Saturday 16 June 2018

Remembering First Insurrection of 1976-1977

The notorious Brigadier Theuns "Rooi Rus" Swanepoel

There are many things forgotten or deliberately obscured and distorted about the "Soweto Uprising of June 16 1976". For one thing, it was in fact far wider and longer process than its celebration today suggests: it was a nationwide anti-apartheid insurrection over 1975-1977. For another, the spark that initiated it was not, as usually claimed, a schoolchildren's protest against being instructed in Afrikaans (though that was drawn into the mix later), but by working class Soweto residents in January protesting the dramatic increase in rates and services charges imposed by the Western Services Council after the all-white Johannesburg City Council ended its R2-million/year subsidy to it. Then, the students joining the protest in June were not high school pupils but  junior school kids - the protest picked up by the elder kids later. Next, Brigadier Theunis "Rooi Rus" Swanepoel who lead the riot cops against the students in a brutal and murderous fashion was a notorious police torturer who is alleged to have personally executed UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold after the latter survived his 1961 air-crash in Zaire in 1998. Also, the Insurrection has been misappropriated in memory as an ANC-inspired uprising, but to the extent that any ideology was dominant at that time, it was Black Consciousness not Charterism. Lastly, according to protest leader Selby Semela, the student leader usually upheld as the hero of the hour, Tietso Mashinini, was actually stoned by fellow students for asking them to back down in the face of police fire. 

Here are some harrowing reminiscences of two of my friends of the fateful day:

Izak Khomo: “I was in Britain on the 16th June 1976, Cardiff to be precise. At 21:00hrs 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 girlfriend 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.”

Eric Miyeni was 10 years old in 1976 (as was I) and he recalled for me 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 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.”


Monday 11 June 2018

Working in bars and Boko Haram territory

 Michael Schmidt, Melville, South Africa, 2017 © Noel Coston

I wrote my last two published books in bars primarily because the task of a researcher and writer can be a bit lonely and that is offset by the geselligheid of the hospitality ecosystem. It's established a longstanding relationship with the cleaners, chefs, waiters and waitresses and bar-staff who make such places tick - and now I am planning on perhaps setting up my own juke joint. Rock 'n roll has its roots in the multiracial slave-class of Haiti, and it borrowed the term "juke" from the Mandinka of Mali and it means "unrighteous" which in the context of colonialism can be taken to mean unsubmitted to the West's missionary-colonisers. 

Besides working in bars, I love working in the field and and managed a project for radio and print journalists in Mali in 2008 on reporting on women in agriculture in Africa, in the capital Bamako and in the provincial town of Segou (below) which is half-way down the incredibly broad Niger River to the bend off which Timbuktu lies. Sadly I was unable to go to that wonderful medieval city and ancient centre of African science and literature that was so badly damaged by the Islamo-fascist Ansar al Dine terror group only a few years later, but I found the Tuareg and other Malians to be wonderfully gentle people, deeply infused with a love for the music that has justifiably made them famous. After my field work in Bangladesh among the survivors of the Rohingya Genocide this year, the next countries I hope to work in are Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon, in Boko Haram territory, training Kanuri-speaking journalists on their operational safety.

Michael Schmidt, Segou, Mali, 2008 © Birgit Schwarz


Sunday 10 June 2018

New Editions of Cartography

I consider myself an African Makhnovist and “Manchurian” yet I have come a long way in my understanding of the international, organised, revolutionary anarchist movement over the past thirteen years since I first provided a historical sketch of in the pamphlet Five Waves: A Brief Global History of Revolutionary Anarchist Communist Mass Organisational Theory & Practice, Zabalaza Books, Durban, South Africa, 2005. 

A book tour of Canada in 2009 lead to me being approached to write a revised and more detailed and expanded version of the text – combined with parts of my talk which I’d called (De)constructing Counter-power – which was published as Cartographie de l’anarchisme révolutionnaire, translated into French by Alexandre Sánchez, Lux Éditeur, Montreal, Canada, 2012. I remain very proud that that book, or really pocket-book as it weighed in at a mere 35,163 words – forms part of a Lux series entitled Instinct de Liberté alongside great contemporary libertarian socialist theorists such as Noam Chomsky, David Graeber, John Holloway, and Howard Zinn, as well as classic anarchist writers such as my beloved Errico Malatesta, Voltairine de Cleyre and Elisée Reclus. 

That text was polished and slightly updated for its English-language edition in 2013, and I have since revised it and updated it significantly. In particular, I have developed a more refined explanation for the class betrayals of the anarcho-syndicalist House of the World Worker (COM) in Mexico and of the National Confederation of Labour (CNT) in the Mexican and Spanish Revolutions respectively, and have detailed the crucial uncompromised movements of the Manchurian and Ukrainian Revolutions, especially the Korean Anarchist Communist Federation (HMGY) and the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine (RPAU). I have also distilled my now in-depth knowledge of the most important post-WWII anarchist mass movement, that of the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation (FAU) and its associated initiatives which built a union federation 400,000 strong by 1972, and have updated the text by sketching the Rojava Revolution currently underway in Western Kurdistan. 

I have also altered my periodisation to add in a Sixth Wave, by ending the Fourth with the collapse of brown-fascist Spain in 1975, and adding a “short Fifth” that ends with the collapse of the red-fascist USSR in 1991, and have significantly revised the footnotes to guide readers to the most incisive, honest – and critical – academic and movement analyses of the anarchist trajectory and track-record as the world’s most holistic and revolutionary libertarian communist praxis. The result is a text that now – though still a pocketbook – stands at 65,895 words. And now I am ready to have the revised English text published as Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism – with, I’m sure you’ll agree, a stunning new glossy black on matt black cover by Dutch-South African designer Angela Meuwsen. 

The book is set to be published both as an e-book and in hard copy. The important thing to me is that the revised “Six Waves” English-language edition will be translated into Arabic and Spanish by some wonderful, top-drawer translators from Algeria and Chile respectively, the prior edition intended for the post-“Arab Spring” Maghreb and Mashriq, and the latter to the post-colonial Hispanophone world which is so embattled against neoliberalism and Bolivarist populism. In turn, the Arab world and intersecting Muslim community in particular desperately need an infusion of the practical ideas of proletarian revolutionary anarchist praxis in order to achieve the democratic-horizontalist promise of the Arab Spring.