Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Social Formation of Post-Apartheid South Africa

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Social Formation of Post-Apartheid South Africa

Article excerpt

The Process of Disclosure: Baring Inequalities of Apartheid

In South Africa, the material conditions of apartheid were responsible for the existence of socioeconomic inequalities. These inequalities were mainly grounded on the system of labour control, which was the most important factor in the sustenance of white capitalism. Hence, South African social formation can best be captured through the study of apartheid's system of labour organisation that set forth an array of other socio-spatial, economic, political and cultural inequalities. Thus, South African society developed along racial profiling and stereotyping, creating a convoluted system of racial groups that did not relate, socially and economically. Apartheid's economic and social legislations set off the conditions upon which the (white) dominant and the subordinate races were positioned in relation to the production of labour within South Africa's means of production.

The provision of labour was racially defined, and sustained by apartheid's systematic racial exploitation. Burawoy (1981: 324) locates the origin of this form of economic exploitation on "the labor process and the patterns of the reproduction of labor power". The labour operations at the mines in apartheid South Africa reveal this racial and exploitative organisation of labour power, and provide a starting ground for the analysis of the racial nature of labour organisation. This "colonial labor process", as Burawoy (1981: 301) argues, set up "gangs" of African workers under the mean and unfeeling supervision of white bosses in the gold mines. In this, subjugated Black labour power was required to expand and sustain the mining industry, while the white government pumped in capital.

The majority of the Black people in South Africa produced cheap labour power to advance the capitalist interests of the whites who were in political power. In the South African labour relations during apartheid, the Afrikaner government advanced their economic interests by establishing and managing the means of production, and strategically, the majority of the Afrikaners invested in state corporations, controlled imports and established a huge Afrikaner capital to sustain Afrikaner capitalism. This Afrikaner bourgeoisie was not interested in the welfare of the Black population, including their Black workers (Burawoy, 1981: 320). In apartheid South Africa, Black people were confined to poorly paid and unpredictable jobs, which was a direct consequence of the 1953 "Bantu Education Act" that laid the ground for "a separate and inferior education system for African pupils" (TRC, Vol. 1, 1998: 32). Consequently, Black labour, and by extension, the growth of Black capital, had/has been marginal and unproductive, and largely remained manual in nature.

This system of the reproduction of labour power continued for decades, the result being that Black people sold their labour power for wages, while the whites structured their economic and political base. In this master-servant relationship, the apartheid state constructed a labour process that was prone to frequent racially defined industrial action, and was affected by a dominant Black labour force fighting for better working conditions and improved wages.

South African writers, such as Peter Abrahams and Zakes Mda, have represented the effect of harsh working conditions and difficult economic circumstances for Black people, and the ensuing social tensions that cheap labour power and Black migrant labour had on the African population. Abrahams, in his apartheid setting of the novel, Mine Boy (1963), depicts the suffering of African miners, and the reality of having to confront white subjugation and mistreatment in the mines. In the novel, Xuma, from "the North", the Black protagonist of the novel, moves from Malay Camp, a native location in the poor Northern provinces in search of work in the mines in segregated apartheid South Africa. …

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