[Marxism] Class divisions deepen in South Africa, Angola, and Vietnam
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Sep 1 06:22:40 MDT 2012
NY Times August 31, 2012
Rage by Miners Points to Shift in South Africa
By LYDIA POLGREEN
JOHANNESBURG — When 360,000 gold and coal miners walked off the job in
South Africa in 1987, protesting the poor pay and grim working
conditions of apartheid-era mines, a charismatic young man named Cyril
Ramaphosa, the firebrand leader of the National Union of Mineworkers,
led the charge.
But as the police opened fire on workers engaged in a wildcat strike at
a platinum mine two weeks ago, killing 34 people, Mr. Ramaphosa, now a
multimillionaire business tycoon and senior leader of the governing
African National Congress, found himself in a very different position:
on the board of the company the workers were striking against, the
Mr. Ramaphosa’s journey from hunted labor activist to industry titan and
perennial presidential contender is an emblem of South Africa’s
spectacular transition from brutally enforced white minority rule to a
multiracial democracy where, in theory at least, anyone with talent has
a chance to succeed.
But the low pay and tin-walled hovels of the miners who went on strike
at Lonmin’s mine — conditions in many ways reminiscent of the ones faced
by the miners Mr. Ramaphosa led — starkly demonstrate the failure of the
A.N.C. to deliver its own slogan: “A better life for all.”
Now, as the shock of the killings reverberates through the nation, the
party that liberated South Africa is facing perhaps its gravest
challenge since it took power in the country’s first multiracial
elections in 1994: seething rage from the poor in one of the world’s
most unequal societies and a sense that the A.N.C. has created a wealthy
black elite, including men like Mr. Ramaphosa, without changing the
lives of ordinary people.
“South Africa is a social, political and economic disaster waiting to
happen,” said Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst. “The anger is there.
All you need is a spark, and then you will have social and political and
economic veld fires burning out of control.”
These days it can seem that South Africa has been turned upside down.
Relying on apartheid-era legal tactics, prosecutors have said they are
charging 270 miners arrested after the melee, not the police officers
who fired the bullets, with the murder of their colleagues.
It is not the first time an arm of government has been accused of
adopting strategies from the apartheid era. Efforts by the government of
President Jacob Zuma to criminalize publication of a broad range of
information, to limit the independence of the judiciary and to give
greater powers to unelected tribal monarchs have bled away support from
While the end of apartheid transformed South Africa’s political and
institutional landscape, placing blacks at the helm, it left the
economic hierarchy largely untouched. A favored few black businessmen,
many of them with deep ties to the A.N.C., have become wealthy. But for
a vast majority of blacks, inequality has deepened.
The failure to transform the economy is one the A.N.C. freely admits. At
a party conference in June, Mr. Zuma urged more radical steps, but such
calls may have come too late, as younger, more aggressive leaders whip
up the anger of the poor and unemployed.
Days before Mr. Zuma went to speak to miners in the town of Marikana,
where the strike occurred, the populist youth leader Julius Malema, who
was expelled from the A.N.C. amid a fierce battle with Mr. Zuma, stood
up to address them. Mr. Malema has advocated nationalizing mines and
seizing white-owned land, positions the A.N.C. is unlikely to adopt.
“President Zuma has presided over the massacre of our people,” he told
the miners, drawing loud cheers.
As Mr. Zuma stood last week before a crowd of angry workers near the
spot where 34 of their colleagues had been killed, an attendant holding
an umbrella to shield him from the sun, his Everyman roots seemed to
fail him, and he struggled to find the words to stem the tide of their rage.
The image of corporate stooge that Mr. Zuma’s opponents paint would seem
an ill fit. He rose to power on a populist surge of anger against his
predecessor, the tweedy, cerebral Thabo Mbeki, whose embrace of
laissez-faire economic policy angered many on the left. A grade-school
dropout turned freedom fighter, Mr. Zuma could not be a starker contrast
to Mr. Mbeki, a University of Sussex graduate with a fondness for
But now Mr. Zuma may find himself in Mr. Mbeki’s shoes, battling to
remain head of the party at a vote in December, and to serve a second
term as president. The Marikana killings have fed a groundswell against
him, currently gathering force around his vice president, Kgalema
Motlanthe, who is widely reported to be considering a move against Mr.
Zuma much like the one that removed Mr. Mbeki.
Whoever becomes South Africa’s next president will face the deepening
sense of betrayal that after 18 years, little progress has been made to
tackle joblessness, inequality and poverty.
“It might make many of us quiver with fear, but here is the cold, hard
truth: they will opt out of the current social, economic and political
arrangements and they will choose anarchy,” wrote Justice Malala, a
political analyst, in The Times, a South African newspaper.
The rage that had long been focused on white rule and white capitalism
has turned on the A.N.C. South Africa’s liberation party has become the
establishment. It has forged deep links to the white business class, and
through its affirmative action policies a small but wealthy black elite
Even the venerable left-wing unions are seen by the have-nots as
co-opted by the haves. The violent strike in Marikana began as a
struggle between the National Union of Mineworkers, the country’s
biggest mine union and a major partner in the alliance that governs
along with the A.N.C., and a radical upstart union that pushed workers
Miners have been fleeing the National Union of Mineworkers, which has
acquired a reputation, fairly or not, for coziness with big business.
Its new leader recently received a 40 percent raise, according to The
Mail and Guardian, a newspaper in Johannesburg, to more than $12,500 a
The radical union and Mr. Malema pose a serious challenge for South
Africa, which has enjoyed a remarkably peaceful transition from white
rule to multiracial democracy. By whipping up workers who arm themselves
with machetes, spears and cudgels, and setting them against a government
from which there are increasingly alienated, they risk a return to the
kind of violence seen in the bloody years just before apartheid’s end.
The shooting of strikers reminded many of the killing of unarmed
protesters by the police during apartheid, and some have compared it to
the Sharpeville massacre, when white policemen killed 69 people at a
protest in 1960. It was a singularly galvanizing moment in the struggle
The images of workers from rival unions hacking one another to death
also evoked another grim chapter in South Africa’s history: the
fratricidal wars between rival political and ethnic groups, egged on by
the apartheid government, that killed thousands in the run up to
elections in 1994.
Mr. Malema, with his penchant for Breitling wrist watches and his
sprawling house in the wealthy suburbs of Johannesburg, would seem just
as pampered as the A.N.C. elite he criticizes. He is facing multiple
investigations into his mysterious fortune. Indeed, his strategy seems
less about starting a new movement than ousting his onetime mentor, Mr.
Zuma, and persuading whoever replaces him to let him back into the party.
Mr. Ramaphosa has escaped that kind of taint. He played a central role
negotiating the end of apartheid, was a close aide to Nelson Mandela and
in his biography on Lonmin’s Web site he is heralded for helping build
“the most powerful union in South Africa.” Yet his dual role — as
businessman and political leader — raises tough questions about why so
few black business leaders have emerged without deep connections to the
Writing in The Sunday Times, he said events at Marikana were “probably
the lowest moment in the short history of a democratic South Africa,”
and that “underpinning all the factors that led to this tragedy are the
extremes of economic inequality, poverty and underdevelopment that
continue to characterize our society.”
NY Times August 31, 2012
Change Unlikely From Angolan Election, but Discontent Simmers
By LYDIA POLGREEN
LUANDA, Angola — From his doorstep, Paulo Silva can see emblems of his
country’s transformation from war-addled basket case to petroleum
powerhouse. A flock of cranes hovers over a skyline dotted with climbing
skyscrapers, and dead center is a symbol of the country’s multiparty
democracy: the half-built dome of the new home of Angola’s Parliament.
But as Angolans go to the polls on Friday for the third time in the
country’s troubled history, Mr. Silva, for one, does not plan to vote
for the party that built this city of plenty. From the slum where he
spends his days, evidence of the nation’s wealth looms before his eyes,
just out of reach.
“Angola is a rich country, but we don’t get any of it,” said Mr. Silva,
who plans to vote for an opposition party. “The people in power are
eating all the money.”
The governing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, which has
been in power for more than three decades, is expected to win the vote
handily. Its leader, President José Eduardo dos Santos, has been in
office longer than almost any other African head of state, and with
complete control over the state media and vast campaign funds at his
disposal, his victory is all but assured.
With the help of huge offshore deposits of oil that have made Angola
Africa’s second-biggest producer of crude, Mr. dos Santos has built a
nation where Porsches and Lamborghinis ply the city streets and luxury
apartments loom over the skyline, and where the well-heeled dance at
nightclubs with a $100 cover charge.
But millions of Angolans have been left behind. A vast gap yawns between
the well-connected, penthouse-owning rich and the slum-dwelling,
unemployed poor like Mr. Silva.
“We need a change in this country,” Mr. Silva said.
In a tacit acknowledgment of its failure to share the fruits of growth
equally, the governing party unveiled a new slogan for this campaign:
“More Growth, Better Distribution.”
Angola is one of several African countries that have molded their
governments, in an unspoken fashion, on what is widely known as the
Chinese model. Leaders who have been in power for decades in countries
like Angola, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda have delivered considerable
economic growth and, by some measures, improvements in health, education
Leaders of these nations, all of them scarred by internal conflict, have
offered their citizens an implicit bargain of development and stability
in exchange for robust democracy.
But the limits of this model are becoming apparent. Protest movements —
often led not by the poor, who are usually shut out of the benefits of
rapid growth, but by a frustrated, hemmed-in middle class — have chipped
away at support for longstanding presidents like Mr. dos Santos, Yoweri
Museveni of Uganda and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, who died on Aug. 20.
In Angola, a wave of protests beginning last year and inspired by the
Arab Spring has shaken confidence in that formula. First young people
and then military veterans took to the streets, prompting harsh police
“They try to follow the Chinese model, but they don’t even give bread in
exchange for freedom,” said Rafael Marques de Morais, an anticorruption
activist and journalist.
Angola’s brutal history long taught its people to value peace above all
else. The Portuguese colonists fled the country in 1975, after withering
battles with three guerrilla armies and a coup d’état back home that
brought a leftist government to power.
The victorious Angolan rebels soon turned on one another, and a
sprawling conflict, stoked by cold war rivalries and Angola’s rich
diamond deposits, flattened the country. It did not fully end until
2002, when Jonas Savimbi, the charismatic but brutal leader of the
National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or Unita, was
killed in a skirmish.
Even before the end of the war, the country’s economy had begun to grow
rapidly because of the oil deposits. Close ties with China have produced
an infrastructure boom, fueled by cheap, oil-backed loans.
But accusations of corruption gnaw at the governing party, and it has
clamped down hard in response to the wave of protest, arresting
organizers and roughing up participants. Mr. dos Santos’s popularity has
also waned, many analysts say. At an election rally held outside a huge
stadium on the edge of the capital, Luanda, on Wednesday, loudspeakers
carried the sound of recorded applause, apparently to spare him the
embarrassment of a muted response to his speech.
The youth protest movement, fueled by popular rap stars who rhyme about
corruption and poverty amid plenty, is using social media and text
messaging to collect reports of election irregularities, said Luaty
Beirao, a rapper who goes by the name Ikonaklasta.
“We have no access to public media, so we have to use the Web or any
means we can to get the word out,” Mr. Beirao said.
Mihaela Neto Webba, a parliamentary candidate for Unita in Luanda, said
she had no illusions about the party’s hopes for victory.
“All Angolans know that we have a compromised democracy,” she said.
“To have a credible, competitive and democratic process, everyone must
abide by laws. But that doesn’t happen.”
State television gives most of the coverage to Mr. dos Santos, showing
what amounts to campaign commercials for hours every day.
“The opposition gets one hour a day,” Ms. Webba said. “Dos Santos gets
23 hours a day.”
In the last election, in 2008, the governing party won more than 80
percent of the vote, and its portion this time is expected to remain
substantial. Despite a high-tech, tablet-based voter registration
system, early reports from poll monitors warned of long waits and
erroneous registration data that told voters that their polling stations
were hundreds of miles away. Results are not expected until Saturday.
A visit to the suburb of Kilamba, a brand-new city built with Chinese
help, demonstrates why the president and his party remain popular. Wide
boulevards lined with block upon block of tidy flats painted lavender,
mint and butterscotch await aspiring middle-class families.
On Friday, Noe Joaquin Manuel, a 43-year-old functionary who works for
the Defense Ministry, cracked open beers with friends on the balcony of
his spotless new apartment.
“The government deserves to stay,” he said after conducting a tour of
his three-bedroom home. “They ended the war. They have built bridges and
roads and places like this.”
Besides, he added, voting a new party into power would simply mean
allowing a whole new cast of characters to get rich off the government
“If we change, the new guys will have to steal first,” he said.
But protests by young people with no memory of the civil war and
veterans owed years of back pay have raised hopes that change is on the
horizon, even if the governing party wins on Friday.
“The hope for Angola is a new generation that is rising up,” Mr. de
Morais said. “They are not afraid to cross political boundaries.”
NY Times September 1, 2012
In Vietnam, Message of Equality Is Challenged by Widening Wealth Gap
By THOMAS FULLER
HANOI, Vietnam — She wore a pink outfit and matching high heels as she
toured the dusty construction site. Soon after To Linh Huong’s visit in
April, photos that captured the moment went viral on the Internet, but
not because of Ms. Huong’s sense of style.
The daughter of a member of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Politburo,
the country’s most powerful political body, Ms. Huong had only days
before been appointed the head of a state-owned construction company.
Commentators on the Internet expressed outrage that someone so young —
she is reported to be 24 — held such a senior corporate post.
“Taking a little girl who just graduated from journalism school and
making her the director general of a construction company is no
different than making a one-legged man a soccer goalie,” read a comment
on Pham Viet Dao, a popular blog by a Vietnamese writer of the same
name. “Sorry to say — this is so stupid.”
Like the image problem facing the Communist Party in China, Vietnam’s
political mandarins are struggling to reconcile their party’s message of
social justice and equality with the realities of an elite awash in
wealth and privilege. The yawning divide between rural poverty and urban
wealth has become especially jarring, now that a decade of breakneck
growth has come to an end, dimming the prospects for the poor and middle
class to fight their way up the social ladder.
“Up until now, growth has been wonderful, and to be rich was great,”
said Carlyle A. Thayer, a leading expert on Vietnamese politics who has
a database of Vietnamese leaders and their family members. “There’s a
growing resentment, particularly among the have-nots, toward the wealthy.”
Much of the ire has been focused on Vietnam’s version of crony
capitalism — the close links between tycoons and top Communist Party
officials. This criticism has been able to flourish partly because news
of abuses have leaked out as state companies, which remain a central
part of the economy, have floundered, helping precipitate Vietnam’s
serious financial woes. Activists and critics have also been able to use
the anonymity of the Web to skirt tight media controls that had kept
many scandals out of public view.
As criticism has mounted, some of the relatives of Communist Party
officials have stepped back from high profile roles.
Ms. Huong left her state-run company in June, three months after her
appointment, and the daughter of the prime minister recently left one of
her posts, at a private bank.
Government officials, meanwhile, are sounding defensive.
Vietnam’s president, Truong Tan Sang, issued a blunt self-criticism in a
recent article in the state-run media, writing about the “failures and
ineffectiveness of state-owned companies, the decay of political
ideology and morality.” He also blamed the “lifestyle of a group of
party members and officials” for the country’s problems.
“We should be proud about what we have done,” he wrote, speaking of the
economic boom under Communist leadership, “but in the eyes of our
ancestors, we should also feel ashamed for our weakness and failures,
which have been preventing the growth of the nation.”
On the Internet and social networks, much of the anger about nepotism
and poor economic management has been directed at Prime Minister Nguyen
Tan Dung, who was re-elected to a five-year term last year amid the
turmoil of failing state-owned companies.
“People are concerned that he has too much power — they feel he needs to
be reined in,” said Mr. Thayer, who is emeritus professor at the
University of New South Wales in Canberra.
Mr. Dung’s family was the focus of a diplomatic cable in 2006, the year
he became prime minister, written by Seth Winnick, who at the time was
United States consul general in Ho Chi Minh City.
The cable, made public through WikiLeaks, highlighted the corporate
career of Nguyen Thanh Phuong, the prime minister’s daughter. “There is
no doubt that she is talented,” Mr. Winnick wrote. “However, her rapid
advance, and the many doors that opened for her and her two brothers are
indicative of how the Vietnamese political elite ensures that their
progeny are well placed educationally, politically and economically.”
Although her work was in the private sector, the cable noted how public
and private tend to overlap in Vietnam, with its hybrid system of
Communist one-party rule and burgeoning capitalism.
Ms. Phuong runs an investment fund called Viet Capital Asset Management
and a brokerage firm, Viet Capital Securities, both private companies.
In June, amid criticism on the Internet of her wealth and influence, she
stepped down as chairwoman of Viet Capital Bank, a position she had held
for four months.
While Ms. Phuong is among the better known of the “con ong chau cha,” or
children of the powerful, the list is long. It includes her brother, who
is the deputy construction minister, and Ms. Huong, the young woman who
headed the construction company and is the daughter of To Huy Rua, a
powerful member of the Politburo. Others have moved up in the party. The
son of Nong Duc Manh, who retired as general secretary of the Communist
Party last year, is a member of the party’s Central Committee.
Because of tight controls on the media — and severe punishment for
dissent that can include jail terms — criticism of the leadership has
been largely anonymous, on blogs and Facebook pages, often driven by
rumors and unsubstantiated gossip.
But as state-owned companies struggle with scandals and mountains of
debt, details of nepotism and shady dealings have also slipped into the
In reporting the collapse of one of the largest state-owned
conglomerates, Vinashin, the state-run news media revealed that at least
three family members of the chairman of the company, Pham Thanh Binh,
held senior positions in the company, including his son and brother.
The total cost of these scandals to Vietnamese society remains unknown.
But the billions of dollars in debt are likely to be a huge burden for
the economy for years to come.
Given Vietnam’s history of revolt, it is perhaps fitting that many of
the bitter comments online about the scandals have often been
accompanied by an ancient Vietnamese poem taught to schoolchildren:
The son of a king will become king
The son of a temple janitor will sweep the leaves
When the people rise up and take over
The son of a king will lose power and sweep the temple
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