South Africa explodes against capitalist austerity

22 Jul

This is a revised version of our original article that was rushed to publication where it was pointed out by a comrade in South Africa that our statement that “Trade unions and major bodies of the poor, the left groups and so called workers parties have largely been silent. We regard such groups as sectarian, putting their own organisations ahead of the workers. Those who have been forced to say something failed to appreciate the evolving nature of the protests and the fundamental causes to the same.” was not accurate. A number of organizations had made statements. To correct that inaccuracy we critique those groups in our text below. 

A wave of protests erupted on Friday the 9th of July when former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, reluctantly handed himself over to prison officials. The High Court had ordered his imprisonment for a period of fifteen months for contempt of court, following his refusal to subsequently attend the judicial commission hearings on state capture and corruption during his nine year term in office. The judiciary has effectively assumed the role of the executive in the service of big capital against small capitalists threatening the predominance of the former. This has been necessitated by the paralysis of the executive and legislative branches due to  factional fights.

The protests started in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu Natal and soon spread over the weekend to Gauteng province with minimal occurrences in two other provinces. By Sunday the street protests were joined by angry masses of the poor who built road blockades and looted for food and basic goods. 

On Monday president Ramaphosa called for calm while at the same time deploying the army into the townships and town centres across the two flashpoint provinces. Over seventy people are reported to have died with over two thousand arrested. Government, mainstream bourgeoisie parties and business have condemned the protests as acts of criminality taking advantage of Zuma’s imprisonment. Only the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of Julias Malema has partially broken with the other parliamentary parties, calling on Ramaphosa not to send in the army but deal with the issue politically. But Malema is just an opportunist populist petit-bourgeois politician trying to take advantage of the situation, just like he did with Marikana, to advance his interests and credentials as a better manager of capitalism. Right wing and mainstream media and personalities bluntly labelled the protests acts of criminality with some accusing the pro Zuma groups and a faction within the ANC of orchestrating the violence in a bid to reverse the jail sentence. Zuma stalwarts initiated protests and economic sabotage, but the poor are not putting themselves at risk  for Zuma;  they have taken to the streets to liberate food for their families.  


Independent action by the masses threaten the gatekeeping role and positions of the union bureaucracy in as much as it exposes the fallacy of a rainbow democracy that did not hesitate to kill workers in Marikana in the service of big capital. The factional fights within the ANC are nothing but a struggle between the major capitalist entities fronted by the Ramaphosa faction and the small capitalists fronted by the Zuma faction. Both factions are anti-working class and do not offer any solution to the fundamental problems. Calls for fight against corruption (Ramaphosa faction) and radical economic transformation (Zuma faction) are just ruses to hoodwink the masses of their essential similarity in the service of capitalism and imperialism.

How is the workers movement responding to the revolt of the poor for food? The union leaders in lockstep with the COSATU unions’ response to the uprising generally call for more police and army intervention. Likewise the pro state and pro business DETAWU Transport and logistics union (not COSATU), the PSA public servants (not COSATU), just like the SACTWU  clothing and textile workers  and the SADTU teachers, SAMA (not COSATU) medical association all released statements calling for police, army and prosecutors to crack down. The teachers even call for a more patriotic curriculum, and as bad as that is they also call on workers to accept a terrible concessionary contract.  Do these unions show us any revolutionary program consistent with the societal existential crisis? No.

The SAFTU, the alternative “revolutionary” trade union federation set up after NUMSA and 58 other trade unions were expelled from COSATU in 2014, released a statement that identifies three characteristics for the events. One, the appropriation of food and goods by the poor, two, opportunistic thuggery by well off elements and three, the criminal elements burning infrastructure. The SAFTU condemns the destruction of infrastructure, probably initiated by the Zuma supporters. More importantly, the SAFTU blames the economic crisis on the economic path taken by the ANC since 1994, which they identify as the path of neo-liberalism. For the SAFTU the failure to grant the R350 basic income demand made the revolt predictable.  However they do not identify the crisis as superseding neoliberalism as a generalized crisis of capitalism.  This sidestepping, done by the left all the time, misleads workers because neoliberalism is a policy, not a mode of production. Capitalism has other tricks up its sleeve like Keynesian monetary policies and state capitalist interventions. Which is what their demand for the R350 and a step toward a basic income is. For all its red flag waving the SAFTU has a police affiliate, the SAPU and complains they are understaffed and need another 60,000 — to break heads. 

The leaderships of COSATU unions have shown how completely integrated into the state they are, obsessed with defence of private property, which of course includes imperialist property. That means Chinese, British and U.S. owned factories.

These statements are the words of the bureaucracy and are not drafts adopted by mass conferences of the memberships! We demand these conferences to hear the voices of the ranks! To defend the means of production we call for sit down strikes and factory occupations! Organize armed strike pickets as the vanguard germ of workers militias! Fraternize with the troops and win their union to solidarity action and training for the pickets! Factory and neighborhood committees to work with Transport, Warehouse and Supermarket workers to establish and fortify food distribution. The tripartite popular front government has shown us who they work for, and it is neither Kwa Zulu nor South Africa! Now is socialism time! For a government of workers  Councils!

As far as the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP) goes, they have not released a statement on the current protests or any statement since February, 2021.  This despite their claim to “lead the struggles that are currently unfolding in our working class communities locally and globally!”.  This is not workers leadership from a political party that two years ago was vying for parliamentarian positions and that quotes Lenin. The best you can say about their role so far is their support for  SAFTU syndicalism, which is not revolution. For a recent analysis of the SRWP program see


The Abahlaili base Mjondolo radical democracy has made its appearance in a movement that is demonstrably to the left of the Communist Party! They are in a loose alliance with the SRWP and have some overlapping membership involved in land occupations and roadblock pickets against evictions.  They say it is time for the ANC to own up to its responsibility for the crisis and that it is a failure as a government party. This organization identifies poverty as the source of the violence and the economy as creating the ticking time bomb. They call for peaceful protest and identify the state as the cause of the violence. They say no one cares about Zuma and that the people are in the streets for food. Importantly they stand against xenophobia, anti-Muslim racism and tribalism  They noted that the President said nothing about the R350 minimum grant for the unemployed and hungry while the politicians and their families eat “WE STARVE”. They call for food to be distributed to the people with no middlemen. Yet for all their biting criticism of the state they defend the constitution as a gain of the democratic movement and do not identify working class independence and a workers state as a necessity.  Despite an erudite Phd thesis by one of their leaders incorporating some Marxist phraseology, and spiritual appeals that guided them into a vote for the SRWP in the last election, they are not equipped to lead the working class to socialism.  They do not identify the need for workers councils, workers control of the means of production or a revolutionary party. 

Our “Left” Opponents

The Workers & Socialist Party (WASP) resulting from the Socalist Alternative split from the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), identifies a qualitative shift as the masses are seeing that neither the Zuma or the Ramaphosa wing of the ANC can resolve the crisis of capitalism. The real looters are the bosses they cry, and then offer a Keynesian solution to the crisis. This flows from their rejection of Marxist crisis theory. They never decided whether the key problem was the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall or Underconsumption by the workers. Thus they do not call for nationalization of the commanding heights of industry under workers’ control without indemnification. They call for a minimum salary per month of R1250 for all and counterpose this to the R350 demand made by many of the unions. They call for a mass workers party built on a socialist program, but then don’t provide the program. They are for nationalization of commercial farms and the retail and hospitality industry but do not demand the commanding heights of industry be nationalized [under workers’ control] and with no indemnification of the imperialists and big shareholders. They call for community self defence but not for workers self defence guards and occupations of the factories, mines, land and logistics industries. 

Marxist Workers Party (MWP)

The Marxist Workers Party, a split from the WASP, offers a more thorough exposition of the ANC’s RET faction, calling it reactionary and recruiting from lumpen elements and politically backward sections of the working class. They see a public sector general strike as the means through which “The organised working class needs to assert itself and start moving to fill the political vacuum.”  They also call for a SAFTU centred workers party based on a socialist programme. This is not surprising as they both share the position that the police are part of the working class, calling them “workers in uniform”. The platform of the MWP is somewhat a community based radical one with symbolic gestures to the working class.

Revolution South Africa

Revolution South Africa, the South African section of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) correctly condemns the ANC government and their “capitalist policies”, but fails to mention the ANC/COSATU/SACP popular front alliance and the treacherous trade union leadership that defend capitalism.  Their program stops at syndicalism: the workers taking over the commanding heights of the economy under workers control, but do not mention a workers’ government.  Like the WASP they do not say if or when the workers take over they will have to buy the means of production or if it will be expropriated. They say…,

The solution to the crisis of South African society is not to destroy supermarkets but to take them over together with the rest of the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working class.

But it will take the powerful South African working class breaking from the tripartite popular front alliance and building a revolutionary Leninist workers party to take state power and establishing a workers government for capitalist exploitation to be smashed. We say this. They don’t!   

Keep Left and SWP (UK)

Keep Left, the South African section of the Cliffite International Socialist Tendency, does not offer any working class method to secure the demands they are calling for. This is a classic min/max program that does not see a link between the immediate demands and the fight for a socialist society. Their sister organisation, the SWP (UK) contends that, “It is right to revolt. A working class solution means organising for a revolution against the rich and the politicians who support them”. However, their last paragraph summarises their centrist platform which calls for an abstract revolution without showing how to achieve it and the necessary demands:

We do not need a different faction of the ANC. We need a socialist revolution, where working and unemployed people together take control of food production and everything else that is made, mined or farmed in South Africa, and organise our lives according to our needs and not for the profits of capitalism.

Philosophical reflections are pretty, but they don’t tell advanced workers how to turn an uprising into dual power, nor the demands bridging from dual power to the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Workers International Vanguard Party

The Workers International Vanguard Party (WIVP), which did the yeoman work in the defence of the Boiketlong 4 is currently buried in the SRWP and has no statement on the current protests, which surprises us given their history. Today they have bought into the proclamations of the fake “frontline”  doctors organization in the USA, the (AFLDS) promoting the anti-fungal medication Ivermectin as a solution to the COVID crisis despite there being no peer reviewed double blind studies showing efficacy. At one time earlier in this century they were the official Munzer Fraccion Leninista-Trotskista Internacionalista (FLTI) organization. 

Our Conclusions

The main real cause of the protests is the poverty of the working peoples and youths caused by capitalist crisis and sharpened by the effects of state imposed and controlled measures to the Covid-19 pandemic. South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world with the highest youth unemployment rate. Liberal democracy did not alter the exploitative capitalist relations. It’s not surprising that what started as pro Zuma protests quickly turned to protests essentially against poverty, inequality and unemployment forced on the masses by the dictates of capitalism in crisis seeking to make workers and the poor pay for its mess. The law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall is unrelenting, to secure profit the bosses use the crisis to crush the workers movement. For workers and peasants to survive, capitalism must die! The working class needs political independence and to fight for a united front of workers’ organizations against austerity and for a workers government!

In response to the crisis the workers must form up work site, factory and community action committees that organise the appropriation of food, water, and medicine and distribute it where needed. Workers need our own self defence guards that protect the people on the streets from police and fascist paramilitaries. This should all be overseen by a standing strike committee open to all who struggle for the liberation of working people from capitalist misery. All of this will expose the false friends of workers and so called left unions who will fall for the bullshit that looting is rioting and even terrorism against the ‘progressive’ regime and ‘democratic’ capitalists. It will put to the test those who claim to represent the interests of workers.

The strike committee should also put out an appeal to international workers to take action to block imperialist intervention, and provide material aid to the starving. We may be few but in the situation that is building everywhere with global capitalism making workers pay for its terminal crisis, immediate demands for life and self-defence will put workers up against the state and quickly create a revolutionary situation. We must be in that struggle as it develops with the program for socialist insurrection. 

-For a national strike committee to organise and plan for a general strike!

-Workers form workers’ defence guards for defence against state violence and fascist paramilitaries!

-Call on the workers in uniform in the military to mutiny against their officers and join the workers’ defence guards!

-A living Wage! Workers fight for a living wage and better working conditions through mass action controlled by ordinary workers!

-Defend the right to strike!

-Against the rising prices we demand a sliding scale of wages!

-Against unemployment and destitution we demand a sliding scale of working hours to provide decent jobs for all through massive public works programs to provide housing, education and medical care for all!

-Organise the unorganised! Form unions of the unemployed as fully affiliated unions!

-Workers take back your unions!

-Militant workers form class struggle caucuses in the unions to fight for this program!

-Workers form strike committees to lead the resistance to the growing attacks on the wages and working conditions of the poor and the livelihood of the majority poor!

-Workers break with the ANC Alliance and build a revolutionary worker’s party!

-No to the US/EU, Russian and Chinese imperialism fronted by mainstream parties!

-For a workers’ government on the basis of the armed people to implement decisions that benefit the workers and the poor!

-Nationalisation of all companies without indemnification to the big shareholders and managed under workers control and a central plan!

-Land to be distributed to all poor peasants together with a state bank to provide inputs to all small farmers!

-A workers state that defends workers, poor peasants and the poor masses against local and foreign capitalists!

-For an African socialist revolution as part of the international revolution that alone can guarantee a better life for all!

-A new WORLD PARTY of socialist revolution based on the TRANSITIONAL PROGRAM of 1938 to lead the revolution to end capitalism and open the road to socialism!

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