EPWP workers mobilised behind the banner of the Marxist Workers Party (CWI South Africa), credit: Marxist Workers Party (uploaded 24/06/2020)
EPWP workers mobilised behind the banner of the Marxist Workers Party (CWI South Africa), credit: Marxist Workers Party (uploaded 24/06/2020)

South Africa heads to the polls on 29 May. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) could be set to lose its majority for the first time since the end of apartheid. We publish excerpts of an interview with Sheri Hamilton, of the Marxist Workers Party executive committee (CWI South Africa).

So why is [the ANC likely to lose its majority in parliament]? And do you think that after the elections, a new period is going to open up? What do you think of the general perspectives there? 

Since 1994, in the first decade of the new democracy, there were some improvements in the lives of ordinary people. There were big programmes of housebuilding, for example. They were significant improvements in the lives of ordinary black people. Most important was the fact that people no longer had to suffer under the discriminatory laws of apartheid.

It was a real achievement and a real gain. People felt that the burden of the repressive regime was off their shoulders. But in the last two decades, especially in the last decade, many of these gains have been undone: all the socioeconomic conditions have deteriorated, very drastically. In fact, some even say the conditions are now worse than under apartheid.

If you just look at some of the statistics, we have 32% unemployment, 42% if you take the broad definition that includes people who have given up looking for work in the last two weeks. Health and education services are in dire straits. There is overcrowding in schools because of the austerity measures introduced since 1996. The quality of schooling has considerably decreased. There are huge classes of 50, 60, 70 students. The whole education system is in crisis. I speak very passionately about that because that’s where I work. Health services are in a similar condition.

There is huge corruption in all the state institutions, right across the board. And that is why we have seen huge protest movements. South Africa is known for two things statistically: that it is the protest capital of the world, and that it is the most unequal country on the planet!

ICJ – Gaza

There’s wide predictions in the polls that the ANC will not make 50%-plus-one to rule, that it will be forced into a coalition. Many predict that it will be between 40 and 45%. I think the upper estimate of 45% has largely to do with the role the ANC is playing in relation to the Palestine question.

There’s a lot of support for this, especially amongst the Muslim community and among left-wing activists in general. Some who would not have voted for the ANC probably will because of the stance in taking Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

I was listening yesterday to a video where the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Naledi Pandor, was at pains to say how South Africa’s stance on Israel, and its position of solidarity with Palestine have been there since the days before apartheid was dismantled, because of the solidarity that was shown by the Palestinians.

However, we are very much aware of the fact that they’ve not done much as far as disinvestment is concerned, in relation to Israeli companies that continue to operate in South Africa, for example. There’s a lot of hypocrisy.

But nevertheless, the position taken has brought attention to what is happening in Gaza. Acts of solidarity, to raise awareness and do something about the cause of the Palestinian masses is something that should be supported.


104 new parties have registered for this election and there are 16 independent candidates. Of the 104, 36 failed to meet new requirements for new political parties to register.

The one political party that we would have given critical support to [had its registration not been blocked] is the Labor Party, recently formed by the Mining and Construction Workers Union (AMCU).

AMCU is a union that emerged before the Marikana massacre (2012), but it came into the public domain at that time. Many of the workers that had formerly belonged to the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) went into AMCU. During that strike, our party (then DSM) played a role facilitating the process of developing the independent strike committees in different mine shafts, and helping to coordinate their actions across the mines.

The most likely scenario if the ANC doesn’t get ‘50+1’ is that it will go into a coalition with either the DA (Democratic Alliance) or the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters). The situation is very, very fluid at the moment because the DA and EFF are not gaining support, and because of all of the new parties. The ANC is very concerned about the new MK party, led by the former president Jacob Zuma. They are certainly worried about what will happen in KwaZulu-Natal (the province where Zuma has a base of support).

It’s really hard to call what will happen. Obviously the capitalists would prefer an ANC-DA alliance together with parties like Action-SA and Rise Mzansi – die-hard capitalist parties.

Those are the kinds of parties, to the right of the ANC, that the capitalists would rather see them form a coalition with. They are fearful that the [populist] EFF would want to do all that it threatens, but have never really shown any interest in implementing. It has made demands about nationalisation of land and banks. It is seen as the party that flip-flops the most. At one point it was supporting xenophobia, visiting shops to demand from the employers to see if there were illegal workers. But now it calls for the opening of the borders.

It is a hard-to-call election, and that’s why it’s seen as the most important since 1994. People are going to vote to punish the ANC.

What about the working-class struggle? What about its independent organisation?

There were 2,500 protests in the first six months of 2023. Protest levels are increasing even when it comes to strikes, although there has been a decline in the number of strikes over a number of years. And that has to do with the fact that the economy is simply just not growing.

Growth has been at 1% for a decade. And they predicted that it would be very good if they can make 1% over the next five years. The decline in the number of strikes doesn’t have to do with the fact that the workers don’t fight, it’s simply that there are no jobs. And those workers who are in jobs, are fearful of losing them.

However, it is important to point out it’s also got to do with the role of the trade union leaderships who are signing non-strike agreements for salary increases.

For public sector workers themselves, the government has not even offered wage increases that they had signed into the bargaining council agreements signed with the trade unions. There’s been no fight by the public sector unions, many of whom are in an alliance with the ruling ANC through Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions). The nurses, the teachers, police services and so on are all affected by these kinds of agreements. And their leaders, the most loyal supporters of the alliance, do everything in their power to keep it that way. That includes going against resolutions passed at the last Cosatu congress where workers wanted to disaffiliate from the alliance with the ANC. And the leadership just went ahead and declared that the federation would support the ANC once more in this election.

So it’s not that there is no struggle. There are lots of wildcat strikes – not supported by the union – where workers take huge risks. It shows the level of exploitation, that workers are prepared to take the risks.

As soon as the registration process starts at the universities, there will be student protests. And that has been consistent since 1996. We were involved in the early days of those protests when we established the Socialist Students Movement, and then later the Socialist Youth Movement.

The student struggles continue every year, despite so-called free education in the form of a bursary scheme – your parents have to earn less than a certain amount in order to qualify for that. Universities are underfunded and overcrowded.

Working Class Summit

We tried everything in our power to get the Working Class Summit to call a meeting and to invite the new Labor Party to address it.

The Working Class Summit was established by the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu). We have been fighting for a workers’ party in the Working Class Summit structure since 2018, when delegates representing over 1,000 community organisations, trade unions and so on, adopted a resolution also to call for the formation of a workers’ party.

The structure was set up to help bring that about. So there were attempts to work towards that end. But it got stalled because, unfortunately, sections of the leadership in Saftu and on the steering committee of the Working Class Summit played quite a negative role.

But throughout the years, we have fought for the summit to be reconvened, so that the processes can be started up again. It’s about clarifying the class position, because of the huge crisis of working-class political organisation and its independent class organisation. It’s actually of huge importance for the working class to regain its political independence, and also in the trade union movement. That would have a huge impact on the situation.

So what do we stand for? What do we think this party should have as policies? And what other slogans do we put forward for this situation?

Of all the parties that are registered, none represent or have been brought into existence by the working class, or by any kind of organised formation of the working class. The Labor Party does, and that has now been excluded from participating in this election. It would have represented workers’ interests, despite what it says in its manifesto.

The workers who have brought it into existence have expectations and would be in a position to fight for their resolution to be implemented – calling for socialism.

Our work now is to continue to call for support for the Labor Party. The election is just but one moment in politics, and we will continue to call for support for that. But we will do so on the basis of a platform that we think will unite the working class. And that platform has to do with calling for free education, free health, the right of recall for elected representatives, for workers’ representatives on a worker’s wage. We’ll put the question of climate to the forefront, the question of women too.

Those would be some of the minimum demands that we would make, and explain that none of those things can be achieved on the basis of capitalism.

The question of climate change won’t be solved without real intervention from the working class, by actually taking over the means of production and making sure that the economy is planned in a way that the needs of the environment are met. It is a problem that the capitalist system has created, and that the working class in particular is being made to pay for.

There was a huge movement of women in South Africa a few years ago, about the high levels of violence against women. And, although it’s come down slightly, South Africa’s femicide levels are still the highest, six-times higher than the average rate in the world.

Those kinds of questions can only be addressed really through a socialist transformation of society, because the situation that can free women from the abusive relationships that they’re in, the crime that drives it, all of those kinds of things that lead to these conditions, can only be addressed through a socialist transformation of society. Nothing short of that is going to bring that about.

We are trying to set up a meeting with the leadership of AMCU; they only lost the court case [challenging exclusion from the election] last week. We certainly would want to put pressure on them to build the party and to use it as a basis to unite in the different spheres of the struggle: uniting the communities, the students and youth together with the workers. The possibilities exist for that.

There’s a tradition in South Africa of what we call “locals”, where communities and trade unions come together to talk about how to take forward various struggles. There is that tradition and we would like to see the attempts at rebuilding such locals, through AMCU and other trade unions that are beginning to realize that they have to rebuild the movement from the ground up. We would certainly participate in that work and put forward the ideas for socialism and the socialist transformation of society.