Comrades still struggling: class, nationalism and the Tripartite Alliance in post-apartheid South Africa.
Beresford, Alexander Roy
This thesis examines the trajectories of class politics in post-apartheid South Africa. It investigates whether we can witness South African politics entering into a post-nationalist era characterised by the increasing salience of class struggles rooted in the country's glaring socioeconomic inequalities. In particular, the thesis explores the political role of the organised working class with a focus on the Tripartite Alliance between the African Natinal Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Alliance politics has traditionally been studied with a focus on policy analysis and elite-level exchanges played out in the public domain (Bassett 2005; Buhlungu 2005; Lodge 1999; Webster 2001), or with a focus on workers' political attitudes that uses statistical survey data (Buhlungu et al 2006a; Pillay 2006). The unique contribution made by the thesis is that it offers a detailed ethnographic focus into class politics 'from below', with a focus on the political attitudes and activism of members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), South Africa's largest and most politically influential trade union. The thesis explores how rank and file members of NUM have adapted to the radically altered social, political and institutional environment heralded by the transition to democracy in 1994. In particular, it analyses how and why union members are engaging in their trade union in changing ways, and what implications this has for those who advocate the trade unions becoming the driving force behind a radical class-based, post-nationalist political agenda (Bond 2000; 2010; Habib and Taylor 1999; 2001). The thesis also explores workers' relationships with the post-apartheid state and their experience of economic transformation under the ANC government. The case study evidence offers an important insight into how workers understand post-liberation politics and how they construct their political identities in relation to both their class and also the nationalist movement. In doing so, the thesis does not attempt to offer normative prescriptions as to what COSATU 'should' (or 'should not') do. Instead, it challenges mechanical, deterministic analyses of the relationship between class and nationalist politics, particularly those that stress that underlying class divisions in South African society will inevitably, in some form or another, produce a new class-based politics that will not only challenge, but potentially supersede, nationalist politics.