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(en) South Africa, zabalaza.net: South Africa: Historic rupture or warring brothers again? by Mandy Moussouris and Shawn Hattingh (ca, de, it, pt)[machine translation]

Date Sat, 7 Aug 2021 09:35:25 +0300

(An analysis of the recent events taking place primarily in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng) ---- Everything we are now is built upon all that we were and where we came from. The same can be said for countries, any analysis has to look backwards before it can begin to understand the influences and causes of the present. This makes analysis intrinsically complex and often, almost impossible. At some point we are forced to simplify, look for patterns and analyse situations with a focus on where the key locus of power lies. ---- An analysis of the recent events taking place primarily in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng has to be done with this in mind. It is impossible to follow every strand of the complexity that is South Africa, but at the same time the link between the spate of large scale looting that took place and two very obvious conflicting ruling class power bases that currently exist in the country is undeniable. To claim that there was an exercising of working class power is to fundamentally misunderstand the powers at play and where the locus of power at this point in history actually lies.

By now, it is commonly accepted that the transition to democracy was a half-hearted one that saw the creation of an equal and democratic society on paper only. There was no real transfer of power or economic wealth to the majority. Economic wealth remained in the hands of those that held it under Apartheid, with the exception of a few in the political elite benefiting from the deal made between those able to garner enough votes to control the state and those in control of the economy. What emerged were sponsored politicians and strategically enriched individuals acting as the face of the new South Africa.

Since 1994 the vying for control over this power (and by power we mean control of the state and the economy) has been the hallmark of politics in the country. The structure of the economic and social system has never been in contestation, the ruling party has never, even in its most progressive moments, questioned the economic system underpinning our grossly unequal society. What has been and continues to be a matter of contestation is who in the elite controls it. We saw this playing out right from the beginning: under Nelson Mandela the Reconstruction and Development Programme's (RDP) economic policy was crafted to defend the interests of the capitalist elite. This was further entrenched in Thabo Mbeki's economic policies under Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR). As a reward for the loyalty shown by the party to established capital, that same capital made people like Cyril Ramaphosa and his ilk into instant millionaires. Indeed, one faction in the ANC - now around Ramaphosa - is deeply entwined with established capital, which made its fortunes from the cheap labour of Black workers under Apartheid.

Jacob Zuma's victory in 2007 saw no change to the underlying capitalist economic policies, what changed was who in the capitalist class was providing patronage and who in the party would benefit from this patronage. Ramaphosa's victory in 2017 cut the new Gupta-sponsored ruling state elite centred around Zuma off from this patronage and it is this which lies at the heart of the current events. It is this power struggle, not the power of the working class that has driven these events and that will continue to shape the future if we pretend that this is not the case.

The taking of goods by people from chain-stores, but also small shops in places such as Alexandra, following the initial upheaval instigated by the Zuma faction of the ANC, can only be seen within the above context as representing the attempts of people, systematically impoverished by the system, taking an opportunity and not an exercise of working class power able to shape a new future. The drivers of the events of mid-July were, to paraphrase Karl Marx, the warring brothers of the ruling class and each faction was and is vying to gain from it and for control of the state and the economy. The sections of the working class (workers and the unemployed) that took goods were mostly desperate and hungry, but were acting on individual interest and did so because a small window of opportunity presented itself to take some relief from the daily poverty they face. The government's cancellation of the R350 special COVID-19 grant no doubt added to the desperation and justifiable resentment. As we are already seeing, however, they are now the ones who will pay for the games the two factions of the ruling class are playing.

Indeed, it is undeniable that the Zuma faction set off the events of mid-July. This faction has two strongholds of supporters on the ground: around the migrant hostels that used to be linked to the Inkatha Freedom Party in Gauteng - that are now aligned to Zuma - and areas in KwaZulu-Natal. Besides those strongholds, and importantly for how events unfolded, some leaders in the Zuma faction have been or still are in positions high up in the state, including intelligence structures. These leaders were relying on the presumption that unrest would follow the initial spark lit by their supporters and spread. Indeed, they would have been privy to reports developed within the State Security Agency arguing that widespread unrest could easily erupt due to massive poverty that exists in areas in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, if there was a spark. It is this faction of the ruling class and their supporters that mobilised to start the events and tried to spread the events as far as possible to place pressure on their rivals in the elite. Certainly thousands of people did become involved in the rioting and widespread looting that followed the initial spark, but they were never the political drivers of it; other organised forces in the Zuma faction were.

It is this Zuma faction too that took advantage, as more and more desperate people joined the looting, to then target infrastructure systematically, such as cell phone towers, water infrastructure, and bulk fuel pipelines. In one case, 1.5 million rounds of ammunition were stolen and whoever did it was well organised and had to have extensive knowledge of where and how this ammunition was being stored - these targeted acts were not those of the looting masses. To gloss over the role that the Zuma faction played throughout events, even though thousands of people became involved in the looting who don't back Zuma, is a fundamental mistake. As such, to think that anything that happened in mid-July was the working class exercising some sort of power is wishful thinking at best.

Despite this, there are some commentators on the left who argue that the upheaval that we have witnessed signals an end to post-Apartheid history being defined by intra-ruling class battles. In essence, they maintain that the events of mid-July were a historic rupture. As part of this, they contend that what we have seen are food riots signalling that sections of the working class are taking their place as the shapers and makers of history.

The problem with this proposition is that, if it were true, it would necessitate a significant section of the working class having a collective vision and praxis that counters that of the current ruling class's visions, ideas and dominance. Indeed, when the working class begins to shape history, and where there have been moments of true rupture, it has never been an individual project, but rather defined by a collective vision and culture that explicitly counters the hegemony of the ideologies emanating from the ruling class. What we witnessed in mid-July was not that - it was rather something quite different.

What we in fact saw was a section (a minority) of a desperate working class that has become fragmented, weakened and damaged by the ideologies that have been pushed by the ruling class. Indeed, we are all indoctrinated and damaged by ideas that define capitalism, nation states and nationalism; the looting and the reactions to it reflect that. This is not to deny that people across South Africa, and those involved in the events in mid-July are not angry - it is clear people are extremely angry with the poverty they live in, the unemployment that exists at intolerable levels, the hunger they face, the routine racism they are subjected to, the sexism and violence they encounter and the shit jobs they work. But anger and even riots, without a counter ideology does not lead to historic ruptures - it never has and it never will.


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