Issue 176 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 1994 Copyright © Socialist Review

South Africa: the struggle goes on

Apartheid is dead. But what lies in store after South Africa's historic elections? Terry Bell reports on the mood for change sweeping the country and the latest outbreak of strikes, while Charlie Kimber analyses the election results and Mandela's new cabinet

Now the votes are cast
Now the votes are cast

The euphoria after South Africa's watershed elections, evidenced by a multitude of spontaneous street parties, came and went. But as the tide of ecstasy retreated, it left behind a definite change of mood.

There is a new, quiet confidence which extends from the bleak barrack rooms of the mine hostels to the ingenious cardboard and plastic constructions in the informal settlements. This new mood abounds nowhere more so than in the slow but steady march of the homeless to stake their claim in the new South Africa.

Bottled up in makeshift shelters in the backyards of squalid black ghetto townships, workers and their families have shrugged off years of residential passivity. They have taken their sticks of furniture and the sheets of corrugated iron and plywood which provided their backyard shelters and trekked to open land beyond the fenced in confines of the townships.

The moves are often--and understandably so in a country steeped in religion--referred to as going to 'Canaan', the biblical 'land of milk and honey'. This reference says much of the expectations, hopes and confidence of the thousands who have moved. They see it as symbolic of their escape from the bondage of apartheid.

'We now have space to breathe,' says William Manete, a member of the People's Independent Committee which has established its Canaan settlement on a large tract of land outside the township of Sebokeng, east of Johannesburg. Bordered by two motorways and a stream, the settlement is a living monument to the organisational ability, cooperation and ingenuity of working people. Neatly pegged out in squares with roadways in between, the settlement has three communally owned water pumps. 'We are here to stay, not to be removed,' says William Manete. 'Now it is for the government to give us proper water and sewerage and other services. Then they can build proper houses.'

This attitude of quiet confidence is already causing considerable concern as new ministers settle into their portfolios. Minister of housing is South African Communist Party (SACP) chairman Joe Slovo. As Sebokeng's 'Canaanites' were putting the finishing touches to their new settlement, he was announcing on television that he was negotiating with 'the people who have the means and resources' to get a major house building programme under way.

According to Slovo, the task of government is to 'create market conditions which will ensure that the private sector' will play its role. Mortgage indemnity schemes are now being discussed. The plan allows for the building of 1 million houses in the next five years--if the private sector puts up its money.

But even without arguing about whether or not bankers and building societies will lend to the unemployed and to those workers earning below the poverty line, the simple fact is that South Africa needs 200,000 new houses a year--or 1 million in five years--to cope with new demand. That would leave the estimated 3 million to 5 million shack dwelling and homeless families in the same position they are in today.

A general awareness of what exists and what may be possible permeates the entire working class. And there is a determined edge to that awareness, strengthened by news of the murder, mayhem and secret deals in which the former government was involved.

Much as Nelson Mandela is admired--and he is still very much the symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle--his supporters display a considerable independence. Mandela's calls for 'nation building' and reconciliation, embracing even right wing segregationist leader General Constand Viljoen, have been broadly accepted but not unconditionally.

'We are no more prepared to put up with this shit,' noted a miner at the Buffelsfontein mine west of Johannesburg, referring to racist remarks by white supervisors. He was commenting on the walkout by some 6,000 Buffelsfontein miners, who came out on strike to protest at racism and the sacking of militants, and to demand the removal of a new mine manager.

They followed 11,000 miners who struck work at the Gold Fields of South Africa (GFSA) Kloof mine, complaining that management had acted 'arrogantly' over demands for an end to racism, victimisation and unfair dismissals. Officials of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have been kept busy defusing a series of such strikes. 'The workers are just telling the bosses the old ways are now finished,' notes NUM official Jerry Majatladi.

The change began gradually in the weeks and months leading up to the election. It was sufficiently pronounced for one of the country's leading mining houses, Anglo American, to claim that a 4 percent fall in its profit for the first quarter of this year could be blamed on labour unrest resulting from a 'pre-election mood' among miners. There was an average 7 percent fall in gold production on two of the company's largest mines, Freegold and Vaal Reefs.

In the former 'homelands' of Bophuthatswana, Qwa Qwa and Venda, there have been mass strikes in support of pay parity with civil servants in South Africa. However, most civil servants have been prepared to give the new government the benefit of any doubts--for the time being. Former Bophuthatswana civil servants, who were to the forefront in toppling homelands dictator Lucas Mangope, called off strike action in May on the promise of regional premier Popo Molefe that he would personally look into their grievances.

But pay parity in this one region alone would cost R297 million. It would also be, say government advisers, inflationary, as would be any agreement to the demands of workers in the manufacturing sector for equal wages. In 1986 black workers earned less than a third of the wages paid to white workers. Today their position has only marginally improved--they still earn less than a third of white wages.

It is against this background that the government is pledged to carry out its reconstruction and development programme (RDP) which promises not only the massive house building scheme, but also ten years of free, compulsory, quality schooling for every child, basic health care for all and a range of social improvements--all to be paid for by means of the already overstretched existing budget, greater productivity and economic growth.

Various ministers have already warned that 'discipline' will be required from workers in order not to jeopardise the RDP. Some have been more forthright and admitted that discipline in this context means wage restraint. Mandela has already promised the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that his government would keep a tight rein on wages. This, it appears, was a precondition for the IMF granting South Africa an $850 million loan last year to help the country out of a balance of payments problem.

That problem may be even worse in coming months. In order to balance the books before handing over to the new government, finance minister Derek Keys and de Klerk borrowed R60 billion. This has pushed up the annual interest payments owed by the South African government by 15 percent.

Economic growth, the new government has decreed, can only come through attracting investment and through the creation of the 'right' market conditions. This, above all else, does not mean militant trade union demands and labour unrest. Yet the objective conditions seem to promise just this--and sooner rather than later.

It is against this background that the SACP and the now SACP led trade union federation, Cosatu, have announced a major 'socialist conference' to be held in July. The prime object, according to SACP documents and public statements, is to win 'the left'--and especially militant trade unionists--to support the RDP, essentially on the grounds that, although it is in no way a socialist programme, it contains 'progressive elements'.

Last month leading SACP member Jeremy Cronin brought this message to the University of the Western Cape (UWC). He could have expected a vocally supportive audience. He did not get it. His audience--predominantly ANC and SACP supporters and members--may have had plentiful illusions when they voted for the ANC/SACP alliance. But many of those illusions had obviously evaporated in the confidence engendered by the result. The prospects for the growth of an alternative have never seemed better.

Striking gold

Celebrating victoy
Celebrating victoy

Two days before the election miners at the Gold Fields of South Africa (GFSA)-owned Northam platinum mine near Rustenburg in the northern Transvaal handed in a memorandum to management. It demanded immediate union recognition, the appointment of health and safety stewards, freedom of speech and the implementation of the NUM provident fund. It also demanded an end to racism and to the ethnic allocation of accommodation. When the mine management gave what workers considered to be an 'insufficient' response, 10,000 miners downed tools.

'In 1984, we got agreements that the companies would start dismantling the old system,' says NUM information chief Jerry Majadadi. 'But, ten years later, some of these companies have still done nothing. Now the workers are saying it has to be changed right now.' But the NUM leadership has shown little interest in tapping into this confidence as it negotiates the latest pay round.

In addition, the NUM is calling for a 25 percent minimum pay rise and for a range of improvements on grading structures, health and safety provisions and training. The chamber is understood to have offered some 6 percent as a general wage rise.

With the government already pledged to encourage productivity, economic growth and wage restraint, the mining companies are confidently predicting a single figure wage rise. Already, according to the latest available statistics, wage settlement levels for the first quarter of 1994 have fallen by 1 percent compared with the same period last year.

The 9.5 percent average wage rise recorded in the first three months of this year was pulled up by the 13.1 percent increase won by Amalgamated Beverage industry workers after a bitter 14 month long strike. The message that strikes do win has also travelled across all sectors in the economy. Figures published in mid-April show that a third of workers accompanied their wage demands with industrial action.

Countdown to compromise

Now is the time

The election results were worth waiting for. The ANC won 62.6 percent of the votes and the National Party just 20.4 percent. Inkatha cheated its way to power in Natal but even then could manage just ten percent nationally.

In some areas the ANC outperformed all expectations: it won a staggering 92 percent in Northern Transvaal region, 83 percent in North West region and in Eastern Cape 84 percent.

The best results came from areas where there has been recent struggle. In the former Bophuthatswana 'homeland' the ANC won 93 percent and in the former Ciskei it managed 87 percent. The corrupt 'homeland' rulers had been overthrown by strikes, demonstrations and uprisings.

This analysis is confirmed when we look at the poorer results. In the Western Cape the ANC won just one in three votes and the National Party dominates the local parliament. The regional premier will be Hernus Kriel, minister for law and order under the last apartheid government and implicated in a score of hit squad murders.

The National Party ran a viciously racist campaign in the area designed to set 'coloured' (mixed race) voters--who form the majority in the region--against black Africans.

Using techniques borrowed from the Tories and the US Republicans, the NP claimed that the ANC was 'soft' on a local serial killer. At some of the polls the effect of the racist message was clear with coloured and African voters exchanging brutal insults.

Yet this was far from inevitable. Apartheid has left deep divisions in the Western Cape by granting coloureds marginal privileges over blacks, but at points those divisions have disappeared.

In 1986, during the uprisings against apartheid, coloured youth deliberately called themselves 'black'. But the ANC never built on this mood.

The second problem in the Western Cape flowed from the very limited reforms the ANC promises. There will be very little new taxation of the rich or big companies. It can seem to coloured workers that all the ANC will do is reduce their meagre wages in order to uplift the black population. When nobody talks about liberation, the oppressed fall out.

The ANC's response to fears that it would lose the election was to steer even further rightwards. When (black) squatters occupied houses which had been zoned for coloureds, ANC militants were sent to throw them out.

The result of all this was to strengthen the NP. In the medium term there are likely to be sharp struggles in the Western Cape. Kriel may try to block some ANC measures.

The potential for struggle, and for horror, is even stronger in Natal. Here Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha movement was awarded 50.3 percent of the vote. It certainly did not win that figure. In the end there was no pretence of democracy. Everybody knew that Inkatha had systematically cheated, everyone knew that Inkatha had set up pirate polling stations and staffed them with the 'homeland' police force--but all the parties agreed to ignore it.

Inkatha was allowed to have a majority in the regional parliament. Now Buthelezi is raising doubts about just how far the ANC's writ runs in an area which includes a fifth of the country's population, and says the ANC's Reconstruction and Development Programme is impossible to implement.

The ANC's compromise with Inkatha is very unpopular with its local militants, who have seen 15,000 people butchered in the region in the last decade. Controlling the regional parliament will give a new boost to Buthelezi and allow him access to funds. There is a real possibility of renewed fighting at an even higher level.

At one stage during the counting of votes it looked likely the ANC would win more than two thirds of the vote, which would have given it additional powers to draw up a new constitution when the Government of National Unity ends in five years' time.

In one of the most bizarre twists to a remarkable election, Nelson Mandela went on television to say that he hoped that his party did not win so many votes. The final result will have pleased him.

Now the ANC faces its real test. It is constrained by the presence of other parties in the cabinet but most people still expect fairly swift change.

The new cabinet has 18 ANC members, seven from the National Party and three Inkatha. Pik Botha, the old foreign minister, has responsibility for minerals and energy. Botha masterminded the murderous campaign against the frontline states and supplied the right wing forces. His reward is a portfolio which includes the crucial decisions about the mines that provide much of the country's wealth.

The NP's Derek Keys remains minister of finance. Keys's reappointment, opposed by many in the ANC, was seen as a reassuring sign to international capital. The NP also gets welfare and population development, provincial affairs and constitutional development, environment, the deputy justice minister and a deputy president.

Inkatha's portfolios are even more shocking. A party responsible for tens of thousands of deaths is rewarded with the Home Affairs ministry for Buthelezi, who will have a controlling hand over organisation of the next election.

To 'balance', a few left wingers were brought in. Jay Naidoo, the ex-leader of the Cosatu trade union federation, will be a minister without portfolio charged with ensuring that the Reconstruction and Development Programme is implemented. Winnie Mandela, hero to many of the youth in the townships, will be deputy to the Inkatha arts minister.

But other left wingers were not given jobs. Cyril Ramaphosa, leading ANC member and ex-head of the mine workers' union, was snubbed for deputy president and refused to take a lower post. Moses Mayekiso, widely tipped to be in the cabinet, was offered nothing. Peter Mokaba, a youth leader identified with the slogan, 'Kill the Boer, kill the farmer', was predicted to be the new tourism minister, but the post went elsewhere.

The cabinet seems to be working quite amicably, with Joe Modise, the new ANC defence minister, already agreeing with his NP colleagues that new weapons and jets are needed rather than frittering money away on houses and jobs.

Return to Contents page: Return to Socialist Review Index Home page