Home News Retro rhetoric keeps red flag flying in South Africa

Retro rhetoric keeps red flag flying in South Africa

Published on 05/05/2014

Campaign speeches by the Communist Party and the trades union congress ahead of May 7 elections retain a striking socialist tone inherited from the communist nations that supported the liberation movement when white-ruled South Africa was a Western outpost against the Soviet bloc.

But the ruling African National Congress (ANC), to which they are allied, has pursued a liberal policy during its 20 years in power since Nelson Mandela became the first post-apartheid president in 1994.

The past lingers, though, even in the colourful names of many activists, such as Soviet, Tito and Castro.

And political discourse is peppered with communist diatribes, invectives and slogans that have all but disappeared from the rest of the world since the Berlin wall fell.

The ANC’s youth brigade mourned the passing of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il, and said they would "dip our revolutionary banners in honour" at the death of a well-loved public television presenter.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the country’s largest union, often quotes Lenin on the class struggle in the preamble to its media statements.

Its recently launched Marxist-Leninist school gives lessons that hark back to the output of a 1980s communist propaganda radio station. Module Two is entitled ‘Capitalism & its Gravediggers: Building a United Front to Resist Neoliberalism’.

The same goes for the umbrella workers’ movement, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

"In many statements by not only Cosatu, but also the SA Communist Party and the ANC, we quote Lenin and other Marxist leaders, revolutionary positions which still survive," said its spokesman Patrick Craven.

"Sometimes we have to ensure that they survive in reality and not just in words. Cosatu is still very committed to a socialist society," Craven told AFP.

But the ANC’s more moderate approach is a sizeable obstacle to the crusade against "the forces of reaction".

After years of support NUMSA has withdrawn its backing for the ruling party ahead of the elections and now talks of founding a labour party and possibly pulling out of Cosatu.

"All the promises that they have been hearing over the years have not brought much for the working class," said Witwatersrand University sociologist Devan Pillay.

Economic Freedom Fighters

"As long as current economic policies persist… and there is no particular enthusiasm to reduce inequality, for example, the labour movement can only become more radical," Pillay told AFP.

A new party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), also finds the ANC too market-friendly.

Under the leadership of the fiery Julius Malema a one-time ANC star who was expelled from the party in 2012 for indiscipline