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Capitalism and Apartheid: Two sides of the same coin

Phakamile Hlubi is a former journalist and the Acting National Spokesperson for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa

Sixty-eight years ago, on 29 June, the apartheid government under the leadership of its then Prime Minister DF Malan imposed the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949. This Act made interracial sex and marriage illegal. It was one of a series of repressive laws designed to legalise racial segregation in South Africa. Up until then, South Africa was already a deeply racially segregated society. But the newly elected National Party government of the time used the policy of apartheid to cruelly and forcibly separate people. The state machinery was brutally used to punish those who opposed it.

Long before the rabid racists of the National Party came to power in June 1948, the majority of African people were dispossessed of their birthright through the implementation of the Land Act of 1913. This act deprived generations of Black people of the right to own land in the country of their birth. Black people who made up over 90% of the population suddenly found themselves unable to own or rent land outside of designated reserves, while the white minority, which made up less than 8% of the population, owned 87% of the land in the country. A day after the Natives Land Act was enacted in South Africa, Solomon Plaatje said:

Awakening on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.”

The legacy of socio-economic injustice which was inherited from the loss of land created a class of private property owners who wielded their power to dominate and exploit the poor African majority. The land dispossession of the indigenous people of South Africa under this act caused poverty which is still prevalent in our country today and it continues to haunt the majority of Africans in the country.

Obviously, to understand what South Africa is, we must try to understand, first, the origins of “South Africa”.

In the programme of the South African Communist Party adopted at its 7th Congress in 1989 we find a very useful summary description of the origins of present day racist, patriarchal and capitalist South Africa:

The South African capitalist state did not emerge as a result of an internal popular anti-feudal revolution. It was imposed from above and from without. From its birth through to the present, South African capitalism has depended heavily on the imperialist centres. Capital from Europe financed the opening of the mines. It was the colonial state that provided the resources to build the basic infrastructure – railways, roads, harbours, posts and telegraphs. It was an imperial army of occupation that created the conditions for political unification. And it was within a colonial setting that the emerging South African capitalist class entrenched and extended the racially exclusive system to increase its opportunities for profit. The racial division of labour, the battery of racist laws and political exclusiveness guaranteed this. From these origins, a pattern of domination, which arose in the period of external colonialism, was carried over into the newly formed Union of South Africa. From its origins to the present, this form of domination has been maintained under changing conditions and by varying mechanisms. In all essential respects, however, the colonial status of the black majority has remained in place. Therefore we characterise our society as colonialism of a special type.”

We learn here that:

  1. The origins of modern capitalist South Africa lie in an imported capitalist revolution – imperialism financed and provided the military means to establish modern racist, patriarchal and capitalist South Africa.
  2. The original white South African capitalist class emerged within a colonial setting.
  3. To increase and enhance its opportunities for profits, the South African capitalist revolution relied on the racial division of labour which was coded into a battery of racist laws and political racial exclusiveness.
  4. From its origins to the present, racial domination has been maintained under changing conditions and by various means, but it has always been the backbone of South African capitalism.
  5. In all essential respects, however, the colonial status of the black majority has remained in place.

Although in 1910 the white settler community won their political freedom from British colonialism, black people in South Africa remained in a colonial relationship to the white settlers through the system of white racial domination. Thus the characterisation of South Africa as “Colonialism of a Special Type” by the SACP.

Today, 23 years into our so-called democracy, the basic economic structure of South Africa has not changed. It is what we describe as the mineral/ energy/ complex dominated, almost exclusively white dominated, monopoly capital and the colonial status of black people in relation to white people has not changed.

Dozens of laws were passed including The Population Registration Act of 1950 where people were forced to register their race with the Department of Home Affairs. Racial classification would determine where you could live; where you could go; what level and quality of education you were going to have, and the kind of work you could do.

The Bantu Education Act of 1953 was intended to ensure that African people received an inferior education to that of other races in order to ensure that there would always be a pool of cheap Black labour which could easily be exploited for the benefit of white capital. Former Prime Minister Dr HF Verwoerd who is credited with being the “architect of apartheid” said:

There is no place for the Bantu (Black person) in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd. Education must train people in accordance with their opportunities in life, according to the sphere in which they live.”

The apartheid state spent R644 (US $49) educating a white child compared to the R42 (US $3) which was spent on an African child. African schools were overcrowded and under-resourced, with a teacher-pupil ratio of 58:1. Their teachers were underqualified as the majority of them had not even completed high school.

Apartheid deliberately used race as a way to prevent the African majority from accessing quality education. In post-apartheid South Africa, the high cost of schooling at the nation’s higher education institutions has replaced it as a weapon to exclude the African working class majority. Students who have been at the centre of the movement for free quality decolonised higher education, the #FeesMustFall movement, have been assaulted, arrested and at least one of them has been killed in clashes with police and security officers. The sad irony is that this democratic government is persecuting them for demanding what the generation of June 16 died fighting for in 1976.

Twenty-three years after the transition to democracy, the African majority can now vote and occupy government, but real state power and ownership of the land and the means of production remain in white hands. While a tiny African middle class has emerged, the apartheid social and economic structures remain largely intact. Oxfam confirms this in a report titled, “An economy for the 99%”, which found that the majority of South African wealth is owned by three white billionaires while the African majority suffer under the curse of high unemployment, poverty and inequality, just as it was under apartheid.

While on paper we are free, the reality is that apartheid’s legacy continues to dominate South African society. The ANC government has abandoned its mission which was to overhaul the entire system and replace it with the demands of the Freedom Charter. The demands of the Freedom Charter are very similar to the demands of the Communist Manifesto. Instead, for over two decades it has committed itself to the implementation of neoliberal economic policies, designed to entrench the dominance of white capital in the economy.

The mass murder of 34 striking Marikana miners in 2012 by the police was just one of many examples of the brutality of the state against members of the working class who fight for improved working and living conditions. The miners in Marikana in the North West province paid the ultimate price for daring to demand a living wage of R12,500 (US $968) per month. Every year for the last five years at least 70 miners are killed underground, and this is exacerbated by their appalling living and working conditions.

The only way for the African majority to attain dignity and equality is for the capitalist system to be completely overthrown by creating a conscious working class which will struggle for socialism.

Former South African Communist Party Leader Chris Hani once said:

Socialism is not about big concepts and heavy theory. Socialism is about decent shelter for those who are homeless. It is about water for those who have no safe drinking water. It is about healthcare, it is about a life of dignity for the old. It is about overcoming the huge divide between urban and rural areas. It is about a decent education for all our people. Socialism is about rolling back the tyranny of the market. As long as the economy is dominated by an unelected privileged few, the case for Socialism will exist.” DM

Phakamile Hlubi is a former journalist and the Acting National Spokesperson for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa


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