Everything we are now is built upon all that we were and where we came from. The same can be said for countries, any analysis has to look backwards before it can begin to understand the influences and causes of the present. This makes analysis intrinsically complex and often, almost impossible. At some point we are forced to simplify, look for patterns and analyse situations with a focus on where the key locus of power lies.
An analysis of the recent events taking place primarily in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng has to be done with this in mind. It is impossible to follow every strand of the complexity that is South Africa, but at the same time the link between the spate of large scale looting that took place and two very obvious conflicting ruling class power bases that currently exist in the country is undeniable. To claim that there was an exercising of working class power is to fundamentally misunderstand the powers at play and where the locus of power at this point in history actually lies.
The question of state government elections and running a workers or socialist political party continues to be raised in the working-class movement and the Left globally. As we may know, there was excitement about the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party in Britain, about the successes of left political parties in certain parts of Europe and Latin America and, more recently, certain shifts to more centrist positions in the United States amongst a section of the Democratic Party calling themselves “Democratic Socialists.” In South Africa, many workers and some activists seem cautiously optimistic about NUMSA’s formation of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party that participated in the 2019 general elections, but did not manage to get a seat in Parliament.
With this in mind, we need to look at issues of social transformation within the framework of what we want to achieve and the relationship between the means and ends of struggle in pursuit of these aims. The historic and ultimate socialist end is a society characterised by collective democratic control of the political and economic systems and one without class divisions and oppression of any kind – in real terms, a society without the state and capitalism in particular.
If this is so, is this revolutionary transformation possible by means of state power and political parties that aim to capture this form of power?
Ghana, West Africa, was a British colony called “Gold Coast” until 1957. It became the first independent country in “black” Africa after reforms and struggles in the 1940s and 1950s. The new president, the brilliant Kwame Nkrumah, and his Convention People’s Party (CPP), had fought for independence. Now they aimed at major changes in the society, even speaking of socialism. And Nkrumah proposed a united African government for the continent: Pan-Africanism.
But by the mid-1960s, hopes were fading. There were good reforms in education and services and self- respect for Africans that helped remove colonialism’s damages. But the CPP has become a dictatorship, with a personality cult around Nkrumah. Unions and struggles were suppressed. The economy was in trouble. A new elite hijacked independence and resources. When the military seized power in 1966, people celebrated in the streets. Today Ghana is one of the poorest African countries.
What went wrong and what can we, anarchists in Africa, learn from this experience?
In 2013, Zabalaza/ ZACF took a decision to redirect our energies into certain aspects of our work that we felt were more urgent and immediately important at the time, given the challenges and conditions we were facing. The bad news is that this decision took its toll on our publishing work, which partly explains the long gap (over two years) between issues of our journal. The good news is that this reorientation has paid off elsewhere: hiccups notwithstanding, over the past two years our militants have participated in various new initiatives in and around Johannesburg, where we have witnessed a renewed and growing interest in anarchism. The inclusion of several new names in this issue is a much-welcomed reflection of these changes.
Over the past two years, there have been many important developments that deserve special consideration. We have tried to include our own, anarchist, appraisals of these where possible, although in some respects we have fallen unavoidably short. It is precisely because South Africa’s burning social and national issues remain unresolved (in fact they cannot be resolved within the existing capitalist and political party systems established in 1910 and 1994), that the country continues to undergo social turbulence, seen in strikes, union splits, struggles over symbols, and sadly, anti-immigrant attacks.