[The following is the editorial in the latest edition of AfricaFile's At Issue Ezine, vol. 12 (May-October 2010), which examines the development of the southern African liberation movement-led countries. It has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission.]
By John S. Saul
May 2010 –
At Issue Ezine –
of us came to southern Africa from the starting point of support for the
peoples there who were struggling, in the '60s, '70s and '80s, against
white minority/colonial regimes that dominated them and shaped so
their life chances. However, some in the worldwide liberation
support/anti-apartheid movement also came to understand that defining
liberation only in terms of national liberation from white colonial
told, at best, half the story. For, important as it was to overcome
and similar racist structures in southern Africa, seeing people liberate
themselves from class and corporate oppression, from structures of male
domination and from authoritarian political practices could readily be
be at least as important to any true liberation as was national
Now, several decades or more after the fall of the most visible forms of
colonial and racial domination, it is ever more apparent just how
critical insight was.
what we have seen, various commentators have argued, is the virtual
recolonisation of southern Africa by capital. This is something new, for
at present much less easy to disaggregate this "capital" than
previously into national capitals and see it as being primarily the
of various nationally based imperialisms and their several colonialisms.
coming from the global North and West (as it has done historically) but
now from the East (Japan, China and India), it is an "Empire of Capital"
that is currently recolonising Africa.
Of course, this has been
the still independent role that national states per se (of
both the North and the East), with their diverse raisons d’etat,
also play in the
imperial equation. Moreover, it is the case that such a "recolonisation"
has been accomplished with the overt connivance of indigenous
those who have inherited power with the demise of "white rule" but
who, in doing so, have manifested much greater commitment to the
their own privileged class-in-creation than to those of the mass of
people. In short, it is not a happy world for the vast mass of ordinary
African citizens – despite the freedom that they had seemed once to have
| ||What we have
seen is the virtual recolonization of southern Africa by capital... It
is not a happy world for the vast mass of ordinary southern African
citizens. || |
what do we now celebrate in 2010,
precisely fifty years after the launching, in 1960, of the "thirty years
war (1960-1990) for southern African liberation", thirty-five years
the year of Angola’s and Mozambique’s independence, more or less thirty
after the day of independence in Zimbabwe, and a full twenty years after
Namibia’s inaugural day and the release from prison of Nelson Mandela
marked so clearly the first of the very last days of apartheid (days of
transition that would culminate in Mandela’s election as president in
For it is a sad fact that one feels forced to ask the question, as I
recently done, as to just who actually won the struggle for southern
As I continued:
We know who lost, of course:
the white minorities in positions of formal political power (whether
in the Portuguese colonies or quasi-independently in South Africa and
in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe). And thank fortune, and hard and brave work, for
But who, in contrast, has won, at least for the time being: global
the West and the IFIs, and local elites of state and private sectors,
white and black? But how about the mass of southern African populations,
urban and rural and largely black? Not so obviously the winners, I would
suggest, and certainly not in any very expansive sense. Has it not been a
of defeat for them too?
How much of a
defeat? Some facts for South
Africa may provide an indication of such a reality, one that has also
each of the five countries of the region that once became key sites of
liberation struggle: Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South
Indeed, the several country case studies that comprise the body of this
of AfricaFiles' Ezine will,
cumulatively, give a very clear sense of this reality. Merely note here
South Africa, for example, the economic gap between black and white has
narrowed statistically – framed by the fact that some blacks have indeed
very much richer (from their own upward mobility as junior partners to
recolonisation and from the fresh spoils of victory that this has
them). Yet the gap between rich and poor is actually wider
than ever it was – and it is growing.
| ||The gap between rich and poor is actually wider
than it ever was –
and it is growing... "People do not eat human
rights; they want food on the table." || |
Much valuable research
(by the likes of
Terreblanche, McDonald and Nattrass and Seekings, as cited in the
bibliography) documents this harsh fact – and other similarly sobering
facts – and
its stark implications. But note also the intervention several months
ago by a
leading South African prelate, Rev. Fuleni Mzukisi, who charged that
South Africa is now worse than apartheid and, in fact, "a terrible
disease". As he said, "Apartheid was a deep crime against humanity.
It left people with deep scars, but I can assure you that poverty is
that... People do not eat human rights; they want food on the table."
This outcome is the result,
of the grim overall inequalities between the global North and the global
that, as in many other regions, mark southern Africa. But, more
it also reflects the choice of economic strategies in this latter region
can now imagine only elite enrichment and the presumed "trickle down
benefits" of unchecked capitalism as being the way in which the lot of
poorest of the poor might be improved there.
How far a cry this is from
populist, even socialist, hopes for more effective and egalitarian
that originally seemed to define the development dreams of all the
movements. Indeed, what is especially disconcerting about the present
recolonisation of the region under the flag of capitalism is that it has
driven by precisely the same movements (at least in name) that led their
countries to independence in the long years of overt regional struggle.
just why this should have occurred, how inevitable it was, is something
consider in the essays that follow.
To be sure, the record
varies somewhat from
country to country. Thus, Mozambique under Frelimo [Frente de Libertação de Moçambique, Liberation Front of Mozambique], once the most
socialist of all the region’s countries, has had to abandon that claim.
it has also abandoned its initial brand of developmental dictatorship in
of a formal democratisation that has stabilised the country –
markedly empowering the mass of its people or improving their
Indeed, a recent text book by Bauer and Taylor on southern Africa
of sympathetic though not notably radical predisposition) notes that the
election to the presidency of Armando Guebuza who is the "holder of an
expansive business empire and one of the richest men in Mozambique
signals that Frelimo will attempt to run anything but a globalist,
agenda – regardless of the abject poverty suffered by most of the
| ||What is
especially disconcerting about the present recolonization of the region
that it has been driven by precisely the same movements that led their
countries to independence. || |
for Angola it has, until quite recently,
experienced a much greater and more dramatic degree of divisive
than Mozambique – although its antidote to that, since the death of
has had as little to do with popular empowerment and broad-based
have the present policies of its fellow ex-Portuguese colony,
fact, it has been argued that it is only a handful of progressive
initiatives (Human Rights Watch, Global Witness and the like) that have
some success in holding the feet of exploitative corporations and of
own government to the fire of critical scrutiny.
For unfortunately, as
Sogge will argue in his article on Angola in the present collection, the
country’s own population, battle scarred and battle weary, has been
slower to find effective means to exert their own claims. Yet, as the
and Taylor volume quoted above feels forced conclude of Angola, oil
corruption have merely "exacerbated the already glaring discrepancies
between rich and poor" and have "quite simply, threatened the
country’s recovery and future development".
Zimbabwe, in the brutal thrall of
Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), has witnessed an even greater deterioration of national
circumstances than either of these two countries. There, say Bauer and
ZANU-PF’s stewardship of the economy [has] been an unmitigated disaster"
while its politics, through years of overt and enormously costly
practices, have produced a situation, as Richard Saunders will detail in
own essay here, that is proving enormously difficult both to displace
The results in both Namibia and South
Africa, even if not quite so bloody as those produced by Renamo’s war,
prolonged sparring of Savimbi with the MPLA [Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola] and Mugabe’s depredations,
much more inspiring in terms of effective mass enfranchisement and
human betterment – as we will see in the articles by Henning Melber and
Gumede included in this issue of the Ezine.
Thus, a long-time and firmly loyal ANC cadre (Ben Turok) has himself, in
recent book entitled The Evolution of ANC
Economic Policy, acknowledged both the contribution of ANC
growing inequality in his country while reaching "the irresistible
that the ANC government has lost a great deal of its earlier focus on
fundamental transformation of the inherited social system"!
sum, South Africa, like the other "liberated"
locales of the region, has become, in the sober phrase with which
Alexander has titled a book of his own on South Africa’s "transition
apartheid to democracy", merely "an ordinary country" – despite
the rather finer future that many, both in southern Africa and beyond,
hoped would prove to be the outcome of the long years of liberation
themselves. But Alexander’s characterisation could be said to apply to
the countries in the region: what we now have, instead of a liberated
Africa that is vibrant, humane and just, is a region of a very different
Moreover, not only is there deepening
inequality within countries but, in the region taken as a whole, there
– to take one glaring example – a situation in which South Africa’s
economic power now merely complements global capitalist power in holding
impoverished people of southern Africa in quasi-colonial thrall (as the
six-part series of Africafiles' Ezine
on South Africa in the southern Africa region recently documented) –
while doing disturbingly little to better the lot of such people, the
majority both in South Africa and elsewhere.
Or take the Southern
Development Community: it has become (albeit with a few honourable
primarily a Club of Presidents that reveal itself to be – as the sad
its kid-gloves treatment of Zimbabwe and its backing of an otherwise
embattled Mugabe amply demonstrates – to be more a source of tacit
the status quo than a force for facilitating any kind of just transition
effective democracy in Zimbabwe.
| ||What we now have, instead of a liberated
southern Africa that is vibrant, humane and just, is a region of a very
different sort indeed... The current global situation offers no real
alternatives, no real hope. || |
truth, it is now often said by people of
left persuasion that the current global situation offers no real
no real hope, for Africa (including southern Africa). It cannot, they
count on any plausible socialist alternative (see Gabriel Kolko’s deeply
unsettling After Socialism).
Moreover, a seasoned observer like Giovanni Arrighi can only urge Africa
look to a relatively benign China (a doubtful haven of hope, one fears)
to the kinder and gentler practices of its own elites in order to
a marginal adjustment to its desperate plight. Others fall back on the
unlikely prospect of a revolutionary transformation of the exploitative
then lift many of the key barriers towards a brighter future.
has recently written to me: "I don’t see how the South can ever liberate
itself in the absence of a new socialist project becoming powerful in
North." Yet he feels forced to add
that "I don’t see that happening until people are hurting and see no
prospect of meeting their personal needs under globalized neoliberalism,
until a new left movement with a serious attitude to organization and
democracy." But this is a faint hope too, my correspondent – who
to feeling "very pessimistic" – obviously fears.
revolution in the global capitalist centres, however, what are the
prospects for some dramatic change occurring within the region itself,
necessarily, driven from below? The present author has called elsewhere
next liberation struggle" in southern Africa for precisely this reason, a
struggle, like the one that is currently afoot in several places in
America for example, that seeks to at least neutralise the intervention
imperialist forces from the North while also facilitating the
its own people in political and economic terms.
And there are
– as will be surveyed on a country by country basis in the articles that
– localised and grassroots resistances in the region in a wide variety
settings and on a broad range of policy fronts that seek to make headway
even to begin to add up to potential hegemonic alternatives to the
liberation movements that we still see in power.
Moreover, some attempts
resist – the initial rise of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in opposition to Mugabe for
the removal of the brazen Thabo Mbeki from South Africa’s presidency
end of his term; the dramatic grassroots resistance, especially in
Africa, to the AIDS pandemic that stalks the entire region; and the
signs of a
resurgent economic nationalism that threatens to renegotiate contracts
private sector and even to reverse certain privatisations – do begin to
promise: promise, that is, to "add up", even if to this point, "not
quite" and certainly "not yet"!
| ||There are ... grassroots resistances in the
region ... that seek to make headway and even to begin to add up to
potential hegemonic alternatives to the failed liberation movements that
we still see in power. || |
the question remains: how might one
hope, even expect, that the diverse instances of resistance that are
could come to pose hegemonic alternatives in southern Africa to the
recolonisation that has been the fate of that part of the continent in
of its seeming "liberation"? What might Africans on the ground in the
region have to do next, and how can they best be supported from outside
doing so? Equally importantly, how might residents of the global North
themselves in order – with respect to any "next liberation support
struggle" – to best assist them: staying the hand of our own governments
and corporations on the one hand and speaking out clearly and
behalf of such movements for genuine liberation on the ground on the
thing is clear: the liberation struggle continues. We cannot live in the
(recent) past. We must act to shape the future.
[A witness to the unfolding events of the liberation movements in
southern Africa, John S. Saul, professor emeritus, social and political science, York University, Canada, taught at the University of Dar es Salaam in
Tanzania, the University of Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, Mozambique, and
at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.]
S. Saul, "Liberation Support and Anti-Apartheid Work as Seeds of Global
Consciousness: The Birth of Solidarity with Southern African Struggles,"
Karen Dubinsky, et. al (eds.), New World
Coming: The Sixties and the Shaping of Global Consciousness
Between the Lines, 2009), 139-40; see also John S. Saul, Revolutionary
Traveller: Freeze-Frames from
a Life (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring, 2009).
Mzukisi, as cited in Fredrick Nzwili, "South Africa: Pastor says poverty
is worse than apartheid," from Ecumenical
News International and circulated by AfricaFiles (September 10,
AfricaFiles' At Issue Ezine, "Vol
8: South Africa in Africa" (2008).
Ordinary Country: Issues in the Transition from Apartheid to Democracy
Africa. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 2002.
Arrighi, Giovanni. "The African Crisis," in New Left Review 15
Bauer, Gretchen, and Scott D. Taylor, eds. Politics in Southern
Africa: State and
Society in Transition. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2005.
Gumede, William. Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the
ANC. London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008.
Hanlon, Joseph, and Teresa
Smart. Do Bicycles Equal Development in
Mozambique? London: Boydell and
McDonald, Michael. Why
Race Matters in South Africa. Cambridge and London: Harvard
Henning. Re-examining Liberation in
Namibia: Political Culture Since Independence. Uppsala: Nordiska
Nattrass, Nicoli, and Jeremy Seekings. Race, Class and Inequality in
New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005.
Brian, and Alois Mlambo. Becoming Zimbabwe:
A History from the Pre-colonial Period to 2008. Harare: Weaver
Saul, John S. The
Next Liberation Struggle: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy in
Africa. Toronto, Durban, New York and London: Between the Lines,
of Kwazulu-Natal Press, Monthly Review Press, The Merlin Press, 2005.
Saul, John S. "The Strange Death of Liberated
Southern Africa," in Decolonization
and Empire. Delhi, London and Johannesburg: Three Essays
Press, and University of Witwatersrand Press, 2007.
Saul, John S. "Arrighi and Africa," in Review of African Political
Saul, John S. Liberation
Lite: The Roots of Recolonization in Southern Africa. Delhi: Three
Terreblanche, Sampie. A History of Inequality in South Africa,
University of Natal Press, 2002.
Turok, Ben. The
Evolution of ANC Economic Policy: From the Freedom Charter to Polokwane.
Town: New Agenda, 2008.