27 years later, the suffering of the working class continues
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is not celebrating Freedom Day today because there is very little for the working class majority of this country to celebrate.
On this day in 1994 the Black and African majority participated in elections for the very first time, following decades of oppressive rule by the racist Apartheid state. It was a historical moment for our people as millions of us queued for the very first time to make our mark, in the country’s first democratic elections. We had so much hope.
We believed that by making a simple mark on the ballot sheet, centuries of colonial subjugation and suffering would be brought to an end. We believed that democracy would mean equality and freedom for us and for our children. Unfortunately, history has shown how wrong we were. Twenty-seven years after the working class paid the ultimate price with their blood to end the Apartheid system, the African majority remains enslaved by the bondage of poverty, unemployment and crippling inequality.
South Africa is the most unequal society in the world. It is a country where according to Oxfam, the average white male CEO “earns the same as 461 black women in the bottom 10 per cent of earners”, and where the richest 20 per cent control 70% of the country’s resources. Almost half the population lives in abject poverty, according to Stats South Africa 49.2% of the population over the age of eighteen falls below the upper-bound poverty line. This has been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.
StatsSA confirmed that during the pandemic at least 1.4 million workers lost their jobs, raising the expanded definition of unemployment rate to a staggering 42.6 per cent. Included in those stats are job losses at SOEs like SAA, where more than 3 000 workers lost their jobs, and at Eskom where at least 2 000 have jobs have been cut.
More job losses are expected because SOEs are being actively being restructured for the benefit of private capital. Thousands of workers have suffered just so that corrupt capitalist cronies of the ANC can continue to enrich themselves, at the expense of the working class.
At the same time, thousands of families suffered during lockdown because of non-payment of TERS caused by mismanagement and corruption of government officials.
The governing ANC has been a dismal failure in addressing the most important challenge facing our country, namely unemployment, poverty and inequality, and this was the case before covid-19 arrived on our shores. The ANC has betrayed its historic mission in order to pander to the demands of neo-liberal factions of capital. Treasury is leading the attack against the working class by implementing an austerity budget with drastic cost cutting measures which are directly targeting ordinary working class families.
Plans are in place for the closure of several coal-fired power stations in order to make way for more privately owned Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers’ (REIPP’s). Over 120 000 people will lose their jobs when these power stations close because it will have a negative impact along the value chain. There are many businesses which depend on the existence of the coal fired power stations, but no Social Plans have been developed by government to replace these jobs, or re-develop those towns which would be destroyed as a result of this. The participation of the private sector in providing energy has already resulted in higher electricity tariffs which are already unaffordable for the working class and the poor.
Twenty-seven years after so-called democracy and the ANC has run out of ideas. They are continuing to pursue the same tired old conservative neo-liberal macro-economic policies, which have failed to transform the lives of millions of black and African members of the working class.
The disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic provided an excellent opportunity for the state, to intervene in the economy and make radical changes, in order to boost economic growth by driving an aggressive job-led industrialization and manufacturing policy. It should have introduced policies to strengthen social security nets such as basic income grants and the implementation of a wealth tax. However, the ANC keeps proving that they are a government of the elite and their attack on the working class is unrelenting.
In the last 27 years South Africa has failed to radically transform the economy for the benefit of the black and African working class.
Therefore, the painful reality is that today the suffering of the working class continues, as it did under Apartheid. On this day we are reminded of the words of NUMSA president comrade Andrew Chirwa who gave the opening address at the NUMSA December 2016 Congress and said the following: “There is no alternative to organising the working class for the revolutionary struggle for them to be their own liberators, their own masters. We have no choice but to take on this huge revolutionary task. The alternative is permanent misery, poverty, unemployment and suffering extreme inequalities. All this of course leads to brutal and painfully short lives, for the majority of the working class. We must create the revolutionary mass vanguard political party to lead the struggle for socialism in South Africa. The alternative is the continued savagery and barbarism of capitalism, and civil wars.”
This is why we remain unapologetic about the formation of the SRWP as a Socialist party whose only agenda is genuine freedom and equality for us all. Our only hope is to unite the working class in order to dismantle the capitalist system and replace it with a new world order, based on equality and shared wealth.
* Irvin Jim is General Secretary of NUMSA.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.
* Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #UnmuteFreedom and read more on our Freedom Day campaign here.