South Africa: The Ruins of Neo-Apartheid


Low participation in Local Government Elections reflect popular dissatisfaction with the ANC government


By Lal Azania, RCIT Correspondent in South Africa, 15 November 2021,




The Local Government Elections held in South Africa on 1 November 2021 has demonstrated that the 1994 negotiated settlement that brought about a bourgeois democratic dispensation is fast loosing legitimacy and is unravelling. Only 68% of eligible voters bothered to register and effectively 30% cast their ballots. Of those who voted, 2% had spoilt their ballots.


The elections resulted in a massive defeat for the ANC, the ruling party since 1994. It’s share of votes declined from 53.91% to 45.59%. Likewise did the bourgeois main opposition party – Democratic Alliance – loose many votes, declining from 26.90% to 21.62%. At the same time, the Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema, could increase their share from 8.19% to 10.32%.




The reality of neo-Apartheid




The municipal system is unable to effectively provide basic services, a result of the combination of a flawed design and the rampant corruption and ineptitude of the bourgeois parties, and municipal bureaucrats involved.


The Apartheid order, during the negotiations for a new South Africa, insisted that municipalities be a constitutionally protected autonomous sphere of government. Each municipality has its own independent legal status and responsibilities to its residents. The historical inequalities between rural and urban; and class and ‘race’ profiled revenue basis to fund these municipalities was meant to be cured with an equitable grant from central government annually. A recent inquiry concluded that the ‘equitable formula’ does not address this fast-degenerating reality. The effect is that colour-based inequality has now become class-colour inequality: the neo-Apartheid!


Apartheid spatial planning has not been addressed. Residential localities with working class - realistically black – residents, continue to be located furthest from work centres and largely white and middle-class suburbia are located most proximate to centres of economic activity. South Africa’s Apartheid planning was the opposite of the international norm of locating working class areas closest to work centres and suburbia at a distance.


In the face of rapidly increasing unemployment, always a structural feature of South Africa; the revenue base of municipalities has shrunken rapidly. Austerity budgets from the central government enhance the structural inequality. The constitutional mechanism of co-operative governance, to cure the matter of co-ordination between spheres of government (central, provincial and local) has proven at best to be an ineffective nicety. In short, the municipal system is designed as part of the overall mechanism to ensure the survival of capitalism in South Africa that had been under threat during the rising revolutionary tide under Apartheid.


The constitutional arrangement requires public consultation by municipalities and the White Paper on Local Government (1998) warned that its absence would lead to the system not working. However, this aspect is in sharp contrast to the proportional representation system of local government (aside from ward-based representation); both of which have led to responsiveness of local government elected representatives to bourgeois political parties rather than their constituents. The very basis for the successful struggle against Apartheid was mass mobilisation and organisation at street and area committee level within communities. The international isolation and ‘armed propaganda’ struggle of the dominant ANC are often overrated in their contribution to the ending of Apartheid.




Struggles at municipal levels




The first order of business in the pre-political negotiation stage (1991) after the unbanning of the exiled liberation struggle parties was the demand by the Apartheid state that the armed struggle be abandoned in order to take the process forward. However, the more substantial compromise in reality was the abandonment of the mass struggle- effectively a demobilisation of the masses that had been cultivated by forces within the country and not the exiled leadership.  


The ANC has ever since had a policy of engaging the masses only at elections and not taking forward the organic democracy that had been developing with great depth with potential as the motor for transformation of the lives of the masses. Clearly the mutual fear of the masses by both the Apartheid State Apparatus and its successor state form, as expressed in the Constitution of 1996; is at the heart of the failure to permit a transformation agenda; even within the logic of a reformist ‘Developmental State.” The so-called Developmental State is at best a label with no substance!


Since the mid-2000s, there has been a significant increase in ‘service delivery protests’ in black residential areas, including dormitory labour townships and informal settlements. The rise in this tide of dissatisfaction has led to South Africa being dubbed ‘the protest capital’ of the world. A significant feature of these protests has been their being led by community activists and organs, and not to any great degree by opposition bourgeois parties or even those on the broad left self-characterising as socialists. The notable exception has been the struggles of the students in the fees must fall protests intersecting with the demand for casual workers to be made full time at tertiary educational institutions; that has had some limited impact on the demand in the municipal sphere.


Indeed the plethora of interests sometimes leading struggles at municipal levels have included petty bourgeois and opportunistic elements and that includes demands that at least 30% of procurement contracts be made available to small black emerging businesses. Often these procurement contracts do not extend beyond securing labourers for specific contractual fulfilment; implying the aspirant middle class wishing to participate in the exploitation of desperate day labourers by interposing themselves as suppliers to municipalities.




What happened with the “NUMSA moment”?




Nevertheless, the vacuum of building a strong basis for community organisations at street, and entire residential area action committees; and linking these to educational institutions and workplaces is a serious omission of the entire process that flows from what is referred to as the NUMSA moment (the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa’s decisive break with the ANC, Congress of South African Trade Unions and South African Communist Party: Tripartite Alliance); being an ostensible decisive break with neoliberal politics of the Tripartite Alliance.


Instead, the process since 2013 has been one of establishing a United Front as an almost autonomous organisation that has degenerated into existing on paper only, instead of conceiving of it as a united front of working-class organisations organised on the street action committee and its stepped-up expressions. Similarly, the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP) born out of the same NUMSA moment process, has failed to build on this basis and consequently had its Central Committee declare, most undemocratically and without any consultation with any other of its organs and membership, that in the absence of ground level structures of the party of any note, the party did not have the capacity to participate in the 1 November 2021 local government elections even on a revolutionary tactical basis.


This has led to much frustration and a near revolt in the party, with two provinces fielding candidates in defiance of the decision. They garnered no more than 1000 votes despite a total absence of support from the party and gained no more than two proportional representation seats.


A distinctive feature of the participation of revolutionaries within the SRWP was absolute clarity within those sections of the party and its supporters that this was a tactical entry. The participation was on the basis that elected representatives be held accountable to organisations of the people all of the time and not only at election time. That if a representative does not do his/her job; the community must exercise the right to recall the elected person and that every elected official earns only the wage of a skilled worker.


With the total lack of a revolutionary socialist perspective displayed by the party’s central organs; or any regard for the pretence at the SRWP being a revolutionary vanguard party, the time has arrived for Bolshevik Leninist revolutionaries to re-examine whether the SRWP is indeed a party serving the revolutionary interests of the working class or whether the more substantial endeavour is the building of organs of the class towards the attainment of a vanguard party from within the most advance layers of the community, workplace and educational level organs of the class as a counter power to the fast unravelling bourgeois democratic façade that is increasingly facing the prospect of moving more firmly towards elements of a Bonapartist state in South Africa.


The central question that is more sharply emerging in Revolutionary Marxists circles in South Africa, given the election outcomes, is whether the vanguard party is built and is infused into the organs of the masses to enable it to lead; or whether such a party will emerge as a result of mass activity and active participation in the building of organs of the class?


A feature of the elections has been the emergence of hundreds of independent civic organisations, small parties and independent candidates eating into the electoral base of the major bourgeois parties. However, the central issue remains the positing of a revolutionary alternative for the leadership of the masses who are turning their back on bourgeois politics. Whether they will be led to a revolutionary politics is the central challenge for a Marxist Revolutionary Party.