Tuesday, 30 August 2011


South Africa enters an interesting week. Today Julius Malema appears before the disciplinary committee of the ANC on charges explained by its chairperson Derek Hanekom as follows: ‘Comrade Julius Malema has been charged with various violations of the ANC constitution, including bringing the ANC into disrepute through his utterances and statements on Botswana and sowing divisions in the ranks of the African National Congress.’ From Wednesday on the other top officials of the ANC Youth League appear on the same charges.  Apparently this is all about the intra-ANC struggle in the lead up to its elective conference next year. In other words, by extention the issue at stake is nothing less than who would be the president of South Africa after the next elections.
Of course this means lots of noise, bluster and counter noise and bluster, in the same style as we have seen in the run up to the last ANC elective conference in 2007 in Polokwane. The danger is that the substantive questions get lost. In this case it already has to some extent. This is the statement Malema and his colleagues are being disciplined for (and that they have retracted): ‘The ANC Youth League will also establish a Botswana Command Team which will work towards uniting all oppositional forces in Botswana to oppose the puppet regime of Botswana led by the Botswana Democratic Party. The BDP led Botswana is a foot stool of imperialism, a security threat to Africa and always under constant puppetry of the United States.’ What exactly is wrong with this?
Maybe it is against ANC policy to attempt to unite and support opposition to the governments of other countries. But such a position is morally and politically unjustifiable because firstly, it would require a certain indifference to how foreign governments treat the people they govern, and secondly it would contradict the ANC’s history of relying on just such help from foreign governments in its struggle to unseat the Apartheid government. The ANC cannot claim a principled commitment to non-interference, not after invading Lesotho to restore the government of their choice. In fact, the ANC has received millions upon millions of rands in election donations from foreign governments, which helped them getting elected; how is this not interference?
The bigger substantive issue is the nature of the Botswana government and its relation to the USA and Africa. The Youth League leaders do not specify why they see the government of Ian Khama as a ‘foot stool of imperialism’ or what exactly the security threat is that this government poses to Africa, but the truth is that they could have picked from any number of reasons. In the more than 40 years the Khamas and the BDP has been in power in Botswana, the US has replaced the UK as the leading perpetrator of imperialist aggression on the African continent. The death of Congolese president Patrice Lumumba is but one of many thousands of African deaths that can be directly ascribed to the ambition of the US to dominate Africa politically, economically, culturally and militarily. During this tumultuous time, when millions of Africans arose at great personal cost against US imperialism, where did the BDP government of Botswana stand? They were and are a loyal ally, or rather junior partner. Certainly African governments are aware of this. Why else in the last 15 years did Botswana have to struggle so hard to convince its neighbours that it was not hosting a secret US military base? The CIA, always sensitive to US interests, praises Botswana thus, ‘Through fiscal discipline and sound management, Botswana transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income country with a per capita GDP of $13,100 in 2010.’ ‘Fiscal discipline and sound management’ in the view of the CIA consist of policies that support the ambitions of the US government and its business corporations. Whatever we think of Malema, we must admit that the Botswana government under the Khamas and their BDP has always followed such policies.

Thursday, 25 August 2011


The members of the Food Sovereignty Campaign are mobilising support for Jimmy Ockhuis, a Citrusdal farm worker who had his house and vegetable garden destroyed and his pigs stolen by Jannie Niewoudt, owner of Jamika farm where Jimmy Ockhuis has been living for more than 30 years. If a farm worker did these clearly illegal things to a farm owner the police would arrest the worker immediately, but as usual the police treats the owners who commit crimes with kid gloves. In 2005 a national survey of farm evictions by Nkuzi Development Association found that about 4.18 million people had been displaced, and about 1.7 million of these had been evicted. Only 1% of these displacements had involved a legal process. No farmer was ever arrested for these illegal evictions.
The Food Sovereignty Campaign is working to pressurise the departments of Justice and Rural Development and Land Affairs to intervene to protect the rights of Jimmy Ockhuis. According to the Extension of Security of Tenure Act workers staying for 10 or more years on farms have security of tenure. Like most other white farmers Jannie Niewoudt has chosen to ignore this law telling Jimmy Ockhuis ‘Fuck the law, this is my farm. I will do whatever I want.’ He must be arrested immediately.
Ultimately the Food Sovereignty Campaign believes the answer lies in direct action. Farm workers and their allies should mobilise to chase the Jannie Niewoudts from the land.
For comment or more information contact:
Johan Jantjies 0790277853
Andries Titus 0765116614
Jimmy Ockhuis 079 262 9806

Friday, 19 August 2011

Making Women’s Charters in Egypt and South Africa - part 2

August is Women’s Month in South Africa. The biggest non-scandal that escaped mention in both the Women’s Day speeches of the president and the deputy president is not simply the oppressive social conditions imposed on women, but the fact that it is getting worse. The Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to End Violence Against Women reports that this year, while gender based violence rises steadily, just 8% of monitored police stations complied with their obligations under the Domestic Violence Act. In 2007 compliance had stood at 57%. Maternal deaths during childbirth now stand at 625 per 100,000 - four times the number it was at in 1990; during the same period the much poorer Sub-Saharan African region as a whole reduced maternal mortality rates by a quarter!
Two recent comprehensive assessments of gender inequality bear out this picture. The United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) had its 48thsession from 17 January to 4 February this year. Three organisations – People Opposing Women Abuse, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and the Western Cape Network on Violence Against Women – together submitted a shadow report on the implementation of CEDAW. The authors of the report assess South Africa’s performance by systematically measuring the social position of women against all the articles of CEDAW using the latest data.Their findings cannot be ignored, except by presidents and deputies with selfish agendas. On legal equality the shadow report says, ‘Whilst the State has embedded the right to gender equality in the Constitution, the legislature and executive have failed to fully honour their resultant constitutional obligations.’ But the main failure is with regard to the central demand of the Women’s Charter for real, effective equality. The report laments that ‘there is a systemic failure to effectively translate these laws into meaningful change in women’s lives.’ It then identifies a strong trend towards ‘a consistent failure to move effectively from de jure to de facto enjoyment and realisation of the rights in question.’
The second comprehensive assessment was released last year by the statutory Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) as a report entitled ‘What gets measured, gets done’ – A gendered review of South Africa’s implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. It should be more difficult to ignore watchdog bodies appointed by the constitution rather than civil society ones, but so far the government has done so with ease. Their motivation must be that, if anything, the CGE report is even more scathing than that of the three civil society groups. After documenting in detail how spectacularly South Africa is failing to come even close to achieving the Millennium Development Goals for women, the commissioner overseeing this review writes, ‘Despite Constitutional guarantees underpinned by groundbreaking legislative provisions, and gains on the front of political representation, access to equality and justice, and freedom from discrimination remain a pipe dream for the majority of women.’ Both the stipulations of CEDAW and the Millennium Development Goals are much more moderate than the demands of the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality and the manner in which this society is not making progress on achieving the first two means it is moving away rather than towards effective equality.

So, yes, this is where South Africa is at. For the majority of women, freedom, justice, equality or just some peace is a ‘pipe dream,’ which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as an ‘illusory or fantastic plan, hope or story.’ Why?    
part 1

part 3
part 4

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Making Women’s Charters in Egypt and South Africa - part 1

On the 4th of June this year Egypt’s first National Convention of Women took place. Women (and some men who support them) were gathering to make their voices heard. After playing a leading role in the January 25th revolution that ended the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, they were worried about the signs that the process of transition to a new constitutional system would sideline them. The Alliance for Arab Women and the Egyptian Women Coalitions therefore embarked on a process of drafting a Women’s Charter that spells out the things the women of Egypt need to see in the country's new constitution. The process included discussions in 27 of Egypt’s governorates and a signature campaign that collected half a million signatures by June.
The process and content of the Egyptian Women’s Charter shows a striking similarity to that of the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality adopted by the National Convention of the Women’s National Coalition in February, 1994 in South Africa. The South African Charter came out of similarly motivated concerns, was drafted through public discussions, supported by millions of signatures and spelt out what women needed in the constitution South Africa was in the process of creating.
The similarity of the two Charter processes allow for the drawing of useful lessons for Egyptian ‘charterists’ from the earlier South African experiences and specifically from the outcomes of the South African charter. What is the situation for women in South Africa today? What does this say about the success of the Women’s Charter? What lessons can the supporters of the Egyptian Women’s Charter learn from the experiences of their South African counterparts?

part 2

part 3

part 4

Saturday, 13 August 2011


Furious emerging farmers in the Kareeberg municipality in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province have decided to stop paying rent for the municipal owned land they are farming on. These farmers have been robbed and excluded from land ownership and access by colonial conquest, segregation and Apartheid. Now South Africa’s protection of capitalist property and its neo-liberal state policies are keeping them landless still. ‘Our members cannot be held back anymore,’ says Basil ‘Die Hond’ Eksteen of the Kareeberg Emerging Farmers Association. ‘They are just too angry. We talked, we wrote letters, we marched – now we are ready to take the land. The municipality gives us no support and now they want to charge us these impossible rents. They know we can’t pay. They just want to get rid of us and put white, commercial farmers on the land. We are in contact with a group in the Kimberley district that has occupied a farm of one of the richest land owners there. A man that owns fifteen farms while people sit with nothing. Neither the police nor the army has been able to remove these members from the land. If they can do it, so can we!’
Since 1996 the South African government has followed a strict neo-liberal policy path that includes cutting state expenditure on ‘unprofitable’ social services. A key strategy has been to cut transfers of funds from the national treasury to local governments by more than 90% over a ten year period, while at the same time transferring responsibility for delivering social services such as housing, water, electricity, health and policing from the national to local governments. The national treasury could thus balance its books and even generate a surplus, but municipalities had to deliver far more services to many more people with much less resources. They therefore became trapped in a well known cycle of poor service delivery, desperate cost recovery and community protests. As far as municipal land is concerned the pressure became overwhelming on municipal executives to charge the highest possible rents. Emerging farmers find it unaffordable, which leaves them effectively landless, as the national land reform process is a complete failure that managed to transfer less than 5% of agricultural land from white to black ownership.
Patrick Steenkamp of the Loeriesfontein Emerging Farmers Association explains that they have been doing the same thing that their Kareeberg comrades are planning. ‘We became fed up with the municipality. They collected rent but they did nothing for us. There were no services. So we decided to develop the land ourselves. We put up our own fencing and our own windmills. We refused to pay rent. This has been going on for two years now. The land reform has failed us. The municipality has failed us. We will not fail ourselves. We are occupying this land. We will not be removed. Ever!’
Both the Kareeberg and the Loeriesfontein emerging farmers are part of the Food Sovereignty Campaign, a network of emerging farmers and farm workers active in the Northern and Western Cape Provinces. Rosina Secondt, the campaign’s convener, is an emerging farmer in Pella on the banks of the Orange River. She draws attention to the case of the Ithemba Farmers in Eerste River in the Western Cape. ‘In our meeting the delegate of the Ithemba Farmers Association reported that nothing much happened there in the last two months, they are still farming on the land. I am claiming that as a victory for the Food Sovereignty Campaign. The people did not have jobs or income. They occupied the land. The municipality, three government departments, lots of lawyers, the police and a mining company all worked together to throw the Ithemba Farmers off the land. They all failed and they are still failing. Why? Because the Ithemba Farmers mobilised themselves and the Food Sovereignty Campaign mobilised supporters from as far as Pella, 700km away in the Northern Cape. We physically stopped those who tried to evict the farmers. Today the Ithemba farmers are making a living on the land that they otherwise would not have had. That is a victory!’  
South Africa’s political system and governing elite are of course quite hostile to these kinds of land occupations. Property rights are enshrined in the constitution of the country. The land reform programme is based on a ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ model, where private land owners have absolute discretion over whether to sell and at what price. They have priced the land not only out of reach of land hungry blacks, but often even out of reach of the state. There is no provision in law, like that of Brazil, which allow hungry people to grow food on unused land of absent owners. Some municipalities have gone so far as to create special ‘anti-land invasion’ police units that quickly developed a reputation for ruthless brutality. Despite this the Food Sovereignty Campaign insists that the land starved poor have no choice but to keep land occupations in their strategic arsenal. ‘We see land occupations as legitimate,’ explains Ricado Jacobs on behalf of the campaign. ‘Our actions do not conform to the constitution, we understand that. But for us that is fine as we see the constitution as seriously flawed. This neo-liberal, capitalist constitution claims to give equal protection to the rich and the poor, but all it does is to consolidate wealth for the few and poverty for the many. Through land occupations the poor can take steps to agrarian reform and food sovereignty without waiting on the capitalist state.’     
In May this year Julius Malema, the president of the ANC Youth League, called for the expropriation of white owned farm land without compensation. This must be considered an election ploy to gain votes for the ANC by tapping into black frustration with persisting Apartheid land ownership patterns. The ANC Youth League claims a membership of hundreds of thousands and a support base of millions. They have millions of rands and a huge apparatus for organising and propaganda. If they were serious about expropriating rich, white farmers they could organise land occupations that would eclipse even that of the MST in Brazil. That they have not organised a single one should not surprise us. Land occupations attack both the authority of the state and the rights of the capitalist owners of production resources and therefore threaten the foundations of the capitalist system. The ANC Youth League and its leadership are part and parcel of this system. Recently the newspaper City Press ran an exposé of the personal finances of Julius Malema that showed how the Youth League leader benefits to the tune of hundreds of millions of rands (some even say billions) from the state capitalist system. No wonder he and his colleagues say so much but won’t do anything about this system.
The Food Sovereignty Campaign has only a few hundred members and practically no money but with these land occupations it is taking actions with revolutionary implications. It has demonstrated that all you need to do this, is a politics that values the people above the state and the capitalist class. This should be seen as only a beginning, and a small one – but it is the beginning of a movement with huge potential.


Wednesday, 10 August 2011


In the middle of its members in the cleaning sector going out on a national strike, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) on 8 August found time to issue a press statement entitled ‘SATAWU condemns the illegal strike action of Gautrain bus drivers’. The statement is short (six lines), but striking for its emotional language. Its opening phrase contains the words ‘condemns in the strongest words possible’. Whoever is being condemned here must be indisputably guilty of a most reprehensible act.
As the title indicates the condemned in this case are Mega Express bus drivers contracted to Gautrain. The actions of the drivers that provoked this strongest possible condemnation was that they embarked on a strike that the union describes as ‘illegal’. In the six line statement the word illegal is used four times to describe and condemn the actions of the bus drivers. Strangely the statement admits that the union lacks direct knowledge of what the workers are doing. They are issuing this statement based on ‘media reports’.
The truth is that there is no such thing as an illegal strike. When workers strike they merely withdraw their labour. They cannot be guilty of an illegal or criminal act as no one is legally obligated to work. The Labour Relations Act makes provision for a distinction between procedural and unprocedural strikes. In the case of procedural strikes workers have applied for and given the required notification and they therefore have a certain level of legal protection against dismissal. With unprocedural strikes they have forgone the required notifications and are liable to be dismissed. That is all. They are not guilty of anything illegal and they should not be accused, least of all by ‘their’ union.
The fact that SATAWU would condemn the workers for an illegal act that they could not possibly commit and would take care to side with the employers by saying, ‘We wish to publicly say SATAWU did not declare any mutual interest dispute with Bombela Operating Company the owners of Gautrain,’ indicate a deep problem regarding the relationship between workers, unions, employers and the law. Workers risk dismissal by the employers, and condemnation and abandonment by union leaders precisely because the laws favours the employers to such a degree that staying within it often makes strike action ineffective. The drawn out procedures are intended to minimise the disruptive power of strikes, which is exactly what employers want and workers often cannot bear.
Typically the SATAWU statement does not explain why the ‘illegal’ actions would be bad. Precisely because this ‘legalism’ is in the interests of the union leaders who fear the threats to their money and jobs that possible liability suits may pose. But workers cannot start with this fundamentalist commitment to stay within the law. The law has not been made by or for them. They know that to get justice you often have to break the law.     

SATAWU condemns the illegal strike action of Gautrain bus drivers
8 August 2011

The South African Transport & Allied Workers Unions (SATAWU) condemns in the strongest words possible the actions of Mega Express bus drivers who are contracted to Gautrain. According to media reports, these workers are currently on an illegal strike. We wish to publicly say SATAWU did not declare any mutual interest dispute with Bombela Operating Company the owners of Gautrain. SATAWU does not condone any illegal action taken by its members.

The decision to embark on an illegal strike and march to Bombela’s offices to demand a salary adjustment is quite regrettable. SATAWU strongly condemns this action, our national office has instructed the Gauteng provincial executive to investigate the matter and provide a full report on the context under which the decision to strike was taken.

Issued by SATAWU Secretariat

For further enquiries contact:

Assaria Mataboge –Passenger bus sector coordinator – 082 379 0927

Ephraim Mphahlele – Gauteng Provincial Chairperson 072 111 8131

Sunday, 7 August 2011


The central issue of South African politics seems to be that poverty and inequality are growing after 17 years of government by an ANC that claims addressing these are its top priorities. Various attempts are currently underway to build movements of poor people capable of actions to lessen and end poverty and inequality, or at least of forcing the state to take such actions. It is hard. People are depressed to be fighting a struggle they thought they had won. The lack of resources and organisers make movement building an exhausting responsibility carried by a tiny group of activists. Yet the main challenges are political; five issues confront these activists, and the approaches they develop to them will largely determine the liberatory potential of the movements they manage to build. These issues are 1. Racism 2. The political system 3. Forms of protest and organisation, 4. Sexism and 5. Alienation.
1.       Racism
The end of Apartheid understandably did not end the racism that it depended on, but the expectation was that it would steadily lose power and die out in the new South Africa. It did not die, today it is arguably stronger. White identity and self awareness, which is racism’s starting point, is as acute among the young generation as among the old. South African whites officially belong to the most privileged ethnic group on the planet. Nevertheless, so steeped are they in the racist expectation of white superiority and black nothingness, that they saturate every discussion forum with enraged complaints about the minute minority of blacks among the business and state elite. Every black capitalist and manager, every black rugby player, is held up as evidence of racist discrimination against whites. The creation of anti-racist politics is thus made both urgent and difficult.
The first difficulty concerns definition. Whites can only be imagined to suffer under racism if it is defined as any feeling or act of hostility against a group identified by the colour of their skin. Under this definition to dislike people or deny them something desirable because of their whiteness would indeed be racism. But this definition does not describe the racism that happens to black people. Racism to blacks is a system that invests hundreds of years, billions of any currency of capital, and the lies and violence of generations of humans into establishing their inferiority. Until this inferiority becomes real, a socially created and recreated reality, but still real. Blacks become less; less good at mathematics, less good at leadership, they live in lesser housing, do lesser jobs, are less tolerant of lesbians, and whether they live or die in dirty, overcrowded hospitals is less of an issue. The sum total of this is what constitutes racism. Whiteness, the white identity, the white community was specifically created to mobilise enough people to do this thing to black people. It is this racism that goes unnamed in South Africa.
Several things flow from all of this. Merely describing yourself as white is a racist act if it is coupled with a claim that whiteness must be accommodated. White people do not experience racism as there is no system that condemns them to inferiority. In fact the opposite is true, there are good anti-racist reasons to dislike whites and deny them positions of privilege. Racism survived and is growing not in spite of the manner in which Apartheid ended but because of it. The new South Africa was based on the agreement that white people would keep the property and privileges they accumulated through colonialism and Apartheid; to take it away was made unconstitutional. By this same act the dispossession and inferiority of black people was made a side issue, something the government would try to address after they have protected the property and other constitutional rights that everybody, but whites in particular have. Who has property and access to media, housing and healthcare? The old idea of non-racialism pioneered by IB Tabata’s Unity Movement was completely inverted, and thereby subverted. This idea held that everyone would enjoy equal protections after the abolition of white privilege. Instead we have equal protection for white privilege and black inferiority.
In this society of virulent but misdiagnosed racism the assertion of black solidarity is made to seem nonsense. Black people are compelled to try and get together and do something by the sheer weight of their marginalisation, their lack of housing, their landlessness, their crappy schools. But as who, against whom? To come together as blacks against whiteness would break with the cherished myth of the rainbow nation with its glorious constitution, its beloved heroic first president and its oldest movement of national liberation. So racism cannot be named and the role of the constitution and the ANC in defending it cannot be identified. And even where it can be, it seems too powerful to be amenable to the intervention of people with so little. Therefore, instead of asserting black solidarity against whiteness and its collaborators people act out the anti-black structure of the society by asserting against other blacks whatever alternative identities available to them. They are South Africans against foreigners, Indians and coloureds against Africans, Africans in particular against minorities, proper men against women and gays. As ever the purpose of scapegoats is to be sacrificed in the place of others that are actually guilty of the deed that needs atonement but are more valued and powerful than the luckless goats. 
Scapegoating among black communities is perhaps the most powerful obstacle to movement building at present. To overcome it activists have to win a struggle to put racism in its place so to speak. Protests, discussions and mobilisations must direct attention to what racism is and to how it systematically impoverish and humiliate all black people (even if not equally so) at the same time as it endows privilege on every white person, although also to different degrees. The struggle is therefore against whiteness as a category of privilege, even in cases where the immediate targets of mobilisation are black people such as politicians and business people, the gripe is that they play a role in maintaining the system of white supremacy. This is the only way to overcome the disabling divisions among blacks and lay the basis for a powerful movement of the poor. Attempts to create a non-racial unity focused not on racism but either on a common citizenship such as the liberals suggest, or a common class agenda such as the Marxists want, are bound to fail. People have an acute and ultimately realistic sense of the importance of race. Therefore the key to building strong movements of the black working class is the willingness to centre the struggle against whiteness and racism.
To do so, to address the so called national question that is as old as South Africa itself, might enable the building of movements of the black poor that can mobilise enough resources and people to enforce their will, but the liberatory potential of such movements depend in the last analysis on the type of social relationships they create in the place of the racist ones of the present. Historically the movements of black people against racist oppression fought under the banner of nationalism, the goal was the foundation of a new nation or the refoundation of an old one, free of racist discrimination. The present generation of anti-racist activists will either continue in this tradition or they will create a new one that starts with the interrogation of the essential failure of anti-racist nationalism. Just as an attempted anti-racist capitalism is severely limited by capital’s dependence on the exploitation of blacks, the weight of racism is such that the creation of a nation state with its subjection of the majority to the authority of presidents, ministers, generals and judges, make those in authority predisposed to be co-opted by the ruling classes of Europe and America and thereby leaves the subjects under the reign of racism. This is certainly what happened to black nationalism up to now. In fact, available evidence suggests that black liberation is incompatible with any kind of authority and is an anarchist project striving in all spheres of society for relationships based on self-management, direct democracy and voluntary mutual aid. Even those activists not comfortable with this position has the task of explaining how anti-racism can avoid the formation of black elites that lead the people right back to subjection under global white supremacy.
2.       The political system
A group of six policemen killed the unarmed AndriesTatane by beating him savagely and then shooting him twice without showing the slightest hesitation or remorse. Tatane was taking part in a protest march through which impoverished black residents of Ficksburg was trying to put pressure on the municipality to improve the delivery of certain crucial services, particularly water that has been cut off for long periods. The irony was as cruel as the beating as the police targeted Tatane because he intervened when they turned a water cannon on elderly people and the town’s mayor was later shown to respond by saying ‘People complain that there is no water in this town. But what is this?’ as he opened a fridge in his office and took out a bottle of mineral water. General Bheki Cele, the commissioner of police, visited the town to plead with the family of AndriesTatane for forgiveness, to reassure the community that the killer policemen would be prosecuted, that police brutality against poor protestors was the responsibility of a few corrupt police officers and not the police as a whole. National and local ANC leaders swarmed the town promising the Tatane family a house and the community quick corrective action. In the local elections, shortly after, the township residents voted overwhelmingly for the ANC.
What was exceptional about the situation around AndriesTatane? Perhaps only the media broadcast of his death and the subsequent public outcry. The other elements of the story are quite usual, even day to day, in South Africa. Poor people protesting against getting bad or no services from municipalities, and being met with indifference or condemnation from politicians, and contempt and brutality from police; this happens all the time. The assault and killing of protestors is becoming a regular thing. Even the elements that resulted from the protestors succeeding in winning public attention beyond their locality have happened many times before. The examples of Khutsong and Harrismith come to mind, with national state leaders visiting to distance themselves from the hated local ones and promising decisive intervention. Likewise, people in these protest hotspots continued to vote for the ANC, with the exception of the once off 2006 boycott in Khutsong.
The question facing black working class activists is the relationship between their struggles and the political system. The death of Hector Pieterson symbolised the utter antagonism between the system of Apartheid and the emancipation of the black masses. For the one to triumph, the other had to die, and both sides understood it to be so. The police killed Andries Tatane in a more brutal manner than they did Hector Pieterson, the images of the deed that were broadcast were also more graphic in the Tatane case, yet the death of Andries Tatane has not acquired a similar political meaning as that of Hector Pieterson. The black masses and their activist champions see the political system as their flawed, unfaithful friend. In this view, some institutions and people that are part of it may be corrupted, some policies and structures may be clearly anti-poor, some trends towards self-enrichment among the ANC may be worrying, but by and large the ANC, parliament, municipalities, the courts, the police, the government and, of course, the constitution is seen as allies rather than enemies in the struggle against black poverty and its associated social ills. The more self-consciously anti-neoliberal groups among the black working class are instructive in this regard. Often they condemn a particular act or part of the political system, while calling on the support of another one. Even the ones that have socialism written into their basic programmes do not in their public activities give the impression of a rejection of the political system as a whole and the constitution in particular. Frustration with the political system runs deep but at the same time it is clear that the black masses are not involved in a revolutionary struggle against it as they were against Apartheid by 1976.
South Africa’s politics has to change, but how exactly? Starting from the least radical scenario to the more so, the possibilities would include the following:
1.       The ANC stays in power, but corrupt, incompetent and selfish leaders are replaced by conscientious ones. The new leaders implement existing policies better.
2.       A party with similar policies but with less corrupt and incompetent leaders defeats the ANC in elections.
3.       The ANC stays in power, but its policies shift towards egalitarian, redistributive ones.
4.       A party to the left of the ANC wins the elections and shifts state policy in an egalitarian, redistributive direction.
5.       A leftist party or group overthrows the ANC and seizes control of the state, which it uses as an instrument to enforce redistribution.
6.       A revolutionary socialist party leads a mass uprising, overthrows both the ANC and the capitalist state and founds a new, socialist state.
7.       An anarchistic mass uprising overthrows all political parties and states and puts an end to political institutions that give any one person the authority to make decisions for any other person; instead it creates a political system based on self-management, direct democracy and voluntary co-operation and solidarity.
Of course a changed South Africa with greater inequalities of wealth and power might be more likely than any of these seven scenarios. The value of these scenarios lies in their power to prefigure, not predict. Free beings do not predict their future, they create it. Every act of resistance against the politics of neo-liberal capitalism contributes to some extent towards bringing one of these scenarios into reality. If activist groups confine themselves, as many do, to working for the removal of some ANC leaders, but do not challenge either the party’s hold on state power or its fundamental policy direction, then surely they are working towards scenario 1 above and nothing more. If they challenge the ANC’s policies, but, also as many do, loyally defend its power, then they are working towards scenario 3. In this manner all acts and groups can be understood in terms of the particular outcome they are working for, some self-consciously having considered and rejected all the other options, others by default for not having done such a consideration.
This work of consideration is now urgent. It is simply not possible to build strong movements without clear, considered political vision to provide motivation and unity of purpose. In addition, the dominant ideas in a society tend to be supportive of its dominant classes, therefore the default position in South African politics tend to give preference to the interests of whites over blacks, rich over poor, male over female, and those with power over those without. The default position is the constitution, with its promise of equal protection for the exploiters and the exploited. It is in any case not worthy of people who want to be free to allow themselves to be determined in this way! Lastly and most importantly, the results of considering which of the above scenarios to fight for will determine the limits of a particular group’s liberatory potential and its ethical orientation.
Scenario 7 speaks of a political system where no one person has the power to make a choice for any other person. In addition all the participants in the system are committed to work together to increase the available choices for everyone. It breaks with the antagonism between collective, communal endeavour and individual freedom that is the basis of capitalist society. Instead it declares that the purpose of free communities is to protect and expand the freedom of its individual members. It is implacably opposed to the state, to political parties, to any organisational form that concentrates the power to make decisions in the hands of some, thereby taking it away from others. As such, anarchism is the greatest political freedom so far imagined. All of the other scenarios include the maintenance of oppressive political relations where some people make decisions for others, and force them, by means of the state, to obey.  Only an anarchist approach can express in politics the old humanist ethical perspective of a ‘categorical imperative to overthrow all relations in which man (sic) is a debased, enslaved forsaken, despicable being.....’ It is the commitment to fight the oppressive conditions that confronts us now, and the ones that can confront us tomorrow. Therefore every activist in the struggles of the black poor has every reason to make this his or her guiding perspective. After all, why build movements today that will produce the oppressors of tomorrow? Again?
3.       Protest and organisation
The so called service delivery protests, such as the one Andries Tatane was taking part in, started in the late 1990s and grew to become an integral part of the political situation in South Africa. Estimates run into thousands per year, with a high of 10000 for some years. Some of them may be initiated by individuals or small unorganised groups, but most are enacted by established community organisations after deliberation around failed attempts to spur state organs to action through courteous communication. In the more spontaneous cases, people then tend to move quickly to establish a crisis committee, community forum or concerned group. If this gives the impression of a strong movement of the black poor, it would, at least in some ways, be wrong.
Thousands of protests is of course a high number if it is compared to zero, but certainly the true measure of protest action lies in its effectiveness. How to measure this? The typical service delivery protest starts as a march to the municipal office to hand over a memorandum to the mayor setting out the problems, detailing previous efforts to solve them and making demands. The mayor gets a specific time period to respond, to set up an urgent meeting of the stake holders, and to take action. Failure to do so will invite more protest action with greater disruption such as the burning of tyres and the erection of barricades. National and provincial government will be called in, and perhaps also the Human Rights Commission and other such institutions. The withholding of votes in the next election is threatened. The numbers of participants in these marches are typically low. Even in the big cities a march of say 500 people would be unusual, the participants tend to number closer to a hundred. In instances where protestors burn tyres and erect barricades the number of participants tends to drop. The idea behind the protests is to put enough pressure on municipalities, or whichever state organ in question, to get them to include the poor in decision making and deliver basic services to them.
From this point of view, how effective are these protests? The people who initiated, organised and took part in the service delivery protests of the last decade and a half are the true carriers of the best traditions of the struggles against colonialism and Apartheid. To do what they did they often had to risk their resources, their peace of mind and, yes, their lives. Some, like Andries Tatane, paid the ultimate price. Yet it would hard, and perhaps disrespectful, to argue that they have succeeded to any significant degree to win for the poor the deeply desired democratic power and social resources that form the inspiration behind the protests. For the protestors and their supporters the urgent question should be, ‘How to make the protests more effective?’ 
The experiences of the protests offer some lessons that are borne out by and itself bears out lessons of the histories of liberation struggles more generally. These include:
·         Escalate the protests in scale and disruptiveness. The constraint to this is in large part a lack of resources, but often it is a question of perspective. State representatives demand of activists to tone down or abandon protest while dialogue, investigations and interventions are in progress, but the behaviour of these very representatives calls such a position into question. Without the protests the marginalisation of the poor is effected and then accepted as a given. It is protest that gets these officials moving and it is actions that disrupt at least part of the system that gets them moving faster. Have a march and expect at least a letter to acknowledge receipt of the one you sent months ago, block a major road and expect an audience with a national leader. Have several local groups co-ordinate these kinds of actions and see the flurry of the power elite. As a rule even the most limited social changes that support the emancipation of the poor require radical activist action that breaks with the norms and even laws of liberal capitalist politics. Sometimes activists are distracted from a focus on protest action not by an express demand but by a process that appears quite friendly, where government, NGOs or political groups offer support by inviting community leaders into dialogues, consultations, workshops and projects that saps the time, energy and inclination for protest. The results are not quite the same, but in both cases the interests of the majority has no chance of a hearing.

·         Prepare for the probability of state violence and repression. Protestors have various tactics they can choose from to protect them from state violence and repression. These include making arrangements for recording, communications and publicity as well as practicing for mutual protection and self-defence. Few protests in South Africa are preceded by these kinds of preparations. This despite the presence of police violence from the earliest days of the service delivery protests and the signs lately that the state is becoming more authoritarian. Perhaps people are lulled into a sense of safety by the constant propaganda in praise of the constitution and the rights it is supposed to bestow on everyone, even on poor, black people. The facts of police brutality speak otherwise. Black skins are still an invitation to violence, and the planners of protests have to take this into account and make the necessary preparations.                              

·         Favour direct action over indirect. The groups that had the most success both in terms of forcing concessions from the ruling class and in terms of building their own capacity for action were those that were able to directly lay hold of resources and transfer them to the poor. Occupying land, removing water blockages and connecting households to electricity all address impoverishment directly. It does not wait for state officials to do so. It is this self-emancipation of the poor that the rich and their governments fear more than anything else. Even when the power elites make forced concessions in the face of indirect actions such as marches and negotiations it is because they fear the protestors might go ahead and seize what they need.  
The necessity for direct action also flows from the need of activist groups to capture the imagination of the masses. It demonstrates a seriousness of purpose and a depth of feeling against injustice that not only requires but also inspires the bravery and commitment characteristic of successful movements for social change.
Finally, movements of the poor need direct action precisely because they are movements of the poor. The poorest sections of society, the temporary workers, farm dwellers, rural people in former homelands, the unemployed and shack dwellers, are also the least organised. Poverty leaves no money to sustain organisers, the struggle for survival leaves little time and energy for the work of organising. Groups flare up and then die out quickly or become the turf of a more or less bureaucratic group that use their leadership positions to strike bargains for their own benefit with political parties, state organs or NGOs. Movements of the poor can only survive for any length of time if it fuses the struggle for survival with the work of organising. Only direct action makes this possible.

·         Oppose the organisational methods of capitalist society. Participation in the service delivery protests is uneven. A minority of people have more time, commitment, resources and energy to contribute, which puts them into a position of a vanguard that through a process of organisation inspires, mobilises and co-ordinates wider circles. From their ranks come the presidents, chairpersons and executive members when the seemingly unavoidable time comes to establish a formal organisation.
In many if not most protesting communities the establishment of a formal organisation, going as it does together with the election of executive members, are followed by internal conflicts about control that often paralyse. At issue is not only the different options the organisation must choose from, but who gets to make the decisions and who must carry them out. The essence of community struggles is arguably co-operation between equals. One can go further and argue that in its most emancipatory and therefore truest form, the struggles of oppressed communities seek to change society into a gigantic association of freely co-operating equals, the abolition of all oppression. The methods and structures of the organisations of capitalist society make a careful distinction between leaders and followers by bestowing on the former a privileged role in decision making as well as an apparatus for enforcing this privilege. Capitalist society needs to operate through presidents, CEOs and chairs precisely because it needs to diminish the decision making power of the majority, of those at the bottom. When working class organisations adopt the same methods and structures the results are the same – a constant conflict over the suppression of the majority, or of a dissenting minority for that matter.
Two factors make these conflicts especially paralysing in the case of the current service delivery struggles. Firstly, the organisations are new with limited resources and capacities; therefore they often lack a leadership whose authority is accepted to a sufficient degree to ensure the functioning of the organisation in spite of the conflicts. The smallest of challenges to the leadership are then enough to destabilise the organisation and consume its time and resources. Secondly clear differences on the big political questions have seldom had time to find expression. Among the factions contending for the positions of chairman and secretary, who are the revolutionaries, who the reformists? Communities do not know and cannot unite behind one or the other in a manner that will create a leadership with the authority to run strong organisations. Organisational methods that oppose the establishment of hierarchies of power are therefore an immediate tactical necessity for the current service delivery struggles to grow.
Ultimately activists have to make a choice. If they want an organisation that is nothing but a free co-operation between equals, they will have to break away from organising in the manner of capitalist organisations and find the methods such as assemblies, spokescouncils, affinity groups and recallable, rotating delegates that make such an organisation possible. If they want a society of freely co-operating equals then they have no choice. The executives and presidents and general secretaries will never take them there. The types of organisations they decide to build now determine the types of organisations they will achieve in the future; it determines even the type of society.

4.       Sexism
Who was the world’s first feminist president?
Thabo Mbeki was a determined neo-liberal capitalist when he was the president. It is not that he was indifferent to the suffering of the poor; he just acted as if the solution to poverty and its associated ills could only be achieved if the businesses of the country were able to compete and win on the world market. He therefore, like Nelson Mandela before him, took care to satisfy and exceed the policy demands of the people that control the most lucrative sections of that world market – the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organisation, the governments of the US and European Union. Domestically he used the policies and resources of the state to support those businesses most able to compete, meaning big business.
Within this framework, Mbeki confronted sexism or at least aspects of it. He certainly cracked the reinforced glass ceiling that sees women so scandalously underrepresented in the upper levels of politics and business. Under his presidency the numbers of women in senior positions in the state grew so fast that it outstripped countries that had similar programmes for much longer. A woman became deputy president of the country, and women made up half of the provincial premiers and ANC municipal councillors. State rhetoric and even policy began to take on a focus on women’s empowerment and it became more difficult to tender successfully for government business without at least one woman as business partner. In his person he represented an enlightened, liberated approach to women and sexuality, rather than a traditionalist, patriarchal one. It could be argued that under the presidency of Thabo Mbeki the empowerment and upliftment of women was taken as far as it could go within a neo-liberal capitalist framework.
This was of course not far at all as it did not change the fact that neo-liberalism is inherently supportive of male supremacy. The dog eats dog competition it pretends to stand for is actually a dog eats puppy struggle where powerful politicians and rich businessmen prey mercilessly on those poorer and more vulnerable than them. Generations of sexist discrimination has made black women the poorest and most vulnerable group, and neo-liberalism therefore made them the targets for the worst violence, unemployment, precarious work, inferior social services, HIV/AIDS, landlessness and poverty. Black working class women were no better off, and in some respects worse off, at the end of Mbeki’s neo-liberal presidency than at its beginning.
However, the feministic rhetoric and the gains by middle class women were enough to provoke an enraged reaction. An important element of the motley alliance that backed Zuma against Mbeki was a patriarchy exasperated by the numerous pinpricks associated with the Mbeki era and determined to make certain things very clear. Women’s rights were fine, as long as it is understood that there was nothing wrong with men’s rights, which happened to include the right to have and be proper leaders, not incompetents foisted on the people by quotas, as well as the right to have culture and tradition and enjoy the privileges bestowed on males by these. The reaction affected broad circles in the black community as manifested for example in the rise of violence against lesbians.
Activists seeking to conduct the struggles for decent social services and democratic power for the poor with a consistent feminist focus on sexism are likely to get into trouble with this patriarchal reaction, which sometimes lead people to see feminism as a distraction and divisive. The temptation to compromise and drop or water down feminism for the sake of peace among the poor in the war on the rich will be intense, but the reasons to stick to a feminist approach are strong. It is of course not feminism that divides people into men and women and enlists the former to participate in the oppression of the latter; it is sexism. Women will and do revolt against this oppression, the only question is – will the current service delivery protest groups be vehicles or targets of this revolt?
Wherever service delivery protests have crystallised into movements, women have tended to be in the majority among members precisely because they have had the status of most-favoured-targets with neo-liberal states and companies for the longest time. Invariably and inevitably the women members demand of these movements, their movements, what amounts to action against sexism. In the cases where male leaders and members were able to suppress or ignore this demand it had a demobilising effect, with women either dropping out, or members becoming involved in paralysing conflicts, or the movements becoming more moderate in their opposition to neo-liberalism, or a combination of the three. The movements that have listened to this demand and made it their own, in contrast, could count on the energetic participation and courageous loyalty of their women members as a source of inspiration and growth.
Of course this does not mean that a feminist focus guarantees short term success. The opposite is quite possible; the reactionary reassertion of the patriarchal rights of men often makes it more difficult for feminist orientated activists to organise. In the short term groups that steer clear of a feminist approach might find the work of mobilising people if not easier then at least more comfortable. They would seemingly avoid having to fight on yet another front. It does not take long, however, for the strategic benefits of a feminist approach to service delivery struggle to overshadow the discomforts patriarchal defensiveness are able to impose on its challengers. The struggles of the poor cannot be separated from the struggles of poor women.
A society without poverty and inequality will have done away with the social practices and relationships that cause these evils. Violence, forced separation, unrewarded labour, discrimination, regimentation, inferiority, exclusion, dehumanisation – all of these types of things will have to go. But these are the stuff that sexism is made of. If the service delivery protests are animated, as they arguably are, by more than just a desire for a specific service, then it is also driven by an assertion of a human dignity that is incompatible with impoverishment and the inequalities it produces. This dignity and sexism are mortal enemies.
5.       Alienation
What are the obstacles to an approach that seeks to integrate the struggles of the poor for decent services and democratic power with attempts to do away with white privilege, the capitalist state, authoritarian organisations and institutionalised sexism? The truth is that whatever the weight of reason and evidence behind such an approach, it goes against the common sense and assumptions that underlie most social interactions in South Africa today. In the scope of the liberation it seeks, and in demanding of itself immediacy in the practice of this liberation, this approach goes against the very grain of capitalist society, its institutions and its culture. The state and business corporations are here, like elsewhere, the crucial institutional bearers of this culture, but in the black community long excluded from membership of these bodies except in the most menial roles, the ANC was the main embodiment of capitalist social relations in the political sphere.
This reflects firstly in the relationship of the ANC to its individual members. In the official ideology of the ANC, the movement is everything, the individual nothing. The members relate to the movement as subjects to a god. Even the words ‘the movement’ is said with a religious awe, and the most powerful ANC leaders always present themselves as simple, disempowered ‘deployees’ that go wherever they are mandated to go, and cannot imagine living outside the movement. This attitude is promoted as an anti-dote to capitalist ‘individualism’, but it actually reproduces the type of oppressive relationship typical of capitalist society.
In pre-capitalist societies oppression typically involved subordination to a particular person. In unstable situations such subordination was based on interpersonal violence; in more stable ones the violence was supplemented by the power of the idea that some are just born to rule over others. Even that great abstraction, the state, was based on subordination to a particular person, the king. In the capitalist era the violence continued in a different way, the idea of born rulers was largely replaced by an idea (found in a million guises) of carefully selected and specially qualified rulers, and both were supplemented and overshadowed by the idea, or rather the fetish of collective service to a great, supra-personal abstraction.
Workers in a particular firm are not subordinated to their bosses in the same way as serfs, slaves and commoners were to their lords and masters. In the capitalist firm the lord and master is the pursuit of profit, which both workers and bosses experience as a relentless external pressure, a fetish that everyone has to obey on pain of deprivation by an impersonal force called the ‘market’. Workers accept subordination to bosses not because they fear assault or they think the bosses are a superior type of human, but because if they refuse they either face dismissal or the firm will go under, with the same result. When it comes to society as a whole profit’s pursuit is called ‘economic growth’ or ‘the national economy’ and is similarly fetishized. Capitalist parties may differ in their methods but serving ‘the economy’ is their unquestioned goal.
But when a capitalist party is based in a community where capitalism is discredited a problem arises. Such a community do not share in the fetish of pursuing profit, not at the level of the firm and not at the social level, so something extra is needed to ensure their subordination to the capitalist system. Historically such parties used two options, firstly to increase levels of violence against dissidents within the community, and secondly to make the pursuit of its own power into a fetish. The party itself becomes the great abstraction demanding of members to alienate their human capacities to freely think, decide and create jointly, and hand it over to the ‘the party’ or ‘the movement’. People then become the subordinates of capital through subordination to this party. This is precisely what happened with the ANC.
The problem is that whenever service delivery struggles have produced stable movements there has been a tendency to reproduce this alienating ideology of the ANC with its hatred of personal liberty and human individuality. Of course these movements are at an early stage of development with less centralisation and more appreciation for local autonomy. But the early signs are of similar attempts to create a closed off world with strict distinction between outsiders and insiders and a total identification of members with the idea of the movement, an identification that demands sacrificing public dissent and even diversity. There is no recognition of the possibility of loyal, public criticism. In public people are either uncritical of the movement or enemies of the poor. Since at least the middle 1980s most political and activist organisations of blacks have started as breakaways from the ANC that was dissatisfied with policy and leadership, but have not developed a critique of the ANC’s organisational ideology. Without such a critique it has proved impossible to avoid and overcome the reproduction of the problems associated with authoritarianism and subordination inherent in this ideology.
If this makes change for service delivery protest movements very difficult it is because that is exactly what it is intended to do. Courage and encouragement are required. In the absence of one of the recurring mass revolts against capitalist society the promoters of revolutionary change for universal emancipation are likely to be a put upon minority. Such an uprising will come soon enough.    
Ronald Wesso, July 2011