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South Africa’s liberation struggle historiography is well-established and longstanding. In the 1970s, for example, an intellectual insurgency erupted against the hegemonic versions of past struggles in which the ruling classes feature as protagonists. The insurgents, branded social historians, were thinking and writing in opposition to mainstream historiography, debunking countless myths about how social conflicts and classes have shaped South African society since the late-1800s. Whilst dominant narratives celebrated the civilising role of colonialism, counter-narratives of the social historians unearthed incontestable evidence of dispossession, oppression and exploitation inherent to colonisation.
Moreover, how the dispossessed and disenfranchised social classes fought to emancipate themselves remained a major preoccupation of the insurgent intellectuals. These inquiries have not been limited to investigating past struggles for liberation as ends in themselves, stressing the historical usefulness of history. This historiography, with its emphasis on salient legacies, also interrogated past struggles as means to new ends, underscoring the contemporary relevancy of the country’s liberation struggle history.
Mounting post-1994 socioeconomic revolts exhibit remarkable continuities and discontinuities with the decades of mass protests before the 1990s. Continuity with past struggles has sharper visibility in the forms than in the substance of current protests. Evidently, types of grassroots movements and methods of township, student and workplace protests replicate what had happened in the 1970s and 1980s. The discontinuity, by contrast, is prominent in the substance sparking and fuelling contemporary struggles. Worsening socioeconomic hardships have ignited new waves of mass struggles in which demands for alternatives to neoliberalism and post-1994 social injustices dominate. Woven into these battles are renewed campaigns against political alienation in a country promoted as a model of liberal democracy.
Against this backdrop, questions about lessons that contemporary protest movements can learn from past anti-systemic revolts are not surprising. Two new books demonstrate why these questions have not lost their saliency and answer them with evidence that has received scant attention in voluminous histories of South Africa’s liberation struggle.
The national question: multiracialism versus non-racialism
In Cape Radicals (Witwatersrand University Press, 2019), Professor Crain Soudien suggests that every socio-political struggle against oppression and injustice pivots on a battle of ideas. The struggle for ideological principles or principled politics is a sine qua non for successful revolutionary action in any freedom struggle! This message is arguably the chief strength of this book. The book pays tribute to the activism of the New Era Fellowship (NEF), an organisation dedicated to the spread and advancement of radical left politics since the early 1930s through the 1960s. Through regular public discussion forums and other publications, the NEF was at the forefront in the battle for ideological clarity and nurtured generations of fighters devoted to full democratic rights for the disenfranchised majority. This NEF trained intelligentsia became the founders and builders of the Non-European Unity Movement (renamed the Unity Movement of South Africa in 1964).
Through their efforts to solve South Africa’s national question, Soudien argues, the Cape Radicals made incisive and lasting breakthroughs, shifting the quest for liberation onto a far-reaching revolutionary path. Rival organisations, particularly the African National Congress and South African Communist Party, diluted and misrepresented the national question. The Freedom Charter promotes multiracialism, which is indistinguishable from the veiled racism of liberals. By contrast, the NEF and Unity Movement rejected, from the onset, that multiracialism or multinationalism is a solution to South Africa’s national question. The Unity Movement’s motto “We Build A Nation” advocates its tenacious devotion to non-racialism in outlook and action.
The national question is not reducible to racism, whether institutionalised or not, and the suppression of the cultural traditions of oppressed communities. What the national question is, coupled with its unique essence, ultimately derives from the organisation of a society in its totality. The overemphasis in Cape Radicals on cultural identities, in isolation from how political economy shapes segregated societies, concedes to a logic in which the part overshadows the totality. Similarly, confounding the policy of non-collaboration with abstention from politics is probably as a result of Soudien’s erroneous reliance on fabrications of ill-informed denigrators of the Unity Movement. Contrary to this misrepresentation, this policy means conscious and independent action for revolutionary change by the disenfranchised in their own interests. Soudien obviously has not filled all knowledge gaps about this South African tradition of emancipatory politics but opens an agenda for further reflections on a history that “has in effect remained a closed book to mainstream history, sociology and politics”. (p169).
Scholar-activism against capitalism
The other noteworthy book is simply titled Archie Mafeje (Human Sciences Research Council Press, 2019). In this book, Bongani Nyoka, a young South African sociologist, has assembled and edited seven articles that Archibald Boyce Monwabisi Mafeje (1936-2007) wrote between the early 1970s and late 1990s. After completing his Masters’ degree at the University of Cape Town in the early 1960s, Mafeje enrolled for doctoral studies at Cambridge University, graduating around 1968. Subsequently, when the University of Cape Town refused Mafeje’s appointment as a senior lecturer in 1968, a rejection based on racist prejudice rather than scholarly credentials, he moved on to become a venerated professor of Anthropology/Sociology at universities in Dar es Salaam, The Hague and Cairo.
Nyoka’s introduction offers a captivating background to the sampled articles, tracing how Mafeje evolved into an esteemed social scientist and what animated his prolific scholarly work. But the book covers more than just Mafeje’s remarkable academic accomplishments. The volume’s introduction is in effect an abbreviated history of the Unity Movement, understandably constricted to the moments when Mafeje actively participated in it.
Before he went abroad, Mafeje belonged to several organisations that were Unity Movement affiliates. Stalwarts of the Movement, particularly Nathaniel Tshuthsa Honono, educated Mafeje in Unity Movement politics during his high-school years in the former Transkei. This enlightenment coupled with his formative political training in the Society of Young Africa and the Cape Peninsula Students Union, Unity Movement affiliates alongside student/youth groups in Durban and Johannesburg, aided Mafeje to become a towering intellectual figure with recognition beyond Africa.
The imprint of Unity Movement ideology on Mafeje’s thinking was indelible as is evident from this collection and notwithstanding his paradoxical aloofness from organised political involvement during his decades abroad and, since 2002, his residency in Pretoria where he took up an academic position at the University of South Africa. Unity Movement ideology is prominent in the topics Mafeje worked on and, far more profoundly, in the method of scientific reasoning subtly woven into his arguments. Mafeje advocated a militant defence of dialectical logic and historical materialism whenever he dealt with hegemonic theories, methodologies and epistemologies in the social sciences. His critique of anthropology (a bourgeois social science subservient to positivism), Harold Wolpe’s mechanistic modes of production contrivances and reflections on the 1976 Soweto student revolt illustrate his mastery of dialectics.
As a renowned scholar on the political economy of agrarian transitions, Mafeje dissected the dynamics of agrarian class formation and unmasked how anachronistic tribal despots serve capitalist accumulation. It is common knowledge that in the Unity Movement tradition, resolving the agrarian question is central, as is evident from the involvement of its cadres in building peasant movements that became instrumental in the Pondoland revolt (Kayser 2002). In a semi-colonial country like South Africa, mobilising the landless peasantry as a revolutionary ally of the working class is crucial for liquidating capitalist property and social relations.
Beyond historical curiosity
Soudien and Nyoka must be commended for their thoughtful introductions to the history of South Africa’s unfinished liberation struggle and countering the falsification of past struggles. The two books debunk one-sided and sanitised histories of how South Africa’s black majority fought for their emancipation from political and socioeconomic subjugation. On the whole, the core strengths of these recoveries of the past eclipse their shortcomings. While these books cast the spotlight on the historical relevancy of the Unity Movement up to the 1960s, the authors hesitate to step beyond academic curiosity of a bygone era for its own sake. They are silent on how this organisation contributed to the liberation struggle over decades since the ‘Dark Sixties’.
Since the mid-1960s, for instance, the Unity Movement leadership in exile fought tirelessly to garner support for an uninterrupted South African revolution, frustrated by reactionary leaders of the Organisation of African Unity. Another significant turning point was the ‘Terrorism Trial’ of 14 members of the African People’s Democratic Union of Southern Africa (APDUSA) in 1971/2, with 13 of them eventually sentenced to lengthy imprisonment on Robben Island (Nikani 2009; Tabata 2014). With the gradual revival of this ideological tradition throughout the 1980s, cadres of young workers, students and intellectuals joined it to fight for its political vision. The political re-orientation of the APDUSA in the early 1990s, adopting a set of anti-capitalist transitional demands for unity with progressive forces and to resist the neoliberal onslaught of the post-1994 neoliberal state, echo the call: “A Luta Continua!”
Kayser, R., (2002) “Land and Liberty: The Non-European Unity Movement and the Land Question, 1933-1967.” Unpublished Master’s Thesis for the University of Cape Town.
Nikani, L., (2009) My Life under White Supremacy and Exile. London: Socialist Resistance
Tabata, I B., (2014) The Dynamic of Revolution in South Africa: Speeches and Writings. London: Resistance Books
*Peter T Jacobs is a research director at the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa, based in the Cape Town office. He is also member of the national executive of the African People’s Democratic Union of South Africa.
One voice will be especially loud: Trevor Ngwane’s. A leading activist from Soweto, he was last at a Washington protest in April 2000, amidst 30,000 demonstrators. That week, he co-starred – along with World Bank board chairperson Trevor Manuel – in a documentary, Two Trevors Go to Washington. (Regrettably, young Trevor Noah was still in a Johannesburg high school and not in that particular film; but with his attitude, would have fit in just fine on that picket line.)
The latter Trevor was South Africa’s finance minister from 1996-2009 and in the process, turned the economy into a neoliberal wasteland, as manufacturing fell from 24 to 13 percent of national output and commodity export-dependency rose. On the ground, Manuel’s policies ensured the apartheid era’s world-leading inequality worsened, along with poverty. The main unemployment rate nearly doubled from 16 to 29 percent, and foreign debt soared from US$25 billion to US$70 billion during his reign – and is now US$180 billion. Manuel was always treated with the greatest regard inside the Bank and IMF.
An example of the kinds of dubious deals Manuel and his successor Pravin Gordhan arranged with international financiers was the Medupi coal-fired power plant, which at 4800MW is the largest under construction on earth today. There was widespread corruption on the project by Hitachi – which in 2015 was prosecuted and fined US$19 million under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for bribing South Africa’s ruling party– and many other contractors. This was all well known by World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who nevertheless arranged his institution’s largest-ever project loan for Medupi: US$3.75 billion.
But it is a kind of “Odious Debt,” one so awful that Medupi is the reason in late 2017, 16 months before Donald Trump named him World Bank President, David Malpass admitted South Africa was the exemplary case of fraudulent relations with the lender. Correctly, he insulted Bank loan officers while testifying to the US Congress:“They’re often corrupt in their lending practices, and they don’t get the benefit to the actual people in the countries. They get the benefit to the people who fly in on a first-class airplane ticket to give advice to the government officials in the country, that flow of money is large, but not so much the actual benefit to normal people within poor countries.”
This description perfectly fits Medupi and a sister power plant (Kusile), which are driving Eskom’s finances to the brink, due to eight-year production delays, incompetent design and massive cost over-runs, in turn threatening South Africa’s credit-worthiness, as well as security of power supply. (On 16 October, power was turned off in a “Stage 2 load-shedding” disruption due to a broken conveyor belt at Medupi.) Even in their half-built state, the climate implications from CO2 emissions and the consumption of scarce water for cooling the reactors are horrendous.
But merely in financial terms, even leading bourgeois representatives from the Anglo American Corporation’s main think tank now contemplate just shutting the two white-elephant plants and walking away. Progressive writers in South Africa’s main electronic magazines – Kevin Bloom in Daily Maverick and Jonathan Cannard in the Mail&Guardian – argue the Bank should be compelled to face lender liability, and write off the debt.
Instead, refusing to learn, the Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) subsidiary has just made a US$2 million investment in another South African fossil-dependent project: a major new gas terminal on the coast; its partner, Transnet, is one of the most corrupt institutions in Africa. The arrogance is stunning given that the IFC lost its US diplomatic immunity in a Supreme Court case just six months ago.
As local environmental justice, community-feministand anti-povertyactivists contemplate how to punish the World Bank for its proclivity to finance one absurd project after the other, all the while churning out neoliberal research, South Africa appears as a microcosm of what has gone wrong with Bretton Woods pro-corporate neoliberal malgovernance, more generally, these last 75 years.
The multilateral cul-de-sac
Multilateralism has surfed the up-swells and down the troughs of globalisation. In the latter case, the League of Nations faded away during the 1930s as a relevant force for peace, once the waves of Great Depression ripped Western economic interests apart. Today, multilateralism also seems to have entered the final, life-support stage of its 21st century crisis, in part because of the overwhelming power of multinational corporations, and in part because of fast-rising reactionary nationalisms.
As the 2019 G7 summit confirmed, the world cannot contend with the bully-boy ascendance of Donald Trump and other right-wing critics of ‘globalism’ (an anti-Semitic smear), who spew ever more toxic nativist-populist hatred while ignoring their countries’ historic responsibilities to solve problems that their corporations mainly created. As a result, concluded the founder of world-systems theory, the late Immanuel Wallerstein, the 2018 G7 meeting was simply farcical: “Trump may have done us all the favour of destroying this last major remnant of the era of Western domination of the world-system.”
Even at the G20, which is the economic grouping responsible for three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions and hence the site where addressing climate catastrophe is most urgent, the 2017-19 hosts in Hamburg, Buenos Aires and Osaka were cowed by Trump.
As a result, the world’s most important climate, trade and financial arrangements are increasingly ineffectual and discredited. Notwithstanding a decade-old network of five ‘middle powers’ (better termed ‘sub-imperialists’), the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) bloc, the South is much less capable of giving the world’s oppressed a chance to make inputs and win long-overdue concessions.
Those expecting progressive change through the BRICS’ collective financial and trade statecraft are disappointed, especially as the world spins out of control economically. “BRICS should be much stronger by now,” one of its founders, former Brazilian president Lula da Silva told Asia Times recently. “I imagined a more aggressive BRICS, more proactive and more creative.”
Instead, global-scale neoliberalism remains dominant. The ill-conceived United Nations (UN) collaboration deal with the plutocratic Davos World Economic Forum in June 2019 followed persistent ‘bluewashing’ concerns about the UN’s discredited Global Compact with some of the world’s least ethical firms, growing corporate manipulation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and sabotage of multilateral environmental and human rights governance.
Another sign of ever-worsening degeneracy is personal. Thanks to unashamed cronyism, all the major multilateral economic organisations with the exception of the near-impotent World Trade Organisation (WTO) are run by Westerners: the World Bank and the IMF, the Bank for International Settlements and the UN itself.
The only exception, Brazilian WTO leader Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo, has notoriously pandered to the West, although to be fair, he is now openly expressing frustration as Trump ratchets up protectionism and as US trade representative Robert Lighthizer obstructs appointments to his crucial Appellate Body. “The dispute resolution mechanism is in crisis,”according to neoliberal Peterson Institute scholars, a paralysis which “runs the risk of returning the world trading system to a power-based free-for-all, allowing big players to act unilaterally and use retaliation to get their way.” That is exactly how Trump and Xi Jinping are handling their trade dispute.
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro is following Trump’s anti-multilateral lead, quickly renouncing ‘special and differential treatment’ provisions for poor and middle-income countries at the WTO – although it is sacred to other BRICS members, especially India. But Brasilia’s divorce began much earlier, complains Third World Network’s Ravi Kanth, because although the developing-country bloc inside the WTO now “exists on paper, it remains paralysed after Azevêdo became director-general in September 2013.”
Bolsonaro also cancelled Brazil’s hosting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit later this year, forcing its move to Chile. Deploying bogus anti-colonial rhetoric, he turned his nose up at the G20’s tokenistic US$20 million grant to control the Amazon’s conflagration. Moreover, Bolsonaro could well wreck the BRICS when he hosts the other four leaders in November.
In any case, the BRICS have already failed miserably when attempting to reform global finance, for example by complaining about – but failing to contest – the IMF and Bank leaders, chosen by Europeans and the US in the 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2019 ‘elections.’ At the same time, four of the BRICS bought expensive voting-power increases in the IMF (e.g. China rising 37 per cent), but at the expense of countries like Nigeria and Venezuela (which in 2015 both lost 41 per cent of their votes, while even South Africa’s IMF ‘voice’ softened by 21 per cent).
The BRICS’ supposed alternative to the IMF, the Contingent Reserve Arrangement, was founded in 2014 with a notional US$100 billion. It actually gives Washington even more power, by leveraging most of its loans on the condition that the borrower accept an IMF structural adjustment programme. The BRICS New Development Bank’s first five years of lending confirm that it is as rife with corruption, non-consultation, climate damage and inappropriate currency denominations as the World Bank, and even more unfriendly to gender equity.
Likewise, there is no BRICS alternative to Western domination in trade or climate multilateralism. At the WTO, the BRICS were fatally divided, leading to the 2015 destruction of food sovereignty options during the Nairobi summit. And as for climate, the Brazil-South Africa-India-China (BASIC) leaders’ close alignment with Barack Obama at the Copenhagen UNFCCC summit in 2009 held firm through the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
But that won’t solve our existential crisis, for the BASIC countries are absolute CO2 emitters at levels even higher than the West (and in South Africa’s case higher per capita than any country in Western Europe). So Paris’ fatal weaknesses suit them fine.
More recently, new causes of global governance illegitimacyappear similar to the centrifugal forces tearing Europe apart. The political commitments of climate-denialist, ‘paleo-conservative’ xenophobes like Trump are different to other Washington philosophies imposed on the world, including the 1980s-90s’ Reagan-Bush-Clinton era of neoliberalism (stretching with Thatcher and Blair into Britain and Kohl and Schroeder into Europe), George W. Bush’s 2000s neo-conservatism and Obama’s 2010s fusion of these two US-centric ideologies.
With just a couple of exceptions (discussed below), an earlier generation of global-scale social-democratic hopes – fostered by serious multilateralists from 1970s traditions, e.g. Willy Brandt and Gro Harlem Brundtland – were dashed by the early 1980s, thanks to the role the Bretton Woods institutions played in fracturing the world’s progressive potentials on behalf of international financiers. The poorest countries went through a ‘lost’ decade or more of austerity. The 1995-2002 middle-income countries’ rolling crises meant local elites allowed the same inappropriate neoliberal regime to be imposed by Washington even more deeply and dangerously in Mexico, East Asia, Russia, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey.
Then it was the turn of the West’s ‘labour aristocracy,’ a core group of working-class people dethroned, for they lost their once-solid manufacturing jobs to machines and overseas outsourcing, and were reduced to taking underpaid and under-valued service-based jobs and relying upon fast-degenerating public services. In 2008-09 they too witnessed a replay of brutal 1980s-90s Bretton Woods power plays, once their elites agreed upon a multilateral ‘solution’ to the world financial meltdown: a coordinated central bank bailout for the largest Western financial institutions.
This generosity was confirmed by the 2010s’ official prioritisation – by the IMF, European Central Bank and European Union – of the Frankfurt, New York, London, Paris and Rome bankers’ interests, which were near-fatally exposed to Greece and other peripheral European borrowers. By 2016, neo-fascist political parties were thriving there, while the most resentful within the British and US working classes chose xenophobic backlash in the form of Brexit and Trump.
Self-destructive IMF and World Bank ideology and financing
The crucial break point for multilateral potential was the 1980s world debt crisis, during which neoliberal ideology stretched the Third World so far that the likes of Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Cuba’s Fidel Castro even proposed a ‘debtors’ cartel’ – but could not find a sufficient critical mass of other brave leaders even in a Latin America suffering sustained IMF rioting, to the relief of international elites.
At one point in 1983, World Bank President William Clausen quite bluntly explained the balance of forces: “We must ask ourselves: How much pressure can these nations be expected to bear? How far can the poorest peoples be pushed into further reducing their meagre standards of living? How resilient are the political systems and institutions in these countries in the face of steadily worsening conditions?”
Clausen’s power came from the 1979-80 ‘Volcker Shock’: soaring interest rates catalysed by US Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker’s decision to restore the Dollar’s power, in turn causing the Third World Debt Crisis. Clausen and all his successors abused that power to impose the Washington Consensus’s ten policy commandments. The term came from John Williamson of that city’s Institute of International Finance, representing the world’s major banks:
1. Budget deficits … should be small enough to be financed without recourse to the inflation tax.
2. Public expenditure should be redirected from politically sensitive areas that receive more resources than their economic return can justify…
3. Tax reform… so as to broaden the tax base and cut marginal tax rates.
4. Financial liberalisation, involving an ultimate objective of market-determined interest rates.
5. A unified exchange rate at a level sufficiently competitive to induce a rapid growth in non-traditional exports.
6. Quantitative trade restrictions to be rapidly replaced by tariffs, which would be progressively reduced until a uniform low rate of 10 to 20 percent was achieved.
7. Abolition of barriers impeding the entry of foreign direct investment.
8. Privatisation of state enterprises.
9. Abolition of regulations that impede the entry of new firms or restrict competition.
10. The provision of secure property rights...
Needless to say, the victims were mainly women, youth, the elderly and people of colour. The IMF’s flows of annual loans that, thanks to conditionality, locked these policies into place, were initially less than US$15 billion before the Volcker Shock, then soared to US$40 billion by the late 1980s, jumped as high as US$100 billion by the early 2000s, and exceeded US$140 billion by the early 2010s (see Fig 1). The World Bank had similar bursts.
Fig 1. IMF loans, 1970-2015
Source:Reinhart and Trebesch, 2015, p.24.
Added to the neoliberal agenda were trillions worth of ‘illicit financial flows’ manoeuvred into offshore financial centres, leaving governments with rising budget deficits and their social sectors experiencing permanent cost-cutting pressures. IMF economists Jonathan Ostry, Prakash Loungani, and Davide Furceri admitted in 2016 that as a result, “The increase in inequality engendered by financial openness and austerity might itself undercut growth, the very thing that the neoliberal agenda is intent on boosting. There is now strong evidence that inequality can significantly lower both the level and the durability of growth.” But notwithstanding that admission, most subsequent Article IV consultations offered advice that amplified inequality, Oxfam researchers discovered.
The IMF also made a similar confessionabout its role in patriarchy, namely that “some policies recommended by staff… may… exacerbate gender inequality” – but again, when it came to a correction, the IMF “missed the forest for the policy trees,” explains Emma Bürgisser of the Bretton Woods Project. “Almost every macroeconomic policy the IMF regularly prescribes carries harmful gendered impacts, including labour flexibilisation, privatisation, regressive taxation, trade liberalisation and targeting social protection and pensions.”
Activists try to undo destruction
In turn the predatory debt, precarious work and privatisation of so many aspects of life experienced by the world’s citizenries call forth two kinds of responses: appeals to global governance to sort out problems national states have shied away from, and popular revolt. There are both good and bad versions of these top-down and bottom-up responses, as we have seen, with cases such as the Montreal Protocol and Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria as top-down successes, but the latter owes more to bottom-up pressures.
Since the urgency of the situation required a global response, the 1987 Montreal Protocol was supported by even the reactionary Ronald Reagan administration. It committed national states to ensure their corporations (e.g. Dow Chemical and General Electric) stop producing and emitting CFCs within nine years. The ban worked and the problem is receding (aside from recent Chinese corporate cheating on hydro-CFCs).
At present, a Montreal Protocol-type ban on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions is presumed unthinkable, notwithstanding the impending eco-social catastrophe. A solution as forceful as the Montreal Protocol is needed for GHGs, but the weakness of multilateralism and the pro-corporate balance of forces makes it unlikely within the UNFCCC – unless the world’s rising youth and other climate activists ramp up the civil disobedience and divestment advocacy that is now beginning to worry fossil fuel financiers.
In that spirit, there was one other more recent multilateral solution to a world crisis, AIDS, which shows how to shift the balance of forcesnotthrough elites’ top-down meetings of minds (although within the World Health Organisation and UN AIDS, there were a few bureaucratic allies) – but instead, bottom-up, through militant activism.
Because of groups like South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign (led by visionaries Zackie Achmat and Vuyiseka Dubula), the US AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (‘ActUp’) and the health non-governmental organisations Médecins sans Frontières, a persuasive case emerged in the 1990s – and gained confirmation in 2001 – to exempt copyrighted AIDS medicines within the WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property System. Generics were permitted, not made in the US and Germany, but instead in many Southern countries. This resulted in more than a decade’s rise in life expectancy, in South and North alike.
Anti-neoliberal protests help shift the balance of forces, including many millions in the Third World who objected to structural adjustment, or “IMF Riots.” In the main study of these protests, David Seddon and John Walton in 1994 remarked on how not just poor and working-class people, but larger coalitions of society rose up: “Once mass discontent is made evident by these coalitions, political parties may take up the anti-austerity cause in successful bids for national office (e.g. Peru, Dominican Republic). In several countries, austerity protests initiated political crises that sooner (e.g. Sudan, Turkey) or later (e.g. Philippines, Haiti, Poland) toppled the national government.”
Since then, there have been scores more countries – especially in Africa– whose unpatriotic leaders were tossed out of power or drew sustained dissent as they imposed the Bretton Woods institutions’ logic.
Solidarity activism in the North is vital, such as demonstrations at IMF and Bank official events. Major protests included the 1988 Berlin Annual Meetings (which attracted tens of thousands of protestors), the 2000 Spring Meetings in Washington (30,000) and 2000 Prague Annual Meetings (50,000), as well as even the Oslo 2002 Bank research conference on development economics (10,000). One of the main activist challenges to Bretton Woods power was the early 2000s “World Bank bonds boycott” which – at the peak of the global justice movement’s mobilisations – compelled cities as large and financially potent as San Francisco to divest from Bank securities. (Trevor Ngwane and another South African, the poet Dennis Brutus, joined then-US Representative Bernie Sanders to launch the boycott in 2000.)
This led to a ‘fix it or nix it’ debate, in which reforms of the Bank and IMF were so slow that TransNational Institute scholar Susan George fumed in 2000, “These institutions have had their chance. Anytime anyone asks, ‘And what would you put in its place?’ I am tempted to respond, ‘And what would you put in the place of cancer?’” Added Kenyan activist Njoki Njehu, the leading Washington protest organiser at the Bank/Fund Spring Meetings that year, “The IMF and the World Bank increase poverty. The consensus is that the IMF and World Bank cannot be reformed. They have to be abolished.”
It is a debate that needs kick-starting once again. The 75th anniversary is a good time to ask whether such out-dated ideologies and their enforcers deserve to be retired, not (as the right-wing populist protectionists argue) so as to close the door on global governance, but to open it much wider in a way that serves people and planet, not multinational corporate profits. At the same time, by posing the question of abolition, we should also recall instances where impressive reforms were won at the multilateral scale.
*Professor Patrick Bond teaches political economy at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa. He can be contacted at email@example.com(A version of this article was originally published in Bretton Woods Project Observer, October 2019.)
By way of introduction
In 2015, a controversy over the statue of Cecil Rhodes blue up, like a storm in a teacup, in Oxford, United Kingdom. The precursor to this was at the University of Cape Town in South Africa where, in March 2015, students demanded the removal of the statue of arch-imperialist, Cecil Rhodes. The University authorities at first resisted, but on 9 April 2015, the statue was removed. The winds of change spread from Cape Town to Oxford. On 13 April 2015, African students (joined by others) demanded the removal of the Rhodes statue from Oriel College. This sparked an interesting debate among students, staff and the University authorities for the best part of the year. On 19 January 2016, the University decided that the statue would remain. It could not dispense with the huge largesse left behind to it by Rhodes.
This led to a debate on Gandhi. Nigel Beggar, professor of moral and pastoral theology at Oxford, suggested that Gandhi’s statues should also be brought down. Nothing happened.
Three-and half years down the road, on 14 September 2019, a 6ft 4in bronze statue of Gandhi was unveiled at the Ayr Town Hall in Scotland to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth.
This should give us an idea of the profound influence that Gandhi had not just in India, but in the whole world.
Gandhi’s legacy in South Africa
Civil rights movements are major political phenomena in our times. Of course, they have a long ancestry, going back to the days of slavery. The political struggles leading to Africa’s independence began with workers’ strikes and popular resistance prior to and following the Second World War.
We will discuss Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent resistance in the next section. But first it is important to examine his experience in South Africa.
Gandhi came to South Africa, then aged 23, and was active in the struggle there for the next 21 years. He was 44 years old by the time he returned to India where he employed the ethics and tactics of non-violent resistance he had developed in South Africa.
In a short article like this, it is impossible to do justice to Gandhi’s twenty-one years’ struggle against the British Raj in South Africa. So, I will quote from Nelson Mandela’s apt appreciation of this legacy.
“Gandhi threatened the South African government during the first and second decades of the century as no other man did. He established the first anti-colonial political organisation in the country, if not in the world, founding the Natal Indian Congress in 1894. The African People’s organisation was established in 1902, the African National Congress in 1912, so that both were witnesses to and highly influenced by Gandhi’s militant satyagraha which began in 1907 and reached its climax in 1913 with the epic march of 5000 workers indentured on the coal mines of Natal. That march he evoked a massive response from the Indian women who in turn, provoked the Indian workers to come out on strike. That was the beginning of the marches to freedom and mass stay-away-from-work which became so characteristic of our freedom struggle in the apartheid era. Our Defiance Campaign of 1952, too, followed very much on the lines that Gandhi had set. So, in the Indian struggle, in a sense, is rooted the African.” [[i]]
For nearly half a century after that, the people struggled through non-violent means. The youth opposition to apartheid in the 1970s led by Steve Biko and others was non-violent, in spite of apartheid regime’s brutal suppression, as in Sharpeville on 21 March 1960. Then in the mid-1980s, the liberation movements decided to go for armed struggle. I have often wondered why. My short answer is that the armed wings of the African National Congress and the Pan-African Congress, which operated from outside South Africa, came under the influence, respectively, of the Soviet Union and China.
Gandhi’s politics and philosophy: Satyagraha and non-violent resistance
In 1931, Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi exchanged letters in which Einstein expressed the hope that Gandhi’s non-violent struggle for India’s independence “will help to establish an international authority, respected by all, that will take decisions and replace war conflicts.” To this, Gandhi replied: “It is a great consolation to me that the work I am doing finds favour in your sight. I do indeed wish that we could meet face to face and that too in India at my Ashram.” [[ii]]
The following is a brief account of the main ingredients of Gandhi’s political and moral philosophy.
For Gandhi, ends do not justify the means. Gandhi’s answer to imperial violence was not to offer counter-violence, but to sublimate it by offering oneself as “willing” victims of violence and overcoming it with “soul force” (satyagraha). Whilst fighting against the British Raj, this strategy, despite occasional lapses, was remarkably successful. But Gandhi failed to stop the human carnage following the partition in August 1947. And, ironically, he was himself killed on 30 January 1948. The irony is even greater in view of Gandhi’s position that in the cause of freedom, he was prepared to die. “They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me, then they will have my dead body. But not my obedience!” [[iii]]
How does one compare Gandhi with Marx? Both were revolutionary in their own ways. Gandhi’s struggles in South Africa and in India were revolutionary. The difference between him and Marx was on the question of violence to bring about revolutionary change. Also, in his advocacy of village-based economy and local communal governance – “Gram Rajya” – he was revolutionary, though again, not as a “communist”. However, just as Marx’s communism is a vision of the future so is Gandhi’s Gram Rajya.
Gandhi called anti-Semitism “a remnant of barbarism.” He supported German Jews’ right to be treated as equal citizens and admired their centuries of refusal to turn violent. He proposed that the Jews should assert themselves wherever they happened to be, as citizens of that country first. “If I were a Jew and were born in Germany,” he said, “I would claim Germany as my home … I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment.” [[iv]]
Whilst sympathetic to the plight of Jews in Europe, Gandhi was opposed to the creation of the state of Israel. A Jewish cry for a national home, he argued, would in fact provide justification to the Nazis to expel them. Palestine, he said, belongs to the Arabs in the same way that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. [[v]]
Coming to our times, Gandhi would be turning in his grave with the current regime in India. As Sarang Narasimhaiah argues in his article, “Everywhere is Kashmir: Unravelling Weaponized, Corporatized Hindustan in India’s Northeast” makes Modi’s India a counter-model to Gandhi’s. [[vi]]
It is interesting that very few people in Britain know that in 2013, Jeremy Corbyn was awarded the Gandhi International Peace Award for his “consistent efforts over a 30-year parliamentary career to uphold the Gandhian values of social justice and non-violence.” [[vii]]
Gandhi’s relevance to Africa and the global South
Africa came into the capitalist system through colonisation. Whether Africa could have developed a capitalist system of its own is anybody’s guess. I would contend that there is no way Africa could take the route England took. Africa still remains the Empire’s neo-colony. Gandhi’s thinking is even deeper than this. He said that if the countries of the South were to emulate the developed world’s consumption and production systems, they would need to colonise ten worlds - not one!
Today, Africa’s people are thrown out of their lands and rural homes by global corporate vultures. Many young men and women take to the boats to cross the Mediterranean to escape to Europe.
Of course, Gandhi is not the only hero in the global South. There are many others, such as Mao, Guevara, Cabral, Le Duan, Giap, Steve Biko, Patrice Lumumba, Nkrumah, Nyerere, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. They left behind a rich legacy of strategy and tactics for engaging in struggle against more powerful and dangerous adversaries. They followed their own routes, but they were all anti-imperialist revolutionaries. They all lived over decades of pro-active, tumultuous lives - at the village, community, national, and global levels.
Gandhi was killed on 30 January 1948. I was then ten, living in a small town in Uganda. I never knew him, but I was influenced by him from an early age. I knew Nyerere for many years - during my stay in Tanzania in the 1970s and 1980s. One thing common between Gandhi and Nyerere was that they were not greedy for power or wealth. They lived modest, self-disciplined, abstemious lives. They were both eternal teachers - walimu - with very high level of moral and political integrity, teachers who taught by example. That is their one common legacy. Gandhi never assumed state power. Nyerere was obliged to take over from the British. When the time came, he stepped down and retired to his village - still wielding considerable influence without state power. In a sense, then, this too is their common legacy - influence not power, what the Americans call “soft power”.
Gandhi advocated “Gram Swaraj” - village self-rule. Nyerere initiated Ujamaa villages - to bring scattered peasant communities together in order to encourage production and provision of social services. In their different ways, Gandhi and Nyerere were committed to the principle of non-violent transformation of society.
Gandhi’s relevance to the global system
Gandhi was fighting not just British colonialism but the whole system of economics of capitalism and imperialism. Gandhian economics was part of the economics of liberation. He said: “A country remains poor in wealth, both materially and intellectually, if it does not develop its handicrafts and its industries and lives a lazy parasitic life by importing all the manufactured articles from outside. … care had to be taken not to make the definition so narrow … or so wide as to become farcical and Swadeshi only in name.” [[viii]]
In a famous quote, when Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilisation, he said that it was a “good idea”. He advocated the charkha (mini spinning wheel) to produce hand-spun cloth (khadi). It was the physical embodiment and symbol of Gandhi’s programme of self-sufficiency. He was neither “luddite” nor atavistic but a smart political activist against the British rule.
We can extend Gandhi’s wisdom to our times. Let’s take just one example - that of the global financial crisis since the leveraged debt-created financial bubble burst in 2007-08. Despite some claims to the contrary, global finance is still in deep crisis - especially since the Trump Administration put sanctions against a number of countries - including, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Venezuela. Gandhi’s advice to these countries, and to the global South generally, would be to invent a “financial charkha” (to coin a term), and to create national or regional currencies to reduce (and ultimately, to eliminate) their dependence on Western currencies and gold reserves.
Some concluding remarks
Like Marx, Gandhi was anti-capitalist. But he had a different view of a non-capitalist state. He was against big industries – whether in private hands under capitalism, or under state-controlled socialism. He was in favour of cottage industries under a kind of communal system - Gram Swaraj. I advocated something like this under the title From Here to There: A Thousand Boats on the Ocean in my book. [[ix]]
My second concern is the increasing risk of nuclear war in our times. Daryl G. Kimball, the Executive Director of Arms Control Association says: “Over the long course of the nuclear age, millions of people around the world, often led by a young generation of clear-eyed activists, have stood up to demand meaningful, immediate international action to halt, reduce, and end the threat posed by nuclear weapons to humankind and the planet”[[x]].
And so, I end with Gandhi’s advice on the way forward: “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children” [[xi]].
*Professor Yash Tandon is from Uganda and has worked at many different levels as an academic, a teacher, a political thinker, a rural development worker, a civil society activist, and an institution builder.
[i] Nelson Mandela, “Gandhi, the Prisoner of Compassion”, in B. R. Nanda (ed.), Mahatma Gandhi: 125 Years, page 8.
[viii] Young India, 20-8-1931. Swadeshi, roughly translates to National Independence.
[ix] Yash Tandon, Trade is War: The West’s War against the World, OR Books, 2015, 2018, pp.192-193.
I first met Assata Zerai in 1999 while visiting the family of Horace Campbell in Syracuse University where they were colleagues. It was my first Thanksgiving dinner in the United States. After the dinner, we were chatting when she mentioned that she had a co-authored book manuscript on the nightmares of ‘crack mothers’ who were demonised in the media and repressed by policy makers that wanted to sterilise them. I told her that she had just found a publisher because two years earlier, Ashgate publishers launched the Interdisciplinary Research Series in Ethnic, Gender and Class Relations with my book on Black Women and the Criminal Justice System (republished in 2018 by Routledge) and with me as the Series Editor. I told her that I would be happy to recommend her manuscript for publication in the series. She promptly sent me the proposal and Ashgate accepted my recommendation and published the ground-breaking book that called for harm reduction instead of the racist-sexist war on poor women in the guise of the war on drugs.
I was pleasantly surprised when Zerai accepted an award from the Conference on Black Women in Higher Education at Virginia Tech and she recognised me as one of her mentors whereas I looked up to her as one of my peer mentors. I am pleased and honoured to see that this new book, African Women, ICT and Neoliberal Politics, started by highlighting our celebration of the work of Victor Chikezie Uchendu who was my mentor in Nigeria and whose classic work on The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria turned 50 years in 2015. I had invited three scholars to celebrate the book at Virginia Tech and it was an honour to have had Zerai, who was then the Director of the Centre for African Studies that Uchendu had founded at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne. She was soon to rise in the university administration as Associate Dean, Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, and Associate Provost while finding the time to complete ground-breaking books.
This new book continues with her track-records in post-positivistic gender-sensitive Africa-centred scholar-activism that all critical scholars and the general public could learn from. I already include her essay on scholar-activism within the classroom and at the grassroots as one of the required readings for my Africana Research Methods graduate class and I am happy to say that the new book elaborates on her original theory that even when you are teaching in the class-room, you can still practice scholar-activism through the exposure of students to the benefits of critical, creative and Africa-centred gender-sensitivity in all aspects of the course. This is an original contribution from an African diaspora scholar because African American scholars tend to focus more on the diaspora and neglect Africa relatively. African male scholars tend to focus mainly on the important struggles against racism while relatively neglecting sexism; and African scholars tend to depend on Eurocentric theories while neglecting contributions by fellow Africans.
The Critical Race Theory came from Kimberley Crenshaw and others to advance knowledge beyond critical legal studies that focused only on class by emphasising the intersectionality of race-class-gender issues. But the proponents of intersectionality rarely apply their theory to African women the way that Stuart Hall exemplified by basing his Cultural Studies theory of articulation, disarticulation and re-articulation on the critique of apartheid racism-sexism-imperialism. Western feminists tend to avoid the need to adopt anti-racist thoughts because they claim that racism is not part of their standpoint experiences though they do not need to experience every form of oppression before they can oppose it. Angela Davis warned that some of the white feminists were actually supporting the use of rape as a racist propaganda for the oppression of black women and black men. Western Marxists tended to focus exclusively on the working class struggles but from the perspective of African women, it will be impossible to ignore racism and sexism while organising against poverty. Here, Zerai demonstrates what is lost by scholars when African women are ignored by theorists and activists given the immense contributions that African women have made towards the advancement of democracy and the innovation of communication technologies along with indigenous knowledge systems.
The book brings Zerai’s Africa-centred gender sensitivity to bear on governance and development studies as a critique of the law and order approach of Worldwide Global Indicators by the World Bank. Zerai dismissed such male-centred indicators as falling short for not taking seriously into consideration, the vital issue of social justice without which government effectiveness and communicative democracy would remain elusive. Unlike most texts in Africana Studies, which tend to be historical, biographical, artistic or sociological, this book breaks new grounds by focusing on access to communicative technology as an indicator of what Walter Rodney identified as increasing freedom, capacity, and material well-being that define development and the reversal of which indicates the underdevelopment of one society by another.
In the Zerai Model of women-centred ICT use, knowledge diffusion and good governance, the access of women to cellphones and Internet technology per 100 people in the population is used as the independent variable with which to explain the levels of access by women to education, healthcare, and school enrolment and with which to explain accountability in governance, women’s participation in government and the effectiveness of governance as dependent variables. The correlation between the independent and dependent variables can be seen in the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme, which shows that African countries that invest less in the access of women to education also tend to have low Human Development Index scores compared to the higher scores across the Caribbean. It is important to note that ICT is being associated by Zerai with the production and diffusion of knowledge and not just for entertainment especially because it is easy for ICT to be misused for video games, bullying, scams, and for watching endless Nollywood movies without emphasising the educational, economic, and political potentials. Zerai is suggesting that women are likely to put the ecology of ICT to better use for the benefit of the entire family and the entire community or entire country.
In Africa, story-telling is dominated by women who entertain their children with moonlight folktales to teach them the morals of their culture. The European colonisers tried to undermine the agency of African women by trying to impose a patriarchal, racist imperialism that saw African women as dependents of the men but African women resisted and deployed their knowledge of communication technologies to resist their disempowerment. Thus, Igbo and Ibibio women declared war on colonialism in 1929 when the British tried to impose chiefs and taxes on them without representation. They rallied and burnt down the homes of the chiefs and the shops of multinational trading companies along with the native courts. Dozens of the unarmed women were shot dead but they won the right not to be taxed without representation and not to have colonial chiefs. Abeokuta women repeated this war in 1945 when they deposed a colonial chief who liked to molest young girls in the guise of assessing them for taxation. Kikuyu women waged a similar struggle against the imposition of forced labour on women and their sexual exploitation that produced unwanted pregnancies when forced to travel far away to work on railroads without pay. South African women rose against the Apartheid Pass Laws and said that those who struck women were striking rocks. Finally, Liberian women organised to ‘Pray the devil back to hell’ in order to end the bloody civil war that the men used as the excuse to rape and terrorise women in their competition over the control of blood diamonds.
The well-known stories of women’s agency among the Igbo in the ‘post-positivistic’ works of Uchendu and Amadiume formed the theoretical framework for the book in support of the hypothesis that neglecting the communication technologies used by women to organise in Africa would be a disservice to scholarship, governance, and social justice. It is rare to find a book written in North America that adopts African thinkers as the theoretical framework! Zerai combined what Uchendu defined in ethnography as the ‘etic’ or outsider view and the ‘emic’ or insider view because she is a woman of African descent doing research on her fellow African women through the perspective of African feminism or Africana womanism.
It is well-known that coltan, the metal that powers the cellphones around the world, comes mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo where genocidal wars have raged and rape is used as a weapon of war against women by war-lords fighting over the control of the mineral wealth of the country. Despite the exploitation of the mineral wealth of Africa to build the cellphone technology based on an invention by an African American scientist, Henry T. Sampson, the European and North American countries had no intention of extending the benefits of ICT to African women because the products were priced beyond their reach.
A Sudanese investment banker in London, Mo Ibrahim, developed a proposal to set up cellphone towers across Africa to enable Africans to call one another without being charged arms and legs by landline phone companies that were connected to the capital cities of colonising countries but not across the colonial boundaries in Africa. Thus, a call from Nigeria to Cameroun or Benin Republic next door would be routed to Paris and then rerouted back to Nigeria’s neighbours by the landline companies at huge costs to Africans.
Surprisingly, no cellphone provider wanted to support his proposal because they said that Africans were too poor and would not have any need for cellphones. Ibrahim quit his job and took his savings and personal loans to go and set up the cellphone towers across Africa and Africans loved the service. Within a few years, cellphones were selling like hot cakes in Africa and the same cellphone companies that refused to support his proposal came with hostile take-over moves to buy him out. He sold his company, Celtel, for more than three billion dollars and went on to set up the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to support good governance in Africa by awarding US$10 million to any African leader who was voted as a good leader by judges. Sadly, year after year with few exceptions like Ellen Sirleaf of Liberia, no winner was found for the prize among the highly corrupt patriarchal neo-colonial rulers of Africa.
My question to Zerai is whether she has plans for scholar-activism using the findings in a book like this to convince the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to redirect the African Leadership Prize money towards the empowerment of African women through ICT grants, micro credit grants, prizes in story-telling, music, literature, filmmaking, fashion design, hair-dressing, science and technology, cooking, research grants, and start-up costs for women owned businesses and for women politicians across Africa? Similarly, the cellphone companies and Internet providers should be persuaded by readers of this book to consider offering reparative justice to the African women who have been discriminated against and victimised in the scramble for the natural resources with which the phones are built. They too should award huge grants to African women to improve their ICT ecology and thereby, their access to education, knowledge and political participation for the benefit of all.
Ron Eglash, Abdul Karim Bangura, and Horace Campbell have established that the computer engineering algorithms that power the Internet are based on complex African fractal designs that are common in the cornrow hair designs pioneered by African women at home and in the diaspora where it was used to support the litigation for the redistricting of Atlanta for better representation of African Americans who did not settle in straight grids due to racist red-districting and discrimination in housing. European mathematicians shunned such non-lineal fractal designs for centuries as irrational in preference for easy to control Cartesian designs until they discovered that they are powerful tools for communication and self-organisation based on principles of infinity, self-similarity, interconnectivity, fractional dimensions, non-lineal geometry and recursion that are more common in African designs.
Eglash credited Phillip Emeagwali, who was recognised by President Clinton as one the founding fathers of the Internet, with the humble opinion that he learned how to design faster computer connectivity by observing his mother in the kitchen in Nigeria. Campbell observed that Barack Obama deployed the revolutionary principles of African fractals for his successful model of 21st century politics and Bangura found these principles to be common in the complex thoughts of African writers. Henry Louis Gates opined that the Internet is the ‘21st Century talking drum’ (though he did not mention the irony that the talking drum is a primarily male art form in Africa). Olu Oguibe warned against the maintenance of a digital Third World even in the diaspora where millions of people remain unable to access the information super highway.
The question is whether Zerai will set up a non-governmental organisation or lead a mass movement based on the book to advocate for the Internet, ICT and cellphone providers to set aside a portion of their huge profits specifically to give back to African women by funding coding academies, university scholarships, business start-ups, sporting facilities, sanitation and water facilities, and health centres across Africa?
*Doctor Biko Agozino is Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Technology University, United States of America.
Former President Mugabe had been receiving medical treatment in Singapore for several months. While he was president in his later years, Mugabe would travel to Singapore for his annual medical examinations.
In the immediate aftermath of his transition, the current President Emmerson Mnangagwa, declared his predecessor as a “National Hero”, an important designation reserved for the leading founders of the Republic of Zimbabwe, those who fought for the national liberation of the Southern African state. Zimbabwe won its independence from British settler-colonialism in 1980 having been under occupation since the latter years of the 1890s.
After the former president’s remains were returned to the country on 11 September, his body was laid in state for two days at the Rufaro Stadium where thousands of people from various regions of the country came to pay their last respects. People lined up for hours over a two-day period as mourners passed by the coffin.
A state funeral was held on 14 September where tens of thousands attended. The memorial services were attended by numerous contemporary and former heads of state.
Several of the leaders spoke in tribute to President Mugabe praising his legacy of courage, organisation, comradeship and Pan-Africanism. Mugabe had served as both the Chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as well as the continental African Union (AU) from 2014-2016. He had repeatedly called for African unification under the extreme threats of imperialist military and economic intervention aimed at hampering the realisation of genuine development and social emancipation.
An article published by the Zimbabwe Sunday Mail on 15 September noted the importance of the historical significance of President Mugabe’s life saying: “That he was a revered statesman was made apparent by the presence of a number of African heads of State and representatives from China, Cuba and Russia. Among the African luminaries in attendance were Zambia’s founding President Kenneth Kaunda (95), Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Sam Nujoma of Namibia, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa. President Nguema was the last sitting head of State to see former President Mugabe before he died. He was in tears of grief upon arrival at the airport on Friday.”
Messages of condolences have poured into Zimbabwe since the news of the former president’s passing. The statements of sympathy were in actuality testaments to the solidarity evoked by the work of the people of Zimbabwe over a period of more than a century where the masses organised and fought gallantly against the crimes of imperialism, which seized the land and colonised the farmers and workers, exploiting them for the benefit of international financial capital.
The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) remains in power nearly four decades after independence in April 1980. Zimbabwe has been a staunch pillar of the regional SADC and the AU particularly in reference to the support shown for national liberation movements, which came after Harare and the ongoing struggle to free the Western Sahara, the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, the last remaining contested zone in Africa.
Historical movements to end imperialism in Zimbabwe
The onslaught of British settler-colonialism in Zimbabwe was consolidated after the military defeat of the First Chimurenga (revolutionary struggle) in 1897 when thousands of Africans were massacred and detained while millions more underwent the forcible removal from control of their national territory. Initial contact with the indigenous nations of Matabeleland and Mashonaland were made through missionaries who paved the way for the British South African Company (BSAC) headed by Cecil Rhodes.
BSAC was committed to the theft of the land and resources of the people. Their diamonds were looted by BSAC and the land was taken forcing Africans to pay “Hut Taxes” and to work on the agricultural plantations, mines and as agents of the British colonialists.
British soldiers first attacked the Ndebele who fought gallantly against them. After securing Matabeleland they then moved on in another genocidal invasion of Mashonaland.
The Africans utilising captured weapons from the European enemies and traditional arsenals were able to kill hundreds of imperialist soldiers and their collaborators. Many Africans working with the Europeans deserted their positions and joined the revolutionaries. Scores of European settler homes, outposts and businesses were overrun and burned by the Ndebele and Shona fighters during this period of 1896-97.
An account of the First Chimurenga observed: “British encroachment into the Ndebele territory, also known as Matabeleland was the main reasons for the revolt. In March 1896, the Ndebele (Matabele) people revolted against the authority of the BSAC in what is now celebrated in Zimbabwe as the First War of Independence. Mlimo, the Ndebele spiritual leader, is credited for fomenting much of the anger that led to this confrontation. He convinced the Ndebele and the Shona that the white settlers whose population has grown to about 4,000 were responsible for the drought, locust plagues and the cattle disease rinderpest ravaging the country at the time.” (https://www.pindula.co.zw/First_Chimurenga)
After the defeat of 1897, many of the leading figures in the resistance were imprisoned and executed by the British. Two of the most notable of the Mashona people, Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, were hung by the settlers in 1898. Nehanda said prior to her execution that she would die; however, her bones would rise again.
The Second Chimurenga which led to the renewal and independence of Zimbabwe from the settler colony of Southern Rhodesia, has its roots emanating from the First Chimurenga of the late 19th century. During the 1950s, there was the advent of mass struggle by the Zimbabwe African National Congress. The organisation was banned creating the conditions for the formation of the National Democratic Party, which was also proscribed by the Rhodesian authorities.
Later the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) was formed by Joshua Nkomo during the early 1960s. Nkomo was known as the “Father of the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe.” However, a split within ZAPU led to the founding of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) in 1963 under the leadership of Herbert Chitepo and Enos Nkala.
With specific reference to Mugabe, he was born in Katuma and attended missionary schools during his early years. He would later study at Fort Hare in South Africa where he was trained as an educator. He worked as a teacher in the then colonised Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) later travelling to Ghana under the presidency of Kwame Nkrumah in 1958. Mugabe would be inspired by the Pan-Africanist leader Nkrumah. He would marry a Ghanaian woman Sally Hayfron.
After returning to Zimbabwe in the early 1960s, Mugabe and his wife took on the settler colonial authorities. Both Mugabe and Sally were arrested. Mugabe spent a decade imprisoned between the years of 1964-1974. After his release, he travelled to Mozambique in 1975 after the neighbouring country’s independence from Portuguese colonialism. Mugabe became the uncontested leader of ZANU and its armed forces known as the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army.
Eventually by the late 1970s, ZAPU and ZANU would form the Patriotic Front. After sending thousands of guerrilla fighters into Rhodesia, the white minority regime of Ian Smith, who had rejected majority rule through the Unilateral Declaration of Independence from London in 1965, was forced to the Lancaster House negotiations in 1979. Mugabe reluctantly joined the negotiations maintaining an uncompromising position as a Marxist and Pan-Africanist.
A settlement was reached leading to multi-party elections in April 1980. ZANU-PF won a majority in the new government becoming the dominant force within Zimbabwe politics for the next 39 years.
The Third Chimurenga began in 2000 after two decades of false promises by the British and the United States to fund a land reform programme negotiated at the Lancaster House talks of 1979, where the aims of the Zimbabwe Revolution were articulated. ZANU-PF passed parliamentary measures mandating the transferal of land from the white settler minority to the African majority.
In response, sanctions were levelled against the Republic of Zimbabwe. An opposition party Movement for Democratic Change was formed and financed by the dispossessed white farmers and western imperialism. The capitalist states have maintained sanctions against Zimbabwe since 2000. Even after the forced resignation of Mugabe as president and ZANU-PF leader in November 2017, the imperialists have still refused to lift the sanctions, illustrating clearly their ultimate desire to remove the ruling party from power.
The contested legacy of imperialism
ZANU-PF even today is under constant propaganda and economic attacks by the imperialist forces and their allies. The passing of President Mugabe has provided an opportunity for corporate and capitalist governmental news agencies to spread their venom against Zimbabwe promoting the false “Hero to Dictator” narrative related to the legacy of Gushungo.
The British Broadcasting Corporation coverage of the death of Mugabe referred to the imperialists as “donors” alienated by ZANU-PF under the former president’s tenure. Never did they refer to their country as settler colonisers of Zimbabwe.
Today when the British state is facing its most formidable crisis since World War II, where the parliament and successive prime ministers have not been able to draft an agreeable programme for their exit from the European Union, there is obviously a lack of admiration for their leaders such as David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
Mugabe as the Chair of the AU raised US$1 million in donations for the continental organisation to demonstrate the necessity of self-reliance in Africa. His speeches repeatedly denounced imperialist interventions in Africa and throughout the world.
Consequently, the legacy of Mugabe is secured within the historical struggle for Pan-Africanism based upon genuine sovereignty along with complete economic and social liberation.
* Abayomi Azikiwe is Editor at Pan-African News Wire