Workers and youth re-assert their political voice in South Africa

Mametlwe Sebei, spokesperson for the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) of South Africa, photo WASP

Mametlwe Sebei

Leading ‘Workers And Socialist Party’ (WASP) and ‘Democratic Socialist Movement’ (DSM – CWI South Africa) member Mametlwe Sebei will be the final speaker at the Socialism 2013 rally being held in London on 2 November.
Sebei spoke to the Socialist on 12 October about the work of WASP and the current strike wave in South Africa.

Why was Wasp launched?

WASP was established to reassert the class and political independence of working class and poor people.

The Marikana massacre [16 August 2012, when 34 miners were killed by police] has decisively revealed the capitalist and brutal anti-working class character of the African National Congress (ANC).

This event, more than any other, has also concentrated the minds of all classes about the gulf that separates the ANC leadership from the masses of the working class that has elevated it to power with an overwhelming majority in every election since 1994.

It therefore set in motion a search for an alternative. For the ruling class this has meant creation of new parties like AGANG, led by an ex-chairperson of Goldfields Consolidated Mining.

For the working class, with the mineworkers at the forefront and DSM’s assistance, this desire for an alternative was realised in the launching of WASP.

The most immediate aim of the party is to give expression, at the political level, to the resistance of the working class against capitalist attacks.

This resistance, which has been escalating – particularly with the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008 – signified by a 289% increase in public protests according to the police reports, has been lacking in political leadership.

This was further clear from the lack of unity in these struggles, within each arena of struggle and across them.

It has long dawned on the working class that the neoliberal capitalist programme of the ANC will not deliver on houses – with the shortage increasing from 1.5 million in 1994 to 2.5 million today, decent jobs and free education, among others and that they have to fight for these.

But the lack of a mass political party capable of uniting these struggles around a common programme leaves strikes isolated – spontaneous outbursts not linked to each other. WASP seeks to be the platform for this unity.

WASP aims to raise the sight of the working people above petty squabbles of the parliamentary parties of the ruling class, to force the working class demands on the public discourse and struggle for a socialist alternative to the current crisis of capitalism and the devastating consequences it entails for the jobs and lives of many working class and poor people.

We counterpose our demands to the neoliberal policies of all capitalist parties: for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, the mines, banks, big farms and factories, for democratic workers’ control.

Can you tell us about the current strike wave in South Africa?

Analysts forecast massive job losses in the mining industry, some say about 200,000, others projecting as much as 250,000 in the next five years. An official survey reports that already 23,000 jobs have been lost since last year.

Anglo-Platinum, which took the lead when it announced plans at the beginning of this year to lay off 14,000 workers, was the first to feel the hot breath of workers’ resistance, when over 98% of its labour force struck in protest against the planned lay-offs in the past three weeks.

The strike was itself a culmination of many skirmishes between the workers and the company since the announcement was made and the strikes of last year, in which Anglo-Plat workers played a vital role.

In spite of several tactical and strategic mistakes of the union leaders, the strike represents victory for the workers, if only because it has confirmed their organised power and determination to fight.

The company has retreated from crucial parts of its initial plans. So far, none of the permanent workers have been subject to forced lay-offs.

However the union leaders have sacrificed casual and contract workers, which will severely undermine unity forged by the workers last year.

There were also other strikes in the gold, diamond and coal mining, transport, auto-manufacturing and motor industries, among others.

In general, these strikes have been victorious. In the motor industry, for instance, workers will get a 10.5% pay increase this year, a similar figure gained in gold mining, etc.

WASP and DSM have actively intervened in these strikes, reaching mainly ordinary workers through leaflets, paper sales, etc, while also raising our public profile through statements and interviews in the capitalist media.

Unlike strikes of last year, these strikes have been trade union led. The role of WASP was therefore that of revolutionary political support to workers and critical support for trade union bureaucrats leading them.

Last year’s strikes certainly radicalised the entire labour movement. Even ANC-linked NUM strikes have demanded 60% wage increases.

With the political authority and credibility of DSM enhanced in the eyes of many mine workers, our support and comradely criticism was highly welcomed and attracted to WASP layers of ordinary workers.

What are the next steps for the struggle in South Africa?

We are now positioned to establish an organised base of support in mining and other industries. We look to build WASP into a party not only for the working class, but of the working class, with roots in workplaces, working class communities and among the youth.

In spite of a grave shortage of resources, we have been establishing bases in many communities.

We are now also penetrating the rural villages of Limpopo. In one of these areas, Fetakgomo, three weeks back, we led in one week a mineworkers’ march and huge youth demonstrations demanding that the closed college be reopened to create jobs and access to education.

Hundreds of young people took part and almost all the schools in the area were shut down.

Meetings of the Socialist Youth Movement (SYM) attract huge numbers of young people who want to act. This week alone, in two schools of Ngwanamala and Mokhuloane, in Nchabeleng village, the meetings were attended by 54 and 62 students, respectively.

Many young people of Cosas, the ANC-aligned youth organisation have joined SYM, and some are playing a leading role in building WASP as well.

Socialist Youth Movement has also been growing phenomenally in an increasing number of universities and colleges.

It is already organising in universities, colleges and schools in about seven of nine provinces of South Africa.

It has contested elections in some like Tshwane University of Technology, the most politically significant campus currently so far as student politics is concerned, in spite of being only three months old.

We gained two representatives in the 12-member student council, contested by over ten organisations. We are planning a campaign to defeat fee increment for next year and to demand free education.

Beside building structures in workplaces, communities and organising the youth in campuses, we are engaged in several campaigns which are mainly still localised owing to logistical and financial constraints.

We are deepening our roots among the masses to prepare national campaigns over public services, against labour brokers, for a national minimum wage, free education and many other areas.

Rally for Socialism 2013

2 November 6.30pm

Friends Meeting House, 173 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ

Part of Socialism 2013, 2-3 November

  • Sebei will also be speaking at the Sunday afternoon ‘South Africa: the birth of the Workers’ and Socialist Party’ session.

Find out more and book your place at