The left in South Africa

Submitted by Matthew on 12 September, 2012 - 7:53

Ben Fogel, a socialist activist in South Africa who writes for Amandla and is active in miners’ solidarity work, spoke to Martyn Hudson.


Most of the historic Trotskyist tendencies in South Africa are dissolved to varying degrees.

The two most important were WOSA, which was Neville Alexander’s group, which is now largely defunct, and the Unity movement which is now just a few people, but was important. Otherwise there is Keep Left, which is linked to the SWP in the UK.

Most Trotskyists are involved in other movements, rather than being in a specifically Trotskyist group. Most organise under an umbrella called the Democratic Left Front (DLF), or various civil society formations.

The DLF has difficulties understanding what it is. It’s supposed to be a united front uniting all of the small left formations with some independent unions and social movements in order to form a bloc and win over the working class in Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and other places. But it’s not that — it’s mostly a bunch of people trying to respond to everything with press statements rather than mobilisation.

WOSA, like a lot of other movements, fell apart after 1994. A lot of people joined the Communist Party (SACP) or lost interest. A lot of people thought SACP was de-Stalinizing and worth joining in order to push it in a new direction.

There is an ANC-aligned “left” within the COSATU. I don’t even count the SACP as left.

There is also the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). There is the independent left, and the social movement left.

The COSATU/ANC left is split between condemning the massacre and then covering the ANC’s back. A lot of people are turning against President Zuma, and Julius Malema from the ANCYL has won a lot of people over by speaking left. Whether or not Malema is actually on the left is another matter.

The independent left has mostly tried to organise solidarity groups, raising money and such, and has called for an independent inquiry into the massacre. That call has been backed by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, which is the most socialist union in COSATU. A lot of people in social movements have experienced similar repression but on a lesser scale, and some have sent people to meet with the miners.

Malema’s role is complex. He's really monopolised the left space in SA, because of the failings of both the independent and ANC-aligned left. He speaks a little like someone like Chavez. He's an opportunist, but he’s done the most to help the miners in terms of material aid and so on.

The key here is to support the striking miners. The strike is still going on and it looks like there are more strikes at other mines on the way, including the gold sector, so the left needs to aid the miners here with food and material support.

Hopefully we can build a working relationship with the miners and something can come out of that. Here it appears the working class is more militant than the unions, and the left is being dragged forward by this. We also need to give up on trying to convince COSATU’s leadership to join an independent workers’ party, or whatever.

COSATU’s leadership is ANC, and is directly implicated in the murder of these workers.

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