It can never be said that the struggle against apartheid in South Africa was a waste of time or a pointless exercise that changed nothing. It certainly did not change everything but it was a necessary step in the struggle to emancipate a people who have been impoverished and brutalised by a system that not only weighed heavily upon them because they were poor (imperialism does this to greater or lesser degrees everywhere) but which had the additional weight of oppression based on colour discrimination in such an overt and state-organised way that no progress could be made towards the truly liberating experience of socialist revolution until this barrier had been removed.
This does not mean that all those who fought against apartheid want to carry on to a socialist revolution. Black skin does not, any more than white skin, come with a guarantee of common sense, social conscience or saintliness attached.
Since the ending of apartheid many of the former leading black activists who fought against that system have used the new freedoms to create personal wealth within the capitalist system. There is nothing strange about this: people who are kept down purely because of the colour of their skin fight against that, but it does not follow that they will then continue to fight against all oppression once that particular one has been removed. Only people with very limited political knowledge would have expected this to be the case.
Apartheid is now a memory (a very fresh memory it has to be said), and in both the black urban areas and the rural townships there is an air of impatience among their inhabitants for further steps to be taken. These people still live in the basest of housing, are still used regularly to being hungry, and to death from preventable illness taking an unnecessary toll of their numbers. They still live daily with the high levels of violence that always spring up in places blighted by want, where to many crime seems the only way out of the crushing poverty since they have little or no hope of improving their lot under capitalism. Yet they can still only see black faces around them on their streets apart from those framed in a uniform complete with gun or belonging to some unfortunate tourist who has become lost. Formal, organised apartheid has gone but the effects linger on forcing black people to raise demands for better housing, decent jobs, better healthcare and education. They want to see the taking of the means of production out of the hands of the white owners who, despite the ending of apartheid, have kept their possessions and power. They desperately want land! It is not for nothing that the name of Robert Mugabe is spoken in these townships with genuine affection and admiration.
Among the younger people especially, these demands have thrown up new leaders like Julius Malema, the leader of the ANC youth wing, who has made public calls for the nationalisation of the mines and other means of production, and who has also publicly questioned why the South African economy and media remain in the hands of the white minority, asking “do we have to live in Zimbabwe to enjoy freedom?”
Malema’s singing of the old anti-apartheid anthem ‘shoot the Boer’ has been linked to the killing of white supremacist leader Eugene Terre’Blanche by the white media and those who look back fondly to the days of apartheid. They claim Malema is stirring up racial tension. Of course, according to these people, the racist Terre’Blanche, whose organisation certainly did have something to do with the assassination of Chris Hani, the communist leader, just after the fall of apartheid, is not to be held responsible for stirring up any racial tension or violence, nor is the fact that the white minority still own and control most of South Africa and live in utter luxury compared with the rural and most urban black majority.
Julius Malema is not a lone voice: as much as the white South African media and the BBC make him out to be, he is one of many who are preparing, consciously or otherwise at present, the next steps on the road towards the only true liberation for South Africa (or anywhere) – communism.
We can only wish them strength in their future battles.