South Africa: Riots demonstrate the need to overthrow capitalism and the white and black ruling class!

(«Proletarian»; Nr. 18; Winter 2021-2022)

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On July 15, the official death toll from six days of rioting, in what is considered the worst explosion of anger since the end of apartheid in South Africa, was more than 117 and more than 2,000 arrests.

It all started after former President Jacob Zuma was arrested for corruption. When he was still deputy president, he had received bribes to facilitate an arms contract with the French firm Thompson (now Thales); to this case, which has been dragging on for years, were added accusations of corruption of Zuma and his family by powerful South African companies (the Gupta group) and others (MacKinsey, an American « consulting » firm very active with the current French government, the American KPMG, the German SAP SE, etc.). Zuma, who succeeded Nelson Mandela as head of the ANC (in power since the end of apartheid) before becoming president, had long managed to avoid problems with the courts: only his financial director being was convicted in the Thompson case (1). The main trade union, COSATU, as well as the Communist Party (SACP), had always supported this « freedom fighter » who had been imprisoned with Mandela and who was on the left wing (!) of the ANC. In 2018, however, he was forced to resign from the presidency following the revelation of new financial scandals. Although he then made an agreement with the other fractions of the ANC, the worsening of internal rivalries in the party meant that the judiciary finally received the green light to arrest him.

It was then that his supporters among the Zulu ethnic group of which he is a member began demonstrating in KwaZulu-Natal province to protest against his imprisonment.




This was the trigger for a revolt that spread mainly to the province of Gauteng, where the country’s two largest cities, Pretoria and Johannesburg, are located. But the revolt had nothing to do with ethnic issues or internal rivalries within the ruling party. In the townships, the poor working-class areas of the big cities, stores, pharmacies and warehouses were looted, trucks carrying food were attacked, roads were cut off and official buildings were burned, while the police force was overwhelmed. The government called in thousands of soldiers and reservists to restore order (numbering 25,000 on Thursday 14), including shooting at crowds, while white and Indian shopkeepers and property owners set up armed militias to patrol their neighborhoods’ and defend their property.

These riots are the consequence of the dramatic situation from which a large part of the population is suffering. South Africa, the most industrialized country in Africa, whose economy has been in the doldrums for several years, has been hit hard by the current economic and health crisis. In 2020, it experienced its deepest and longest recession in 26 years (8% decline in GDP). Half of the country’s companies fear that they will not survive the crisis. Already the unemployment rate, which has risen sharply, is officially 42% (more than 50% in the townships) –and more than 72% for young people (aged 18 to 32) (2)! The poverty rate, which was 55% of the population in the spring of 2020 - and the rate of extreme poverty, meaning difficulties in feeding oneself to the point of hunger, which was 25% - according to World Bank figures, has increased by nearly 10% since then (3).

The health crisis of covid 19 affects in all countries the most underprivileged populations, those who have the most difficulty in accessing health care; this is particularly true in South Africa where, faced with a particularly virulent « variant», the vast majority of the population is helpless. Because of the negligence of the authorities, vaccination is very slow and available only to those who master English and the Internet to register, that is to say in fact for white people; moreover, the latter have most often subscribed to private insurance policies essential to obtain the necessary medicines, while 90% of black families do not have the means. It is easy to understand why the rioters looted pharmacies and even set fire to a vaccination center!

South Africa is indeed one of the most unequal countries in the world; the average salary of blacks is three times lower than that of whites, and that of women 30% lower than that of men, which reflects the difference in the positions of the two groups: the proletarians are overwhelmingly blacks (and black women), while whites occupy the most qualified and best-paid jobs, and are moreover less often affected by unemployment.

Furthermore, the country has many large fortunes linked to the large capitalist groups and to the new black bourgeoisie (such as Cyril Ramaphosa, the current president, a rival of Zuma, a former lawyer leading the miners’ union and Mandela’s successor, who has made a fortune in business). Zuma’s political opponents accuse him of having done nothing to improve the conditions of the poor black masses and of having done everything to preserve the interests of the white bourgeoisie; indeed, thirty years after the end of apartheid, the situation of the proletarians and the black masses has not fundamentally changed and the economic domination of the white capitalists has remained intact.

But this is precisely why the white ruling class agreed in the late 1990s to hand over the reins of political power to the ANC: it was the best way to preserve the capitalist order and the interests of the South African bourgeoisie, including the big landowners, by calming down mass agitation and disciplining the proletarians through the ANC-linked unions.

Despite its armed struggle against the apartheid regime, the ANC has never had any other goal than the reform of South African capitalism; and, despite its socialist propaganda, the SACP, which was its driving force, like the Stalinist movement as a whole, has always been hostile to proletarian revolution, even before it officially renounced any revolutionary perspective in the early 1990s. For years its perspective has been that of a « national democratic revolution », i.e. nationalist and interclassist, in opposition to the true communist perspective of a potentially international and proletarian revolution, i.e. monoclassist. Its integrally bourgeois perspective could only lead to the rallying to the established order, once the apartheid regime was abandoned by the ruling class. The result is the development of a black bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie and the consolidation of capitalism and bourgeois domination. Today the SACP is organizing the guarding of public buildings and calling for the « defense of our hard-won democracy » against the rioters accused of being « counter-revolutionary » criminals (4)...

The working class in South Africa has a long history of hard struggle against particularly rapacious capitalists. It has experienced and is experiencing every day the collusion of its so-called « friends » – from the ANC to the SACP to the big collaborationist unions – with the capitalists. It can see that three decades of democracy have only benefited its class enemies and their henchmen.

But it is not condemned to always suffer exploitation, misery and hunger – and bullets when she revolts. As the creator of all social wealth through her work, it has the strength to resist all injustices victoriously and to attack the capitalism that causes them – provided it finds the way of struggle and revolutionary class organization.

The disorderly outburst of anger of the last few days has made the bourgeois tremble: they have had a foretaste of the rage of the proletarian masses, which will tomorrow make them pay for all the crimes of their system by the communist revolution.


May the bourgeois tremble at the thought! The proletarians only have to lose their chains, they have a world to win.


 July, 17th 2021



(1) He had claimed that in addition to payments to Zuma, the French firm also paid money into the ANC’s slush fund, demonstrating the widespread corruption of Mandela’s party. French presidents Chirac and Sarkozy intervened with the South African authorities to stop the prosecution of this French champion of corruption.

(2), 16/7/21

(3) According to statistics released on 7/7/21, the poverty rate in 2015 was 62% among children under the age of 17, with the rate reaching 82% in rural Limpopo province and 76% in Natal.   

(4) https:// content/ sacp-gauteng-calls- its-red-brigade- members-and- people-defend- our-hard-won- democracy (15/7)  



International Communist Party


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