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No Promises Left

No Promises Left - Heinrich Bohmke

At the bottom of my street every Monday, on the nursery school drive, a phalanx of ragged beggars rummage through green wheelie bins outside a Tudor-style housing complex.  I slow down at the stop sign and press the requisite button on the car’s console.  Bent at the hips, African men rummage for calories and chucked-out crap to add to their swag before the garbage truck arrives.  The guy with the dark-glasses is a pro.  You see him everywhere, neat and bustling.  Most of the others come from the children’s park they’ve taken over.  It’s hand to mouth for them and whoonga in between.  Like a conjurer, a young man finesses an improbably long pole from the bin.  Rationally, it’s hard to begrudge them their messy survival.  One or two, though, fail to avert their eyes.  Like the one producing the wooden pole.  He hears the locks knocking shut.  This offal is not enough.  I’m pretty …

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”.

Canal and Control

Chris Hani

This article first appeared in Africa Report   It’s 21 years to the day that the MK unit in which I dabbled assembled to discuss what to do about Chris Hani’s assassination. It was obvious that it was not a hit by the state. There was going to be groot kak raining down that did not suit the Nats. This left two options, rogue cops or the white right. The climate for Hani’s assassination was just right. With election talks stalled, the ANC needed a bad cop to whip up the spectre of insurrection again. Hani and Winnie were rumoured to have resuscitated some sort of military capacity across the border in Zim. Someone might just have believed that propaganda.

The valleys of broken thongs

Valley Church

This piece appeared in Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2014 I’ve just returned from the Eastern Cape, from dirt roads that dwindle into two spur tracks and then just impressions in the grass, around clefts in mountains that open into sublime valleys, each with a few foregone sandstone farmhouses, with stoeps and overgrown gardens and subsiding kraals. Among the dilapidation, one can still see the farmstead and the footpaths of work that took place within it. And for me, I imagine I can still see the places where lovers pressed into each other, by the leaking dam with the cool moss, in that outbuilding whose thick, warped glass slants light through the motes. And there, far by the river, where willows hang and a spinney makes a yonic circle of silver and green. On an autumn blanket. Definitely there. Just beyond the house, the windpumps of a previous generation lean and miss rusty pieces. The voice of …

Marrying for the mob: What the DA can learn from Numsa

Helen and Mamphele (Photo credit: Times Live)

This article first appeared in the Africa Report. February 2014 Politically it was an audacious attempt by the Democratic Alliance to rebrand itself ahead of elections. In each poll since 1994, the DA has essentially stood for what is good for old suburbia. But this secure constituency is also a low ceiling. South Africa’s electorate is 80% Black. To grow, the DA needs more Blacks to vote for them. Many Blacks, however, are wary of white intention and largely still appreciative of the steep moral, social and cultural elevation brought by national liberation. I suppose one could call it BSC – Black self-consciousness. Even if the economic dividends are meager and even as the ANC subsides in a fire-pool of sleaze, to switch to the “Madam” is yet a ballot too far. 

COP

Every two years or so this really nice training gig comes up. I grab two boxes of files and some branded pens, get on two planes and head to Kimberley in the Northern Cape. I’m hired to train a unit within the South African Police Service how to fire those within their ranks who contravene Regulation 20 (z) of their disciplinary code. Regulation 20 (z) is reserved for murderers, armed robbers, rapists, fraudsters and, mostly, extortionists. Owing to a useful quirk in our law of evidence, it is easier and faster to dismiss cops who commit criminal offences than it is to put them behind bars; the latter hardly ever happening. The idea behind Regulation 20 (z) is that, even if a rogue cop demanding R300 from an illegal immigrant is never convicted of this crime, he will at least lose his badge and gun. I should quickly admit that contributing to this high-minded mission …

PW Botha was defeated, Thatcher lives on

16 April, 2013    (in Le Monde Diplomatique) Street parties thumped in Brixton and Edinburgh the night she died. Hundreds gathered.  Anarchists, Old Labour, miners, students. People carried signs, saying “Gotcha” and “Rot in Hell”. A riot was planned at Trafalgar Square during the funeral. There was a campaign to get Judy Garland’s song “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead” to number one on the UK pop charts (It narrowly missed, placed at number two). I don’t get the joy in celebrating the death of the witch. The air of victory is puzzling.  Granted, I did not live with her overbitten monologues on telly as PM every night. Nor did I have a dad turfed out of work by a pit closure or have her wrongly blame supporters of my soccer team for their own death. But the look-at-me-whooping from comrades in England at the passing of their erstwhile nemesis, Margaret Thatcher, sounds tinny to my …

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

Marikana: A lesson in late liberal democracy

Thirty-four miners were shot dead by police at a mine outside Rustenburg, South Africa last week. The 3000 rock-drill operators, from a Lonmin owned platinum company, had been gathered on a hill for four days, demanding a wage increase from recalcitrant owners. Heinrich Böhmke, 22 August 2012            (originally in Africa Report) The leaders belonged to Amcu, a militant breakaway from the Cosatu-aligned National Union of Mineworkers.  In the days before the massacre, ten people were killed in skirmishes, including two police officers and a NUM shopsteward.  Police gave a final ultimatum for the workers, carrying pangas and spears, to disperse.  They refused.  Television footage showed a group of approaching workers sprayed with automatic weapon fire by police.  They fell in heaps upon the ground.

The girl with the Egyptian flag

As Egypt lurches towards democracy, South Africa lurches within it. A comparison between the two countries’ very different struggles. (in Africa Report) 09 February 2011 As a student of revolt I sat transfixed this week before television and computer screens, imbibing a riot of Egyptian coverage. In Cairo, Alexandria and Suez hundreds of thousands – first the youth, then older folk, Islamists and secularists, middle-class and poor people – poured onto the streets, into the face of beatings, bullets and tanks. They were there to reject resoundingly the rule of their dictatorial president, Hosni Mubarak. These were unprecedented scenes in a country governed with a granite fist for 30 years by a pharaonic ruler. The Mubarak decades were an era of growth for the elite and stability for the loyal. For the rest, the costs were high. The domestic opposition was crushed, personal liberties whisked away in unmarked cars, corruption not only entrenched but flaunted, and all …