One of the most depressing political spectacles of the 1990s was the sight of a great political victory against apartheid in South Africa turn into a victory for neoliberalism
. This is papered over in official memory with the canonisation of Nelson Mandela, whose immense aura then blots out the subsequent disappointments and degeneration of ANC rule (richly symbolic was Mandela bestowing a medal on Suharto of Indonesia precisely at the moment when student and worker revolts were beginning to topple his rule). This was an annoying fact about the ending to the otherwise excellent film, Catch a Fire
, written by Joe Slovo's daughter. It is a realistic, hard-headed and rousing film about the South African working class and its resistance, about the ANC and its "terrorist" tactics, and about the barbarity of the security services. And yet it concludes with some drivel about 'our father', Nelson Mandela, equipped with a sun-beating halo, teaching everyone 'forgiveness'. Forgiveness in fact meant allowing most of the economic bases of apartheid to continue within a democratic state. Aside from some modest and mismanaged land reforms modeled on the lines of those undertaken in Zimbabwe since the 1980s, there have been repeated, failed, structural adjustment programs. It has been excellent for multinationals, but . The trade unions have repeatedly threatened anti-privatisation strikes, but usually little has been done. The relationship between the union leaders and the government has been close. In 2002, COSATU withdrew from some strikes because of pressure from the ANC.
So this is a first. For the last five days, we have had the biggest strikes in South Africa since the end of apartheid
, and a huge crisis for the ANC
has ensued. The public sector workers now on strike look like they may soon be accompanied by the miners
, who have enormous clout. It is reported that police have fired on striking nurses
, and used stun grenades to break up picket lines
. Mbeki insists his government will not meet union demands
. But if there is a risk of the gold and platinum mines being shut down for a long period of time, the pressure will be on from international capital to sort the crisis out. Mineworkers are among the most exploited and abused workers in South Africa. Almost a third of them suffer from work-related diseases, and huge numbers of workers are wounded due to company negligence. Anglo Platinum, 70% owned by Anglo American, is also currently locked in a struggle
with South Africans whose communities are being destroyed by its mining policies. So, this has the potential to enmesh the ANC government in a crisis much larger than it even looks at the moment. At any rate, it is the first time that the leaders of South Africa's mass unions have taken on the ANC since they formed the government.
Labels: neoliberalism, resistance, south africa, strike, working class