South Africa – Nation on Fire

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Massive waves of rebellion in South Africa, increasing in force since August 1984, now threaten the foundations of apartheid as never before.

South Africa is aflame from Capetown to the Transvaal. The Black majority is rising nationwide for racial justice and economic equality. But Pretoria cannot and will not meet these demands. The country is locked in civil war, and revolution looms. The State of Emergency enacted by Pretoria on July 21 underscores the magnitude of the threat to the regime’s existence.

Racist exploitation. Apartheid segregates, disenfranchises, and subjugates the 80% of South Africa’s 25 million people who are non-white-Africans, Coloureds (people of mixed race), Indians and Asians. The Black majority is virtually enslaved as a permanent source of cheap, captive labor to fuel the profits of white capitalists. (“Black” is used by the movement in South Africa to denote all people of color.)

The lash of apartheid falls most keenly on Africans, who cannot vote, own property in the “white areas,” sell their labor freely, reside permanently in the cities, or travel without the most rigid restrictions.

Fundamental to apartheid is the bantustan policy, the segregation of Africans through a program of forced removal to state — designated “independent homelands” constituting a meager 13% of South Africa’s territory and located on the fringes of the Transvaal, the country’s industrial heart. Penned in these arid, infertile hellholes, African workers must seek employment in “white” South Africa as contract migrant laborers with no citizenship rights, subject at any time to banishment to the “homelands.” A key aim of the bantustan policy is to “de-urbanize” the Black workforce; Pretoria fears above all revolt in the massive townships that ring the “white” cities.

Cementing this policy are the infamous pass laws that regulate where Blacks may live and work, where they may travel, and what jobs they may hold, purposely separating huge numbers of Black family members. In defiance of these restrictions, Black workers have established squatters’ camps near “white” cities. Fierce resistance to the regime’s attempts to destroy these settlements is a large component of the current rebellion.

Much has been made of supposed government “reforms.” But these are paper concessions to appease international protest. Pretoria’s official policy remains one of racist exploitation and violence. Nowhere in the world do demands for democracy collide so starkly with avowed policy as in this police state.

The current uprising is ringing alarm bells in London and Washington as well as Pretoria. South Africa is an economic, political and strategic cornerstone of imperialism. It is a vast storehouse of riches — chromium, manganese, platinum, gold, diamonds — that are vital to capitalist industry and finance. U.S. investments there reap profits double those anywhere in the world. South Africa, moreover, controls the shipping lanes for half the oil imported by NATO countries and serves as a counterrevolutionary military and economic force throughout southern Africa.

With its prosperity and domination threatened, the capitalist west is flooding white South Africa with weaponry, making it clear that democracy in South Africa can be realized only by toppling the profit system.

United they stand. In tempo, scope, and organization, the anti-apartheid revolt dramatically surpasses the student-led Soweto uprising a decade ago. Alliances among Black trade unionists, women, unorganized workers and students have pushed the upsurge to a potent new level.

Revolt was sparked last August by South African president Botha’s proposal to add two segregated and powerless houses of Parliament to the government, one for Coloureds, and one for Indians and Asians, in order to divide these groups off from the African majority, which remains completely excluded from representation.

The proposal was met with a nationwide election boycott initiated by the United Democratic Front (UDF), a multi-racial coalition of radical, labor, student, community and women’s organizations, many of them affiliated with the outlawed African National Congress (ANC), the Black majority’s leading political organization. Despite severe penalties for not voting, only 18% of Coloureds and 16% of Indians and Asians voted. The measure passed because whites retain an overwhelming voting majority.

The boycott broadened into demonstrations and strikes that culminated in November in a two-day general strike organized by students, women’s groups and trade unions in the Transvaal. Five hundred thousand Black workers and 400,000 students went out.

The stayaway, unprecedented in the breadth of its demands, was the first political strike by major unions in recent years. Demonstrations rocked the Transvaal, to protest police and troop occupations of the townships, skyrocketing rents and taxes, and jailings of anti-apartheid protesters. Demonstrators demanded reinstatement of dismissed workers, resignation of government appointed township councilors, and an end to “Bantu education,” the segregated schooling that prepares Blacks only for servitude. Students also demanded an end to the sexual harassment of female students by teachers.

Frightened to death by the leadership of trade unions in creating what one commissioner described as a “general spirit of revolution” among Black workers’ police killed 24 people and arrested over 20 strike leaders.

Repression and rage. Police routinely charged and teargassed protests that grew out of the boycott. With army troops they invaded dozens of townships, made house-to-house sweeps, and arrested hundreds. By the end of November, 96 people had been killed in police actions.

But repression only fueled the revolt. In March, another general strike exploded in the Eastern Cape when workers and students, led by the UDF-affIliated Port Elizabeth Black People’s Association, stayed home to protest consumer price hikes. Again, police fired on people in the streets, killing 15.

On April 13, 60,000 people — the largest gathering of oppressed in South Africa’s history — came to Kwanobule to bury victims massacred by police on March 21, the 25th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre. The crowd rallied against apartheid for six hours. Police and the army, afraid their intervention would trigger an explosion, stayed away.

Black rage is increasingly directed against the Black councils that “govern” the townships under the direction of the white regime. Many councilors and Black policemen have been killed and their homes torched in the uprisings. Rejection of stooge councils is so overwhelming that in recent elections to fill vacancies on the Lekoa town council, no candidates stepped forward.

In April, the National Executive Council of the ANC stated that authority in the townships “has been largely destroyed” and called for “people’s committees on every block which could become the embryos of people’s power.”

Insurgent women. In each of these struggles, Black women have played a major role. How could it be otherwise? Apartheid aims at the genocidal destruction of African culture, family life and community life, as prerequisite to consolidating the enslavement of Black workers. Women are the traditional organizers and guardians of community life, and workers as well, and their struggle is the resistance of the race.

Apartheid afflicts women to an even greater degree than it does men. Women are defined by law as perpetual minors, and restricted to the most menial jobs, as domestic servants and agricultural laborers, in “white” areas. Hundreds of thousands have been shipped to the “homelands” as “economically superfluous appendages.” In the bantustans, denied the right to own land because of their sex, they are left to rot; employment there is virtually nonexistent. Yet in these wastelands, women must somehow support their children, the aged, and the infirm.

Women have led the anti pass-law fight since 1913, preventing the extension of the laws to them until 1956. It took beatings, killings, the burning of homes, and the banning and imprisonment of their leaders to impose the laws.

In the ’50s, women stepped up their fight against both the regime’s broad policies and special oppression of women. Leaders emerged, such as Lilian Ngoyi, Florence Matomela, and the white Communist Party member Ray Alexander, many from trade unions which had opened to women during the post-war industrial boom.

These three women were elected officers of the Federation of South African Women (FSAW) at its founding conference in 1954. An FSAW document prepared for the 1955 Congress of the People, “What Women Demand,” indicted the apartheid system and was one of the most wide-ranging feminist manifestos to appear at that time. It demanded an end to the pass laws and migratory labor; day care, birth control, and full-paid maternity leave for women of all races; the right to vote and equal pay for women; free quality education for children of all races; proper housing and fair rent in the townships; price controls on basic commodities; equal distribution of the land.

Women currently lead the battles to preserve the squatters’ camps, erected in defiance of Pretoria’s attempts to “de-urbanize” Blacks and ship them off to the bantustans. Their decades-long intransigence has made the squatters’ camps permanent, although officially unrecognized, townships with schools, clinics, and local political administration. The massive battles at Crossroads, outside Capetown, in 1978 and again this February have twice foiled the government’s “relocation” efforts.

Women are also fighting in guerrilla struggles and participating increasingly in strikes. And by reaching out to white South African women and feminists internationally, they lead in building a worldwide network of support.

Women’s demand for race and sex equality simultaneously attacks apartheid’s subjugation of Black labor and the destruction of the African community. Their fusion of social, political and economic issues was the basis for the success of the recent general strikes, and it will carry the liberation movement to victory.

Which road to freedom? The revolutionary nature and scope of the uprising has split the government between those who favor the preservation of white supremacy through increased repression and a growing sector which argues that negotiated transition to majority rule is the only way to preserve capitalism in South Africa.

This wing of the government wants to open talks with the African National Congress, which commands the vast majority of Black political support. But the ANC, from its headquarters-in-exile in Lusaka, Zambia, has rejected negotiations, though it has not ruled out informal talks with individual government representatives if they are based on agreement that apartheid must be totally dismantled.

The ANC is committed to building a broad movement to overthrow apartheid, and only then moving on to the struggle for socialism. This adherence to a sharply delineated two-stage theory of revolution reflects the strong influence of the Stalinist Communist Party on the ANC. The ANC’s vagueness in defining its socialist goals purposely allows for differing political ideologies within it, most sharply defined in the differences between socialists and those who adhere to the limited nationalist demand for majority rule. The latter would be satisfied with a Zimbabwe-type solution, where majority rule was negotiated with the proviso that capitalism would be protected.

The socialists, while currently voicing only democratic demands, realize that civil rights are unattainable in capitalist South Africa and that Black freedom can only be achieved through socialist reconstruction.

The ANC’s activities and demands — for nationalization of monopolies and land reform; stepped-up guerrilla war-fare; prolonged strikes supported by armed resistance; and “people’s power” within the townships — are aimed, according to ANC’s president Oliver Tambo, at “seizure of power by the people and the building of a new society in a united, democratic, and nonracial South Africa.” But the ANC must come to terms with the fact that the “people’s revolution” in South Africa can be nothing less than socialist revolution, and it must educate its constituency accordingly. Attempts to maintain unity at any cost with procapitalist elements will lead to a confusion of aims and strategies and provide the government an opportunity to divide and conquer the ANC.

Majority rule for Blacks is a pipe dream within South Africa’s existing economic framework, built as it is on the dispossession and super-exploitation of the African majority. Apartheid is inseparable from South African capitalism. And the struggle leads inexorably to expropriation of the capitalists and the redistribution of wealth to those who create it. Anything less will mean bloody defeat and unending degradation for Black South Africa.

Race and class. Clashes have broken out in recent months between the United Democratic Front, which adheres to the basic precepts of the ANC, and the Azanian People’s Organization (AZAPO). AZAPO, founded in 1979, was influenced by South Africa’s Black consciousness movement and its revolutionary spokesperson, Steve Biko.

AZAPO’s program admirably emphasizes anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-imperialist demands, the struggle for national liberation and socialism. However, equating race with class in the colonial world, and therefore holding the false notion that all whites are capitalist oppressors, it insists that only Blacks can fight for South African liberation. AZAPO takes serious issue with ANC’s call for multi-racial Solidarity, and rejects all alliances with white South African freedom fighters.

Race, though, is not class, but an artificial construct invented by capitalists to perpetuate superexploitation of dark-skinned workers by splitting the class against itself. The ANC’s call for white rejection of apartheid has not gone unheard: whites have fought and died for African liberation. These include Neil Dagget, an African Food and Cannery Workers Union leader murdered by police, and Ruth First, communist anti-apartheid fighter killed by a letter bomb. The Black Sash, an organization of white South African women, has been a consistent foe of apartheid since the ’50s despite the limitations of its liberal outlook.

Bringing it home. In the U.S., multi-racial solidarity is coalescing in support of South African liberation, and is reviving protest against U.S. injustices as well, especially in the Black community and on college campuses. The historic relationship of mutual support and inspiration between U.S. Black and South African liberation struggles is once again sparking a radical resurgence in the U.S. Black movement.

Anti-apartheid demonstrations mushroomed after the November elections, focusing on closure of South African consulates and divestment by U.S. firms in South Africa. It is estimated that 3000 people have been arrested for civil disobedience since protests started. In several cities, the consulates have been shut down, and five states and numerous cities have passed divestment legislation of varying strength.

Blacks and other people of color, radicals, artists, Jews, feminists, labor and the lesbian/gay movement have united solidly in the protests. Labor has shown a resurgence of political activism, participating nationwide in demonstrations and arrests and passing union resolutions denouncing apartheid. In December, an inspiring example of solidarity was shown by San Francisco Bay Area longshoremen who refused for ten days to unload South African cargo.

In April, the divestment issue exploded on campuses from Berkeley to Columbia and brought U.S. protest to a new level, against not only apartheid, but issues as diverse as the Central American war drive and on-campus recruitment of students by the CIA.

The call for divestment brings shrieks of protest from the Wall Street/Pretoria axis. They cry that disinvestment would “take jobs away” from South African Blacks — while having “no effect” on South Africa’s economy!

This reaction confirms the good effect of the campaign. Mired in recession, South Africa depends more than ever on the $15 billion invested there by U.S. business, not to mention the $4.5 billion in U.S. bank loans. And virtually all South African Black leaders say they will gladly risk economic disruption from disinvestment.

The disinvestment campaign is a growing success and must be stepped up. It must continue to focus outrage more and more on the U.S. banks, businesses, universities, agencies, and government, which profit from racism, sexism and labor exploitation at home and worldwide. These oppressions are just as integral to U.S. capitalism as apartheid is to South Africa, and their overthrow is equally crucial.

Forward! Worldwide outrage over the abomination that is apartheid stands as a ringing affirmation of all people’s right to democratic freedoms.

The anti-apartheid movement must now openly acknowledge that these freedoms can be won only through the destruction of the capitalist South African state, that nothing less than socialist revolution will stop the corporate subjugation of the Black majority. Only workers’ rule in South Africa can ensure national liberation, end economic serfdom, achieve full equality for women and children, and lay the basis for real multi-racial harmony between Africans, Coloured people, Asians, indians, and white radicals.

All the world’s people have a stake in South Africa’s socialist upheaval. A workers’ South Africa will aid Africa’s liberation movements, which will flourish once the apartheid army and economy are dismantled. A free South Africa will hasten the destruction of world imperialism, which is dependent to the marrow on the continued exploitation of Africa’s labor and resources.

South Africa’s revolutionary leadership can help lay the basis for the ascent of African and all humanity from capitalist barbarism by openly proclaiming and preparing the struggle for socialism.

Amandla! Power!

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