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South African workers fight back

As 3,000 miners emerged from three days underground at the Harmony mine at Elandsrand, it was clear that behind the growing number of accidents and deaths in South African mines is the desperate drive for profit. To take advantage of the current high gold price, the global mining corporations have pushed the pace of deeper mining; miners say an attempt to sink a 2.2 mile deep shaft miles was to blame for this latest incident.

Gold output has decreased by over 50 per cent over the past decade but South Africa still has the world’s largest remaining deposits: getting at them grows more and more perilous with 200 miners killed last year. And where was the ANC government while this was happening? A bland statement on health and safety was all they offered. When two miners were killed in July at the AngloGold Ashanti mine, the government imposed nothing more than a brief closure. Far from challenging the global corporations’ plundering of South Africa’s wealth, the ANC is their enthusiastic client government.

Meanwhile, daily life for millions of black South Africans is actually worse than under the hated apartheid regime. As well as the devastation caused by the HIV epidemic, worsened by the ANC government’s refusal to deliver drugs and health programmes, conditions in the townships are deteriorating. The Thabo Mbeki government’s aggressive privatisation programme, and its failure to deliver even basic housing, water, sanitation, and education, has brought a wave of protests across the country, led by new opposition movements.

On September 28, Anti-Privatisation Front protestors in Soweto were attacked by police with water cannon and rubber bullets and one person died. On the same day supporters of the Kwa-Zulu Natal-based Abahlali baseMjondolo opposition movement marched in Durban, and were attacked with batons and rubber bullets with 15 arrests. In his blog, ’bu Zikode of the AbM writes that as people take to the streets in protest against the government’s market-driven policies, there has been “an unprecedented escalation of state violence, repression and the criminalisation of protest”.

The government is violently forcing out residents of long-term city centre squats where real estate is valuable in order to present a slick image in time for the football World Cup to be held in South Africa in 2010. And in June this year they sacked thousands of health workers who took strike action against privatisation, and used riot police to break up demonstrations by public sector workers.

The ANC is currently engaged in a vicious internal battle over Mbeki’s successor, but to the vast majority of South Africans this is simply an argument over the spoils. At the end of apartheid in 1994, 87 percent of South Africa's land was in white hands; 13 years later, the figure is 82 percent. More than 40 percent of the South African workforce is without a job and nearly 60 percent of those who are jobless have never had a job. The people are facing a new political struggle to transform the ownership of land and resources and create a new economic and political democracy. As ’bu Zikode writes: “As long as democracy is used to further the political scores of the minority and as long as there is great inequality in our society Abahlali will stand together for the dawn of true democracy where everyone matters.”

Penny Cole
October 5 2007

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