With South Africa’s ANC (African National Congress) government split over its attitude towards the Mugabe regime in neighbouring Zimbabwe, South African trade unionists used their strength decisively to act against the regime.
By Keith Dickinson, Socialist Party
Last week a Chinese ship – the An Yue Jiang – had to anchor off the port of Durban with a cargo of arms to be transported through South Africa to Zimbabwe. This included three million rounds of bullets for use in AK47 automatic rifles, rocket propelled grenades, mortar bombs and tubes. In contrast to the grinding poverty in Zimbabwe, the cargo is valued at nearly 10 million South African rands (AUD$1,360,000).
The fear is that these arms will be used by Mugabe’s state forces and militia to suppress any political opposition. This clampdown follows the recent Zimbabwe elections in which the ruling Zanu-PF lost its parliamentary majority (now subject to a ‘recount’), and where Morgan Tsvangarai of the MDC opposition has claimed victory over Robert Mugabe in the presidential election – the results of which have still not been published.
The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) announced that its members would not offload the ship. In a test of strength, the ANC government insisted that the cargo should be transported the 1,000 miles through South Africa to Zimbabwe and hinted that state forces would be used to unload it.
But the Police and Prison Civil Rights Union (Popcru) refused to be used as scab labour. A Popcru spokesperson said: “Satawu had very good reasons for not offloading the ship. We understand their objection. Police cannot be used as scab labour”. And that if they were asked to scab: “We are of the view that they [Popcru members] should not offload the ship”.
Another South African transport union – the United Transport and Allied Trade Union – said “its members would not help offload the ship” and they would not transport the arms anyway – if offloaded – from Durban to Zimbabwe.
Faced with this situation the Durban High Court eventually granted an order for the ship’s conveyance permit to be suspended, stating that there could be “no movement of the containers in which the arms are kept and no movement of the ship”.
However, to compound the government’s complicity, when the court officials attempted to serve the order on the ship, it had sailed away and wouldn’t respond to calls to return. Yet it was a subsidiary of the South African state weapons company Armscor, that admitted helping the Zimbabwe government obtain the weapons.
The International Transport Workers Federation has urged its members throughout Africa to follow the example of the South African dockers by refusing to unload the arms ship, should it eventually find a port to enter.
In showing solidarity with the oppressed masses in Zimbabwe, the transport workers of South Africa have demonstrated the power of the working class when it acts in its own class interests.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has long ago broken with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF. Initially, ZCTU planned to launch a workers’ party to challenge Mugabe’s then neoliberal policies.
However, its leaders helped found the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which has since moved to the right, adopting pro-market policies like the Rudd ALP government and Mbeke’s ANC government in South Africa – and has identified itself with the old imperial oppressors Britain and the USA.
Having previously worked with imperialism and having also embraced neoliberalism and the diktats of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Mugabe is now blaming these outsiders for the crisis. In a bid to remain in power, he has mobilised his paid militia – the so-called ‘War Veterans’ – who have symbolically occupied some of the remaining white-owned farms. But their main function is to intimidate any political opposition to Mugabe’s Zanu-PF regime.