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(en) Alternative Needed to Nationalisation and Privatisation: State Industries like South Africa’s ESKOM show Working Class deserves better by Tina Sizovuka and Lucien van der Walt
Wed, 27 Feb 2013 16:14:17 +0200
“To assure the labourers that they will be able to establish socialism … [through]
government machinery, changing only the persons who manage it… is… a colossal historical
blunder which borders upon crime…” ---- Pyotr Kropotkin, “Modern Science and Anarchism”
---- Introduction ---- Privatisation – the transfer of functions and industry to the
private sector – is widely and correctly rejected on the left and in the working class.
Privatisation leads only to higher prices, less and worse jobs, and worse services. Given
this, some view nationalisation – the transfer of economic resources (e.g. mines, banks,
and factories) to state ownership and control – as a rallying cry for a socialist
alternative. As the supposedly pro-working class alternative, this cry has resounded in
sections of the SA Communist Party (SACP), in the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), in
the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) membership, and on the independent
Trotskyite and social democratic left.
This article argues that nationalisation has never removed capitalism, nor led to
socialism, and it certainly does not have a demonstrable record of consistently improving
wages, jobs, rights and safety. Nationalisation, rather than promote “workers’ control” or
companies’ accountability to the public, has routinely meant top-down management,
union-bashing, bad services and bad conditions.
This article appeals to progressive working class forces to look instead to another way:
collectivisation from below, where industry is placed under direct workers’
self-management, subject to worker-community participatory democratic planning and control
to meet human needs and end oppression, in a universal human community.
It is necessary to tactically oppose the privatisation of existing state companies because
this is demonstrably used to launch further attacks on the working class – but this is
quite different to a strategy of promoting state industry as a solution to the problems of
the working class. This is because state industry is itself a weapon used by the ruling
class against the working class. Neither privatisation nor nationalisation is a solution.
State companies play a central role in oppressing the working class in every single
country. In the South African case, they actively perpetuate the economic exploitation,
social domination and national oppression of the majority. The notion that nationalisation
is somehow inherently left-wing is untrue: it has been used by governments as reactionary
as the apartheid regime, Portuguese colonialism, and Nazi Germany. Its existence in the
old Soviet Union and other so-called “communist” regimes does not change this: these
Marxist regimes were state-capitalist dictatorships based on terror and repression,
regardless of their rhetoric about socialism, workers’ power etc. (see below).
Privatisation and nationalisation have failed the working class: the collectivisation
alternative has a demonstrable and inspiring history of direct “workers’ control” and
accountability, of dramatically improved working conditions, and of enormous contributions
to jobs and communities.
It is also being revived internationally, at a time that privatisation and nationalisation
are discredited. The Argentinean occupation movement of the 2000s and other recent
examples are the latest in a tradition that has achieved incredible successes. A highpoint
is the anarchist/syndicalist Spanish Revolution of the 1930s, perhaps the most impressive
worker/ peasant revolution of all time.
So, it is urgent and important that anarchists/ syndicalists explain why nationalisation
does not and never has provided a real solution, and to articulate collectivisation as a
desirable and feasible alternative. The struggle against ruling class domination and
exploitation, which operates through both private companies and state companies, must be
linked to a conscious struggle to replace both types with a new bottom-up model: the
workers’ collective, based on the slogan Resist-Occupy-Produce, and located within a
democratic worker-community-run anarchist communist economy.
Aims of Article
This article develops these arguments, making concrete reference to the long and
unpleasant South African experience of state industry and nationalisation. The extensive
South African experience of nationalisation and state industry, including Eskom (power),
Spoornet (rail) and Sasol (oil), provides a concrete case showing nationalisation has
nothing to do with the “liberation of the working class” – as some, like Julius Malema of
the ANCYL, have claimed.
Recent reports – by state-owned Eskom, the biggest power utility in Africa, of 60 percent
profits, despite its record of racism before 1994, of massive retrenchments,
discriminatory tariffs, millions of cut-offs of poor households, and economically
devastating rolling blackouts – are just the tip of a dirty iceberg.
The failings of nationalisation are true regardless of the party holding office. And true
regardless of whether the state in question calls itself a “workers’ state”, a “people’s
republic”, or “soviet”, or “anti-imperialist”.
Why do some want Nationalisation?
Here, we must distinguish between the Malema/ ANCYL leadership, who use the
“nationalisation” slogan with a hidden elitist agenda, and the progressive forces who
genuinely see nationalisation as a way forward for the working class.
In 2010 and 2011, the ANCYL grabbed headlines worldwide by calling for the
“nationalisation of the mines” and “other monopoly industries”, as a means of
democratising wealth and funding welfare, more and better jobs and “economic freedom”.
This was a case of simple political dishonesty. Then-ANCYL head Julius Malema, who posed
as a radical champion of the poor, was an exploiter of the worst type. A controversial and
corrupt multi-millionaire, he made a fortune stealing money from hospitals, schools and
public housing projects through crooked privatisation deals. (See article on Malema,
But Malema had touched a proletarian nerve. Whatever the antics of the ANCYL leadership,
the organisation certainly attracts some sincere black working class youth, who are
desperately looking for solutions. South Africa remains a society with massive
inequalities, and so a range of other leftwing forces also sought to ride the wave of
enthusiasm that the nationalisation slogan evoked.
Cosatu (correctly) condemned Malema’s ANC faction and allies as “predators” for their role
in looting the Limpopo province through the state. Yet it also highlighted
nationalisation as a plank in its (essentially social democratic) programme of slowly
reforming capitalism into socialism.
Since Cosatu’s strategy centres on winning the ANC over from neo-liberalism, it used
Malema’s outbursts to raise nationalisation with the ANC, meanwhile “engaging” the
ANCYL. The SACP – like Cosatu, allied to the ruling ANC – also endorsed some
nationalisation at its July 2012 congress. (For more on Cosatu’s programme see article on
the “New Growth Path”, this issue.)
Outside the ANC/SACP/ Cosatu milieu, the newly formed Democratic Left Front’s (DLF’s)
Brian Ashley (editor of Amandla magazine) asked: “Nationalisation: can we afford not to?”
He insisted “the left should welcome” the nationalisation call, since nationalisation was
supposedly a “radical reform” linked to the “struggle for socialism”. The Democratic
Socialist Movement (DSM), a well-established Trotskyist formation that played a heroic
role in the 2010/11 Mine-Line occupation in Gauteng, and has recently played an
important role in supporting strike committees during the strike wave on the Rustenburg
mines, also called for nationalisation, although “under workers’ control”.
So, where does the Problem lie?
The exploitation of the working class – as well as other forms of oppression, such as
national oppression – are to a large extent the result of a society run from the top down,
as a small ruling class monopolises production, administration and coercion. Such a
society is undemocratic, exploitative and inegalitarian. This situation helps grow the
bitter fruits of wars, poverty and racism.
To really change society, economic and political power needs to be removed from the ruling
class, and be placed in the hands of the majority of people; to exercise control through
self-management, assemblies, worker and community councils, and participatory planning.
This is precisely the vision of anarchism/ syndicalism (as well as other libertarian
socialist currents, like Council Communism).
The State is Part of the Problem
So, if socialism means anything, it must mean democratic working class power. But how can
this exist in a nationalised industry? The SACP, Cosatu and Ashley are fairly vague,
placing their hopes in a “progressive” government taking its lead from the electorate
(with some input from unions).
The problem is that the state cannot be placed under the control of the working class, as
it is a hierarchical structure run by a ruling class minority, in which most people have
no say at all. For example, current South African state policy under the ANC is
neo-liberal, stressing privatisation and the like. While the majority of the population
openly opposes these measures, it has never really been asked its opinion: the ANC imposes
these measures nonetheless. The state is always and everywhere unaccountable to the
Nationalised and state industries have exactly the same features as the state more
generally. Like private companies, they are run form above, by and for the ruling elite,
and rest upon accumulation through exploitation.
“Under Workers’ Control”?
As a result, “nationalisation under workers’ control” is a contradiction in terms; it is
impossible to implement. If the means of production are nationalised, they cannot be under
any real “workers’ control”, but only under elite control. Nationalisation and
privatisation are just two different ways that the ruling class runs society; they are not
means through which the working class can run society. Both are undemocratic, run top-down
by and for the rich and powerful.
Now, it may be argued (in the classical Marxist tradition), that what applies to
nationalisation under a capitalist state will not apply under a so-called “workers’
state”. The so-called “dictatorship of the proletariat” would operate, it is claimed,
under the democratic control of the working class. This, supposedly, is what happened in
the early years of the Soviet Union.
In fact, that there is not a single historical example of “nationalisation under workers’
control” – and the history of the early Soviet Union bears this claim out; it does not
The Soviet Mirage
All of the so-called “workers’ states”, of which the Soviet Union was the first, were,
from day one, one-party dictatorships based on the classical Marxist idea of a “political
party” grabbing “state power”, using “centralisation”, “dictatorship” and “force”,
with the economy in “the hands of the state”, worked by state-directed “industrial
The Soviet Union under V.I. Lenin set the pattern. Lenin imposed nationalisation
on worker-run industries, with the workers’ committees set up at the start of the
revolution replaced by state-appointed managers with “unlimited” power. Unions were
illegal, wages fell, industrial accidents were commonplace; protestors were murdered or
jailed. Like Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky too insisted upon state-run industry, and upon
the dictatorship of a single Party, “even if that dictatorship temporarily clashed with
the passing moods of the workers’ democracy”.
(Of course, there are alternative Marxist traditions, like Council Communism, which take
entirely different positions: however, the statist, dictatorial “classical” strand has
been overwhelmingly dominant in the Marxist tradition and its history).
No such thing as the “Public Sector”
It is also flatly wrong to describe the state sector as the “public sector”, as we have
been taught to do: the state is neither run for, nor by, the working class majority of the
“public”. And state industries basically operate to ensure economic growth, profits and
war preparation for the benefit of the ruling class.
Anarchists have long argued that the state is part of ruling class power. No matter which
party is in power, “States are … not neutral entities or potential allies of the
oppressed; they are rather part of the oppression of the majority of people”. There is
nothing democratic about the state: the state managers are part of the ruling class, along
with the private capitalists.
The working class is exploited in state industries, just as in private industries, through
wage labour, and lacks any real control over these means of production. The work process
is authoritarian, run top-down by the state elite, and, just as in the private sector,
unpaid surplus value is accumulated and reinvested.
Sometimes the state subsidises nationalised industries, but it does so by purchasing
inputs (excluding labour) at a loss, and/ or by selling the products at a loss. It does
not subsidise the workforce: rather, the workforce subsidises the nationalised industry
through direct exploitation as well as through taxes and levies. Anarchist theorist Pyotr
Kropotkin stressed that “the amount of work given every year by the producer to the state
must be enormous”.
The ANC, NP and Nationalisation
Although privatisation is today embraced by most states, nationalisation was routinely
adopted by capitalist states and parties worldwide until the late 1970s; it was not a
controversial policy, but one shared by everyone from Lenin, to Hendrik Verwoerd. Big
“Western” powers used nationalisation regularly: Britain had nationalised coal mines, BP,
Rolls Royce; the US nationalised some railways and banks; Park Chung Hee’s rightwing South
Korean dictatorship nationalised banks, railways and other sectors; Brazilian dictator
Getúlio Dornelles Vargas used nationalisation, and industries were routinely nationalised
in the Soviet Union.
The ANC, now South Africa’s ruling party, favoured nationalisation in its 1955 “Freedom
Charter”, and again in the famed 1969 “Morogoro” statement. But this was not a radical
position: its opponent, the ruling apartheid National Party (NP), was elected in 1948 on a
pro-nationalisation platform. Its project included massively expanding the state industry
over the 30 years that followed, and offering large-scale assistance, in an effort to
expand and boost the historically weak Afrikaner elite.
In this, the NP merely built upon the policies of earlier South African governments,
notably the 1924-1948 Pact / Fusion era: Eskom / Escom (a contraction of “electricity
supply commission”) was formed in 1923, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)
in 1927, Iscor (iron and steel) in 1928, and South African Airways (SAA) in 1934.
The ANC was never anti-capitalist: it was a nationalist party controlled by the African
elite that was being throttled by racist laws. Of course, it played a progressive role in
the fight against apartheid, but that is a separate matter. Nationalisation was envisaged
as a means of helping that elite expand through a supportive ANC government.
Specifically rejecting claims that the Freedom Charter was “communist”, Nelson Mandela
insisted that nationalisation was aimed at “the development of a prosperous non-European
bourgeois class”. (This is comparable to the NP strategy discussed above)
SA Communist Party and the Charter
The Freedom Charter was largely written by SACP cadre; but this does not change the above
analysis – because the SACP (and the earlier Communist Party of South Africa/ CPSA) was
from 1928 committed to the Marxist-Leninist two-stage strategy for the “colonial and
semi-colonial world”: first anti-imperialism (in SA, anti-“internal
colonialism”/apartheid); socialism later.
In the 1940s, the CPSA/ SACP decided that the ANC (not the CPSA) was the vehicle for stage
one. So, the CPSA, the dominant force in black politics at the time, transferred its
base and cadre to the small crisis-ridden ANC, which subsequently became a mass movement.
(Mandela’s and Tambo’s small ANCYL later got the credit).
But the party did not aim to make the ANC anti-capitalist; instead it was to be
transformed, into a multi-class, anti-monopoly, anti-imperialist Popular Front for a
“national democracy”. Such a Front cannot be anti-capitalist, as it aims to include
capitalists – and this is why the Charter was explicitly designed to accommodate all
classes, including the supposedly anti-imperialist “non- European bourgeois class”.
A “Mixed Economy”?
The 1969 “Morogoro” statement used the fiery language of “revolution”, but “revolution”
here simply meant the recently-banned ANC’s turn to guerrilla war in the face of
relentless NP persecution. For the ANC, “revolution” meant only the forcible defeat of the
NP (now that lobbying was impossible), thereby enabling implementation of the ANC’s
moderate, pro-capitalist reform programme.
Using guns is not, in fact, automatically “revolutionary”: a liberal with guns is just an
“armed liberal”. “Morogoro’s” framework remained the Freedom Charter, and all that
that entailed. Twenty years on, the ANC’s leader, O.R. Tambo, again clarified:
The Freedom Charter does not even purport to want to destroy the capitalist system. All
that the Freedom Charter does is to envisage a mixed economy in which part of the economy,
some of the industries, would be controlled, owned by the state (as happens in many
countries), and the rest by private ownership – a mixed economy.
In short, a “mixed economy” was merely a mixture of top-down state and top-down private
ownership: the main forms were the Keynesian Welfare State (KWS) and Import-Substitution
State Industry in Southern Africa
Such a “mixed economy” was commonplace under the southern African colonial and apartheid
regimes that parties like the ANC opposed. Portugal nationalised extensive foreign assets
in colonial Mozambique and Angola from 1910. Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) got seriously started
on its ISI policy in the 1930s, and its state sector kept growing under Ian Smith’s 1960s
and 1970s white republic.
The NP in South Africa regularly used nationalisation as a policy, as part of an ISI
project, both in its first term in office as part the 1924 Pact government, and then again
from 1948. It eventually ran a larger state sector than Marxist Czechoslovakia.
Nationalisation was the openly stated policy of men like J.B.M. Hertzog, D.F. Malan, and
Some of these assets were privatised from 1979, when the NP shifted policy (see below),
notably the flagship Sasol and Iscor enterprises; most were not. When the ANC entered
government from late 1993 (as part of the Transitional Executive) there were an estimated
300 state companies, which the ANC inherited when the NP left the ANC-led “Government of
National Unity” in 1996.
The Black State Elite
The ANC has continued the privatisation policy, started by the NP in its last years, but
even so, the state sector remains vast. Those who complain that the black elite lack
economic power need look no further.
The state is still the biggest single employer, the state’s 2009/2010 budget is around 23
percent of the value of total GDP, and the state is responsible for 44 percent of
fixed capital stock, also owning at least 25% of land (more if we include state companies’
In state industry, the old Afrikaner elite has been rapidly replaced by a new African
elite, but the state companies’ old tradition of bad services, low wages, casual labour,
and high prices continues. None of these companies were ever “beacons of safer working
environments and working conditions” – as the logic of the nationalisation argument
suggests they should have been.
Eskom and the “Big Four”
The four largest state companies (the “Big Four”) include Transnet (transport), which was
created by the NP in 1990 from South African Airways (SAA, formed in 1934), and the SA
Railways and Harbours division (formed 1910). Telkom (telecommunications) emerged in 1991
from the Post and Telecommunications Department. Denel was formed in 1992 from Armscor
(weapons, formed in 1948).
(Contrary, then, to ridiculous ANCYL calls for the nationalisation of “rail and energy”,
these have been in state hands for roughly 100 years).
Other notable state operations today include the SA Post Office (also from the old Post
and Telecommunications Department), the SABC, the main universities (e.g. Wits, UCT), the
Rand Water Board, the state forestry company Safcol, state mines like Alexkor and Nkomati
Anthracite Coal, and state banks like the Land Bank, the Development Bank of Southern
Africa (DBSA), and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).
Why did NP and ANC drop Nationalisation?
As the world changed rapidly from the 1970s, state-capitalism (and the KWS and ISI “mixed
economy”) were rapidly replaced by the neo-liberal “free market”, central to which was
privatisation. Contrary to some views, the state is never absent in neo-liberalism: it
is a central actor because it creates and maintains the so-called “free market” by aiding
capitalists, and suppressing and expropriating labour. Neo-liberalism entails massive
restructuring to dismantle state-capitalism, the KWS and ISI, and it is the state that
drives the process.
Thus the NP government, like its counterparts abroad – including in Zambia and Britain,
where the ANC’s exile leadership was based – started to shift to neo-liberalism. The NP
sold off most of Sasol (1979-1982), followed by Iscor (1987-1989), and experimented with
As early as the late 1980s, the ANC was reconsidering nationalisation: by 1991, years
before taking office, it had largely shifted to neo-liberalism. Nationalisation has not
been ANC policy for the last two decades, despite press hysteria that nationalisation
is on the cards.
Under the ANC government, municipal privatisation has been drastically accelerated. While
over 60% of Telkom has been sold off plus (briefly) part of SAA, the ANC’s preferred forms
of privatisation are not divesture (sales), but outsourcing, concessions and leases. For
example, every single South African university adopted outsourcing in the 1990s and 2000s,
under pressure from the national government. (See the Zabalaza pamphlet Fighting
Privatisation in South Africa and South Africa: from apartheid to neo-liberalism).
The Black Private Elite
In South Africa, these measures are closely tied to the ANC’s historic agenda of fostering
“a prosperous non-European bourgeois class”. With nationalisation off the agenda and the
ANC committed to budget cuts and privatisation as the basis for capitalist
restructuring, it has substituted privatisation as the main means for its elitist Black
Economic Empowerment (BEE) measures.
Key policies include “affirmative” tendering directed to BEE companies, discounted BEE
shares when state companies are sold, and the use of divesture revenues to capitalise the
National Empowerment Fund. Malema is a product of this policy mix.
So, while neo-liberalism has major benefits for big white capital, it is also key to the
ANC’s BEE project of building black capitalists.
Eskom: Real World Test Case
But it is not necessary to go back before 1979 in South Africa, when privatisation
started, or to the Soviet Union before its collapse in 1991, or to travel to North Korea
today, to learn what state industry entails. The working class in South Africa currently
encounters these realities daily – and most frequently in the form of Eskom.
Eskom – under both the NP and the ANC – illustrates the point that state companies, and
nationalisation, have absolutely nothing to do with working class empowerment (let alone
socialism), regardless of the political system or ruling party.
Eskom is a state-run monopoly in electricity generation, distribution and transmission. It
originally operated to regulate (and supplement) the then-dominant private electricity
industry, ensuring cheap power for mines and the state. Cheap electricity (resting on
South Africa’s large coal stocks) was (and is) just as essential to state power and
capital accumulation as cheap black labour (resting on coercion and conquest).
Eskom and Nationalisation
By the end of the 1940s, Eskom had grown dramatically, largely through the nationalisation
of municipal power stations, and of the giant Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Company
As apartheid’s capitalist economy boomed from the 1950s, Eskom grew dramatically, backed
by World Bank loans. By the close of the 1970s, Eskom had nationalised (or driven out of
business), almost all rivals. By the 1990s, it was the 5th largest energy producer in the
world. It currently accounts for 95.6% of South Africa’s electricity generation, and
around 65% of Africa’s electricity generation, and also dominates transmission (i.e. the
power grid) and distribution (i.e. sales).
Eskom today operates in 31 African countries, as a state-run, profit-driven,
multi-national corporation. Its after-tax profits were reportedly twice the
international average for electricity utilities in 2005. It is heavily involved in
neo-liberalism on the continent, since much of its African business entails privatisation
contracts and sales. It must also be seen as a key part of current South African
imperialism, as it is a core means of projecting the economic and political power of
the South African ruling class across the continent.
Eskom vs. the Workers and Poor
This state-run multinational giant has historically played an enormous role in polluting
South Africa, through the use of dirty coal burners. These have often been located near
poor black neighbourhoods, while consistently failing to provide decent electricity to the
black majority of the working class.
And, Eskom has always been – and remains – associated with oppressive working conditions
and low wages, as well as with union-busting. Until 1995, when labour law reforms finally
extended farm, domestic and state workers legal bargaining rights, state companies like
Eskom barely tolerated trade unions – not even those of skilled white workers.
Although union rights are now legally guaranteed, they are continually undermined. For
example, Eskom’s workforce has been gutted, falling from 65 000 in 1985 to 30 000 in
2003. Benefits and allowances have fallen steeply since 1996, with the new
(ANC-linked) management taking a hard-line position. Wage negotiations have broken
down regularly over the last five years, as Eskom has tried to unilaterally impose terms,
insisting that (as electricity is an essential service), strikes are illegal. (This led to
a major strike in 2011).
The Price of Power
Meanwhile, prices for electricity have jumped sharply since the 1980s: the highest
increases have been for residential (i.e. home) users, the majority of whom are working
class, getting eight times more costly from 1980 to 2005. From the available data,
charges are far higher per unit for the residential user than for industrial and
Furthermore, charges are also far higher for poor rural black areas than for urban black
townships, and far higher for urban black townships than for historically white suburbs,
which are now of course enjoyed by middle and ruling class people of all races. Research
in 2000 showed that rural black areas were paying twice what suburbs paid, and Soweto
users 30% more than Sandton users.
Unequal Coverage & “Free Basic Electricity”
It is true – and commendable – that Eskom has massively increased coverage of black
townships in the 1990s, with over 3.1. million new connections from 1991 to 2004. This is
to be welcomed as a victory for mass struggle, not a gift from above. It must be
remembered that this is the result of massive community risings in the 1980s and early 1990s.
However, many of the new links are low-voltage single-phase connections that cannot run
major appliances (like fridges). Installation is usually tied to enforcing cost-recovery
(“user-pays”) policies, with strict cut-offs through mass disconnections or prepaid
meters. In early 2002, a quarter of a million people were cut-off monthly by Eskom and
municipalities, part of perhaps 10 million cut-offs from 1994. Connections, in
short, do not mean access, because at least as many people get cut-off as get connected
Eskom’s cut-offs and escalating prices provoked widespread resistance, some channeled
through bodies like the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF, formed 2000), in which anarchists
and others were active. Here, disconnections were met with illegal reconnections, prepaid
meters were burnt, and debts were not paid.
The state was finally forced to write off many debts, plus provide a Free Basic
Electricity (FBE) policy for “poor households”: announced in 2003, FBE took some years to
cover most of the country.
Again, this was a victory, providing some relief. But it is only a partial one, always
limited by the overall Eskom model. The free 50kWh allocation is usually accessed through
the low-voltage single-phase connections, and usually requires households to accept
prepaid meters. It is also a very small amount for households that average 6-8 people. For
example, using four 60W light bulbs for four hours a day, and boiling a kettle for 30
minutes a day, over a month, will use up 42kWh.
Profits from Power
The ANC has also continued the NP’s drive to commercialise (i.e. operate state companies
on a for-profit basis), and privatise, electricity. The 1998 White Paper on Energy Policy,
the 2001 Eskom Amendment Act, and the 2001 Eskom Conversion Act, made Eskom a
tax-and-dividend-paying entity, owned entirely by the state.
Commercialisation has perpetuated Eskom’s anti-working class policies: it requires holding
down wages, increasing prices, and top-down control, plus ongoing lay-offs, cuts in
maintenance, some outsourcing, and cutting coal stocks. Rather than Eskom draining state
revenues raised by tax (as was the case before the 1980s), Eskom now pays hefty taxes (and
dividends) to the state: it is a highly profitable state investment.
Regarding privatisation, the initial plan was to sell off parts of Eskom: some stations
like Kelvin were, in fact, sold. However, this approach was later shelved in favour of
opening up space for the entry of Independent Power Producers (IPPs) (new private power
stations), and for competing Regional Electricity Distributors (REDs) (which would compete
to sell power).
Eskom therefore halted expansion of its own production facilities: not only would such
expansion discourage IPPs, but the whole point of attracting IPPs was to shift expansion
costs onto the private sector. Prices were also raised, partly to increase Eskom profits
but partly to attract potential IPPs with the prospect of high profits.
However, the plan failed dramatically: the IPPs never materialised, and Eskom never
stepped in to prevent the massive electricity shortfall that resulted. Rather, it recorded
the money generated through rising prices and falling spending as profit, for which Eskom
executives received enormous salaries plus performance bonuses. Eskom executives earned
R73 million in the 2004/5 year — the second highest executive salary bill in South Africa.
Actually, top Eskom managers routinely earned far more than most private sector directors.
“Load-Shedding” and Job Losses
The failure to build new stations, or to maintain existing facilities, and the failure to
attract IPPs, plus some mismanagement by self-enriching ANC-appointed managers and
cronies, led straight to a series of disastrous power crashes from 2005-2009. This
“load-shedding” scared private investors, contributing to a decline in private investment
and to fewer jobs.
Throughout the disaster, Eskom execs continued to pay themselves performance bonuses: and
when public anger finally forced Eskom CEO Jacob Maroga to resign, he sued for R85 million
in “lost earnings”. Malema and the ANCYL leadership naturally supported his outrageous
claims: as an admirer of getting rich by any means necessary, including looting the state,
Malema recognised a true master of the art.
Power to the Elite
Now finally having been forced to start investing in power stations, Eskom and the state
have used the situation to further attack the working class. As recorded profits were
wiped out by the costs of repairing the existing facilities, and of building new stations,
Eskom pushed for and got massive annual increases in electricity charges of 30% per year
for 2010-2012. This was in the face of massive opposition by unions and community groups.
This money was earmarked to repay massive loans, used mainly to contract-in private
construction consortiums. The key contracts for the new Medupi and Kusile stations have
gone to a coalition of local and foreign capitalists, centred on Hitachi Africa. And
Chancellor House, the ANC’s investment arm, owns a 25% stake in Hitachi Africa.
With at least R500 billion rand involved in the expansions, fortunes will (as usual) be
made, for the lucky few; the ANC-linked state elite and the big private companies.
Who pays? A large part of the expenditure to fix the elite’s Eskom mess is being borne by
the historically nationally oppressed black, Coloured and Indian working class through
exploitation, taxes and rising tariffs. Charged the highest rates despite the lowest
incomes, given the poorest electricity access and affected most by cut-offs, the working
class as a whole has to pay for Eskom’s mess.
With three years of sharp increases already in place, Eskom has again become highly
profitable, posting nearly a 60 percent profit for the 2012 year. It is now requesting a
further five years of 14.6 percent annual tariff increases, effectively doubling the
average price of electricity.
Neither Nationalisation nor Privatisation
Truly, the system is unjust. But nationalisation, like privatisation, is not a solution to
the problems the working class faces. Eskom’s past performance (as a state company built
through nationalisation), is evidence enough that nationalisation takes us nowhere. And
Malema’s support for Maroga shows clearly the elite’s common interest in maintaining this
State bureaucrats and managers are part of the ruling class, part of the problem.
Nationalisation is an extension of the power of the state, and should be opposed by the
working class and poor because this is in direct opposition to their own interests.
There is an alternative to both privatisation and nationalisation. It is an alternative
that is pro-working class, and that can also complete the national liberation of the
country’s working and poor Africans, Coloureds and Indians – by radically changing the
distribution of wealth and power rather than just enriching the economic and political elite.
Revolutionary anarchism/ syndicalism wants workers’ control, collective self-ownership,
real peoples’ power. It is only through building up a formidable counter-power in
opposition to both private capitalists and state managers i.e. the ruling class, that this
project can be driven forward.
The horrors of the Soviet Union have shown that the road to socialism lies outside and
against the state, in occupation and collectivisation, from the bottom-up, not
nationalisation from the top-down. It is in Spain 1936, not Russia in 1918, that the
example of a new world, free and equal and just, is to be glimpsed.
1. See M. Amsden, 1978, “Industrial Collectivisation Under Workers’ Control: Catalonia,
1937 – 1939”, Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, Vol 10. No 3.
2. ANCYL, 2010, Towards the Transfer of Mineral Wealth to the Ownership of the People as a
Whole: a perspective on nationalisation of the mines. Available at
3. ANCYL, 2010, Towards the Transfer of Mineral Wealth to the Ownership of the People as a
Whole: a perspective on nationalisation of the mines. Available at
4. B. Naidu & S. Pliso, 21 Feb 2010, “How Malema made his Millions”, Sunday Times
5. SAPA, 12 Feb 2012, “Malema Cronies Looted Limpopo: report”, TimesLive, at
6. E.g. Cosatu/ SACP, 1999, Building Socialism Now: Preparing for the New Millennium
(Johannesburg: Cosatu), pp. 65, 70; SA Communist Party, 1999. For a fuller discussion and
assessment of the Cosatu programme: L. van der Walt, 2010, “COSATU’s Response to the
Crisis: an anarcho-syndicalist assessment and alternative”, Zabalaza: a journal of
southern African revolutionary anarchism, no. 11
7. N. Bauer, 5 August 2011, “A foregone conclusion, says Cosatu”, Mail and Guardian
8. For example, “Vavi joins ANCYL in Calls for Nationalisation”, 6 Aug 2011, Mail and
Guardian Online, at
9. B. Ashley, 2010, “The Left and the Nationalisation Debate: shape it, don’t sidestep
it”, Amandla, no. 13
10. See S. Hattingh, 2011, “Take Back What’s Yours: the Mine-Line Occupation”, Zabalaza: a
journal of southern African revolutionary anarchism, no. 11, pp. 4-5
11. E.g. New Nation,7-13 Dec1990, “Nationalisation”
12. Marx’s words: H. Gerth (ed.), 1958, The First International: Minutes of the Hague
Conference of 1872, University of Wisconsin Press, 1958, pp. 216-17, 285-86
13. K. Marx & F. Engels,  1954, The Communist Manifesto, Henry Regnery, pp. 40, 55-56
14. E.g. M. Brinton, 1970, The Bolsheviks and Workers Control, 1917-1921, Solidarity
15. Quoted in Alec Nove, 1990, Studies in Economics and Russia, Macmillan, p. 181
16. Hattingh, 2011,pp. 4-5
17. Quoted in C. Berneri,  1995, “Kropotkin: his federalist ideas”, The Raven, no.
31, p. 274
18. N. Mandela, June 1956, “In Our Lifetime”, Liberation,
19. See P. Alexander, 2000, Workers, War and the Origins of Apartheid: labour and politics
in South Africa, James Currey etal; L. Callinicos, 1990, “The Communist Party during the
War Years”, South African Labour Bulletin, vol. 15, no. 3.
20. S. Christie and A. Meltzer, 2010, The Floodgates of Anarchy, PM Press, second edn., p. 92
21. Online at http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=149
22. Online at http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=149
23. See inter alia, World Factbook: South Africa (2010) at
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sf.html; and Government
of South Africa, The Public Service (2010) at
http://www.info.gov.za/aboutgovt/publicadmin/index.htm. South Africa is ranked 32nd in
conventional, non-nuclear, indexes of world military strength, and is the third most
powerful military state in Africa, following Egypt and Libya: http://www.globalfirepower.com
24. R. Rumney, 2005, “Who Owns South Africa: an analysis of state and private ownership
patterns”, in J. Daniel, R. Southall and J.Lutchman (eds.), State of the Nation: South
Africa 2004-2005, HSRC: Pretoria, pp. 405-406,
25. ANCYL, 2010, Towards the Transfer of Mineral Wealth, p. 13
26. “Armscor” today refers to the state weapons procurement division; the old Armscor
manufacturing division is now Denel.
27. On this bizarre call, see Mail & Guardian, 6 Nov 2009, “Nationalising Eskom”
28. For a partial explanation, see WSF, 1997, “Stealing From The Poor: ‘Free Market’
Policies”, Workers Solidarity: voice of anarcho-syndicalism, vol. 3, no. 1
29. P. Kropotkin,  1970, “Modern Science and Anarchism”, in Kropotkin’s
Revolutionary Pamphlets, New York: Dover, pp. 182-183
30. M. Merten, 11 Feb 2012, “’Mine Nationalisation not ANC policy”, IOLNews, at
31. R. Vollgraaff, 30 October 2011, “Gordhan Leaves Little Room for Manouvering”, Sunday Times
32. This could be through outright or partial sales, or through public-private
partnerships like outsourcing, leases and concessions.
33. B. Naidu & S. Pliso, 21 Feb 2010, “How Malema made his Millions”, Sunday Times
34. See Govt. of South Africa, 2010, The Public Service,
35. See S. Greenberg, 2009, “Market Liberalisation and Continental Expansion”, in D.A.
McDonald (ed.), Electric Capitalism: recolonising Africa on the power grid, HSRC/Earthscan
36. M. Wagernagel, 12-18 April 1996, “’Power’ to the Masses Comes First”, Mail & Guardian
37. S. Greenberg, 2006, The State, Privatisation and the Public Sector in South Africa,
Cape Town: AIDC/ SAPSN, p. 39
38. International Rivers, 2003, “Eskom’s Expanding Empire: the social and ecological
footprint of Africa’s largest power utility”, available at
39. M. Gandar, 1991, “The Imbalance of Power”, in J. Cock and E. Koch (eds.), Going Green:
people, politics and the environment in South Africa, Oxford University Press, Cape Town
40. Greenberg, 2006, figure 4 p. 38
41. Greenberg, 2009, p. 85
42. Greenberg, 2006, figure 3 p. 37
43. D.A. McDonald, 2002, “The Theory and Practice of Cost Recovery in South Africa”, in
D.A. McDonald and J. Pape, eds., Cost Recovery and the Crisis of Service Delivery in South
Africa, HSRC/ Zed Books, p. 27
44. Greenberg, 2006, table 4 p. 37
45. McDonald, 2002, p. 22
46. F. Adam, 2010, Free Basic Electricity: a better life for all, research report,
Earthlife Africa: Johannesburg, p. 6
47. K. Davie, 24-30 Mar 2006, “Power Pay Day”, Mail & Guardian
48. A. Habib, 15 Nov 2009, “Power Crisis is Rooted in a History of Poor Governance”,
49. S. Njobeni, 11 Jan 2010, “Eskom’s Growing Appetite for Cash”, Business Day
50. Rumney, 2005, pp. 405-406
51. Reuters, 14 June 2012, “Big Profits for Eskom”, Sowetan Live, at
http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/business/2012/06/14/big-profits-for-eskom; Jan de Lange,
16 July 2012, “Industry seeks Talks over Eskom Tariff Proposals”; Miningmx, at
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