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% African. 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 meagre and even as the ANC subsides in a fire-pool of sleaze, to switch to the “Madam” is a ballot too far.


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 …

Van der Walt

originally published in Le Monde Diplomatique, October 2013 I stood on the side of a street with a new name.  Van der Walt has become Lillian Ngoyi; a veldkornet erased for a comrade.  Sleek busses drone by.  A taxi double-parks without couth. Dark-green shade-cloth ripples up and down in puffs of air over scaffolding twenty stories high.  Below, pedestrians politely side-step each other. The Soil’s song Inkomo, clogs the intersection.  Winter hurries everyone up just a little bit. Inner city Pretoria has a pleasant human press about it at home time. Office-workers, soldiers and shoppers scurry past fruit and vegetable stalls, past take-aways, weave and dread salons, curtain and linen shops, mini-meds and stores selling ‘fashion’ in the form of Italian shoes or light-wood furniture.

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 …

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 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 to …

The Call For a Tribunal is Urgent and Correct

Published in Sunday Tribune, 22 August 2010 There is a class of citizen in our country whose occupation gives them enormous influence. They are capable of spreading unsolicited opinion and news that affects us all profoundly. What they say can cause stock exchanges to fall, reputations to be destroyed and fear and panic to be sown. Despite the destructive power they wield there are no formal qualifications needed to hold this job, nor do practitioners have to pass any professional enquiry into their moral fitness. They are appointed by their bosses and are answerable only to them. Naturally, there is some oversight in the industry but it takes the form of self-regulation. This self-regulation is weak, if the work of their ombudsmen is surveyed. Unlike doctors and lawyers getting struck from the roll for misconduct, that does not occur to them. When wrongdoers are chucked out it is only into the recycle bin. Soon enough, …