Friday 23 March 2018

Nostalgic Tribalism or Revolutionary Transformation?

Nostalgic Tribalism or Revolutionary Transformation?

Introduction to Stephen P. Halbrook's Anarchism & Revolution in Black Africa

Stephen P. Halbrook wrote this article, which forms part of our African Resistance
History Series, in 1971 at a time when he was completing his PhD in philosophy at
the Florida State University (attained in 1972). It appears that Halbrook went on to
become a leading legal figure in defence of the American constitutional right of its citizens
to bear arms, basing his arguments on Switzerland’s “armed neutrality” stance
during the Second World War. He has written extensively on the issue, but it is not
easy to determine at a glance whether his defence comes from a Right- or Left-wing
perspective as both camps in the US have embraced the right to bear arms for
defensive reasons and Halbrook speaks in the “neutral” tone of the lawyer.
Nevertheless, if Halbrook subsequently defected from libertarian socialism to the
Right, we would say we’d had the best of him while he was with us.
And that best, perhaps reflected in this pamphlet, is flawed by two interlinked
hopes that the indigenous insurgencies of the Mau Mau of 1950-1962, the liberation
struggle of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde
(PAIGC) of 1963-1974 in Guinea, and the Biafran Secession from Nigeria of 1967-
1970 had – not unreasonably given the euphoria of the era – raised in his mind for
more libertarian socialist outcomes.
His one flawed hope was to overzealously apply libertarian socialist intentions and
even programmes to the actors in these insurgent dramas. This is least excusable
in terms of the Mau Mau Uprising because it was sufficiently far in the past for
Halbrook to have gotten a better grasp of its nature – although to be fair, the full
extent of the brutality of the British colonial regime and of the Mau Mau resistance
itself has only recently been adequately documented. (1) Nevertheless, for Halbrook
to hail the Mau Mau as “the expression of centuries of anarchism” was both ahistorical
and a misinterpretation of the true mobilising intent of the historicising of the likes
of Mau Mau leader Jomo Kenyatta and PAIGC leader Amílcar Cabral. The mere fact
that the Mau Mau slogan “Land and Freedom” echoed that of the Mexican,
Ukrainian, Spanish and other anarchists, or that a PAIGC leader extolled the virtues
of the peasantry electing their own removable, non-hereditary leaders is insufficient
proof of their libertarian socialism.
There is in addition – and this is remarkable for a writer supposedly hailing from the 
anti-statist tradition – no understanding of the imperialist interest and role played
by the suppliers of arms and other support to the rebels: the USSR, Cuba and China
supplied the PAIGC, while Biafra was clandestinely supplied by France, Portugal,
white Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa (against an unusual Cold War triumvirate
of British, American and Russian backing for Nigeria). She who pays the piper calls
the tune, so the Stalinist funders of the PAIGC determined in it an authoritarian tendency
to the same extent as the ethnic separatist funders of Biafra determined in
parts its narrow ethno-nationalist outlook. It begs the question of in what way these
realpolitik positions could be considered genuinely liberatory by Halbrook.
Halbrook’s other, closely linked, flawed hope was to assume that an ill-defined
“anarchism” was fundamental to many traditional African cultures – stating wrongly,
given that anarchism only arose as a modern, internationalist, mass-based practice
in the First International in 1868, that “Black Africa has a centuries old anarchist tradition,”
and uncritically echoing Kenyatta’s statements about the historic libertarian
practices of his own tribe, the Kikuyu (against whose ethnocentric, patrimonial rule,
in part, the 2008 Kenyan Uprising was tellingly aimed). Whether the Kikuyu indeed
once in the distant past had a system that could be equatable to a libertarian social
order as anarchists understand it – democratic decision-making power decentralised
through horizontal federations of councils of recallable delegates – is debatable (and
the same goes for whether the Balantes of Guinea or the Ibos of Nigeria can make
a same claim).
Despite the apparently remarkable and worthy communitarian nature of Kikuyu
society as spelled out by Barnett and Njama  the other experts cited by Halbrook  
they and he do not appear to critique the inescapable, non-free-associative basis of
this tribal system, nor of its ageist hierarchy, so common to African traditional cultures,
or its enthnocentrism, and do not appear (in Halbrook at least) to discuss ownership
of land, livestock, goods and services, landlordism and other aspects of what
was still a feudal economy however one may appreciate some progressive aspects
of its social organisation.
Lastly, as with much sentimental outsider support for nationalist politicians like
Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma today, or Nelson Mandela of South Africa in the past,
there is a marked shyness to engage in any substantial critique of either the leadership
cult that is so assiduously cultivated by their supporters, or of the exact form of
economy and class society envisaged by the “liberators” after their despised enemy
is supplanted. These errors-by-omission are commonly committed by the statist
Left, but also recall the rose-tinted view of national liberation struggles by, for example,
a faction of the Love & Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation’s pro-national
liberation stance on the Zapatistas in the 1990s (which contributed to the RAF’s dissolution)
and by much of the International of Anarchist Federation regarding Cuba
in the 1960s (against the legitimate protests of the Cuban Libertarian Movement in
The cellular structure adopted by the Mau Mau rebels, the “bottom-up” decision-making
process of the PAIGC, and the voluntaristic “people’s army” form of Biafran
resistance were in my view less related to libertarian tradition than to the obvious 
demands of clandestinity – and the loyalty given by their irregular fighters to individual
charismatic leaders is not in itself indicative of libertarianism; for fascist militancy
makes similar claims. Similarly, it is a stretch of the imagination to claim for Biafran
leader Chukwuemeka Ojukwu the right to assume the mantle of the great Ukrainian
anarchist revolutionary Nestor Makhno on the basis that Ojukwu consulted with an
assembly of “all the professions” – including no doubt, the businesses and the parasitic
classes (Makhno’s RIAU was by contrast controlled policy-wise by mass
Congresses of Peasants, Workers and Insurgents and it is out of this directly-democratic
experience that the “platformist” political line is derived).
Yet on these slender bases, the evidence of the nationalists Kenyatta, Cabral,
Ojukwu and a few other admirers, Halbrook believed traditional culture could provide
a communalist model for political action in the era of decolonialisation, centralising
national liberation struggles and import-substitution-industrialisation modernisation.
He is far from alone among anarchists in this rather romantic view of the relationship
between African national liberation struggles and tribal societies – and I’m not even
considering the so-called primitivists here, whose anti-modernist tendency is at complete
odds with the progressive, industrial origins of the anarchist movement. In
Zambia in 1998, the late Wilstar Choongo of the Zambian Anarchist and Workers’
Solidarity Movement (AWSM) related to me in some detail the anti-authoritarian tendencies
of his own tribe, suggesting this could advance the anarchist cause. (2)
Similarly, Sam Mbah and I. E. Igariwey, of the anarcho-syndicalist Awareness
League in Nigeria, in their ground-breaking African Anarchism (1998) (3) argued for
anarchic tendencies in the “stateless” (in the modern sense) societies of the Ibo,
Niger Delta people and the Tallensi, stating: “To a greater or lesser extent, all of [...]
traditional African societies manifested ‘anarchic elements’ which, upon close examination,
lend credence to the historical truism that governments have not always
existed. They are but a recent phenomenon and are, therefore, not inevitable in
human society. While some ‘anarchic’ features of traditional African societies existed
largely in past stages of development, some of them persist and remain pronounced
to this day.”
Despite these societies being decentralised, having communal production systems,
participatory decision-making and a relatively flat social hierarchy, they cannot
in any real sense be called anarchist. Rather it is best to describe them as communalist
with some marked libertarian practices. It appears likely that Mbah and
Igariwey were forced to fall back on communalist examples to legitimise the
Awareness League trade union (4) simply because, though they were aware of early
1990s anarchist organisations in South Africa, they were unaware of the significant
syndicalist trade unions in southern Africa and north Africa in the 1910s / 1920s. (5)
The resistance of, for instance, the Zulus during the Bambaata Rebellion of 1906
against the imposition of hut-taxes by the British was indeed among the last of a long
series of anti-colonial actions aimed at preserving traditional culture, and at preventing
the enclosure and outright theft of tribal lands and the impression into bonded
servitude of the black majority – but they were also last-gasp reflex actions of a peasantry
that was rapidly being eclipsed by modernisation (in South Africa at least, where 
they have been reduced to a minority unlike the rest of Africa). And much as
one might dislike it, anarchism with few exceptions arose in industrial (not craft or
peasant) environments – such as the Witwatersrand during the emergence of organised
black labour in the late 1910s and early 1920s, not among the Sekhukhuneland
or Pondoland peasantry, regardless how communitarian or insurgent their traditions. (6)
While anarchists can and should indeed build on any traditional libertarian conventions
within the society in which they live – ably demonstrated by the successful
anarchist penetration of the indigenous population in Bolivia, or of agricultural labourers
in Bulgaria, from the 1920s to 1940s – tribal societies also tend to have strongly
sexist attitudes, ethnic chauvinist practices and demagogic power-structures
enforced by fearful superstition and brute force. These reactionary tendencies are
at least as strong as the communalist tradition and we find similar contestations
between vertical and horizontal power in traditional tribal structures in Asia, the
Americas and Europe. Also, the communalism of many African tribal societies is not
at all ruled by the anarchist concept of free association: one is forced by one’s ethnic
origin, tribal loyalties, locality and family ties into the communalist mode, with no
choice in the matter other than self-imposed exile (which then renders one vulnerable
as an unacceptable outside in another tightly-knit communalist, or even hierarchical,
exclusivist enclave). Let us also not forget that slavery among African tribes
was (and remains somewhat) widespread, the institution only being formally outlawed
in Mauritania in 2007. (7)
None of this, however, detracts from the clear existence of a real and unalloyed
historical anarchist and syndicalist movement in Africa, so present in organisations
such as People’s Free University and the International League of Cigarette Workers
and Millers of Cairo (Egypt) and the Revolutionary League (Mozambique) in the early
1900s, the Industrial Workers of Africa and Indian Workers’ Industrial Union (South
Africa) in the late 1910s / early 1920s, and the Algerian section of the General
Confederation of Labour – Revolutionary Syndicalist in the 1930s. And let’s not forget
the fact that the former Durruti Columnists who seized the honour to be the first
to liberate Paris in 1944 came together in exile in Chad, nor the old post-war anarchist
strongholds of Tunis and Oran, nor the anarchist cells in the Canaries, Egypt or
None of this makes it into Halbrook’s analysis (but then there was precious little
study of such movements at the time he wrote, and he could not have been aware
that within a decade of his paper, new anarchist and syndicalist organisations would
rise in Africa: in Senegal (Anarchist Party for Individual Freedoms in the Republic,
1981), Sierra Leone (Industrial Workers of the World, 1996), Nigeria (Awareness
League, anarcho-syndicalist from 1991), South Africa (Anarchist Revolutionary
Movement, 1992, Workers’ Solidarity Federation, 1995, the ZACF, 2003, and others),
Zambia (Anarchist Workers’ Solidarity Movement, 1998), and Swaziland
(ZACF, 2003).
Materials from and about these movements are available to a greater or lesser
extent on the Internet so I will not detain the reader with an analysis of them. Suffice
to say that Halbrook’s flawed work raises more questions – including the red herring 
of “libertarian” nationalism – than he answers, but as these debates are still somewhat
skewed by wishful thinking, especially among the African anarchist Diaspora, it
is worth reading with a critical eye. (8)

Michael Schmidt,
Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation, March 2008


1. More than 1-million suspected rebel sympathisers were put in concentration camps, a bestial strategy the British had perfected during the South African War of 1899-1902. Starvation and disease killed thousands, while 1,090 were hanged by the colonial regime. Despite the common use of summary execution and torture by white British and black Kings African Rifles proxy forces, no official was ever prosecuted for any atrocity. The Mau Mau on their side killed only 32 whites – but some 1,800 fellow Kenyans. See Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire by David Anderson (Weidenfeld & Nicholson) 2005 / Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya by Caroline Elkins (Jonathan Cape), 2005.

2. The AWSM was founded in 1998 by Choongo, an anarchist librarian at the University of
Zambia (UNZA), and young members of the youth of the UNZA – Cuba Friendship Association and of the Socialist Caucus. The anarcho-syndicalist Workers’ Solidarity Federation of South Africa was instrumental in establishing the AWSM, but it appears to have collapsed the following year with Choongo’s death by meningitis. His obituary is at:

3. African Anarchism: The History of a Movement by Sam Mbah & I. E. Igariwey (See Sharp
Press), 1997. The authors have allowed an identical version, African Anarchism: Prospects for the Future to be published online by the ZACF, and it is available at:

4. A mini-biography of Mbah by the Institute for Anarchist Studies in 1999 said he was born in 1963 in Enugu, Nigeria, and “embraced anarchism shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union while studying at the University of Lagos. Like many radicals, he entered a period of deep political reflection after the breakdown of the Eastern Block, one that prompted him to re-examine his previous Marxist commitments and ultimately led him to the anti-statist, anti-capitalist politics that is anarchism. North American publications such as The Torch and Love and Rage were especially important to this process. Mbah currently makes his living as the Lagos correspondent for Enugu’s Daily Star newspaper. He is also very active in the Awareness League, an anarchist organisation committed to the libertarian transformation of Nigeria. The Awareness League is active in political education, various social campaigns, and environmental protection. It presently has 600 members and eleven branches throughout the country [down from a high of about 1,000 members in 15 states during the dictatorship, but including its own radio station]... Mbah cited two Nigerians when asked to recommend other African authors he finds particularly sympathetic to anarchism: Ikenna Nzimiro and the late Mokwugo Okoye.”

5. The IWW, Revolutionary Syndicalism and Working Class Struggle in SA, 1910 – 1920, by
Lucien van der Walt (Bikisha Media Collective), online at the Zabalaza Books site.

6. For an account of the Sekhukhuneland Revolt, read A Lion Amongst the Cattle:
Reconstruction and Resistance in the Northern Transvaal, by Peter Delius (Ravan Press) 1970 / (Heinenmann), 1997.

7. See the BBC report at: 

8. A far better critique than Halbrook’s will shortly also be made available in this series: Africa, Nationalism and the State, by Sam Dolgoff (1982?). Dolgoff demonstrates the demagogic attitudes of African “liberators” like the neo-fascist Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and the megalomaniac Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.


The New American Imperialism in Africa

This article was first published in 'Zabalaza: a Journal of Southern African Revolutionary Anarchism', No. 8, November 2006. At that time, Zabalaza was the English-language sister journal of the French-language Afrique Sans Châines. The article was replicated on the pan-African progressive website Phambazuka in February 2010 with the following introductory commentary which I think is still relevant today: "Michael Schmidt reveals the alarming extent of American military expansion in Africa. This article was written four years ago [now 11 years!], but still holds strong relevance today in the context of United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). Schmidt describes three avenues that the US is taking to increase its military foothold in Africa in pursuit of its ‘War on Terror’: ‘piggybacking’ off already strong French military presence, creating an unofficial ‘School of the Africas’ in the guise of the African Centre for Strategic Studies, and with its Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA) programme ‘aimed at integrating African armed forces into US strategic (imperialist) objectives’. Schmidt places blame beyond the US, however, and uncovers the role that African countries, particularly South Africa, are playing in strengthening US military presence through ‘secret pacts’. In light of all this, Schmidt concludes with a warning: ‘It would be naïve to think that bourgeois democracy… will protect the working class, peasantry and poor from state terrorism.’"


Michael Schmidt*


Former colonial power, France, has maintained the largest foreign military presence in Africa since most countries attained sovereignty in the 1950s and 1960s. While France reduced its armed presence on the continent by two thirds at the end of the last century, it continues to intervene in a muscular and controversial fashion. For example, under a 1961 ‘mutual defence’ pact, French forces were allowed to be permanently stationed in Ivory Coast and the 500-strong 43rd Marine Infantry Battalion is still based at Port Bouet next to the Abidjan airport.

When the civil war erupted in Ivory Coast in September 2002, France added a ‘stabilisation force’, now numbering some 4,000 under Operation Licorne, which was augmented in 2003 by 1,500 Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ‘peacekeepers’ drawn from Senegal, Ghana, Benin, Togo and Nigeria. In January 2006, the United Nations extended the mandate of Operation Licorne until December 2006.

Piggybacking off the French military presence in Africa, however, are a series of new foreign military and policing initiatives by the United States and the European Union. It appears that the US has devised a new ‘Monroe Doctrine’ for Africa (the term has become a synonym for the doctrine of US interventions in what it saw as its Latin American ‘back yard’).

Under the George W. Bush regime’s War on Terror doctrine, the US has designated a swathe of territory – curving across the globe from Colombia and Venezuela in South America, through Africa’s Maghreb, Sahara and Sahel regions, and into the Middle East and Central Asia – as the ‘arc of instability’, where both real and supposed terrorists may find refuge and training.

In Africa, which falls under the US military’s European Command (EUCOM), the US has struck agreements with France to share its military bases. For example, there is now a US marine corps base in Djibouti at the French base of Camp Lemonier. More than 1,800 marines are stationed there, allegedly for ‘counter-terrorism’ operations in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and East Africa, as well as for controlling the Red Sea shipping lanes.

But the US presence involves more than piggybacking off French bases. In 2003, US intelligence operatives began training spies for four unnamed North African countries. These are believed to be Morocco and Egypt and perhaps also Algeria and Tunisia.

It is also conducting training of the armed forces of countries such as Chad. In September 2005, Bush told the United Nations Security Council that the US would train 40,000 ‘African peace-keepers’ to ‘preserve justice and order in Africa’, over the following five years. The US Embassy in Pretoria said, at the time, that the US had already trained 20,000 ‘peace-keepers’ in 12 African countries in the use of ‘non-lethal equipment’.

And now, while the US is downscaling and dismantling military bases in Germany and South Korea, it is relocating these military resources to Africa and the Middle East in order to ‘combat terrorism’ and ‘protect oil resources’.

In Africa, new US bases are being built in Djibouti, Uganda, Senegal, and São Tomé & Príncipe. These ‘jumping-off points’ will station small, permanent forces, but with the ability to launch major regional military adventures, according to the US-based Associated Press. An existing US base at Entebbe in Uganda, under the one-party regime of US ally Yoweri Museveni, already ‘covers’ East Africa and the Great Lakes region. In Dakar, Senegal, the US is busy upgrading an airfield.


Governments with whom the US has concluded military pacts with include Gabon, Mauritania, Rwanda, Guinea and South Africa. The US also has a ‘second Guantanamo’ in the Indian Ocean, where alleged terror suspects who are kidnapped in Africa, the Middle East or Asia can be detained and interrogated without trial. This ‘second Guantanamo’ comprises of a detention camp, refuelling point and bomber base situated on the British-colonised Chagos Archipelago island of Diego Garcia, an island from which the indigenous inhabitants were forcibly removed to Mauritius.

In South Africa’s case, while it is unlikely that there will ever be US bases established – the strength of South Africa’s own military, SANDF, makes this unnecessary – in 2005, the country quietly signed on to the US’s Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA) programme, which is aimed at integrating African armed forces into US strategic (imperialist) objectives.

South Africa, by signing on to ACOTA as the 13th African member, effectively joined the American War on Terror. ACOTA started life as a ‘humanitarian’ programme run by EUCOM out of Stuttgart, Germany, in 1996. After the 9/11 attacks, however, the Pentagon reorganised ACOTA and gave it more teeth.

Today, ACOTA’s makeup is more obviously aggressive than defensive. According to journalist Pierre Abromovici – writing, in the July 2004 edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, about rumours that South Africa was preparing to sign ACOTA a full year before it did so – ‘ACOTA includes offensive training, particularly for regular infantry units and small units modelled on special forces… In Washington, the talk is no longer of non-lethal weapons… the emphasis is on “offensive” co-operation’.

The real nature of ACOTA is perhaps indicated by the career of the man heading it up, Colonel Nestor Pino-Marina. He is, according to Abromovici, ‘a Cuban exile who took part in the 1961 failed US landing in the Bay of Pigs… He is also a former special forces officer who served in Vietnam and Laos. During the Reagan era he belonged to the Inter-American Defence Board, and, in the 1960s, he took part in clandestine operations against the Sandanistas. He was accused of involvement in drug-trafficking to fund arms sent to Central America’ to prop up pro-Washington right-wing dictatorships.

Clearly, Pino-Marina is a fervent ‘anti-communist’ – whether that means opposing rebellious states or popular insurrections. He also sits on the executive of a strange outfit within the US military called the Cuban-American Military council, which aims at installing itself as the government of Cuba should the US ever achieve a forcible ‘regime-change’ there.

The career of the US ambassador, Jendayi Fraser, who concluded the ACOTA pact with South Africa is also an indicator of US intentions. Fraser, Bush’s senior advisor on Africa, had no diplomatic experience. Instead, she once served as a politico-military planner with the joint chiefs of staff in the Department of Defence and as senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council. According to Fraser’s online biography, she ‘worked on African security issues with the State Department’s international military education training programmes’.


The programmes that Fraser mentions include the ‘Next Generation of African Military Leaders’ course run by the shady African Centre for Strategic Studies based in Washington, which has ‘chapters’ in various African countries including South Africa. The Centre appears to be a sort of ‘School of the Africas’ similar to the infamous ‘School of the Americas’ based at Fort Benning in Georgia. In 2001, it was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

Founded in 1946 in Panama, the School of the Americas has trained some 60,000 Latin American soldiers, including notorious neo-Nazi Bolivian dictator Hugo Banzer, infamous Panamanian dictator and drug czar Manuel Noriega, Argentine dictators Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola whose regime murdered 30,000 people between 1976 and 1983, numerous death-squad killers, and Efrain Vasquez and Ramirez Poveda who staged a failed US-backed coup in Venezuela in 2002.

Over the decades, graduates of the School have murdered and tortured hundreds of thousands of people across Latin America, specifically targeting trade union leaders, grassroots activists, students, guerrilla units, and political opponents. The murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero of Nicaragua, in 1980, and the ‘El Mozote’ massacre of 767 villagers in El Salvador, in 1981, were committed by graduates of the School. And yet the School of the Americas Watch, an organisation trying to shut WHINSEC down, is on an FBI ‘anti-terrorism’ watch-list.

So Africa should be concerned if the African Centre for Strategic Studies has similar objectives, even if the School of the Americas Watch cannot confirm these fears? There is more: we’ve all heard of the ‘Standby Force’ being devised by the African Union (AU), a coalition of Africa’s authoritarian neo-liberal regimes. But the AU has also set up, under the patronage of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe – which also covers North America, Russia and Central Asia – the African Centre for the Study and Research of Terrorism.

The Centre is based in Algiers in Algeria, at the heart of a murderous regime that has itself ‘made disappear’ some 3,000 people between 1992 and 2003 (according to Amnesty International this is equivalent to the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, but it is a fact ignored by the African left). The Centre’s director, Abdelhamid Boubazine told me that it would not only be a think-tank and trainer of ‘anti-terrorism’ judges, but that it would also have teeth and would provide training in ‘specific armed intervention’ to support the continent’s regimes.

Anneli Botha, the senior researcher on terrorism at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said though, that only ten per cent of terrorist attacks in Africa were on armed forces, and only six per cent were on state figures and institutions, though the latter were ‘focused’. She warned that a major cause of African terrorism was ‘a growing void between government and security forces on the one hand, and local communities on the other’. Caught in the grip of misery and poverty, many people are recruited into rebel armies even though few of these offer any sort of real solution.

The Centre in Algiers operates under the AU’s ‘Algiers Convention on Terrorism’, which is notoriously vague on the definition of terrorism. This opens the door for a wide range of non-governmental, protest, grassroots, civic, and militant organisations to be targeted for elimination by the new counter-terrorism forces. It would be naïve to think that bourgeois democracy – which passed South Africa’s equally vaguely-defined Protection of Constitutional Democracy from Terrorism and Other Related Activities Act into law last year – will protect the working class, peasantry and poor from state terrorism.

* Michael Schmidt is a Johannesburg-based journalist and political activist.


Thursday 22 March 2018

Western Sahara: Courts Assert Sovereignty

Michael Schmidt

A year ago, Western Sahara’s government was girding its loins for a potential return to war with occupier Morocco – should diplomatic interventions via South Africa and its other allies in the African Union, which had just accepted the kingdom into the fold, fail. But two court rulings in recent weeks have rather paved a legal path for the territory’s full independence from Morocco.
The Polisario Front which has fought for independence over 1976-1991 for its self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) – recognised by more than 80 governments – told Financial Mail in March last year that it would revert to arms should negotiations on the transition to independence of what South Africa and others consider Africa’s last colony not bear fruit.
Then in May, the 34,349-ton Marshall Island-registered cargo ship NM Cherry Blossom was detained in the port of Ngqura by order of the sheriff of the Port Elizabeth High Court. The vessel had stopped to refuel en route from the port of Laayoune in the Moroccan-controlled three-quarters of Western Sahara, carrying 50,000 tons of phosphate mined there for the Moroccan export company OCP SA, headed for a New Zealand fertiliser company, Ballance Agri-nutrients.
Polisario intelligence tracked the shipment and got the vessel detained while SADR argued in the high court that the cargo legally belonged to it. At the time, Moroccan government spokesperson Mustapha El Khalfi pooh-poohed the SADR-Polisario court action, saying: “There have been failed attempts to undermine Morocco’s territorial integrity in the past and future attempts will fail again.” 
But on 23 February this year, Madam Justice Nomathamsanqa Beshe ruled in favour of SADR and Polisario, writing in her judgement that SADR “is the owner of the whole of the cargo,” ownership of which “has never lawfully vested in” Morocco’s OCP SA nor in its subsidiary Phosphates de Boucraa SA which runs the phosphate mines in the Moroccan zone of Western Sahara, and so “they were, and are not, entitled to sell the phosphate” – worth an estimated R59,5m – to New Zealand’s Ballance.
Then on 27 February, with Rabat still reeling from the phosphates judgement, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in Luxembourg that the fisheries agreement concluded between the EU and Morocco in 2006 did not apply to the waters adjacent to Western Sahara. An activist group, the Western Sahara Campaign UK, launched a court action in Britain, arguing that the fisheries agreement could not apply to Western Sahara’s exclusive economic zone and so the British authorities could not legally issue fishing permits there.
The British court asked the Court of Justice for clarity, and the latter’s ruling was that as “the territory of Western Sahara does not form part of the territory of the Kingdom of Morocco, the waters adjacent to the territory of Western Sahara are not part of the Moroccan fishing zone referred to in the Fisheries Agreement.” 
What stunned Rabat about both judgments is that they have set clear legal precedents that both the landward and seaward resources of all of Western Sahara belong to SADR and not to Morocco – despite Morocco’s de facto control of the majority of the territory. 
At the weekend, Sahrawi ambassador to SA, Bachir Radhi, said that the EU court’s ruling was “very explicit” in that “it goes beyond the fisheries and agricultural agreements that the European Union has signed.” He warned that henceforth, “Western Sahara will sue any companies – fisheries or other non-governmental companies – that deal with Morocco in goods from Western Sahara.”
The rulings electrified Africa-watchers, with African Intelligence writing that the decision “to exclude Sahrawi fishing grounds from the Morocco-EU fishing agreement… is catastrophic for the regime in Rabat.” They strengthen the hand of Western Sahara as it pushes – via the United Nations secretary-general’s special negotiator Horst Kohler and African Union Commission chair Mussa Faki Mahamat – for direct talks on the future of the disputed territory. Kohler met with Mahamat in January and has invited both parties to resume talks suspended in 2012 – but there is no timeline yet, and Moroccan political analyst El Moussaoui El Ajlaoui warned that Rabat would not accept Kohler’s plan to involve neighbours Algeria and Mauritania. 
On 28 February, Llewellyn Landers, SA’s International Relations deputy director-general, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that Moroccan abuses in the territory included “the prosecution of activists calling for Sahrawi self-determination or reporting human rights violations; the use of excessive force against Sahrawi protesters; restrictions of the right to peaceful assembly; the holding of protesters in so-called ‘preventive detention’ for long periods; and torture of those in detention… South Africa remains unwavering in its support for the holding of a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawi people… We will continue to share our experiences in the peaceful settlement of conflict...”


Tuesday 6 March 2018

Is There Any Point to Social Responsibility?

Juana Belém Gutiérrez de Mendoza

My ideas on socially-engaged journalism evolved over time. This is a revised version of a 2009 talk, The Journalist as Activist, that I gave at a colloquium with professors of international affairs & communications at the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Guadalajara, Mexico, on 26 November 2009. The Mexico talk was in turn based on a presentation I gave, On the Need for a Socially-Oriented Journalism, at a seminar with Aubrey Matshiqi and Anton Harber at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, on 7 May 2008. The piece below was carried in the Rhodes Journalism Review Alive, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, on 31 August 2013: 

On 10 September, President Jacob Zuma told journalism students visiting Parliament that while still deputy president on a visit to Mexico, he had been informed that the Mexican media doesn't report on crime because it adopted "patriotic reporting" in order to market the country to tourists and investors. Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) founder Raymond Louw bitterly responded at the FXI's National Conference on Freedom of Expression at Muldersdrift on 26 September that "the President made a broad sweeping statement on the necessity for patriotic journalism, citing Mexico as the example; in Mexico, journalists don't report on crime because you will be killed."
“¡Más vale morir de pie que vivir de rodillas!” This uncompromisingly defiant call, “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees,” has been attributed to the man I call Cliché Guevara. But the famous phrase may have originated much earlier with a Mexican journalist, Práxedis Guerrero, who, leading a fire-fight between 32 well-armed guerrillas of the anarchist Partido Liberal Mexicano and about 600 Federal police in the Chihuahua town of Janos on the evening of 29 December 1910, literally died on his feet – and in doing so helped light the fuse on one of the most profound transformations of the 20th Century: the Mexican Revolution. He was 28 years old.
Guerrero also wrote for Ricardo Flores Magón’s famous newspaper Regeneración, and edited the El Paso, Texas, paper Punto Rojo, so it is clear that he straddled, or rather combined, two disciplines: that of the journalist and that of the activist; his writings – and his revolutionary activities – putting him directly in harm’s way. It is equally clear that it was his conviction that radical change was necessary in Mexico that led him to take up both the pen and, as the popular revolutionary song had it, “the 30-30 carbine”.
There is a long tradition of the journalist-activist in Mexico. Take for example the remarkable Juana Belém Gutiérrez de Mendoza who first published her feminist journal Vesper in 1901: she would become an important Mexican revolutionary figure and Vesper, relocated to Mexico City, would survive despite repeated government bans – and despite Gutiérrez spending many spells in prison for her writings and activism – remaining in circulation until 1936, a remarkable longevity given exceptionally dangerous conditions. She was also the editor of the feminist journal Iconoclasta, established in 1917 within the ranks of the Mexican Regional Workers' Federation (FORM). 
The famous 1911 Plan de Ayala which was the direct inspiration for the radical Mexican Constitution of 1917 – in anticipation of how our 1955 Freedom Charter inspired South Africa's democratic Constitution of 1996 – was written by the Ayala town school-teacher Otilio Montaño Sánchez, with input from revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata and the anarchist-communist Regeneración journalist-cum-unionist Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama who had served three jail terms for his politics, and who Zapata had befriended in Mexico City. 
In similar fashion, journalist-activists have shaped the South African social and political landscape. We need only look at the work of communists like Alan Lipman who wrote for newspapers such as New Age, who helped in the process of drafting the Freedom Charter, and who engaged in acts of sabotage alongside the liberal African Resistance Movement after he broke with the SACP over the Soviet invasion of Hungary. New Age was later banned and Lipman forced into exile – but we can also examine the work of supposedly “apolitical” photographers like Drum magazine’s Bob Gosani who took damning secret photographs in the 1950s of the ritual humiliation of naked black prisoners in the notorious Number 4 Prison in Johannesburg, images which remain seared on the popular conscience today. That was as much journalism-as-activism as the work of more explicitly political journalists such as Steve Biko or Ruth First.
Journalism-as-activism has shaped much of our understanding of the world we live in. Where would we find the essentially human – and humane – insights into world-shaking events without the likes of communist journalist John Reed’s gritty eyewitness accounts of the Russian Revolution as portrayed in his book Ten Days that Shook the World? How impoverished would our understanding of poverty and welfare be without the incisive writings of Martha Gellhorn – later to earn fame as a war correspondent, active well into her eighties – about the dustbowl dirt-farmers of Depression-era America, as reflected in her book The View From The Ground?

Why should we care?

That is both the crudest and yet also the most crucial question to be asked by and of journalists when socially conscious reporting is discussed. In a world driven by hard-edged macro-economic agendas, and coloured by the brutal cut-and-thrust of daily political life, is there any point to social responsibility, a topic that has something of the tree-hugger to it?
After all, we have journalistic codes of ethics that are explicitly Constitution-based; we have a vigorous climate of debate within and about the media; and we have Section 9 institutions that protect the public that we write about – and for. Journalists in South Africa are justly proud of two intertwined and sometimes conflicting traditions: those of the “objective” school who hold facts paramount; and those of the “advocacy” school who hold progressive social change paramount. Sometimes these are mis-characterised as opposed Western/capitalist and African/developmentalist styles of reportage.
In 2000, a Piet Retief sawmill owner was so determined to destroy an attempt by his workers to unionise that he physically and psychologically abused the workers, formed a yellow alternative union, and then slashed salaries, paying the women workers – the men had given in to his bullying – R11 a month. Meanwhile, he flew about in a helicopter and fed his dogs huge, juicy steaks. Broke and heavily indebted to loan-sharks, these women were completely unbowed by their boss’ tactics and were resolute in wanting to build their union. Why should we care?
In 2001, I crawled 200m along a coal seam into the bowels of a hill near Idutywa, Eastern Cape, to report on “illegal” miners – skilled workers who had lost their jobs on the Reef, the Free State goldfields and elsewhere – who were taking their lives in their hands mining poor-quality brown coal. Why should we care?
In the internecine warfare of the Midlands in the 1980s and 1990s, one of the bloodiest battles was fought over the unionisation by Cosatu of the BTR-Sarmcol tyre factory in Howick. At least 39 people were murdered and 970 Cosatu-aligned workers summarily fired. In 1998, after a legal battle lasting 13 years, the dismissed workers won reinstatement and Judge Pierre Olivier’s landmark decision was that no employer could dismiss almost 1,000 workers without considering the social impact.
Yet in 1999, German investor Klaus Daun (a.k.a. “Close Down”) shut down Mooi River Textiles, throwing roughly 800 workers out into the cold. The economic impact on the town was devastating: R5-million a month in workers’ spending-power evaporating overnight; the local property market crashed and everything from large chain-stores to the banks shut their doors; crime soared, tourism died and even the municipality floundered as its rates base was destroyed. That’s why we should care. Yet most of my colleagues prefer to caricature strikers as selfish, and working class concerns as of only narrow importance. So I was I think the only reporter to bother to follow that cause-and-effect chain on the ground, exploring how job losses affect not just blue-collar workers, but everyone – and stories that affect everyone are always legitimate news stories.

My personal experience

My political progress was initially as slow as my rather naive journalism development, though I early on gravitated towards the resurgent anti-racist and anti-militarist anarchist movement in the early 1990s. My growing experience in conflict reporting during those dramatic years of the Insurrection of 1985-1993 – our own “Second Intifadeh” if you will, following the famous Insurrection of 1976-1977 – politicised me further. In Gellhorn’s phrase, I was becoming ever more interested in “the view from the ground,” in reporting the experiences of the poor, oppressed and marginalised. 
This in turn led to me joining a succession of anarchist resistance organisations, with ever-more defined politics, platforms and programmes of direct engagement in social struggles, resulting in today's Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front. Where journalism took me into the townships during my lengthy working hours, activism took me back there in the evenings and over weekends. I became a shop-steward in my union, the rather white-collar, craft-oriented South African Union of Journalists and learned the hard lessons of union organising (organising journalists is very much like herding cats!). I became an investigative journalist specialising in covering everything from defence and conflict, to extra-Parliamentary politics and labour, all the while helping local activists to organise township and hostel libraries and political meetings, and helping out at working class organisations like the Workers’ Library & Museum.
I naturally had to try to ensure that I retained my sense of journalistic balance and fairness in the middle of all this, giving credit where it was due, and trying to put myself in the shoes of my interview subjects – especially those I strongly opposed: the nationalists, both black and white. So, on the one hand I have sat in the lounge of PAC leader Clarence Makwetu near Queenstown, interrogating the ironies and complexities of the land restitution question, and on the other, I have spent hours talking to AWB farmers, trying to get under the skin of the supposed racial certainties of their relations with their black neighbours. The trick was to be partisan in favour of veracity, and to spend the time needed to sufficiently grasp all points of view, all life experiences. 
The curious thing is that while journalism taught me research skills and a respect for ordinary people, activism taught me organisational skills, self-discipline and public speaking – all things I use in my work today. 

So what is missing? 

South African journalism today largely lacks social consciousness because many journalists are:
Too ideologically blinkered. It does not matter if they are pro-capitalist or anti-capitalist, pro-Zuma or not, pro-Mugabe or not, pro-Castro or not, but there is an inability and unwillingness to judiciously weigh up the evidence of both sides and to examine issues holistically. Stance outweighs substance;
Too remote. They far prefer to operate by telephone than doing the hard, after-hours legwork that real journalism often requires. Crawling 200m into the side of hillside or walking the docks at night is too risky and therefore simply not done. Living comfortably in the suburbs, they shudder at working in rural areas. It is far easier to wait for some authority to issue a press statement;
Too prissy. They are too scandalised to speak to the accused in the dock, even though the accused are presumed innocent by law until convicted - and are the very reason for the trial. They are afraid to speak to convicts in jail even though they can be visited and interviewed just like anyone else. They are too “proper” to speak to the hookers, the beggars and the poor on their own turf, on their own terms.
Too beholden to interests other than veracity. Blinded by their own personal tastes, prejudices, agendas and the influence of their friends, they are not willing to put aside their pre-conceived notions and get to the heart of the story. Allegiance outweighs analysis.
How do we fix it?
Above any particular journalistic talent, dogged will-power is needed to make stories come alive, values which news editors must instill:
The will to get out of the newsroom and do the legwork. With many stories this is time-consuming, lonely work, but in all cases, irreplaceable in terms of understanding the story – and working in the field is by far the most rewarding part of journalism;
The will to get to know the society in which we operate. No, neo-Nazis, prisoners and prostitutes are not always nice folk, but if we don’t know them, we not only fail to understand racism, prostitution and prisons, but ignore great primary sources;
The will to get behind the headline. We need to get to understand socio-econo-political processes, the social engines that drive phenomena, in order to properly interpret them. Unbiased yet judicious curiosity is a great virtue.
To answer my original question: Why should we care? We should care because socially-aware journalism is not soft on wrong-doers or on the facts. It is detailed, contextual, analytical, sociologically-informed reportage from the ground which tenaciously pursues veracity, covering the underreported majority of the human experience, and so in doing, delivers valuable information to our diverse audiences, empowering their life decisions.


- Michael Schmidt is executive director, Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ), and administrative secretary, Professional Journalists' Association of South Africa (ProJourn). An experienced field reporter, conflict journalism trainer, and published author of non-fiction books on global anarchist history, he continues to contribute to the mainstream and alternative press in print and online.

Complexities of the Stolen Land Debate

A Dutch anti-apartheid poster given to me by the leader of KwaZulu-Natal's Pan-Africanist Congress back in 1993 during a series of interviews in which I sought to destigmatise the PAC and Azapo in the eyes of our then-mostly-white Natal Mercury readership. 

In the wake of last week's landmark vote by the African National Congress (ANC) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in the National Assembly that Section 25 of the Constitution's Bill of Rights be amended to allow for land requisitions without compensation, there has been a flurry of (anti-)social media commentary, mostly from alarmed, propertied whites. 
Well, firstly, seeing as the state already possesses huge landholdings that it hasn't redistributed in more than two decades in power, despite falling well behind its own land-redistribution targets, that apart from for ordinary purposes such as road-building it hasn't expropriated any private land for redistribution in that time, and given that the markets and big capital (notably AgriSA, the representatives of commercial agriculture) reacted with barely a murmur, I suspect the constitutional amendment will prove to be a mere political device intended to reunite the ANC with its disaffected support base, and that it is intended as a dead letter. 
We may, however, see a few isolated, salutary, high-profile expropriations to pacify that base and discipline its perceived "white monopoly capital" enemies. That the two parties that traditionally represented black land rights in South Africa (also known as Azania), the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), and Azanian People's Organisation (Azapo) are declined into insignificance is a pity in my view. I voted PAC in the landmark 1994 all-race elections because I saw the as the only left party that was sufficiently nationwide in its perspectives, revolutionary, and possessed of a burning desire to return stolen land to the black, indigenous, coloured and Indian dispossessed. Today, the PAC has a lone seat in the National Assembly, while Azapo has none, opening the field to the right-populist EFF and, purely opportunistically, the centrist-neoliberal ANC. 
Author Graeme Condrington correctly notes that the amendment to the Constitution would be at least the 15th time that land expropriation laws have been passed in South Africa (though he includes the Glen Grey Act of 1894 before SA existed) - and that they were all aimed at dispossessing people of colour in favour of white settlers. To be honest, I feel the vote last week was really about radicalisation without rationalisation, rather than expropriation without compensation.
Nevertheless, land restitution is complex and emotive (people of colour also dispossessed indigenous people, so it's not merely about white settler colonialism), unaccountably delayed under the ANC, has been distorted by unrealistic expectations (the ability of restituted owners to cohere as viable farming communities - underscored by a lack of financing and skills transfer to emergent farmers), and has been distorted by the bogus claims of black and white fascists / populists / racists (Black First Land First, EFF, AfriForum, AWB etc). The nuances of the debate reminded me of a visit I paid to former PAC president Clarence Makwethu back in 2001, recounted here in my book A Taste of Bitter Almonds.

CAPE, 25 AUGUST 2001

Marc Pradervand and I have driven through Queenstown and
continued for about 20 minutes beyond the town before turning
right along a rutted farm road that leads into a line of low hills to the
east of the town. I am searching for the smallholding of former PAC
president Clarence Makwetu – because in the sort of twist of irony
that seems quintessentially New South African, the former leader of
the party most supportive of radical land redistribution to the black
majority has found his own retirement plot the subject of a land claim
by a dispossessed community.
We drive past what appears to be a former white-owned farmhouse,
fallen into disrepair under the former Transkei administration; with
its rusted roof, holed fly-screens and sprawling laundry and children
it evokes the poor white farms of the American Dust Bowl during
the 1930s depression, but the residents are black. Passing this farm,
I drive down into a dry river drift and then climb the other side past
sparse stands of large, spiny-bowled agave plants, their spindly poles
standing high against the spring sky. The dirt road twists, becoming
more of a double-tyre track, and climbs into a shallow depression in
the hills where we come across Makwetu’s residence, a stolid square
blockhouse of a home, built in unforgiving frontier style as part home,
part fortress. Embracing the house to the south-west are a lush field of
mealies, a shed and several old tractors. Basic and unprepossessing,
it is nevertheless the modest dream home of many peasants, with a
proper pitched corrugated iron roof and separate kitchen, bathroom,
living room and bedrooms.
I park the car and we are met by a pleasant middle-aged woman
of a doughty bearing that seems to echo the simplicity of the place.
She introduces herself as Makwetu’s daughter Maureen. No,
unfortunately, her father is in town running errands at the moment,
but we can come back in about two hours and we will find him at
home. She tells me she is 39, and that she and her father have been
living on the farm since 1993. ‘We built the house ourselves; there
were only trees when we came here,’ she says proudly.
I drive back to town and we grab a bite to eat at a local takeaway.
Then, when the time is right, we return along the track to the
Makwetu homestead. As promised by his daughter, Makwetu is at
home this time, but he is distinctly displeased to find two whiteys
darkening his doorstep. It is most likely that other than encounters
with apartheid era Security Branch cops, his interactions with my
people have been rare, and often fraught with contestation over the
PAC’s revolutionary land-to-the-blacks campaigns, not to mention
the terrorist actions of its feared armed wing, Apla. Nevertheless,
the grey- haired man with the deeply lined mouth, and the erect
bearing of a patriarch accustomed to commanding respect, is
constrained by the ingrained politeness of his generation to at least
allow the enemy to cross his threshold.
We sit in the gloom of his square living room, the furniture
carefully preserved as in so many poor homes by tailored coverings of
heavy plastic, the only acquiesence to decoration being the large and
stern portraits of deceased Africanist leaders such as Robert Sobukwe
that deign to acknowledge our pale presence from the high-ceilinged
walls. My enthusiasm for the PAC and its policies is brushed aside
by a deeply suspicious Makwetu, who clearly fears we are plotting to
besmirch his party’s good name in the vein of the usual mainstream
press calumnies because we are there to interview him about the land
claim on his little farm.
Provincial land claims commissioner Tozi Gwanya has confirmed
to me that that two groups of people – about 400 residents who
were labour tenants on white-owned farms, and the 10 000-strong
Amatshatshu tribe – have lodged land claims to the Gwatyu Farms
area, east of Queenstown. The district includes the small farm to
which Makwetu has retired. The land redistribution policies of the
PAC, of which Makwetu was president between 1990 and 1996, made
headlines last month when PAC councillor Daniel Ngwenya was
involved in selling plots to the homeless in an ill-fated land grab at
Bredell, east of Johannesburg. So Makwetu is, unsurprisingly, on his
guard. Gwanya has said that Makwetu appears to own the farm he
lives on, ‘but there is no evidence that he paid Matanzima. The claims
are all under investigation at this stage.’
Julius Nokwaza, aged 56, the spokesman for the Gwatyu
community, has explained to me that after the Transkei homeland
was consolidated in 1976, the white farmers under whom his family
had worked moved away. He said the community tilled the land
until 1980, when Transkei strongman and head of the bantustan
‘government’ Kaiser Matanzima subdivided the farms, installed
many of his henchmen as tenant farmers and evicted most of the
residents, relocating them to the purpose-built town of Thembani.
‘We want to stay here. We want to own these farms and be given the
title deeds,’ Nokwaza said, adding that people who had moved to
Thembani wanted to return home. He said Makwetu had been ‘given
the farm by Matanzima in 1980 or 1981’, and that the claimants felt
that tenant farmers like Makwetu should not be allowed to occupy
or buy the farms, which all had claims on them.
Chief Mncedisi Gungubele, who leads the Amatshatshu tribe, told
me he believed that Makwetu, who lives within walking distance of
the chief’s home, was leasing the farm. The chief confirmed that his
tribe was claiming all the Gwatyu Farms land, but added, ‘No one
will be kicked out.’
Another neighbour of Makwetu, 42-year-old Phumelele Msila,
told us, ‘Makwetu got his farm from K.D. [Kaiser] Matanzima.’
Gwanya has suggested that Matanzima was trying to curry favour
with the PAC and the ANC at the time, by making farms available to
the liberation organisations’ leaders.
I put all of this to Makwetu, but he refuses to discuss his occupancy
of the farm, although he says he is aware of ‘speculation about claims
on my land’. ‘But I’m here legally; I signed papers,’ he tells us. I had
had a silly notion of making a quip, if Makwetu offered us tea, about
‘One Settler, Two Sugars’, in echo of the PAC’s notorious ‘One Settler,
One Bullet’ slogan, but his hospitality does not extend that far. He
declines to pose for a photograph, and the interview is over.