South Africa - The working class strikes back

Oct/Dec 2010

The situation in South Africa may have been a regular news topic during the Football World Cup in July, but little was said about the social struggles taking place in the background. Yet this year has witnessed the most powerful wave of strikes since the downfall of the racist regime of apartheid, 16 years ago!

This strike wave actually began quite a while before the World Cup and was only partially interrupted by the official "truce" agreed by union leaders for the duration, so as not to spoil the "image of South Africa". But it then resumed, with a vengeance.

In fact, if anything, the World Cup razzmatazz aggravated the deeply-felt resentment of workers against a government that is prepared to spend between £3.5bn (what it admits) to £14bn (what some estimate as the true cost) on a few soccer matches, while the majority is still living in abject poverty.

Indeed, no-one should be surprised by workers' anger against ANC politicians, when both under today's president Jacob Zuma and under his predecessors, these politicians have proved incapable of delivering the promised improvements in living standards and, most importantly, in the social infrastructure, while being very capable of lining their own pockets! So, over and above the immediate economic demands put forward by the strikers, it was this anger which helped to generate the wave of strikes. And what was remarkable, was that the strikes swept over the whole country, from the smallest towns to the biggest cities, often bringing together private and public sector workers spontaneously, despite the reluctance of the union leaderships to organise this kind of cross-sectional action officially - which is so essential if workers are going to win substantial gains - rather than the empty "solidarity" which leaders made several threats about, but which never came to anything.

Good reason to be angry

Wages were the first issue raised in each strike. Workers are deeply frustrated by the struggle to live on the existing level of wages - which must stretch to keep, on average, another 4 or 5 people alive, in addition to the breadwinner, given the current level of unemployment and the minimal social benefits available. Especially as inflation - which peaked before the World Cup (and prices went up for the occasion) - keeps eroding purchasing power. Just to take one example, electricity rates increased by 24.8% this year and are planned to increase by 25.1% and 25.9% in 2011 and 2012 respectively!

While workers are told government and private sector bosses cannot "afford" to pay decent wages, they see the white elephants of the World Cup (huge superfluous stadia) standing there as evidence of the profligacy of these same bosses and politicians. But worse, they see the scandalous self-enrichment and "favours to family" of members of the government, which are the subject of almost daily, outrageous, revelations in the media. As one striker's hand-written placard at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto put it "Money from World Cup Fallen into Wrong Hands". Another in Cape Town read:"Zuma, your wives deplete state funds"; or "Ons is vol" meaning, simply, "we're fed up" in Afrikaans!

It is not for nothing either, that "housing allowances" are also at the forefront of strikers' demands.

The "luckier" poor may (finally) have managed to get an RDP house - so-called after Mandela's 1994 "Reconstruction and Development Programme" which promised 3m such homes. By now, 16 years later, probably a couple of million have actually been built. But they are smaller than the "apartheid era" brick township houses and have been notoriously badly constructed. They have a tin roof, 3 tiny rooms, with a toilet and sink, but no proper bathroom. They can be bought for between £5,000 and £8,000, but still need much of the finishing done. Even at this relatively low price, however, it is extremely difficult for most people to find loans to buy them.

But at least a fifth of the population is still living in tin shacks, which are too hot to be in during the day in summer, freezing in winter and leak badly when it rains. They usually have no electricity and therefore no light except candles or paraffin lamps. To illustrate the all too frequent horrific consequences, this is a report from the press on 26 September, about a Johannesburg squatter camp: "A fire ripped through the Mangologolo informal settlement near Denver ... Four people were killed... More than 230 shacks were burnt to the ground and 513 people were left homeless." Yes, the shack-towns are dangerous paces. They have no water supply - although old, established shanty towns may have a tap bringing clean water, where residents must queue. Dwellers have sometimes built their own "shack" bucket- or pit-toilets, but there is no drainage, no services like rubbish removal, unless this has been organised by residents themselves.

At the bottom of the social ladder is a growing category of so-called "back-yarders", who rent a tin (or even brick) "box" behind a shanty or behind an RDP house - living an even more precarious existence and subject to the whims and frustration of landlords who are only slightly less worse-off than they are.

The fact is that after 16 years, successive ANC governments have delivered an increasingly unequal society (South Africa just jumped above Brazil in the league table measuring the gap between rich and poor). Social apartheid is alive and well and still often coincides with the old lines of racial apartheid, with the continued domination by the white minority of the best in education, housing, jobs and healthcare.

A recent Cosatu document puts it like this: "as of 2009, the rate of participation of Africans in the labour force was 52% and for whites it was 68% (...) Most Africans do not participate in the labour force because they are the least absorbed in employment. Among Africans of working age (between 15-64 years), only 36% are absorbed into employment whilst on the other hand, 65% of Whites of working age are absorbed into employment."

The strike wave spreads

It was against this backdrop of social discontent and anger against the regime that the present wave of strikes started and developed. It would be impossible to detail every strike here, as there have been so many - so this article will only try to give an idea of the most significant among them.

In fact, the strike wave really began in April 2009, when truckers were the first section to win a double figure wage rise - of 11% plus 4 months paid maternity leave, after an 8-day strike which stopped vital supplies. Then tens of thousands of council workers struck for 5 days, winning a 13% percent pay rise. In July 2009, the first national, co-ordinated strike of 70,000 construction workers (taking advantage of the World Cup infrastructure deadlines) won a 12% pay rise after an 8-day strike. In August 2009, 4,500 Telkom telecommunications workers struck for 2 weeks and won a 7.5% wage rise, also forcing Telkom to back down over its job cuts. Then in September 2009, workers at Anglo-American's Impala Platinum (one of the biggest platinum mines) struck for 2 weeks, winning a 10% rise.

This year's first big strike was among Transnet rail and port workers, in May. After a 3 week strike which effectively blocked imports and exports, workers won an 11% pay increase. In June 2010 workers at state power utility Eskom won a 9% wage increase and a £135/month housing allowance after threatening a strike that could have cut electricity during the World Cup.

Then came a series of National Union of Metal Workers (Numsa) strikes. First, 20,000 workers in 7 factories (Ford, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, VW, Daimler, GM) who had been offered a 7% pay rise, downed tools on 11 August, demanding 15% on pay, plus 100% lay-off pay, reduction of the working week to 8 hr/day, Monday to Friday, and 6 months paid maternity leave. They also insisted on the scrapping of "labour brokers" - agencies which bring in casual labour, without rights and on wages often below the minimum.

After 8 days of solid strike, which totally halted car production, the car bosses' agreed to a 10% increase this year, and another 9% in both 2011 and 2012. They also agreed that as of 1 January 2011 they would stop using "labour brokers" and that, in the meantime, pension and medical benefits would be extended to the brokers' contract workers.

Less than a week later, Numsa called out 7,000 tyre workers at Dunlop, Bridgestone, and Continental, over similar demands - for an 11% wage increase. After nearly 5 weeks of strike (except at Bridgestone where the dispute continued at the time of writing), the strikers finally won a 9% wage rise and 7.5% or inflation, whichever is greater in the following 2 years. Temporary contract workers also will receive medical benefits and severance pay, previously denied.

On 1 September, Numsa launched a "third wave" involving 70,000 car parts workers, car repair mechanics, and service station workers. The strikers stayed out for 2 weeks, winning wage rises of between 9% and 10% (having been offered 6%) and concessions on "labour brokers" similar to those gained in the car factories. Moreover, the very low-paid petrol stations cashiers won a 35% increase.

In the mining industry, where miners' average pay is between £280 and £350 per month (with a cost of living similar to that in Britain), the discontent broke out as well. There was a 12-day strike at the titanium mine, Exarro Sands in Kwazulu Natal (workers got 8% and a lump sum). At another titanium mine, Richards Bay Minerals, owned by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, 1,700 workers struck for 7 days, gaining 8% on pay and a 5% increase in housing allowance. At Northam Platinum, a black-owned integrated platinum producer, 8,000 workers have, at the time of writing been on strike for over 4 weeks, for a 15% rise and a £300/month "living out allowance" (instead of having free accommodation provided). And now, notices to strike have been given at the huge Kumba iron ore mine.

Finally, on 24 September, the 27,000 workers at supermarket chain, Pick'n Pay staged a 3-day strike, threatening indefinite strike if wages were not increased by £50/month (or 12%), also demanding a minimum 120 hours guaranteed for part-timers and the banning of "labour brokers" supplying casual workers.

At the same time, the issue of "labour brokers" has become the focus for the union federation, Cosatu - and a national march and strike over this issue is planned on 7 October.

It should be added that, contrary to what happens so often, these strikes are not "stay at home strikes": workers are out picketing and demonstrating, in force, most days, even when their marches are banned by the courts, and despite the arrests and clashes with police usually implied by these bans.

An unprecedented public sector strike

Although the strike wave in the private sector was huge, the public sector strike, which started on 18 August, had a far bigger impact on the country's political scene, both due to the number of the workers involved (an estimated 1.3 million) and because this strike was, in and of itself, a gesture of defiance against the policy of the ANC government.

Indeed, beyond economic demands which were similar to those of the private sector, the public sector strike also exposed the criminal negligence of a regime which is threatening the social infrastructure with collapse through lack of funding, while its dignitaries are openly looting public funds.

This negligence is particularly striking in Public Health. Obviously South Africa's public health service is under huge strain, not least because of the HIV/Aids epidemic. The public health sector has been underfunded and under-manned, not to mention mismanaged - and this has been getting progressively worse for the past 16 years. Only those who can afford it have access to decent healthcare in the private sector. Of course, the vast majority of the population do not.

When Zuma became president, in 2009, it was expected that things would improve, especially with the appointment of new health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, who did indeed initiate programmes to begin to treat HIV and Aids and to try to regain ground lost during the years under Thabo Mbeki of what amounted to government-led "Aids denial". However, the fact is that a lot of this remains words on paper and is too little too late.

It is estimated that there are at least 40,000 hospital vacancies (a shortage of at least 11,000 doctors) - but also shortages of basic equipment like bandages, syringes etc., let alone the critically needed drugs required to treat HIV infections, antibiotics, etc. (1m are "awaiting" anti-HIV treatment). This means that patients die needlessly all the time and that staff are always rushing to keep up and never ever feeling they are on top of their workloads.

State schools are scarcely in better shape than health facilities. Their management is chaotic - such that some teachers are working without pay - and standards are ever-falling, mostly due to poor material conditions. One report about primary schools in the Eastern Cape spoke of no toilets or washing facilities for the pupils, classrooms without furniture, doors or windows, and explained how the pupils had to go and fetch drinking water from a stream. Teachers - when they are actually paid - may not be the lowest paid workers in South Africa, but at the bottom of the scale, they get around £6-700 per month.

The public sector unions - which include not only health and education workers but also welfare workers, immigration officers, court officers, police personnel, prison officers and army personnel - had already formulated their pay claim last April. The unions demanded a one-year deal comprising an 11% wage increase from 1 April 2010, plus a housing allowance of £80/month. In addition, they wanted the subsidy paid to some workers for a medical insurance scheme to be extended to everyone.

The government's first offer was a 3 year deal, 5.2% wage increase in year one, commencing 1 July and nothing else. By 9 June, after six rounds of negotiations, the government produced a "final offer" in which the only concrete elements were a 6.5% wage increase from 1 July and a housing allowance of R60/month. By this time the unions had themselves "compromised down" to a claim of 8.5%, backdated from 1 April and an £80/month housing allowance. After referral for conciliation, by 29 June it was clear that the government was not budging and a strike was on the cards.

A public campaign of marches, protests and one-day strikes was first organised to allow the government to come forward with a better offer. Police and prison officers, who wanted to join a stoppage planned for 2 days from 30 July were told they were deemed part of an "essential service" and thus not permitted to strike. Subsequently, their union, Popcru, was even banned by the courts from expressing their support for the strike!

Since no improved offer was forthcoming, the leaders of the public sector Cosatu unions finally resigned themselves to industrial action, calling an indefinite strike from 18 August. The main non-Cosatu union, the PSA, (Public Servants Association) followed suit.

On that day, health workers, including nurses and doctors, teachers and other education workers, immigration officers and court officers up and down the country walked out. Some workers who were unsure about whether they were "called out" or not, arrived at work in their red Nehawu (health union) tee-shirts and then walked out during the day joining pickets outside, which slowly built up. The immediate and hysterical campaign of the media and politicians against the strike provided unquestionable evidence of its power.

In Gauteng, by far the largest province in terms of population, where the strike shut most health facilities, public schools and offices, the most severe clashes took place between the police and strikers. On day 2, at Soweto's Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and Johannesburg's Helen Joseph Hospital, tear gas and rubber bullets were fired, seriously injuring at least one woman striker.

On day 3, the government said it would reintroduce the instant 24-hour justice of the World Cup courts "to bring hooligan strikers to book". The previous day, already, 51 hospital workers had been charged with "public violence" in KwaZulu Natal.

From the very beginning of the strike, the media and government launched a vicious campaign against the health strikers, accusing them of "letting patients die" by not allowing emergency manning of clinics and casualty departments. Health Minister Motsoaledi went as far as denouncing the strikers' "willingness to murder in order to improve their wages." Of course, this was a lie, and not only because emergency cases were shunted to the private sector, but precisely because in many cases emergencies were dealt with by the strikers themselves, until this was prevented by the military occupation of many hospitals, under the pretext of getting the army medical service to provide cover.

Indeed, the government/media campaign against the hospital workers provided a convenient justification for this military occupation which meant that hospital perimeters were also "guarded" by soldiers wielding automatic rifles, atop armed cars (Casspirs), so that the scene looked very much like it did in the old apartheid days. 57 hospitals were taken over in this way.

On the 26th August, day 9 of the strike, when large marches of striking workers took place in Cape Town, Johannesburg and other cities, Cosatu announced that miners, metalworkers and municipal workers would be joining sympathy strikes on the 2 September and that the whole country would be "closed down". At the same time, the two unions organising soldiers defied the government by denouncing the way the army was being used against the strike. One of these unions issued a statement which said: "Soldiers' social economic conditions are much worse than the teachers and nurses. We are calling on our members not to act as scab labour during this period."

In the meantime the media, probably due to the pressure of the support of a large part of the public for the strike, was discovering how bad the public health care system actually was, and the anti-strike campaign was being mitigated by interviews on some radio stations in which nurses and doctors described how "patients died" all the time because of the dire lack of resources and that if anyone should be called "murderers" it was not the strikers - as the health minister had labelled them, but he and his whole department, for failing to provide the resources for proper health care. Time and again people referred to the billions which could be found for the World Cup, or to line the pockets of the insider dealers in government!

Teachers also came under heavy fire for abandoning high school students due to write their final "matriculation" exams. But they answered by saying that if classes could be suspended for the duration of the World Cup, as they had been, then it was gross hypocrisy to criticise them for suspending classes to improve the pay and conditions of teachers and therefore ultimately improve education!

By the 15th day of the strike, the Public Service minister, Richard Baloyi put forward a revised offer of 7.5%, backdated to April, and £72/m housing allowance, while complaining that "Obviously, we will have to borrow the money."!

Union leaders organise the return to work

The demonstrations planned for the 2nd went ahead, despite the new offer with several thousands marching in the main towns. But the solidarity strikes were called off, using Baloyi's latest offer as an excuse. Over the following days, union leaders met with their shop stewards in each province and were surprised by the rejection of the new offer by members in Sadtu (teachers) and Nehawu (health). According to the daily City Press, on 6 September, Nehawu leaders in Johannesburg were chased out of a meeting by angry workers when they announced a decision to suspend the strike. Said one striker: "Members are angry and they want to protest by going to the national office to burn their membership cards". Nevertheless, the local leader of Sadtu confirmed that teachers were expected to report back to work the next day. "Teachers are not happy but after we learnt that some unions belonging to Cosatu and the ILC ("independent" unions) accepted the government's offer, we realised we can't carry on with the strike alone".

This was the tried and tested old trick used by union bureaucrats across the world, who claim others have already returned to work when they want to call of a strike. In fact, union leaders had obviously already decided to put an end to the strike. Evidence of this was the joint statement they issued to call it off, even before the shop-stewards' consultations over the wage offer had been completed and despite the opposition expressed by many of them. However, to contain the strikers' frustration, leaders used another well-worn bureaucratic device: they said the strike was only "suspended" for a period of 3 weeks "to allow for further consultation" with the members and negotiations with the government. In the meantime workers were told to go back to work, by the union machineries.

On 30 September the Cosatu affiliated public sector union, Nehawu (representing 250,000 mainly health, education and welfare workers) said it would accept the government offer of a 7.5% raise and £73/m housing allowance. The 10 Independent Labour Caucus unions representing 460,000 government workers were still "consulting" at the time of writing.

It seems that in some provinces, local agreements to reduce the burden of wage losses due to the strike were reached. But in Gauteng, Nehawu and Sadtu were involved in a vicious tug-of-war with the provincial authorities - so much so, that Nehawu was banned by court injunction from organising activists' assemblies, presumably to pre-empt the risk of a vote in favour of resuming the strike! In other words, a new explosion of anger cannot be ruled out...

That said, the strikers have succeeded in forcing the government to concede some ground, even though they may not have got what they demanded. Moreover, part of the strike days will be paid, de facto, thanks to the lump sum resulting from the backdating of the wage increase. Above all, the strike has given such a fright to Zuma's regime, that it is now bending over backwards to be seen as a champion of "massive investment" in the health service - investments which will be "even more important than those made for the World Cup", said the health minister.

The union leaders' agenda

Cosatu leader, Zwelinzima Vavi spoke the truth about the public sector strike when he told a union meeting: "Of course the strike is political. It is workers making political statements. Two years after Polokwane, we have nothing to celebrate. We lost more than 1.1-million jobs. As a result, 5.5-million South Africans have been pushed into poverty." Nevertheless, the fact is that Vavi and the other union leaders did nothing to ensure that the public sector mobilisation achieved as much as would have been possible, given its scale and its political content.

Overall, the union leaders went along with workers' militancy. They even took a number of initiatives which allowed this militancy to gain momentum, but only within well-defined limits which constrained what this militancy could achieve: in the private sector, the strikes were confined within strict sectional boundaries, while in the public sector, the strikers were never offered the chance to fight for objectives which were proportionate to the scale of the mobilisation.

The point is, that in this strike wave, union leaders had their own agenda, which had little to do with the strikers' aspirations, but a lot to do with the on-going power struggle within the ANC and ruling Tripartite alliance. It was not for nothing if the COSATU apparatus chose to ensure that the public sector strike would be suspended before and during the ANC's National General Council (NGC), in Durban. This meeting is one of the last stepping stones on the way to the next ANC national conference in 2012, when president Zuma's ruling clique of the party will face re-election.

By proving its capacity to set the working class into motion and also to put the lid on its militancy, while at the same time keeping alive the threat of a possible resumption of the public sector strike, the COSATU leadership's intention was clearly to demonstrate to the ANC leading circles - and, in particular, to Zuma's clique - that it is a force to be reckoned with.

By the same token, this was a way of reminding Zuma who it was who facilitated his promotion to the helm of the ANC at Polokwane in 2007 (and subsequently to the state presidency) - i.e., COSATU, the SACP and the ANC Youth League - and that his failure to reward this support might result in retaliation.

Too many snouts in the trough

What is at stake in these factional rivalries within the ruling coalition, is quite simply the self-enrichment and personal patronage which have been associated with the elevation to political office.

It should be recalled that the political settlement which led to the first multi-racial election in 1994, involved an explicit endorsement by the capitalists - both white South African and the big shareholders of the multinational companies operating in the country - of the need to co-opt, artificially, a layer of the black middle-class into their ranks. This was achieved through a mechanism which was eventually legislated by Thabo Mbeki's ANC government, in 2003, cynically called "Black Economic Empowerment" or BEE.

Companies are meant to recruit black people to their highest level of management creating black partnerships and ensuring a proportion of shares are in black hands. This guarantees, for instance, that they will be awarded government contracts.

The early days of this process produced a small number of "rand billionaires" like ex-miners' leader Cyril Ramaphosa, who became rich courtesy of Anglo-American. In recent years a whole new layer of black capitalists has come into existence, thriving on joint ventures with foreign investors or on formerly state-owned facilities. What is more, ANC politicians who brokered these deals also became filthy rich after taking their "cut", leaving the political scene to move into sumptuous mansions in the richest districts of the country and brushing shoulders with the high-flyers of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

However, with the passing of time, the size of the cake that could be shared out in that way has shrunk, while the number of aspiring millionaires has been increasing - and this fuels increasingly acrimonious factional fights within the leading spheres of the ANC.

It is in this context that a long string of scandals over BEE patronage by the ruling circles has broken out.

One of these scandals was caused by the ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) deal which "could permanently tarnish BEE" according to the metal workers' union, Numsa (as if BEE is not already irreversibly discredited!). ArcelorMittal "complied" with BEE by transferring 21% of AMSA's assets to the Ayigobi consortium, for £800m - a consortium part-owned by one of President Zuma's sons. But in order to regain prospecting rights which had lapsed in Kumba Iron Ore's Sishen mine, AMSA had to acquire Imperial Crown Trading (ICT) whose only asset is a 21.4% prospecting right in this mine! Indeed ICT, which is also linked to Zuma's son, seems to have been expressly set up to obtain these prospecting rights, which the government conveniently awarded it in March 2010. Numsa called it a "get rich quick scheme involving a so-called BEE consortium, Imperial Crown Trading" and Cosatu added that it was hard to "dispel the perception that Amsa was buying political clout."

Then there is the case of the gold mining company ironically called Aurora Empowerment Systems headed by Nelson Mandela's grandson and president Zuma's nephew. Aurora had purchased several of the Padmozi group mines, out of liquidation, for a song, hoping to make a lot of money. But instead, it got into deep trouble. In March, the "temporary shedding" of 2,160 jobs at 2 of the mines was announced. But workers had already downed tools over non-payment of their February wages and job-loss threats. And still worse was to come: Aurora had been deducting workers' pension contributions from their wages for 5 months previously, but had not paid these into the pension fund. Aurora also owed Eskom, the state electricity company, £1.3m. Within weeks its mines had to be shut down as Eskom cut off its electricity. But then something horrific happened. On 9 August security guards at one of the closed down mines, Grootvlei in Springs, shot dead 4 illegal miners. Illegal miners, who have multiplied over the past years because of the huge job cuts (over 1m in the mines), try to eke out an existence in the tunnels of disused mines extracting leftover gold ore, despite the danger. But what did Zuma's nephew have to say about this murder? "It's an unfortunate situation what the illegal miners are doing. To me it's pure crime." To date, 20 bodies have been recovered from this mine!

The working class and the anti-Zuma demagogy

Predictably, such scandals have caused deep anger among the black working class, which was widely expressed during the protest marches and on the picket lines over the past year. Tapping into this anger, the factions seeking to put pressure on Zuma have themselves made some of the scandals public.

The most prominent critic of Zuma has been ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who once said he would "kill for Zuma". Not anymore. He now accuses Zuma of graft and corruption and threatened not to support him at the 2012 ANC congress. But Malema's agenda has, of course, nothing to do with the interests of the poor. A 29-year old millionaire, Malema belongs to a new generation of ANC leaders who, as opposed to the present generations, have no "left" leanings, nor any sympathy for the working class movement, let alone communism, not even in its Stalinist version. His condemnation of the public sector strikers speaks for itself!

As to Vavi, the leader of Cosatu, he has also made severe criticisms of the regime's "tenderpreneurs" (those who use their office to get backhanders in exchange for "influence" and government contracts), talking about a future scenario of "a predator state controlled by political hyenas that would make looting a normal activity". But what is the use of such criticisms, considering the ease with which so many members of the leading circles of Cosatu themselves have turned into affluent businessmen, thanks to BEE?

As long as they are the accusers, perhaps these people think they cannot be accused!

Then there is David Masondo, the chairperson of the Young Communist League, who published an article in the press on 5 September, entitled "BEE has evolved into a family affair: ZEE" - (ZEE being Zuma economic empowerment), which said: "The BEE model has promoted competition among politicians for access to institutional power and co-option by white business. This competition finds expression in political conflicts within the ANC and the state. (..) BEE has become a family affair."

Apparently this was too much even for Zuma's critics, who obviously did not want to go quite as far as that, judging from the rebuff issued by the Executive of the YCL (probably prompted by the SACP), which only goes to show that they have no intention of rocking the boat!

The truth is that the anti-Zuma campaign is not motivated by a political will to put an end to the corruption and self-enrichment of the political elite. The demand which Malema and others now put forward for "nationalisation of the mines" clearly exposes this. Initially, it was the National Union of Mineworkers which demanded mine nationalisation, as a response to the deterioration of workers' conditions in the mining industry, shrinking employment and general mismanagement of the facilities by companies eager to make a quick buck, regardless of the consequences.

But the fact that, subsequently, the ANC Youth League leader has become its loudest proponent, gives it a completely different content. That an ambitious businessman like Malema should endorse the idea of nationalising the mines could only mean that he sees this nationalisation as a potential cover for future deals, even more profitable than those organised under BEE.

This aspect of the mine nationalisation ploy was spelt out pretty clearly in a SACP article published in the African Communist September 2010. The party stated that "narrow BEE interests have been behind recent ANCYL calls for nationalisation of the mines." As the article explains: "Even before the onset of the global capitalist crisis in 2007, many BEE mining interests were in trouble as a result of their high levels of indebtedness and also as a result of many being positioned within marginal mines. With the collapse of commodity prices from 2007 through to early 2010, the entire mining sector was adversely affected. Given their vulnerability, BEE mining interests were especially impacted. (..) Many months before the ANCYL president began publicly to campaign on this [nationalisation] ticket, forces closely linked to the ANC (and to some of the corporations noted above) had quietly begun to lobby for government to nationalise the platinum sector." And this article concluded that it was not hard to see that this could be a ploy "to bail-out indebted BEE interests, diverting billions of rands of public funds to serve the interests of a narrow black (and white) capitalist stratum."

Eventually, however, when the ANC's National General Council meeting opened, the previously very vocal anti-Zuma campaign just fizzled out. Zuma was certainly not put into question. With the announcement of "policies" like the relaunching of the idea of a compulsory-for-all National Health Insurance (which had up to now disappeared off Motsoaledi's agenda) he seemed to have found something with which to placate everyone. While the threat of further industrial action was at least still looming over the conference, union leaders did not choose, as far as one can make out, to use this card against their rivals. The anti-corruption crusaders exposed nothing but their own reluctance to rock the regime's boat. And Zuma came out of it unblemished.

But then, this simply confirms the fact that the working class can expect nothing from the anti-Zuma opposition, whose criticisms of the regime are only designed to serve their own ambitions to improve their access to the state's coffers.

In any case, the anti-Zuma demagogy is unlikely to defuse the anger of millions of workers who are beginning to understand that the leaders of the Tripartite Alliance have been in it for themselves all along. And that they have now turned into fully-fledged capitalist parasites, who are directly responsible, above and beyond the legacy of apartheid, for the failure to alleviate the shocking poverty of the overwhelming majority of the population.

We must hope that the South African working class will have measured, during the strike wave, what enormous potential power it represents when it is mobilised and that it will come to realise that the only effective weapon it can use to make a change is to use this collective power. But this time, by finding within its own ranks a leadership which it can control and by uniting all its forces in a common fight for objectives designed to resolve the social catastrophe that the parasitism of capitalism, black and white, has caused and is causing, for the whole of society.