The Internationalist  
  August 2012  

Police of Popular-Front Government Slaughter Dozens of Workers

Bloody South Africa Mine Massacre
Unmasks ANC Neo-Apartheid Regime

South African police pose with guns drawn over their victims. Then the ANC authorities charged the
victims with murder under a law from the apartheid regime.
(Photo: Alon Skuy/The Times of Johannesburg)

AUGUST 29 – It was, by far, the bloodiest massacre of black people in South Africa since the end of the apartheid regime of institutionalized white supremacy. The images recalled the horror of Sharpeville (1960) and Soweto (1976) – only this time it was a black president and ministers who presided over the slaughter of striking miners. The capitalist government of the African National Congress (ANC) and its “partners” of the South African Communist Party (SACP), backed by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), acting on behalf of one of the world’s top mining companies, sought to police the workers and put a violent end to their walkout.

On August 16, an elite force of hundreds of South African cops opened fire on workers of the Lonmin mine in Marikana with automatic rifles, using live ammunition at point-blank range. Three dozen strikers were killed, another 80 or so seriously injured and 259 arrested in the assault. Although the murderous police claimed to be acting in self-defense, many of the miners were shot in the back and in the head. After the shooting was over, police posed for photographs with guns pointed at the dead like big game hunters standing over their prey, or U.S. troops grotesquely displaying their kill in Afghanistan. It was cold-blooded mass murder in the service of capital.

The carnage was systematically prepared, and the shoot-to-kill orders came from the top, from the cabinet of ANC president Jacob Zuma. This bloodbath will likely mark the turning point where significant sectors of the non-white masses lost their illusions in rulers who have traded on their liberation credentials for the last 18 years. Far from presiding over a “post-apartheid” South Africa, the popular-front Tripartite Alliance of the ANC, SACP and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has instituted a neo-apartheid capitalist regime, still subjugating the impoverished black working people in the interests of the same capitalist masters.

Meanwhile, over 250 Lonmin workers are still being held in jail, grotesquely charged with the murder of their comrades killed by the police! Company management has declared that they will not be allowed back, even as it issues one ultimatum after another ordering strikers to return to work – to no avail. The 28,000 workers of the world’s richest platinum mine, owned by the London-based conglomerate, are refusing to go back until their demand is met to raise their wages from a miserable take-home pay of 4,000 rand (US$480) to R12,500 (US$1,500) a month. Workers everywhere should mobilize in solidarity with the South African miners, calling for victory to the strike, cops get out, drop the charges and reinstate all the strikers! 

Popular-Front Bloodbath

Miners in Marikana before the August 16 slaughter. Police claimed they had to fire their automatic
rifles in self defense,” against workers armed with sticks.
(Photo: Reuters)

The 3,000 rock-drill operators at Marikana began the walkout on August 10, demanding a tripling of their wages which leave them mired in poverty in makeshift shacks while some workers still live in hostels. The walkout was promptly declared “illegal” by the capitalist courts, and several thousand police  were quickly dispatched to the area. The strikers camped out on a hill near the shantytown where some live, well away from company property. The cops surrounded them and brought in the infamous nyala or “hippo” armored vehicles which were the terror of anti-apartheid demonstrators.

The bourgeois press has sought to portray the miners’ struggle as a dispute between two unions, a “bloody turf war” (Sowetan, 27 August) of the Mineworkers and the “breakaway” Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). Lonmin workers complain that the once-militant NUM has become too cozy with the employers and some now support the AMCU. No wonder. On Wednesday, August 15, a convoy including NUM president Senzeni Zokwana arrived at the site and parked in the cop laager. Entering a police nyala which drove to within loudspeaker range of the workers, Zokwana told the workers to go back. The crowd refused to listen, and when they called on him to get out and speak with them directly, Zokwana fled.

AMCU president Vusimuzi Mathunjwa showed up a few minutes later and addressed the strikers. While he got a warm reception, his appeal for the strikers to disperse – citing the threat of police violence – so he could negotiate their demands with management was also turned down. Up to 3,000 camouflage-wearing riot-control police surrounded the strikers and cordoned them off with barbed wire. The miners had already been fired on days earlier, allegedly by NUM snipers, with several killed. Two police and two security guards were also killed, which the media blamed on the strikers and the NUM leaders pinned on the “upstart” union. In any case, class-conscious workers shed no tears for these professional repressors.

On Thursday, August 16 Lonmin management issued a “final ultimatum” ordering the strikers back to work. Workers demanded instead that the police leave the area. A police spokesman announced that this was “D-day” and that they had “no option but to disperse them [strikers] by force.” AMCU leader Mathunjwa begged workers to leave saying the police were set to kill, but when they wouldn’t he took up the miners’ vow, “We're going nowhere. If need be, we’re prepared to die here” (Mail & Guardian, 17 August). Police advanced on the hill where the strikers were gathered, firing tear gas and then using a water cannon, but the combative workers kept singing struggle songs and waving machete-like pangas. The police then opened up with their heavy artillery and soon the field near the Wonderkop squatters settlement was littered with bodies. Police “hippos” drove over wounded workers. The Sowetan (17 August) reported:

“A defiant mineworker, who was lying on the ground bleeding from a gunshot wound, kept on swearing at the police and urged them to finish him off, saying ‘kill us to please abelungu (whites)’.”

Women in the Wonderkop settlement near the mine undeterred  by police "hippo" armored vehicle.
(Photo: Themba Hadebe/Associated Press)

The cop rampage was premeditated mass murder, yet what was the response? After a couple of days, Zuma issued an “even-handed” statement that “killing” was “unacceptable.” Three different “inquiries” have been instituted, but police authorities are unapologetic. They claim the first shots were from the strikers, although only police bullets have been found. National police commissioner Riah Phiyega claimed that the 423 police on the front line were “forced to utilize maximum force to defend themselves” from the “militant group” brandishing “dangerous weapons” (spears, sticks, pangas, knives). A few days later, she told police, “Don't be sorry about what happened.” Yet while the strikers took 112 casualties, between dead and wounded, only one cop was slightly injured.

Even more grotesque was the response of the NUM and SACP leaders. Before the massacre, Mineworkers general secretary Frans Baleni had egged the police on, referring to earlier killings by cops and asking “In this case they don’t act?” After the shooting, the NUM blamed the AMCU for awakening unwarranted hopes. The Communist Party, whose new national chairman is the very same NUM president Senzeni Zokwana, issued an even more vile and scurrilous statement claiming that the police slaughter was a “barbaric act co-ordinated and deliberately organized by AMCU leader Mr. Mathunjwa and Steve Kholekile,” and calling for the immediate arrest of Mathunjwa and Kholekile! It also called on a presidential commission to investigate the “violent nature and anarchy associated with AMCU wherever it establishes itself,” and for amendments to the Labour Relations Act to make it more difficult to found new unions (SACP North West Statement, 17 August).

The NUM and SACP tops are acting as scab-herders, strikebreakers and instigators of police murder of workers. But while the scope of the massacre has shaken ANC-ruled South Africa to its foundation, this treacherous action by labor “statesmen” and self-proclaimed “communists” is hardly new. Such deadly backstabbing is the ultimate recourse of all manner of reformists when the capitalist system they support is at risk. In particular, it is the deadly face of the popular front, in which workers organizations (parties, unions) are chained to a political alliance with a section of the bourgeois ruling class, acting as a roadblock to revolution or militant class struggle. One need only look at Spain in the 1930s where under the popular-front government (including the anarchists), the Stalinist Communist Party spearheaded murderous repression of the left and workers in the name of combating Trotskyism – that is, the spectre of proletarian revolution.

Black Capitalist “Economic Empowerment” = Poverty for Black Workers

South African president Jacob Zuma (ANC, former SACP political bureau member) finally showed up
in Marikana six days after massacre to offer empty condolences. Workers refused to listen.
(Photo: AFP)

“We thought the person we voted for would have come with our brothers who have been arrested.”

–Miner Xolani Ndzuza, among those protesting the visit by South Africa’s ANC president Jacob Zuma, quoted in “Marikana: The New War,” Sowetan, 23 August

The Marikana mine massacre has acted as a spotlight, throwing into sharp relief the brutal reality of capitalist South Africa under the administration of the African National Congress and its SACP “younger brother” (as ANC deputy chairman Kgalema Motlanthe put it at a gala fundraiser in Durban during the party’s 13th national congress last month). As has been the case of anti-colonial movements elsewhere in Africa, the petty-bourgeois nationalists have become bourgeois nationalists upon taking power. In South Africa they became junior partners in the existing capitalist class based on the white-supremacist apartheid order. While the color of faces in government changed, the fundamental structure of South African capitalism did not. And the SACP, which long ago became a leading component of the ANC, signed on as advisors, administrators and most importantly enforcers of this neo-apartheid regime.

No matter who gave the order to open fire on the strikers, the murderous action of the police at Marikana was the logical consequence of the policies of the ANC/SACP/COSATU Tripartite Alliance. It was President Zuma, a former SACP political bureau member, who pushed for militarizing the South African Police Service in the name of “fighting crime.” In 2009, police commissioner “general” Bheki Cele called on police to “shoot to kill” criminals. Deputy police minister Fikile Mbalula likewise urged cops to “shoot the bastards,” saying “innocent people are going to die” in explaining away the police murder of a three-year-old child. And the police have done just that, with over 1,700 civilians reportedly dying as a result of police action or in police custody in 2010. This finally led to an outcry about police brutality when cops beat Andries Tatane, a teacher, to death during a protest last year. But it hasn’t stopped the killing spree.

Meanwhile, under the watchword of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), some of the top figures in the ANC (and the SACP/ANC-led unions) have struck it rich, turning into multimillionaires and  front men for major imperialist corporations. Under the South African version of “crony  capitalism,” many of the smaller fry have become “tenderpreneurs,” setting up companies that live off of tenders (contracts) to supply outsourced services to the government and state-owned enterprises (often eliminating union jobs) in the name of “local procurement.” SACPers get to be junior ministers (general secretary Blade Nzimande is minister of higher education, deputy gensec Jeremy Cronin is deputy minister of public works) or trade-union leaders, like Zokwana, whose  job is to keep the workers in line.

Laughing all the way to the bank. Cyril Ramaphosa, and many other ANC leaders have become a dependent black sector of the South African bourgeoisie. The founder of National Union of Mineworkers is now a mining magnate, member of the board of Lonmin. Photo from profile of wealthiest Africans in Forbes magazine, “the capitalist tool.” (Photo: AP)

Notably, Cyril Ramaphosa, who started out as the founding leader of the National Union of Mineworkers and built it into South Africa’s largest and most powerful union, has gone on to greener pastures. After becoming head of the ANC in 1991, he led its negotiations with the ruling Afrikaner National Party, chaired the constitutional assembly and was an important figure in the ANC-Nats unity government which took office in 1994 under Nelson Mandela as South African president. After losing out in the race to replace Mandela, Ramaphosa went into the private sector, founding the Shanduka Group (newsprint, mining, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s), becoming chairman of the Bidvest Group (food services and distribution) and a director and stockholder of Lonmin Plc, the very company he once fought against when it was Lonrho Plc under apartheid.

Ramaphosa is hardly alone. Another ANC leader (and former member of its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe), Tokyo Sexwale, currently minister of human settlements, founded Mvelaphanda Holdings which is South Africa’s third biggest diamond mining company. All of these outfits are beneficiaries of the BEE program to create black capitalist subsidiaries of imperialist capital. But the Ramaphosas and Sexwales are not the only ones on the gravy train. Last year, NUM general secretary Frans Baleni awarded himself a 40% raise, raking in R1.4 million (US$166,000) annually, while the striking miners at Lonmin, who Baleni ordered to end their strike, toil underground in extremely dangerous conditions for less than US$6,000 a year.

And the miners are far from the lowest paid group in South Africa. The numbers of migrant laborers without any rights have increased under neo-apartheid. By virtually every measure, South Africa along with Brazil are the two most unequal major countries in the world. Significantly, both are presided over by popular-front capitalist governments which rest on powerful labor movements (that must be kept in check at all costs) while assiduously following the free-market “neo-liberal” economic policies dictated by Wall Street, Washington and the international bankers’ cartels. And the inequality is not color-blind: among the poorest one-fifth of the South African population, 70% are unemployed and over 95% are black, according to a recent study by the World Bank (South Africa Economic Update, July 2012).

Thus the Marikana strike is not just a wage dispute. It is a revolt by the impoverished black working people against a black capitalist regime that claimed to represent them while the leaders enriched themselves shamelessly. The struggle at Lonmin follows a six-week strike by miners at Impala Platinum (Implat) at the beginning of the year, also directed against the NUM tops. And the mine wars come amid a wave of roiling protests in the urban “townships” against inadequate or non-existent government delivery of services (the “toilet wars”). Rail lines and highways have been blocked from Kayelitsha outside Cape Town, where the business-led Democratic Alliance governs, to the ANC-governed Eastern Cape (East London, Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown) and Gauteng (Metropolitan Johannesburg, including Soweto) provinces. This revolt of the poor contains the seeds of revolution.

Marikana Revolt: Seeds of Revolution

Thousands attended memorial meeting for the slain strikers on the hill outside the mine, August 23.
(Photo: European Press Agency)

The downtrodden black, coloured (mixed-race) and Indian working people placed their hopes in Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress to overcome the brutal oppression and repression of apartheid. For many, the Marikana massacre may well lead to the realization that the ANC regime backed by the SACP and COSATU unions is in fact their enemy and a tool of continued white capitalist rule. For supporters of the South African Communist Party and others on the left who tailed after and promoted the illusions of the masses in the petty-bourgeois nationalists, the bloodbath dramatically exposes the bankruptcy of their Stalinist/Menshevik policy of “revolution in stages.” What resulted was not “liberation” from white colonial domination but the renewal and strengthening of South African capitalism with the addition of a subordinate black sector, centered on the ANC leadership, which now joins in extracting superprofits from black labor.

In the case of some renegades from Trotskyism, notably the U.S. Socialist Workers Party (SWP) of Jack Barnes, the policy of political support to Mandela’s ANC was a key element in their explicitly renouncing permanent revolution in the mid-1980s. Barnes’ 1985 article on “The Coming Revolution in South Africa” (New International, Fall 1985) flatly declared the goal to be a “bourgeois democratic revolution” and “not an anticapitalist revolution.” Like the SACP, the U.S. SWP called for a “national democratic revolution.” But rather than “open[ing] the road to the transition to an anticapitalist revolution” sometime in the indefinite future, the establishment of the ANC regime only masked the continuation of a neo-apartheid system based on the superexploitation of black workers. The Marikana massacre by the ANC government on behalf of Lonmin with ANCer Ramaphosa on its board of directors is Exhibit A.

The genuine liberation of the oppressed black African and coloured working people from grinding poverty and deprivation of effective democratic rights can only come about through Leon Trotsky’s perspective of permanent revolution. As we wrote about a debate in the SACP and the South African left in the mid-1990s:

“While the elaborate legal structure of grand and petty apartheid has been dismantled – passbooks, the Group Areas act which banished millions to barren ‘bantustans’ and townships, the ban on mixed marriages, etc. – the underlying economic structure remains. White supremacy is vital to South African capitalism, and can only be eliminated through socialist revolution.”

–“In Defense of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” The Internationalist No. 3, September-October 1997

Moreover, a class-struggle response to the bloodbath sharply poses the urgency of a program challenging the racist rule of capital, as laid out in Trotsky’s 1938 Transitional Program. For a  start there is the crying need for workers defense guards to protect strikers. We join the family members of Marikana workers in demanding cops get out! And while SACPers include top leaders of the POPCRU police union, Trotskyists insist that the police are not workers but the armed fist of the capitalist ruling class. We say, Cops and security guards out of the unions!

Wives and mothers of Marikana miners demand cops get out! (Photo: Agence France-Presse)

Today the Randlords continue to subjugate black workers as in the heyday of apartheid slavery. Former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema played on this, showing up in Marikana demanding that the mines be nationalized. While his supporters wore red T-shirts proclaiming “Capitalism sucks,” Malema is actually a populist bourgeois politician who “is looking for a massive bailout for his friends who own unprofitable mines” (Ayanda Kota in the San Francisco Bay View, 18 August). In contrast to the reformist slogan of nationalization, proletarian revolutionaries are for expropriation of the mines without compensation. And class-conscious miners should call for workers committees to open the books of the mining conglomerates (which loot South Africa with their notorious “transfer pricing”) while seeking to occupy the mines and impose workers control and workers safety committees with the power to shut down the mines to prevent deadly accidents.

A program of transitional demands would include the call for a shorter workweek with no loss in pay, in order to fight mass unemployment, which particularly affects South African youth; along with demands for free, 24-hour day care to relieve the burdens on working women; full citizenship for all immigrants, to provide legal rights for the millions of workers from Lesotho, Mozambique and elsewhere in the region; and other demands pointing to the need for international socialist revolution. To this end, a fight must be waged within COSATU to oust the sellout bureaucracy and forge a class-struggle leadership of labor. Given the degree of union subordination to the ANC regime, splits cannot be ruled out. But above all it is necessary to break labor from the nationalist popular front and build an internationalist, Leninist-Trotskyist, revolutionary workers party to fight for a black-centered workers government in a socialist federation of southern Africa.

For a South African
Internationalist Trotskyist Group

While the bulk of the South African left has long ago submitted to the discipline of the Tripartite Alliance, there are several small groups who call for a break from the neo-apartheid regime. In an August 18 article on the Marikana massacre, the Workers International Vanguard League (WIVL) correctly calls to kick out the NUM leaders and occupy the mines, but combines transitional demands with utopian reformist appeals to arrest the police, Lonmin board of directors and other mine owners. In a second (August 26) article, on the ANC-SACP government’s commission of inquiry, the WIVL asks: “Why are the police, their commanders and Lonmin management not put in jail and then further investigation done?” The answer, for revolutionary Marxists, is that the police and the entire state apparatus exist to defend the interests of capitalists like Lonmin management. But that is not stated. To pretend that the present capitalist state could be pressured into such steps contradicts the Marxist understanding of the class nature of the state and can only build illusions among the masses.

In an August 23 statement on “The Lonmin Massacre,” the Spartacist South Africa (SSA) group calls for workers self-defense (curiously, since in Mexico the Grupo Espartaquista has denounced the Grupo Internacionalista as adventurist for doing the same) and has on-again, off-again called for a black-centered workers government. But the SSA only presents isolated demands while ignoring others that are urgently called for in the present struggle, such as occupation of the mines and imposing workers control. The absence of a full-fledged program of transitional demands reflects the claim by the SSA’s parent group, the International Communist League, which has stumbled from one internal crisis and line change to another, that the key thesis of Trotsky’s Transitional Program has become outdated because of a supposed qualitative regression in workers’ consciousness. Yet as Marikana shows, the workers are ready to fight. The present crisis in South Africa is proof positive that the crisis of humanity, today as three-quarters of a century ago, is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership.

The League for the Fourth International is not present in South Africa today, but we urge those militants who would fight for authentic Trotskyism to join with us in building a South African section on the program of permanent revolution.

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com