4 November 2016

South Africa

Free Student Protesters! Cops Off Campus!

OCTOBER 30—South Africa’s neo-apartheid government has ramped up its violent repression against university students fighting for free, quality education for all. Campus strikes and protests roiled South Africa late last year, leading the government to freeze previously announced university fee increases. Mass protests flared up again in September when the higher education minister (and head of the Communist Party), Blade Nzimande, announced that fees would once again be increased. As described by our comrades of Spartacist/South Africa in a September 22 leaflet, the Tripartite Alliance government of the African National Congress (ANC), South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) sent their cops and campus security guards to brutally suppress these protests with clouds of tear gas, hails of rubber bullets and mass arrests (see “Mass Student Protests Demand Free Education Now,” WV No. 1097, 7 October).

In the weeks since, the repression has intensified. The police announced this week that 831 “Fees Must Fall” protesters have been arrested since February! On October 20, Tshwane University of Technology student leader Benjamin Lesedi Phehla was killed after a car plowed into a student march. An October 25 protest statement sent to the South African government by the Partisan Defense Committee (a legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League) stated:

“We stand in solidarity with the protesting students and their demand for free quality education, without which black youth are condemned to low-paid jobs or forced into South Africa’s existing unemployed masses. A mere 3.2 percent of black youth aged 18 to 29 attend schools of higher education, and of that figure, 85 percent drop out.”

That the student protests have continued in the face of fierce repression is one expression of the volatile situation throughout the country. The protests have tapped into the profound discontent of the oppressed over the betrayed promises of liberation from white minority rule. The Tripartite Alliance leaders are widely discredited among workers, the township poor and youth, not least due to the naked police repression the government metes out. The true face of racist, neo-apartheid South Africa was shown most starkly in the police massacre of 34 striking miners in Marikana in 2012. That some of those being rounded up in the student protests today are leaders of the Tripartite Alliance’s own youth organizations is an indication of the loss of authority of the former “liberation struggle” leaders. Having awakened widespread expectations of a better life for the impoverished black masses, the Tripartite Alliance leaders have fronted for the racist, exploitative capitalist system under which these expectations can never be met. We reprint below an October 19 statement by Spartacist/South Africa.

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On Sunday, in an early morning police raid on Wits Junction residence, police arrested Mcebo Dlamini, former Wits SRC [Student Representative Council] president and a prominent leader of the Fees Must Fall (FMF) protests. Dlamini faces trumped up charges including assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, public violence and theft. Today he was outrageously denied bail after the state prosecutors argued he is a “flight risk” because he was born in Swaziland, outside the colonial-drawn South African borders! Dlamini’s persecution is part of a transparent, coordinated attempt by the bourgeois state to crush the mass protests for free higher education by cutting off their head. From Pretoria to Cape Town to Durban, student leaders have been arrested, detained and threatened with arrest by the cops. Protest leaders at Wits have been told of a “hit list” drawn up by police and university managements, who are working hand in hand to target student militants. According to the police, more than 500 people have been arrested in connection with FMF protests over the past eight months. At University of KwaZulu-Natal, eleven students have been in prison for a month. At the University of Cape Town, student leader Masixole Mlandu was denied bail last week and faces at least a week in Pollsmoor, a maximum-security prison infamous for brutality, where the white-supremacist apartheid regime routinely sent black liberation fighters to teach them a lesson. Another student arrested this weekend at Wits was abducted by the cops and dumped in Limpopo after reportedly being stripped naked and tortured.

The capitalist state and university administrations have increasingly responded with naked police repression, bolstered by cynical, racist propaganda smearing the protesters as “violent thugs” who are violating the rights of a “silent majority” that “just wants to learn.” This hypocrisy was laid bare for anyone who cares to see during the past few weeks, as one university after another ordered the resumption of the academic programme, enforced through the barrel of a gun. Police occupation forces have not only dispersed and hunted down protesting students, going so far as shooting a Catholic priest who tried to protect protesters who sought refuge in his church. They have also opened fire on individuals trying to attend classes, as well as campus workers who have simply tried to defend students from police violence. This weekend saw the Wits administration imposing a 10 p.m. curfew—a racist clampdown on black students, who are the overwhelming majority that live on campus. Even those who complied with this lockdown and stayed in their res halls have been assaulted and shot at by police. Many students have rightly defied this curfew, which they’ve denounced as [Wits vice-chancellor] “Habib’s Apartheid.” Down with the racist Wits curfew!

The student protesters have fought militantly and bravely to shut down the universities as their only means of disrupting the system and voicing their anger at being excluded—financially and through racist discrimination—from higher education. Campus workers at Wits and other universities have downed tools in solidarity with the students and in opposition to the police clampdown, as have some, mainly black, academic staff. But achieving the protests’ just demands is going to come down to a battle of class forces in society, and the reality is that in and of itself stopping the academic programme does little to hurt the interests of the mainly white capitalist ruling class that the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance government and the university vice-chancellors alike serve. The students don’t just need convincing and compelling arguments on their side, they need social power. These apartheid-style police state tactics need to be met with mass, militant protest centred on the country’s overwhelmingly black proletariat which has the ability to hurt the capitalists where it counts—their profits. The working class uniquely has this power, based on its organisation and central role in the system of capitalist production.

The key to unlocking this power is a political struggle against the labour lieutenants of capital who currently occupy the leadership of the working-class organisations. The leaders of the SACP and COSATU have made it perfectly clear where they stand with numerous statements denouncing the protests as “violent” and calling for them to end. That is not an accident, but flows from their pro-capitalist, class-collaborationist politics. As part of the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance, together with the bourgeois ANC, the SACP and COSATU tops are directly responsible for the attacks that this capitalist government carries out on workers and the oppressed as part of administering the neo-apartheid system. This includes state persecution of student leaders like Mcebo Dlamini, notwithstanding the fact that he and many other protest leaders are part of the Progressive Youth Alliance, the junior affiliate of the Tripartite Alliance. While not part of the Tripartite Alliance, the leaders of NUMSA, AMCU and other “independent” unions fundamentally share the same pro-capitalist programme. To date, they have at most declared verbal “solidarity” with the student protests, while refusing to mobilise their base to defend the protesters against the capitalist state.

The working class needs a revolutionary vanguard party that acts as a tribune of all the oppressed, based on an understanding of the proletariat’s historic role as the gravedigger of capitalism and on the strict political independence of the working class from the capitalist state and all bourgeois parties. In neo-apartheid South Africa, where racial and class oppression continue to overlap heavily, the struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is inextricably tied to the fight for the national liberation of the black majority, in which the proletariat must take the lead—the fight for a black-centred workers government. This means a sharp political struggle against all variants of nationalism—the lie that the black population as a whole shares a common interest standing higher than class divisions—which deny the class struggle and subordinate the proletariat to its class enemies. We of Spartacist/South Africa are dedicated to the perspective of building the Leninist-Trotskyist party needed to put an end to racist neo-apartheid as part of the struggle for new October Revolutions around the world. Every student or teacher who cares about education, every class conscious worker must demand: Free all student protesters! Drop the charges! No cops on campus! Forward to free, quality education for all!

Send Protest Letters!

We call on trade unions, student organizations and anti-­racist activists internationally to stand in solidarity with the South African student activists. Send protest statements demanding the release of all arrested protesters and the dropping of all charges to: Mr. Jacob Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa, Private Bag X1000, Pretoria, 0001, South Africa; email: ­presidentrsa@presidency.gov.za and Dr. Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, Private Bag X174, Pretoria, 0001, South Africa; email: Sako.M@dhet.gov.za.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1099, 4 November 2016)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.