Despite receiving almost no attention in the international press, South Africa has once again become the scene of an all-important political struggle: the fight to advance and defend working class politics in Africa. While South Africa has been included in the well known BRICS grouping (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), which serves as an indicator of how the country’s economy is viewed internationally, there remains a deep, and in many ways widening, class divide separating South Africa’s political elites from the working class they are meant to represent.
The deepening rift between many workers, trade unions, and urban and rural poor, and the Alliance made up of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and the South African Communist Party (SACP) is cause for concern as the government of Jacob Zuma faces internal political challenges that threaten to rock his ruling coalition to its very foundation. While some commentators have framed the conflict as merely personal politics as leaders jockey for influential positions in the Alliance and government, the reality is that the emerging conflicts reflect a deeply divided society in which millions still yearn for the fruits of the revolution of 1994.
There are two distinctly different, yet inextricably linked currents in South Africa’s working class political movement. The first is the organized labor struggle, including powerful and politically active trade unions and organizations and their leadership which, more often than not, represents a significant locus of power in its own right. The second is the movement of urban and rural poor which represents the most economically marginalized group in the country, one that feels, with much justification, completely left out of the much touted economic growth the country has experienced in recent years. In examining how these political currents both independently and collectively engage with South Africa’s ruling class, including their demands and theaters of struggle, it becomes clear that though apartheid formally ended twenty years ago, the country remains deeply divided and sorely needing to realize the dream of the revolution.