South Africa - The working class, one year after Marikana

Jul/Sep 2013

One year after the Marikana massacre (in which 34 platinum striking miners were shot by the police, in August last year), and less than a year before South Africa's 5th post-apartheid general election, the absence of any independent working class organisation is the biggest and most critical problem facing the working class. Because such an organisation is absolutely mandatory if its interests are to be preserved in the face of the utter bankruptcy of the existing political and union organisations which speak in their name.

The official union movement - led by the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) - is the third partner in South Africa's "Tripartite" government, led by the African National Congress (ANC), under President Jacob Zuma. And nobody has any doubt as to the corruption and naked greed of the politicians in office. Which is why more and more workers ask, how can Cosatu claim to represent them? And symptomatic of the degeneration of the union leadership is the fact that Cosatu is increasingly divided by internecine warfare and allegations of corruption (real or not) against its own leader Zwelinzima Vavi - who perhaps as a preventive measure, has long made a habit of decrying the wheeling and dealing being carried out by everyone else in government.

As for the most important unions on today's political scene - the Cosatu-affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the non-affiliated, relative newcomer, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) - these are engaged in what some would call "tit-for-tat killings" in the Rustenburg platinum belt, in the North West province. And this, it should be recalled, comes after the murder of union activists who were critical of the NUM - murders organised by the mining bosses and/or their official trade union "partners" in crime, in the NUM, and aided by the police - which were a factor in last year's mass strikes over wages.

One year after, the killing continues

Today, Amcu, which now claims 70% membership in Lonmin's mines, would desperately like to step into the NUM's shoes - something which augurs badly for the mine workers. And Amcu officials are at present waging a fight, not against the mining companies per se, but against their refusal to grant it sole bargaining rights in the place of the NUM.

The latest, but by no means the only bone of contention, is Amcu's demand that the NUM office at the famous Wonderkop "mountain" (the workers' assembly point at Lonmin's Marikana mine) should be closed down. A strike planned for June 15th, over this demand, was cancelled at the last minute, when Amcu was invited to talk to the company about the issue - under the auspices of none other than the country's deputy president (and former NUM secretary-general, in the late 1980s) Kgalema Motlanthe.

Motlanthe, for his part, is currently attempting to negotiate a new accord between the mining companies and unions. This initiative is also taking place in the context of non-implementation of the post-Marikana pledges by the mining companies - and the government - to improve conditions for mine workers in the platinum belt. In the meantime, unsurprisingly, there have been on-going wildcat strikes over working conditions and threatened job cuts, as well as over the continued non-recognition by the bosses of Amcu. And the bosses are increasingly anxious about the coming new round of wage negotiations, due to start in July.

In the background, the proceedings of the Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana massacre continue - led by retired Judge Farlam, who was appointed by President Zuma last September - supposedly to get to the truth of what actually happened. But so far 7 witnesses have been murdered before they could testify. This has led the commission to refuse to divulge the names of other witnesses due to appear in the future, to try to protect them. Several participants have been beaten up, including one of the miners' attorneys, while others have received death threats. It was probably no coincidence that most of those targeted happened to be due to give evidence against the police.

The seventh witness to be assassinated - on 12th May this year - was Mawethu Steven, one of the main Amcu organisers in the platinum belt. And the story behind his killing is worth relating, because it gives an idea of one aspect of the current situation at Marikana, which no longer seems as positive as it did a year ago.

"Steve" Khululekile, as Mawethu Steven was known, had been at the centre of a strike at Lonmin's Karee mine, a year before the Marikana massacre. At the time, Steve was Karee's main NUM shop steward and most workers looked to him for a lead. But it was probably precisely this which made him persona non-grata amongst NUM officials. When they sent a challenger to try to defeat him in a union election, the candidate they sent was beaten to death by angry miners in Steve's name (and apparently with his encouragement). When Steve and his co-stewards were then suspended by the NUM, the Karee workers walked out and Lonmin sacked all 9,000 of them. All but 1,400 were eventually reinstated but, of course, Steve and his fellow activists were among those who remained sacked and permanently blacklisted by Lonmin. And this was how Amcu came into the picture. Steve was invited to join Amcu as a full-time official - and almost the whole of the Karee workforce followed him into the union.

Later on, Steve was among the instigators of the committee which co-ordinated a near general wildcat strike across all the mines in the Rustenburg platinum belt after the Marikana massacre - a strike for a R12,000 wage (£800), which then spread to gold, coal, iron, chrome and almost all other mining operations.

There was (and is still) a great deal of bitterness and anger among miners because of the long history of NUM sellouts and the appalling conditions, not only in the shack-slums where workers lived without clean water, sanitation or rubbish removal, but also underground. The mine bosses' ruthlessness was a continual source of workers' anger. So, after Marikana, rank-and-file activists in both unions played a significant role in maintaining the pressure of unofficial strike action across the entire mining industry. At Lonmin and other platinum mining companies, workers gained substantial wage rises as a result - and Lonmin bosses will never forgive the likes of Steve for this.

At the time, this strike wave was the first large-scale rebellion against union betrayals - in this case, the betrayal by the NUM - reflecting the conscious decision of many mine workers to develop their own independent organisation on the basis of their collective interests. And, in this respect, it was a real turning point, which could have paved the way for the emergence of new working class organisation, free of the kind of gangsterism and thuggery which had been characteristic of the NUM leadership so far.

Unfortunately, however, this did not happen. In the absence of any other perspective, the only way the miners saw to defend themselves against the NUM's gangsterism and thuggery, was to retaliate in kind. And today, for lack of another option, their fledgling independence is being channelled into supporting Amcu against the NUM, despite the facts that Amcu's methods are not very different from those of the NUM.

Going back to "Steve" Khululekile, he was gunned down on May 12th in a local tavern by four men who fired 14 bullets into his body and then managed to get away. Nobody has been arrested for this assassination. The NUM denies involvement and intimates that it was organised by Amcu because Steve was thinking of contesting the post of deputy general secretary of the union - and because of his support, he would easily have displaced the incumbent, Jimmy Gama. And indeed, this may well be true, although an execution by undercover police is just as likely. But whoever was responsible, this killing was a heavy blow struck against the workers.

In fact, on hearing the news hundreds of workers descended on the bar where Steve had been shot. Residents from the settlement around Marikana's mine assembled at Wonderkop, only to be confronted by police firing rubber bullets to disperse them. There followed attempts by miners to find the perpetrators of his murder - and NUM suspects have apparently been beaten and killed. But in this climate of fear and retribution the local Amcu activists, including Bhele Dlunga, a former leader of the Marikana strike committee (and Farlan Committee witness), are convinced that Steve's murder is part of a concerted attempt to target them and some have gone into hiding for their own safety.

The NUM's fight to retain its monopoly

Some of these activists refer to the fact that on Mayday, Cyril Ramaphosa, the former NUM leader turned millionaire, who is now the ANC's deputy president and was on Lonmin's board until last December, appeared in Rustenburg to make a speech calling for "one union". But everybody knew what he meant - that the NUM should once more prevail. In fact the NUM has failed to learn any lessons from what has been happening over the past year. The more it is rejected, the more it asserts its authority. It has the backing of the Cosatu leadership (which the South African Communist Party dominates) and it is shameless too, in accepting the "generosity" of Ramaphosa himself - still a substantial shareholder in Lonmin and possibly destined to step into Jacob Zuma's shoes, as the country's next president.

In fact these activists from the Rustenburg mines are not at all paranoid. They are facing a united front between the mining bosses, the ANC and the NUM officials, which, on the hand, is trying to tame them into a "normal" and corruptible union in the form of a compliant Amcu - and on the other, is attacking them on all fronts.

For instance, after dozens more deaths since last year's Marikana massacre, in what he refers to as "mine violence", Anglo-American Platinum's CEO, Chris Griffith has let it be known that he expects the government to step in and send workers to jail. "I don't see the army coming on to the mines" he said, but he said the government had "set the groundwork" and would "surgically look to target individuals" with the help of the police. That speaks for itself as to the role of Anglo-American, in the current killings.

For his part, current NUM general secretary Frans Baleni, carries on denouncing "third forces" which are "destabilising South Africa's mining community", much in the same terms as Jeremy Cronin, the South African Communist Party's spokesperson. As to Susan Shabangu, the mines minister, she addressed the NUM on 24th May, claiming that this "third force" was "wanting to realise one major objective: ultimately to defeat and dislodge the ANC from power..."

Baleni went so far as to talk about activists coming from the UK and US: "We are under siege in terms of these external sources. We don't think Amcu is capable of doing this [violence]". Gwede Mantashe, ANC secretary general followed suit a few weeks later by explicitly accusing Swedes and Irish for the "anarchy" in Marikana. This extraordinary assertion followed a visit to Rustenburg by Irish TD Joe Higgins, a member of the British-based Trotskyist "Committee for a Workers' International", who had been invited by its South-African section, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM). Subsequently, Swedish-born Liv Shange, a DSM member who had been living in the country for 10 years, having married a South-African with whom she had two children, was threatened with refusal of a spousal visa.

This kind of talk of "third forces" and outside interference, on the part of ANC and Cosatu figures may sound a bit insane, but it serves the purpose of offering a let-out clause for Amcu - which could then wash its hands of dissenters (they must be under "foreign" influence, after all!) and sign up to the new deal covering the whole mining industry, which has been offered by Kgalema Motlanthe and would include Amcu in the traditional co-operative framework between the NUM and the company...

Motlanthe himself, in talking about this new deal, makes a point of showing his goodwill towards Amcu, by making it clear that "in the early days of the upheaval [at Marikana] it could not have been correct to attach blame to Amcu, because at that point they were not really the union that the workers belonged to. These workers had organised themselves into workers' committees outside of the NUM."

This deal would require that Amcu agrees to abide by the law - and that "unprotected" (illegal or "wildcat" strikes) would cease and wage bargaining would take place only during the so-called collective bargaining season. It also stipulates the majority required for recognition. Of course this remains a very moot point because the NUM has been accused by Amcu - and vice versa - of fraudulently listing members and deducting union dues in order to appear to have many more members than it does have. This is still causing spontaneous strike action: 4,000 Amplats workers refused to return to the surface on 20 June when their Amcu stewards were suspended by Amplats bosses accusing them of making fraudulent member applications.

Towards the end of June, Cosatu leaders in North West province again turned on the rhetoric: they announced a series of marches to Lonmin, Impala Platinum and Amplats, to demand "labour peace and an end to union bashing" - which amounted to a provocation against the majority of the workers in the region who have moved over to rival Amcu. NUM loyalists, who are in the minority, could only get away with such marches with the protection of the police and mine security. For this reason, if these marches do take place there will inevitably be violent clashes. This may mean they will not take place at all. But such sanctimonious and hypocritical announcements are made nevertheless.

Wealth... and poverty wages

So how is everyone else faring at the present time? The problem is that there isn't just an "everyone else". South Africa still has one of the most unequal societies in the world.

Given that it is the richest country on the African continent, it also has a large share of its so-called "ultra high net worth individuals", who must have a minimum of $30bn dollars to qualify. There are 187,380 such people in the world, and 2,535 in Africa - of whom almost 785 live in South Africa, just under one third.

According to the Sunday Times Rich list, the richest man in South Africa is Patrice Motsepe, who made his fortune in mining - via African Rainbow Minerals which, as it's name implies, covers the whole spectrum of mineral mining. Forbes, on the other hand, using a different way of measuring wealth, ranks Nicky Oppenheimer as the richest South African - due to his 2.3% stake in Anglo-American. Another wealth list - called "Who owns whom" - also ranks Motsepe in first position, with Cyril Ramaphosa in second position with his shareholding in Lonmin and other mining companies, and Sipho Nkosi, the CEO of Exxaro Resources (iron and coal), in third position. All these heavyweights of South African wealth are, therefore, linked to the mining industry. But in fact, over half of the richest black South Africans are linked to just two mining groups - Exxaro Resources and Optimum Coal. All of them, therefore, have good reason to ensure "discipline" amongst mineworkers and a tame NUM - or, for that matter, a tame Amcu...

While the salaries and perks of the CEOs of large South African companies may be comparable to those of their British counterparts - like Sifiso Dabengwa, CEO of mobile phone company, MTN, who took home R23.5m (£1.6m) in salary, bonuses and benefits in 2012/13 - this is not the case for workers.

The average security worker earns around R3,000 (£200) a month. Even the much better paid miners at the Lonmin Marikana mine, earn no more than R12,000 (£800). When these miners made this demand during their strike last year, it was said to be "unrealistic". But in fact, the only thing that's "unrealistic" about it is that, although it is higher than most workers' wages, a family of four would still be hard-pressed to make ends meet on such a wage!

But, leaving aside the platinum mines, where wages are more or less similar to Lonmin's, the situation is much worse in the rest of the mining industry. The huge wave of strikes which followed in the footsteps of the Marikana Lonmin platinum workers, well into 2013, across the mining industry, in the hope of a similar wage increase, were called off eventually after mass sackings. This is the bosses' usual tactic to get the workers back to work, after which they reinstate them (except for the "ringleaders" if they are able to identify them) and agree to limited concessions. So that, today, the wages earned by most miners in gold mines, for instance, are usually just the industry's minimum of R5,000 a month (£332).

But now looming in gold mines are the threats of job cuts and closures, under the pretext that the world price of gold has plummeted. The gold mine owners - among them Goldfields, which is in the giant Anglo-American stable - are pleading poverty, moaning over falling profitability and claiming that they will have to close mines and/or drastically reduce labour costs. But of course, conveniently, this is on the basis of using a new method to calculate the cost of mining an ounce of gold, specifically designed to back up their case, just as the wage negotiations begin for this year. The bosses are braced for these negotiations due to start in the gold and coal mining sectors in the next few weeks. Gold and other mineworkers outside of the platinum belt are demanding a 100% wage increase - and they may well go on strike for it. But even 100% would not bring the lowest-paid miners up to the level of the Lonmin rock drill operators (RDOs), even though their work at the gold rockface is just as hazardous.

Typical of the government's intervention was the "contribution" made by former treasury minister and darling of international business, Trevor Manuel, who blamed the wage demands of the gold mine workers on the fact that they are being preyed upon by loan sharks ("microcredit" he called it) - but never once questioned why these workers may need to go to the loan sharks in the first place!

The lowest paid and the non-paid

So are there good news anywhere on the wages front? Not really.

The Western Cape fruit pickers who won a minimum wage after a series of very militant strikes in the months after Marikana are being told by farmers that their farms would be unviable if they paid it. From March 1st this year, farmers were meant to pay employees who work 9 hours/day at least R105 a day (£6) or R2,274 per month (£151)!! Unbelievably, Cosatu dared to settle on this pittance, on which households cannot even feed themselves, when the strikers' demand was a very modest R150 per day (£10), which was still far from enough. And, anyway, compliance with this new minimum wage is likely to be "weak" because the chances of being visited by a labour inspector are small. And since fines are based on a percentage of the underpayment, they are insignificant. In addition, some farmers were able to apply for exemptions while others have decided to mechanise, thus dismissing a large part of the workforce.

As for other workers employed in the economy - there is no statutory minimum wage except in certain categories considered particularly vulnerable - in fact 9 sectors all in all: domestic work, taxis, contract cleaning, private security, shop work, forestry, learnerships and children. The average minimum wage for these workers is R1,500 per month (£99). It is more than the maximum old age state pension which is R1,280 (£85) per month if you are older than 75 years. Given that the national poverty line is R515 (£34) per month, these minimums are portrayed as generous! And what does it matter if nobody can support a family on them?

As to unemployed, who make up officially 25.2% of the working age population - with ¾ under the age of 34 - how do they survive? Well, there are welfare grants - but only for the "basic needs" of children up to the age of 14 years whose parents or care-givers are unemployed or just dirt-poor, These grants amount to R260 per month (£17) for each child - who apparently are supposed to have very minuscule needs at this rate. And after that, you are just on your own. Many youth have no option but to take to the streets to beg, borrow or steal. One can see them juggling at the traffic lights, in the hope that a few coins will be tossed their way.

At least today there are free health clinics which can give basic treatments and free anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) for those with HIV (20% of the population), provided these clinics have supplies, of course. But these frequently run out - which, in the case of HIV, means that drug resistance can more easily develop.

Homelessness is rife, so many people squat, or live in one of the many shack towns (informal settlements). This applies especially to migrant workers from the surrounding African countries where, if they remained, they would be even worse off. These people have also to cope with the undercurrent of xenophobia which has never gone away since the 2008 flare-up, when so many people were brutally killed in a wave of xenophobic attacks.

All of this means that the rich/poor dichotomy is quite visible. On the one hand the shacks and the rubbish and dereliction, and on the other, and usually well away from it, ostentatious 4x4s and giant mansions with high walls and super-security in the suburbs of the main cities.

Anger boils over

Despite the recession - which has particularly hit the building trade - new giant shopping malls are still being constructed, often financed by workers' pension funds! Yet some retailers are finding it increasingly hard to remain open in these malls - even in established shopping centres like Johannesburg's trendy Rosebank.

Soweto, the former workers' dormitory town for Johannesburg, now has 23 shopping malls despite the fact that it has, interspersed among its matchbox houses, enclaves of "informal" and desperate shanty dwellers - who periodically protest and periodically get shot dead for this. In the meanwhile, throughout the country poverty deepens, with the seemingly intractable problems of unemployment, homelessness, lack of sanitation, sparse and under-resourced health and education. Testament to this are the never-ceasing so-called "service delivery" protests in townships throughout the country - whether in formal or informal-shanty-town settlements - over the absence or inadequacy of basic services such as water and electricity supply or refuse collection. And symptomatic of the political and social degeneration which has happened across the board, is the often lethal police violence with which these protests are met: the Marikana massacre was no exception, it was just the scale of the slaughter there which was so shocking.

The so-called "poo-protests" are just the latest reactions to the neglect that local authorities - in this case, in both the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces - have displayed when it comes to providing hygienic sewage systems. In fact they began as a stage-managed dumping of raw sewage by ANC Youth League activists in front of the opposition Democratic Alliance leader, Hellen Zille - whose party is in power in the Western Cape Province, which includes Cape Town, but also the huge ghettoes of the Cape Flats, such as Kayelitsha. Instead of providing flush toilets and proper systems of drainage the council had opted to retain bucket toilets - which were not acceptable to residents after decades of waiting for decent facilities.

Matters are even worse in the Eastern Cape where the ANC is in power. Only 49% of residents have piped water, 28% share a communal tap and 14% have no toilet facilities at all. The splashing of human excrement on more and more councillors' doorsteps and finally at Cape Town International airport, eventually led to the hypocritical intervention of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, decrying these protests as irresponsible and a health hazard! However these "dirty" protests give a measure of how utterly exasperated ordinary people are with their local politicians, who do nothing to carry out their promises.

Thus the daily reports of violent protests because of lack of service delivery and the attacks, if not on the persons of the councillors, at least on their properties or offices. On 24 June, the office of a councillor of the Umlazi township, south of the KwaZulu-Natal capital, Durban, was burnt down, for instance. Since last May's local elections, councillors in Ekurhuleni, Soweto, Komatipoort, and countless other municipalities have had their properties destroyed. Things have got so bad that the South African Local Government Association has put in place a "municipal councillors' risk insurance" (for which taxpayers will fork out R3m a year!), providing life cover and cover for injury or damage to property. Whether another R3m will also be made available for improving the services they have not delivered is not sure...

And while the scandal continues of no school books, schools with no toilets or, as in Limpopo, schools without a roof, the fact is, that education is lagging seriously - with the census in 2011 finding that only 12% of citizens have higher education and only 28% have completed high school.

But is is not as if councils don't have money, as is demonstrated by the huge "investment" in the infrastructure to charge electronic tolls on the freeways built in Gauteng Province around Johannesburg-Soweto and between Johannesburg and Tshwane-Pretoria. These tolls were meant to come in at the beginning of the year, but have so far been delayed, partly due to effective campaigns of road users, and the refusal to register for the toll - but also because this campaign has been officially and vocally supported by Cosatu, which is far more willing to adopt a "radical" posture over such an issue, than to organise any sort of opposition to the bosses' turn of the screw on workers...

That said, it seems that somebody or bodies, must have benefited from the award of this contract to Austrian company Kappsch TrafficCom, which has claimed to shareholders that it would make at least R664m out of it - much to the embarrassment of the South African government which had claimed that no-one would make a profit and that all proceeds were to be ploughed back into the roads system... But profit or no, one wonders how they can justify such extravagant spending in order to perform First World highway robbery, literally, on Third world motorists.

On the take - all the way to the top

Of course, the bankruptcy of the government institutions at every level is all the more offensive, because of the pervasive corruption which has become so "normal" than nobody even raises an eyebrow any more at the latest revelation. Getting an official job seems to be a licence to go "on the take". The fact that this occurs amidst the hardships experienced by the vast majority of the population, might make it more sickening. But there is a level of cynicism - or resignation - which also means that it is generally accepted, partly as "a fact of life". And that, unfortunately, seems to be the prevailing mood within the public services themselves - precisely those services which aren't delivering and which ordinary citizens are protesting about.

And why shouldn't public servants steal from the public purse when that's what President Zuma has done, so far with impunity? His culpability in the arms scandal of 2009, in which Zuma received a bribe in a deal with French weapons manufacturer Thomson-CSF was evident - but because the courts were also corrupt, he was able to get away with it.

Now, the so called Nkandlagate scandal is yet another case in point. Zuma claimed he knew nothing about this huge redevelopment funded by R206m in state money (£16m), to his own personal residence in his home village in KwaZulu-Natal. But now it has come to light that he was always "kept fully informed".

Then there is his relationship with the Guptas, a wealthy business family from India which owns several businesses in South Africa - including the mining contracting company JIC. The Guptas used their connection with Zuma to appropriate the Defence Force's airbase near Sun City when they wanted to fly guests in for a family wedding. Of course this may not seem like anything to get too upset about. But there are other issues which should raise an eyebrow. Namely the fact that one of Zuma's sons, Duduzane, is a business partner to Rajesh Gupta and the fact that their many companies (including Comair-Kulula airline) seem to have landed a whole number of contracts in the country - both private and public. In fact the Guptas seem to have found "employment" for several ANC sons - including that of Free State premier, Tshepiso. They also employ Zuma's first wife, Bongi Ngema-Zuma, as head of communications and marketing at the mining firm JIC Mining Services. In addition, the Guptas, together with Duduzane Zuma, presently stand to benefit from a deal with China Railway Construction Corporation as part of a R550m government railway infrastructure improvement contract...

Preparing for 2014

It is such issues that keep the petty-bourgeoisie talking and grumbling about the present government. And it has figured in the arrival on the political scene of new political parties - and all the more so, today, in the run up to the next election, scarcely a year from now. Some newly proclaimed parties are more real than others, of course. But all of them pose as the alternative to the ANC's ever-ruling Tripartite Alliance, which has been in power ever since the first multi-racial election, in 1994, thanks to its large majority and long-established base among the black working class and poor.

But this alliance formed by the ANC, the SACP and COSATU has been degenerating steadily over the past 20 years, both due to its neglect and corruption and to its internal rivalries. Its majority has been shrinking accordingly, although this is more obvious locally and more visible in abstention figures, rather than actual votes cast in general elections. For instance it still won an easy 65% of the vote in the last election, in 2009.

Most of the new parties which have appeared recently are kind of right-wing duplicates of themselves, as pro-capitalist as each other - just with different names and faces. So that the South African better off layers of the electorate will be spoilt for choice in 2014.

First they will have the choice of voting again for the ruling ANC itself, of course. Then comes the main opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), with its toy-toying (the dance of black political protest based on a warrior dance) white female leader, Helen Zille. The DA, which is seen as a "white" party, even if it has some black leaders, won the Western Cape Province last time round and rules it in alliance with two small parties, which exist in order to offer representation to the still relatively disenfranchised - and generally very poor - Coloured (mixed race) and Koisan African minorities who live mainly in the Cape, providing labour on the large fruit and wine farms. The DA hopes to win Gauteng this time round. It has begun campaigning in Soweto - with huge billboards proclaiming "We fought apartheid". This is an attempt to capitalise on the fact that, in most people's perception, the DA is a follow-on from the old white opposition party under apartheid, which may have been slightly less racist than the ruling Afrikaner Nationalists, even though it did not clearly oppose apartheid. Today the DA is, of course, a mixed party - making all the predictable criticisms one would expect against the ANC, with regards to corruption and non-service delivery. But since the Western Cape population experiences DA rule in practice, it can measure the difference - and in fact it sees none.

Then, there is a party called COPE, which was formed in 2009, out of a split in the ANC at the December 2008 Polokwane conference. Its founders were disgusted with the way that Thabo Mbeki (Zuma's predecessor as president) was ousted by the ANC's Zuma faction. Mbeki was in fact easily ousted, because he was hated by a large section of the electorate, among other things for his stance on HIV and his refusal to acknowledge the nature of the illness or instigate treatment - which was responsible for the death of millions. That said, he had always been good for big business - promoting privatisation programmes and clamping down on labour rights. COPE was therefore in a difficult situation in defining its politics - because some who joined it were left critics of the ANC, while others, including most of its founders, were just Mbeki loyalists who reacted to the loss of their positions when he was sidelined. In the 2009 election COPE got only 7.9% of the vote. And now it is in predictable disarray, due to all kinds of in-fighting amongst its founders. Many, if not most of its initial members have left.

So now there is another new party, called "Agang", meaning "to build". It was launched on the June 21st this year and is the brainchild of Mamphela Ramphele, a former anti-apartheid activist and partner in life of Steve Biko, who went on to become one of the four managing directors of the World Bank and, subsequently, the chair person of GoldFields. a director at the World Bank. Of course, she accepts that no party is likely to unseat the ANC in 2014, but what Ramphele hopes for, is to establish a credible opposition as an alternative to the DA. Her aim is to build a party which is seen as a "clean hands" version of the ANC, is friendly to business, and would, she claims, "empower" people through electoral reform, involving replacing in part the existing proportional representation system with some directly elected MPs. Ramphele points, for instance, to the recent mismanagement and embezzlement of funds when contracts were awarded in Limpopo province for the delivery of school books, which were dumped in a river. But versions of this kind of incompetence and corruption have happened in every province and keep happening - whether it be to do with no school furniture, or books, or no drugs or equipment for health services. And workers in these areas know full well why this is. They know that when "for profit" contracts are introduced, no decent health or education service can be delivered. And, being herself an affluent business woman, Ramphele has definitely no plan to counter profiteering! As to actual policies, there are really none, so far - since declaring to want to "reduce poverty", or "improve education and health", means nothing at all. Who would not want that?

In fact, "Agang" is mainly aiming at the youth vote. The under-35s will account for 25m of the 37.5m eligible voters. In particular, "Agang" say it is targeting the "born free" generation, those born after 1994, but there will be only 206,000 of them among the 2014 voters and 90% of them are not even registered. Nevertheless, "Agang" apparently hopes that those who will be voting for the first time in a general election, especially the "born free" among them, will be unburdened by the memory of apartheid and more worried about their own futures - given the high unemployment rate - and that they will vote differently from their parents, who are expected to carry on voting for the ANC, regardless, if they actually do vote, of course. And that is in question.

Indeed the research which has been done by the country's electoral body, found that confidence in the way democracy works in South Africa has fallen from a high 63% in 2004, to 44% in 2010. Politicians enjoy the respect of only 27% of citizens! So all of the parties face problems of legitimacy due to voters' disillusionment - and therefore increasing abstention - just like in the rest of the world, in fact.

There are others who hope to appeal to young voters, like the notorious former ANC Youth League leader, Julius (Ju-ju) Malema, who after having contributed to Zuma's victory over Mbeki in 2008, was expelled from the party. He has now decided to create a party of his own - the "Economic Freedom Fighters" - which everyone mocks, since the only freedom he seems to be fighting for at the moment is his own freedom to evade tax, a "fight" being waged at present in the South African courts.

By contrast, there are precious few parties planning to stand in this election with the declared aim to voice the interests of the working class - so far at least. The only one to have been officially registered - but there may be others by the time the election takes place - is WASP (Workers and Socialist Party), which was formed on March 21st by the DSM, on the basis of the support it claims to have among the former striking Rustenburg platinum miners. Its manifesto, however, is a shopping list of demands, with which no-one can disagree, with the slogan of a one-day general strike which is slapped on top of this manifesto - much like the Socialist Party, the DSM's sister organisation does in Britain. But it does not state clearly the need for the working class to prepare for future battles, nor how these battles could be won, around which objectives. Nor does it state clearly that ultimately, there is only one future for the working class and poor - the overthrow of capitalist rule.

To conclude therefore, after this snapshot of the current situation of the working class, it is true to say that none of this leaves it in a particularly positive place. The current economic downturn as a result of the global financial crisis has begun to effect the South African economy in a big way. Of course, the mineworkers wage rises and their strikes are blamed for the fall in platinum revenues, but in reality this fall is due to a drop in the volume of metals used in overseas manufacturing as a result of the crisis. As is the rather big fall in the value of the rand. To some extend this allows the resultant cheapening of exports to alleviate some of the deficit in trade. But this is unlikely to be enough to prevent the coming job cuts and closures which will confront the working class and particularly the miners and manufacturing workers - especially if the capitalist crisis deepens, but even if it doesn't, given the determination shown by the capitalist class to turn the screw as far as they possibly can. In other words, it will be once again up to the working class to find within its own ranks the resources it needs to take up the challenge and fight off these attacks. Fortunately, in this respect, there is cause for hope, given the resilience they have shown over the past year.

Of course there is no organisation to do these workers justice. Their activists will have to find the capacity to build such an organisation of their own. Perhaps WASP will be part of this, perhaps not. But there is a long way to go, before the genuine - revolutionary - workers' party which is desperately needed is built. This, however, should be seen as the main objective of those who want a different future, where the resources of the rich and beautiful African continent - and the world beyond - can become the property of all who live on it.

30 June 2013