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South Africa: anti-poverty riots and strikes shake the country

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South Africa is a country in crisis. Years of neoliberal policies have weakened the economy and now the world recession is tipping it over the edge. Now a massive public sector strike grips the country, writes Simon Hardy

People have taken to the streets to demonstrate their anger and frustration. Alongside riots and protests, there is a significant increase in workers struggles - mine workers, council workers, paper and chemical workers are either on strike, threatening to strike or beginning to move into dispute against their employers.

The anger of ordinary people is easy to understand. After 15 years of ANC rule, many people in the townships and slums still have no electricity or running water, the quality of the housing stock is very bad and unemployment is at 23 per cent and rising.

The first quarter decline in gross domestic product (GDP) of 6.4 per cent comes on top of an erosion of the currency, with five collapses since 1996. Money was flooding out of South Africa towards London, and key sector collapses, such as manufacturing, shipping and mining, means that South Africa has very high current account deficits.

The riots have been mainly directed both against the local officials, who are accused of corruption. In Siyathemba township, local mayor Lefty Tsotetsi addressed crowds from inside an armoured police vehicle as he was too scared to step outside and face the protesters.

Afterwards his luxury second house - still under construction - was torched to the ground.
The problem stems from the failures of the ANC. After years of struggle to free themselves from apartheid racist rule, the expectations for the ANC were high. But the ANC did not have a strategy of fighting for a socialist economy - they simply wanted western style liberal democracy and the creation of a black capitalist class. This was achieved, but the ordinary South Africans have been left on the scrapheap, living in constant poverty with no way out.

The election of Jacob Zuma earlier in the year brought a fresh wave of hope to the poor, as he pledged to make improving public services his number one priority. The labour unions helped him into power and are using the opportunity to demand significant pay rises - fuel sector workers secured a 9.5 per cent pay increase in July.

While most of the protests have been directed at the government, some have targeted foreign workers and businesses. In the eastern province of Mpumalang, protesters smashed up a foreign-owned business.
Last year there was a horrific wave of riots and attacks directed at foreigners. Around 60 people died; one of them was Ernesto Nhamuave, a 35-year of father of three, who was burnt to death by a rampaging mob.

What is needed in South Africa is a revolutionary workers party to channel the anger of the townships and unemployed into a fight for an end to capitalism. The attacks on foreigners are a dangerous precedent and one that must be combated - they are not the enemy and they suffer the economic problems as much as native South Africans. Many of them have fled wars and starvation in their home countries.
Massive investment in public services, such as housing and sanitation, is desperately needed, along with public work schemes to generate employment. If the capitalists won’t pay for it, or claim they can’t pay, then the government must embark on a massive nationalisation programme and progressive taxation of the rich.