From Andries Zwane to Andries Tatane – Repression, Austerity, and A luta Continua

Amidst the last few months of turbulent parliamentary politics and fierce leadership battles within the ruling ANC, bitter struggles on the forgotten streets, classrooms and workplaces stand on the brink of smashing what is left of South Africa’s rainbow hued freedom parable writes BRIAN KAMANZI

On 5 March in a peaceful protected strike carried out by workers Luxor Paint in Jet Park, Boksburg, protestor Andries Zwane was shot in the face at near point blank range with rubber bullets while seated at a distance from the company compound by private security militia under the logo “PPS”. The action at Luxor Paint embarked on by workers and labour union General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA) has at its core demands for full medical aid coverage and a service allowance together in context of an environment where workers are faced with exposure to toxic chemicals of long durations. For some of the longest standing workers at Luxor, their tenure extends well over a decade under difficult conditions with increasing health costs steadfastly pushed onto the burden of workers.

Initial strike action over these demands began in October 2017 and were steadfastly met with a court interdict, delaying further action until March of 2018 where the present deadlock now stands. Representatives from the workforce and Luxor paint respectively have sought the aid of the National Bargaining Council for the Chemical Industry (NBCCI) while the protected strike continues just outside the Luxor Paint compound in Boksburg.

Both the demands of the Luxor Paint strike and the violent response it has solicited have unfortunately become commonplace in a country that is regarded as one of the strike capitals of world. It is not almost seven years since the passing of Andries Tatane on 13 April 2011 who lost his life from a shot to the head with rubber bullets fired by a Public Order Policing unit member of the South African Police Services. Tatane’s death may have resulted in the arrests of police personnel for their involvement, but few contest that the material conditions that necessitated the actions of himself and his compatriots remain and are self evident across the country.

The story of Andries Tatane has struck a chord particularly among Black working class movements across the country as way to standing up to intensifying state police repression, the expanding normalisation of the use of private security for maintaining “public order”, and strike breaking under the guise of protecting property.

Thabang Mohlala, an organiser from the Casual Workers’ Advice Office (CWAO), observed that the armoured vehicles used by the deployed private security included insignia with the title “National Strike Intervention Unit” raising serious questions as to both the widespread use of private security for dealing with protest action which brings into sharp focus deeper debates about the role and powers of private security.

Mohlala went on issue a call for solidarity stating: “We [CWAO] went there to lift up the spirits and other workers from other areas have joined, when the workers [at Luxor Paint] see new faces the morale goes up. However it’s not like they are intimidated about what happened to Zwane, the workers know what they are facing, they are avoiding provocation from the security”.

In the present moment with the newly sworn in president Cyril Ramaphosa, internally elected to leadership of the ANC under the slogan of a “New Deal” era, has already heralded a state budget that has introduced increases in VAT, cuts in social spending, and the stability of corporate tax. In a press statement issued by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), in solidarity with a #ScrapNewLabourLaws campaign, a coalition of more than 20 organisations were called to resist recent proposed changes to both the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. They were described as limiting the right to protest and therein rolling back hard won gains particularly during the height of the anti-apartheid mobilisations.

On 9 March 2018, developments in the unfolding action saw the Luxor Paint executive firing 111 of its striking workers on the basis of misconduct. Through the struggle of the Luxor Paint workers, South Africa is presented with one of the first significant signals since the transition from the resignation of former President Zuma, raising critical questions about “who” the “New Deal” era is for and who stands to benefit going forward.

When popular transnational slogans such as “A Luta Continua” are invoked, what is often understated is the urgency and importance of realising that the lives of the countless Andries Tatanes don’t simply become relevant under the conditions of their passing and ascent to martyrdom. Similarly the rubber bullet that has since pierced the eye of Andries Zwane is no less politically significant and should also be recognised as an example of principled resistance and source of courage for those across this land and the next.

Workers of Luxor Paint deserve, like everyone else, the full healthcare protections they are fighting for as well as the safe working conditions they are demanding to introduce. More broadly, at this difficult historical juncture it remains of crucial importance to defend hard fought gains of the past, build organisation, and join forces who sincerely agitate for radical change.

Individuals may be tried, arrested, framed, detained, or killed but the crucial task ahead for the Luxor Paint workers, and for the progressive movements in general, lies in the battle to hold the system itself responsible, to take it to trial, and bring justice to reckoning animating the call to make the world anew, therein lies the meaning of A Luta Continua.

Featured image by Hankyeol Lee