n Journal for Contemporary History - Caught in a stranglehold between resistance and reform : the Mine Workers' Union and rightwing politics in South Africa, 1979-1997




The National Party government's acceptance of the recommendations of the Wiehahn Commission of Enquiry in 1979, i.e., that job reservation be abolished and African trade unions be legalised, came as a huge shock for the South African Mine Workers' Union (MWU). The MWU responded by aligning itself with rightwing parties and organisations. When white resistance politics became more extreme in the 1990s, there were even attempts by the ultra-right Afrikaner Resistance Movement, albeit unsuccessful, to infiltrate and usurp the MWU executive. In an effort to try and thwart the momentum towards political democracy in 1994, the MWU joined other rightwing organisations in an all-encompassing resistance under the auspices of the Afrikaner People's Front (AVF) of Gen. Constand Viljoen. Although many white workers joined the MWU's ranks, rightwing unity was dealt a severe blow when a schism took place between the Viljoen faction in the AVF and the MWU over strategies to create an Afrikaner people's state. Between 1994 and 1997 the MWU stagnated and reached the crossroads. To avoid further stagnation and possible oblivion, Flip Buys, MWU general secretary since 1997, began a process of reinvention. This transformation was completed in 2002 when the MWU became Solidarity.


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