Workers' Liberty #56


The contours of the new South Africa

After the ANC's political victory in the second post-apartheid general election and the electoral marginalisation of the National Party, it is worth reasserting the basics about South Africa.

By Ann Mack.

The economically dominant class remains the landlords - the monopoly capitalists whose wealth is based on the exploitation of the gold and diamond mines. The continuing brutal oppression and exploitation of the black proletarian majority is based on the randlords system of racial capitalism, a system which pre-dates apartheid and has outlived it.

It is also the case that the ANC did not lead the struggle for freedom, rather rode it into office. Apartheid was ended because the randlords and the high command of the racial capitalist state considered it unviable in the face of revolt from black workers and youth. They took the opportunity of the collapse of the Stalinist bloc to cut a deal with the ANC.

The new South Africa is new, but not new. The formal apparatus of racial oppression has been removed. Two elections have taken place under universal suffrage; pass laws and racial categorisation of the population are history. Yet the racial division of wealth is virtually unchanged bar the growth of a relatively small black middle class.

Generals who are guilty of organising apartheid death squads remain free, white police beatings continue and all black people distrust what they see as a basically unchanged police.

So, what of the black working class, the force that brought De Klerk to the negotiating table?

They have been betrayed. They still invest enormous trust in the ANC, but that trust will melt away. Mandela's authority has prevented this inevitable conflict between the black majority and "their" government. But now Mandela has gone.

The ANC will find it increasingly difficult to continue ruling as a monolithic national liberation movement. Mass unemployment and grinding poverty will provoke growing disillusion with the "people's government".

The key question is whether or not the working class will emerge as an independent force. So far the ANC has been relatively successful in enticing not just opportunists and careerists but all the organic leaders of the trade unions in its orbit - and into high government office.

Continued success, however, is not guaranteed. There are only so many cosy posts in the state machine for union officials. No real basis exists for a labour aristocracy in South Africa and so we can expect this working class movement to start to assert its independence in relation to the ANC. When that starts to happen we really will be in the new South Africa, but so long as the working class remains in the sway of the ANC everything will stay the same.

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