Interview with Phineas Malapela
Phineas Malapela (PM), member of the Executive of the Anti-Privatization Forum and member of the Vaal Working Class Communities Co-ordinating Committee spoke in Johannesburg to In Defense of Marxism (IDOM) before the recent October 1-2 general strike in South Africa. He explains the devastating effects of the privatization policies of the ANC government on ordinary working class people in South Africa and explains how people are organizing to defend themselves.
IDOM: Can you tell us what the APF is?
PM: The APF is a forum of different organizations, like the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, the Working Class Communities Coordinating Committee. Crisis committees from almost every township are now also affiliated to the APF. Our main activity is to defend communities against harassment, particularly as a result of privatization policies. These have been spearheaded by the governments Growth Employment And Redistribution (GEAR) program, which has created neither employment nor redistribution.
Among the policies of GEAR is a drive towards subcontracting of labor and also the creation of Free Trade Zones with the aim of attracting investment. These policies have destroyed thousands of jobs with the result that the unemployed are unable to afford the payment of service charges, then they are cut off from electricity and water services and even evicted from their homes when they are unable to pay rent. The APF therefore is protecting communities against evictions, water cuts (which are the result of the privatization of water by many councils), electricity cuts and other forms of harassment. We consider these actions as a violation of fundamental constitutional rights.
To fight against these measures we organize protests, marches, pickets, and direct action to reconnect people who have had their services cut off. We also support workers struggles and strikes like the two-day COSATU stay-away on October 1 and 2. The unity between the struggle of the communities and the struggle of the workers is very important. If this unity does not exist then employers can dismiss employed workers and use the unemployed from the communities to replace them.
IDOM: What is your attitude towards the ANC government?
PM: In most of the cases we found ourselves in opposition to the ANC as a government and its policies. The government is supporting cut-offs and evictions and so we found ourselves locking horns with the government. This despite the fact that this government is supposed to be on the side of the people and we are not supposed to be doing that. This was supposed to be some sort of revolutionary government but unfortunately it is the opposite of what it was supposed to be and so we lock horns with them.
They justify privatization, saying that it will produce results, but all the experience so far proves the opposite, as we see from the experience in South East Asia and now the collapse of the economy in South American countries which followed the same economic policies.
The ANC is saying that capitalism can bring progress and they have told their partners, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Council of South African Unions (COSATU) that they will privatize state assets. This we consider to be the theft of the peoples assets. If capitalism is effective, as they claim, why do they target peoples assets instead of investing in the private sector?
In most of the cases we found ourselves in opposition to the ANC as a government
Privatization also breeds corruption and millions of Rands go missing in the process. Furthermore, they take these assets away from the people and use the proceeds of privatization to pay for the apartheid debt instead of reinvesting in social needs. In the meantime, schools and hospitals are closing for lack of resources. They are paying R50 billion to service the apartheid debt, not even to pay off the debt itself, which is a scandal. There is no justification for privatization.
IDOM: What is the attitude of the ANC rank and file towards your struggle?
PM: They do support the APF. For instance, recently, in Kwa Masiza (in Sebokeng, Vaal Triangle) residents of a hostel formerly belonging to the ISCOR steel company were being evicted. ISCOR had retrenched some 11,000 of its 12,000 workers. Many of the workers and their families lived in this hostel, 6,000 of them. When they took legal action against ISCOR for refusing to reemploy them ISCOR decided to sell the hostel, which was bought by some local ANC councilors.
Just over a week ago the new owners brutally evicted the 6,000 residents, including women and children, chucking them and their belongings out of the place. Amongst them were even ANC members. The APF was there to support the evicted families and helped organize the struggle. There were clashes with the police and with the private security firm that had been employed to carry out the evictions, WOZANI. This company, also known as the red ants, has also been used to enforce cut-offs and evictions in Soweto and other communities.
One of the people who were shot during the clashes was the local chairperson of the ANC Youth League who was there fighting against the eviction. In fact, the ANC rank and file is against what the government is doing and so are COSATU and the SACP. The ANC leadership follows the instructions of the IMF and World Bank and are privatizing against the will of their own people.
IDOM: What is the attitude of the SACP and COSATU towards the APF?
PM: The SACP was one of the founding organizations of the APF, together with other socialist groupings, but unfortunately the SACP withdrew bit by bit from the APF and then stopped participating altogether (maybe under pressure from the ANC). They say that the APF has become an anti-ANC forum as the reason why they are not participating. Some of the COSATU affiliates are throwing their lot behind the APF (particularly SAMWU [South African Municipal Workers Union]).
IDOM: What are your links with organized workers?
PM: Some independent unions are in the APF. The membership of the trade unions in general is working together with the APF. We support all actions of workers and participate in them. We see the need to appeal to the rank and file, the workers themselves rather than to the trade union hierarchy. We are also trying to reach workers in NACTU and FEDUSA, trying to show them that bread and butter issues are not the only part of the workers struggle.
IDOM: How do you link your struggle to the struggle for socialism?
PM: For us socialism is an answer to most of the things we are fighting against. We can struggle in the workplace and even win victories, but if the socio-economic system is not socialism, these will be short-term victories.
But with socialism it will be different since the workers will own the means of production. This is why for us socialism is the answer, particularly since capitalism is failing throughout the world.
In South Africa we had racist capitalism and now we have capitalism through a democratic government and still it does not give us any answer to our problems. If workers take control it will benefit everybody. The bourgeoisie now is on top and wants to cling to power. The ANC agreed with the two stage theory of the revolution, first the National Democratic Revolution and later on socialism, but now they are clinging to power. The APF wants to take the struggle to its logical conclusion: socialism.
In Defense of Marxism, September 30th, 2002