Freedom Charter feature II

Andries Tatane (22 February 1978 – 13 April 2011) was killed by police fire during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg.

The realities of class warfare and struggle

“Actually, there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won”
(Warren Buffet – American multi-billionaire)

As has been the case in much of the rest of the world over the past two decades, in South Africa the capitalist class and their accompanying political elites have been waging an unrelenting and unrepentant class war on the working class and poor. While they take centre stage and gorge themselves, the poor are simply being asked to embrace and celebrate their continued marginalisation and to be happy for the economic crumbs they will be thrown from the ‘masters’ table.

Indeed, the mass retrenchments of workers over the last 15 years in particular have caused untold misery and havoc for the broad working class. Unemployment is at an all-time high and there is no evidence that the ANC government is either capable or willing to try and solve it.  Meanwhile, the capitalist class simply does not care, content to make ever-increasing profits and dispose of workers as if they were nothing more than sheep to be slaughtered.

Likewise, the prospects of an entire generation of township and rural youth obtaining jobs in the formal sector are more remote than ever given the state of the economy and public education system. To make matters even more difficult, old divisions within the working class have been strengthened and new ones have emerged: between employed and unemployed, permanent and casual, formal and informal.

Further, the continued application of the ANC’s GEAR policy has exacerbated the appalling conditions of poverty and misery that the masses continue to live under. Municipalities are in deep institutional and financial crisis, basic services to the poor are hopelessly inadequate, land reform is in an insoluble impasse and the housing crisis for the broad working class worsens.

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On the political front, there are seriously worrying signs of a retreat from democracy. Those in control of the state as well as corporate capital now more than ever, pick and choose which aspects of democracy they want the rest of society to enjoy. Increased control of information, a generalised lack of regulation, a seeming contempt for democratic oversight and equal application of the law as well as increased securitisation of state and society with brutal repression against working class resistance and struggles. All these have become the hallmarks of contemporary South Africa. Even more fundamentally, there is clearly a gathering crisis when it comes to the underlying principles, ethics and collective approach necessary for meaningful democratic governance and leadership.

Moving forward

Despite the seemingly overwhelming difficulties and challenges facing the workers and poor in the 60th anniversary year of the Freedom Charter, there are also encouraging signs of renewed purpose and struggle.

In order for South Africa to move forward on that journey to freedom, every traveller needs to have the essential basics required to make the journey.

In the context of this 60th year of the Freedom Charter the question that must be asked (and answered) by the people is whether a reformed and deracialised capitalism is the best we can do or is it possible to forge a radical alternative, socialist society?

The Freedom Charter provides a broad guiding vision as well as many of the sign-posts to navigate the journey but it is not the be-all and end-all of the collective freedom struggle. It is the people themselves and more particularly the workers and poor who hold the key to moving forward.

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For sixty years the Freedom Charter provided a broad political vision reflecting the aspirations of the black masses under the leadership of the ANC. Today there is contestation for this legacy between the left and the right within the Congress movement, each claiming that they represent the genuine version of the FC’s demands for the post-Apartheid South Africa. It is precisely this deliberate vagueness and ambiguity in critical areas of the FC that are its biggest weaknesses in providing a coherent programme for the working class in South Africa.

In essence, like the ANC, the FC reflects and represents the historical class interests and aspirations of the black middle class, previously oppressed by Apartheid.

It is for this reason that today, ANC government leaders can also claim that their neo-liberal and anti-working class policies do represent the vision of the FC since it has delivered Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) – even though for only a few.

Over the past decade we’ve witnessed the dawn of a new political era in South Africa with the black working class masses increasingly realising and recognising the betrayal by their traditional political leaders and the ANC. Moreover, they have no choice but to act against it and to defend themselves – in the process asserting new found political independence and mass organisation. In this context a new generation of working class fighters requires political and programmatic rearming.

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