At the South African Federation of Trade Unions, we are workers inspired by the commitment, “An injury to one is an injury to all!”
With that slogan, workers across our continent and the whole world stood in unity with South Africa’s proletariat, as we worked closely with communities, women, youth, social movements, faith activists and the liberation movements to overthrow apartheid.
We owe our liberation in South Africa not only to our local and exiled freedom fighters. We also received invaluable internationalist support: from the anti-slavery movement of the early 19th century, to the PanAfrican exiles’ conferences in London, Paris and New York during the first half of the 20th century, to the Bandung alliance and anti-colonial movement – especially in Africa – leading to liberated states and then the Organisation of African Unity, to solidarity offered by governments in Scandinavia, the Soviet Union, China and especially Cuba – and above all to ordinary activists in the African diaspora and indeed everywhere who made our cause against apartheid, racism and exploitation their own.
We now find every opportunity to repay this support. Here are some of the struggles SAFTU is in solidarity with that directly relate to our continent, and concerns we have about the worsening world situation.
There are Africa-wide bodies in which worker interests are pursued, including the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity and the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation. We anticipate that they will address several of the most vital Africa-wide problems more forcefully in coming months, in a manner similar to our own solidarity with activists struggling against oppression.
There are five major solidarity challenges posed to our continent’s workers that are worthy of elaborating below:
Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado gas catastrophe
Northern Mozambique has been battered: by thieves from government and foreign corporations; by the mining sector seeking gems; by timber cutters taking hard wood; by massive oil companies from France, the U.S., Italy and China; and now by Islamic “Al-Shabaab” fighters. When Cyclones Idai and Kenneth killed hundreds of Mozambicans in 2019, it was only Gift of the Givers that provided reliable relief.
Meanwhile, showing South Africa’s self-interested side, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was mainly concerned with restoring the Cahora Bassa dam’s electricity pylons in order to transfer power to the South African grid after interruptions caused unprecedented Level 4 load-shedding for a few days.
Now it is becoming apparent that SANDF may be thrown into a military engagement with the region’s very tough insurgents. This follows the March 2021 deployment of U.S. troops in Cabo Delgado province to “train” the Mozambican military. The local troops are regularly accused of looting and indiscipline, for example in late March after the Palma battle where scores lost their lives – including one South African construction contractor.
Meanwhile, mercenary forces of the SA-based Dyck Action Group – led by Lionel Dyck, a self-described “Rhodesian” – were alleged by Amnesty International to have rescued the Palma attack survivors but in the process demonstrating racist value system, pulling out white people from the white-owned Amarula Hotel first.
We would never condone the brutal tactics of insurgent fighters – including beheadings – but we worry when recalling testimony in parliament last September by
Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor. She told MPs that SANDF should be ready to intervene because “There was a great opportunity for South Africa to import natural gas from the huge reserves that had been discovered in Cabo Delgado, so the security of the province was of great interest to South Africa and its energy diversification strategy.”
This perspective is one we wholeheartedly oppose. It reminds us so much of the U.S. military invasions of Iraq, Syria, Libya and other oil-rich countries where importing fossil fuels is part of next-generation climate destruction, and current-generation “forever wars.”
It also reminds of how the SANDF was deployed in Lesotho in 1998, the Central African Republic in 2012-13 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2013 – in all cases backing up South African capitalist interests including dam construction firms in the Lesotho Highlands, Chancellor House diamond dealers in Bangui and Khulubuse Zuma’s oil concession in Lake Albert.
War profiteering has no place in a democratic, post-colonial region. Yet already Dyck Action Group mercenaries hired by the Mozambican government were accused by Amnesty International (and 53 local eyewitnesses) of shooting into civilian crowds – including a hospital – during March 2021. And after their contract ended days later, the Sandton-headquartered Paramount Group stepped in.
Paramount founder Ivor Ichikowitz has long been a suspiciously close ally of former President Jacob Zuma and also responsible for corruption in Malawi that brought down Joyce Banda’s government in 2014. He is now involved in opaque arms dealings with the corrupt, brutal Mozambican military.
A much more appropriate form of solidarity with Cabo Delgado’s suffering residents is needed, instead of allowing South African government and corporate-mercenary militarism to escalate – a strategy that, just as in the U.S. in 2001, could bring the war home if Islamic militants target South African civilians in the period ahead.
It is absurd, dangerous and a manifestation of an imperialist mentality, that with this week’s meeting of Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders in Botswana and with French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Pretoria on Friday, Ramaphosa is preparing to send SANDF troops for incursions into Mozambique.
Give the desire Macron articulates for a French security cordon stretching to its island colonies of Reunion and Mayotte, the military agenda is clearly meant to protect fossil fuel discoveries by Western and Chinese multinational oil and gas corporations. Macron is a notorious backer of Total oil company, in contravention of climate sanity.
This is foolhardy not only because of the ecological crisis and because international looters and corrupt government officials aim to skim out wealth, but it also risks a backlash of attacks here in South Africa and other SADC countries.
What should immediately happen, instead, is a climate debt paid by South Africa to the Mozambicans who were victims of the March-April 2019 cyclones, including Cyclone Kenneth in Cabo Delgado, where winds reached a record 225 km per hour. They received a small fraction of donor aid – practically none from South Africa – in spite of climate change caused by rich countries. The hotter Mozambique Channel water temperature fed Cyclones Idai and Kenneth to record-breaking intensities.
Instead of bullets and drones, the South African government – and all the other high-emitting countries – owe Mozambicans monies as a down payment on our elites’ climate debt. Just as is called for by the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network, this climate debt should be paid not via a plainly corrupt government, but in forms that directly support basic income for the desperate residents of that resource-cursed area.
With nearly one million displaced Mozambicans and thousands of deaths, it is unacceptable that today, 1.2 million people are in need of food aid and healthcare, according to the World Health Organisation – since elites appear concerned only with the etraction of natural resources, not meeting the basic needs of the people.
South Africa’s approach should break this cycle by rejecting militarism and embracing a genuine development in Northern Mozambique.
We follow closely the freedom struggle of the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara, led by the Polisario liberation movement. Four and a half decades after the Spanish decolonized the territory, Polisario is still resisting the brutal Morocco colonialist occupation. This is Africa’s last such primary liberation war, and we are pleased that
in this case, the South African government generally is progressive by supporting Polisario.
However, the African Union’s highly regrettable permission granted for Morocco to be admitted to the body was followed by Morocco’s deal with the Trump regime – so far extended by U.S. President Joe Biden – that it recognise Israel in exchange for Washington legitimising the occupation of Western Sahara.
We therefore continue to insist that a referendum be held on the territory’s independence, and that in keeping with Polisario wishes, the United Nations Security Council no longer exhibits such lethargy when such a powerful moral stance is being taken by Polisario and ordinary Sahrawis against such a backward monarchical occupier. South Africa must do more to resist U.S. imperial and Israeli-Moroccan subimperial alliances.
Palestine must be free!
The global solidarity movement with Palestinians – victims of Israeli apartheid considered more onerous even than our own version – is one we have long supported. That this movement grows across Africa is now more vital than ever, after the Israeli Defence Force murdered 250 Palestinians, including 66 children and 39 women, over the past few days.
A strong signal must be sent from all conscious Africans to Israel, that it must end its occupation of Palestinian land including its squeezing of the Gaza Strip, that discrimination of Israeli Palestinians must end, and that the 1948 victims of the Israeli terrorists’ ethnic cleansing be granted the right of return.
Because Boycott Divestment Sanctions BDS pressure continues to be requested by progressive Palestinians, and because Israel has ensured it became the first country in the vaccine queues while even denying healthworkers in Gaza and the West Bank access, much less the broader population, SAFTU will intensify our commitments to weakening South African-Israeli official ties.
Again, we demand not only that the ambassadorial withdrawal continue, but that all official political ties and economic relations be broken. The Israeli-owned Zim Shanghai docked in Durban last week and catalysed a vibrant protest on Saturday
and a commitment by dockworkers and all major trade unions that no further offloading of such Zim Line ships occurs in future.
Likewise, across Africa, we will be ensuring that Israel’s diplomatic incursions via the continent’s ethically-weakest leaders – such as the Rwandese dictator Paul Kigame, who is Bibi Netanyahu’s closest ally – be reversed.
In this campaign, we also know that there is a Big Brother in world geopolitics, supplying nearly $4 billion in financing to Apartheid Israel: Washington.
Superpower rivals trample Africa: relegitimised U.S. imperialism and voracious Chinese capitalism
As U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin brazenly told the Congress in April, “There’s probably not a space on the globe that the United States and its allies can’t reach.” In foreign policy settings from West Africa to the Middle East, Russia and China, the U.S. government may become worse – aside from climate politics – in coming weeks and months.
Africa will be victimised, it is easy to predict, but our anti-imperialist spirit will ensure we fight back. The persistence of the Africa Command is of enormous concern, and Nigerian president Muhammad Buhari’s invitation for Africom to move from Germany to the continent is a terrible mistake. Everywhere we see the U.S. military there is chaos, so ending Pentagon deal-making with African armies – including the SANDF, and especially with the Mozambican army – will continue to be our objective.
U.S. and European firms remain as brutal as any, as witnessed by their insistence on super-profiteering from the Covid-19 vaccine monopolies their governments enforce at the World Trade Organisation.
Again, it is Africans – 1.3 billion strong in number – who are last in the queue to get the vaccine, even though in South Africa there are more than 150 000 Covid-19 deaths, ranking our country fifth highest per person in the world. Less than 1% of our people have gotten vaccine shots, in large part because of global vaccine apartheid.
It is vital that Africans point out regularly how the likes of Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson cannot rid themselves of self-destructive selfishness, by not supporting the demand for waivers on Intellectual Property for vaccines and Covid-19 treatment.
We recognise that, in contrast to Western powers that continue these forms of African underdevelopment and oppression, the historic role of China in Africa was, after the 1949 socialist revolution, generally progressive. Beijing’s support for anti-colonial movements, especially Zimbabwe’s, and the construction of a railroad linking Tanzania and Zambia were welcome.
And today more technology and infrastructure have been provided in low-income African countries in recent years, than came from the colonial powers over their several centuries of oppression and looting.
Sadly, most SAFTU members have not found the same spirit of revolutionary progress when it comes to working-class relations with Chinese firms on this continent. The bugging of the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa by the Chinese state, using its Trojan Horse construction gift, indicates the degree of the problem.
In this region, we have witnessed often voracious, corrupt corporations and banks from China: the Gupta-linked China South Rail and its financiers at the China Development Bank (where tens of billions of rands were wasted), Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries which supplied Gupta-corrupted Durban cranes, the firm Hoi Mor – whose CEO is wanted by Interpol for Zimbabwe mining fraud – manipulating a Special Economic Zone in Limpopo, the China Development Bank’s dubious support for Brian Molefe’s Kusile coal-fired power plant, the Beijing Auto Industrial Corporation which imports knock-up kits at Coega instead of producing locally-made autos.
All have entailed systemic corruption. The China Development Bank, along with other Western lenders to the parastatals, should be partially responsible for the fraud they knowingly financed.
Likewise, China South Rail should refund all the tainted Transnet payments. The Hoi Mor role at Musina Makhado is rife with conflict, not least the failure to engage in adequate consultation on the Special Economic Zone, given its destructive potential and displacement of businesses elsewhere in South Africa to Makhado in search simply of lower taxes.
And up-continent, several countries – Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan – appear to have mortgaged future
resource utilisation to the Chinese in ill-advised credit arrangements with onerous collateral terms.
The shocking impoverishment of Zimbabwe appears to be partly a function of Chinese extractive industries for many years in the Marange diamond fields where Anjin and other Chinese joint ventures worked in conjunction with elites from a terribly repressive army run by current president Emmerson Mnangagwa. This combination, according to the late Robert Mugabe, looted $13 billion in revenues that should have been declared and taxed. Currently villagers in Hwange near Victoria Falls are rightly complaining of Chinese coal-mining firms’ land grabs of peasant farms.
A genuine internationalist working-class agenda does indeed require all societies to stand up to exploitative firms and the repressive governments behind them. But in our case this must never take the form of xenophobic attacks on Chinese citizens and shops, as tragically has been documented by desperate people whose attacks on immigrant enterprises have made international headlines.
SAFTU recognises how these xenophobic sentiments emerge in populations suffering economic depression and new forms of economic competition from immigrants but we oppose these whenever we see them. Chinese people and small businesses are not the problem, even if sometimes the country’s huge corporations, parastatal firms and banks are.
We also recognise international campaigning for the rights of workers and democrats both on the mainland and especially in Hong Kong. In recent weeks, we have seen how Hong Kong’s trade union leaders have been jailed for lengthy terms, simply for being part of protests dating to 2019.
These include Lee Cheuk-yan, General Secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, whose statement in the dock we identify with completely: “Freedom of expression through speech or demonstration is the only way for the weak and oppressed to rectify the wrongs done to them.” We anticipate similar treatment against HKCTU president Carol Ng and 46 other democrats who have been in pre-trial detention since February, with sentences that could reach to life imprisonment. All African workers should come to the defence of these comrades.
Global climate crisis and ecocide
The final form of oppression is the most extreme, and will last the longest, as we all are coming to understand. Africa is the continent that has polluted the least but will in relative terms suffer the most, and without the insurance cover enjoyed by most of the Global North. South Africa’s droughts – especially in the Eastern, Northern and Western Cape provinces since 2017 – are responsible for more intense water shortages, fires and crop failures, while cyclones and extreme flooding – such as killed 71 in Durban in 2019 – are increasingly violent and common.
The climate crisis is finally on the global agenda because the climate-denialist Trump regime has been replaced by Biden’s. That means that on 22-23 April, forty politicians representing the most egregious polluters – including South Africa – were invited to a virtual conference to assess whether to save the world.
The resounding answer was “No, rich-world profits are more important!”, because the leaders failed to commit to cuts in emissions and to just financial arrangements. We anticipate the same disregard for scientific consensus – that temperatures must not exceed 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels this century – when the same elites meet in Glasgow in November.
This is shown clearly in the weak “Nationally Determined Contribution” (NDC) statements given to the United Nations. SAFTU believes our own government’s is fraudulent, as it leaves out all the myriad of high-carbon mega-projects that are being implemented.
Likewise, Biden’s strategy conforms to so-called “Net Zero” claims by corporates, whose agenda is to continue polluting at untenable levels, but to use unproven gimmicks that are unscientific or incompatible with the climate justice we seek.
They include ideas also being floated in South Africa as an alternative to emissions cuts: “carbon capture and storage,” spraying SO2 into the atmosphere (to block the sun) as a coolant, lacing iron filings into the ocean to create algae blooms that
process CO2, genetically-modified trees, and other “false solutions.” These we reject, on behalf of our own citizens here, and the continent’s.
After all, in 2020-21 alone, we have seen locust plagues devastate the Horn of Africa (and also the Karoo and Northern Cape), in 2019 the warming of the Indian Ocean so that two cyclones devastated Mozambique, and other extreme weather events.
Across our continent, the victims are the low-income earners, women, peasant farmers, the elderly and youth, though they did least to cause the crisis. The term “climate refugees” will soon be common both internal to South Africa, and from the region – at a time xenophobia is already raging.
What Biden and the other elites intend, is a “privatisation of the air” strategy. It will allow the “Net Zero” corporations to buy the right to pollute. That will be through “offsets” and “emissions markets.” We appeal to the South African government not only to reject what Greta Thunberg terms “accounting gimmicks,” but also to be responsible as a world citizen.
If we calculate our own economy’s emissions per unit of economic output per person, we find only Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic are higher, for countries above 10 million population. Our historic climate debt to the rest of Africa should be obvious, and naturally within South Africa the extremely high emissions of multinational corporations and rich people contrast with those in the majority living below the poverty line, who can barely scrape money together to pay for a tiny fraction of the electricity wasted by the rich.
President Ramaphosa’s claims that emissions will start to decline by 2025, when carbon-intensive mega- projects worth more than R2 trillion are now underway, suggests he is not telling the truth. The promised “Just Transition” to ensure no damage to workers and communities in the coal fields, energy sector and other carbon-intensive industries has always been promised by Ramaphosa, but never actually materialises.
Our movements to reverse this damage – and limit our own climate debt to other Africans and to our own current and future generations – require more militancy. SAFTU joined the Climate Justice Coalition but we need to dedicate much more time and attention in future, to demanding a rapid transition to state-owned, community-controlled, worker-self-managed renewable energy and many other transformations.
With our fellow workers and allies across Africa, we need to cut greenhouse emissions and simultaneously empower our poor and working-class masses.
Through a genuine red-green coalition across Africa, one that fuses our interests as workers and poor people with the environmentalists, social movements and especially youth activists already moving forward, we can disrupt the existing power bloc wrecking our continent, and, with deserved pride, join the global climate and economic justice movements.