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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 7, No. 6, 16 April 2008

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Strengthen class organisation and mobilisation to defeat racism

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

The SACP is in the midst of its Chris Hani Month mass campaigning against high food and fuel prices, the continuing rise in interest rates, and to express our opposition to the proposed 60% rise in electricity tariffs.

The SACP will also be joining the planned COSATU actions on this front, hoping to deepen and escalate these struggles into the Workers' month in May and beyond. The assault on the working class, as we noted in the previous edition, is intensifying; from retrenchments, low wages and casualisation on the one hand, and, now, the lowering of the living standards of the workers due to the rising cost of living. This underlines the need to shift our economic policies away from 'lowering the cost of doing business for business', to lowering the cost of living for workers and the poor.

I had originally planned to write about Zimbabwe and the politics of former liberation movement now in power. We however join our Alliance partners, the ANC and COSATU, in condemning the withholding of election results in that country, and demand that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) immediately release these results. Failure to do so is tantamount to stealing the elections and will further contribute to what is an already deteriorating political and socio-economic situation in that country.

Racism and capitalism

However, two incidents this week forced me change of focus for this edition. The first was an incident I personally witnessed, not for the first time, of racial abuse of a black casual worker by a white supervisor in one restaurant. I had to intervene, but sat with the uncomfortable thought that that intervention was only useful for that time, unless we intensify organisation of casual workers and escalate the struggle against racism.

The second incident was that of the reaction of some of the media to the firing of David Bullard by The Sunday Times newspaper. These two developments are a reflection of the extent to which racism still remains firmly entrenched in South African society, and the extent of tolerance for racism in our media. And that our current growth path actively reproduces racialised and gendered exploitation in South Africa's workplaces.

These events further emphasised the arguments so cogently made by Joe Slovo in 1976, as quoted by Ben Turok in an article which will appear in our next edition of our journal, The African Communist:

"A nationalist ideology which ignores the class basis of racism is false",
"It is impossible to conceive of true liberation separated from the destruction of capitalism,"
"No significant national demand can be successfully won without the destruction of the existing capitalist structure",
"If every racist statute were to be repealed tomorrow, leaving the economic status quo undisturbed, white domination in its most essential aspects would remain"

Without crudely reducing racism only to class relations, but it is the maintenance of capitalist class relations that continues to reproduce racism and sexism. The struggle against racism is inextricably linked to the struggle against the capitalist system as a whole. It therefore is absolutely important that for the struggle against racism not to be simplistically reduced to 'changing mindsets' and 'non-racial education', the class organisations of the working class need to be strengthened and to be at the head of this struggle.

The racial abuse of black workers

It is therefore important that there must be a renewed focus on the organisation of casual workers and other marginalised workers, like farm-workers. The neo-liberal restructuring of South Africa's workplace, including in its racialised forms, continues unabated, one of whose features is the transformation of especially black workers' 'permanent' jobs into casual jobs. This further contributes towards lowering the standard of living of workers, whilst the bosses are raking in super-profits and paying themselves super-salaries of millions of rands each year.

The deepening casualisation of South Africa's workplace is also spurred on by the increasing regionalisation of South Africa's workforce, especially in the catering sector. The worsening economic situation in Zimbabwe has over the years seen a massive exodus of Zimbabweans (legally and illegally) into South Africa. In addition, the disastrous impact of structural adjustment programmes in the SADC region in general, has driven more workers from the rest of the region into South Africa, to seek better economic opportunities here.

This is unfortunately giving rise to xenophobic attitudes from sections of our poor people, essentially a reflection of 'intra-poor' struggles over scarce resources, whether it be over menial jobs or street trading.

Apart from appallingly low wages, casual workers are also subjected to extreme forms of racism and sexism by employers and especially their white supervisors, exploiting their many vulnerabilities, whether it be the fact that some are illegally in South Africa or the fact that they are not organised into trade unions. In fact in many workplaces casual workers are specifically instructed or intimidated into not joining any trade unions, and those who try or actually do join unions are victimised, including summary expulsion.

Whilst all this is happening the public discourse in much of the media and within the elite is focused principally on protecting and defending the macro-economic regime that we have in our country; a macro- economic regime that benefits the rich. The focus is predominantly on interest rates, inflation targeting, budget surplus without any discussion about the impact of all these on workers, as living human beings. Any attempts to highlight the real situation faced by workers and the need to shift our economic policies, these are dismissed as populist.

Some media reactions to David Bullard

This brings me to the issue of David Bullard, a Sunday Times columnist for the past 14 years, fired by his editor this week. In this week's Sunday Times, Bullard wrote one of the most outrageously racist columns, a continuation of many of his other racist columns. In essence Bullard is saying black people must thank colonialism for taking them out of their barbarism. In fact it had taken the Sunday Times too long to fire this (almost congenital) racist!

However, what is most disturbing is the muted response of the media in general to this racist diatribe, and even worse some kind of justification and even 'rewards' for Bullard, with the Star immediately giving him space. One would have expected media outrage at such racist rubbish and provocation.

I am for instance flabbergasted by Anton Harber's reaction in his Business Day column of 16 April 2008. He concludes it by saying, "If editors want to avoid these kinds of embarrassments, they don't need to get rid of controversial columnists. They need to invest in more good subeditors. The tenor of his column is more on blaming the Sunday Times editorial for having allowed this to be printed, rather than focusing on the outrageous nature of Bullard's column. Yes, the Sunday Times must not be excused for having allowed this column to be published. I hold no brief for the Sunday Times editor, but the import of Harber's piece is that both Mondli Makhanya and David Bullard are equally guilty!

At the very least one would have expected a journalist of Harber's reputation to focus on the persistence of racism in the media, and how to tackle how to tackle this scourge. One only has to compare media outrage directed at the Forum of Black Journalists, and its reaction towards the firing of Bullard to understand the extent to which our media tolerates racial abuse of blacks. It is as if it is only whites who are entitled to non-racial treatment!

Martin Williams, the editor of The Citizen of 16 April 2008, goes even further and provocatively defend this column by Bullard. He says,

"In strictly commercial terms Makhanya made a mistake because, love him or or hate him, Bullard is a drawcard…

"I am inclined to believe Bullard's assertion that it was payback for his repeated refusal to apologise for criticising Sunday Times management in an article in Empire magazine"

For Williams there is nothing wrong with Bullard's column! Instead he boldly and provocatively tells us, "Last Friday I offered Bullard a regular column. If he does come on board he won't be censored, nor fired for something already in print". Apart from this being extremely offensive to the black majority of our country, it shows the high levels of tolerance of the racist abuse of black people by sections of South African media. In fact racists like Bullard should have no place in our media, 14 years into our democracy!

Some of the justifications for Martin Williams include the fact that Bullard is a draw-card in the market place. This essentially means a market-place of racism, because Bullard perhaps has had the guts to publicly express the many racist beliefs still harboured by many white South Africans.

I have no doubts that were similarly offensive remarks made against white people, there would have been a huge outcry, possibly even parties like the DA and the Freedom Front calling for endless parliamentary debates. Yet they are comfortably silent!

As we approach May Day, it is absolutely essential to intensify efforts towards the mobilisation of the more vulnerable workers, the working class as a whole, to escalate the struggle against capitalism, as one of the most important platforms to finally defeat the scourge of racism. In this we must continue to be guided by the words written by Slovo in 1976!



SACP Statement on the recent developments in Zimbabwe

16 April 2008

The SACP has been closely following events in Zimbabwe, including the circumstances surrounding the recently held national elections. We wish to join our allies, the ANC and COSATU, in expressing our concern in how these political developments are unfolding. We are extremely worried and strongly condemn the ZEC's clandestine management and failure to announce all the results, more than two weeks after voting. There is every merit to the insistence that all election results be expeditiously announced. The SACP fully supports such a call.

Consistent with the past SACP principled perspectives, our view is that current day Zimbabwe represents a post-colonial aberration of national democratic objectives of transformation, in which popular aspirations are deferred, in the interest of narrowly elitist accumulation projects of a small bureaucratic stratum and the most parasitic sections of the ruling class.

The SACP remains convinced that the principal cause of the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe is that of a degenerating national liberation movement, which once fought a heroic struggle, but now paying the price of being trapped in state power that is not buttressed by the people's will.

The intransigence of not releasing the results, and the deployment of police and the army within communities, represents the growing alienation of sections of the Zimbabwean elites from control and monopoly of bureaucratic state power.

It is important that South Africa and SADC, does not pander to the whims of the Zimbabwean elites, and should allow the realization of democratic aspirations of the poor people of Zimbabwe. Otherwise this sets a terribly bad precedent for the SADC region, if not the African continent as a whole.

Failure to release the election results is tantamount to stealing the elections from the people and risks whatever little credibility that ZEC still had.

The SACP reiterates its principled solidarity support to the suffering people of Zimbabwe and calls for an end to the crisis.

Issued by the SACP.