JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
— “The WASP was born from blood,” said Liv Shange, the feisty, outspoken 33-year-old Swedish socialist who’s the “white face” of a political movement fiercely opposed to South Africa’s ruling African National Congress [ANC].
Shange, who’s married to a South African labor rights campaigner, is referring to the birth in late 2012 of the country’s Workers and Socialist Party [WASP], following the deadliest police assault in democratic South Africa.
On August 16, 2012 the police opened fire on striking miners at the Lonmin platinum mine at Marikana, about 60 miles northwest of Johannesburg, killing 34 people and wounding 78.
The security forces claimed workers were attacking them but evidence presented at a commission of inquiry has shown that most of the strikers were shot in the back.
Days before the incident miners had murdered two police officers with clubs and machetes.
Striking workers surround Liv Shange, a leader of South Africa's Workers and Socialist Party at a protest near Johannesburg. (Courtesy WASP)
The Workers and Socialist Party formed after the 2012 shooting of 34 striking miners at the so-called ‘Marikana Massacre’ at the Lonmin mine north of Johannesburg. (Courtesy WASP)
The political mission of WASP is human rights and a bigger slice of the economy for workers in South Africa. (Courtesy WASP)
One of WASP’s key demands is that the minimum wage in South Africa be raised to at least 12,500 rand. (Courtesy WASP)
The May 7 election is a test for fledgling WASP's organizers as they try to challenge the African National Congress for worker votes. (Courtesy WASP)
Shange supports another WASP leader addressing a protest near Johannesburg. (Courtesy WASP)
Supporters greeted Shange at the Johannesburg International Airport when the government finally re-admiitted the political activist following a holiday in Sweden last year. (Courtesy WASP)
"There’s a need for the working class, for workers, the unemployed, students ... to raise their own political voice," says Shange. (Courtesy WASP)
After this, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, who’s also one of South Africa’s wealthiest businessmen and a Lonmin director, called on the police and mine security officials to take “concomitant action” against the strikers.
Has the ruling party lost its grip?
Shange described the “Marikana massacre” as a turning point in South Africa’s history and believes the violence is the beginning of the end of the ANC, which has ruled Africa’s economic powerhouse since 1994.
“It obviously highlighted for millions what we have been quite alone in saying for all these years – that the ANC is not a party of the working class… It showed that the ANC has lost so much of its grip, its credibility, in the eyes of workers and poor people,” she maintained.
Shange said ANC leaders who purport to be socialists and communists are now “some of the country’s richest capitalists.”
WASP leader Liv Shange argues for change in South Africa
“The ANC is there to defend the interests of big business, as their police did at Marikana,” she stated. “After the massacre, we felt the time was right for a new party. There’s a need for the working class, for workers, the unemployed, students and so on, to raise their own political voice, to form a mass party of the working class, on a socialist program.”
Shange sees humor in intimidation
WASP’s rise is deeply disturbing to the ANC’s secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, who said Shange, a petite blonde, is the “center of anarchy.” After a holiday with her children in Sweden last year, immigration officials refused to allow her back into South Africa and returned her to Scandinavia.
Following weeks of protest the authorities allowed Shange to reenter the country on a tourist visa.
She said the “intimidation” is “funny.”
“They obviously don’t like the Workers and Socialist Party’s politics – a socialist program that sets out to overthrow not only their government but also the [capitalist] system that feeds them. So it’s very understandable that they don’t like us. And that they don’t like me in particular – I don’t think that I should be too flattered by that. I was just selected as the most convenient scapegoat.”
Shange added, “I was the soft target to which they could apply dirty, racist and xenophobic tactics by singling me out as the [foreign] white manipulator of the poor workers.”
Threatening the status quo
WASP’s political manifesto provides ample evidence of why the party and its members are a direct threat to the status quo.
‘Kick out the fat-cats,’ it proclaims. ‘Nationalize the mines, the farms, the banks and big business. Nationalized industry to be under the democratic control of workers and working class communities.’
Shange explained, “Why should international mining companies and big business get rich off the fat of this land while the poor masses starve and fight constantly for a living wage? The working class must be given a fair share of the wealth of their land.”
She said big companies must be forced to treat workers “respectfully.”
“The ANC allows big companies to undertake massive retrenchments in order to maintain their profit margins. WASP will make sure these companies keep people in employment and actually increase employment. And if they reduce working hours, this must be without loss of pay. And if they’re not prepared to work with government on those terms, then the government should take over those companies.”
WASP is also fighting for the minimum wage in South Africa to be 12,500 rand [US $1,250] a month.
Critic says ANC health and education policies failed
Wasp credited the ANC with helping to build democracy in South Africa. But it emphasized that the government’s achievements are “tainted” by its failures, especially in the health and education sectors which are characterized by “fundamental inequality.”
“Public health facilities are generally poor, and all South Africans who can afford it turn to private healthcare,” Shange explained. “The problem then is that there are good services for the rich and far different services for the black majority. You have the poor and black being reduced to beggars at the mercy of [hospital] staff that see them as that, as poor people that they can treat anyhow.”
It’s ANC policy to provide free primary and high school education to all South Africans.
“But this isn’t working,” said Shange. “Because the state schools are so bad, wealthier people must pay a fortune for a better standard of private learning for their kids. Of course, poor people cannot afford this and so their children receive poor education with no hope of escaping poverty.”
She described the state education system as a “number one evil” in present-day South Africa.
“It’s not actually meant to educate people that are going to be meaningful adults, that are going to be working, that are going to go to university, that are going to run the country. You are [just] storing people waiting to join the reserve army of about 40 percent unemployed. So it’s okay to have 60 to 70 kids in a class; it’s okay if there are no textbooks.”
Shange said that WASP, if it ever rose to power, would not “steal” money. “We won’t waste money on luxury houses and cars and exorbitant salaries for officials. We will channel a lot of funds to providing universal free, quality education to South Africans.”
Winning at least one seat
She referred to the upcoming polls as a “test run” for her party.
“One of our main tasks is to use the more politicized environment during the elections to establish WASP in the minds of working class people in every corner of the country. If we win one seat or five in parliament, that would be a bonus,” said Shange.
However, she’s convinced that it’s possible for WASP to win at least one seat in the national legislature.
Shange said the party would use this to “spy” on the “big-business-friendly boys and girls club that parliament is.”
Predicting the ANC's swan song
She maintained that people across South Africa have given WASP leaders an “amazing reception.”
“Wherever we go to visit poor workers, like farmworkers, the response is the same: ‘This is what I’ve been waiting for. I don’t know where this party [has] been my whole life.’”
Like most analysts, though, Shange predicts the ANC will win the election… But that the victory will herald the ruling party’s swansong.
“I think it’ll be another five years of increasing tensions within the party. It might even tear up. I think it will be the last time that they are able to win. Things are happening very fast; the impatience [with the ANC] is growing incredibly.”
Shange added, “The ANC has run out of all its excuses about why South Africa remains the most unequal society in the world.”