Obviously, we can't trust the corporate media to tell us what the deeper possible causes of this wave of riots is, but we have long known that the once heroic ANC was co-opted and corrupted by the establishment, blunting its revolutionary mission. Prominent leaders like Jacob Zuma, and even iconic figures close to national hero Nelson Mandela, including his wife, Winnie, were involved in less than exemplary behaviour. The whole thing is very disheartening, giving racists everywhere a handle to peddle their insidious explanations. In any case, here's some reports illuminating the situation. First, the CNN dispatch. Take it for what it is, imperialist media pseudo-reporting, even if the images do not lie and give us a sense of how intense the outburst has been. Basically, the South African people have been exploited and betrayed, first by the Apartheid establishment, whose influence is still felt, and later by corrupt, largely symbolic Black administrations, which by embracing a nationalist bourgeois course, have also left a lot to be desired in honesty and efficiency, not to mention building true conditions for an escape from capitalism. Second, a far more credible report was filed by Democracy Now! (DN). This outfit, once one of the most reliable antiwar/anti-imperialist platforms, has become somewhat erratic in its coverage, sometimes distributing imperialist memes. So again, we cannot fully vouch for its coverage, but, in this case, it seems definitely superior to other channels. Rounding up the dossier we also present a 2-part dispatch by Chris Faure (The Saker). It's clear Faure has no sympathy for the rioters, his overall viewpoint being more in the conservative mould. And finally another by the folks at wsws.org (a Trotskyist publication), so again, handle with caution, as their ingrained anti-Stalinism can easily deform their worldview. There's no journalistic objectivity in this field, that's a corporate media conceit, only different degrees of personal integrity (principled subjectivism), and outright corruption (the vast majority). —The Editor
South African cities left gutted by unprecedented looting and violence
“Perfect Storm” of Pandemic, Poverty & Jailing Ex-President Unleashes Mass Protest in South Africa
DEMOCRACY NOW! Dateline: July15, 2021
We go to South Africa, where more than 70 are dead and at least 3,000 people have been arrested since demonstrations erupted after former President Jacob Zuma began his 15-month jail sentence for refusing to testify in a corruption probe. Protesters also expressed frustration with entrenched poverty and inequity as South Africa battles a devastating wave of COVID-19. “This was really a perfect storm that has built up,” says Sithembile Mbete, a senior lecturer in political sciences at the University of Pretoria in Johannesburg. “The protests and the unrest has stopped being about former President Zuma and has become more about the socioeconomic conditions that people find themselves in and the problems of hunger.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we turn to South Africa, where police say the death toll from the ongoing protests and unrest has risen to at least 72. Over 3,000 people have been arrested since demonstrations erupted after former President Jacob Zuma began his 15-month jail sentence for refusing to testify in a corruption probe. Demonstrators expressed frustration with entrenched poverty and inequity as South Africa battles a devastating wave of COVID-19. Looters said they were motivated by financial hardship.
ELIJAH: [translated] It’s not about Zuma or what what. It’s about poverty, my sister, that you cannot dodge. People are hungry. There are no jobs. We cannot dodge.
SIBONGISENI HLONGWANE: [translated] People were running around causing chaos and then saying they have no food, so they’re going to get some. So I also did the same. I stole food. I won’t even lie.
AMY GOODMAN: Now the South African government says it will call up reservists for the first time in decades. The Army is preparing to deploy tens of thousands of soldiers.
For more, we go to Johannesburg, South Africa, to speak with Sithembile Mbete, a senior lecturer in political science at the University of Pretoria.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you explain the origin of this protest and what’s happening now?
SITHEMBILE MBETE: Thank you so much for having me.
The origins of the protest really come from the imprisonment of the former president, Jacob Zuma, on the charge of contempt of court. He basically was instructed by the Constitutional Court to testify between — before the state capture commission, which is investigating charges of state capture and corruption during his term in office. Of course, the irony is that former President Zuma is the one who instituted the commission in the first place and who was instrumental in writing its terms of reference. However, he has refused, since 2019, to appear before the commission, because he has stated that the chair of the commission, the Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, is compromised and should step down. And so, the Constitutional Court, after he refused to appear before the Constitutional Court in varying court cases earlier on this year, they judged him to be in contempt of court and decided to institute a custodial sentence as punishment, so that’s 15 months. And he went into prison last week, Wednesday, Wednesday night.
And on Thursday and Friday, we began to see protests and acts, effectively, of economic sabotage, actually, initially, is what we saw in the main highway between KwaZulu-Natal and Durban, which is the main port in South Africa, and Johannesburg, which is the commercial center. We saw trucks that are traveling between those two cities being torched on Thursday and on Friday, as well as warehouses and other important economic infrastructure being torched.
By the end of Friday and into Saturday, this had spread in KwaZulu-Natal province, which is former President Zuma’s home province, to unrest, to mass unrest, and, effectively, what I would call food riots, as people stormed different malls and big food retail outlets in order to take food from these places. Of course, you also saw more generalized looting, as people were also stealing fridges and television sets and clothes and all of those kinds of items, as well.
And I think that the food riots, we can certainly understand in terms of the deep levels of poverty and vast inequality that South Africa finds itself in. The expanded unemployment rate of the general population is about 46%. The unemployment rate for people under the age of 24 is 74.7% at the moment. So there is very high levels of unemployment. The government had been giving a social grant to people who are unemployed during the COVID-19 lockdown period of 350 rand, which is about $24, but that was discontinued in March. And a vast number of people were reliant on that amount of money, as small as it is, to feed their families every month.
And with the absence of that grant and the decision by the government at the beginning of July to extend COVID-19 lockdown regulations to level 4 and reduce economic activity, this was really a perfect storm that has built up, triggered by, initially, the imprisonment of former President Zuma. But as the people who were speaking in the segment have explained, really the protests and the unrest has stopped being about former President Zuma and has become more about the socioeconomic conditions that people find themselves in and the problems of hunger. And that’s certainly what it is around the looting and the vandalizing of stores.
Of course, what we’ve also seen in recent days in both KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, with Johannesburg, is — but mostly in KwaZulu-Natal, is the destruction of key economic infrastructure. So, water reservoirs, electricity substations, community radio stations in Johannesburg have been attacked, which is leading some to think that there is also a dimension of this that is far more deliberate and a lot more of a political attempt by those who support former President Zuma to undermine or overthrow the administration of the current president, Cyril Ramaphosa.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sithembile, you just talked about the destruction of infrastructure and the way in which this unrest, as you say, has spread. Now, many have said that, in fact, this kind of destruction will, in the end, impact the poor more than anybody else. So, if you could talk about that, and also the extension of this lockdown, South Africa now caught between these two impossible situations — on the one hand, rising numbers of COVID cases, and on the other hand, the devastating effects of the lockdown, where half of South Africa’s population was already below the poverty line — and, as you say, government assistance stopped in March?
SITHEMBILE MBETE: Certainly. So, what we have seen, especially in township areas where people were destroying the retail stores and the malls — and this was really localized, in KwaZulu-Natal and in Gauteng, and even then, not all parts of Gauteng, mostly in Johannesburg. What we’ve seen is people in township destroying the — we’ve seen the destruction of retail stores, of malls. And what that is leading to now is that there is a shortage of food in some areas, because the places where people would buy food are now closed and nonoperational.
And there is a broader concern that those were places that were employing people. As I’ve said, South Africa’s unemployment rate is incredibly high. And retail was really the area where most people were finding employment. And so, those local employers in these different areas, many of them will never really be able to open, and so there will be many people who have lost their employment in different township areas around South Africa and in areas like Soweto, where, until the late 1990s, there wasn’t really much infrastructure for people to be able to live and work and buy what they need within the township of Soweto, even though it has a population of around 2 million people.
And so, all of that infrastructure that has been developed over the past 15 to 20 years, much of it has been destroyed and may not be rebuilt. And so, the people that are really going to feel the brunt of this in — actually, already in the short term, but certainly, I think, in the medium to long term, are the poorest South Africans, who were already suffering so much under the economic circumstances of the country.
And I do think that we need to distinguish between — and I’m self-correcting here — that although they — the people who were engaging in the food riots and taking the food and other goods from shops are not necessarily the people who were burning the infrastructure. And it seems, as more information becomes available, as more intelligence comes out, that there were two different dynamics in this unrest. There is the — and, I would say, legitimate cause of people who are hungry and who are economically marginalized. But it seems then the other destruction, the burning, seems to have been done by people with a greater political purpose.
And the government really does not seem to have many solutions for how to deal with the underlying causes of what we have seen, because I really believe that the imprisonment of former President Zuma last week, and all the disgruntlement around it, would not have turned into the kind of conflagration that we’ve seen in the past few days if people were more economically secure. And the government, instead of reintroducing the assistance to people that was discontinued in March, has decided instead to deploy the Army. As you say, more soldiers are being deployed than ever since 1994.
And they’ve said that the cost doesn’t matter. The minister of defense has basically been given a blank check by the National Treasury to deploy soldiers around the country. And this, to me, seems like a wrongheaded way to deal with this. If money really is not a problem, then that money should be used to provide greater support to the people, economic support and financial support to the people who need it, because, as you say, we’re facing these two — you know, caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, COVID-19 and the Delta variant, which is spreading rapidly throughout the country and has caused a significant increase in deaths, especially deaths of younger people, so people below the ages of 45 are dying at far greater rate with this new variant. But, of course, the measures that have been put in place to limit the spread of the Delta variant have also undermined people’s ability to engage economically and to make money for their families.
And so, the government has been looking at this very shortsightedly as a security problem and a security threat, where I think that a more sustainable solution would be found if the government looked more holistically at all the causes of this and, in the immediate term, as an immediate solution, reintroduced some kind of financial relief to all South Africans who need it, and, I think that in the longer term, really considers looking at some kind of universal basic income, because in a situation where half your population is unemployed, there are no real other options about how to sustain people and to keep a socially healthy and productive society.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sithembile, finally, we just have a minute. You’ve pointed out that in fact one of the grievances, driving grievances, of these protests is the fact that life for most Black South Africans has remained more or less unchanged since the days of apartheid and that this has been compounded by policies of the ANC government. Could you just talk about that briefly?
SITHEMBILE MBETE: Yes. So, you know, South Africa’s famed peaceful transition, I think that it was successful to some degree on the political front and in ending the immediate conflict that came with apartheid, but it really did nothing to change the underlying economic structure. And the reality is that the economy, from 1948, and actually from before then, was structured to exclude Black people. It was an economy that was structured so that Black South Africans would be a kind of permanent underclass servicing the economy and the needs of white South Africans, who would own assets, including land, etc.
And what has happened since 1994 is that while a few Black South Africans — I mean, myself included — have been able to get education and break into the middle and upper classes, the vast majority of Black South Africans remain excluded from the economy and unable to improve their conditions. And until we change the fundamental structure of our economy, I think we will continue to face the risk of this kind of unrest in the future.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us. And I just want to add, in looking at South Africa, which has been leading the challenge to get vaccines throughout the poorest areas of the world, less than 3% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Compare that to almost 70% of people in the United States. Sithembile Mbete, I want to thank you so much for being with us, senior lecturer in political sciences at the University of Pretoria in Johannesburg.
Next up, as we talk about hunger in South Africa, we’re going to go global and look at how the pandemic has fueled a massive increase in the number of people going hungry around the world. Stay with us.
South Africa Sitrep: Civilians forced to take the Law into their own hands
By Chris Faure for The Saker Blog
Dateline: Jul 12, 2021
Waves of extreme violent anarchistic protest broke out and is ongoing in the two provinces Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal. Shopping malls and property are being set alight and burned down, looters rule the streets, roads are blockaded, cars and trucks are turned over and burned and in some scenes, one can clearly hear the bullets fly. At the last count around 200 major business district buildings were burning.
The pretext is former President Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment for failing to adhere to a Constitutional Court order to appear before the State Capture Commission. He was arrested and taken to jail.
On Friday morning, small scale protests broke out across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng and by Saturday afternoon there was widespread instances of roads being blocked off, trucks burned, and property damage. Over the last two days, things have escalated dramatically with widespread riots and looting in several major cities in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
The Zuma story is a long one of looting of the state coffers. We now observe roughly three factions, the ex-President Zuma faction, the current President Ramphosa faction and then the firebrand Julius Malema faction.
Soon the thin pretext of Zuma’s incarceration disappeared and for the last two days I’ve been watching the continual warning messages stream in of burning, looting, mayhem, burning vehicles and trucks in critical road junctions, more farms are burning and this half of the country is at a standstill with the South African Police unable to keep law and order.
‘Civilian patrols’ are taking charge as the violence, mayhem and looting continue. Several communities have blocked off the entrances to their towns and are keeping watch as the criminals riot, businesses are gutted, infrastructure is damaged and fields are burnt. Communities are even even hitting back by stopping vehicles loaded with looted goods and taking the goods back.
South Africans are now geared up for another night of mass rioting and looting.
As a reminder how we got here: Jacob Zuma, the former president of South Africa, was sentenced to 15 months in prison, on the 29th of June, for contempt of court during an ongoing inquiry into high-level corruption spanning a decade. After a few days of suspense Jacob Zuma handed himself in to authorities on the 7th of July.
Zuma’s supporters, mostly Zulus, were unhappy and threatened to burn the country down if their leader was not released immediately. Zuma himself is an important figure in the Bantu Zulu tribe.
Side note: Why has there been no protests in Cape Town? Zulus mostly live in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, and Johannesburg, Gauteng. And unlike in KZN and Gauteng, the south west of the country has been crippled by a cold front with freezing temperatures and torrential flooding. (It is dead of winter in the Southern hemisphere).
The president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, has just addressed the nation with a mild speech asking for ‘saamstaan’, in other words please work together. Yet, as he addressed the nation, the anarchism continued unabated. At the time of his speech 10 people had died, six police officers had been injured and 489 people had been arrested in the unrest. (These numbers are clearly not accurate).
With increased police deployment announced by Ramaphosa and the assistance of the South African army, which truly only carries the name and is not a defense force, we may see a change of pace towards tomorrow. For better or for worse.
I do not see any impediments today for a full scale civil war. The other scenario is that rioters and looters get tired and go home, and some form of civil society continues although this state has lost its legitimacy. Julius Malema is trying to gin up a war, but his own soldiers told him that this time they are not acting as soldiers, and to take his mother and grandmother to his war.
At the time of writing, the situation reports and videos from various areas are still streaming in.
Sitrep 2 – South Africa – Situation now, unintended consequences and bleak future
This clearly was a planned initiative as the looter vehicles, cars and trucks have their number plates removed or covered with black plastic bags, the movement of the mobs are coordinated so there are instructions coming from somewhere, the looting mobs are growing bigger in size and the reasonable communities are in fear. Yet overall the activity has reduced with fewer targets and towns lying in rack and ruin.
It is difficult to give this a name, excepting anarchism and it is taking the shape of siege warfare. It seems to be a faction fight but who is really fighting who?. The looting is done by different mobs than the arson and burning of buildings and central business districts. So, is it a civil war, a coup d’état, or instigation toward a Rwanda type situation? Or, simply the poor eating the rich? The major question is why did the state security apparatus not see this coming? Or did they? And further, where is the state of emergency? Where is the tear gas to disperse crowds? Where is the sound cannon and where is the water cannon? Why are the crowds not being dispersed? At this moment, it could be a first force, a second force or a third force, some combination or some weird conflation, in charge of the lawlessness.
On the ground, the biggest danger now (besides looting mobs and real bullets being fired) is hunger. Shops are running out of stock (if they have not closed outright) and the biggest food distribution warehouse in South Africa serving other African countries, is being looted to nothing by thousands of looters. This is the central nerve centre for bulk food distribution in KZN (KwaZulu Natal) supplying all the major retailers including Shoprite, Checkers, Woolworths, SPAR and Game. There is a massive food crisis developing now. There is no bread, meat, milk, petrol and other essential supplies in most parts of Durban. KZN is literally burning to the ground.
The Police and military have lost control, and that is if they ever had it. Holding cells are full, so what is to be done with hundreds of arrestees but kick ‘em around a bit and let them go. Every single shop, every single warehouse as far as the horizon in every direction has been looted.
Unintended Consequences : There is a profound reason that some business regions and residential areas emerged completely unscathed: so far
Yet, South Africa is a strange place. There is another force and this is a force to be reckoned with and they have had their baptism of fire. Nobody really cares about an ex-President in jail, yet, town after town, area after area the citizens are showing that they know how to deal with this.
After years of taking care of their own security in a country with a crime rate as big as a war zone, civil society stood up, ready. The citizenry of South Africa have been living under the worst crime conditions imaginable.
The everyday ordinary suddenly became extraordinary. Here an overweight pensioner in shuffling sandals, there a roundish housewife with a handgun, a young man with a hunting rifle, an Indian trader with a shotgun, a skinny youngster with a golf club, another Indian woman, dressed in an elegant sari, but with a cane machete stuck through the back strap, others just with paintball guns.
With the police nowhere in sight, and the defense forces but a dream protecting the deli counters of supermarkets, these citizens stood up to protect their own. The ordinary, random citizens of South Africa who have had enough suffering beneath the most corrupt regime in Africa stood up, joined hands in ice-cold determination and superb organization to defend themselves and their lives and livelihoods. The mere sight of a wall of civilians who knew that their homes and livelihoods were at risk, was enough to indicate to looting mobs that this is not a soft target. Housewives were mobilized and small business owners blockaded entrances to suburbs with their private vehicles. Others patrolled with private drones. Food parcels were distributed. Shifts were rotated. Communication was relayed and coordinated. All around the country, the most unlikely people in the most unlikely groupings understood exactly what they had to do and set about doing it with full discipline.
The firearms legislation is draconian. One curious benefit has been the fact that all South African firearm owners had to have compulsory re-training in firearm handling.
There is an enormous irony. Just a few weeks ago, a new bill was proposed for public comment. This involved radical changes to the firearms act, which called for completely disallowing self-defense as a reason for obtaining a firearm license, and severely curtailing and eliminating most other reasons for owning arms as well. If accepted, it would practically mean the disarmament of the private citizens of South Africa. Meanwhile, what we saw happening over the past few days is probably the greatest international proof of concept for the need for private firearm ownership in a century. It provided conclusive proof that there are occasions on which the armed and police forces of a country cannot and will not protect its citizens – and that when this happens – the greatest and most valuable fallback army a country can have is its own private citizenry.
Let’s be clear. This citizen defense force did not set out to protect the government which is clearly now a state unable to even play the role, they did not protect an ex-President in jail, they did not protect the laws of the land, but they protected themselves against the tyranny of the majority. White, Black and Indian protect living areas together.
Still, serious calls for further help are also being heard. In the large town of Pietermaritzburg about 100,000 hooligans stormed .. but today, there is no food for 2 Million inhabitants. This morning there is a call for help from this city for experienced hands to re-establish stability. The citizen forces cannot continue on a longer term given millions of hungry in the countryside.
The town of Empangeni is looted and trashed completely. Entire shopping malls emptied in other places and cleaned out. Fridges, cell phones, TVs, bananas and floor mops, gun shops, veterinary surgery, computer repair, pharmacies, charity stores carried away in trucks, vans and cars or forklifts and industrial carts. Solar panels and corrugated iron sheets were ripped from the roofs. Farms and sugar cane fields set alight, animals half burnt and torched trucks all over the roads. The plunder is indescribable.
It seems that the small numbers of police that could be found, were employed to formally arrest perpetrators and process them. Scattered police co-operated very nicely with the citizen defenders and both parties greatly appreciated each other’s help. Perhaps they did what they could to handle a situation that had gone completely beyond the capabilities of their leadership to handle, despite the unnaturally large size of South Africa’s police force. Unconfirmed but I believe the stocks of ammunition is low.
Elsewhere, videos showed how members of the Indian communities of Natal, assembled to perform exactly the same tasks. Indians who have slowly found themselves to have been disdained and humiliated by the present dispensation, were now proudly on the side of resistance against tyranny. In other parts the brown communities evidently did the same. There has been instances of private citizens arresting police members for looting. This is a zoo.
There are not too many “free Zuma” slogans being heard and Julius Malema so far seemingly has not taken his Economic Freedom Fighters to join the looters.
We’re looking at a country that has become an incredibly dangerous mess. To find, amid all this confusion, that the country’s organized defense system had been caught completely off-guard is a huge embarrassment. And to find the non-formal defense citizenry strangely prepared and very organized, is probably going to be a surprise phenomenon. The clear preparedness of the civilian population is a ray of much hope for themselves but holds a warning for an utterly corrupt regime.
Yet, this is siege warfare. Siege against food, delivery of food, communication, main road arteries closed, trucking to deliver food. We do not know what anyone’s next steps will be.
The calls have just gone out in the last few minutes of writing, to change this yet again to a race war against whites. Listen to this video: https://saker.community/2021/07/14/video/
This is also fast becoming an international crisis as Sputnik has just reported that India is talking to the South African government about the attacks against Indian Suburbs. https://sputniknews.com/india/202107141083382415-india-in-talks-with-south-africa-about-pro-zuma-riots-after-indian-suburbs-are-attacked/
For photos, videos: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/
South Africa has been rocked by four days of angry protests and riots across the country, in what has been described as the worst disturbances since the end of the hated apartheid regime and minority white rule and the assumption of power by the African National Congress (ANC) in 1994.
South Africa’s two most densely populated provinces, Gauteng, home to Johannesburg, the country’s commercial capital and largest city, and the capital Pretoria, and the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, were the worst affected. But protests have spread to Northern Cape and Mpumalanga provinces.
As protesters far outnumbered the police, people looted stores, warehouses, store depots and factories, making off with electrical goods, clothes and foodstuffs, while others set fire to shops and offices. The BBC aired a film clip of a mother dropping her toddler from a burning building into the arms of a group of people below.
Several of the country’s major highways were blocked after trucks were set alight, prompting South Africa's largest oil refinery to announce the suspension of its operations, blaming the civil unrest and disruption of supply routes in and out of KwaZulu-Natal. This has led to long queues forming outside petrol stations and shops in the eastern port city of Durban and Johannesburg.
The violence has reportedly affected healthcare clinics and the faltering vaccine rollout programme, with medical supplies and medications looted, even as South Africa’s third wave of Covid infections rips through the country. According to official statistics, the virus has killed at least 64,000 people, although excess mortality figures indicate that another 100,000, if not more, have died directly or indirectly due to the pandemic.
At least 72 people have died and more than 1,300 people have been arrested during the protests. While most of those who died were killed by live fire from the police, ten were killed during a crowd crush at the Ndofaya shopping mall in Soweto, Johannesburg, and others were crushed in a warehouse when a stack of goods fell on looters.
The protests were initially triggered by last week’s jailing of former president Jacob Zuma, ordered by the Constitutional Court for contempt of court for initially defying its order to appear at an inquiry into corruption during his presidency from 2009 to 2018. Fearing his actions and those of his cronies were impacting adversely on South Africa’s business interests at home and abroad and costing the ANC electoral support, as reflected in major losses in the 2016 municipal elections, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s faction in the ANC had forced him to resign.
The 79-year-old Zuma is a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle that he joined when he was 17, serving a 10-year prison sentence on Robben Island in the 1960s alongside Nelson Mandela. Zuma was also a member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) until 1990. He has played a major role in the ANC ever since. This, his professed support for the poor farmers and workers, and a significant degree of patronage, has enabled him to retain a measure of popular support, despite being mired for years in scandals and facing a long-postponed trial for fraud, corruption and racketeering.
Zuma and his faction attacked the judicial decision, accusing the court and his political opponents of political bias and imposing a prison sentence without trial that was unconstitutional. After initially refusing to turn himself into the police and calling on his supporters to oppose the sentence, he had given in at the last moment on Wednesday and reported to the authorities. On Monday, the Constitutional Court agreed to hear his petition to rescind its imprisonment order, although it has yet to declare its ruling.
The protests by Zuma’s supporters, largely in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, rapidly morphed into a wider movement against the ANC government. Millions are angered over its mismanagement of the pandemic and vaccine rollout and an escalating economic crisis that has left many people without jobs, income or financial support from the government, as the top echelons of the ruling party have enriched themselves at public expense.
With one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world, South Africa’s most affluent 20 percent of the population take more than 68 percent of income. According to government statistics, a pale reflection of reality, one third of workers are without work, leading to the pauperisation of millions, while the government has frozen public sector wages, refusing to pay a wage increase due from April 2020 under the 2018 three-year agreement.
While Ramaphosa was forced to acknowledge the widespread anger over social conditions that have turned the country into a powder keg, this did not stop him ordering the army to help the police disperse the crowds, suppress the protests and arrest looters. Addressing the nation on television on Monday, only the second time since the riots broke out, he said, “Let me be clear: we will take action to protect every person in this country against the threat of violence, intimidation, theft and looting.” By this he meant that the army would act to protect big business and the South African bourgeoisie from the enraged masses.
He announced a two-week extension of the limited lockdown measures to counter a brutal third wave of Covid infections at the weekend that include a ban on gatherings and the sale of alcohol, a 9pm to 4am curfew and school closures, seeking to lay the blame for disrupting the vaccination programme on the protesters.
Ramaphosa warned that the country faced the danger of sliding back to the ethnic infighting of the early 1990s when, under apartheid, “sinister elements stoked the flames of violence in our communities to try and turn us against each other.”
Ramaphosa’s faction more openly courts international finance and big business to invest in South Africa and has pledged to root out the corruption endemic within the ANC that has made foreign capital and the international financial institutions reluctant to deal with the country. He has sought to use the courts against his ANC opponents, arguing that what is at stake is the “rule of law.” By this is meant that rule of capitalist law that has allowed Ramaphosa to build up a massive personal fortune, and which sanctions the financial elite’s expropriation of the wealth created by the working class in the form of profit and dividends to shareholders and allows big business to hide its criminality behind the “corporate veil.”
This does not mean that workers should support the nakedly corrupt Zuma or his backers. The factional infighting within the ANC expresses the protracted crisis gripping the entire South African bourgeoisie. The ANC came to power in 1994 in a bid to rescue South African capitalism in a period of rapid transition. As globalisation of production became widespread, the nationalist and autarkic apartheid regime was no longer fit for purpose, amid fears that the rising militancy of the South African working class could spell the end of capitalist rule in the country.
The ANC was chosen as the mechanism to suppress the revolutionary strivings of the black working class, with a black capitalist class being formed to take its place alongside the white capitalists, through programmes of “Black Economic Empowerment” (BEE). This was sanctified politically through the SACP’s Stalinist two-stage theory, which proclaimed the formal end of apartheid as a democratic revolution and a necessary stage before any struggle for socialism.
Ramaphosa’s career, no less than Zuma’s, expresses the trajectory of the ANC and its politics. Once heading South Africa’s largest trade union, the National Union of Mineworkers, he was elected as ANC general secretary in 1991. Soon becoming a multi-millionaire, as a shareholder in the Lonmin mines in Marikana, in 2012 Ramaphosa called on the authorities to take action against striking miners. This greenlighted the security forces firing on the strikers, killing 34 and wounding 78 others.
The path of the ANC from opposition to co-option has been replicated across Africa and the Middle East. The national bourgeoisie, dependent upon imperialism and fearful of revolution from below, cannot resolve the fundamental democratic, economic and social problems confronting the masses. Only the working class can do that. It means breaking with the capitalist politics of the ANC and adopting a socialist and international programme in the closest unity with their class brothers and sisters in the African continent and in the imperialist centres, to take power and overthrow capitalism.
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