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Conditions for Workers in South Africa

category southern africa | workplace struggles | news report author Tuesday May 31, 2005 18:44author by Phillip Nyalungu - Black Action Group, Soweto (ZACF) Report this post to the editors

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

Workers Day


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 miseries.

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 survive.

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 divide us.

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 for people.

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 not.

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 the houses".

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 lives.

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 expense.

ZACF: For an Internationalist Social Revolution by a Front of Oppressed Classes!

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