by Michael Schmidt
The 2008 Pogroms shattered the illusion among many Leftists – despite numerous early warning signs – that South Africa’s poor was an essentially undifferentiated class of the righteously angry oppressed. The killing spree left 62 people dead, 670 wounded, more than 100,000 displaced and 35,000 languishing in displacee camps. Although most of the dead were foreigners, 21 were South Africans – demonstrating that all of the victims were seen as “outsiders” in one way or another by those wielding the panga’s  (machetes). Some of the killers used the unrest as an excuse to settle personal scores; some were driven by ethnic hatred, others by calculated greed. A year ago, in September 2009, I travelled to four townships around Gauteng, three of which had seen pogroms in 2008 (Atteridgeville, Tembisa and Jeppestown) and one of which had not (Soweto), speaking to community activists and to survivors of the 2008 attacks to try and take the temperature at the grassroots regarding “outsiders,” in other words, had the threat of killings receded? After all, for the first week of the 2008 killings, the authorities sat back and cynically watched the damage being done, assessing, perhaps, xenophobia’s usefulness in future as a divide-and-rule strategy. The bad news is the ugly fact that many in our townships believe another pogrom is being planned for sometime after the World Cup, now that the world’s eyes are turned elsewhere. So how did the original Pogroms flourish – and how can they be stopped in future?
by Jonathan Payn (ZACF)
Ever since former transport minister Jeff Radebe announced that the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system prototype would be implemented in time for the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup hosted in South Africa, we have been hearing a lot about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Needless to say the deadline was missed, but the hype continued up to the launch in August 2009 and far beyond.
The promise of safe, reliable and affordable public transport comes as welcome news for the majority of working class and poor South Africans and immigrants to the country. The segregated town planning left behind by the system of racialised capitalism known as apartheid has meant that the majority of the population – also those who can least afford it – are often the ones who have the furthest to travel to work, schools, hospitals and so on. The burden of having to walk long distances to one’s destination or to a taxi route is all the more difficult for pregnant women, disabled people and the elderly. The lack of affordable public transport often means that, because there are not enough schools in poor communities, children either have to walk long distances to school, or maybe just don’t go regularly if their parents cannot afford the transport – not to mention the cost of school uniforms, books, stationery and school fees. Unemployed workers cannot afford the transport necessary to go out and look for work, and many workers must spend what little savings they may have – or be forced to borrow from ruthless loan-sharks – in order to pay for the transport needed to go back and forth to the Department of Labour trying in vain to get their Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) paid out. People who suffer from treatable diseases and injuries die because they cannot afford the transport needed to take them to a hospital or clinic to get treatment, and the public ambulance system is insufficient.
by Michael Schmidt
US President Barack Obama’s military regime (for as commander-in-chief of the world’s largest military machine, his is not merely a mild “administration”), has proven once again that when it comes to American imperialism’s dealing with the darker majority of humanity, having a black man in the Oval Office simply doesn’t matter.
As we argued in the last edition of Zabalaza, the widespread myth that Obama’s skin-colour automatically made him a better man was a deeply racist argument that would be proven to be threadbare as soon as Obama ordered the invasion of his first “country of colour” – and this happened in under a month of his inauguration when he authorised sending 17,000 extra troops to Afghanistan.
But American imperialism is not just about the stick of armed intervention or enforced regime-change: we must not forget the carrot of aid, aid that can be temptingly held out, and then withdrawn if the recipient nation is not suitably compliant.
Egypt, the most populous nation in the Arab world, and, along with Nigeria and South Africa, one of the most economically and militarily powerful states in Africa, has been the largest recipient of US aid after Israel since it signed a peace accord with Israel in 1979 – sometimes topping US$2 billion/year, US$1.3 billion of that in military aid and between US$100 million to US$250 million in economic aid. Ironically, under President George W Bush, the Americans gave US$45 million to “good governance” and “democratisation” programmes, with a substantial chunk of that bypassing the state and going directly to civil society organisations. But over the past year, Washington has slashed this civil society aid to Egypt by more than half, down to US$20 million.
by Michael Schmidt
As Zabalaza goes to press, the West African country of Guinea is preparing to go to the polls in the second round run-off of its first democratic presidential elections ever (the first round was held in June), half a century after its ‘independence’ from France. Its first president, former postal worker Ahmed Sékou Touré, drew heavily from Marxist-Leninism in building a one-party state and ruling with an iron fist until his death 27 years later in 1984, with the blood of an estimated 500,000 people on his hands. He was followed by Lansana Conté who likewise ran an authoritarian military regime until his death in 2008. But is the dawn of bourgeois democracy a guarantee to the Guinean popular classes that they shall be freed from five decades of oppression and exploitation? I argue that when both privateering states such as Guinea that have plundered their citizens and their neighbours, and conventional ‘contractual states,’ have resorted to massacre to ensure the dominance of their parasitic elites, the only solution is a class-line, anti-nationalist social revolution.
It was a black day in the Guinean capital Conakry on Monday 28 September 2009, when troops loyal to junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara opened fire on a rally of pro-democracy activists, killing an estimated 157 people. Camara had seized power in December 2008, just 21 months after I warned in the mainstream South African press that a coup was imminent in Guinea. I’d based my prediction on the observations of different interest groups, including the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), an independent organisation used by the United Nations as a bellwether, which had noted as far back as 2004 that there were isolated uprisings in Guinea, directly related to the collapse of state services. The ICG stated in early 2007 that while the ‘fragile but successful peace processes in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia have greatly diminished the external threats to the stability of Guinea … its internal instability remains a source of immediate concern for the whole region as Guinea is at risk of becoming West Africa’s next failed state.’
by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.
Chile has again been hit by an earthquake of apocalyptic magnitude, like in the earthquakes of 1938, 1960 and 1985. With the precision of a Swiss watch, the centre and south of the country is hit every 25 years by a seismic movement that puts the country in a state of deep shock. The earthquake we saw on 27 February was one of the strongest recorded in history – 8.8 degrees on the Richter scale, 9 on the Mercalli scale.
The anguish of not knowing anything about our loved ones, of not being able to communicate with them, has followed the destruction, the isolation and death or disappearance of a great many people. Impotence is a shadow hanging over the heart. The death toll is now at about 700 – some are saying that they expect a final figure of about 2,000 when we eventually get the full picture of the devastation. Nothing is known yet about many in the affected provinces in the regions of Maule and Bío Bío. When people were still talking of about 300 killed, we learnt that the Constitución tsunami had swallowed up around 350 inhabitants, doubling the death toll. And we now know there were other places hit by tsunamis, though the extent of the damage is still unknown.
by Wayne Price (NEFAC, USA)
The expansion of the United States’ (US) attack on Afghanistan and Pakistan is not due to the personal qualities of Obama, but to the social system he serves: the national state and the capitalist economy. The nature of the situation guarantees that the system will act irrationally. Anarchists should participate in building a broad movement against the war, while raising our political programme.
In discussing President Obama’s expansion of the US attack on Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is important not to focus on Obama as a personality, but on the social system to which he is committed, specifically to the war-waging capitalist national state. “War is the health of the state,” as Randolph Bourne declared during World War I. It is what the national state is for, what it does, and why it still exists, despite the real trends toward international unity and worldwide coordination. In an age of nuclear bombs, the human race will not be safe until we abolish these states (especially the big, imperial ones such as those of North America, Western Europe and Japan) and replace them with a federation of self-managing associations of working people.
After 3 months of consultations and deliberation, President Obama announced that he is going to do what he had promised to do during his campaign for the presidency — namely to expand the US attack on Afghanistan and Pakistan. This may not have been inevitable (since he broke many of his campaign promises already, such as ending overseas prisons, openness in government, ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of silence on homosexuality in the military, a health care plan which covers everyone, an economic plan for working people, etc.). But it was probable.
by James Pendlebury and Sian Byrne (ZACF)
In liberal political theory – a favoured ideology of many capitalist states – an important principle is that the functions of government are divided into three “spheres” or “branches”:
- The legislature (national and provincial parliaments, local councils) makes the laws;
- the executive (ministers, officials, cops and soldiers, who report to the president or premier) carries out the laws;
- the judiciary (courts) decides what the laws mean when there is some dispute.
In states with written constitutions (including the United States, South Africa and many others) an important task of the courts is to decide whether laws passed by parliament (the legislature), or actions taken by the executive, are allowed by the constitution. (Some liberal states, such as Britain, do not have written constitutions; there the power of the courts is officially more limited.)
A key principle of the ideology of liberalism is “the separation of powers”. Each of the three branches, the liberals tell us, is entitled to autonomous responsibility for certain functions that do not overlap, or cannot be interfered with by the other spheres. The reason for this, it is argued, is that the people who make the laws shouldn’t be the same as those who interpret them or those who enforce them, and so on. No single person or group should have all the power. In this way, liberals hope to limit the powers of the state, which they recognise as a threat to freedom.