June 16, 2012. What are the tasks of a Revolutionary Working Class Youth and Student Movement in South Africa? Theory and Practice
What is the central element required of a revolutionary student and youth movement in South Africa in 2012? In the first instance it is necessary to recognise that no such movement exists at the moment and that it is in fact necessary to build such a movement from the ground up. Why?
Marxism teaches that revolution, conscious revolution, can only be successful if we first understands the nature of society in which we are living, and if we understand the motive forces behind social and economic development in our society. In other words, unless we understand the forces that command social evolution, we will not be able to change that evolution into revolution. That is the main conception that Marxist consciousness should introduce into a revolutionary student and youth movement in South Africa. It is therefore necessary to contextualise the situation of students and youth in the country, at universities, schools and the workplace, and from this contextualisation suggest a theory and practice that would guide such a movement.
The ANC government has increased enrolment and universities are no longer racially defined or exclusive as they were under Apartheid. At least this is so in theory if not in practice.
There are still some university campuses that are almost exclusively white, and others that are exclusively black. Thus the North West University Potch Campus is almost exclusively white, while the Mafikeng Campus is exclusively black. This is true for many of the former Apartheid ‘bush’ universities, and of course for former ‘Afrikaans’ universities. Thus the historic class compromise of 1994 has ended Apartheid at universities theoretically but not practically. We have moved from Apartheid to Neo-Apartheid on our campuses.
While the number of university entrants has increased dramatically, university education in South Africa is still not a right, but a commodity sold to those who can afford it. Thus the working class and the poor are still largely excluded from entering universities by the mechanism of University fees. The other obstacle that potential working class and poor students face is the failure by the neo-Apartheid State to radically transform access to high school education.
The children of workers and the poor are trapped in ghetto schools that lack laboratories, libraries, workshops and sport facilities. This is because the neo Apartheid state presided over by the ANC alliance have failed to challenge the spatial arrangements of Apartheid. Thus the neo Apartheid Government has simply perpetuated the township/urban ghetto allocation of living space created by Apartheid.
While the neo-Apartheid government makes much noise about the under-performance of teachers teaching in working class ghetto schools it has done very little to redistribute resources or skills to these schools. It complains that working class and poor students fail to register for the ‘hard’ sciences, engineering and mathematics, but refuses to admit that given the appalling conditions in which these learners sat their university entrance matric exams would of necessity prevent them from obtaining the grades required to qualify for the ‘hard’ sciences, engineering and mathematics.
Given the above background it is clear that our universities, while still being partially racially exclusive are also class exclusive. They cater for the children of the rich who could afford to send their children to the well-equipped and staffed high schools in the former white suburbs or to private high schools, the latter being the preference for the children of the senior members of the ruling ANC alliance.
The class nature of our learning institutions are also reflected in the fact that none of our education institutions attempt to reconnect the link between head and hand, between theory and practice. All our learning institutions strictly teach theory. In other words they churn out people qualified not to work, but to supervise and manage only and therefore to perpetuate the hierarchical nature of the workplace under capitalism. This in essence is why the youth of the working class are still largely being excluded, structurally as we showed above, from university education.
As during Apartheid, our economy continues to be based on mining and agriculture and therefore on cheap expendable labour. The historic class compromise of 1994 between the petite bourgeois nationalists in the liberation movement and mining and agricultural capital agreed not to transform the extractive nature of the South African and therefore to retain the system of cheap labour which makes mining and agriculture profitable in the South African context. This inplies that the South African economy will never diversify into manufacturing beyond the procurement needs of mining and agriculture, or beyond the luxury consumption needs of its small ruling class. Hence the country has no need for university graduates beyond the supervisory and management needs of mining and agriculture and the procurement industries supplying mining and agriculture. Hence the doors of university learning shall remain shut to the children of the working class and the poor.
However, the perpetuation of essentially Apartheid capitalist relations of production are becoming a serious fetter on the further development of productive forces in South Africa. Our country faces huge unemployment and working class and rural communities living in the shadow of big mining operations are finding that there are no job opportunities for their children, and even where their children qualify for university entrance they cannot affords the fees or the cost of accommodation in proximity to universities. The mines have increasing relied on sub-contracted labour and have significantly cut back on full time employment for mine workers as this cuts the cost of labour and maximises profit even further. Thus Aquarius Platinum Mine which boasts members of the Sisulu and Mandela families on its board employs 9 343 subcontracted employees out of a total labour force of 11 072 people which means only 1 729 are direct permanent full-time employees.
This is because the mining sector uses a highly mobile labour force that can be quickly moved from an area where minerals are depleted such as Welkom in the Free State to where new deposits are found such as in Limpopo. Profits are maximised because there is no need for training these ‘experienced, mineworkers. It also means that conflict is escalated because prior to new mining operations local communities are convinced to accept the mine operation with promises of jobs. When the jobs do not materialise because workers are brought in from elsewhere and very often they are migrants from Lesotho, Mozambique, or the Eastern Cape xenophobic attacks break out. Local youth are told that they do not have sufficient mathematics or science qualifications or that they do not have any mining experience. The nonsense about maths and science is belied by the fact that at most mining operations of those employed only about 60% are literate.
This has led to massive violent protests by working class youth in near mine communities. Since August 2011 there have been violent uprisings in Marikana, Ikemeleng, Chaneng, Luka and several other communities led by unemployed youth demanding jobs. In several cases mine vehicles were burnt and mining operations halted by community roadblocks. While the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM) have demanded an end to the system of subcontracted labour, the African National Congress Government has resisted. The source of this resistance is easy to find, senior ANC leaders are also mining capitalists and they are benefitting from cheap labour in mining.
The South African economy based on extractive industries has lost its ability to create new jobs. It relies, as it did during Apartheid, on a huge reserve army of unemployed to keep wages down. Hundreds of thousands of youth are entering the labour market every year, many with matric certificates. The universities are geared to providing the managerial and supervisory needs of the economy and therefore cannot absorb all those who finish high school. The ruling class and the capitalist state has no vision or inclination to develop the economy beyond an extractive economy based on mining and agriculture, therefore another generation of South African people are doomed to poor education and to a live of unemployment. The ANC government and the Democratic alliance are suggesting a ‘job-subsidy’ to employers to ‘create jobs.’ In other words bosses will be paid by the state to create jobs. This means that work will be further degraded and labour will be made even cheaper as the state will now foot the bill of paying workers on behalf of bosses thus increasing profits even further.
A state that does not own and control the economy cannot create jobs, it is hostage to the market to do so. In an extractive economy the market dictates that labour be cheap and in oversupply. The only viable solution is the nationalisation and socialisation of the economy, which is something that the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is calling for. But NUMSA is trapped in an alliance with the petite bourgeois ANC which is the ruling party in government.
It is on the basis of a clear understanding that we need to consciously reconstruct South African society, to overcome the situation in which we are dominated by the requirements of a market economy based on extractive industries and take our destiny into our own hands and demand the nationalisation and socialisation of both our government and our economy to develop beyond mining and extractive industries. This conscious action of emancipation cannot be carried on effectively, and certainly not carried through, unless we as workers, students and youth are aware of the social environment in which we are living, of the social forces we have to confront and the general social and economic conditions in which we find ourselves. Only then can we construct a revolutionary working class youth and student movement in South Africa.
 According to the Chamber of Mines minerals accounted for 35.9% of South Africa’s total merchandise exports. If secondary beneﬁciated minerals are added to primary exports, such as pgm catalytic converters, ferro-alloys, steel, chemicals, and plastics, then the minerals complex accounted
for about 50% of South Africa’s total merchandise exports.