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South Africa

‘I closed my eyes and waited for the bullet’

By Thumeka Magwangqana and Primrose Sonti - Open Democracy, August 16, 2017

Five years ago today, 34 mine workers were shot dead in South Africa during a bitter dispute with British firm Lonmin. Today their community is taking their demands for accountability to the firm’s HQ.

In August 2012, mine workers at British company Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in South Africa went on strike to demand the living wage. In the week leading up to 16 August, the workers tried to access the managers’ offices but they were pushed back by security. This was where the battle began.

Pushed back from the managers’ offices, the mine workers decided to go to the koppie, a small mountain near Lonmin’s mine, outside the company’s premises. They were there for a few days waiting for management to reply to their demands, and the rest of us in the community were not allowed to go near them. Every day when the men came down from that mountain, we asked them to tell us what was going on. Ten people were killed between 12 – 14 August, including two police officers.

We watched what was happening on TV constantly and in the afternoon of 15 August, we saw a crowd of people. Horses and police officers were growing in number on the koppie and, as women and leaders of the community, we were very upset. We were waiting for good news, for the management to make good decisions.

Early in the morning of 16 August, we saw the barbed wire encircling the koppie and we knew that people there were going to die. We collected the women of the community and, as leaders, we said that we should go straight to Lonmin management and tell them that if they didn’t want to give the mine workers the extra money, then it was better that we take them home because the situation had become so bad.

We collected the women and when we met near the mountain, we were too late. We heard the bullets, and then the ambulances.

Thirty-four mine workers were shot dead.

We couldn’t get there afterwards, there was a large crowd and we were told not go there, that it was very hectic. We turned back and didn’t sleep that night. Early in the morning, we went to see the police at the koppie and were fighting with them, trying everything. Then we cried.

We went to the police stations and hospitals to look for the missing. We were looking for a guy that was staying in the yard of one of our houses. He didn’t come back and we weren’t sure if he died or was in hospital or jail.

Patrick Bond: Climate justice movements need to hit Trump where it hurts most

By Ethemcan Turhan and Cem İskender Aydın - Entitle Blog, July 7, 2017

ecology.iww.org web editor's disclaimer: The IWW does not pursue the strategy of capturing state power, through elections, or other means, but instead advocates rendering state power irrelevant through the organizing by workers, by industry, at the point of production. Nevertheless, the following proposal does include other goals upon which many IWW members would agree and advocate:

Political economist and climate justice expert Patrick Bond comments on the prospects for a progressive anti-capitalist agenda in the face of increasing alt-right populism, xenophobia, climate denialism and economic-political exceptionalism. 

So we are back to square one: Trump’s withdrawal from Paris Agreement in early June 2017 has raised – quite understandably – many eyebrows around the world. This anticipated, but not entirely expected, move by the Trump administration calls us to question not only the viability of the Paris Agreement in the medium/long-term or the feasibility of commitments from non-state actors bridging the ambition gap, but also the tactics and strategies of global climate justice movements in the face of increasing alt-right populism, xenophobia, climate denialism and economic-political exceptionalism.

So where do we go next? Or better said, what are the prospects for a progressive anti-capitalist political agenda in a world where even the lowest common denominator like the Paris Agreement can’t hold? Can techno-fixes and allegedly apolitical sustainability governance approaches save capitalism from itself in its new authoritarian, post-truth disguise?

We caught up with Patrick Bond, who is in the advisory board of the ISSC-funded Acknowl-EJ project (Academic-activist co-produced knowledge for environmental justice) during a project meeting in Beirut, Lebanon.

Patrick Bond is professor of political economy at the Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand. He was formerly associated with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he directed the Centre for Civil Society from 2004 to 2016. He held visiting positions in various institutions including Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Berkeley.

As a leading activist-academic figure, Bond is a familiar face in global climate justice circles. Some of his recent works include BRICS: An Anticapitalist Critique (edited with Ana Garcia, 2015, Haymarket Books), Elite Transition: From Apartheid to Neoliberalism in South Africa (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2014, Pluto Press), South Africa – The Present as History (with John Saul, 2014, Boydell & Brewer) and Politics of Climate Justice: Paralysis above, Movement below (2012, University of KwaZulu-Natal Press).

Energy Democracy and Just Transition Endorsed at Launch of South Africa’s New Trade Union Federation

By John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, May 1, 2017

At a historic launch event held outside Johannesburg on April 21-23, 2017, almost 1,400 voting delegates from two-dozen unions representing 700,000 workers convened to launch the new “South African Federation of Trade Unions” (SAFTU).

In addition to adopting the name, logo and colors — red, black and gold — delegates also endorsed a range of principles adopted at a preparatory “Workers’ Summit” convened by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) in April 2016, adopted a new constitution, and approved a report from the Steering Committee proposing a range of campaigning priorities for the next period.

In a recent article, then SAFTU convener Zwelinzima Vavi said:

We’ve got a mix of workers in the private sector, manufacturing, transport, mining and construction. And we’ve got unions in the public sector – the biggest ones are the South African Policing Union and the National Union of Public Servants and Allied Workers.[SAFTU] is independent but not apolitical. It is truly worker controlled and democratic and not ‘sloganising’ over the issues. SAFTU is truly fighting and militant.”

At a TUED strategy meeting in New York in early April, Karl Cloete, NUMSA’s Deputy General Secretary, told union representatives from 12 countries that while the new federation’s campaigning priorities will focus on the many grave and urgent challenges facing South Africa’s highly exploited workers and exceptionally vulnerable poor, SAFTU would also make energy democracy and just transition part of its core agenda.

Declaration of the Launching Congress of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU)

By staff - Trade Unions For Energy Democracy, April 23, 2017

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has been born. We have passed a milestone in the history of the South African trade union movement at this Launching Congress held in Boksburg from 21-23 April 2017.

700,000 workers represented by 1,384 voting delegates from 24 unions and other non-voting unions have taken the first decisive step to building a new, vibrant, independent, and democratic workers’ federation, leading the struggle against exploitation, mass unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption and taking up the struggle for the total emancipation of the working class from the chains of its capitalist oppressors.

Delegates formally adopted the name, logo and colours of red, black and gold. A constitution was adopted and a Report from the Steering Committee which  spelt out the way forward for the coming period, and endorsed the principles adopted by the Workers Summit on 30 April 2016.

We are building a fundamentally different type of workers’ organisation – independent of political parties and employers but not apolitical, democratic, worker-controlled, militant, socialist-orientated, internationalist, Pan Africanist from a Marxist perspective and inspired by the principles of Marxism-Leninism. 

Our historic mission is to rapidly build a united mass force of workers, which will transform their lives and pave the way for the transformation of society as a whole from one based on the greed of a rapacious capitalist elite to one run for the benefit of the working class and all the people of South Africa and the world.

But time is not on our side. Unless we urgently mobilize our forces to confront the quadruple challenge of unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption and revive the trade union movement, turn the tide and fight back against their appalling conditions of life, we shall slide into a new age of barbarism, and even worse exploitation of the working class and the poor. 

No jobs on a dead planet: Why South African unions should stop investing in fossil fuels and lobby for a just, planned transition to a green economy

By David Le Page - Fossil Free South Africa, February 2017

More jobs: Yes, the fossil fuel industry creates jobs, but it also creates climate change, air and water pollution, substantial corruption, wars, social instability, economic crises and fuel shortages, and destroys arable land — all of which destroy jobs and human wellbeing. A greener economy will create more, better, safer jobs. According to the International Labour Organisation (https://goo.gl/rSryng): “…most studies show that a transition to a low-carbon economy will lead to a net increase in employment”. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has argued for “a planned closure of coal power stations – along with both a jobs and energy plan for the country”, saying it will “create a more prosperous and diversified economy”. (https://goo.gl/k4da08). Renewable energy is now capable of powering developing economies, indeed the whole world, without all the terrible costs of fossil fuels.

Threatened investments: Investments in fossil fuels are losing value in many markets. Even if they do not embrace the moral arguments for divestment, unions still have a fiduciary duty to the members whose funds they manage to understand, manage, and where appropriate, divest, to avoid the multiplying threats to investments in the fossil fuel industry. According to BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager: “Investors can no longer ignore climate change. Some may question the science behind it, but all are faced with a swelling tide of climate-related regulations and technological disruption.”

Health and the right to life: Researchers at UCT’s Energy Research Centre estimate that 27,000 premature deaths across South Africa annually (7.4% of all deaths) are currently due to high levels of fine PM (microscopic particles), mostly from burning fossil fuels… and often in poorer communities. Even without climate change, we would still need to shut down the fossil fuel industry.

Human and worker rights: Climate change is a profound threat to Africa. Climate change is a human rights issue, already killing hundreds of thousands of African children every year through malnutrition and disease. Climate change threatens food security. It threatens economic growth and stability, and thereby threatens workers’ job and savings.

The fossil fuel industry is facing multiple, critical threats:

  • Renewable energy (especially wind & solar) is now the fastest growing energy industry in the world.
  • China is moving fast to phase out coal, and its coal use has already peaked.
  • By some predictions, electric cars will mostly replace petrol/diesel in 20 years’ time.
  • The 2015 Paris agreement on climate change saw most countries agree to phase out fossil fuels.
  • Even without these changes, in 50-100 years time at the most, all accessible fossil fuel reserves will be exhausted anyway.
  • Transition away from fossil fuels is inevitable, but a managed, just transition is preferable.

Solidarity and tradition: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” The global divestment movement is led by many people of colour and people of faith, constituencies which overlap strongly with the union movement. The union movement has a social and historical responsibility to stand up for social justice, human rights and good governance. The fossil fuel industry, on the other hand, is extremely corrupt, threatening good governance and worker’s rights as well as human health and the environment.

Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905–1925

By Lucien van der Walt and Peter Cole Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies' Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2011 (the citations are not included in this version)

In two of the planet’s most highly racialized countries, South Africa and the United States, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or “Wobblies”), were remarkable for their commitment to anti-racism. The broad anarchist tradition, including syndicalism, thus played an important role in struggles for national liberation and racial equality.

Numsa Press Statement on the Numsa 14th of October 2015 Anti-Corruption March

By Irvin Jim - NUMSA, October 7, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. The following event is unfolding as this goes to press:

A. The origins and foundations of South Africa’s unique corruption

There is concrete evidence, and also an admission by a key individual with a conscience, Ronnie Kasrils, about the extent of the sell-out deals the ANC made with capital during the 1990s, namely that the ANC would only get political power, without economic power, and that no radical measures would be embarked upon to restructure and to transform the South African economy.

We now know for certain that those deals sold the struggle for liberation in South African down the drain, and instead they ensured that post apartheid South Africa would be an extremely corrupt neoliberal capitalist state and society. South Africa is now in that space – an Olympic gold medal winning corrupt neoliberal capitalist system and society.

In place of the radical and full implementation of the Freedom Charter, the ANC abandoned both the philosophy and ideology of the liberation struggle – which were based on moving South Africa out of apartheid capitalism and all its evils including corruption and environmental destruction, into a society free of racism, colonialism, patriarchy and one of shared human values, social and economic justice and a transition to socialism.

Such a society was not capable of being created on the foundation of our inherited racist and patriarchal colonial capitalism.

Secretly and publicly, the ANC sold the dream for a racism free, equal and just society for a neoliberal capitalist society, complete with the corruption that comes with that package.

Apart from accepting International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank neoliberal capitalist dogma, and guaranteeing that land justice would never take place outside the capitalist markets, here are some of the deals the ANC struck with the devil, literally and figuratively, between 1990 and 1994:

  • The ANC accepted to repay $25 billion of inherited apartheid-era foreign debt (October 1993).
  • They gave the central bank formal independence in the interim and final constitutions (November 1993 and July 1996).
  • They borrowed $850 million from the IMF with tough conditions (December 1993)
  • They reappoint apartheid finance minister Derek Keys and SA Reserve Bank governor Chris Stals (May 1994).
  • They agreed that South Africa would join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (later renamed World Trade Organisation) on disadvantageous terms (August 1994).
  • They agreed to lower the main corporate tax rate from 48% to 29% and maintain countless privileges enjoyed by wealthy white people and corporations (1994-99)
  • They agreed to privatise peripheral parts of the state (January 1995).
  • They agreed to relax exchange controls (the ‘finrand’) and raise interest rates (March 1995).
  • They granted permission to South Africa’s biggest companies to move their financial headquarters to London (1999).
  • Finally, of course, they adopt a neoliberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) policy (June 1996).

The adoption of the GEAR policy (June 1996) effectively buried any hope of sustaining any liberation ethos and cultures, as South Africa was now fully confirmed as a neoliberal capitalist state and society replete with all the cutthroat competition, capitalist greed and pathological craving for accumulation of wealth by all means necessary including all and extreme forms of corruption.

All that we have said above is in the public domain. Why are our own state regulators, academics and journalists not blowing the whistle? Why must it take the FBI to tell us the details of the $10 million bribe that Thabo Mbeki and Danny Jordaan made to Sepp Blatter’s cronies, and the $6 million (R80 million) that Chancellor House made from the corrupt Hitachi deal to build Medupi’s boilers?

In effect an elite has agreed to use its control of the state to allow the white racist colonial capitalist foundation of South Africa to remain intact, in the process, allowing white dominated and foreign corporations to continue with their economic activities unchanged. It has done this in exchange for a share of the spoils. We know some of them are direct beneficiaries. They are businessmen and women during the night and politicians during the day. And of course their families are crony capitalists night and day. Today, the ANC itself acknowledges this fact – just read their 2015 NGC documents.

There is no difference between the ANC and the network of public officials and private individuals who agree to corruptly allocate tenders in exchange for a share of the spoils. This behaviour is a logical and necessary corrupt character structure of the society that neoliberal capitalism thrives on.

NUMSA fully backs Coal sector strike

By Castro Ngobese - NUMSA, October 5, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), on behalf of its 365 000 members, pledges its unwavering support and unflinching solidarity with the striking coal workers, as led by two class orientated and anti-capitalist workers formations, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

We call on workers to unite behind their legitimate and genuine demands, irrespective of their union’s logos or t-shirt colours. Furthermore, we call on the striking workers to use this strike to agitate and propagate for coal as a strategic mineral resource to be nationalized, in order to build the required and necessary capacity for the democratic State to supply cheaper electricity to Eskom and the national grid.

The strike is happening amidst the socio-economic burden faced by workers of taking care of the vast number of the unemployed, especially amongst the youth and women, who are ravaged by squalor and poverty in working class communities, informal settlements and rural slums, post the 1994 failed negotiated political settlement. The workers are demanding a fair share of the surplus in the absent of a legislated Minimum Wage, as a stated key socio-economic demand of the Freedom Charter.

The ongoing strike should consolidate working class power from below to challenge the colonial and racist economic dominance and wealth concentration in the hands of a tiny minority. This is against the super remuneration packages and benefits enjoyed mining’s Chief Executives, whilst ordinary workers are paid Apartheid poverty wages. The demands by the unions on behalf of their members will elevate the socio-economic living standard of workers, including a life of dignity.

We call on the workers not to soften their demands when Executives, Shareholders’ salaries, bonuses and perks remain obscene, whilst workers who are producers of wealth are squeezed deeper into abject poverty and economic misery.

Numsa calls on the coal mining oligarchy to concede to the reasonable and affordable demands of workers. In line with workers’ battle slogan: “an injury to one; and injury to all”, Numsa calls on its members and communities to join the picket’s line in solidarity with the striking workers. Through solidarity actions we shall diminish the fictitious wall erected between community struggles and struggles on the shopfloor.

Numsa National Executive Committee (NEC) statement

By Karl Cloete - NUMSA, July 23, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) held its ordinary and scheduled National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, from Tuesday 21 July to Thursday 23 July, at Vincent Mabuyakhulu Conference Centre, Newtown, Johannesburg.

The NEC was attended by the National Office Bearers, elected NEC members from our nine Regions, as well as representatives from our sub-structures, namely our Youth Forum; Gender and National Education Committees.

The NEC received a comprehensive analysis of the current political and organisational challenges confronting the union.  We spent considered time hearing different perspectives, openly debating and collectively agreeing on solutions which will best serve our members.

EcoUnionist News #55

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 7, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Story:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW

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