Two decades after Nelson Mandela was freed from prison, South Africa has actually increased the apartheid-era race and class inequality. Neoliberal capitalist economic policies have resulted in massive unemployment and poverty that has been termed “class apartheid.” So extreme is the situation that the unemployment rate for Black youth has reached almost 50%, the worst in the industrial and even much of the non-industrial world.
The tragedy was seen in Newcastle when police arrived to close down a garment factory for paying far below the already low minimum wage. The women working on the floor, who were meant to be helped by the crackdown on sweatshops, climbed atop tables and raised an anguished protest against it. Though receiving only $36 a week, $21 below minimum wage, the women feared being out of work more than being trapped in low-wage jobs.
The number of garment workers has decreased from 150,000 in 1996 to just 50,000 today. Without these jobs there are no jobs. The fault lies with decisions by the African National Congress-led government to join the capitalist rat race to the bottom for the South African masses–not only in textiles, but for all the workers and unemployed.
It need not have been so. The long struggle against apartheid wasn’t only against the racist regime, but for a non-racialist socialist alternative. But once “power” was gained by the ANC, together with the powerful trade union alliance COSATU and the South African Communist Party, all vision of an alternative to the real power, capital, was thrown aside in a rush to be part of the “commanding heights” of bourgeois society.
The question is whether and how a new beginning can be made. The public sector workers’ strike during the World Cup was one measure of the continuing dissatisfaction and desire for change in South Africa.