ON WEDNESDAY South African president Cyril Ramaphosa announced the death at the age of 91 of George Bizos, the renowned human rights lawyer who came to prominence for his role in defending Nelson Mandela on treason charges in 1964.
Mandela was widely expected to receive the death penalty but thanks in no small measure to the efforts of Bizos he and his co-defendants received life imprisonment.
Although a junior member of Mandela’s legal team, Bizos is credited with proposing that Mandela delivered a statement on the cause of freedom that the defendants fought for instead of tamely submitting to cross-examination by the apartheid prosecutors.
Throughout the apartheid era Bizos also defended numerous political activists, including anti-apartheid leader Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and the families of Black Consciousness Movement hero Steve Biko.
With the ending of apartheid and the African National Congress (ANC) coming to power in 1994 Bizos continued to play a role – most notably when he represented some of the families at the inquiry into the Marikana Massacre where 34 striking miners were shot dead at the Lonmin platinum mine in August 2012.
During that inquiry it was Bizos who compared the Marikana massacre to the Sharpeville shootings on 21 March 1960 where police shot 69 protesters dead outside Sharpeville police station where they were protesting against the pass laws. Marikana is the largest massacre since the ending of South Africa’s apartheid regime.
In fact sitting on the board of Lonmin at the time of the massacre was none other than Ramaphosa, who had made the transition from trade union leader fighting apartheid to millionaire businessman under the ANC which he now leads.
In the week that Ramaphosa was heaping praise on Bizos and hailing him as a main architect of modern ‘democratic’ South Africa it was officially confirmed that the country recorded the worst economic crash since the 1930s.
South Africa’s economy shrank by more than half in the second quarter, an unprecedented decline, as the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on the continent’s most industrialised state, the statistics agency said Tuesday. The record contraction came after a lockdown imposed on March 27 – one of the strictest in the world – brought most economic activity to a standstill.
These were restrictions that were forced on the ANC by the powerful trade unions in the mining and in the education sector especially to instruct their members not to work in the deadly conditions the employers imposed. Despite the restrictions South Africa is the worst affected country in Africa, with more than 15,000 deaths.
South Africa’s 639,362 cases account for around half of the continent’s total and place it among the top seven countries in the world in terms of confirmed infections. The reality is that the ANC government has continued to impose the austerity demanded by the bosses and the international bankers on South African workers.
In February this year immediately before the pandemic emerged the Finance Minister Tito Mboweni cut $250 million from the healthcare budget as part of austerity cuts and privatisation plans – part of the conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bail-out loan of $4.3 billion.
With millions of South African workers facing unemployment, poverty and continued cuts to water and power supplies the ANC is sitting on a revolutionary powder-keg.
The powerful South African working class is confronting a bourgeois ANC government that despite all the stirring calls in 1994 that the liberation struggle meant the people taking power in reality was never a programme for the working class taking power and establishing socialism. It never challenged the right of capitalism to exploit the working class mercilessly in pursuit of profit.
With capitalism crashing into complete bankruptcy the issue immediately confronting the working class in South Africa is the building of a section of the Fourth International to lead the fight to bring down the ANC government and go forward to a workers government and socialism.
This will inspire the working class of Africa to take the revolutionary road and rise up to overthrow bankrupt capitalism and establish a United Socialist States of Africa.