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Marta Hernecker’s was not an adventurist-head and not an adventurist-voice, which made her a leading theoretician for people of her time. Rather, years of learning from struggles helped her take an approach linking to reality and perspective, alignment of classes and balance of power of hostile classes. This led her to say:
“We need a left that realizes that being radical does not consist of raising the most militant slogan or carrying out the most extreme actions — with which only a few agree, and which scare off the majority — but rather in being capable of creating spaces for the broadest possible sectors to meet and join forces in struggle. The realization that there are many of us in the same struggle is what makes us strong; it is what radicalizes us. We need a left that understands that we must obtain hegemony, that is to say, that we have to convince instead of imposing. We need a left that understands that, more important than what we have done in the past, is what we will do together in the future to win our sovereignty — to build a society that makes possible the full development of all human beings: the socialist society of the twenty-first century. [[i]]
It is a lesson to be taken into consideration. “Radical […] raising the most militant slogan or carrying out the most extreme actions” mean nothing, but simply a juvenile effort to establish self as the “hero”, in real sense a zero, the character class enemies of the exploited prefer the most.
The sociologist, political scientist, and activist from Chile was a close comrade of Hugo Chavez, the Bolivarian revolutionary leader of Venezuela and one of the most hated figures to the imperialists. To Marta, today’s Venezuela is a laboratory of the Bolivarian revolution. By the type of a number of works, she was also a journalist. But, none of her [journalistic] work took her away from the political fight of people for a humane world. She was not with any idea, which was devoid of political action.
“In order for political action to be effective, so that protests, resistance and struggles are genuinely able to change things, to convert mass uprisings into revolutions, a political instrument capable of overcoming the dispersion and fragmentation of the exploited and the oppressed is required: one that can create spaces to bring together those who, in spite of their differences, have a common enemy; that is able to strengthen existing struggles and promote others by orientating their actions according to a thorough analysis of the political situation; that can act as an instrument for cohering the many expressions of resistance and struggle.”[[ii]]
It is an essential line of approach today; because the bourgeoisie is fragmenting the exploited with different colours – the tact that weakens the exploited and strengthens the exploiters.
The theoretician was always at the frontline, from country to country. She summarised lessons from successful revolutions:
“The history of triumphant revolutions clearly demonstrates what can be achieved when a political instrument exists that is capable of raising an alternative national program to unify the struggles of diverse social actors behind a common goal […]” [[iii]] And, she emphasised: “[…] actions be carried out at the right place and the right time, always seeking out the weakest link in the enemy’s chain.”[[iv]] It is the same lesson Lenin taught through the Great October Revolution: right place, right time, enemy’s weakest link.
Marta talks about political instrument: “The political instrument is like a piston in a locomotive, which transforms steam power into the motion that is transmitted to the wheels, driving the locomotive forward, and with it, the whole train. Strong organisational cohesion does not alone provide the major objective capacity for acting, but at the same time, it creates an internal climate that makes possible energetic interventions into events, profiting from the opportunities these offer. It must be remembered that in politics, one does not only have to be right, but one must also be timely and rely on strength to achieve success.” [[v]] Her idea of political instrument of today is in the context of existing reality.
She admits: This task needs time, research and knowledge of the national and international situation. It is not something that can be improvised overnight, much less so in the complex world in which we live.” [[vi]] There are “heroes” who don’t have time to learn and research, but have more than enough time for slogan-mongering, and have enough time to indulge in ignorance. But, Marx, emphatically said: Ignorance brings no good. Rather, ignorance compresses one into anarchism, and encourages to declining looking at social process. The bourgeoisie want super-production of ignorant “heroes” spewing only slogans, and no effort for spadework, and no humbleness to learn. For these “heroes”, the point that Marta raises is a lesson, if they like.
Marta doesn’t ignore the question of political organisation: “The initial preparation will always have to be done by the political organization […]” [[vii]] Political organisation should take the lead. For spearheading people’s political struggle, whoever dreams of relying on non-governmental organisations, rights organisations and organisations submerged into marginal forces missing the class question should take into consideration Marta’s point – political organisation.
There are questions of strategy and tactics. So, Marta writes: “The political instrument is necessary, not only to coordinate the popular movement and promote theoretical thinking, but also for defining strategy.” [[viii]] All successful revolutions correctly defined the question of strategy and tactics.
However, Marta doesn’t forget the aspect related to broader spectrum. She writes: “[…] I believe we must be very mindful that, as it progresses, this project should be enriched and modified by social practice, with opinions and suggestions from the social actors because, as previously stated, socialism cannot be decreed from on high, it has to be built with the people.”[[ix]] Therefore, there is no scope for sectarianism.
Marta discusses the question of popular struggle with specific characteristics and specific context: “[…] at this time in our countries, the popular struggle is developing in very different circumstances from those of czarist Russia. But it is also obvious that Venezuela is not Cuba nor Nicaragua, nor is Bolivia the same as Ecuador. In each country, there are different circumstances that mediate the strategy and modify the forms of popular struggle. Consequently, I do not believe it is useful to propose a template with a formal structure that the revolutionary instrument would have to be.” [[x]]Therefore, it appears, she was free from dogma, free from the machine-made-theory approach for all countries.
Marta Harnecker participated in the revolutionary process of 1970-1973 in Chile. After studying with Louis Althusser in Paris, she returned to Chile in 1968, and joined the Socialist Party of Chile. In 1973, after the overthrow of the government of President Salvador Allende by the US-backed coup d’état led by General Pinochet, Marta was forced into exile in Cuba. She has written extensively on the Cuban Revolution. She also lived in Caracas and was a participant in the Venezuelan revolution.
Marta Harnecker was the director of research institute Memoria Popular Latinoamericana. In 2002, Marta interviewed Chavez for 15 hours, the longest interview Chavez has ever given since 1997, before he was elected president.
One of Marta’s famous books is A World to Build: New Paths toward Twenty-First Century Socialism while her Fidel: la estrategia política de la victoria (Fidel: The Political Strategy of Victory) discusses the revolutionary process in Cuba.
Marta was entrusted with the editing and indexation of the booklet El nuevo mapa estratégico (The New Strategic Map), a collection of speeches by Chavez in November 2004. This booklet contains the condensed doctrine of the Bolivarian Revolution.
In Haciendo posible lo imposible: la izquierda en el umbral del siglo XXI (Making possible the impossible: the left on the threshold of the 21st century), initially published in Cuba and later in Chile, Colombia, México, Portugal and Spain, Marta presents a wide view of popular movements in Latin America.
Marta also discusses the question of hegemony of different types:
“Popular movements and, more generally, the different social protagonists who to-day are engaged in the struggle against neoliberal globalization both at the international and national levels reject, with good reason, attitudes that aim to impose hegemony or control over movements. They don’t accept the steamroller policy that some political and social organizations tended to use that, taking advantage of their position of strength and monopolizing political positions, attempt to manipulate the movement. They don’t accept the authoritarian imposition of a leadership from above; they don’t accept attempts made to lead movements by simply giving orders, no matter how correct they are. Such attitudes, instead of bringing forces together, have the opposite effect.
“On the one hand, it creates discontent in the other organizations; they feel manipulated and obligated to accept decisions in which they’ve had no participation; and on the other hand, it reduces the number of potential allies, given that an organization that assumes such positions is incapable of representing the real interests of all sectors of the population and often provokes mistrust and scepticism among them. But to fight against positions that seek to impose hegemony does not mean renouncing the fight to win hegemony, which is nothing else but attempting to win over, to persuade others of the correctness of our criteria and the validity of our proposals.” [[xi]]
Her practical proposal was:
“If we want to truly be radicals and not just radicals in name, we must immerse ourselves in the daily work of constructing a social and political force that permits us to bring forth the changes that we want. How much more fruitful would it be if those who spoke out were those who were committed to this daily militancy instead of those who practice their militancy from a desk.[[xii]] Facebook “revolutionaries” – persons deluging Facebook with revolutionary slogans and undisciplined statements and arguments, and doing no elementary work essential for building up people’s organisation and struggle – may learn from this statement: “immerse ourselves in the daily work of constructing a social and political force”.
On building up a counter-position to capitalism in Latin America, Marta said: “We are beginning a new cycle of revolutionary advancement and we must accelerate the construction of the subjective factors that circumvent new historical frustrations. Unfortunately, there are few countries where the social and political forces of the left work harmoniously reinforcing each other. Egoism and political ambition usually prevail among their leaders. They have not sufficiently understood that power is in unity and that unity is constructed by respecting each other’s differences. They have not sufficiently understood that the art of politics is to construct a political and social force capable of making that which appears impossible today, possible in the near future; that in order to construct political strength you must construct social strength.” [[xiii]]
Here is a statement that should be taken seriously – We are beginning a new cycle of revolutionary advancement. However, there are a few theoreticians in the camp of the people, who only see the rise of the right, only see a rightward tilt of the time – “victory” of neoliberalism. They miss the dialectics – people’s struggles are building up in countries, imperialism is realising that its tactics are failing in countries at times, imperialism’s assessments are turning wrong at times, a few theories imperialism asserted with are turning outdated in regions. So, with a revolutionary spirit, Marta lives, lives in places far away from those timid scholars.
Marta Harnecker has authored more than 60 books that include:
- The Basic Concepts of Historical Materialism
- The Left after Seattle
- Hugo Chávez Frias : un hombre, un pueblo, Venezuela : Militares junto al pueblo and Venezuela : una revolución sui generis
- A World to Build (Monthly Review Press, 2015)
- Ideas for the Struggle, (Socialist Interventions Pamphlet Series, 2010)
- Haciendo posible lo imposible : La izquierda en el umbral del siglo XXI, (Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 429 Seiten, 1999)
- América Latina, izquerda y crisis actual: Izquierda y crisis actual, (Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 305 Seiten, 1990)
- La Revolución Social : Lenin y América Latina, (Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 307 Seiten, 1986)
Comrade Marta Harnecker’s march along people will not cease, as the people are building up and intensifying their struggles in countries in Latin America, as political activists in countries go through her works to chart respective path of revolution – the path to emancipation and freedom.
*Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka, Bangladesh.
[i] “Latin America and Twenty-First Century Socialism: Inventing to Avoid Mistakes,” Monthly Review, July-August 2010
[ii] “A Political Instrument Appropriate for Each Reality”, The Bullet, 25 January 2019, The Socialist Project, Toronto, Ontario
[xi] Ideas for the Struggle, pamphlet, Socialist Project, Toronto, Ontario, August 2010, notes omitted.
[xii] “Interview with Marta Harnecker: In the laboratory of a revolution”, Cuba Diglo XXI
If you have ever imagined being a daring foreign correspondent flying into parts unknown, you may at first find vicarious adventure in Judi Rever’s book In-Praise of Blood: Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. Her story begins in 1997, one week after Zaire’s long-time dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was toppled by a coalition of Rwandan, Ugandan, and Congolese forces. She writes, “I headed for the region, now renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo, to cover the humanitarian crisis. At the time, I was a reporter for Agence France Presse (AFP), born and raised in Québec but living with my new husband in Paris.”
The humanitarian crisis was hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees, mostly Hutus, who had crossed the Rwandan-Congolese border, then scattered into Congo’s dense equatorial jungle, fleeing attacks by Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s Tutsi-led army. The epic scale of the refugee crisis was captured in the Frontline documentary “Rwanda 1994.”
The refugees were nearly all civilians who had fled Rwanda at the end of its 1990-1994 war and genocide, which ended in then General Kagame’s seizure of power. Kagame claimed to be pursuing the survivors in Congo because they were genocide criminals, but the vast majority were innocent Hutu civilians including women, children, and the elderly.
Rever joined groups of Congolese volunteers with the United Nations, Médecins Sans Frontières, and the Red Cross who “were there, day in and day out, to provide the means of life to people on the edge of death.” Crossing a dilapidated bridge over a river deeper into the jungle was the first of many times she risked her life before this story ended.
In the jungle she and her search-and-rescue companions met a man in a UN sash with a walkie-talkie and a megaphone. He had been searching for Rwandan refugees calling, “Rwandan refugee, Rwandan refugee. It’s the Red Cross and the United Nations. We have food and medicine for you. Please come out of the forest. No one will hurt you.”
That was one of the book’s more chilling moments for me because by the time I read it, I had already read many books and UN reports that included accounts of how Kagame’s army had taken control of villages, then called all the villagers into the village centre to, they said, distribute food, and instead murdered them en masse. I imagined these desperate refugees trembling at the promises reaching them through a megaphone, wondering whether those speaking were really relief workers or more of Kagame’s soldiers hoping to lure them out and then slaughter them.
Rever reported on the refugee crisis for Agence France Press, but made only oblique references to the leading role of Kagame’s soldiers in the alliance that had overthrown Mobutu and their attacks on both Rwandan refugees and native Congolese. She went on to report from West Africa, covering conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia, elections in Nigeria, and the Christmas Eve coup in Ivory Coast, then travelled to Jerusalem to reinforce AFP’s bureau there during the Second Intifada. She loved the work, but her constant traveling, while her husband remained in Paris, began to take its toll on their marriage. At the same time, she was haunted by her memories of the Democratic Republic of Congo and its eastern neighbour Rwanda, feeling there were mysteries there that she was compelled to uncover.
The rest of the book is the story of how she researched and wrote the it, and of her marriage, including the birth of her two daughters upon her return to Canada with her husband. For years she collected the detailed testimony of victims, perpetrators, and contextual witnesses to the crimes of the post-genocide Rwandan government. She had also been on the trail of the true story of the Rwandan Genocide, not believing the simple, Manichean story of demon Hutus murdering a million Tutsis in a long-planned 90-day bloodbath. Then, in October 2003, a whistle-blower working at the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR) sent her an official, 30-page compendium of crimes against civilians committed by Kagame’s army during the genocide. ICTR investigators had collected 100 witness testimonies, 41 of which were statements signed by people who risked their lives by coming forward. Former ICTR Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte had even prepared to indict Kagame himself for ordering and planning the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents by soldiers who shot their plane out of the sky over Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, thus triggering the genocide.
The evidence of all these crimes was suppressed because Kagame was the United States of America’s new man in Africa, and the Tutsi were the new managers and local beneficiaries of Congo’s vast resource wealth chosen by the US and its resource extraction corporations.
Rever’s conclusions are likely to shock anyone who has accepted the “Hotel Rwanda” version of what happened during the Rwandan Genocide:
“After the presidential plane went down, Hutu elites in rural areas—drawn from military, political and administrative structures—operated in a political vacuum at first. Some of them resisted the call to kill Tutsis, but many others urged Hutu militia and civilians to murder and rape. These crimes were committed publicly, in broad daylight, and with little or no sense of remorse or concern about repercussions.
“In areas seized by the RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front] or already under its control, its soldiers and intelligence agents worked with similar ethnic zeal, but they were more discreet: they cordoned off areas and killed Hutus secretly, with great precision. They operated mobile death squads, massacring Hutus in their villages. They brought large groups of Hutus to areas where NGOs and the UN agencies were not permitted to go. Under the cover of night, they transported displaced Hutus by truck, killed them, and burned their bodies with gasoline and gas oil. These atrocities took place mainly near Gabiro, a military training barracks in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park. Portions of the park became outdoor crematoriums, and human ashes were spread in its lakes. It was mass murder leaving barely a trace.”
Rever recounts the grisly stories of Rwandan soldiers who, haunted by the memories of what they had seen or done under Kagame’s command, stepped forward to tell their stories. She travelled on three continents to collect witness testimony. Both European and Canadian secret service agents warned her that her life was endangered by Kagame’s assassins. In Brussels, as she was checking into a hotel, two Belgian agents appeared on either side of her and said they would be accompanying her for the remainder of her time in Belgium.
As Rever reports the escalating danger and stress, the initial glamour of her foreign correspondent stories fades. Nameless Kagame agents called her home phone in Québec with threats and made it clear that they knew the names of her daughters. Her husband beefed up the alarm system in their home, adding panic buttons on both floors, and they told their daughters never to answer the door. She became physically and emotionally unwell. Her jaw locked, one of her feet swelled without external injury, and she developed a limp. By New Year’s Day, 2014, she could barely move. That was the day after Kagame’s assassins strangled his former intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya in South Africa.
Rever’s husband rushed her to an emergency room, where a battery of blood tests and X-rays revealed that she had “some sort of inflammatory response.” A month later she learned that she had developed an auto-immune disease, that her body was attacking its own cells.
She began the road to partial recovery, although she still suffers from an autoimmune disease. Finally, the stress that her whole family had been through ended in divorce and an agreement to joint custody of their daughters.
In March 2018, “In Praise of Blood: Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front” was finally published in English by Penguin-Random House. Its title was drawn from this passage in Chapter 10:
“What were these Western allies supporting? From the point of view of the RPF’s victims, it all seemed to be in praise of blood, an endorsement of mass murder.
“Among Kagame’s greatest supporters in the West is Bill Clinton, who was the US president when the genocide began. Clinton has hailed Kagame as ‘one of the greatest leaders of our time.’ The Clinton Foundation has awarded Kagame its Global Citizen prize, saying ‘from crisis, President Kagame has forged a strong, unified, and growing nation with the potential to become a model for the rest of Africa and the world.’”
Is she safer now? More so, she says, but she remains “careful and vigilant.” Now that her book is published, murdering her in Canada would be an even more glaring indictment of Kagame than his many assassinations of Rwandans abroad. She has not returned to Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or anywhere else in Africa.
Protestors sometimes appear at her speaking engagements to accuse her of denying “the genocide against the Tutsi,” even though she never has. She has been interviewed by Canadian, African, and European outlets, including the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Radio France Internationale, Ikondera Libre, and her former employer Agence France Presse. “In Praise of Blood” won the Mavis Gallant Award for the best non-fiction book of 2018 and the Huguenot Society of Canada Award, and it was shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Prize.
However, her story is such a radical rewrite of what most of the world has been led to believe that it continues to meet stiff and fearful resistance. It upends the story now embedded in US foreign policy, which tells us that the US must “intervene” all over the world—in Sudan, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, and perhaps Myanmar soon—to prevent another genocide like Rwanda’s.
Rever recently initiated legal action against the French publisher Editions Fayard, which had signed a contract to publish her book but suddenly cancelled.
I asked Judi Rever whether “In Praise of Blood” was worth all she went through to write it. She said yes, because she hated all the lies she had read about Rwanda and Congo, and because Rwandan and Congolese lives matter. The book is sure to become a classic history of one of the worst, most misunderstood, and most geopolitically sensitive tragedies of the 20th century.
*Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area, United States of America. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at @AnnGarrison or firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the dust settles on the Republic of South Africa’s 6th election, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) faces its deepest crisis since coming to power in 1994. The May 2019 election saw roughly over 17 million voters participate (out of a further 26 million possible voters) in a country whose current population is estimated in excess of 56 million people. These figures, like most modern democracies, stand in context of steadily declining voter participation with 983 155 less voters in comparison to the 2014 election despite the 5 percent increase in the total electorate. [[i]]
Growing inequality in post-apartheid South Africa holds the country consistently listed, as one of the world’s most divided societies across a spread of metrics. ANC-stalwart Cyril Ramaphosa, entering the presidency in late 2017 through an in-party recall of former President Jacob Zuma over long-standing state corruption allegations, set out to promise the party and country a “New Dawn”. This emphasised cleaning up corruption, ensuring good governance and restoring confidence in international investors.
Ramaphosa’s New Dawn has since been marred by a deepening economic and political crisis most viscerally demonstrated by the collapsing energy parastatal ESKOM, which has left the country in months of load-shedding and blackouts resulting from decades of poor planning, overspending and corruption. Recent electoral gains in representation for opposition parties the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Vryheidsfront Plus [Freedom Front Plus] particularly have set the stage for an explosive term in Parliament for Ramaphosa as he struggles to both define and execute path forward for the ANC and its vision for the country.
Popular intellectual and veteran trade unionist Dinga Sikwebu published a sharp post-elections rebuke titled “2019 elections: The great democratic swindle”[[ii]] cut through analysis on the various gains and losses by individual parties to raise serious questions around un-transparent party funding, marginalisation of the poor and working class and nature of democratic participation under the present social, political and economic realities of the country. In a climate of uncertainty and precarity, Sikwebu urges us to look beyond the temporary comfort of competing populisms to support ongoing demands to expand democratic participation in all spheres of life.
In engaging with this invitation, instead of indulging in the post-election dysphoria to weigh up the long term viability of various opposition parties and their paths to power, I argue that more attention, debate and consideration needs to be paid to the character and trajectory of the ANC’s inevitable collapse with the intention of building towards a position to seize the latent political energy set to be released at the moment of transition, towards a process of social transformation, that stands a concrete chance and reshaping fundamental relations in our society. To this effect this paper will set out to discuss the following claims:
1. The rightward shift in South African politics is characterised by a de-politicisation of bureaucratic power and a weakening of the role of the state in favour of privatisation.
2. Divergent strategies within the diverse strata of South Africa’s national bourgeoisie have led to an investment strike rendering the prospects of a “patriotic capitalism” impossible.
3. The inevitable collapse of the ANC as the governing polity will be characterised by violence and a constitutional crisis.
4. Facing head on intra working class conflict and deep-rooted social stratification is central to the possibility of forging a new radical social contract that can be robustly defended from externally sponsored agitation.
5. Building on ongoing processes such as the Working Class Summit could supplant the looming transition through the call for a constituent assembly.
In local media, Ramaphosa’s remarks have been likened by dissidents to the sentiments of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who championed a regime of cuts in government spending, mass retrenchment of state employees, among other ‘neoliberal’ reforms. These measures rolled back significant expansions in state provisions of healthcare, public housing and education in the aftermath of World War II, leading to widespread protests and intense political debate among left-wing organisations and intellectuals. Among the sharpest criticism came the voice of popular intellectual Stuart Hall in an essay titled “The Great Moving Right Show”. This famously drew attention to the growing danger of right-wing populism targeting marginalised groups and minorities and criticised the inability of the left to analyse and respond to the unfolding crisis.
Speaking against the widely held view that “uneducated” masses were being hoodwinked by a strategic and opportunistic elite, Hall asserts [on authoritarian populism]: “Its success and effectivity does not lie in its capacity to dupe unsuspecting folk but in the way that it addresses real problems, real lived experiences to align with its policies and class strategies.”
For South Africa today, particularly in the build up to elections, Hall’s words held significant warnings for all who attempted to understand and respond to the country’s current crisis. The sporadic and inconsistent rhetoric from the ANC on land and nationalisation of key banks and industries should not be seen as evidence of a radicalising ANC, nor as evidence of a confused, detached and desperate party preparing for elections. Instead, it should be understood as part and parcel of the strategy of a decaying ruling party attempting to re-assert itself as representative of “the people”, in order to maintain and expand the wealth of local elites and the international capital and the network of legitimising institutions they depend on.
The emergence of Ramaphosa as the face of the party rested on three populist narratives, which collectively underpin his campaign for a “New Deal”. On the one hand, Ramaphosa is characterised as “The Redeemer” –a moral voice from the anti-apartheid era who is independently wealthy and therefore less likely to steal from state coffers. Ramaphosa, “The Unifier”, is based on a narrative that constructs him as the leader who can make difficult choices, appease foreign investors and isolate opportunistic elements within the ANC under the banner of good governance and inclusive growth. Finally, Ramaphosa “The Reformer” is projected as pragmatic, business-friendly and primed to reshape fledgling state-owned enterprises, through embracing euphemistic concepts such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and openly soliciting foreign direct investment from Western states and financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. The spectacle of contemporary South African politics is crafted as a forced tale of a tortured hero, Ramaphosa, gallantly fighting a many headed hydra of boundless public sector corruption, maladministration and civil unrest, altogether staging our very own rendition of the “Great Moving Right Show”.
Ramaphosa’s November 2017 budget announcement [[iii]] delivered under the “New Deal” doctrine, increased value added tax to a record 15 percent, along with cuts in social spending, while assuring the stability of corporate tax at merely 28 percent. Alongside these developments, a coalition of more than 20 organisations under the #ScrapNewLabourLaws campaign called for mass resistance against recent proposed changes to both the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. These changes threatened to limit the right to protest and therein roll back hard-won gains particularly during the height of the anti-apartheid struggle.
This is deeply ironic, given that Ramaphosa himself spent a significant portion of his career as a trade unionist.[[iv]] The prospect of mass retrenchments following existing and looming privatisation policies along with the growing recognition of the importance of supporting the organisation of precarious workers draws important attention to the need to lend efforts in unifying a deeply fragmented labour movement whose challenges stem well beyond political differences between ANC-allied Congress of South African Trade Unions and the newly formed independent South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU).
Closely following the recall of former President Zuma, a state commission on the extent of the corruption allegations was established and is popularly regarded as the Zondo Commission [from its presiding judge Raymond Zondo, Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa]. Amidst the most striking revelations shown to the commission, the extent to which corporate corruption was linked to key state institutions came into sharp focus. Scandals once again pivoted around the Gupta family and linked multinational agencies including consulting firm Mckinsey and Company along with auditing firm KPMG. Auditing companies have been exposed as key parts in the chain of corrupt decision-making processes that led to the awarding of state contracts and that legitimised public sector theft. [[v]]
Central to the “New Deal” paradigm heralded by Ramaphosa stands a continuation of the longstanding use of ‘Commissions of Inquiry’ as a means of depoliticising bureaucratic power. The processes, which themselves may yield nuggets of revelations that may be crucial for the movements of the future, ultimately obfuscate the root causes of political crisis and attempt to usurp the role of social movements in holding power to account through the theatre of highly publicised trials weaponising the spectacular to instil fear, apathy and a desire for ‘order’.
Recent developments in the South African energy sector are emblematic of the political and economic crisis the country finds itself in. The economic viability of ESKOM has developed into a full-blown crisis, after reporting making a loss in the 2017/18 financial year of over US$160 million and having lost US$1.39 billion from 2012 to 2018 in irregular expenditure forcing a recent government bailout [[vi]] and investments from the Chinese Development Bank to remain afloat. [[vii]] The board of ESKOM has historically been marred by political appointments and has resulted in a revolving door of new directors in the last decade. High levels of inefficiency and inadequate planning have collectively resulted in chronic overspending and rising electricity costs, which have caused electricity demand to decrease in recent years.[[viii]] As a result of the crisis between the supply and demand of energy within South Africa, ESKOM has been forced to implement months of load shedding measures hitting working class communities and small enterprises that cannot afford backup generators the hardest.
In the mining sector, the ANC has recently championed a new proposal for a mining charter that pushes primarily for increases in Black ownership, as a counterweight to the hegemonic ownership of White Monopoly Capital accrued historically through mining in particular. At the same political moment, by way of resistance, a landmark legal settlement demanding reparations for miners impacted by scoliosis and tuberculosis [[ix]] is set to force the industry to accept some responsibility for its historical practices. Grassroots resistance to the expansion of mining efforts in Xolobeni village in the Eastern Cape successfully halted developments initiated by Australian conglomerate Mineral Commodities Limited amidst a climate of state repression, private intimidation and assassination of local activists [[x]] and also forced the courts to accept the communities’ right to “Say No” to future developments. [[xi]]
The mining-energy complex, in modern South African history, has been central to political developments in the country. Today, divergent strategies between two factions of the highly diverse South African national bourgeoisie can be observed through the contestation in this space directly. In 2011, under the leadership of former President Zuma, South Africa was pushed to the brink of entering into what would be the largest tender in the country’s history through the development of a R1 Trillion (US$100 billion) nuclear power programme. [[xii]]
This despite parastatal Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s own projections of declining electricity demand alongside a slowing economy rendering the project economically unviable without environmental considerations. The deal alongside a string of corruption allegations levied against sections of the ANC, allied with Zuma, and linked to the Gupta family comprised of a web of economic relations in coal and uranium mines, which stood to make great profits. Once challenged by the civil society, as further details of the extent of corruption surfaced, the Zuma faction developed an ideological programme under the banner of “Radical Economic Transformation” (RET) linking populist positions on land reform to reconstruct their actions as the behaviour of a patriotic capitalist front bravely standing against the historical enemy of White Monopoly Capital.
On the other hand, upon the defeat of the nuclear deal, and now with the ANC under the leadership of Ramaphosa, ESKOM sought to expand its renewable energy programme through its policy of Independent Power Producers. The path chosen to implement this reprioritisation was summarily criticised and challenged by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), an RET aligned newly formed structure called Transform RSA [Republic of South Africa] and to a lesser extent the EFF, as an attempt to privatise South African energy led by White Monopoly Capital and an allied section of the ANC and Black business elite exemplified by Ramaphosa himself and his brother in-law billionaire Patrice Motsepe.[[xiii]]
South Africa’s economic woes can, in part, be seen in its slowing economic growth rate, which stood at 0.8 percent in 2018 dropping from approximately 5 percent in 2008. [[xiv]]This slowing economic growth has come amidst a rapidly diminishing manufacturing sector and an economy, which has become highly dependent on the export of raw materials and the profits solicited from services particularly in the financial sector while the state stands as the largest employer. [[xv]]
The paradigm of the National Democratic Revolution, advanced by the South African Communist Party, which hinges on a staged approach to socialist transformation and dependent on industrialist strategies steered by a powerful state bureaucracy—in theory acting to the benefit of the working class as a whole and limiting the growth of national bourgeoisie influence on the economy—remains a popular ideological rhetoric for the ANC’s top brass today. The post-apartheid experience however has demonstrated that the party rhetoric now can do little more than jostle for position between sections of the national bourgeoisie who seek to gain dominion over one another, all of which show little interest and capacity to act independent of the dictatorship of international capital with local White Capital evacuating an expanding array of profits derived from basic needs to the private sector and pumped into international markets.
Ramaphosa’s approach to the land issue exemplified by populist gestures towards the return of the land to the historically dispossessed Black majority in fiery statements delivered to communities across the country in the build up to the election [[xvi]] alongside assurance to foreign investors that the expropriation bill set to be put forward before parliament secures their interests.[[xvii]] In contrast, while national policy—no matter how compromised—takes aim at white large scale farmers, at a community level protests demanding housing and urban land have grabbed centre stage. Actions taking the form of mass township occupations, strikes involving direct action and violent confrontation with state police and the targeting state infrastructure along with demands for access to basic services like water, electricity and housing have brought the country into nearly open rebellion on a weekly basis this year.
In an incident between the communities of Mitchells plain and Siqalo, a neighbouring informal settlement, a strike which began as an action demanding housing and services from the Cape Town city government devolved into bitter and violent tensions between “black” and “coloured” residents leaving one resident dead and two further injured. While media reporting emphasised on the narratives of anti-Black “coloured” residents in permanent conflict with “entitled” and “insurgent” black occupiers, the Muslim Judicial Council, the Housing Assembly, Siqalo community representatives and the Mitchell’s Plain United Residents Association worked hard on the ground to re-centre the demands for basic services and pursuit of a decent life while condemning racism.
The fierce tensions rooted in real, differentiated experiences of marginalisation and oppression in intra-working class struggles such as these require systematic responses that are being bitterly fought and developed by communities themselves and revolutionaries poised at the coalface of community struggles. From this edifice, a new social covenant must be supported to emerge organically from cross-difference participation in struggle and systematised in favour of formulaic and nostalgic appeals to non-racialism and Black consciousness that disguise the reality of existing, changing dynamics which render the realisation of these very ideals impossible.
Easier said than done
Refocusing to the state, Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment policies, part by the government has involved a now long-standing process of political appointments to boards and high-level executive structures of state-owned industries and key private industries, particularly in the mining sector— Black ownership had previously been prohibited and expressly excluded from these positions—creating a layer of elite business people and bureaucrats tightly dependent on their direct relationship to state power. Cyril Ramaphosa himself stands as a testament to this transformation, moving from trade union leader representing mineworkers to one of the wealthiest South Africans with shares in mines and a growing array of private businesses. [[xviii]]
This isn’t to speak against the concept of affirmative action policies at all, but rather to highlight that their tactical deployment at the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ have introduced a social and political force whose interests deeply shape the current political landscape. More pointedly, the racially charged competition in post-apartheid South Africa evoked financial and skills transfer strikes in an economy still marked by the bloodied stains of centuries of colonialism allowing for masses of capital, consolidated by local elites who are largely white, along with specialised technical skills developed particularly by artisans, technicians and engineers under the numerous sprawling apartheid state owned and supported industries.
Numerous local and international analysts commenting on the unfolding South African crisis [[xix]] criticise Ramaphosa’s ideological incoherence and political double-speak leading up to the election. There is, however, insufficient analytical attention paid to the social, political and economic forces, which have produced a rightward shift in mainstream politics. This shift, partly shrouded by the smokescreen of increasingly aggressive calls for nationalisation from parliament, can be understood as the result of conflict among competing factions of local economic elites and their mutual, but differentiated dependency on international capital.
The rot within the ANC is directly related to the deals, partnerships and compromises forged in the handover from the apartheid regime. The party-led reforms have built a section of the Black elite, which is dependent on increasingly illicit relationships to state power in order to amass wealth. The liberation movement turned political party failed to contain, transform and redistribute the power and resources historically accumulated by the minority White elite, which themselves now seek to consolidate in a complex and poorly understood web of private institutions that have readily expanded into the rest of the African continent.
The growing clarity of this reality among radical and progressive worker and community organisations has become increasingly sharp, culminating in an ongoing workers’ summit process, led by the SAFTU, and now by the formation of the Socialist Revolutionary Worker’s Party (SRWP) largely, but not exclusively devolving from the support of the country’s largest trade union, NUMSA. With the imminent threats to privatise ESKOM [[xx]], alongside the failure of the SRWP to secure representation in parliament, signals to the difficult work that lies ahead of militants and trade unions to defend jobs and livelihoods at the point of production. This happens while also poor South Africans are facing fierce community struggles at home, at the point of social reproduction, with rising water and electricity tariffs biting into unlivable wages and the dwindling value of social grant schemes.
While the political climate across communities in South Africa grows ever more tense, the prelude to a violent collapse of the ANC has begun to play out within the party itself at a municipal level with over 90 politicians, largely from the ruling party, reportedly having been killed just since 2016. [[xxi]] Competition over leadership roles, linked to access to masses of state funds and ‘tenderpreneur’ networks have increasingly led to deadly battles for power. It appears more than likely that once the ANC reaches a point where it can no longer control the syndicates operating within it, the party will resort to violence to protect their interests and demand immunity if necessary.
Following from this, I argue, the vacuum created by the collapse of the ANC, at the moment of their inevitable election loss, could be filled by supplanting a trajectory towards “elite transition” of an incoming opposition attempting party (seizing power in 10-15 years through a slight majority) by instead positioning a broad front of left social forces to call for a constituent assembly and the redrafting of the constitution, which reflect an advanced set of transitional democratic demands, notably including requirements on the declaration of party funding, in an open and highly participative process.
Mass protest action demanding basic service delivery to working class areas along with labour struggles in the workplace combating job insecurity, unlivable wages and countless other demands remain clear driving forces animating Black radical politics within the country. The prospects for political renewal, the building of viable democratic and inclusive organisations, and the elusive dream of an equal society lie in the streets, workplaces and hearts of ordinary people and their urgency to end our “Great Moving Right Show” through the revitalisation of a struggle for freedom.
* Brian Kamanzi is an activist, student and writer based at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
[ii] https://mg.co.za/article/2019-05-14-elections-the-great-democratic-swindle accessed 20 June 2019
[viii] https://africacheck.org/reports/eskom-and-the-viral-infographic-do-the-numbers-add-up/ accessed 20 June 2019
[xvi] https://ewn.co.za/2018/10/14/cyril-ramaphosa-promises-to-accelerate-land-reform accessed 20 June 2019
[xvii] https://ewn.co.za/2018/10/14/cyril-ramaphosa-promises-to-accelerate-land-reform accessed 20 June 2019
[xx] https://www.moneyweb.co.za/news/south-africa/its-war-over-eskom-privatisation-plans/ accessed 20 June 2019
[xxi] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/30/world/africa/south-africa-anc-killings.html accessed 20 June 2019
Incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader and co-founder of the National Union of Mineworkers, was sworn into office again on 25 May with thousands of cheering ANC members in attendance along with representatives of allied parties from across the continent and the world.
Since 1994, the party of former President Nelson Mandela has retained its position as the leading force in national politics.
Founded in 1912 as the South African Native National Congress, the ANC is the oldest liberation movement turned political party on the continent. With the country of 58 million people continuing to be the largest industrial state in Africa, the leading position of the ANC in any continent-wide reconstruction and development programme is secured.
Results released by the Independent Electoral Commission on the 8 May voting revealed that the ANC won 57.50 percent of the ballots cast. The closest party after the ANC was the Democratic Alliance (DA), which garnered 20.77 percent followed by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) gaining 10.77 percent. There are 26.7 million registered voters in South Africa and 66 percent of the electorate turned out for the most recent election.
Although the ruling party achieved nearly five percent less votes than the previous national election in 2014 (62.15), its principal opposition within the National Assembly, the DA, also lost nearly two percent in the recent 2019 election, falling from 22.23 percent to 20.77 percent. The EFF gained four percentage points going from 6.35 percent in 2014 to 10.79 percent. Even with this increase by the EFF, it remains far behind both the ANC and DA in popular electoral support.
Other smaller parties such as the Inkatha Freedom Party, Freedom Front Plus (FFP) and the African Christian Democratic Party combined won less than three percent of the votes. The FFP, a far-right political party representing the minority Afrikaner population gained 1.48 percent over previous results in 2014.
The ANC also maintained its leadership in eight out of the nine provinces within South Africa. In the Western Cape, which has traditionally been dominated by the DA, saw the opposition party losing support from 59.38 percent to 55.45 percent. Although the DA will control the provincial legislative structures in the Western Cape, deep divisions and accusations of corruption has served to erode its support.
These results are reflective of the ongoing political support that the ANC has inside the country despite the myriad of economic and social problems plaguing the people. South Africa is challenged with the necessity of overcoming centuries of European encroachment beginning in the mid-17th century.
Apartheid—the system of racial separation, economic exploitation and settler-colonialism—left the African people landless and without political representation. It would take a combined mass, worker and armed struggle to bring about the demise of the white minority rule resulting in the holding of the first non-racial democratic elections in 1994, bringing the ANC to power.
It was the repositioning of the party by President Ramaphosa who came into office in February 2018 after the resignation of former head of state and ANC leader Jacob Zuma amid allegations of corruption, which secured the party’s success in the latest poll. Zuma is facing potential prosecution.
However, no legal proceedings have taken place and Zuma maintains that he is not guilty of the allegations related to an arms deal, which occurred many years ago prior to his ascendancy to the presidency. Recently Zuma filed a motion to dismiss the charges based upon lack of evidence.
Mandate for the current period
As South Africa faces monumental economic difficulties including an unemployment rate of 27 percent, a crumbling energy infrastructure which requires billions in investment and the imperative of land redistribution to correct the legacy of settler-colonialism, Ramaphosa must continue the mobilisation of the people to tackle these issues. The economic crisis in South Africa is part and parcel of the broader regional and continental dependency within the world capitalist system.
The country must foster development strategies to cope with declining prices for export commodities in the mining, manufacturing and agricultural sectors. There are as well the deficiencies in the service sector where working and poor people have demonstrated against the lack of adequate transportation and educational facilities.
Ramaphosa, in his inaugural address emphasised that: “It is our shared will – and our shared responsibility – to build a society that knows neither privilege nor disadvantage. It is a society where those who have much are willing to share with those who have little. It is a society where every person, regardless of race or sex or circumstance, may experience the fundamental necessities of a decent, dignified life. Today, let us declare before the esteemed witnesses gathered here that such a South Africa is possible. Let us declare our shared determination that we shall end poverty in South Africa within a generation.” [[i]]
A long-time pivotal ally of the ANC is the South African Communist Party (SACP). In conjunction with the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the SACP campaigned alongside the ANC in the lead up to the 8 May elections.
In a statement issued by the SACP regarding the elections, the party said: “As the working class, the overwhelming class majority, we need to unite and push radical structural transformation and ensure that the state implements it in order to address class inequalities, landlessness, unemployment, poverty, and social insecurity. It is crucial to widen democratisation in all spheres of our society. Unless this is achieved particularly in the economy it will be difficult to address and ultimately resolve the consequences of capitalist exploitation of labour. The system must be rolled back successfully. Until then, our freedom will remain incomplete. The importance therefore of forging a progressive popular left front for the dual purpose of achieving the immediate interests and aims of the working class and securing its future cannot be overemphasised.” [[ii]]
Regional dimensions of the ANC mandate
South Africa is a leading force in the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC), which was formed in August 1992. SADC is designed to build greater cooperation between its 16 member-states, which are Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Considering the vast mineral, agricultural and energy resources in the SADC region, there is only one primary reason for its underdevelopment, which is imperialism. The SADC area remains the most politically stable within the continent where its organs related to defence, economic cooperation and integration meet on a regular basis setting guidelines and timetables for the implementation of resolutions passed at its annual summits.
The spectre of climate change has come to the forefront of the SADC agenda in light of the devastating impact of cyclone Idai and Kenneth, which caused tremendous damage in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe earlier in the year. Drought has been a major problem in the region affecting agricultural production and energy generation.
Examples set over the years by SADC portend much for the eventual unification of the African continent, a perquisite for its genuine development and sovereignty. As active participants in the African Union (AU), the lessons of the SADC region over the last three decades can make a monumental contribution to the enactment of the Agenda 2063, the AU programme, which seeks the creation of a single economic market, uniform currency, joint military commission and political integration. [[iii]]
*Abayomi Azikiwe is Editor at Pan-African News Wire
The word, “revolution”, is currently enjoying a political and lexical rehabilitation with Nigerians, especially the youths. Though still seen as treasonable, “revolution” is no longer easily associated with evil or lack of patriotism. The type of rehabilitation that “revolution” now enjoys reminds me of the euphoric celebration of “new democracy” in the last decade of the 20th century, allegedly following the collapse of Communist Party-led governments in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Unlike a “coup d’état” against which the youths still react negatively—or at best, with mixed feelings— “revolution” no longer evokes fear. This piece is inspired by the need to look again at the word, what it means in politics and history and what Nigerians, especially the youths, now understand by it.
After a deliberately careful exercise of search and review, followed by a critical reflection, I may report as follows: Used as a political term, shed of all ideology—or shed of ideology as far as possible—and also simplified as far as possible, without tampering with its essence, a revolution may be understood as one or aggregate of the following three descriptions: “an attempt, by a large number of people, to change a government of a country, especially by violent action” or “a political upheaval in a government or nation-state characterised by great change” or “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favour of a new system.”
If the restriction on ideology is relaxed, Marxism immediately appears and defines a revolution as a “political class struggle that has led to, or is expected to lead to, the establishment of socialism and—eventually—to the emergence of a classless society.” The relaxation on ideology will also release a flood of negative attributes for the description of “revolution”: illegal, criminal, treasonable, unpatriotic, devilish, etc. A “counter-revolution,” stripped of ideology, is also a “revolution,” but a “revolution opposing a former one or reversing its results”. A coup d’état, on the other hand, is much easier to define: it is a “sudden, illegal and often violent change of government”.
We are now strengthened to make the following two points: First, missing from the various definitions of “revolution” and “coup d’état” is a categorical inclusion of the element of violence. Put directly: though most of the revolutions and coups d’état that modern history has so far recorded came with violence, the latter is not an essential element of either “revolution” or “coup d’état”. In other words, strictly speaking, a revolution or coup d’état can take place with or without the use of violence—by the executors.
Secondly, the difference between a revolution and a coup d’état resides in the categorical presence of the following elements in a revolution: a great (that is, fundamental) change, rather than a mere change of state personnel; a process, rather than a single event; and a large number of people, rather than a small group. Furthermore, a revolution may, in its development, pass through a revolt, a coup d’état, an insurrection or an insurgency. But a revolution cannot be reduced to any, or a combination, of these.
From the many revolutions that have occurred in Africa and beyond in the last 30 years, we may pick out two—one in Africa, the other in Eastern Europe—as illustrations. The reason for choosing them will become implicit. First illustration: Tunisia is an Arab-majority and Muslim-majority North African country. Its population in 2010 was about 10.5 million. Late that year, a young Tunisian man, an unemployed graduate, was publicly selling vegetables in a small village to make some money to feed himself and his family whose “bread-winner” he was said to be.
As he had no official permit to undertake this enterprise, he was arrested by the police. The punishment was swift: his vegetables were confiscated. He begged and begged, pleaded and pleaded. But the immediate authorities did not change their minds. He then appealed to all the higher authorities to which he had access. Still, no reprieve: his vegetables remained confiscated.
In frustration, the young Tunisian withdrew from sight. He soon re-appeared with some quantity of fuel. He drenched his body with it, and publicly set himself on fire. He died in hospital after a couple of days and instantly became a martyr. His martyrdom threw open the “gates of hell”! Tunisian youths poured into the streets! So began a popular revolt which quickly spread to several North African and Middle East countries including Egypt, Libya, Oman, Syria, Bahrain, Jordan, Algeria, Palestine—and even Iran, a non-Arab majority country. That wave of popular revolts is now known to history as Arab Spring.
The Tunisian government responded by ordering its security forces to disperse the rioting crowds and put down a threatened rebellion with any level of “show of force” and actual violence necessary to restore “law and order”. The security forces obeyed; but the protests intensified and continued to spread across the country. Suddenly a couple of things whose sequence was not very clear to the protesters—or even the observers and sympathisers—began to happen: conflicting orders seemed to be emerging from the ranks of armed institutions of state; administrative institutions appeared to have abandoned power and responsibility; and the Tunisian president fled the country! For a brief moment it appeared that the “people” had won! But it quickly dawned on UNORGANISED Tunisian masses that power had fallen into the hands of—or had been collected by—a military junta constituted within the armed forces of the Tunisian state.
Second illustration: Romania is a country in southeast Europe. In December 1989 the country was officially socialist and was governed by a Communist Party. The executive president was a man called Nicolae Ceausescu, a decorated liberation fighter and prisoner-of-war in his country’s war against Nazi Germany in the Second World War. The tragic drama, which is the subject of my short story, began on Friday, 15 December 1989 in Timisoara, a Romanian city close to the Hungarian border. On that day a detachment of security police came to the house of a radical priest to arrest him. Some of the parishioners resisted the officers by forming a ring around the priest’s house.
Alarmed, the police went back for reinforcement. The priest’s defenders also summoned other church members and ordinary Romanian citizens. On the way to the priest’s house, the “defenders” dismantled police checkpoints. The police ran away. Soon the small group of “defenders” became a crowd, and the crowd spilled into the town. On hearing of what was happening in Timisoara, more and more people from more and more villages, towns and cities joined the protest. Shouts of “leave the priest alone!” turned to “We want bread!” and finally to “Down with Ceausescu!” Romania’s 1989 popular uprising had begun!
On Friday, 22 December, Ceausescu called a rally of his supporters at the party headquarters in Bucharest, capital of the country. He addressed the people from the balcony. Just a few minutes into his speech the crowd started shouting and, shortly after this, began to throw stones at their president! Ceausescu was shocked not only by the people’s action but also by the attitude of his security forces— the army, in particular: soldiers did nothing while the president was being stoned!
Ceausescu withdrew into the building. Moments later a helicopter took off from the roof of the building. The president had abandoned power and was on the run! The people took over the building. But almost immediately, an announcement came: the deposition of President Nicolae Ceausescu and his government and the formation of Front for National Salvation, made up of leaders of ORGANISED fighting groups—civilian and military, but outside the Romanian state.
* Edwin Madunagu is a mathematician and journalist. He writes from Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria.