Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Azanian Uprising: Challenging the Hegemony of the ANC and Completing the Azanian Revolution

Written by Kali Akuno
For the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and Malcolm X Solidarity Committee
November 3, 2012

Azania, better known to most as South Africa, is afire with worker resistance and social unrest.  Since August, hundreds of thousands of workers, the unemployed, and their allies have engaged in a pitched battle against the forces of transnational capital, particularly those concentrated in the mineral extraction industries, and the African National Congress (ANC) government and its partners the Coalition of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) – known at the Tripartite Alliance[1]. The workers rebellion has literally brought the Azanian economy, one of the largest and most strategic in the world, to a virtual stand still and created an unprecedented political crisis for the ruling Tripartite Alliance and its international backers[2].

The workers uprising is rooted in the deepening of capitalist exploitation in Azania since the end of Apartheid and the failure of the ANC government to implement the transformative program outlined in the Freedom Charter that promised to democratize the economy for the benefit of the majority of Azania’s peoples[3]. It must also be understood as part of the wave of global resistance against the austerity impositions of neo-liberal capitalism stimulated by the collapse of the global economy in 2007 – 2008. This wave has touched Algeria, Bahrain, Brazil, Chile, Cote d’ Ivore, England, France, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Portugal, Senegal, Spain, Syria, Yemen, the United States and beyond! However, in terms of scale, scope and impact, the upsurge in Azania is only rivaled by the popular uprisings in Egypt, Greece, Quebec, and Tunisia.

However, despite its scale, scope and impact, the Azanian uprising has received very little attention by left and progressive forces in the United States. One of the primary reasons why can be directly attributed to the support of the ANC and COSATU by the vast majority of left and progressive forces within the US (the SACP receives less support for ideological reasons). To most, the ANC, COSATU and SACP are the unrivaled liberators of Azania, who through decades of protracted struggle delivered the country from the grips of Apartheid and white minority domination. The dominance of this narrative and position has made it difficult for these forces to contextualize the Marikana massacre and understand the workers rebellion, and if and how they should relate to it[4].

The crisis posed by the Marikana massacre is threatening the position of the Tripartite Alliance. Its legitimacy is being challenged and with it certain aspects of its power. The weakening of its legitimacy and power is prefaced by its failure to improve the lives of the vast majority of the people of Azania after apartheid. This failure is rooted in the compromise struck by the Tripartite Alliance with the South African settler regime, US imperialism, and the forces of transnational capital.[5]

The compromise consisted of maintaining the capitalist social order, including white settler ownership, in exchange for nominal political control over the bourgeois state and the inclusion of Black and non-white peoples into the capitalist class. It is this deal that produced the likes of Cyril Ramaphosa, who transitioned from a mineworker and COSATU leader during Apartheid to a part owner of the Lonmin mining company and one of the richest men in post-Apartheid Azania.[6]

This historic compromise should not be understood as a sellout or betrayal of the masses by a revolutionary party. From its inception the ANC was a liberal democratic organization that accepted the twin monsters of capitalist social production and liberal democracy[7]. Along the protracted road of struggle, the ANC adopted many social democratic ideals, such as those in the Freedom Charter, and even incorporated a good number of revolutionary forces within its ranks from the communist party and various revolutionary nationalist trends, but it never waivered or ceased being in its fundamental character a liberal democratic organization. And as such, it never fully intended on breaking with capitalism and imperialism.

The notion that the ANC was or is a party of national liberation is more myth than substance[8]. And it is likely that the Marikana massacre has forever shattered that myth. Marikana, like the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 and the Soweto massacre in 1976, is clearly a game changer. It has radicalized the consciousness of a generation and altered its social expectations and relations. There is no going back to the pre-Marikana status quo, no matter how much the Tripartite Alliance and its allies utilize the repressive might of the state to try and make it so[9]. And although this crisis most likely won’t result in the fall of the ANC, let alone a full-scale social revolution given the still fragmented nature of the revolutionary forces in Azania, it is clear that the hegemony of the ANC has been forever shattered.

A new era is emerging in Azania as a direct result of the Marikana massacre and the workers uprising. The era holds both great promise and peril. If the revolutionary left forces and radical social movements can consolidate over the next several months and years as the capitalist world system continues to struggle there is a potential for these forces to complete the Azanian revolution that was interrupted by the negotiations and compromises of the ANC in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. If these forces are unable to unwilling to complete this task, then it is likely the ongoing national and international crisis will result in ethnic conflict as a result of the provocation and degeneration of the ANC.

What We Can Do - The Role of International Allies

Our primary task is to do whatever we can to support the radical social movements (like the emerging independent Workers movement, the Landless Peoples movement, the Shack Dwellers movement, the Anti-Privatization movement, etc.[10]) and the unification and consolidation of a new revolutionary force in Azania (which this writer believes would include the revolutionary forces from the social movements and the Black Consciousness Movement, and more developed political forces like the Socialist Party of Azania, Socialist Azanian Youth Revolutionary Organization, and the Democratic Left Front).


This entails:
·      Providing resources when and where possible, particularly financial resources in support of the organizing work of the social movements and revolutionary formations
·      Challenging the hegemony of the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance and providing political support in the international arena, which entails everything from doing international education work that shatters the myth of the Tripartite Alliance, popular agitation in support of the demands of the new revolutionary forces, and advocacy in venues such as the US congress and the United Nations for these demands, etc.
·      Fighting the interventionist politics, programs and activities of the US government that will target the revolutionary forces, bolster the Tripartite Alliance, and seek to strangulate the Azanian economy

Avoiding Traps

As the old saying goes, “the best way of avoiding a trap is knowing of its existence”. Perhaps the greatest trap in the way of international forces wanting to engage in principled solidarity with the uprising of the workers and the impoverished in Azania is ideology. The Tripartite Alliance, as Patrick Bond says, is a master of “talking left, but walking right[11]. The left rhetoric and (questionable) credentials of the Alliance play a critical role in confusing international forces.

Post-Marikana, COSATU and the SACP have taken the lead in being the “left” flank of the Alliance, and played a concerted role in not only denouncing the workers uprising, but resorted to many of the old “divide and conquer” tactics of the settler Apartheid regime, going so far as to label the striking workers “scabs” being manipulated by “outside agitators”, and accusing them of being blinded by tribal witchcraft. These are classic anti-communist tactics that were well worn by the Apartheid regime, now on full display by their one-time enemies[12]

The ideological attack on the workers acting autonomously in their own interests and the alleged “primitiveness” of their consciousness is not the only ideological assault being waged. The Tripartite Alliance has also been keen to reengage in the longstanding ideological, and often bloody, conflict with the forces of the Black Consciousness and Afrikanist movements[13]. Both of these revolutionary nationalist tendencies have been given wide expression in the recent uprising and many partisans of the forces representing these ideological currents have been playing critical roles in the uprising and its dramatic spread (such as SAYRO, SOPA, and several Priests historically partial to the BCM). The SACP has gone so far as put hit pieces out on the likes of Lybon Mabasa, the SOPA Party Chairman and Bishop Jo Seoka, of the Anglican Church and head of the South African Council of Churches, both of whom are BCM partisans and the targets of recent assassination attempts for their efforts in support of the workers uprising[14].

The BCM and the Afrikanist ideology associated with the thought of Robert Sobukwe, are revolutionary nationalist tendencies that offer radically different programs and strategies for the realization of socialism in Azania than that alluded to in the Freedom Charter and argued for by the SACP (although never universally accepted either within the ANC or COSATU)[15]. The Tripartite Alliance and its allies are gravely concerned with the alternative these revolutionary nationalist tendencies pose, as they are ideologically and politically a direct threat to the “governing bargain” struck by the compromise of the Tripartite Alliance under the leadership of the ANC. The revolutionary tendencies of these ideologies and programs demand an end to the settler domination of the economy and with it a break with the forces of transnational capitalism, white supremacy and imperialism. 

We must also be clear ideologically and politically, of the shrewd maneuvering of the ANC. Perhaps its most shrewd maneuvering comes in the international circus it has built around Julius Malema. Malema is the supposed “young lion” of the ANC, who has the ear of the people, particularly the youth, who is allegedly challenging Zuma and the ruling elite of the ANC to reform the economy for the good of the masses by nationalizing the mining sector of the Azanian economy[16]. According to the current ruling faction of the ANC, Malema is an opportunist rogue fanning the flames of racial hatred by calling for nationalization of the mines and land redistribution, which would threaten the predominance of white ownership in these sectors[17]. Malema is also being accused of being a criminal opportunist involved in numerous fraudulent activities.

In the context of understanding the overall strategy and program of the ANC, it is clear that these allegations and charges against Malema amount to nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Although there are real factional differences within the ANC, and left leaning and right leaning forces as well, the anti-Malema and pro-Malema forces within it are all aligned on the core program of the ANC that is centered on upholding the agreements emerging from the compromises made with the Apartheid regime. And the core program of the ANC has produced from top to bottom, a party full of opportunists, careerists, poverty pimps and cronies who line up and sometimes compete viciously to feed at the troth of the ANC government provided by its corporate masters in the form of gracious insider contracts (called Tenders) awarded through various Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programs that have strategically benefitted a small number of petit bourgeois Afrikans. So, although the ANC has presented a compelling case of fraud and opportunism against Malema, it is not one they want to press too hard, as Malema could just as easily expose many in the leadership of the ANC who set him up with his opportunities, contacts, and contracts in the first place[18].

The real shrewdness of the ANC comes into play in how it, or at least a faction of it, are using and deploying Malema to channel and contain the rage of the rebelling workers. In making his appeals to the workers after the Marikana massacre, Malema was always keen to inform everyone that he was still with the ANC (despite present legal formalities regarding his expulsion) and that the problem being confronted by the workers was one of sell-out and misguided leadership on behalf of the party[19]. The clear implication here was that if he were to replace Jacob Zuma as the Chairman of the ANC, then there would be no more massacres, low wages, or poor working conditions as his leadership would resolve these problems, in part through nationalization. In this game, the ANC hits the workers on both ends: the stick on the one side and the carrot on the other. Malema, by his own admittance, is not serious about really nationalizing the mines[20], nor is he serious about breaking with the neo-liberal polices and programs of the ANC. However, the character of Malema provides the ANC with several strategic options. To appease transnational capital, Malema and the forces he represents within the ANC can be blamed, disciplined, and ultimately sacrificed for various failures that yield themselves to low profit margins. And to appease the material demands of the base, the Malema forces can be used both as instigators and agitators to try and force various concessions from transnational capital. So, in effect, the ANC can and does have it both ways[21].

Marikana reveals that the ANC is a spent force. In following its lead, COSATU and the SACP have not been able to orient it towards a social democratic, let alone a revolutionary path. The Marikana massacre provided the SACP and COSATU, which have both threaten to leave the Alliance in the past due to the corruption and pro-capitalist orientation of the ANC, with enough reason and political cover to make good on its promises to act independently and legitimately break with the ANC. That both have gone out of their way to not only defend the ANC, but to serve as its left cover speaks volumes! It is past time that a new revolutionary force, rooted amongst the workers and the millions of unemployed and impoverished, emerge to complete the Azanian revolution. 

Revolutionary forces throughout the world have a concrete role to play in the development of this new force in Azania. The only way international forces can avoid the trap of providing the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance with aid and solidarity that is not warranted, is to be as ideologically clear as possible on who these forces are, what is their history, what it is that they fundamentally represent, and what is their concrete historical practice.

The Azanian Workers Solidarity Committee 

One emerging force struggling to advance the ideological perspective advanced in this work is the Azanian Workers Solidarity Committee (AWSC)[22]. AWSC was initiated by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) and Malcolm X Solidarity Committee (MXSC) in solidarity with the Socialist Azanian Youth Revolutionary Organization (SAYRO), to pursue the following:

(The) creation of a Black-led coalition of organizations and individuals committed to educating and mobilizing the international community in solidarity with the struggles of Azanian workers to end exploitation and to nationalize the resources of the country.

We explicitly support the working class of Azania in its struggle to overcome the oppression of neoliberal privatization and austerity policies of the ANC government, which ultimately only serve Western corporate capitalist interests and impoverish and enslave the Black masses on their own land. Accordingly, we support the call for the nationalization of all privately controlled financial institutions, industrial infrastructure, and natural resources fundamental to the economy and well being of the people for their sole benefit, the expropriation without compensation and redistribution on an equitable basis of all the land of the nation, and the unconditional cancellation of the apartheid debt.

The August 16, 2012 Marikana Massacre, a mass murder of striking workers by the police of the South African ANC regime--like the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre and the 1976 Soweto Massacre before it--will represent a new birth of the struggle for a Black Workers Republic. We stand shoulder to shoulder in common purpose with the struggling workers and people of Occupied Azania.

The immediate program of the AWSC is to provide tangible international solidarity to the Azanian working class that will help it advance towards revolution and at the same time cut off a vital supply line of rare earth commodities (gold, diamonds, platinum, etc.) to transnational corporations and shut down imperialism's southern conveyor belt for the recolonization of the Afrikan Continent. To achieve this program, we are initiating the following:

1. INTERNATIONAL LABOR AND HUMAN RIGHTS DELEGATIONS OR COMMISSIONS OF INQUIRY to investigate the Marikana Massacre and subsequent human rights atrocities and violations of international labor standards and conventions. We believe the South African Labour Relations Act on its face violates the internationally recognized Right to Strike (a union or group of workers in South Africa must get government permission before striking) and Freedom of Association (from our reading, the SA LRA makes it virtually illegal for workers to seek representation outside official ANC-approved/COSATU—i.e. company-/government-dominated—channels).

2. BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT AND SANCTIONS ACTIONS/CAMPAIGNS. South African cargo should be picketed. Transport unions in all countries should block shipments of companies who do significant business in South Africa. Corporate offices and retail outlets of South African mineral resource end-user products, such as DeBeers boutiques, etc., should be militantly picketed. Unions pension funds must divest from South African investments. Same for public universities, etc.

3. FUNDRAISING TO SUSTAIN OUR COMRADES' WORK ON THE GROUND. The SOPA/SAYRO national head office in Johannesburg was nearly evicted recently, in the midst of the most important and widespread mass class struggle in Azania since the end of apartheid. The SOPA comrades have been able to maintain their own office without any assistance for 19 years of the party's existence. But these are extraordinary times in Azania, and with them come extraordinary responsibilities. Our comrades who in the midst of 60% or greater Black unemployment in “normal times” struggle valiantly just to keep things running, and they deserve and have a right to expect our financial support in a pre-revolutionary crisis.

These tasks should be considered specific to the AWSC, and supportive of the larger tasks suggested earlier that were and are intended for the construction of broad movement.


The Marikana Massacre and the workers uprising is reinvigorating and rekindling the popular spirit of revolutionary resistance in Azania. To support its advancement and make sure it is not isolated and crushed, a new international solidarity movement like the anti-Apartheid movement of a generation ago must be built that will ensure the people's victory in this new phase of revolutionary struggle!

We call upon all those committed and willing to help build this movement to rise to the occasion, meet these challenges, and carry out these initiatives of solidarity in support of the revolutionary social movements and political forces in Azania in support of the completion of the Azanian national liberation struggle and social revolution.

*This article was heavily informed by discussions with comrades in the Socialist Azanian Youth Revolutionary Organization (SAYRO).

[1] For more information on the Tripartite Alliance see
[3] For a comprehensive analysis of this failure see Julian Kunnie, “Is Apartheid Really Dead? Pan-Africanist Working-Class Cultural Critical Perspectives”, published by Westview Press 2000. See also
[4] See the following early article by Jean Damu, which demonstrates some of the early confusion and bias relating to the Lonmin strike and the rivalry between the Association of Mine Workers and Construction Unions (AMCU) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Information that the NUM helped spark the Lonmin strike by killing 2 of its own members seriously contradicts this view See also
[7] For some background and perspective on this see Robert J. C. Young, “Fanon and the Turn to Armed Struggle in Africa”, in Wasafiri Issue 44 Spring 2005 and William Mervin Gumede, “Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC”, Published by Zebra Press, 2005.
[8] Again, see Julian Kunnie, “Is Apartheid Really Dead? Pan-Africanist Working-Class Cultural Critical Perspectives”, published by Westview Press 2000 and Robert J. C. Young, “Fanon and the Turn to Armed Struggle in Africa”, in Wasafiri Issue 44 Spring 2005.
[10] For more information on several of these movements see Rita Barnard and Grant Farred, editors, “After the Thrill is Gone: A Decade of Post-Apartheid South Africa”, published by the South Atlantic Quarterly 103:4 Fall 2004 and Ashwin Desai, “We are the Poors” Community Struggles in Post-Apartheid South Africa”, published by Monthly Review Press 2002.
[11] This is the title of Patrick Bond’s book released in 2004 by University of Natal Press. For a review of the book see
[14] For more information on this critical hit piece see!topic/yclsa-eom-forum/-RdKsSPbsTk
[15] See S.E.M. Pheko, “The Land is Ours: The Political Legacy of Mangaliso Sobukwe”, published by S.E.M. Pheko 1994, Tom Lodge, “Black Politics in South African since 1945”, published by Longman Group LTD 1983, Gail M. Gerhart, “Black Power in South Africa: the Evolution of an Ideology”, published by University of California Press 1978, and Anthony W. Marx, “Lessons of Struggle: South African Internal Opposition, 1960-1990”, published by Oxford University Press 1992. Although the last two works are very critical of the BCM and openly ANC, they both contain some valuable information and insights.

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