Tuesday, 23 December 2014
United Front takes baby steps to redefine SA politics
Mail & Guardian 22 Dec 2014 15:10 Dinga Sikwebu
Most commentators have got the idea of the United Front wrong, and many important points from the national congress in December were overlooked.
Since its December 2013 special national congress’ call for trade union federation Cosatu to sever its ties with the ANC, the decisions of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) have received poor analysis. Most misrepresented has been the union’s resolution for Numsa to lead in the establishment of a United Front.
Despite numerous statements that explained that the envisaged front was a movement whose primary objective is to strengthen and co-ordinate union and community struggles, commentators and analysts continued to describe the United Front as “a party-in-the-making” for electoral contests in 2016 and 2019.
Unfortunately, it is through these jaundiced eyes that the same commentators have analysed the outcomes of the Preparatory Assembly for the United Front that was held in December last year.
Now that the assembly reiterated the view that the United Front was not an electoral political party but a movement that intends to struggle for a “democratic and egalitarian society”, those fixated to the position that the coalition was a party are characterising the whole initiative as riddled with contradictions and united only by antagonism towards to the ruling party.
Days after the assembly, more than one editorial opined that the danger for the front “lies in the fact that the new movement continues to define itself largely in terms of what it is not, rather than what it is” and will therefore disappear into political oblivion like Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement or the Congress of the People (Cope).
For anyone who was at the preparatory assembly nothing could be further from the truth. While there were intense debates among the 348 delegates that represented 71 organisations, there was convergence on key areas on the agenda. For an example, there was unanimity about building united front whose vision is a democratic society “without huge inequalities; disparities; poverty; legacies of colonialism and apartheid; corruption and unaccountable government”.
There was also convergence on building solidarity; collective needs and interests trumping profits and other elite interests; protection of the environment; opposition to anti-poor and pro-rich economic policies; extending democracy in both political and economic spheres; and campaigns against corruption, failing service delivery, increasingly unaccountable governance, police brutality, violence against women, children, gay and lesbian people.
No single organisation or delegate disagreed with principles such as feminism, accountability, transparency, anti-racism, non-sexism, anti-xenophobic, non-sectarianism, opposition to oppression, exploitation, tribalism and ethnicity.
As it is to be expected, with organisations and movement that come from different backgrounds and that have varied experiences; areas of disagreements are bound to emerge.
As the meeting in December was a preparatory gathering, areas where there was no convergence were referred for democratic discussions in provinces and within constituent organisations of the front. What those who pooh-pooh the outcomes of the assembly miss is that in more than one way, small steps were taken through discussions to build a different kind of politics to the ones who have become accustomed to.
First, the assembly asserted the principles of democratic plurality, diversity, political tolerance and respect for different views within the front. Participants committed themselves to politics of mutual listening and learning where participating organisations and individuals influence each other.
The adopted resolutions warn against any know-all pretences and reliance on trans-historical blueprints. Referring areas on which different organisations did not see eye to eye on back to constituencies was therefore no train smash.
The assembly agreed that the front must be a learning space where organisations travel together, discover solutions jointly and unlearn oppressive, undemocratic and sexist methods of organisation and struggle.
The second way in which the united front hopes to inculcate different politics is to call on all those who associate with the coalition to acknowledge their own weaknesses and adopt politics of consistency that call on all, to actively reflect on and address their own racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and privilege. The personal is political and there is no room within the front for talking left and walking right.
Third, the organisations that were at the assembly committed themselves to confidence-building struggles where they fight for winnable demands while also democratically re-imagining and building their long-term vision of an egalitarian society.
Although there are no guarantees of success, the United Front hopes to build a mass movement in this country through galvanising the tributaries of ongoing struggles into a torrent.
Those who define politics as a game within the purview of parliamentarians, political parties or paid politicians will remain blind to attempts by delegates at the meeting in December to put actions of ordinary people to determine their destiny as the real politics.
Equally, for those who equate politics with contests that we hold every five years, mass campaigns involving millions of people acting directly through their movements will not easily fit into their narrow political boxes.
They will fail to appreciate the steps that ordinary are taking to reclaim mass politics and through their actions transform themselves from being political subjects into being political agents.
Dinga Sikwebu is Numsa’s United Front co-ordinator and member of its National Working Committee.
Friday, 19 December 2014
Time for a Peoples CODESA on the Climate Crisis and the Just Transition
(Published online in the Mail &Guardian :http://m.mg.co.za/article/2014-12-17-the-climate-is-ripe-for-social-change)
(Published online in the Mail &Guardian :http://m.mg.co.za/article/2014-12-17-the-climate-is-ripe-for-social-change)
In a surprising departure from the corporate controlled narrative on climate change, the New York Times (30/11/2014), during the build up to the recent UN-COP20 climate summit in Lima, Peru, ran a front-page story in which climate experts warn:
that it now may be impossible to prevent the temperature of the planet’s atmosphere from rising by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. According to a large body of scientific research, that is the tipping point at which the world will be locked into a near-term future of drought, food and water shortages, melting ice sheets, shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels and widespread flooding — events that could harm the world’s population and economy.
The surprising coverage by the New York Times went on to suggest a rising rate of emissions has left us with two future possibilities: an unpleasant world of climate crisis, chaos and disruption or a world with a global deal that ensures the planet is habitable. Either way the future we are facing is grim. However, for climate justice activists gathered in the people’ s space and on the streets in Lima, two decades of failing to reach a global deal required a different approach: a bold rejection of the pro-market and false solutions of the UN COP process such as carbon trading, the Clean Development Mechanism, finance solutions that fail to acknowledge the climate debt of rich northern nations and the commodification of forest land (through the infamous REDD+ scheme). At the same time, activists have called for urgent action to advance transformative alternatives for system change as part of the people-driven just transition. The position of ‘no to false solutions but system change now’ has to be explained to appreciate why this is the necessary way forward to secure human and non-human life.
In 2000, Paul Crutzen, a Nobel prize winning atmospheric chemist, introduced the term the ‘Anthropocene Age’. Through this concept he has theorised an unprecendented human effect on our planet’s life systems, equal in force and impact to a great geological event. However, Crutzen’s notion of the human as a geological force, in the Anthropocene, fails to appreciate how power works in class-based capitalist societies. Put simply, Crutzen has failed to appreciate it is not humans in general but capital that is the real geological force destroying planetary life. Capital through its organisation of production, distribution, consumption and social life, driven by the need to make short term profits, has overshot planetary limits, undermined natural cycles and threatens human beings with extinction in the context of climate change. Capital in this context has become a geological force capable of ending human and non-human life. It is wired into a systemic logic of eco-cide and is incapable of solving the climate crisis.
Moreover, over the past three decades of transnational techno-financial capitalism our world moves at a dizzying speed. Social life, history and change have dramatically sped up. This includes the super speeds of nano-technologies, fast food and hyper-mobile globalised financial flows. At the heart of this is an addiction to growth, premised on the assumption of unlimited accumulation. In this context capitalist modernity, with its mastery of science and technology, has convinced capital that it is the conqueror of nature as well as its master. As a master it seeks to reduce nature to being a commodity, while ending an alternative conception of nature: nature as a commons. Thus, this commodifying illusion, informs the market based techno-fixes of capital, like carbon trading, which operate with the idea of no limits to capital. Yet the world is facing finite resources, over-consumption by a few and widespread pollution of rivers, land, forests, oceans and the biosphere. Hence with capital prevailing over the UN climate process we are heading for the fast death of our future.
Finally, with the current trajectory of an increasing rate of carbon emissions, carbon concentration (over 400 ppm) and a rapidly heating planet, climate justice movements are thinking hard about securing our common future. In this regard they seek to counter two possible futures we face. First, in various Pentagon research reports, well documented by Christian Parenti in his book Tropic of Chaos, the Pentagon envisages a world of climate induced chaos. In this context, it seeks to use its awesome military power to discipline such zones of chaos while protecting ‘life boat America’. This is the ultimate fascist solution. Second, a view of our future argued by Rebecca Sonlit in her book A Paradise Built in Hell, recognises a pattern of human purpose and civic virtue, coming to the fore in the context of disasters like the great San Francisco earthquake and hurricane Katrina. Her book assumes the Manichean make up of human nature, with its disposition for evil and good, but she documents a pattern in which altruism and mutual aid manifests in the context of disasters. While such a view celebrates the human spirit as a means to confront the adversity of the future, and is generally a progressive response, it tends to work with an implicit fatalism and comes short in terms of grappling with the agency required for system change now.
Instead, and I would argue, a system change perspective is grounded in appreciating that the pattern of history informing our future derives from the 20th century. Essentially, the 20th century was marked by a contest between two sets of social forces, championing contrary principles: on one side social forces championing ‘competition’, and on the other, social forces championing ‘solidarity’. It is this pattern of struggle and its understanding of human nature, as socially determined, that best equips us to confront and secure the future now. It is this perspective that also enables us to champion system change alternatives in the present.
An important example in this regard is the rights of nature alternative. Its power as a transformative alternative was demonstrated in Lima, through a sitting of the International Tribunal in Defence of the Rights of Nature. The tribunal brought forth an incredible creativity by activists to demonstrate the power of this alternative. Factual testimony, rhetorical inventiveness, valorising culture and evoking lost histories became crucial activist strategies before the tribunal to expose how capital is destroying rain forests, ancestoral lands, water systems and communities, as it scrambles for fossil fuels and minerals, through predatory extractivism. Fracking in the United States, now standing at 800 000 gas and oil wells, stood out as the source of ‘fraccidents’ like earthquakes, pollution of water resources and a second wave of genocidal violence against native Americans. Beyond testimony, activist voices also highlighted how the rights of nature were an effective transformative discourse, providing a recourse to challenge such destructive practices, if enshrined in national laws or sub-national regulations. In seven states in the US, fracking is now banned. In short, the rights of nature alternative places a limit on capital’s avaricious pillaging.
In addition to the rights of nature, other alternatives such as food sovereignty, solidarity economy, rights based carbon budgets, climate jobs, socially owned renewables, affordable mass public transport are all adding up to a counter-paradigm to capitalist modernity, redefining a relationship between humans and nature and advancing a logic of systemic change. As part of the just transition such alternatives seek a society based on solidarity to sustain all forms of life. In South Africa the time for the just transition has arrived so we can all survive climate change. As a response to the climate crisis it affords us an opportunity to address the failings of South Africa’s transition to democracy: inequality, unemployment, hunger, white privilege, ecological destruction and dispossession. It affords us an opportunity to build a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, black and white, such that the wealthy pay the price for this achievement and we realise Nelson Mandela’s dream.
While the ANC state has a declaratory commitment to green growth, green jobs and even a notion of the ‘just transition’ in the National Development Plan, this is merely empty policy speak and an add-on to carbon markets, renewed extractivism (including fracking), fossil fuel energy sources, nuclear, corporate controlled renewables, export-led agriculture and de-industrialisation of transport and renewables manufacturing. Essentially the ANC state has surrendered to market centred green neoliberalism and the logic of eco-cide. Hence it has shown itself incapable of leading a deep and transformative just transition. Instead, such a transition has to be led from below by forces like the NUMSA-led United Front, the emerging Food Sovereignty Alliance, the Solidarity Economy Movement, community-mining networks and rural movements. Such forces need to champion a ‘Peoples CODESA’ on the climate crisis and the just transition, before it is to late.
Author: Dr. Vishwas Satgar is a Wits University academic and an activist. This article draws on a talk he was invited to give at a parallel event to the UN-COP20 summit on ‘Systemic Alternatives and Power’.
Saturday, 23 August 2014
This article was published as a Mail and Guardian opinion/comment piece. See:http://mg.co.za/article/2014-08-21-the-numsa-moment-leads-left-renewal
NUMSA and the Struggle for the Future of South Africa
The post-colonial left in Africa was savagely defeated over the past few decades. Southern Africa, in particular, was a Cold War battleground with proxy wars and destabilisation. However, the Cold War did not end on the battlefields of Angola nor with the signing of Nkomati Accord, but with the assassination of Chris Hani, General Secretary of the SACP, on April 10th, 1993. Hani’s assassination drew to a close a dangerous era of global geopolitics and was meant to mark the defeat of South Africa’s left and working class. Two decades of ANC-led neoliberalisation, which has surrendered democracy, development and state formation to capital, consolidated the strategic defeat of the left and working class in South Africa. The NUMSA moment and process, led by South Africa’s largest (with over 330 000 members) and most militant trade union, is all about confronting this strategic defeat. It is about a battle to determine the future of South Africa and reclaim the strategic initiative for South Africa’s working class.
The stakes are high with intensifying attempts to destabilise NUMSA. This includes disciplining it in COSATU, squeezing it through the Department of Labour, the formation of a rival metal workers union by forces aligned to the ANC-SACP and the assassination of three NUMSA shop stewards in Kwazulu-Natal, on the eve of an NUMSA convened symposium with Left Parties and Movements, amongst other pressures. The assassination of the NUMSA shop stewards is similar to the violence unleashed against workers on August 16th, 2012, in Marikana. Such violence attempts to end democratic politics and crushes dissent. The undermining of the NUMSA initiative, by dominant political forces, will determine whether we are becoming an authoritarian post-colonial African country, like Zimbabwe, or whether we have a future as a vibrant, plural and transformative democracy.
We are at a turning point in our democracy: either the common ruin of all or maturation of our democracy. With Marikana the economic and political consensus of the post-apartheid order, favouring capital, has been unhinged. Madiba is gone and the phase of ‘national reconciliation’ is past us, but we have achieved a commitment to a constitutional democracy grounded in egalitarian values, non-racialism, non-sexism and a broad conception of democracy. At the same time, as the ANC unravels and loses its grip on power, it has to appreciate it will be held to account in the future for what it does in the present. The Arab Spring and the rise of a democratic left in Latin America have been part of the challenge to authoritarian neoliberal capitalism and are instructive in this regard. The maturation of South Africa’s democracy requires open, democratic and fair contestation at all levels. Ideological contestation from the democratic left and right is authorised by South Africa’s constitution. In this context, the emergence of a left initiative from NUMSA has a legitimate and democratic right to exist.
NUMSA’s right to pursue its decisions to break with the ANC-led Alliance, withdraw electoral support for the ANC, build a united front and explore the formation of a workers party or movement for socialism derives from its appreciation of history and the role workers have played in the making of South Africa. When NUMSA looks into the past it appreciates three historical developments as the basis for its political decisions: (i) The Freedom Charter, which was the programmatic cornerstone of the ANC-led liberation movement, was embraced by workers and has not been realised. NUMSA believes in the national liberation commitments made in the Freedom Charter to build peoples power, bring the state into transformation, including nationalisation, and the centrality of the principles of non-racialism and non-sexism. It refuses to accept apologia from the ANC about apartheid being determining of the present. Instead, NUMSA appreciates contingency in history as expressed through the choices made by the ANC to abandon the Freedom Charter while embracing global capitalist restructuring and BEE over the past two decades. In this context NUMSA is fully aware of the costs to workers and the African majority. (ii) NUMSA is aware of the militant role and tradition of shopfloor politics in the fight against apartheid. It is alive to the struggles of the vibrant shop-stewards movement, which it was part of, that confronted racism in the workplace, reached out to communities and built modern industrial unionism. The independence of the labour movement, its unifying role and the struggles it led where necessary conditions that contributed to the end of apartheid. This is why NUMSA is defending an independent labour politics in COSATU and the need to ensure labour as a democratising force is not compromised. (iii) COSATU is one of the few labour movements in the world to develop a capacity for strategic politics. In the 1990s this expressed itself as a social democratic agenda for labour: the RDP, the ANC-led Alliance and class struggle driven neo-corporatist bargaining through NEDLAC. NUMSA knows that this strategy has been defeated and hence the need for a new initiative from the socialist labour left.
It is in this context NUMSA hosted a Symposium of Left Parties and Movements to learn about the meaning of left politics in the world today and inform its political decision-making about a strategic way forward. It hosted the leading left forces in the world, either in power, in opposition or in resistance. The symposium included themes on: left understandings of capitalism’s crises and limits, strategies of transformative resistance and the nature of political forms. Consistent with its tradition of worker control these deliberations where a moment of intense political education for NUMSA, the United Front it is building and left forces.
The crises of capitalism theme was articulated by NUMSA itself in describing South Africa’s post-apartheid political economy. This was not unique, given that the dispossessions, inequality, ecological destruction, hollowing out of democracy and general crisis of contemporary capitalism was brought to the fore in the various presentations made by international participants. Essentially, the new left in the world is struggling against a neoliberal capitalism that is increasingly becoming authoritarian and driven by a logic that will destroy all planetary life forms. It is in this context that the new global left is the most resolute and progressive force in defending democracy against corporate capture and ensuring it is utilised for transformation. This perspective stood out from the Latin American contributions, given that it is the first region in the world to go furthest in breaking with neoliberal capitalism.
The jaded left debate in South Africa of ‘reform versus revolution’ was challenged when various strategies of ‘transformative resistance’ were shared in the deliberations. This ranged from mass driven participatory democracy (such as neighbourhood councils) to re-embed the state and secure national sovereignty like Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador; advancing the solidarity economy and networks in Brazil, Venezuela and Greece; food sovereignty to ensure countries can feed themselves like Bolivia, Ecuador and through the land struggles of the Landless Workers Movement from Brazil; rights of nature discourses (Bolivia and Ecuador); nationalisation of key sectors of the economy; new forms of regionalisation including a new vision of Europe articulated by Syrizia, the leading opposition party in Greece; strengthening trade union independence and solidarity across borders through Left Forums (Sao Paulo Forum and Asian Left Conference), movement to movement links and regional Left Parties like the European Left party. All of this adding up to alternatives to the left of 20th century social democracy.
Over the past three decades various labour movements have spawned workers parties such as in South Korea, Zimbabwe, Zambia. The NUMSA symposium scrutinised these experiences to understand the limits and lessons that could be learned. However, most striking in the deliberations was a recognition that communist vanguard parties have been eclipsed by new left political forms: electoral parties (Germany), party movements (Brazil), left fronts (Greece, Uruguay) and movements for socialism. In Bolivia the Movement for Socialism confronts the class structure of its society by anchoring itself in community, workplace and social movements. It has a mass character and rootedness which gives it capacities to advance different forms of democratic power, from above and below.
The NUMSA symposium is one of many crucial steps to unite South Africa’s rather dogmatic and fragmented Left. It is imagining a new socialism, with different premises, various historical reference points, new conceptions of strategy and a serious rethink on political forms. It is leading a cutting edge process of left renewal. Not only was it inspired by its international guests, but it also certainly inspired them. NUMSA is not building its process around individuals, like a Chavez, but around worker control, power and capacity. NUMSA is at the forefront of thinking about a new future for South Africa, in which workers play a central role, democracy is strengthened and transformation happens.
Author: Dr. Vishwas Satgar attended the NUMSA symposium as a friend of NUMSA and as an expelled member of the South African Communist Party. He is the editor of a Democratic Marxism book series.
Thursday, 8 May 2014
The Sidikiwe/Vukani Campaign has caused waves. It has touched and rattled the South African political landscape just on the eve of what is likely to be the most contested general Election to date. Within the ANC, from Jacob Zuma to Gwede Mantashe, from Essop Pahd to Pallo Jordan, on the fringes of the Zuma ANC there have been howls of protest, and a sense of betrayal. There are others I would rather ignore like Alastair Sparks and Rhoda Kadalie whose attacks on Ronnie Kasrls are so personal as not to warrant a response. In any event they do not address the concerns from within the ANC that the likes of Ronnie Kasrils and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge seek to present.
But there have been other more thought-provoking responses from Patric Mtshaulana, Jeremy Cronin, JJ Onkgopotse Tabane, Phillip Dexter, among others. Theirs was to suggest that, Ronnie Kasrils, in particular, had turned his back on a revolutionary tradition that he nurtured in many years in exile and underground. The point was made about the futility of politics outside the formal structures of the ANC, and that the ANC was the only viable vehicle for change in the country. Interestingly there was no effort to defend the Nkandla debacle, or to explain away the shenanigans in the so-called security upgrades that caused the price tag to escalate. The view is expressed that the Nkandla situation is not defensible, but that, in Cronin’s words, Jacob Zuma is not the worst leader that the ANC has ever had, or that the present crisis is not unheard of in the history of the Movement, and that revolutionary strategy and tactics would be enough to guide comrades on how to approach the present crises in the Movement. Dexter and Tabane draw on their experiences having left the ANC, only to recognize the futility of functioning outside the ANC. They both make two telling points. One, that the ANC remains the most viable vehicle for social transformation in the country, and that it is possible to raise matters for debate and correction within the ANC. It is the latter two assertions that I believe require a response.
The Sidikiwe/Vukani Campaign is essentially a conversation within the ANC about the ANC. It is introspective. The champions of the Campaign have not given up on the ANC, and have not formed a political party. The purpose of the Campaign is to challenge the ANC about its faults and shortcomings, and in the end to clean up the organization. It happens outside of the structures of the ANC because the ANC has in fact been captured by a clique that has turned it into an instrument of self-enrichment, and for the control of the state - not for the common good, but for personal benefit. The result is that the ANC has become an ‘echo’ to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s telling expression. It speaks to itself, and its words bounce back on itself. The organization is no longer an inclusive, debating chamber. It is no longer a place of ideas, or a forum for ideas battling with ideas. It is not an inclusive society conscious of its moral responsibility for the well being of South Africans.
On the second criticism, that the ANC is the only viable vehicle for radical transformation, I beg to differ. Actually the ANC in recent years has become a very backward, conservative organisation. As a matter of fact there is hardly any difference in policy between the ANC and the Democratic Alliance, except perhaps that the DA holds a better prospect for fighting corruption within its own ranks than the ANC has ever managed in 20 years. The truth is that the ANC has become a harbinger of die-hard conservative politics that make it possible for the erstwhile National Party stalwarts to find a home within the Party, of capitalists – black and white, vying for attention at ANC fundraising events, and whose message line is about enrichment without conscience. This is the organization that treats the poor as if they are the scum of beggars. Minister Bathabile Dlamini can proudly say that the poor must be grateful to the ANC government for the grants they receive. Or the lavish parties and drinks displayed at ANC events for leaders only, speak volumes about the drift of the Movement to the right of the political spectrum. It explains the cynicism with which the party will dish out food parcels, at the expense of the state, at party rallies. It is out of utter disrespect for the poor. Nowhere does the notion of a developmental state that uses the resources of the state to empower the poor in human dignity asserted with love and passion. In a revolutionary developmental sense, the poor must never be treated as beggars and supplicants at the table of the rich ANC Master.
Those of us who are not merely impatient with the ANC in government, but have lost faith in the ability or even passion of the ANC to transform the fundamentals of South African society in a manner that moves decisively away from the apartheid-induced social constructs, must however, confront a fundamental challenge. The question, however, begs to be asked: Has a functionally elite system under apartheid been dismantled or truly transformed? The answer has to be a resounding NO.
The concern is about living comfortably with transformation that does not touch the fundamentals, but makes the apartheid fundamentals more efficient, and aims to reach further than apartheid did. For Raymond Williams, the British historian, this is “a transformation engineered by political methods directly contrary to the values at which the transformation aims.” That is a sobering thought for the ANC, and a dilemma for many of those of us whose faith lies with the ANC as the vanguard for fundamental change in South Africa. What we have not managed to do in 20 years is never going to be done by those selfsame that had found reason not to go as far as their ideology demanded of them. “We have seen enough of the paradoxical results,” notes Williams, “- the reality of change and yet the degeneration of political values – to be both tense and alert, as we take our turn to be tested.” That is our dilemma too.
Similar messages have been heard following the Marikana Massacre. Police poorly trained in riot control methods are protected by a reckless disregard of law and of human life. That must surely explain why it is that the ANC government boldly and persistently tabled a Traditional Courts Bill the effect of which would be to entrench in law an undemocratic system of governance and give it legal credence with the consequent effects on the rights of women and on land distribution, and on rural development. Under the ANC government the country has entrenched the Bantustanisation through affinity with traditional leaders, appointments and by the spatial geography that has become entrenched in law. The ANC itself has become so tribalised under Jacob Zuma that there is no longer any need for the IFP! Apartheid is alive and well when one takes a look at the roll out of housing for the poor – RDP houses in ghettos as in apartheid-style group areas. The policies of the ANC in government have been less about empowering the women and the poor, especially the rural communities, but to enrich the few at the expense of the poor.
Nkandla, on this understanding, therefore is symptomatic of a deeper malaise in the philosophy and practice of government. Twenty years on South Africans are entitled to think again. The Sidikiwe/Vukani Campaign may have the potential of wresting the country and her economy out of the clutches of the kleptomaniacs, and restore it to the people. If democracy from within yields no results it is justifiable to try democracy from without.
N Barney Pityana
Grahamstown, 25 April 2014.
Monday, 28 April 2014
Vishwas Satgar, Antipode journal
Gillian Hart, Rethinking the South African Crisis: Nationalism, Populism, Hegemony, Durban: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2013. ISBN: 978 1 86914 251 3 (paper)*
The Gramsci-inspired bibliography on South Africa is not that large, but does include an influential and serious body work on key conjunctural shifts and political-economic dynamics that have shaped South Africa. In the post-apartheid context two books stand out, Hein Marais’s (2001) South Africa - Limits to Change and Gillian Hart’s more recent Rethinking the South African Crisis. Hart’s text is extremely important and courageous in the context of South Africa’s fiercely contested political discourse. Hart steps in front to contest existing understandings of the state, racial geographies, crisis, hegemony, and transition. Her attempt to challenge what exists is not only an academic intervention but also grounded in deep normative concerns about the trajectory of South African politics.
As a Gramscian feminist and geographer, Hart walks a path with other leading theorists who have provided important ways of placing Gramsci in contemporary social theory. Alongside Anne Showstack Sassoon, Chantal Mouffe, Stuart Hall, Michael Burawoy, and Marcia Landy, Hart brings to the fore three crucial analytical dimensions that mark Gramscian scholarship. She makes a crucial contribution in terms of thinking with and yet going beyond Gramsci with regard to [i] the spatial, [ii] nationalism, and [iii] passive revolution.
First, building on her earlier work on Gramsci as a spatial thinker, Hart draws on Lefebvre’s work on the production of space and Foucault’s work on governmentality, to provide a textured understanding of how technocratic local government has been made, and how it has managed unruly populations in post-apartheid South Africa. She shows how the rationality of Foucaultian governmentality has engendered techniques of rule to ensure fiscal viability through cost recovery from South Africa’s poor. To develop this argument Hart goes beyond broad macro analyses of the making of local governmentality in South Africa to ground her argument in serious ethnographic work in two towns in the hinterland of South Africa, located in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. She builds on her earlier book, Disabling Globalisation (Hart 2002), but follows the operations of governmentality at work in local power relations in relation to the commodification of water and the attendant ‘water wars’. Water conflicts have been documented previously in South Africa, including the technologies of rule.
However, Hart situates this in the context of changing, but still racialised, local geographies, gendered class conflict, and technocratic rule. In chapter 3, Hart provides ethnographic insights that are both riveting and compelling. In mapping the spatial contours of water conflicts in the towns of Ladysmith and Newcastle, she brings to the fore complex cost recovery practices, the role of a public water corporation leading the commercialisation of water provisioning, and the complex tapestry of local politics. Most analysts have tended to reduce civic protest action either to the ‘rebellion of the poor’ or ‘pop-corn protests’ that are episodic and fragmented.
However, Hart’s ethnographic lens contests these understandings as she probes the intersections of race, class, gender, racialised geography, and technocratic rule. The story she tells about the Newcastle Concerned Residents Association, for instance, and its capacity for symbolic and strategic actions while being eschewed by all political parties, is fascinating and dramatic in its role. Moreover, this line of analysis provides a strong basis from which to argue that the central contradictions of post-apartheid South Africa are located at the level of local government. The squeeze of technocratic cost recovery is central to engendering local social conflict and a crisis for the local state.
Next, Hart provides a compelling focus on and understanding of articulations of different forms of South African nationalism to render the contemporary country more intelligible. In this way Hart thinks with but also goes beyond Gramsci, by setting up an extremely novel framework to understand the link between de-nationalising and renationalising dynamics at work in shaping the form of hegemony prevailing in South Africa. This is very different from other political economy analyses that have either attempted to make sense of the unravelling of ANC hegemony through narrow policy analysis with an emphasis on short-comings, or through a class compromise (or elite pact) understanding of South Africa’s post-apartheid politics and transition. In chapter 4, Hart attempts to understand how articulations of the South African nation and hegemonic appropriations of nationalism by the African National Congress feature prominently in the making of contemporary South Africa. Recognising the place of nationalism in ANC discursive practices (e.g. on the national question and National Democratic Revolution) Hart shows how forms of nationalism are made and articulated as part of de-nationalising and re-nationalising processes.
De-nationationalisation refers to the processes and practices that globalise and restructure South Africa’s domestic political economy, centred on the minerals-energy complex. Re-nationalisation refers to discursive practices and projects shaping articulations of nationalism. Hart brings into the remit of re-nationalisation the various articulations of the ‘rainbow nation’, the ANC government’s punitive immigration practices, grassroots xenophobic attacks, and battles in the ANC-led Alliance about the meanings of the National Democratic Revolution. It is through the prism of denationalising and re-nationalising that South Africa’s crisis is given a much more complex analytical framing, while attempting to appreciate the country’s crisis as the unravelling of ANC hegemonic rule as well. All of this connects chapter 2 of the book, which deals with grassroots struggles and containment responses, and chapter 5, which lays bare the degeneration of ANC politics and the rampant populism coming to the fore.
As Hart astutely points out, this can go in any direction. It also portends a possible roll back of democratic achievements in South Africa. Hart compels us to ask: is South Africa heading for a new form of fascism, with the emergence of racist and populist young politicians like Julius Malema, a product of ANC authoritarian nationalism? Finally, chapter 6 illustrates a further engagement and disengagement with Gramsci in thinking about the analytical value and strength of a passive revolution understanding of post-apartheid South Africa. Hart is alive to the challenge of translation of Gransci’s categories in different contexts. Moreover, Hart brings to the fore a crucial link between Gramsci and Fanon to explicate the category of passive revolution as it relates to the racialised dynamics and specificities of race in post-apartheid South Africa.
Mobilising Gramsci and Fanon, Hart explores three dimensions of passive revolution: [i] the spatio-historical; [ii] dialectics; and [iii] humanism. This is the most difficult chapter to situate in Hart’s sophisticated understanding of South Africa. A meta-reading of the chapter might suggest there is a dialectical connection between unravelling ANC hegemony and now a shift into a passive revolution given the degeneration of ANC nationalism. Are we now witnessing a dialectical historical sequence at work? Despite the difficult fit, the chapter is a crucial theoretical addition.
While Hart makes a major contribution to both analysing and theorising the South African crisis there are two crucial challenges confronting her work. The first relates to spatial reductionism or the idea that the local state is the major site of contradictions and crisis. In this regard Hart has to respond to two criticisms. First, and as she understands, the Gramscian conception of the state in the Prison Notebooks is that of an ‘integral’ state and at the same time a ‘relational’ state. The integral conception of the state is an expanded one which includes civil and political society (‘state=civil society+political society’) at a national scale. Gramsci observed such a change in the late 1800s in the Western context as part of thinking through the specificity of state-civil society relations.
Gramsci’s relational conception of the state recognises that it is also shaped by a historical bloc of social forces. The notion of the historical bloc brings together structures and superstructures; it steers clear of both economic reductionism and idealistic distortions. At a less abstract level of analysis, the leading or hegemonic social force in such a historical bloc is able to define the form, role, and functions of the state. In Gramscian scholarship the ‘integral state’, the ‘relational state’, and the relationship between the two has engendered its own interpretive controversies about the relationship between hegemony, civil society, and the state. However, for the sake of this argument, recognising that there is a specific conception of the state at work within Gramsci’s thought makes it difficult to merely think about crisis as simply engulfing the local state.
What about the state in crisis in its integral sense and at the national scale? What about the crisis of the historical bloc of forces making up the ruling forces prevailing over the state in its totality? Second, and flowing from the idea of a crisis of the integral state, is a recognition that cost recovery and technocratic forms of rule have diffused into various levels of the state. The state, in asserting a financialised rationality in its provisioning of public goods, at the same time faces various challenges from myriad social forces, on different terrains.
This means there are multiple spatial choke points to both contest the state and engender fiscal crisis; the geographies of resistance are more than just water wars. For example, attempts at imposing a toll road system in Gauteng province, the heartland of South Africa, has met with stiff resistance from unions, commuters, and citizens. This has placed the multi-billion rand project in crisis and the gridlock has even affected South Africa’s standing with credit rating agencies. Similarly, billions spent on building coalfired power stations (in Medupi and Kusile, for example) have stalled on numerous occasions, around workers demanding higher pay and improved working conditions. At the same time, consumers have been fighting against electricity price hikes that are meant to assist Eskom (South Africa’s electricity parastatal) pay back billions in World Bank finance for these projects. All of these spatial choke points have also added to the total crisis of the integral state and the ANC-led historical bloc of class and social forces prevailing over the state.
A final challenge to Hart’s intervention relates to her eschewing a role for a sophisticated political economy analysis that places neoliberalism at the centre of understanding post-apartheid South Africa. By dismissing such forms of analysis as ‘not having traction’, we are left with an analysis centred mainly on the unravelling of ANC hegemony devoid of any understanding of how ANC hegemonic nationalism and neoliberalism articulate, on the one side, and on the other, how social struggles and left alignments are forming in response to this. The Marikana massacre that Hart correctly identifies as important, has not only contributed to a rupture in the ANC-led historical bloc of class forces, but has also been a spur to major class realignments and detachments from the ANC-led Alliance. Besides the decline of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), once upon a time the largest union in South Africa and a staunch ally of the ANC, the Marikana conjuncture has ruptured the working class support base of the ANC-led bloc of forces in the direction of left re-alignment. In this regard, the decision by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA; currently the largest union in South Africa with over 300,000 workers) to withdraw from the ANC-Led Alliance, to declare it is not supporting any party in the forthcoming national elections(it is withdrawing its awesome organisational machinery from actively campaigning for the ANC), and to initiate a process of left convergence with social movements and other progressive forces to form a united front and explore the possibility of a worker’s party, is extremely significant. It is even more significant because the entire discourse of the NUMSA is about the defeat of the working class because of 20 years of post-apartheid neoliberalisation. Furthermore the NUMSA evokes a form of nationalism other than the one Hart discusses: it points to a betrayal of the Freedom Charter, the cornerstone programmatic commitment and revolutionary nationalist basis of the ANC-led Alliance.
Further evidence of this betrayal for the NUMSA is the state-led massacre of 36 mineworkers on 16 August 2012 in Marikana. Unfortunately, Hart’s analysis will have difficulties making sense of this rupture given that it articulates a strong critique of the ANC’s commitment to neoliberalism, particularly the recently adopted National Development Plan. The NUMSA’s organic intellectuals have a lived experience of neoliberalisation as thousands of jobs have been lost in South Africa’s liberalised manufacturing sector. They are certainly not spinning their wheels as Hein Marais suggests in his endorsement of Hart’s text.
These criticisms notwithstanding, Hart’s contribution is a welcome addition to the ongoing challenge to make sense of the complicated field of South African politics.
Endnote *There is a new edition of the book (including a note on South Africa after Mandela) forthcoming in the University of Georgia’s ‘Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation’ book series - Hart G (2014) Rethinking the South African Crisis: Nationalism, Populism, Hegemony (new edn). Athens: University of Georgia Press.
References Hart G (2002) Disabling Globalization: Places of Power in Post-Apartheid South Africa.
Berkeley: University of California Press Marais H (2001) South Africa - Limits to Change: The Political Economy of Transition (2nd edn). London: Zed
Vishwas Satgar Department of International Relations University of the Witwatersrand firstname.lastname@example.org March 2014
April 5, 2014
Response to Vishwas Satgar’s review of Rethinking the South African Crisis: Nationalism, Populism, Hegemony by Gillian Hart
First off I’d like to express my gratitude to Vish Satgar for his generous, comprehensive, and careful review of my book – and to recognize as well his own important contributions to a Gramscian understanding of the present conjuncture in South Africa.
In addition to Satgar, other South African activists and scholars have called me to account for the stance I take in the book on “neoliberalism”. Accordingly, I see the invitation by the Antipode editors to respond to Satgar as an opportunity to engage an important set of debates in South Africa and beyond. Satgar maintains that by failing to place neoliberalism at the center of understanding post-apartheid South Africa, I eschew a sophisticated political economy analysis of unfolding forces – including a hugely significant recent shift in the South African political terrain when, in late December 2013, the largest and most influential union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), withdrew its support for the African National Congress (ANC), and is moving to forge a united front of progressive movements. Satgar argues that “Hart’s analysis will have difficulties making sense of this rupture given that it articulates a strong critique of the ANC’s commitment to neoliberalism, particularly the recently adopted National Development Plan” (2014: 7). He also questions what he calls the spatial reductionism of my argument that local government has become the key site of contradictions.
The challenge, it seems to me, is not only to explain the NUMSA split, but also whether (and if so how) the sort of argument I make in the book might contribute to efforts
to constitute political forces to the left of the ANC. Since the political stakes are high, I feel it important to try to clarify my argument.
Let me start with multiple meanings of “neoliberalism” variously defined as an economic program; a class project; a historical variant of capitalism; a doctrine or a “thought collective”; a rationality of rule to produce governable subjects; and a seductive cultural project. Neoliberalism also of course functions as a popular category to condense popular opposition.2 In post-apartheid South Africa neoliberalism very quickly became equated with GEAR (an acronym for Growth, Employment and Redistribution), the extremely conservative package of neoliberal macro-economic policies that the ANC government unilaterally imposed in 1996 – at the same time elbowing aside the neo- Keynesian Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). For many on the left within and beyond the ANC alliance, the shift from RDP to GEAR inaugurated what came to be called the ANC’s 1996 class project, and signaled a shift from racial to class apartheid. Starting in the late 1990s and gathering force in the early 2000s, neoliberalism in the form of GEAR came to operate as a hugely important popular category for crystalizing and condensing multiple expressions of discontent. It also functioned as a term of abuse, especially in relation to Thabo Mbeki. His identification with GEAR played powerfully into his deep and growing unpopularity with a large segment of the population.
Since the ousting of Mbeki in 2008, the Zuma administration has rhetorically distanced itself from neoliberalism and GEAR – even though it was Mbeki who initially drove significantly increased government spending and a series of other interventionist (including ostensibly “pro-poor”) initiatives after 2003/4, in important part as a strategy of containment (Hart 2006). As a consequence, “neoliberalism” as an oppositional category has lost much of the political traction it once had. Indeed, for many on the liberal right, the economy is being strangled by over-regulation, militant unions ramping up wages, and excessive spending on welfare that is bleeding “responsible” (read white) taxpayers dry.
2 As I will suggest in a forthcoming essay, we in South Africa have a great deal to learn from recent Latin American experiences and debates about the uses and limits of neoliberalism as both an analytical and popular category.
3 This rhetoric further bolsters ANC claims that “we are not neoliberals”, and that the global economy is fully to blame for economic woes and the terrifying escalation of unemployment. I agree with Hein Marais (2011: 137) who argues that “Paradoxically, in singling out and demonising GEAR as the grand moment of rupture and betrayal, the left helped government and corporate South Africa script their claims of a qualitative break”.
Without question the Zuma administration’s National Development Plan (NDP) to which Satgar makes reference caters first and foremost to corporate capital, and can be seen as a continuation of a neoliberal class project. Yet the chances it will have anything like the traction that GEAR did in concentrating broadly based political opposition seem small.
One prominent set of efforts to reassert that the ANC is indeed neoliberal invokes a sort of hydraulic model in which “top-down” neoliberalism is seen as calling forth “bottom up” resistance – albeit in the form of low-grade “popcorn protests” – with ongoing protests taken as proof that neoliberalism is alive and well. Nationalism (or “neoliberal nationalism”) features in these analyses only to reassure us that it is exhausted, helping to pave the way for oppositional movements to cohere as neoliberalism intensifies. This is emblematic of a more general tendency on the left either to ignore nationalism or treat it as an unfortunate manifestation of false consciousness.
My book is in part a critique of this sort of approach, and an effort to suggest an alternative to debates over whether or not the ANC is neoliberal. Its starting point is the imperative to take very seriously the multiple, proliferating expressions of popular anger and discontent that I call “movement beyond movements”, which exploded over the decade of the 2000s following the implosion of the first round of anti-neoliberal “new social movements”. Undoubtedly such anger is driven in part by often appalling material conditions that can be linked to neoliberal economic policies and neoliberal forms of capitalism more generally (more on this below). Yet precisely because the anger of the poor can go in many directions as S’bu Zikode puts it, politics cannot be read directly off material conditions – and what needs to be understood and explained is the ramping up of populist politics and their entanglements with multiple expressions of nationalism.
Also in need of explanation is how this roiling popular anger has gone hand in hand with increasingly anxious interventionism by the ANC government. On one level, these interventionist moves can be seen as a (somewhat belated) version of what has variously been called roll-out neoliberalism or revisionist neoliberalism – i.e. the process through which the market orthodoxy that seemed so firmly entrenched in the early 1990s in many regions of the world gave way through that decade to overtly interventionist moves to contain the disruptive tendencies unleashed by neoliberal capitalism. The key point, though, is how spectacularly unsuccessful these moves have been in South Africa, and how they have been accompanied by growing police brutality.
A key tenet of revisionist neoliberalism is a focus on “the local” as a primary site of efficiency, democracy, social capital, good governance, participation, and so forth. For many who subscribe to ideas of neoliberal governmentality, “the local” is also an important locus for the production of neoliberal subjects who will govern themselves.3 What we see in South Africa – and this is one of the key arguments of the book – is how local government has become the key site of contradictions.
Satgar takes me to task on this point, arguing that a properly Gramscian analysis of the integral state “makes it difficult to merely think about crisis as simply engulfing the local state”; and that cost recovery and technocratic forms of rule have diffused to various levels of the state, producing what he calls “multiple spatial choke points” such as toll roads in Gauteng and massive state spending on environmentally devastating coal-fired power stations, both of which have generated powerful opposition. He asserts, in other words, that I am according excessive privilege to local government.
I maintain that local government is in fact qualitatively different from other sites of technocratic governance. Most immediately local government constitutes the key site for the management of indigence. It is also a vitally important arena of accumulation, as local councilors are transformed into a petty bourgeoisie on the road to class power (as Ari Sitas puts it) through struggles over access to the growing resources flowing into local government coffers. Rather than a “spatial choke point” or simply the locus of struggles Satgar interprets my work as drawing on a Foucault’s concept of governmentality. Actually I find neo-Foucauldian analyses of neoliberal governmentality quite limited (Hart 2008). Instead I draw on Gramsci’s analysis of how passive revolution increasingly came to entail bureaucratic elaboration and consolidation through which the ruling class and its intellectuals transformed political debates into narrowly bureaucratic or technical questions.
5 over specific resources (water, housing, etc.), local government is where technocratic forms of government come into relation with contestation and acquiescence in the multiple arenas of everyday life. A reflection of its importance is that each of the expressions of popular anger that I call “movement beyond movements” – including Marikana – has an irreducibly local dimension.
Let me be clear that in positing the importance of local government I am emphatically not in any way suggesting or implying that “crisis is simply engulfing the local state”. That would amount to the sort of impact model that I vigorously opposed in Disabling Globalization: Places of Power in Post-Apartheid South Africa (2002), drawing on a relational conception of the production of space that informs this book as well. Rather than any sort of “engulfment”, my argument is that the ongoing, unstable, and unresolved crisis in South Africa today is partly produced through power-laden practices, conflicts, struggles – as well as compliance and acquiescence – in the multiple arenas of everyday life; and that historically grounded ethnographic studies can potentially illuminate these processes of production. At the same time, conceiving “the local” not as bounded units but as nodal points of connection in socially produced space means that locally specific dynamics both feed into and are shaped by wider processes – they are, in other words, dialectically connected with forces at play elsewhere.
This is where the simultaneous spatio-historical processes I am calling denationalization and re-nationalization enter the picture. At the moment when the ANC and other political parties were unbanned in 1990, the South African “nation” did not exist: it had to be produced through practices and processes of re-nationalization that encompass multiple articulations of nationalism. De-nationalization refers to how, simultaneously, powerful South African conglomerates were straining to break away from the confines of the national economy and to reconnect with the increasingly financialized global economy from which they had been partially excluded during the 1980s by sanctions, exchange controls, and the heightening crisis of the apartheid state.
De-nationalization shines the spotlight on the specific but changing character of South African capital and its relations with the post-apartheid state in the context of the rise of new forms of finance capital since the 1970s.4 It encompasses GEAR, but instead of seeing 1996 as the primary moment of rupture it compels attention to the crucial and ongoing role of corporate capital in the transition from apartheid since the second half of the 1980s – including what we now know are a set of secret negotiations over economic policy in 1993. It focuses as well on practices and processes that exceed GEAR – including massive and escalating capital flight in which the Zuma administration has been fully complicit; how corporations have restructured their operations to enable continuing disinvestment from the national economy; their ongoing influence over ANC government policy; and how these forces continue to play into and intensify brutally racialized inequalities and the degradation of livelihoods of a large proportion of the South African population. Far from eschewing a political economy analysis, I see neoliberal forms of financialized capitalism as central to these processes – but they have to be understood in terms of their concrete spatio-historical specificities and transnational connections.
De-nationalization also needs to be understood in relation to processes and practices of re-nationalization.5 Most important among those I identify in the postapartheid era are articulations of South African nationalism that conjure up histories, memories, and meanings of racial oppression, racialized dispossession, and struggles against colonialism and apartheid. They co-exist with “non-racial” articulations of the Rainbow nation, and with efforts to bound “the nation” in harsh new ways that fuel xenophobia – and all three are in tension with one another.
Inextricably linked with the contradictions erupting at the level of local government, de-nationalization and re-nationalization are playing out in relation to one another in increasingly conflictual ways – and their dialectical interconnections are what drive my analysis of the unraveling of ANC hegemony and the forces propelling the proliferation of populist politics. Since Satgar challenges my analysis of hegemony for The most lucid account of the neoliberal counter-revolution in my view is by Peter Gowan (1999; 2009), who traces the shift from what he calls the Bretton Woods Regime of relatively fixed exchange rates and capital controls to the Dollar Wall Street Regime and the emergence of new forms of finance capital.
Elsewhere (Hart 2006) I have suggested the salience of Gowan’s analysis to South African debates. For a useful recent account of neoliberalism as financialization, see Fine (2012).
5 As I have argued elsewhere, identifiably neoliberal projects and projects play out on terrains that always exceed them (Hart 2008).
7 neglecting neoliberalism, I’d be interested in his alternative analysis of “how ANC hegemonic nationalism and neoliberalism articulate”.
Let me now try to respond to Satgar’s question about “the state in crisis in its integral sense and at the national scale” and a related question about “the crisis of the historical bloc of forces making up the ruling forces prevailing over the state in its totality”. Since Satgar and I have different readings of Gramsci’s concepts of the integral state and historical bloc, I’ll answer with reference to the section of the Prison Notebooks that I draw on most directly: his analysis of crisis in “Analysis of Situations. Relations of Force” (Gramsci 1971:175-185; Q13§17) in which he argues that “The specific question of economic hardship or well-being as a cause of new historical realities is a partial aspect of the relations of force, at the various levels”. Of direct relevance as well is the concept of passive revolution.
If one understands the transition from apartheid through the frame of passive revolution, it was centrally about re-establishing the conditions for accumulation on a more stable basis, as well as enabling corporate capital to reconnect with the global economy.
Yet this effort to resolve the prolonged crisis of the apartheid state has generated new instabilities, contradictions, and conditions of crisis in a Gramscian sense. In a nutshell, capital needs the ANC to manage the fallout from its accumulation strategies and keep the lid on things, which the ANC tries to do with articulations of nationalism that are part of re-nationalization – but processes of de-nationalization are rendering this hegemonic project increasingly impossible. In other words, rather than just the charges of greed, corruption and incompetence commonly leveled against the ANC, there are far more deepseated (or “organic” in Gramsci’s sense) processes through which ANC hegemony has been unraveling over the post-apartheid era.
What appear to be driving Satgar’s question over the crisis of the historical bloc (I would use the term social bloc in this context) are doubts about whether my analysis is capable of explaining NUMSA’s splitting from the ANC, which happened over four months after the book was published in South Africa. Actually I would argue that what needs to be explained is why it has taken so bloody long for at least some segment of the working class movement to split from the ANC given the relentless assault on the livelihoods of working (and increasingly unemployed) people, only very partially alleviated by social grants, in the face of obscene and escalating inequality. While we probably agree that the Marikana massacre was a decisive moment of rupture, the question is why did it take so horrendous an event for NUMSA eventually to disengage? The answer, I suggest, lies in understanding ANC hegemony as well as the processes through which it has been eroding – which is precisely what the book is about.
Finally there is Satgar’s critique that “NUMSA evokes a form of nationalism other than the one Hart discusses: it points to a betrayal of the Freedom Charter, the cornerstone programmatic commitment and revolutionary nationalist basis of the ANC-led Alliance”. It is indeed the case that in mid-2013 when I finished the book, I failed to predict both the NUMSA split and the specific articulation of nationalism that it is invoking.6 Yet I most certainly do recognize the Freedom Charter as a key element in articulations of South African nationalism, and conclude the book with a discussion of how Govan Mbeki participated in the formation of the Freedom Charter in Ladysmith in the mid-1950s. That NUMSA is invoking the Freedom Charter as a way of trumping the ANC alliance’s notion of the National Democratic Revolution is not surprising, and is in fact totally consistent with the argument of the book about how articulations of the nation and liberation are crucial to hegemonic politics. What is ironic is that NUMSA’s predecessor MAWU (the Metal and Allied Workers Union) was deeply suspicious of Charterist politics.
This leads me to a concluding point about how my analysis speaks to some of the challenges that NUMSA is currently confronting in its strategy of constituting a united front – which turn around the simultaneous imperatives and dangers of articulations of the nation and liberation. As I write in early April 2014, a month before the incredibly important May 7 election, we are witnessing an extraordinary confluence of forces. On the one hand the combination of Mandela’s death and Zuma’s Nkandla scandal have eroded the ethico-political traction of the ANC’s articulations of the nation and liberation just at the moment when they are most needed. Yet my analysis suggests that it is premature and dangerous to declare that ANC nationalism is exhausted as some on the left are doing – The 2014 US edition of the book contains a note entitled “South Africa after Mandela” in which I do discuss the NUMSA split.
and to imply that nationalism can therefore safely be set aside. Indeed, the Economic Freedom Fighters are vigorously re-articulating nationalism in terms of race and nature – the theft by white colonizers of the land and rich mineral resources of South Africa – while also dismissing the Freedom Charter on the grounds that it “sold the birthright of Africans, precisely because of that clause: Africa belongs to all of those who live in it, both black and white”.7 At the same time they are invoking Badiou and Žižek to position Malema as a bizarre combination of Mao and a Maggie Thatcher of the left.8 NUMSA may not now be spinning its wheels, as Hein Marais remarked of the South African left in general in his endorsement of my book written in mid-2013. Yet they confront a formidable set of challenges, as well as opportunities – which is why the political stakes in how we understand the present conjuncture are so high.
References Fine B (2012) Neoliberalism in retrospect. In Kyung-Sup C, Fine B, and Weiss L (editors) Developmental Politics in Transition: The Neoliberal Era and Beyond (pp 51-69). London: Palgrave McMillan.
Gowan P (1999) The Global Gamble: Washington's Faustian Bid for World Dominance. London, New York: Verso.
____ (2009) Crisis in the heartland: Consequences of the new Wall Street system. New Left Review 55: 5-29.
Gramsci A (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks. London: Lawrence & Wishart.
Hart G (2006) Post-apartheid developments in historical and comparative perspective. In Padayachee V (editor) The Development Decade? Economic and Social Change in South Africa 1994-2004 (pp13-32). Pretoria: HSRC Press.
____ (2008) The provocations of neoliberalism: Contesting the nation and liberation after apartheid. Antipode 40: 678-705.
Marais, H (2011) South Africa Pushed to the Limit: The Political Economy of Change. London: Zed Books.