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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”.

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

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 …

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 White Revolutionary As Missionary

Below is the text of ‘The WHITE REVOLUTIONARY AS MISSIONARY”. It was carried in New Frank Talk, critical essays on the Black condition, No 5, January 2010. A comment by Andile Mngxitama and poem by Aryan Kaganof follow after the main text. The White Revolutionary As Missionary Contemporary Travels and Researches in Caffraria I.  “Your Missionaries have dived into that mine from which we were told no valuable ore or precious stones could be extracted; and they have brought up the gem of an immortal spirit, flashing with the light of intellect, and glowing with the hue of Christian graces” So reads Reverend Richard Watson’s inscription opposite the frontispiece to Stephen Kay’s 1834 tome, Travels and Researches in Caffraria, describing the character, customs and moral condition of the tribes inhabiting that portion of Southern Africa. (Harper Bros, New York) This book is a lump of treasure.  Small and thick with a worn, green spine carrying raised letters, it …

Wrist

He had impeccable credentials.  Impeccable even though he missed Seattle but that was for meningitis.  He was in the very front ranks at Genoa where he shed blood with a hundred militants and was deported with a bandage still seeping.  In the camps in the forests preparing for Berlin he fashioned an affinity with twenty-four other comrades.  They came up with a non-violent, anti-authoritarian tactic that was Gandhi 2.0.  With arms taped to their sides, they threw their bodies at the police and Black Bloc equally, and received rather bluer bruises from the latter.  In between these excitements he traipsed between squats, lent money to teenage hackers, wrote pamphlets misleading the cops, cooked collectively and had sex unpossessively on all the northern continents. But it was in the South where he really made his name.  His first visit to the camp-sites of Porto Allegre gave rise in him to an indignation at the luminaries that …