the metal workers' union, Numsa.

The long-simmering crisis in the union federation had come to a head when it suspended its own general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, last year. This was after Vavi had been caught with his pants down, literally (he had consensual sex with one of his staff, in the Cosatu HQ...). And then when he was about to be reinstated, further allegations were added -  that he sold the previous Cosatu building for too little money (only around 3% below the value, however) and that his wife was involved with a deal to buy services for Cosatu (which turned out cheaper than the previous one).

In other words, this was petty stuff, but the ruling alliance of the ANC and SACP (South African Communist Party) does not like to be criticised - and Vavi has been doing a lot of that during his career at the helm of the federation,where he has been for the past 15 years. So the ANC/SACP machinery in Cosatu made the best of this opportunity. Vavi remained suspended and Numsa, and various other union affiliates subsequently threatened to break with the confederation if he was not reinstated.

Not that Vavi is somehow politically on the "left". He took the side of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM - one of Cosatu's main affiliates) when it was being pushed aside by Amcu before and after he Marikana massacre in 2012. Vavi even went so far as to condemn the Marikana miners, defending the line of the SACP.!

For the time being the Federation remains intact and the ANC is busy trying to repair the damage in the face of Numsa's disaffiliation threat. A split in Cosatu would be a major setback for the regime since, after all, Cosatu is the third partner in government. This is what is presently in process. But in a way it is irrelevant and really an event which is confined to the union bureaucracy, way above the heads of the working class.

Which "workers' party"?

So what about the "workers' party" project, which Numsa announced in December, at its own special conference, and which it called to decide on the union's attitude to the election. Numsa, in fact, caused a minor earthquake because its delegates voted not to canvass support for the ANC - for the first time ever. The discussion on the need for a new workers' party was the corollary to this.

So right after the general election results were declared, Numsa held another special conference to reassess the situation and reiterate its intentions.

Its leader, Irvin Jim clarified the union's position - that Numsa had no intention of turning itself into a political party. He did, however, claim that Numsa was a "revolutionary trade union", guided by the principles of "Marxism-Leninism". But for the time being the Numsa leadership is calling for a "United Front" to co-ordinate workers' and civic struggles and for the investigation into what sort of workers' party can be built in the future. In the meantime,The union has set its sights on having candidates ready to stand in the 2016 municipal elections, perhaps on a "Movement for Socialism" ticket.

As for the political content of what Irvin Jim calls "Marxism-Leninism", he quotes extensively from old documents published by the ANC and SACP in the 1980s, including those which warn of how "black capitalism" is a danger. For instance, he quotes the late Joe Slovo - a former SACP leader and commander of the ANC military wing in exile, and housing minister until his death in 1995 - who wrote: "it is obvious that the black middle and upper classes who take part in a broad liberation alliance will jostle for hegemony and attempt to represent their interests as the interests of all Africans." Following this logic, Jim concludes a document dated 20th May, with a quote from the "Marxist-Leninist" SACP in 1989: "in the aftermath of the democratic forces assuming political power, the working class has the duty to continue the struggle against capitalism, for socialism."

So, it is clear that above all, what Jim hopes to return to is a "proper" implementation of the old Stalinist 2-stage theory - which he feels the present leadership of the SACP abandoned in 1994. Hence, in particular, his insistence on reviving the ANC's old "Freedom Charter", with its emphasis on the primary role of the state in economic and social affairs within the framework of a capitalist society.

Well, obviously, this is not the kind of workers' Party or programme which can address the needs of the working class, neither for today, nor for tomorrow. If the South African working class is facing such a catastrophic situation today, it is due to capitalism itself and no amount of tweaking of the system will change anything to this. However, by distancing itself from the ANC/SACP and exposing the coalition's total endorsement of capitalist interests, the Numsa leadership will have, at least, raised in front of the working class the need for an independent policy and an independent party to defend its own social and political interests.

The bureaucratic paralysis of Cosatu and its internecine strife, at a time when workers display such a relentless militancy and determination, certainly makes the task of building an independent party more urgent than ever for the South African working class. But it will have to be truly independent, based on a programme which is free from the taint of Stalinism - unlike, unfortunately, what is presently on offer from those Numsa trade union activists who have set themselves the task of building a new "workers' party". In particular, and in contradistinction to the reformist, nationalist outlook which is built into the ANC's "Freedom Charter" which Numsa wants to revive, this programme will have to clearly set the struggle of the South African working class on a revolutionary communist and internationalist footing, as an integral part of the struggle of the world proletariat for its emancipation.