Dear comrades, glad to meet and to create a transcontinental communication and solidarity with you. We are an anarchist magazine/website from Turkey/Kurdistan. We can not say that we label ourselves anarcho-communists but mostly we agree in principles of solidarity, mutual aid, organized struggle and a world without bosses, states, ruling classes etc. the most important thing is for us to be in solidarity with all anarchists, libertarians and social movements which seek to destroy capitalism, states and dominations of all kinds. Only way to achieve success in class war against capitalism and its all apparatus, is to organize, to stay in touch/contact and to stay strong against it together.
There are lots of documents about ZACF but mostly English. We have very few sources in turkish. So that we feel to inform anarchists and libertarians who are reading and speaking turkish about your long term struggle in South Africa. So that we have some questions which our comrades may wonder about you? Here are questions:
As far as we could follow, the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation is more focused on working class organizations such as trade unions and cooperatives. In that sense, is the ZACF a movement based on class war? What are the differing points from the Marxist class struggle ideas? Are there any trade unionist organizations within the body of the ZACF? If there are, how are they working?
Zabalaza: It is correct to say that the ZACF, or Zabalaza (meaning “struggle” in the Xhosa and Zulu languages), is focused on working class organisation(s) and class war, or what we call the class struggle.
However, we understand the “working class” in a broad sense, which includes peasants, rural and urban workers; permanent, precarious (e.g. temporary, “casual” and outsourced) and informal workers; blue and white collar workers; the unemployed and the families of all of the above. When we talk about working class organisation we mean when any of these sections of the working class organise themselves to fight against oppression and exploitation, in defence of their rights and interests and for improvements in their conditions and for more freedom and control over their lives.
So, by “working class” we do not just mean factory workers. We mean the oppressed and exploited majority of society.
Our aim is that, through daily struggles and organisation, the working class develops the necessary class consciousness and capacity for self-management and struggle to build a revolutionary working class counter-power that, through struggle, seeks to accumulate the social force necessary to overthrow capitalism and the state and replace it with a self-managed, federalist and classless society: anarchist communism.
We support – in principle – any social movements and forms of struggle that promote and defend the rights and interests of the broad working class – including trade unions and other workers’ organisations (for example workers’ cooperatives) – but also organisations of the unemployed, informal workers, working class residents’ and community organisations, student organisations and other progressive social movements and struggles such as feminist and LGBTI, environmental, anti-xenophobia etc.
The struggle of the working class is the struggle against all forms of oppression: we definitely do not see the issues of the working class as simply the issues of exploitation by bosses and the state. It is in the interest of the working class to fight for as many rights as possible, to resist as much oppression as possible, and to play the leading role in the fight against all oppression. Otherwise those fights will just be hijacked by new elites: as we have seen, for example, decolonisation often leads to the rise of new postcolonial ruling classes, not real freedom for the majority.
To unite the working class, it is essential to fight against all divisions in the class. And this includes fighting against the special (or extra) oppression faced by those in the class who are also subject to racism, or national oppression, or oppression as women. It is also a policy of principled solidarity and unity, based on a relentless battle against all oppression. But at the same time, only the working class revolution can lay the basis for a society free of all forms of oppression, by tearing up the structures – notably capitalism and the state – that help generate and reproduce oppression, and by generating a new social order that can remove the historical legacies of oppression. And the working class revolution can never happen if it does not unite as many as possible, against oppression, domination and exploitation. So we see feminist issues, for example, as working class issues.
We believe that it is crucial for as many workers as possible to be organised and united into organisations to defend their interests as workers; that is into trade unions and workers’ organisations (and these organisations should also take up the struggle against sexism, racism etc. as part of the class struggle). For us unions have a double purpose both to defend workers’ rights and fight for their immediate interests under capitalist society, and through this daily struggle, to build experience and confidence and develop the class consciousness, organisational capacity and social force necessary to take over the means of production and place them under worker control and self-management through a revolutionary general strike. However, unlike many Marxists, we do not only see the traditional industrial worker as the revolutionary subject – as vital to the revolution as they are – but believe worker organisation should be generalised across all sectors and industries and include and attempt to organise and unite all categories of workers.
No. There are no trade union organisations within the body of the ZACF. The ZACF is a small political organisation of “active minority”, meaning an organisation of committed and convinced anarchists that work together to promote anarchist ideas and practices amongst popular movements and organisations of the working class – such as trade unions, township-based community organisations and progressive social movements – by working within and supporting them, developing analysis and disseminating propaganda, carrying out anarchist political education and waging the “battle of ideas” (i.e. fighting for anarchism to become the “leading idea” among working class organisations and struggles). We call our approach “Platformist,” or “especifista,” (the Latin American concept of anarchist organisation developed by the Federación Anarquista Uruguaya–FAU) but this basic idea – the need for a well organised anarchist formation, with clear ideas and shared strategy and collective responsibility – obviously goes back to the activity of Bakunin’s “Alliance” in the 1860s and 1870s.
We do not aim to establish new purely anarchist/anarcho-syndicalist unions from scratch, but rather to influence existing unions and worker organisations and initiatives in a revolutionary direction by trying to win workers to anarchist ideas. The strength of a union lies in the number of its members – and their level of class consciousness and willingness to struggle – and unions should thus be open to all workers, regardless of their ideology and political affiliation. Instead of workers being divided ideologically into an anarchist union, a Marxist union and a social democratic union, for example, workers should be united into one union with all members and progressive/left political currents free to propagate and argue for their ideological positions and ideas, strategies and tactics etc. within the union; and for the members themselves to decide collectively on the course to be taken after analysing and discussing the different proposals. Forming new, pure, anarchist trade unions ends up isolating the revolutionaries: the broad masses do not join, because the union is too small and too pure, and the reformist and bureaucratic leaders of most existing unions, as well as the political parties that use union members as cash cows and voting cattle will be only too happy to see the revolutionaries giving up the fight. Because, let us be clear, we would want to “bore-from-within” the existing unions, and fight the battle of ideas there!
This is another difference with traditional Marxist ideas, as many Marxist political organisations and parties aim either to establish their own trade unions, associated with their party, or win or capture the leadership of existing unions, and use their influence to win “mass” support from the workers for the Marxist party. As Marxist parties generally also seek to capture state power trade unions are often used either to get votes for the Marxist party and install it in government by parliamentary means or, in revolutionary situations, to help put the party in power by force (e.g. insurrectionary general strike).
Rather than using trade unions to help put the party into state power, however, the anarchist political organisation sees trade unions as tools to overthrow capitalism and the state and put social and economic life under worker self-management and community control – instead of under the control of a Marxist or any other so-called workers’ or socialist government or party.
Similarly, instead of trying to put socialists into power in order to implement laws and reforms that would favour workers, we believe that meaningful victories for workers and improvements in their conditions can only be successfully won and defended through combative and direct struggle; outside and against the state.
How do organization processes and decision-making work? What do you think about the horizontal (web type) organization and decision-making models?
Zabalaza: In terms of decision-making Zabalaza operates according to the principles of direct democracy and collective responsibility. We have monthly meetings where our activities are assessed, proposals are made and discussed and tactical and day-to-day decisions about our work and focus are made. These meetings are open to all our members (although unfortunately our members outside Gauteng can’t usually attend) and all members have a right to make proposals, express their opinions and agreements and disagreements. Where possible we seek consensus but when this is not possible decisions are taken by majority vote, majority being 50% +1 of the members.
Members who cannot participate in meetings can add items to the agenda, make submissions to the meetings and cast a proxy vote via our email list. Meeting are also minuted and minutes circulated to all members so that everyone is aware of any decisions made, discussions and disagreements had as well as any tasks they might have been asked to carry out or mandates they might have been given.
The ZACF has two categories of membership: (full) members and supporters.
Supporters are people who are either in the process of joining the organisation and becoming full members; people that can not – or do not want to – commit to the responsibilities and requirements of full membership; or former members who have taken a leave of absence or temporarily reduced their activity and responsibility in the organisation for external reasons (e.g. personal, academic, professional). Both full members and supporters have a right to voice and to vote on administrative and tactical decisions within the organisation, made at monthly ZACF general meetings. However, when organisation-wide tactical decisions and decisions about the daily functioning of the organisation need to be made quickly, before the next general meetings is scheduled to take place, we can either: a) Attempt to poll the full membership telephonically, by SMS or WhatsApp. b) If time does not permit us to poll the whole membership we can try poll full members only and, if necessary, c) the elected ZACF Office Bearers (International Secretary, Regional Secretary and Treasurer) are empowered by the Congress that elects them to make executive decisions on tactical and administrative matters when urgency prevents them from polling other members or waiting for the next meeting.
When making decisions the ZACF seeks consensus between all its members and supporters. However, although supporters have a right to freely voice their opinions in discussions about the strategic direction of the organisation – as adopted at (usually) annual ZACF Congresses – only full members can vote on long-term strategic decisions if it comes down to a vote. That is to say that, although supporters can influence the decision through debate, only full members can formally change the strategic direction of the organisation or amend the https://zabalaza.net/organise/constitution-of-the-zacf/.
The ZACF Constitution – the founding document of the organisation, together with its 13 a https://zabalaza.net/organise/theoretical-positions-of-the-zacf/ – allows for minority faction rights within the organisation. This means that members (including supporters) who disagree with the decisions made by the majority of the organisation have a right to have their positions recorded, distributed and debated internally; and they can try to persuade the rest of the organisation of their position through caucusing, internal discussions etc.
However, all members are expected to represent, defend and work to implement majority positions and decisions publicly.
People know before they join the organisation that sometimes they might lose a debate and be part of a minority that disagrees with a majority decision, and that they will be expected to implement and defend that decision anyway. This is because the ZACF subscribes to the principle of collective responsibility, which means that each and every member is responsible for defending and implementing the political practice of the organisation as a whole and takes responsibility for the decisions made. Similarly, the organisation as a whole takes responsibility for the actions and conduct of each of its members.
Potential members are made to know this in advance, before joining the organisation, and they can decide not to join if they disagree. Similarly, because of the principle of freedom of association, any member who disagrees with a majority decision and does not want to defend it publicly or implement it is free to leave the organisation at any time if they feel so strongly about the disagreement. Potential members are invited to join the organisation – if the entire membership agrees to this (the only instance of consensus decision-making in the ZACF) – based on the person’s commitment, understanding of anarchist ideas, agreement with the aims and objectives of the ZACF and its strategy and tactics etc.; but people join at their own discretion and can leave at any time if they want to. As long as they are members, however, they agree to abide by the Constitution of the ZACF and to uphold and promote its aims and ideas and contribute to its political practice.
In terms of the above Zabalaza supports horizontal organisation, what we call “federalism”, and directly democratic methods of decision-making where everyone affected by a decision has a say – which means everyone in the organisation because of the collective responsibility described above.
However, although Zabalaza tries to reach consensus in all our decision-making we reject consensus as a principle because we believe that, contrary to what a lot of people in activist circles think, consensus decision-making can actually be very authoritarian and undemocratic. For example, if you have ten people in a group and all but one of them agree on a particular decision, nine people would have to change their position and try and find a compromise in order to accommodate the one person that disagrees. In this way the one person who disagrees exercises disproportionate power over the other nine who agree, and can “hold them to ransom” and force them to change or compromise their position in order to reach consensus. Thus, for us, consensus is desirable, where possible, but not a principle. Rather, we try to reach a natural consensus by developing ideological, strategic and tactical unity and theoretical understanding within the organisation – through ongoing internal political education, theoretical development and organisational training – so that, when it comes to making decisions, all (or almost all) members would generally be in agreement naturally, because they have a shared understanding of the theoretical, strategic and tactical justifications behind a particular proposal or decision.
Can you tell us, by starting with the movement against the evictions and privatization during 2000s, about your demands and experiences? How do you evaluate the squatting movement against the displacement policies and practices such as privatization and evictions?
Zabalaza: In the early 2000s, there was a wave of struggles against the implementation and effects of neoliberal policies by the African National Congress (ANC)-led government and a mushrooming of largely township-based community organisations fighting the associated privatisation and commercialisation of public services, evictions, electricity and water cut-offs etc. The ANC, the party of Nelson Mandela, emerged as the main force in the anti-apartheid struggle by the 1990s, but once in office, embraced neo-liberalism.
These struggles led to the formation of what were called the “new social movements” – the first real expression of new forms of organised working class resistance since the end of apartheid – such as the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), Anti-Eviction Campaign and Landless People’s Movement (LPM). These mostly emerged from 2000 onwards.
Of course, the older working class formations – notably the big unions in the ANC-allied Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and the South African Communist Party (SACP), also allied to the ANC – remained very important. But their alliance with the ANC crippled their politics, and increasingly corrupted their leaders. The formations like APF were distinctive in being explicitly critical of the ANC, and proposing a left-wing alternative. Sometimes that alternative was not clear. But it was clear that sectors of the working class – especially the unemployed, and the pensioners – were willing to break publicly with ANC. That was an amazing achievement at the time.
The ZACF was primarily involved with the Gauteng-based APF and, later, with the LPM in the Protea South informal settlement in Soweto.The APF – formed in mid-2000 – had a wide range of demands centred around the effects of, and struggle against, the ANC’s neoliberal economic policies and the commercialisation and privatisation of public enterprises and services, such as electricity and water provision. This involved direct action campaigns to have debt scrapped by “guerrilla electricians” illegally reconnecting thousands of household’s water and electricity after it was cut-off for non-payment, bypassing and resisting the installation of prepaid meters, uprooting meters in protest against privatisation of basic services and legalistic means like taking the state and private water company to the Constitutional Court for preventing people from accessing their constitutional right to water.
Amongst other things (anti-war, anti-xenophobia, strike solidarity etc. activities) community organisations affiliated to the APF were also involved in community struggles and protests for improved service delivery and development, against evictions, police brutality and corrupt or unaccountable officials etc.
The APF developed significant influence and social force and was able to win a number of concessions and victories. However, it also had some key weaknesses: the APF relied on foreign donors and local NGOs for its funding, and when the main funder decided not to renew its 3-year funding cycle the APF was unable to find other ways of generating the resources necessary to sustain the organisation and its activities, contributing to its decline. Coupled to this, the APF – despite good intentions – did not do a good job of developing new layers of militants with a radical world view, or consistently bottom-up democratic structures. Discussion was often reduced to the issue of privatisation; education rarely developed serious theory or skills; some important challenges in the structure were papered over.
Owing to the desperation of many of the APFs militants, as with others of the new social movements, it was also susceptible to cooption, careerism, burnout etc. Social movements struggled to build and maintain a layer of experienced and committed activist leaders because activists that had proven their capabilities in struggle were drawn into full-time positions working for NGOs, which took them away from the daily struggles of the grassroots and left a vacuum of leadership open to opportunists etc. Social movements like the APF and LPM were also victim of state repression and infiltration and some activists were coopted by the state into spying on the APF and its leading activists, and LPM activists were arrested and tortured. Many activists were simply forced to abandon the new social movements because of the daily pressures of survival and didn’t have time for activism while also trying to make ends meet. The movements were often heavily built around immediate issues, like electricity cut-offs, so victories could lead to a halt in activity: there was not much of a serious engagement on the larger tasks of where the movements should go, beyond just opposing cut-offs, or evictions, or privatisation …
Another factor which contributed to the decline of the APF and new social movements was the sometimes divisive and destructive role played by part of the Left (including left academics, socialist parties and political groupings etc.), which fought for control over the APF and other social movements. Many tended to see the APF and related movements as a stepping stone to building a political party to contest elections. Contesting elections was seen mainly as a way of making propaganda. So, the idea of building up the struggles and movements towards a revolutionary working class counter-power – for example, into the nucleus of resident-based organs of self-government and self-management that could supplant the state – was not entertained. For this Left, the way ahead was always a political party, and the new movements were just a means to an end.
Because serious political issues and debates were not really addressed, in the course of APF work, many ordinary members were alienated and confused. This alienated many ordinary members, who suddenly found a drive to push for the APF to declare itself “socialist” (again, a label that was not clearly discussed), and an attitude by some that ordinary APF work was nothing but “reformist.” So actual APF community social work and capacities, and initiatives like income generating projects (e.g. food gardens) that could have helped provide for some of the militants’ basic material needs, making them less susceptible to cooption, careerism and dropping out of activism was not taken seriously – thus contributing to making the APF itself more financially independent and self-reliant.
Importantly, there was a lack of clear politics and a revolutionary long-term vision of social transformation and how to achieve it among much of the grassroots membership – and disagreement among the Left. Because many of the affiliates organised around single issue struggles, for example against prepaid water meters or evictions, they sometimes fell into inactivity when that particular struggle had been won or lost, instead of looking for ways to maintain activity and build struggle around other issues. We must stress that as anarchists we did our best to fight for a better direction for APF!
In your opinion, where do the path of anti-apartheid movements cross with the path of the anarchist movements? What places did anarchists take in the anti-apartheid movements? What can we say about anarchists in struggle years against apartheid regime? And what can you say about relations between Communist Party of South Africa and ANC?
Zabalaza: Unfortunately, for most of the struggle against apartheid anarchism was not present and was almost or completely unknown and non-existent in South Africa.
By the 1930s, the small but very significant anarchist and syndicalist movement of the first part of the century had disappeared and anarchism only began to reemerge in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the largely white and Indian punk sub-cultural scene, and also some anti-apartheid university student activists etc. The big traditions of South African radicalism remain black nationalism and Marxism-Leninism.
However, there are experiences of struggle where the black working class adopted practices of self-organisation and resistance with anarchistic characteristics -- although it would not have been influenced by or exposed to anarchist ideas at the time.
One example is a group in the 1950s called Movement for a Democracy of Content that, although not anarchist, is said to have been influenced by the ideas of Murray Bookchin and his group of the same name. This group had a somewhat libertarian socialist character – remember, Bookchin was still developing his ideas then –and was involved in organising large-scale bus boycotts against the apartheid state-contracted bus company PUTCO in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, in 1957.
Another example is the organisation of community self-defence units that defended black communities from political attacks in the 1980s, but also dealt with crime and other anti-social behaviour in the community instead of relying on or deferring to the apartheid state or black local authorities. People in black townships sometimes also organised “civics” (community organisations) in a sort of bottom-up or federalist manner whereby street committees comprising local residents were federated with street committees from surrounding streets to form block committees, which then federated with committees from surrounding blocks to form ward committees and so on to coordinate activities on a wider scale etc. Again, these initiatives, part of the insurrectionary “people’s power” movement of the time all had limits – for example, many were captured by the ANC, and sometimes became quote intolerant of non-ANC positions – but showed the libertarian tendencies.
In the first half of the 1980s, there was also the quasi syndicalist, or “workerist", Federation of South African Trade Unions (Fosatu) which, influenced by the New Left, and at times, indirectly by anarcho-syndicalist ideas, had a number of principles similar to those of anarchist trade unionism/syndicalism, such as worker control, worker independence from party politics, internationalism, non-racialism and strong grassroots organisation and democracy. Like anarchists Fosatu’s “workerists” also opposed the two phase “National Democratic Revolution” promoted by the SACP (first, the struggle for liberal democracy and a black majority government and then, only once that was consolidated, the struggle for socialism) in favour of a “one stage” revolution simultaneously against apartheid and capitalism in pursuit of socialism. It also spoke in terms of “workers control” of production and society. However, the “workerists” did not have a clear understanding of what that socialist society would look like and how it would function, nor a coherent strategy on how to get there.
It was only in the late 1980s and early 1990s that anarchism began to re-emerge in South Africa, as stated above, but it did not play any significant role in the struggle against apartheid. It emerged against the backdrop of titanic struggles and victories, but was marginal to them, and was battling to find its own direction. The early 1990s saw the first organized groups, and study circles, and these led directly to the formation, in 1995, of the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), from which ZACF is, in important ways, descended. *** For most of its early existence the ANC was not a mass movement, but a relatively small organisation of professional blacks that aspired to create a black bourgeoisie by opening up “fresh fields for the development of a prosperous Non-European bourgeois class”, in the words of Mandela in the 1950s. “For the first time in the history of this country the Non-European bourgeoisie will have the opportunity to own in their own name and right mills and factories, and trade and private enterprise will boom and flourish as never before”. Because it was an organisation that represented the interests of a small more privileged – but frustrated – class of blacks, it needed to ally itself with the SACP to get the support of “the masses”. For the nationalist black elite of the ANC they just had to adopt a little bit of socialist rhetoric and their alliance with the SACP could win them mass support and help put them into power once apartheid was ended. For the SACP an alliance with the ANC and adherence to its two phase NDR conformed with the Communist International’s position that the immediate task in the colonial and semi-colonial world was national independence and cooperation with nationalists – socialism coming later, somehow.
Once in power the ANC government carried out widespread privatisation and implemented extensive neoliberal reforms that led to massive retrenchments and unemployment, cuts in social spending at the same time as increases in the cost of basic services, evictions and water and electricity cut-offs etc. Twenty years into the ANC’s privatisation and neoliberal restructuring and the SACP, whose General Secretary is the Minister for Higher Education and Training, still defends the ANC and its policies and conducts election campaigns on its behalf. Either because they have become part of the bourgeoisie and their class interests have changed and they no longer desire socialism, or because they blindly follow Marx’s teleological logic that socialism is not possible until the forces of production have been fully developed under capitalism. Consequently, the SACP defends the very policies that are devastating the South African working class as “developmental” and necessary to developing the forces of production in order to prepare the ground for the second stage of the NDR: the struggle for socialism, which, by the way, the SACP sees in terms of state socialism. What this has meant is that the SACP leadership has become completely enmeshed in the ANC-led capitalist state, and the SACP has withered as a mass formation.
However, the more entrenched and consolidated neoliberalism and the incumbent ANC-SACP alliance become the further socialism recedes into the distance.
What do you think about the social movements and forms of struggle such as feminist, LGBTI, ecologist movements?
Zabalaza: As stated previously the ZACF supports, in principle, all progressive social movements; including feminist, LGBTI and ecological movements. However, class struggle is absolutely central for the ZACF and the class character and interests of a particular social movement would determine our practical support for it.
We believe that all forms of oppression intersect at the point of class, are complemented and compounded by it, and are reproduced and maintained to divide the working class, facilitate exploitation and maintain class domination to the benefit of the ruling class – both private capitalists and top state officials etc. Non-class oppressions, such as sexism and racism, help uphold the capitalist and state system, but are also reinforced by it. In order to destroy capitalism and the state it is necessary therefore to destroy all the other oppressions that hold them up; and in order to destroy non-class oppressions it is also necessary to destroy capitalism and the state – or the class divisions created by capitalism and the state, if left intact, will either lead to the reemergence of the same non-class oppressions or produce new social hierarchies and oppressive relations.
We therefore believe that progressive social movements should be based on a class struggle programme that puts class struggle against capitalism and the state at the centre, and links struggles against non-class oppressions to a working class programme of independent and autonomous resistance and organisation to overthrow capitalism and the state and end the class system – while also recognising that the struggle against such non-class oppressions is fundamental to and inseparable from this programme. Progressive movements that do not have a class struggle approach – that do not seek to abolish capitalism and the state at the same time as ending other oppressions – can at best treat the symptoms of the problem, but will always fail to win far-reaching, substantial and sustainable changes and gains because they fail to confront the problem at its core.
The ZACF rejects the idea that all women, regardless of their class background and status, have the same interests and share a common struggle, or that all blacks or LGBTI people, rich or poor, have the same interests and share a common struggle.
Because racism and sexism help to maintain capitalism and class rule, ruling class women, for example, benefit from patriarchy – even if they are sometimes victims of sexism – because it helps protect their class interests and position in the ruling class. Similarly, while a black capitalist might experience some racism in the corporate boardrooms he still benefits from racism, in terms of his class interests, because of its effect in keeping the working class divided.
As we said, non-class forms of oppression such as sexism and racism are central to maintaining the capitalist and state system by weakening and dividing the working class (in the broad terms described earlier) and, at the same time, these forms of oppression can only be ended by overthrowing the system of state and capitalism. Therefore, a class struggle approach – one that seeks to end these non-class oppressions as well as overthrow capitalism and the state – to fighting these forms of oppression is central. As such, the ZACF would be dismissive of a feminist or LGBTI movement that struggled, for example, to have female/homosexual/queer presidents and CEOs of corporations but did not challenge the role, nature and structure of these institutions themselves.
What about the Marikana massacre in 2012? What really happened there? Did anarchist's have interventions in strikes? Was there any role of anarchists (or ZACF) in strikes, and any injurings, arrestees from anarchists? And after the massacre was there any changes like retreats or suppression in class struggle in South Africa or in contrast did the rage against the rulling class grow?
Zabalaza: What happened at Marikana is that the South African state, under the ANC, colluded with the British-owned Lonmin mine owners to kill 34 striking mine workers in order to end a strike that was affecting capitalists’ profits and threatening to scare off foreign investment. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was a shareholder in the Lonim mine at the time, was exposed as having exerted political pressure on the police to deal decisively with the strike the day before 34 striking miners were killed by the police on 16 August 2012. It is clear from video footage of the massacre that the miners were led into an ambush, and evidence later emerged that police hunted down and executed some miners at a second scene – the existence of which they tried to conceal – and prevented ambulances and first aid from accessing the scenes to treat injured workers.
The contemporary anarchist movement in South Africa is small and marginal and there was no anarchist involvement or intervention in the Marikana and platinum strikes themselves, although anarchists were involved in demonstrations and campaigns for justice for the Marikana workers after the massacre, in solidarity activities and campaigns during the strike and also did limited political work in Marikana after the massacre but did not make inroads.
The Marikana massacre certainly exposed the ANC government and dispelled the illusions that many black working class people still had in the ANC, eroding its legitimacy. The events of Marikana and clarifying and radicalising effect they had on platinum miners certainly influenced the 70 000 strong five month long platinum strike – the longest and most costly strike in South Africa’s history – in 2014.
Since Marikana, almost daily community protests and revolts have continued unabated across the country and, in late 2015, tertiary student struggles against financial exclusion and racism erupted at universities across the country; soon followed by significant struggles against outsourcing by workers working at universities. For many of the students involved, as with protesting communities and striking workers, Marikana would have helped to expose the real character of the ANC government and to dispelled their illusions in it.
However, the tertiary student uprising faced severe state and private repression, and there are countless instances of criminalisation of community protest across the country all the time. When protesters are arrested for participating in community protests where they blockade roads, burn tyres etc. they are charged with public violence, which is treated as a criminal act.
Because the ANC government lost a lot of legitimacy in the eyes of the people because of what it did at Marikana it will increasingly have to rely on repression to maintain its rule.
Can you give some information about anarchist movement in South Africa? And how the people reacts anarchist ideas and activities? Are there any other libertarian/anarchist groups/collectives like minded or from different tendencies? And how are relations? Are there any strict seperations between anarchists?
Zabalaza: Historically, the early anarchist and syndicalist movement in South Africa was a small but influential current within the broader socialist and labour movement. The first trade unions for blacks in South Africa were established by anarchists and syndicalists in the early twentieth century.
However, for a variety of reasons (the growing influence of Bolshevism after the Russian Revolution, state repression etc.) the anarchist and syndicalist movement had virtually disappeared by the 1930s and didn’t begin to resurface until the late 1980s or early 1990s.
Nowadays, the anarchist movement in South Africa is very small and does not have a lot of influence in the struggles that are raging across the country, although it is slowly growing and a few more people are starting to be exposed to – and influenced by – anarchist ideas. Generally, most people in progressive social movements and on the socialist left agree with a lot of anarchist ideas when they are introduced to them. However, because of the recent struggle for the right of blacks to vote, and because of nationalist and Marxist fixations with state power, many people find it very difficult to accept the anarchist position that social movements and socialist groups should not engage in elections or voting, and that we should build movements outside and against the state. Statism is a massive influence on South African political culture, and many people think that elections can solve everything. And the political parties hype this all the time.
Because of the dismal failure of the ANC government to implement any changes, however, more people are slowly starting to feel that change can not come from engaging in the electoral circus; but this is still a small minority and, because of the influence of the many small Marxist groupings, many people are still under the illusion that radical change can come through the electoral system and the state if independent candidates or a “mass workers party” can be voted into power.
The ZACF is the longest established anarchist group in southern Africa, and has an extensive record of publishing and organising. We wish there were more groups, but there are not. Small groups emerge now and then, but few last. One important formation worth mentioning, however, is a hip-hop collective from Cape Town called Soundz of the South (SoS). Although it is not a strictly anarchist collective (it has members who are influenced by black nationalism, for example) the anarchist members of the collective share the same class struggle analysis as the ZACF and we have a lot in common. Perhaps the only reason that we don’t work more closely together is because Zabalaza is mostly based in Gauteng, whereas SOS is in Cape Town.
We are not sectarian: we will and do work with a wide range of progressive forces. This was shown by our role in, for example, the APF and LPM. The key is that we work on the terrain of working class struggle, which means, in practice, we work in, and with, black working class neighbourhoods and organisations. We do not believe that everyone who calls themselves anarchist must work together, just because of a common label. The label is not a basis for unity: we really can’t see much point in working with people that call themselves anarchist, but reject basic principles of anarchism, like class struggle, or who are not involved in, or do not support, working class movements and struggles. We would rather have relations and cooperate, tactically, with the non-anarchist Left and social movements and unions, involved in class struggle. Of course, we have disagreements on many issues with these others, and fight to win the battle of ideas. But what counts is that we go to the masses of the people, because that is where that battle is waged. We are not interested in being part of an isolated or purist radical science.
We know about an ABCN publication: Black Alert. Is network still working? Is there any reppression against anarchists or libertarian/anarchist prisoners exist in prisons? What about prisons in South Africa?
Zabalaza: The Anarchist Black Cross-South Africa was a small ZACF-linked collective that did anti-repression and solidarity work and prisoner support. It published only three issues of the newsletter Black Alert, was involved in establishing a short-lived Anti-Repression Network with other progressive organisations in response to the escalation of state repression and targeting and criminalisation of social movements. ABC-SA also established and, for a while, maintained contact with anti-apartheid political prisoners that were still in prison; leading to the establishment of a clandestine study group on anarchism at one prison. The group stopped with the death of the main figure in organising it, Abel Ramarope, apartheid political prisoner turned anarchist. The ABC stopped its activities not long after.
The South African state does not specifically target anarchists for repression because we are not that significant yet, but township-based anarchists and members of ZACF sometimes experience intimidation and threats from the local elite and ruling party supporters who might see their ideas and activities within the community as a threat to their dominance.
Do you have anarchist/libertarian contacts with other countries in Africa?
Zabalaza: Currently, we only have anarchist contacts in Zimbabwe. We used to have contact with some anarchists in Swaziland, two of whom were originally members of ZACF when they lived in Soweto, but we have lost contact and are not sure about their status.
We also used to have contact with the anarcho-syndicalist Awareness League in Nigeria, which was affiliated to the IWA, but it hasn’t existed for some years and its leading militant, Sam Mbah, with whom we previously had contact, died in 2014.
In the wake of the Arab Spring we established contact with an anarchist group in Egypt called Libertarian Socialist Movement but again we have not had contact with them lately and are not sure of their status or activities.
And what can you say about the character Mandela who were flattered like Gandhi and Martin Luther King by global capitalists? You know, ruling classes mostly prefer some parliamentarist, pasicist or reformist oppositions or "revolutions". Can we make any comparision between Mandela and Gandhi or Martin Luther King? Or The Guardian Journal wrote some similarities between Mandela and Abdullah Öcalan (prisoned PKK Leader). What do you think about it?
Zabalaza: On Mandela, we need to be very clear about dispelling the myth that has been created that he was a pacifist in the vein of Gandhi. Mandela was jailed for armed struggle aimed at the violent overthrow of the apartheid state. These days, he is presented as a sort of gentle saint, which is not true.
We can respect and do Mandela’s struggle against apartheid racism, and his refusal to turn his back on armed struggle. Obviously in the fight against apartheid, he was on the right side, the side of the oppressed. But that does not mean we do not criticise him or his legacy. As a leader of the ANC, he was always committed to the view that a post-apartheid South Africa would be capitalist. It would be deeply changed, to uproot white supremacy and “monopoly capitalism,” but would also enable “fresh fields for the development of a prosperous Non-European bourgeois class” in a society where “private enterprise will boom and flourish as never before”. So he was a reformist, in that his aims were narrow. So, while Mandela was closer to Öcalan, in embracing armed struggle, the ANC was always a far less radical party than the PKK, in its Marxist-Leninist days, or in its present period of being more influenced by libertarian ideas.
Even though Mandela was, in fact, briefly in the leadership of the SACP, this did not change matters: recall that the aim of the SACP itself was not socialism, but the NDR. So, the ANC/ SACP armed struggle was militant, but it was not revolutionary. By the mid-1980s, a large part of the ANC and SACP leadership, as well as the leaders of the apartheid state, were at an impasse, a deadlock: neither side could win. So plans were put in place to start a process of negotiated transition.
At one level, that transition was a great achievement: for the first time in 350 years, the territories that became South Africa had a bourgeois parliamentary system; the authoritarian, racist apartheid system of rule was abolished, along with its segregation, terror and suppression; but at the same time, all the limits of bourgeois “democracy” were and are evident. Capitalism remained, the state remained, class rule remained. The horrific legacy of apartheid, expressed in everything from miserable living conditions for the black working class, and a situation where 70% of young African men and women are unemployed, remained. How can this be removed without a radical redistibution of wealth and power? It cannot, and that requires revolution. But what we have is a capitalism system where, while the black elite has expanded massively, the bedrock of society remains a racially divided working class, and a system of cheap black labour. And the ANC, and Mandela, with their limited vision, with their reformism, with their miserable compromises with capitalism and the old white ruling class, are partly to blame.
This interview was done for and published by Sosyal Savaş (Social Struggle) Magazine, Turkey/Kurdistan