Write us!

September 2001 • Vol 1, No. 4 •

South Africa in Crisis

by Art Leclair

At a time when workers and farmers around the world are reeling from the effects of the global economic downturn, the South African government, with the African National Congress (ANC) at the helm, has placed the future of that country’s working poor in the hands of imperialism.

During a June visit to Great Britain, South African president Thabo Mbeki did his best to paint a rosy picture of South Africa as part of a campaign to convince British businesses of the viability of investment in the “stable political and solid economic” climate created since the end of apartheid.

Ten days later, Mbeki delivered the same message to George Bush during a visit to the White House. On both official state visits, there was virtually no mention of the AIDS epidemic that is sweeping South Africa.

In an interview conducted by the BBC, Mbeki insisted that violence had become the greatest threat to the country since the end of white rule. South African Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang says that AIDS statistics were “not yet accurate enough to compare with data on violent deaths.”

She went on to state, “Are we perhaps not being sidetracked and only looking at one social condition at the expense of others. I am not saying that issues of HIV and AIDS should be relegated simply because we are now talking about violence, but it does demonstrate the magnitude of the problem.”

The AIDS crisis

According to UNAIDS, the United Nations body established to monitor AIDS statistics, the latest data gathered indicates that between 180,000 and 250,000 adult South Africans died of AIDS in 1999 and upwards of 74,000 children age 14 and under were also killed by the disease.

The South African government estimates there were 60,000 violent or accidental deaths in 1999. So much for understanding the magnitude of the problem.

To make matters worse, the government has been denying the distribution of drugs that would cut the risk of HIV being transmitted from pregnant women who carry the virus to their unborn children. South Africa's leading AIDS activist organization, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), is in the process of taking the government to court to force it to supply the desperately needed drugs.

TAC is demanding a nationwide program to distribute the anti-retroviral drug called nevirapine to help reduce the number of South African children born with HIV, approximately 70,000 per year. The court action will once again put a spotlight on the ANC government's bizarre AIDS policy.

A bizarre response

The situation has deteriorated to such a state that one of Mbeki's government ministers is making a “secret herbal medicine out of peach leaves” to help treat the disease. The medicine was “mixed and brewed in a hut" on the property of Public Works Minister Stella Sigcau and has "already been used to treat at least one AIDS victim.”

When questioned about her creation, Minister Sigcau said that the medicine was, “Still in its very early stages.” She added that she wanted to have it patented!

In a BBC interview broadcast on August 13, the head of South Africa's health system, Health Director General Ayanda Ntsaluba said a lack of resources shape government policy regarding the decision not to purchase the available AIDS related drugs.

“There are many painful choices we are making in this country. There are many things we would like to do which we are unable, said Ntsaluba. ”There are many things we are not doing precisely because we don’t have the necessary resources," concluded the health minister. However, the government did apparently have sufficient resources to sign a multimillion-dollar arms deal with Germany.

One in nine South Africans, or close to five million people, is estimated to be HIV-positive, more than any other country. The UN predicts that as many as seven million could die from the disease over the next ten years.

The people demand housing

Mbeki, the ANC and the South African government are also innovative when it comes to providing decent housing for the South African people. Seven years after the end of apartheid and the democratic elections that took control of the country out of the hands of the white supremacists and placed it in the hands of the ANC, the government used bulldozers to demolish makeshift shacks and sent riot police to rough up, disperse and arrest squatters who had the audacity to demand land from the government.

Thousands of South Africans longing to return the land that was stolen from them by the apartheid regime, have grown weary of waiting for “their” government to do the right thing and return them to their homes. As a result they began squatting on lands owned privately and by the government to demand relief.

According to sources in South Africa, many of the squatters were persuaded to do so by the Pan African Congress (PAC). Activists from PAC allegedly “enticed” the nation’s poorest by the thousands, to erect shacks on unoccupied plots of land near Johannesburg International Airport to embarrass the ANC.

The move has clearly called into question the ability and willingness of the ANC to improve basic living standards, particularly housing, after seven years in power. “The government has been significantly embarrassed by drawing attention to the slowness of delivery,” said David Welsh, a political consultant for the PAC.

“The government has only built around one million houses since 1994 and the shortfall is two to three million houses for the Black population,” added Welsh. Needless to say, many Black South Africans have begun to draw parallels between the government's swift action against the squatters and the quickness with which they were uprooted and hauled away by the apartheid state before them.

Clearly the question must be asked, is the ANC dominated government capable of delivering the goods to the masses of South African working class poor? Under the present circumstances the answer is absolutely not!

You can’t serve two masters

It has often been said that you can't serve two masters. Sadly, the same ANC that once championed the cause of South Africa's majority of oppressed Blacks, has opted to conduct business with the deadly enemy of all working people everywhere, world imperialism, and the US ruling class that directs it.

For his part, Mbeki sees himself as a valuable ally to imperialism. With financial aid and increased investment from the US, Britain and Germany, the South African armed forces can be modernized and play the role of “peacekeeper” in southern Africa, and protect foreign capital in exchange for a limited partnership, if you will, with the capitalist camp.

Since its election victory in 1994, the ANC led by Nelson Mandela and now Mbeki have been at the beck and call of the white South African capitalist class. Hence, the unwillingness to deliver satisfactory housing, education and healthcare to the people.

That is also why so many of the country’s manufacturing and utility companies have been or will be delivered into the private sector. In the June issue of Socialist Viewpoint, I raised the necessity of South Africa’s union movement, with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in the lead, to take the bull by the horns and defend the country's working class from the ANC-led coalition capitalist government. It’s not too late, but time is running out.

COSATU’s demands

As reported earlier, the COSATU leadership is planning to go ahead with a two-day national strike on August 29 and 30. COSATU’s demands are:

  • A freeze on privatization initiatives until we have established a more appropriate policy framework. We define privatization as any initiative that hands control or ownership of government functions to private interests.

  • Any restructuring of state assets must involve a full, detailed investigation of the impact on poor communities as well as on the capacity of the state.

  • Any privatization initiative must be approved by the legislature, if it involves national or provincial entities, or by the municipal council in the case of local government resources...

The question however, is what will COSATU do when the ANC-led capitalist government rejects their very modest, (to say the least) demands to accept the privatization?
Two men leaving their shanty town. They are employed as guards for a private firm in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The taxi strike

As we go to press, the South African government deployed heavily armed police with helicopter support to “prevent violence and road chaos,” when striking taxi drivers blocked the M1-north highway which links Johannesburg, the country’s commercial center, with Pretoria, its capital city.

The drivers and taxi owners are protesting government plans to scrap the nation’s poorly maintained taxi fleet and replace it with new vehicles that must be purchased from the government. Citing hundreds of deaths each year because of unregulated and dilapidated taxis, the government aims to spend three billion rand ($360 million) on the new vehicles.

According to the taxi owners, the plan would be too costly for them and would force many of them to shut down, or cut back their fleet. The South African taxi association estimates that at least 41,000 drivers will lose their jobs.

A broken promise

In the final analysis we must conclude the obvious, the present leadership of the African National Congress has no intentions of delivering the socialist South Africa they once promised. The Moscow-educated cadre of the South African Communist Party are counter-revolutionary Stalinists to the marrow of their bones, interested in maintaining their own privileged lifestyles at the expense of the suffering masses.

No social improvements of note will originate from this bloc, without the consent of South Africa's white capitalist class, whom both organizations serve. Perhaps the leadership of COSATU will be able to gain concessions, but nothing that the masses have been hearing about and dreaming about for forty years.

The future rests firmly in the hands of the masses themselves, but only when they come to realize that fact and organize themselves to act on it. The leadership of the powerful South African masses that will decide the question of which class will rule once and for all will rise up, and the scoundrels who today are sitting atop the ANC and its government will disappear like dust before a wind.





Write us!