August 3, 2001 | Page 7
SOUTH AFRICA'S African National Congress (ANC) government demolished hundreds of squatters' shacks in a camp near Johannesburg in mid-July. The assault smashed a land occupation that the ANC feared would spread--like the farm seizures in neighboring Zimbabwe--to other parts of the country.
TOM BRAMBLE, a member of the group Socialist Alternative in Australia, wrote this eyewitness account of the demolition.
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THROUGH THE cold and foggy winter air, a dozen trucks loaded with red-and-blue-uniformed demolition gangs arrived at the barren area of Bredell on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
Once at their destination, they set to work with gusto, using hooks, hammers, ropes and crowbars to tear apart makeshift shacks that had been erected over the previous three weeks--and which held under their roofs the hopes of 1,000 Black families who thought that they at last had a home of their own.
Further reinforcing memories of the days of apartheid, the 250 demolition workers were protected by 1,000 police in armored personnel carriers, equipped with rifles, tear gas, long batons and shields.
By the end of the day, little remained of the shacks--or the people, who had packed up their pieces of corrugated iron, cardboard, plywood and bedding on the back of trucks, hoping to find a place to sleep under the stars in the freezing Highveld winter night.
The ANC government's latest act of brutality--against those who have been, up until now, some of its most fervent supporters--is just the latest attack on the dreams and hopes among South Africa's impoverished Black majority following the destruction of apartheid.
But the "markets" rejoiced. The ANC showed big business that South Africa wasn't going to go the way of Zimbabwe, with its "land invasions" and seizures of white farms. The land occupation in Bredell followed several other smaller land actions in far-flung provinces.
But the ANC stepped in to protect property rights--while its neoliberal policy of "land reform" continued at the same snail's pace as it has since the end of apartheid in 1994. Eighty percent of the land is still owned by whites, who make up just 11 percent of the population.
And the plans for the Bredell land? To construct an African theme park worth $1 million.
The queue for land and the list of the homeless in South Africa continues to grow. Pressure in urban areas has intensified as rural workers are thrown out of work by commercial farmers. Townships such as Alexandra in Johannesburg, built to house 90,000, are now bursting at the seams with close to 300,000 people. Diseases like cholera and tuberculosis regularly sweep through these congested areas, and the conditions of the poor get steadily worse.
Meanwhile, the chief executive of South African Airways leaves his job after 30 months with a payout of $26 million, and the government struggles to hide the true cost of its latest arms purchase, now estimated to be $5.5 billion.
Resistance to the increasingly regressive ANC government has been weakened by the failure of the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions--which is in a political alliance with the ANC--to offer a firm lead.
But there are signs of action that have the potential to lead to a more determined and widespread mass opposition. Around South Africa, community groups are now beginning to act in self-defense against evictions--and against the cutoffs of essential services, like water and electricity, which are in the process of being privatized.
In Soweto, for example, the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee has reconnected houses that were cut off. It has also held street demonstrations and organized public meetings in the township.
And the unions themselves are involved in regular actions. In the last week of July alone, electricity workers, autoworkers, tire and rubber workers, and gold and coal miners all took action to ensure that wages keep up with the 9 percent inflation rate. And plans are underway for a general strike against privatization in August.
The future of the struggle in South Africa depends on bringing together community and union struggles to put an end to the increasing impoverishment of the Black majority--and to realize the dreams of those thousands who died in the struggle against apartheid.