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In the aftermath: Tasks for the South African Working class

The crisis is not over, despite official statements claiming it to be so. What the army has done was to drive the attacks underground, resulting in war parties of five to seven thugs combing through settlements, picking foreign nationals out one by one. No system of community policing can be successful without the concerted co-operation with what once was described as embryonic organs of selfrule. If something positive is to be wrung from this tragedy, it must be a campaign to put the principle of international working class solidarity firmly on the agenda of the organisations of the South African working class.

The real dilemma of organisations of the oppressed is that there’s no unifying vision. With legal apartheid gone, the different struggles happen along sectoral lines and dissipate before there is any significant national character to them. This is not the only challenge. Many of the seasoned activists who staffed working class organisations were either creamed off to fill posts in government or local government, or have sunken into a life of disillusionment and drunkenness. The task of replenishing these cadre is manifold. Active political struggle remains the best way to steel individuals and organisations in defending some of the gains made in past struggles, and raising the vision of sectors and ultimately the class to a firm national focus. We have one such opportunity here.

Cosatu is best placed to run and co-ordinate a campaign in defence of all poor people in South Africa, but particularly in the current conditions where the basic rights of foreign workers have been trampled upon. It (Cosatu) has the experience, organisational acumen and democratic discipline to rope in all efforts and provide leadership. Accepting support from the ANC must be conditional to the party subjecting itself to Cosatu setting the tone of the campaign.

The following elements are crucial to the campaign:

  • Political solidarity: As with the recent weapons shipment to Zimbabwe, Cosatu should reignite the principle of solidarity with working people across the globe, in particular those immediately close to home. Mass rallies should be organised across townships, hosting key figures of Cosatu and other institutions of the working class. Tyranny and exploitation knows no nationality or legal status. Communities must be rallied around the call “An injury to one is an injury to all!”
  • Job creation: It remains unacceptable that an economy that’s been growing steadily over the last decade is unable to create employment. If the South African economy can afford the new fat cats together with the old ones, it must be able to afford jobs for people.
  • Refugee status: SADEC is toothless. The UN remains a lair for thieves. The humanitarian crisis of Zimbabwe is a mere footnote on the agendas of these institutions. Cosatu’s campaign should focus its energies on the government to get the status of these struggling people progressed, and realigning policy to better deal with situations like these. It is deplorable that government lacked the foresight to have forseen the events coming in chilling detail. The same ineptitude was displayed with the electricity crisis.
  • These three elements of the campaign are weighty enough to become separate campaign foci in their own right, but there is a golden thread running through them, and they are suggested by the very nature of the crisis. Tackling them independently will be a grave mistake and is sure to rob the campaign of its national focus. It is through this that old bonds of solidarity can be revived and the social memory of the working class in South Africa be re-awakened. The secondary spinoffs are just as crucial. New layers of activists are likely to be thrown up in this campaign; organisations could be strengthened and leadership, at last, can once again become an organisational matter.

    Toil and an uphill clawing in this campaign can never go wasted. The result may be some forgotton struggle principle ratified, some bondage broken, some position of leadership (organisational or individual) more resolutely shouldered and some song of solidarity in the aftermath of the xenophobic attacks in the night more bravely sung. Maybe, just maybe, through this we can, once again, thoroughly surrender to the sovereignty of international working class solidarity.


    • Steven Lamini

      Steven Lamini is a specialist adviser in one of the key policy fields troubling modern-day Europe and works across a range of equality fields, advising on policy and strategic approaches to cohesion. His interests are wide and varied, and he writes on world politics, economic issues, current events, mediocrities and lame-duck presidents of countries. He believes that heads should be enlightened, but somehow regrets having such a stubborn principle, for some heads are rather best chopped off. He lives in York.