Coligny: We support protesters - SAFTU

Federation says it is a reaction against white elite who treat black majority with same contempt as under apartheid

South African Federation of Trade Unions

Statement on protests in Coligny and the economic roots of racism

The South African Federation of Trade Unions pledges its full support to the residents of Coligny who are furious at the killing of 16-year-old Matlhomola Mosweu on 20 April, allegedly at the hands of two white farm workers. It is a protest against a white elite who still treat the black majority with the same contempt as in the days of apartheid.

The accused claim they caught Matlhomola stealing a sunflower at their employer’s field near the informal settlement where he lived, put him in the back of a van and intended to hand him over to police, but that he then jumped, or “accidentally fell”, out of the van. He suffered neck injuries and died later on his way to hospital. But an eyewitness told the police that Matlhomola was thrown out of the moving van by the two accused.

This is just the latest example of white residents, particularly in rural areas, treating the black majority with contemptuous disregard.  A SundayTimes reporter who went to Coligny “got the sense that the town is stuck in an apartheid time warp” and heard from black residents “chilling stories of segregation at local businesses”.

The reporter saw that a local OK supermarket had separate queues for black and white customers; a black resident who joined the “white queue” was forcible moved to the “black” one. A local doctor has separate racially segregated waiting rooms. A pharmacist was shown to discriminate between customers, when a white Times photographer was allowed to speak on his cell phone in the shop but later a black resident was thrown out of the shop for talking on his phone.

The racism within the white community was further illustrated when residents signed a petition calling not just for granting bail for the accused farm workers but for the complete withdrawal of murder charges against them, even before they had appeared in court.

It is outrageous that such practices continue 23 years after the age of apartheid was supposed to have ended. This is why the black community is so enraged. Not only, like millions of other poor communities, have they suffered from unemployment, poverty and hunger but are still victimised by the racism and violence of members of the white population.

Helen Lille’s defence of “positive” aspects of colonialism, and FW de Klerk’s justification in 2012 of elements of apartheid, are further evidence of continuing racist attitudes among whites.

SAFTU however believes that the underlying problem lies in the failure of the ANC leadership and government to change the fundamental class structure inherited from colonialism and apartheid. The negotiated Codesa settlement left the economy, and all the wealth and power which flows from it, in the hands of the same white, male class as before. 

They have forgotten the ANC’s own warning in 1969 that to allow current economic interests to maintain their interests intact would not only represent not a shadow of liberation but would feed the roots of racial supremacy. That is why property relations are still defined by 500 years of colonialism and 40 years of apartheid.

The white capitalist elite has prospered to the point where South Africa is the most unequal society in the world. 10% of the population owns at least 90% to 95% of all assets and yet business leaders object to proposals for a proposed wealth tax and even, according to the Director General at the Department of Labour, are threatening mass retrenchments if they have to pay the poverty minimum wage of R3 500 a month.

This has happened because the ANC leaders sold out to racist supremacists when they signed the Codesa agreement. The faction which backs Zuma has now started making empty promises about white monopoly capitalism and economic transformation, but this faction, just as much as the other faction supporting Ramaphosa, are equally responsible for the ANC government’s refusal over 23 years to implement any such transformative policies. 

This talk is just empty phrase-mongering to cover up their betrayal by implementing neoliberal economic policies like GEAR and other policies demanded by global economic institutions like the World Bank, IMF and credit rating agencies. They also reaped their personal reward for this sell-out with position on company boards or corruptly feeding off the wealth of the ruing class through tender manipulation.

They have implemented none of the socio-economic section of the Freedom Charter which promised that wealth and power would be shared among all the people. They refused to nationalize the mineral wealth, the banks or monopolized industries or do anything to curb the power of the same white monopoly capitalists they now complain about. 

Meanwhile the poor in Coligny and countless other poor communities, most recently in  Vuwani and Freedom Park, have protested in angry and often violent action against ongoing racism and their exclusion from the benefits they were promised - a living wage, secure employment, good schools for their children, proper healthcare, affordable transport, leisure and holidays - which remain privileges, only for the rich, mainly white minority. 

That is what freedom and democracy ought to have delivered, but the only democratic freedom for the poor, black majority has been the right to be treated as voting cattle every five years to vote their oppressors back into power.

This is why SAFTU is determined to fight for genuine and total economic and social transformation, to end the quadruple scourges of unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption, and give power and real freedom to the people. 

Zwelinzima Vavi, SAFTU General Secretary

Patrick Craven, SAFTU Acting Spokesperson

Issued by SAFTU, 9 May 2017