The set of essays initially entitled “South Africa: What Next?” that is accessible here over a number of weeks consists of five essays that, together with my introduction posted below, focus on various areas of political creativity currently being acted upon by various peoples, groups and fledgling movements in South Africa. It is complementary to an earlier set of essays on the wider southern Africa region entitled “Southern Africa – the liberation struggle continues” the title of which is self-explanatory and that included case-studies, by various writers, of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa itself. This was a series first edited for the AfricaFiles “At Issue Ezine”, and then had been reproduced in ROAPE in March, 2011 as vol. 38, #127.
Amongst the most studied and celebrated aspects of the anti-apartheid struggle during the 1980s in South Africa was the breadth and impact of community resistance (Ballard et al 2006; Buhlungu 2010).
The origins of that resistance came during the late 1970s and early 1980s when the working class, broadly conceived, was hit with a double blow. Emerging clusters of neoliberal capitalism privileged the opening up of global markets, increasing capital mobility and reorganising states to guarantee and catalyze ‘free market principles’ (Harvey 2005), while pushing for a flexible, insecure and informal labour regime (Chun 2009).
The Marikana massacre of 16 August 2012 triggered a wave of strikes across South Africa, culminating in an unprecedented uprising in the rural areas of the Western Cape. It also began a process of political realignment. The dramatic entry of the Economic Freedom Front (EEF) into parliament was to become the most spectacular. But could the historic decision of Numsa in December 2013 to withdraw its logistical support for the ANC and its mandate to the union’s leadership to form a United Front and Movement for Socialism, be of more long term significance? It certainly was the popular view on the left at the time (Satgar, 2014). The “Numsa moment”, one support group boldly proclaimed, “constitutes the beginning of the end for the ANC and its ambivalence towards neo-liberalism” (Democracy from Below, December 2013).
Recently, the University of Cape Town (UCT) student organization #RhodesMustFall, displayed a banner proclaiming: “Dear History: This revolution has women, gays, queers, and trans. Remember that.” It was a profound declaration that the old politics of the left can no longer hold, and that the masculinist, male-dominated forms of oppositional politics that centred the male subject as the defining agent of transformation must be confronted.
To understand where this statement – which went viral on social media – comes from, we need to consider both the failures of the state-led democratic project and the modes of analysis and organisation on the left. An honest examination is especially timely as progressive politics is re-grouping around new formations ranging from political parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters, to student movements, to broad front civil society arrangements such as the United Front. The women’s movement itself, to the extent that it ever existed in coherent form, has also seen several changes in the past two decades with the collapse of the Women’s National Coalition, the ever-increasing distance between the ANC Women’s League and feminists, and the emergence of a much wider range of organisations dealing with issues of violence and sexuality. Importantly, through initiatives such as the Feminist Table, connections are being forged between women’s organisations working at the brutal edge of the economic crisis in families, households and communities, and feminist thinkers.
n ecological transformation is required as part of a ‘new liberation struggle’ in South Africa. This involves a ‘just transition’ from the present fossil fuel regime that is moving us towards ecological collapse and catastrophe. The article suggests that the impetus to this ecological transformation is coming strongly from two aspects of the ecological crisis: accelerating climate change and the spread of toxic pollution of water, air, land and food that is experienced as ‘environmental racism’. The implication is that what Von Holdt and Webster (2005) conceptualised as a triple transition from democracy (economic liberalisation, political democracy and post-colonial transformation), requires a fourth dimension: an ecological transition to a society marked by a very different relation with nature, a relation combining social justice with ecological sustainability.
“new coalitions and forms of co-operation between both labour and environmental activists contains the promise of a new kind of socialism that is ethical, ecological and democratic.”
n October 2015, South Africa was rocked by over two weeks (commencing 14th October) of student protests. These protests shut down most universities, led to violent confrontations between police and students (most notably at parliament and with a march of thousands of students on the Union Buildings), and vocalized demands that President ZUMA address the call for free higher education, “insourcing” and a moratorium on fee increases for 2016. Twenty-one years into post-apartheid democracy a new generation of university student activists openly rebelled against the ANC government’s neoliberal fiscal cutbacks of public universities and reclaimed the importance of “public goods.” The use of mass mobilisation and social media, such as #FeesMustFall, led some commentators to suggest the “Arab Spring Moment” had arrived in South Africa. Students themselves in their assemblies and messaging also discoursed in the language of revolution. This manifestation of resistance is far from over and cannot be isolated. It has to be located in the crisis of national liberation politics and renewal of a new South African left.