“The function of the apartheid system, consolidated by the Nationalist Party, which has been in power since 1948, is simple. The factories, mines, farms, offices and homes of white South Africans require a huge pool of cheap black labour in order to provide the settlers with their privileges and the multinationals operating in the country with their profits. Yet a permanent urban black working class would be an explosive threat to the system. So the apartheid system serves to prevent such a working class from forming. In theory, all blacks are temporary residents in the cities, which are reserved for the whites. They are required under the pass laws always to carry documents certifying their right to be in the city. Should a black lose his job he can be deported back to the rural area to which he ‘belongs’ even if he has lived all his life in the city.
Hand in hand with the immigrant labour system goes the denial to all blacks of trade union rights. Strikes by black workers are illegal, and their unions go Unrecognised by the employer or the state. The system of job reservation guarantees that skilled jobs will go to whites alone. The white trade unions, enjoying huge wage differentials out of all proportion to the work they do (mainly supervising the blacks who actually do the work), are less a section of the working class than a parasitic excrescence dependent on the white capitalists for their privileges.
The result can be seen in Soweto. 86 per cent of homes in Soweto have no electricity; 93 per cent no shower or bath; 97 per cent no hot water. 54 per cent of the township’s one million residents are unemployed. The average black family income in South Africa is 73 rand; yet the poverty datum level – the minimum income compatible with bare subsistence – is 120 rand a month.”
– Alex Callinicos, “The Soweto Uprising: South Africa’s Black Townships Have Finally Exploded”