Thursday 30 June 2016

Combating Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia & Related Intolerance

In May, wearing my ProJourn hat, I was contracted by Aids Accountability International (AAI) to draft a civil society response to the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia & Related Intolerance (NAP). In the wake of a vicious outburst of race-baiting on social media at the start of 2016, many of us realised that, while the NAP had belatedly been put out for public comment by government last year, 14 years after work on it was supposed to have started, racism remained deeply ingrained in South African society. While a strong suspicion lingers that the airing of both the NAP and the proposing of a new Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill are more tied into the current elections cycle than to government's obligations under the Durban Declaration, good policy is better than bad, so AAI and a collection of civil society organisations (CSOs) got together to provide input on the NAP. The text was drafted by myself, with significant and invaluable input from Melanie Judge of Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA), and Matthew Clayton of the Triangle Project, to whom we are all indebted. It was signed by AAI, ProJourn, GALA, the Triangle Project, and other CSOs and received by the Department of Justice & Constitutional Development yesterday, 29 June 2016. - Michael Schmidt, ProJourn Administrative Secretary

SA NAP Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia & Related Intolerance

In 2001, the Durban Declaration urged states, including SA, "to establish & implement without delay national policies & action plans to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia & related intolerance, including their gender-based manifestations." The SA Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJCD) has developed the plan and is now taking feedback until 30 June 2016. In this meeting AAI hoped to offer a space for SA activists to quickly and efficiently engage and develop feedback on this vital doc for submission to DOJCD. The call for comment from the SA Department of Justice and Constitutional Development can be seen here: NAP response call 

Civil Society Response to National Action Plan to combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia & Related Intolerance (NAP XR3)

1. Background

This report is the result of an initial meeting of civil society organisations (CSOs) convened by Aids Accountability International (AAI) at the Ford Foundation offices in Johannesburg on 23 May 2016 to draft a civil society response to the Department of Justice & Constitutional Development (DOJCD)’s National Action Plan to combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia & Related Intolerance 2016–2021 Draft for Public Consultation, dated October 2015. For ease of use, the National Action Plan will hereafter be termed the NAP XR3. The NAP was developed in fulfilment of South Africa’s commitment to give effect to their signing on to the Durban Declaration of the World Conference Against Racism (2001), WCAR.

Contributions at the meeting were made by AAI, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR)/Triangle Project/Hate Crimes Working Group (HCWG), Kwanele, Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Ibis Reproductive Health (IRH), LGBTI Botswana, Professional Journalists’ Association of South Africa (ProJourn), and Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA). 

This Draft was compiled by ProJourn based on the minutes of the meeting, in particular the agreement on what the contents of this Draft should embrace, and the three key principles on which it should be based. It will be adopted or amended by AAI.

The AAI Draft was then submitted to all the CSOs invited to the 23 May meeting – including those who tendered apologies: Section 27, African Humanitarian Institute (AHI), Brothers for Life, Tshwaranang Care Centre, Sonke Gender Justice, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), GenderDynamiX, Pan-African Business Coalition on HIV and Health (PABC), Network of African People Living with HIV, Southern African Region (NAPSAR+), Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARAU), David Ross Patient, and the Higher Education HIV/Aids Programme (HEAIDS). 

All these organisations werre encouraged to send this document to their networks for input. Those CSOs who wished to sign on to the AAI Draft were welcome to do so – before the close of business on 22 June 2016 – and it was then submitted by AAI both to the NAP XR3 National Steering Committee (NSC) and to the DOJCD itself. Those who did not wish to sign on to it were encouraged to use it as food for thought in devising their own submission and allowed to use or adapt any component as they saw fit.  

2. Foundational Principles and Goals

a) Principles. 

The convened CSOs largely agree with the NAP XR3’s guiding principles: Universality; 
Interdependence and Indivisibility; Participation and Inclusion; Progressive realisation; Accountability; and Equality and Non-discrimination. But it was noted that Accountability was the weakest part of the NAP and that this created confusion in terms of oversight, lines of authority, process, reporting, and monitoring and evaluation (M&E). It was also decided that a key Principle that urgently needed to be added was intersectionality (more on this below in 3.b.6).

b) Goals. 

Noting that the NAP’s stated Goals are to promote broad public awareness of racial discrimination and non-discrimination, to enhance legislative, policy and administrative measures to combat discrimination, and to assist victims and groups vulnerable to racism and related forms of discrimination, the convened CSOs felt that these Goals would be attainable if the NAP’s interventions were squarely based on:
● an implementation matrix of budgeted and time-bound objectives; and
● the strengthening of existing institutions and mechanisms.

3. Addressing Issues in the NAP XR3

a) Definitions

    1. Errors. Errors of definition need to be corrected, for example the use of the word “transvestite” where “transgender” is intended.

    2. Constitutional alignment. All definitions in the NAP XR3 need to be aligned, ultimately, with similar definitions in the Constitution (1996) and in the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (2000), PEPUDA, and the proposed draft Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, so for example, the NAP definitions of hate speech and incitement to imminent violence need to be identical to those in Chapter 2 Section 16 of the Constitution. It is already problematic that the definitions in the Hate Crimes Bill differ from those in PEPUDA. It is noted that the constitutionality of the hate speech provisions in PEDUDA is a matter of current legal debate.

    3. Gender. The NAP’s gender, sex, sexuality, and identity definitions are outdated and tend to be based purely on the biological binary of heterosexual male and female, which totally ignores LGBTI, especially transgender, experiences.

    4. Problematic Definitions. Some definitions such as “nation-building,” while intended to be positive principles, may have unfortunate interpretations if they are taken to mean a jingoistic and xenophobic patriotism, while “social cohesion” might be disputed in that it pretends that class-based exclusion and marginalisation does not exist, so we urge caution in the terms used.

b) Gaps in the NAP.  

    1. The State. Nowhere in the NAP is there an admission that the state itself is potentially racist or discriminatory, which is especially important when the state is intended as a point of access to redress. Examples of this is the SAPS being in breach of the anti-profiling clause of the Durban Declaration of the WCAR, by its Operation Fiela which has witnessed the ethnic and colour profiling of people resident in South Africa in order to deport undocumented migrants. Furthermore, various government departments such as the Police, Home Affairs, Health and other social institutions have been in breach of the Durban Declaration by, for example,  gender profiling for instance discriminating against single mothers whereas the Durban Declaration stands against all forms of discrimination “including their gender manifestations” – which is meant to include men, women, trans diverse, and intersex people. 

     2. The Private Sector. While the private sector is mentioned in the NAP, it is not given full responsibility as a transformative, anti-discriminatory agency, beyond its obligations under BBBEE and equality legislation, and is not seen as a potential co-funder of the NAP XR3.

    3. The Media. The NAP imposes obligations on the media both in their promotion of equality and social cohesion, as well as interrogating their own production of discriminatory material. But because the NAP was developed so long after the Durban Declaration when the internet was young, we feel there is an overemphasis on ephemeral social media.

    4. Historicity. The NAP XR3 has a shallow historical understanding of the roots of discrimination as it only mentions those originating in the Apartheid Era and “new forms of discrimination” (such as xenophobia) in the Democratic Era, but ignores currently obtaining discrimination rooted in the Colonial and Dominion Eras such as prejudice originating in the First Nations Genocide, in slavery, and in indentured labour. In other words, the NAP’s view of the roots of today’s discrimination needs to be rehistoricised. The historical context is lacking in other respects in its focus on racism and and racial discrimination without exploring the complicated roots of homophobia, transphobia and other forms of intolerance. 

    5. Migrant Rights. Although the NAP commits to “Gender equality, Anti-LGBTI discrimination, Economic opportunities for all, and Eradicating the legacy of apartheid,” there are no NAP obligations on the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) regarding migrants’ rights. This is vital if xenophobia is to be adequately combated. We note that the state is currently weak in this regard in that it shut down many Refugee Reception Centres, making access to asylum-seeking and other forms of migrancy documentation more difficult, and that the Hate Crimes Working Group is not represented in many of the border provinces that are the first ports of call for incoming migrants.

    6. Intersectionality. It was very strongly agreed that the current draft NAP unfortunately compartmentalised experiences of discrimination, whereas most experiences occur across a diverse field that might include in a single individual case experiences of class, race, disability, sexuality, gender and other determinants of marginality and vulnerability. So we urge the NAP to be solidly grounded in an intersectional analysis of the nuances and complexities of cross-cutting marginalities. We recognise, however, that some marginal groups or individuals are not currently at risk and suggest that the NAP’s priorities for priority interventions pay close attention to groups more at risk and actually threatened or under attack, noting that these objective conditions will change with time and so require regular monitoring. Prioritisation should not, however, exclude less at-risk marginalisations that will still require interventions including public education.

    7. Public Education. The NAP merely states that the public should be aware of the NAP itself, but there is no proper public education campaign including in via the schools and universities and via social media on why combating discrimination is so important.

    8. Excluded Marginal Groups. The NAP identifies four especially vulnerable groups: Foreign nationals especially from the rest of Africa, LGBTI people, Women and girls, and Indigenous people. We welcome these and the inclusion of occupation as a listed ground for protection from discrimination as a positive development, so that sex-workers can be protected on that basis. However, we note that the NAP makes no mention of certain marginal groups such as the disabled. Even though 10% of South Africans suffer from disability, there is no proper tracking of the experience, and the disabled are the most vulnerable in terms of violence, especially sexual violence. There also needs to be an emphasis on discrimination directed at HIV+ people and at people living with TB.

    9. Sanctions. There is nothing in the NAP about the actual legal, criminal, social or other consequences of discrimination. In fact a debate needs to take place on what criminal sanctions (if any) should be applied to those individuals, groups and institutions found to be in breach of the NAP XR3 beyond those found guilty of criminal acts under existing legislation. We would prefer the principle of restorative justice to apply. Lesser offences might have some sort of social sanction applied such as a required public apology, while more serious offences might be in additional to the current criminal code, be criminalised under legislation such as the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act (2004), which outlaws the instigation or use of violence to create feelings of fear, terror or uncertainty within a segment of the public, or the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), to which South Africa acceded in 1998, which outlaws certain xenophobic statements and acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” as genocide.

    10.  Race Classification. This is one of the most difficult issues to deal with, but it is clear that the continued use of both official and casual race classification by the state, private sector, and social institutions and groupings is a directly contributing factor to the longevity and entrenched nature of racism in our society. Unavoidably, assigning racial classifications is a remnant of apartheid logic. However, it is recognised that the material and emotional impact of racism is very real, very damaging, and lies at the core of much of the inequality, exclusion, and prejudice in South Africa today – and is thus what necessitates the NAP and similar initiatives.

We recognise that the reason given by state and societal authorities for continuing to apply race categorisation to persons in the country is to track the progress of transformation and democratisation. However, this presents a democratic society with a conundrum because the concept of separate human “races” in the plural is both scientifically discredited and politically dubious, and in itself sows the seeds from which racism may flower. Wide, deep, and detailed consultation needs to take place within our society to determine how best to resolve this conundrum so that apartheid racialisations are challenged and racial inequalities are simultaneously addressed.

c) Governance & Process.

    1. Oversight. The proposed governance models include either putting the NAP under the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), or under a Chapter 9 institution, or under a single Ministry, or to create a new national co-ordinating structure. That governance body would then oversee the NAP National Steering Committee (NSC) – consisting of relevant government departments, Chapter 9 institutions, and CSOs – which would then convene a Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM). Given the existing instruments like the Equality Courts and that the result of its interventions may result in court actions, it may be best that the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is best in order to centralise ongoing cases and provide a direct line of information to decision-makers to use political / bureaucratic clout to deliver speedy results. 

    2. The National Steering Committee. The NSC should be structure to ensure cordial and functional intersectional partnerships between the relevant government departments, Chapter 9s, and CSOs, and that CSOs that do not sit on the NSC have easy access to the NSC to provide input on the NAP as it rolls out. We are currently concerned that the NSC is insufficiently representative of civil society as many CSOs were not made aware of the process or invited to sit on the NSC.

    3. The Rapid Response Mechanism. It is not clear from the governance model whether the RRM envisaged is a rapid-response task team like the LGBTI rapid-response task team which is supposed to track anti-LGBTI hate crimes – which we would prefer – or some other mechanism. We would like to see an RRM that is indeed very mobile, responsive and fast-acting, regardless of where serious discrimination is occurring.

    4. Intersectionality. The principle of intersectionality demands that there be a single oversight body and a single RRM rather than a set of several differentiated instruments; this should ensure that no marginalised group or individual falls through the cracks, though the most at-risk will receive priority.

    5. Reporting and Investigations. The NAP requires a mechanism for reporting to its governance body, NSC, and RRM that will require reporting on the status of risks and imminent threats, not merely on the past performance of the NAP – but the governance model does not make this clear. The NAP needs to have capacity for intelligence-gathering on looming threats, legal case-building, empirical statistics, data and evidence-collection, police investigating, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), and media monitoring, in order for the RRM to adequately intervene in emergencies, and for the NAP to devise broader structural interventions. 

d) Legislation & Policy. 

    1. Alignment. There is concern from the legal community about the alignment of NAP XR3 with the Constitution, PEPUDA, and other relevant legislation and policies. If it is not constitutionally aligned it will inevitably wind up being challenged in the Constitutional Court. 

    2. Duplication. There is concern that the NAP does not sufficiently focus on existing anti-discriminatory mechanisms such as the Equality Courts – which deserve to be adequately strengthened under NAP XR3 – and that it will lay the groundwork for a Hate Crimes Bill that will wind up being an unnecessary duplication of PEPUDA and other relevant legislation and policies.

    3. Best Practice. It is suggested that the drafters look at best practices regarding NAPs both at home and abroad, so for instance, the Department of Social Development’s excellent NAP on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, or at examples of similar NAPs from Brazil which is a socially comparable country.

g) Timeline & Budget.

    1. Timeline. Although the NAP is supposed to be implemented over 2016-2021, we are already deep into 2016, so it is likely to only kick off in 2017, and yet other than the National Steering Committee (NSC), no mechanisms are yet in place. There has been inadequate public consultation about CSO and civil society’s role on the NSC. The NAP also lacks a detailed implementation and outcomes timeline.

    2. Budget. The funding of the NAP XR3 is not discussed, whether government departments will be asked to find the implementation within their existing budgets or whether they will be given an additional budget line. Is there a possibility of asking the private sector to contribute towards the funding? Vitally, there is nothing in the NAP that mentions how existing institutions such as the Equality Courts will be funded; they have in fact been underfunded, as have the Rape Courts which are similarly important as NAP implementing agencies. Ultimately, whether or not Treasury allocates a ring-fenced line-item funding the NAP XR3 will determine whether it succeeds or fails.

4. Conclusion

The undersigned CSOs are convinced that the NAP XR3 could be a vital instrument for dealing with one of South African society’s most damaging and intractable problems, so long as:
● it be based squarely on the operational principle of intersectionality and devises an intersectional threat-and-marginalisation matrix on which to base the actions of its RRM and other interventions;
● it reinforce existing instruments and institutions such as the Constitution, PEPUDA, and the Equality Courts; and 
● it produces a logical set of objectives to address inequalities and prejudice on a clearly goal-and-activity-directed timeline, with measureable outcomes, constant M&E, and a ring-fenced budget allocation.


Thursday 16 June 2016

The Turquoise Dress & Lessons of the 1st Insurrection

On bookshelves near you, the 40th Anniversary commemorative album on the "Soweto Uprising," which marked the start of what I term the 1st Insurrection (the 2nd Insurrection being that over 1985-1991), a collection of gut-and-heart-wrenching pictures by my wonderful colleague, the gentlemanly Peter Magubane, who lives in my area, with a foreword by Winnie Madikizela Mandela who, among other encounters, I interviewed in her Soweto home on the 30th Anniversary about her reminiscences of 16 June '76. 

Another reminiscence of that dark time come from my friend Izak Khomo, a veteran journalist with Channel Africa who is a walking encylopaedia of Africana, writing to me today: "I was in Britain on the 16th June 1976, Cardiff to be precise. At 21:00 hrs after coming back from the pub and having bought a pasty and chips I sat before a television which had been liberated by a Capetonian friend Gordon, or rather he inherited the TV which had been initially liberated by his girl friend Heather and thereby inherited by me. All same I was watching the News when what comes up us a report of South African Police having gunned down protesting Black students. Then the footage followed; it was shot from within the police lines. I cried, I was on my own and I immediately knew that things will never be the same again."

My friend the writer Eric Miyeni was 10 years old in 1976 (as was I) and he recalled for me last night hearing a woman recently tell how her world had been turned upside down as a young girl on that day: "Her elder sister used to hand her clothes down to her, and she had her eye on this turquoise dress; she was actually jealous of her sister for that dress. Then one day she made a plan with the boy down the street, Thabane with the dreamy eyes, to meet at the corner of Kruis and Commissioner [in downtown Joburg] at twelve the next day. It was her first date, and her sister said 'here' and held out the turquoise dress. So she was wearing that dress in the taxi, her face pressed against the window and a smile on her face. She got to Kruis and Commissioner and waited. Twelve, then one, and no sign of Thabane. By four o'clock it was plain he wasn't coming so she took a taxi home and this time her face was sad. When she arrived she heard some boys talking; Thabane had been shot. So she never had that date; and that's how it was; some people were going on a date and it just never happened."

Some things that people probably don't know about the misnamed June '76 Soweto Uprising:

1) The Insurrection in fact started not in June with a revolt by schoolkids against instruction in Afrikaans as is usually recalled, but in January by adult black workers outraged at the Western Services Council dramatically raising rent and service charges after the all-white Joburg City Council suspended its usual R2-million annual subsidy;

2) The Insurrection was also not limited to Soweto but spread countrywide, or to the year 1976, as it spilled over into 1977, so it really should be recalled as a national insurrection over 1976-1977;

3) The rioting on 16 June 1976 itself was started by younger, primary school children, and only later taken up by older children at high schools such as Morris Isaacson. 

4) Selby Semela claimed in his 1979 analysis linked below that June 16 hero Tietso Mashinini was actually stoned by students angry at him for ordering them to retreat in the face of the armed police.

5) The police commander who gained notoriety for ordering a police phalanx to gun down protesting schoolchildren on 16 June, Theuns "Rooi Rus" (Red Russian) Swanepoel, who later became a brigadier and the chief interrogator of the Security Branch as well as a staunch AWB fascist, lost an eye in the rioting. He told the Truth & Reconciliation Commission "I made my mark. I let it be known to the rioters I would not tolerate what was happening. I used appropriate force. In Soweto and Alexandra where I operated, that broke the back of the organisers." Having never stood trial, Swanepoel died  on 7 July 1998 at the age of 70 years old at his home in Roodepoort, Johannesburg. 

6) Afrikaans was in fact retained as a medium of education at Morris Isaacson well past 1976, until 2005 when a misinterpretation of a Department of Education ruling that instruction needed to be in at least two official languages lead to Afrikaans being dropped, which really upset the many black Afrikaners in the school (contrary to popular belief that it is a white language, Afrikaans is the home language of 16 million South Africans, about 3 million white, three million coloured, and 10 million black). 

7) Mystery shrouds the fate of one of the most famous faces of 16 June, that of Mbuyisa Makhubu, the young man in the blood-spattered dungarees with the distraught face, carrying the body of murdered 12-year-old Hector Pieterson whose younger sister Antoinette runs alongside, in the famous photograph by Sam Nzima. I last interviewed Antoinette at the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto a few years ago in the company of a New York journalist who was keen on tracking Makhubu. Makhubu disappeared into exile in 1979 and was last heard of living in Nigeria in 1984 - but a man detained in Canada today may be the missing man according to his nephew, my friend Zongezile Makhubu. The story is complicated by the fact that the detained man has since retracted his claim to be Mbuyisa Makhubu, but the case is not yet closed. An Eyewitness News report is here EWN on Mbuyisa Makhubu and a Guardian piece here The Guardian on Sam Nzima photograph.

So what are the lessons of the 1st Insurrection for today's student movement? Academic Anne Heffernan in the Mail&Guardian today (M&G Strategic Lessons from 1976notes that "University students of 2015-16 have some key things in common with their 1976 predecessors. They have changed the tenor and shape of political discussion around education in South Africa, more effectively than any other single movement since 1994. They have re-interrogated the ideologies that animated students in 1976. Their engagement with Black Consciousness and Biko, with Fanon and with pan-Africanism has led to a movement to decolonise universities’ faculty and curricula. But today’s students have struggled to move their activism beyond universities. Not withstanding significant gains in the movement to end the exploitative practice of outsourcing jobs on campuses, for which the Fallist movements of 2015-16 deserve a great deal of credit, student movements today have yet to create enduring alliances with workers outside the university, or with school students." 

Heffernan fails, however, to suggest actual strategies for today's "Fallist movements" - Fees Must Fall, Rhodes Must Fall, Zuma Must Fall, etc - so I would suggest these movements look at a vital critique of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), an exile formalisation of the post-16 June movement. The 1st Insurrection was not the movement of any one party - although it has tended in recent years to be "captured" by ANC revisionists - but it did generate a significant new layer of militant working class youth both internally and in exile. But what was the historic revolutionary task of that layer? And what is the historic revolutionary task of today's militant layer? 

Onen important approach to the question is laid out by Selby Semela who was an 18-year-old school pupil and treasurer of the Soweto Students Representative Council (SSRC) on June 16, 1976. Forced into exile after being shot and wounded by a black policeman during the Insurrection, he co-wrote this rare libertarian socialist analysis of the Insurrection in 1979 aged about 21, for which I wrote the introduction to the ZACF's African Resistance History Series (Zabalaza Books, Durban, South Africa, 2005): Reflections on the BCM and the South African Revolution

Leaders of the Soweto student uprising (left to right) Tsietsi Mashinini, Selby Semela, and Barney Makgatle in London after escaping from South Africa in 1976. Mashinini woul be deployed to Nigeria to deal co-ordinate African support for the fight agaist apartheid, Semela to the USA, and Makgatle to Europe. Within three years, Semela would split from Mashinini, developing a libertarian socialist critique of the ossification of the Black Consciousness Movement into a conventional political party similar to what he termed "the old huckster-spinster parties" of the ANC, SACP and PAC. Today, 40 years later, he still lectures on his experience: Selby Semela profile

Anyway, here is the bulk of my introduction to Semela et al, "The Return of the Red-headed Step-child": 

The shotgun wedding in which South Africa was forcibly welded together out of two British colonies and two Boer republics in 1910 produced grimly racialised authoritarian political offspring: White Labourism and African Nationalism.

The real multiracial working class alternative of libertarian socialism (in its mass-based
form, revolutionary unionism and parallel revolutionary neighbourhood organisations) was treated by both the Rand Lord oligarchy that grew rich off [the working class], and the black chieftain / merchant class that founded the South African Native National Congress
(SANNC, ancestor of the African National Congress, ANC) in 1912, as a red-headed step-child. From the founding of a local section of the revolutionary unionist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1910, to the establishment of the Industrial Workers of Africa (IWA) along similar lines in 1917, the step-child flexed its muscles and served notice on the old order.

But libertarian socialism was crushed in the 1920s in a vice between the devil of para-fascist Afrikaner nationalism, and the sea of “native republic” Stalinism. It fell into a coma from which it only surfaced briefly in the late 1950s / early 1960s with the establishment of a tiny libertarian Marxist current, the Movement for a Democracy of Content (MDC), which played a key role in the successful Alexandra bus boycott.

Then the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre and the subsequent banning of the nationalist 
“liberation” movements provided the pretext for the authoritarians of both camps to embark on a war with racist overtones that peaked in 1976/1977 and again in 1985-1987 (remember: the ANC only fully deracialised in 1985). 

While libertarian socialist tendencies were present in civic, street and trade union organising in the heat of the conflict, it was only in the dying days of racial-capitalist apartheid and its pseudo-opposition that a specific anarchist movement emerged from underground, culminating in the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (ZACF) of today, a working class organisation that agitates among the poor for a rupture, a severance of ties between the exploited and the parasitic classes that rule us. The red-headed stepchild had awoken once more! 

One of the pseudo-opposition’s main aims in the [liberation] war was to cynically use rank-and file worker and poor community militancy to build the profile of what Semela and 
company call “the old spinster/huckster organisations: the African National Congress (ANC), the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).”

Today, these hoary old pseudo-liberators have gone further than the old Afrikaner elite ever could to help the capitalist state overhaul its image, while maintaining iron discipline over the blood and bread of the working class. The “democratic” emperor and his phalanx of “corporate guerrillas” now wear Armani suits over their T-shirts of that dead Stalinist, Ché Guevara. Capitalist class rule, aided by reworked race classification, remains intact.

This is the process of deception, disintegration and decay the authors describe here with regard to Semela’s own organisation back in the ‘70s, the SSRC - and the Black
Consciousness Movement (BCM). Both were, briefly, legitimately used by the oppressed to throw off their chains. Both are here castigated for their later pretensions to “leadership” of the struggle, for their “symbiotic” relationship with capitalist power, and for their substitution of the vanguard party-form for the masses themselves. That is the primary strength of this pamphlet.

Its main weakness is that while Semela & Co. make a distinctly libertarian socialist (albeit not anarchist communist) critique, they fail to suggest clear socio-organisational solutions to the problems they highlight. Hailing working class spontaneity, they are so shy of “bureaucracy”, having had their fingers burnt by the BCM and SSRC, that they do not dare spell out what plural and organic forms working class organisation should take to ensure the continued political autonomy, self-sustainability and anti-capitalist content of that militancy.

The working class, peasantry and poor need to create their own organisations in their own image, completely divorced from the compromising models of both the ruling class and its pseudo-opposition. These must be organs of decentralised power (not the refusal of power - or the concentration of power), run along direct-democratic lines in which every participant is a decision-maker, all empowered individuals strengthened by community.

These organs, as much as the “revolution” itself, are the “school of the oppressed” which train them to create egalitarian grassroots communism in the shell of capital, even as it is being gutted. These ideas, and not self-appointed leadership cadres, are what shall lead a future South(ern) African Revolution, the final overthrow of parasitic class rule and profiteering that our ANC/SACP/PAC/BCM “liberators” have forced to retreat far over our horizon.

True communism is only possible from below, when the vast majority of the underclasses
resolve en masse to end our slavery in our own right, in our own name and by our own organs of communal power. The social revolution will only be carried out by the “wretched of the earth”. The time has come for the return of the red-headed step-child. With the hammer of revolutionary working class unity in her fist, she will smash capital and the state.

- Michael Schmidt, Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (ZACF), Southern Africa, 2005


Friday 10 June 2016

DWG & TBA long-listed for national book award

I heard today that Drinking with Ghosts (2014) and A Taste of Bitter Almonds (2015) have both separately been long-listed for a national book award. I'll be more explicit if I make the short-list! 

Although the two volumes are self-standing books with distinctly different areas of focus, they both deal with the overarching theme of change versus continuity in the transition from autocracy to democracy in South Africa. Drinking With Ghosts spans the period 1960, the Sharpeville Massacre and the resultant formation of uMkhonto we Sizwe, to 1994, the first democratic elections in South Africa, though the after-effects spill over into 2014, while A Taste of Bitter Almonds is neatly bookended by the period of 1994 to 2015, the first 21 years of the democratic era. 

Drinking With Ghosts has a Southern African perspective in that it looks at the aftermath of the damage done by apartheid in the region, and examines the military-industrial complex in particular: the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes; the death-squads; military cross-border wars, raids and interventions; massacres, assassinations, the death penalty, and xenophobic pogroms; and the need to unravel our "Pact of Forgetting" the dark deeds of our immediate past. Although veteran anti-apartheid journalist Max du Preez kindly called it "the best reporter's notebook I've ever read," it was a pretty grim volume all told, the writing of which I found was something of a necessary exorcism, offering me some intangible relief of the spirit, after decades of reporting on the darkness that clings to our blighted country. Dr Ian Edwards, in the South African Journal of Science, called it "a powerful work dealing with South Africa’s violent political struggles, its political transition, and the ways dark and secret pasts continue to haunt post-1994 South Africa... Schmidt’s view is succinct: South Africans will neither reconcile nor develop a common humanity unless its many hidden and covered-up abodes of darkness and terror are exposed, confronted, and written into history... Schmidt could win prizes for this work. All South Africans will benefit by reading this book, episode by harrowing episode."

A Taste of Bitter Almonds is more narrowly focused on processes in South Africa itself, and does so through a more sociolgical lens in that it it looks at conditions of exclusion among the majority of our people: our racially interrelated - and sometimes genocidal - colonial past; the self-exclusion of Afrikaner nationalism; the strange survival of geographic apartheid; tribal "faction-fighting"; marginalised religious sects; the conditions of prisoners; the state of organised (and unorganised) labour; the attempts by the shattered Bushman communities to rebuild their unrecognised culture; the restoration of land to those it had been stolen from in rural and urban areas; the inexplicable plague of sexual assault on our children; the women and men who are challenging gender norms; the new generation of protestors; and the weird cult that has sprung up around a dead Nelson Mandela. Author and polemicist Eric Miyeni kindly wrote that "Michael Schmidt will challenge you in this book. He will enlighten you too. You will want to embrace him for going so far out on a limb with his truths. You will also want to punch him in the face for some of those revelations, and draw blood. There is, however, one thing you will never do. You will never say of this man: ‘Michael Schmidt never was any good as a writer.’"

Wednesday 8 June 2016

African Thought & Arts Leadership

Last year, I was asked by pan-African journal Ogojiii to write a piece on African leadership institutes, but except for Dr R.L. Bhiat of the African Leadership Network (ALN), they were rather tardy in responding to interview requests (not a good indication of leadership potential!), so I shifted the focus away from conventional leadership concepts to thought leadership, and especially arts leadership, both of which inform the way Africa thinks, which in turn will shape how the continent looks and works in future. 

I was granted a rare interview with the charming Harvard-trained Ghanaian nuclear physicist and futurist Dr Kwame Amuah, head of the Singularity Institute Africa (SIA), pictured below in a portrait by Jana O'Grady. We got on so well that the interview ran double the scheduled time, probably because Amuah described himself to me as "the modern, scientific anarchist" and his leadership concept was decentralist, egalitarian and organic. Below I run an extract from the article, focusing on the arts leadership aspect.

In 2006, a panel of nine experts headed up by Senegalese singer-guitarist Baaba Maal and the Ghanaian modernist-symbolist painter Owusu-Ankomah painstakingly selected a list of the top 50 African artists then alive who they profiled for The Independent, producing a sweeping canvas of African talent and thought-leadership, covering roughly three generations: the voices and visionaries of the Independence era from the 1950s, of the Transitional era as the Cold War ground to a halt, and of tomorrow.

A handful of the Independence generation have since passed on, notably former builder and mechanic Ousmane Sembène whose colourful life took him from fighting to free France from the Nazis, to heavy-lifting on the docks of Marseilles as a communist unionist, to becoming, apart from a prolific career as a novelist, the father of African cinema with his breakthrough film Borom Sarret (The Wagoner) in 1963. 

Samba Gadjigo, of Mount Holyoke College, wrote that “Ousmane Sembène has, from a marginalized and a very modest beginning, inscribed his name in world history,” and his work “provided the African American Diaspora with an ‘alternative’ knowledge of Africa”: “for Sembène, the terrain of art and cultural representation are a sine qua none for the freedom and revival of African societies.” Despite his deep embrace of communism, Sembène eschewed art-as-political-slogan, rather he “has been devoted to the production and dissemination of emancipating and restorative images for… those Africans disenfranchised and marginalized in their own society, but also whose unsung struggles are a Daily Heroism (the title of Sembene's latest trilogy of films).”

The fire in his trademark long-stemmed pipe may have gone out in 2007, but the groundwork Sembène laid has seen the rise of a new generation who have taken to the big screen including Swaziland’s Zola Maseko who was raised in exile and joined the African National Congress’ armed wing, but found his true forte in documentary film and television including the multi-award-winning The Life and Times of Sarah Baartman (1998), and Chadean film-maker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun who also grew up in exile because of civil war, but who has achieved, in the words of Maal’s panel, “a new language and aesthetic for African cinema” with his own “documentary fiction” style.

Literature is that other great shaper of leading-edge African thought, and apart from the political writings of the likes of Zaire’s Patrice Lumumba or South Africa’s Bantu Steven Biko – currently the subjects of separate volumes of biographies and collected writings in an engaging and accessible new “Voices of Liberation” series by HSRC Press – it is the words of Nigeria’s late Chinua Achebe, the father of the African novel, with his bombshell 1958 debut Things Fall Apart, which have resonated most with the world, his charming Igbo-inflected English style having been translated into 50 languages by the time of his death in 2013.

The transitional generation include some powerful women’s voices such as Zimbabwe’s Tsitsi Dangarembga whose semi-autobiographical debut novel Nervous Conditions won the African section of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1989 and was hailed by writer Doris Lessing as a sure-fire future classic, and who has since gone into writing feminist scripts for box office hits such as the film Neria (1993), while the new generation is represented by the likes of Delia Jarret-Mcauley who drew on her upbringing in war-torn Sierra Leone to write Moses, Citizen and Me which won the 2005 Orwell Prize for political writing, hailed for its nuanced and unusually uplifting treatment of its dark subject matter of child soldiery. 

The emergent talents for whom she and others like Dr Amuah are pathfinding provide African audiences with their best techno-socio-political food for thought: frontier-breaking ways of interrogating themselves, their aspirations, fears and abilities in times of great change for the continent.

Young African Artistic Leaders to Watch

● In fine art, follow Mali’s Abdoulaye Konaté, a former painter who has moved into large-scale installation works to tackle grand themes such as the devastation wrought by HIV/Aids or the interplay between power and religion from a deceptively calm remove, and new-generation artists such as South Africa’s openly combative sculptress Tracey Rose whose surreal and jarring juxtapositions interrogate body, gender and identity.

● In dance, watch the angular/serpentine dance moves of Faustin Linyekula of the Republic of Congo, and the Afro-contemporary ballet of South African dancer and choreographer Dada Masilo whose 2012 détournement of Swan Lake somehow successfully integrated a gay storyline and a good dose of humour too. [Masilo is my niece, but she has wowed audiences in Russia, North America and Europe, so don't take my word for it, watch her on YouTube!]

● In music, take note of new hybrid styles such as the rap-metal-raï of Egypt’s Ramy Essam, the folk-rock-shaabi of Algeria’s Souad Massi, the rap-hiphop of Somalia’s K’naan, and the kwaito of Soweto’s Zola.