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From Red to Blue- Abahlali, Survival and Ideology

This article first appeared in Africa Report In May 2014, news broke that a radical shack dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, had thrown their weight behind the centre-right Democratic Alliance in Kwa Zulu Natal. This was a shock to most in the South African left. The shock reverberated in all the places this remnant finds itself; that is to say, twitter, facebook, social science faculties and on listservs anticipating revolution. At face value it is shocking. Abahlali was the poster child of total autonomy in social movements, giving their voice to no one but themselves. Scholars of the movement told us that, at the movement’s core, not only as strategy but as principle, was their celebrated slogan “No Land, No House, No Vote”.

The Social Movement Hustle

Originally published in New Frank Talk 13, March 2013 On 8 January 2013, Harvard International Review published an article by Heinrich Böhmke, the Social Movement Hustle, on its online journal.  Within hours, John Comaroff, a Harvard Professor of Anthropology mailed the editor opposing the publication.  The article was removed within a day.  The correspondence below, between Böhmke, Comaroff, editors of the Review and even Harvard’s security department makes for a fascinating study in censorship and a lively expose of academic hypocrisy.   Download that edition of New Frank Talk 13 Correspondence between Prof John Comaroff and Heinrich Böhmke Correspondence between Harvard International Review and Heinrich Böhmke The Social Movement Hustle Introduction – Athi Mongezeleli Joja and Andile Mngxitama Abahlali base Mjondolo Press Statement regarding Mzonke Poni

Branding of Social Movements

Heinrich Böhmke, April 2010 Introduction  For a few years, controversy has been bubbling beneath the surface among activists involved with social movements in South Africa about how these movements are represented in the academic and activist literature.  In short, questions are being raised whether the claims made about or on behalf of some of the movements are substantially accurate.  This controversy about knowledge production has been sharpened recently with the added critique that the movements’ politics, strategies and tactics have waned to a point where many of the best-known organisations are a spent force; more liberal NGO than radical movement[1].  When the historical propensity to exaggeratedly praise social movements faces their recent, marked decline as a radical political force in society, the gap between fact and mythology becomes problematically large.  This paper argues that the intellectual and media support given by a range of academics and activists to movements in South Africa has slipped into branding.  …

The shackdwellers and the intellectuals

Abahlali base Mjondolo and the missionaries from the academy. Heinrich Böhmke, 21 October 2010 Africa Report Don’t talk about us talking about the poor When the ANC came to power it was on a mandate to implement policies to bring about a “better life for all”. The social inequalities bequeathed by apartheid meant that the new government would have to take dramatic steps to uplift the masses of the Black poor from their desperate conditions. The ANC marked its arrival in the Union Buildings in Pretoria with the promise, on a mass scale, to build houses, provide water and electricity and to develop new infrastructure. However, for reasons that will keep historians busy, the reconstruction and development of the new South Africa was conducted within the confines of a conservative macro-economic framework. At city-governance level, this translated into an insistence on cost-recovery for services and, when the poor did not pay, evictions and cut-offs followed. There seemed …