Conditions for Workers in South Africa
southern africa |
workplace struggles |
Tuesday May 31, 2005 16:44 by Phillip Nyalungu - Black Action Group, Soweto (ZACF)
Text of May day talk(?)
t is common amongst bosses to prefer workers coming from countries that are torn by civil wars or famine. This is because they do away with any responsibilities to cover for workers' health if exposed to health risk scenarios while working. Because these people are not citizens, the country's labour laws do not count for them. That way the bosses don't have to worry about precautionary equipment and measures expected by governmental labour standards
Most workers have no idea about May Day. Many have simply forgotten
it and some are disillusioned. Instead of calling it "our day" many
say "Worker's day" and think "long weekend". This serves to earn the
bosses who pay for such days a good name for being "lenient" and
leaves their workers with less room to complain.
While workers remain apathetic, bosses in breweries and other
enterprises benefit from the pain of workers and their communities.
Bosses take control over the minds and lives of their workers,
distancing them from discussing and questioning their endless
The workers are the ones who produce everything, but they do not
control or own anything besides their labour. But without food, they
cannot exist at all. So, they are bound to sell their labour for next
to nothing because the bosses control everything they need to
Furthermore, bosses and politicians have made it impossible for
the people to think and do things independently. They implement laws
and run the media by their own prescriptions, mainly to protect and
advance their interests at our expense. Social decisions are made
only to limit us - not to keep us alive, happy and healthy, but to
In the past couple of decades, alcohol and entertainment
enterprises have been booming, particularly in the southern region.
These enterprises encourage risky activities in the youth and
unemployed, and drive them to accept highly exploitative jobs (they
only want to be sure that they won't miss the weekend, especially
long ones). Drinking beer and being a fan of popular soccer teams has
become a national pastime, and is used as a sign of patriotism. We
are told to "love your country and be proud of the black government".
This is mostly associated with fleeting commemorations such as May
day, Sharpeville, June 16, Women's day, etc.
Those who are unemployed are in a compromising situation, some of
them are questioning and trying to escape mental and physical
slavery. Their families close doors on them, calling them loafers who
belong nowhere in society. These closed doors force them to join or
re-join the daily humiliation of exploitation. They give themselves
by waiting on the entrances of slaughtering pans to become the first
when the next sudden need for new blood comes. Since they need jobs,
they give the pan-master powers beyond those that they have over
themselves. Since pan-masters are the ones who hand out the rare
jobs, it makes them look like people who care and are doing
everything to save lives. The fact that they need workers becomes
blurred, and it looks like they give jobs because they have sympathy
The pan-masters throw workers, who perhaps needed clarity on
agreements between themselves and management, on the street. This
makes the workers paranoid about keeping their behaviour in check.
They are careful not to ever upset their bosses in the slightest
because there are hundreds of other unemployed workers waiting and
starving. These unemployed are ever-ready to jump in the pan at the
slightest opening of the gate and they normally fight amongst each
other. This situation makes the bosses kings and queens on guard for
24 hours. This way they do not have to resort to attacks on workers
which would make them fear the wrath of government institutions. The
workers do not have the chance to demand safe working conditions and
a living wage. The bosses complain that they want to make more profit
despite the fact that they have already sucked workers' blood dry.
The bosses are automatically excused for job losses and the
workers become the scapegoats. The workers are consistently reminded
to respect their jobs because getting a job is almost impossible.
Furthermore, workers' constitutional rights are trampled on. The
bosses know ñ and threaten ñ that if their interests
are not respected, they will leave the country and other bosses won't
set foot in the country. This would leave the worker alone and
stranded, with no on to turn to to say, "Please, I want to be your
slave". Workers are always in fear of losing their jobs if they are
not submissive to the bosses. It has gone even further, as wages are
being cut when bosses employ more workers. Workers' confidence is
shattered to the point where they do not have the confidence to make
demands such as needing to go to the toilet. As a result, there are
incidences where women are giving birth at work.
It is common amongst bosses to prefer workers coming from
countries that are torn by civil wars or famine. This is because they
do away with any responsibilities to cover for workers' health if
exposed to health risk scenarios while working. Because these people
are not citizens, the country's labour laws do not count for them.
That way the bosses don't have to worry about precautionary equipment
and measures expected by governmental labour standards. Because of
these workers' extreme desperation they have to accept anything the
boss decides for them. Since they have no one to turn to, the
government is also playing a role in smashing any possibilities for
these people to raise their heads. This is done by randomly harassing
and arresting them over identity documents.
The bosses are now employing people based on their nationality.
South Africans are told that they are lazy and that they have a
tendency to complain. They are told they must go to Mandela for jobs.
This has created room for xenophobia and hatred from South Africans
towards their fellow brothers and sisters from neighbouring
countries. Some people call them insulting names and inform the
police about who is an immigrant and where immigrants are staying.
Such behaviours are normally influenced by jealousy and hatred which
is the by-product of poverty.
But this is not only happening to the immigrants. Amongst the
South Africans there is discrimination and distrust. This is
especially the case in townships, hostels and squatter camps where
migrants from different parts of the country converge to find jobs.
In hostels and squatter camps, people usually have a robust
relationship and identification with where they came from. This makes
them treat their shacks as temporary camping places. These divisions
contribute to making it difficult for these communities to challenge
government polices that are indifferent to their lives.
If somehow certain individuals realize the need to challenge the
government with a collective response , others will not base their
decisions on whether to act by judging the worthiness of the cause or
ingenuity of the concept. Instead, the origin of the individual
making the suggestion is vital to whether others will follow suit or
Words such as the following are uttered: "This is not our home, we
are only here to work. As long as we have a place to sleep, there's
no use in fighting for the people who'll turn their back against you
tomorrow. We cannot be ruled by so and so". These words were at the
centre of the cloud above the massacre between the ANC and IFP
members in the 90s. These divisions were also used during the influx
of mine prospectors. At that time, different jobs were given
according to your origin, ie. Zulus were supervisors. People had to
have a written confirmation from their chief to be given a permit to
come to the mines. They had to consistently renew these permits
because workers were not allowed to have permanent residential
permits. They were always reminded that they belong back in the
countryside and were constantly harassed and arrested by the police.
An ANC councilor addressing a community mass meeting told the people,
"You people you are leaving your homes in the countryside and
flocking to the city expecting the government is going to give you
So, people's associations with each other arise based on 'where do
you come from' and 'what language do you speak'. This is the case
from immigrant to Zulu or Xhosa. The first is considered an alien
who's coming to steal jobs. They are not seen as having an interest
in the issues of the country ñ it is said that they just want
to sell themselves and steal the country. The last two are the
'genuinely warriors of the nation'. Xhosas are thought to be leading
because the president and most politicians in the cabinet and
parliament are Xhosas.
Here we can see a connection between the chief's influence on the
people back in the countryside and today's government. Today's
government has inherited this 'crucial' legacy to keep people
completely astray. This way, it can implement as many imperial and
neoliberal policies as fast as it likes, without the slightest
collective questioning from the masses on the ground who
overwhelmingly voted them into power. All the while, they go about
claiming they are acting in the people's interests. They call it
democracy and gender equality when a couple of black people drive
classic cars and brush shoulders with whites in the bars. This is
supposed to convince the masses in the squatter camps that everyone
has the power to do anything. As long as you respect and listen to
your black government, slowly the power and prosperity will prevail
in every corner. You can create your own luxury as easily as your own
carelessness can cause you to be in a squatter camp or without a job.
Community radio stations were set up to convey the message of the
people. These stations were meant to be spaces where previously
disadvantaged people could have opportunities to express themselves.
Kwaito became one of the promising weapons to get such messages
across because of its origin within the black township and reflection
of our lives in the communities. But looking at the way kwaito is
introduced by DJs, it has nothing to do with advancing the minds and
lives of the people. Instead, the everyday hardship experienced by
the grassroots communities becomes a lifestyle and something to laugh
about. Instead of telling the people the truth corresponding to their
miseries, the DJs are glorifying the hardships of people in
communities. Soccer, media and kwaito stars are made ambassadors
between the rich and poor, while earning themselves middle class
Big shot corporations like Nike, Sasol, Coca-Cola, Absa, Vodacom,
Nokia, BMW and others pollute every corner of any human mind and
breath. They leave no stone unturned, using sons and daughters from
our communities to convince everyone else. They create
pseudo-impressions amongst the masses, particularly the youth who
happen to adore these stars as their role models. This adoration
makes them vulnerable targets of destruction and violence, and they
end up frustrated once these foxes have penetrated their pillows. The
result is that time is wasted and nothing is achieved during this
vital period of their lives. They do not explore, improvise, demand
and enjoy life to its fullest. Eventually they end up mentally
crippled and get old very quickly, with responsibilities to work for
their parents and family haunting them. They become sandwiched
between social and family demands.
This demon virus must be identified and rooted out so we can
become healthier and stronger again. Surely we need to take things
which benefit our communities at the end of the day ñ and
leave anything which presents a possible threat to our lives. Working
has always been there, long before the bosses. We need to have our
community soccer teams and genuine community media controlled
collectively by the people. These must be used as weapons to defend
and protect ourselves from the enemy.
Every human being must know and be aware on the tricks of the
enemy. Those who choose to become traitors must do so. But not at our
ZACF: For an Internationalist Social Revolution by a Front
of Oppressed Classes!