December 5, 2017


Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 11:26 am


Ditsela National Educator Conference

This paper seeks to examine RET in the context of Southern Africa, with a particular emphasis of the current discourse on RET in South Africa, and to raise questions about the systemic, structural and institutional arrangements within which the RET discourse takes place in South Africa and therefore theoretical and practical issues and questions that the dominant RET trajectory has for the working-class agenda. To sketch the South African context, the paper provides a summary of the ruling party’s framing and\or location of the RET discourse and its outline of the objectives of RET. This is followed with critical questions for debate in relation the framework and objectives mentioned above. The paper then locates the discourse on RET in SA in the context of the historical roots of racial, class , gender and related oppression in South Africa, the continuities thereof in the current dispensation and the implications thereof for the transformation. It traces such roots to a dynamic intersection between capitalist accumulation, colonialism and racism and therefore posits the anti-thesis and synthesis as a radical project that simultaneously advance socialization, de-colonialization, democratization and put redistribution, redress, restitution , reparation and reconstruction at the centre of the political economy and social policy trajectory. Thus, the paper reframes the debate from talking about RET to talking about radical social, political and economic transformation in order to emphasize that the democratization of the polity and democratization of the economy are inseparable and intertwined and should be pursued simultaneously instead of being viewed as discrete processes to be pursued and achieved in a linear fashion or in stages

“To be radical is to go to the root of the matter. For man, however, the root is man himself.”
― Karl Marx

This education conference of Ditsela takes place on the occasion of the anniversary of two key moments in history from which we can glean critical lessons related to the theme of the conference and the topic of Radical Economic Transformation. This year marks 150 since Karl Marx wrote the seminal piece, Das Kapital: Kritek der Polischen Oekonomie (The Capital: Critique of Political Economy) and hundred years since the Great Proletariat Revolution of 1919. Marx’s Capital and the October Revolution are of particular relevance to today’s topic in so far as their provision of historical and dialectic materialism as scientific tools of analysis that exposed how the problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality , the cycles of booms and busts associated with capitalism and the series of financial crises the world has experience originate and are rooted in the intrinsic contradictions within the capitalist system and therefore that sustainable solutions to these has to be sought outside of the logic, values and structure of the capitalist system. Marxists and post-Marxists theorists have identified some of the factors intrinsic to the logic and structure of capitalism that account for the crisis as (1) the myth of the self-regulating market,(2) neoliberalism unbridled greed of accumulation, (3) crisis of over-accumulation and the crisis of over production and (4) the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.
The myth of the self-regulating market is dealt with extensively by Karl Polanyi in his book, The Great Transformation. Polanyi adequately explains how the economy is connected and subordinated to politics, religion and social relations and that the institutions and mechanisms of markerts self-regulation cannot exist without annihilating human and natural substance of society and turning labor, human beings into pure commodities. The notion of a self-regulating market is based on the idea of Capitalism as a system in which the market is allowed to own and control the use of property in accord with their own interests, and where the invisible hand of the pricing mechanism coordinates supply and demand in markets in a way that is automatically in the best interests of society. (Scott. 2006).
The doctrine of the invisible hand of the market is contradicted by the view of capitalism as socio-political system as well as economic system constituting of three levels, namely
(a) Markets which involves issues of patterns of ownership and control of the production, distribution and consumption of wealth and resources; and constitutes of an interaction between market factors (labor, land, capital, and technology), product markets- goods and services, firms and consumers.
(b) Institutional foundations – policy regime, regulators, social infrastructure and physical infrastructure, which is the domain of government.
(c) The political authority – that administers the system in the form of direct and indirect participation in the economy through administrative and entrepreneurial role such as operating SOE, appropriation, or buying, selling and growing of SOEs, and enforcing laws & regulations & regulations, maintaining infrastructure, passing new laws, issuing new regulation and building new infrastructure. (Scott. 2006: 3-13). Expatiating on the idea of capitalism as a three level system, Bruce R. Scott asserts that Ideology, culture and the political structure including civil society have a mayor influences upon how a democratic society works (Scott 2006:16), and stresses that:
…market frameworks are created through political processes and regulated through administrative agencies, neither of which is directly controlled by the economic actors themselves. In short, the point is that economics is intimately connected to political and administrative processes.

When we take economics out of this broader context we gain something in the clarity with which we can study how markets operate according to the laws of supply and demand, but we inevitably lose the perspective that market frameworks are societal constructs created and legitimated by legislatures and not by the economic actors themselves. (Scott 2006: 17-18). This understanding of capitalism as a sociopolitical and economic system is important in the light of the dominant tendency to frame the Radical Economic Transformation on the assumption that South Africa has achieved political transformation and now require to transit to economic transformation. This framing not only holds the dangers of presenting the democratization of the polity and the democratization of the economy as discrete projects that can be achieved separately and\or in a linear fashion, one leading to the other, it also holds the dangers of equating Radical Economic Transformation with merely de-racialising the ownership and control of the economy. The reality, however, is that the South African politics and polity has not been fully democratised into a participatory democratic state that provide people active participation in the design, implementation, monitoring and review of development programmes, social policy agenda and political economy trajectory of the country nor is it characterised by popular control of public institutions and worker-control of workplaces and other social institutions.
The democratic deficit created by the inadequacy of bourgeois liberal representative democracy is in your face in South Africa, and so is the growing political, social, economic and ideological distance between broader society and the social, economic and political elite. The undemocratic attributes, injustices and inequities of the economy and the undemocratic attributes, injustices and inequities of the political system are complementary and inseparable. The opulence, greed and insatiable accumulation proclivities of Monopoly Capital is prescribed, protected, abetted and entrenched by the constitutional, legal and policy framework laid down by the governing Black comprador bourgeois class. The social lifestyles and political and economic conduct of the Black social, political and corporate elite is prescribed by the standards of Big Capital. The democratic deficit in the politics is the function and creation of the democratic deficit in the economy and the democratic deficit in the economy is reflective of the democratic deficit in the politics. This perspective is useful in interrogating how working-class organizations position themselves in relating to the complex and tricky relationship between the state and the various fractions of capital. This question is important in Southern Africa where there seem to be a direct link between internal contradictions within the state and the territorial battles between the various segments of local, trans-national and global capital.
In Southern Africa there is an emerging pattern of the emergent Black capitalists and sections of the ruling Black comprador bourgeosie enlisting nationalist and anti-imperialist language and the transformation discourse to recruit the working-class on its side in its territorial war with other fractions of capital over who must turn nation’s wealth and state institutions and public resources into their private property the most. The paternalistic attitude of the regimes and regiments of capitalist globalization towards Africa and the domination of capitalist monopolies by White capitalists -courtesy of the legacies and continuities of apartheid-capitalism – create an enabling environment for the Black political and social elites to couch its ambitions to be the new capitalist bosses behind the transformation agenda. This often takes the form of framing the transformation agenda as the African agenda to veil class interests and class contradictions behind the curtain of nationalism. To what extent does this create possibilities for the transformation agenda to be residualizes into a de-racialisation agenda, thereby contributing to giving capital a new breath of life in the form of a non-racial face that allows it to thrive without racial fetters? To what extent is the transformation agenda constructed within the logic of the market? How vigilant and how much capacity, insight, power and influence does labour has to take the transformation discourse outside the logic and dictates of the regimes and regiments of capital?

In her book, The Accumulation of Capital, Rosa Luxemburg expounds on Marx’s ideas on expanded reproduction to explain how the capitalist system is locked the inescapable contradictions and inherent crises. Luxemburg argues: “Capital cannot accumulate without the aid of non-capitalist organizations, nor on the other hand, can it tolerate their continued existence side by side. Only the continuous and progressive disintegration of non-capitalist organizations makes accumulation of capital possible. “(Luxembourg 2003, 397)
One can’t agree more with Rosa Luxemburg on this observation. Capitalism needs labour to turn raw material into goods and services. Capitalism needs political and social institutional foundations to survive. But capitalism does not only deplete and degrades the environment in its quest for super profits. It depends on the suppression of labour interests, social demands and state power for unbridled accumulation of profits and private wealth. Therefore capitalist greed for accumulation results in the destruction of the very non-capital actors that are critical for its survival. In this sense, Capitalism digs its own grave. But capitalism cannot avoid the grave. It cannot free itself from its entrapment to crisis and to the generation of poverty, unemployment and inequalities without eroding its very logic and structure. Updating Luxembourg thesis on the Crisis of Over accumulation in the context of the 1980, Walden Bello describes the financial crisis of that period as
‘the intensification of one of the central crisis or contradictions of global capitalism: the crises of over-production, also known as over-accumulation or over-capacity. This is the tendency for capitalism to build up in the context of heightened inter-capitalist competition, tremendous productive capacity that outruns the population’s capacity to consume owing to income inequalities that limit popular purchasing power. The result is an erosion of profitability, leading to economic downspin” (Bello 2009)
Bello observes that Capitalism mooted out neoliberal restructuring, structural adjustments – extensive accumulation, rapid integration of semi-capitalist, non-capitalist and pre-capitalist areas in the global market economy, and financialization as gateways out of the crisis.
The problem with investing in financial sector operations is that it is tantamount to squeezing value out of already created value. It may create profit, yes, but it does not create new value — only industry, agricultural, trade, and services create new value. Because profit is not based on value that is created, investment operations become very volatile and prices of stocks, bonds, and other forms of investment can depart very radically from their real value — for instance, the stock of Internet startups may keep rising to heights unknown, driven mainly by upwardly spiraling financial valuations.
Profits then depend on taking advantage of upward price departures from the value of commodities, then selling before reality enforces a “correction,” that is a crash back to real values. The radical rise of prices of an asset far beyond real values is what is called the formation of a bubble. Profitability being dependent on speculative coups, it is not surprising that the finance sector lurches from one bubble to another, or from one speculative mania to another. Because it is driven by speculative mania, finance driven (Bello. 2009)
In their book, The Crisis in South Africa: Neoliberalism, Financialization and Uneven and Combined Development, Sam Ashman, Ben Fine, Susan Newman explain the devastating result of the financialization route in South Africa:
…in the context of South African production, financialization has produced a particular combination of short-term capital inflows (accompanied by rising consumer debt largely spent on luxury items) and a massive long-term outflow of capital as major ‘domestic’ corporations have chosen offshore listing and to internationalize their operations while concentrating within South Africa on core profitable MEC sectors. The result, even before the impact of the current crisis, was a jobless form of growth and the persistence of mass poverty for the majority alongside rising living standards for a small minority, including new black elites. (Ashman et al. 2011).
The fact that the internal contradiction within the logic and structure of capitalism are at the centre of the crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality is further amplified in the account of Combined and Uneven Development in South Africa provided by Ashman et al (2011).
South Africa is now, ‘officially’, the most unequal society in the world – though there seems to be a macabre rivalry with Brazil for this status. The poorest 20 per cent of South Africans receive 1.6 per cent of total income while the richest 20 per cent benefit from 70 per cent according to the South African Government’s Development Indicators 2009. In the most recent United Nation’s Human Development Index of ‘wellbeing’, South Africa fell one place to 129th out of 182. Before the global economic crisis, South Africa had one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. It now officially stands at 35.4 per cent or one third of the workforce. The continuing relevance of Marx’s notion that capital generates and draws upon a reserve army of labour is surely demonstrated by South Africa, though Marx could not have foreseen its members would struggle to survive in the context of the highest levels of HIV infection in the world. This helps explain why, according to the UN, average life expectancy for South Africans is just 51.5 years, even though South Africa is classified as a middle income economy. (Ashman et al 2011)

This description of the impact of neoliberalism and capitalist globalization in South Africa underscores Bello’s assertion that the recent financial crisis is not a crisis of the neoliberal capitalism but the crisis of capitalism itself. (Bello. 2009). One can go further to suggest that the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality are not the products of neoliberal capitalism but are an integral part of the logic and structure of capitalism; and in South Africa reflects how the Apartheid economy and its continuities in the current juncture could in many ways be described by the notion of uneven development in the sense of fast growth in one segment of the population or economy does not support development in the same society as a whole. This then is the context in which we have to engage with the Radical Economic Transformation discourse in Southern Africa.

ANC’s outline of the context and objectives of radical economic transformation
The African National Congress’s Discussion Document on Economic Transformation locates the discourse on RET in South Africa in its resolve at its 53rd National Conference at Mangaung in 2012 to pursue what it refers to as the second phase of the transition from apartheid colonialism to a national democratic society. According to the Mangaung resolution the focus the second phase of transition is effecting economic transformation and democratic consolidation in order to improve the quality of life of all South Africans and to promote nation-building and social cohesion and the means to attain this are promoting growth and development, increasing state-led infrastructure , focusing on using local content and local companies, and giving effect to the National Development Plan , the New Growth Path and the Industrial Policy Action Plan to stimulate growth, reindustrialization , transforming the mining sector , promoting youth employment, developmental state , maintain supportive macroeconomic policy framework – reconstruction, growth and development. It also locates RET within the minimum demands of the Freedom Charter. The discussion document presents the objectives of RET policy interventions as:

• Reducing unemployment and youth unemployment
• Returning land to our people and supporting land reform
• increasing Black ownership and control of the economy
• activating small business and cooperatives
• strengthening social justice and conditions for the poor and working class
• improving the employment impact on infrastructure projects
• reducing inequality and poverty
• Dismantling monopoly practices and structures
• Asserting South Africa’s interests in the global economy
• Improving integration into African economy
• Stimulating inclusive growth
Questions for the Trade union Movement and the Working-class:
Some of the critical questions that need serious engagement with insofar as the framework of RET as articulated by the ruling party are:
1. To what extent will the achievement of the objectives of RET be impacted upon by the current disarticulation between the social policy pronouncements that require significant social spending on housing, healthcare, education, social grants (etc) and an economic policy path that is locked in the Washington Consensus logic of reduced tariff rates, tax incentives to big capital, bail out to big capital in different disguises, trade liberalization, flexible labor, de-regulation and down-sizing of the public sector?
2. Many of the objectives of the RET outlined above were\are the pronounced objectives of Growth and Redistribution (GEAR), Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (ASGISA) National Growth Path (NGP), Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP), and National Development Plan (NDP). Thus far these policy programs that the discussion document use as a frame of reference for RET, have produced little in terms of significantly altering racial, class and gender based power and social relations accrued from the legacies and continuities of racial-capitalism. What is it in theoretic and practical terms will or need to be done differently for RET to lead in the direction of practical overhaul of the apartheid geography and the apartheid economy?
3. Is it possible for RET located within the framework of pursuit of the objectives of the NDP to lead to overhaul of the apartheid geography and the apartheid economy without paying serious attention to the problems and issues that organized labor and civil society have raised about the NDP? For instance, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU has accused the NDP of selectively drawing from certain government policies and programmes and ignoring others, ignoring or contradicting critical elements of the NGP/IPAP, which are supposed to be governments lead strategies over the medium term. This, Cosatu asserts creates confusion as to which policy prevails, and undermined the greater degree of co-ordination which was emerging through e.g. the infrastructure plan, and the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC). To what extent does locating RET within the rubric of NDP without addressing the concerns workers and the poor have raised about NDP holds the possibility of raising the policy confusion alluded to by Cosatu? In its critic of the NDP, National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) has argued that the NDP:
a) leaves intact the power relations of Colonialism of a Special Type
b) It is therefore a major rightwing deviation from the Freedom Charter and thus, it paves a path that derails a socialist-oriented NDR
c) Ideologically, it is firmly anchored in neo-liberalism and does not even represent a shadow of the revolutionary tradition of the national liberation movement
d) GEAR is indeed a living and growing document, it had 66 pages in 1996. It has now grown to 430 pages in the form of the NDP!
e) We have consistently argued that there are very strong parallels between the NDP and DA policy
f) Specifically we have argued that the NDP:
i) Does not have a plan on how to restructure the economy
ii) Does not have a plan on how to fundamentally transform ownership and control patterns of the economy
iii) Plans to roll-out infrastructure to further reinforce raw mineral export dependence and not broad-based industrial development
iv) Minimizes the role of the state in the economy
v) Seeks to de-regulate the labour market further and to further weaken working class power, and is thus thoroughly anti-working class in its outlook
vi) Operates within the neo-liberal macroeconomic framework and broadly, and thus offers no hope for fundamental social and economic transformation
The question that remains in this regard is: to what extent is there a match or mismatch between the goals of RET and the goals of NDP? What are workers and communities going to do to ensure that the conceptualization and implementation of RET addresses the issues and problems they have with elements of NDP and other macrocosmic policies of the current government? Related to this is the big question of the extent to which Radical Economic Transformation can be achieved without rolling back some of the critical aspects of the CODESA agreements.
The Namibian and Zimbabwean experience is instructive in this regard. Herbert Jauch provides this insightful account of the Namibian experience:
In its 1976 political programme, the South West African People’s (SWAPO) envisaged Radical economic transformation but did not implement it upon assuming power. In the run-up to independence in the late 1980s, negotiations with the Western Contact Group resulted in certain constitutional principles which included the protection of private property. Thus neither the land that was stolen through genocide nor the control of multinationals over mineral and fishing resources was even touched. As a result, colonial economic structures remained in place after independence and there was not even talk of the need for radical economic transformation amongst the political leadership. An arrangement (although sometimes uneasy) between the old and the new elite was reached and economic changes were limited to some modest reforms such as affirmative action measures and more bargaining rights for unions. Working class organisations failed to mount a systematic challenge to push for radical economic transformation. Critical left voices were either co-opted into government structures or remained in NGOs that were mostly donor-dependent. Trade unions’ militancy declined steadily over the years and despite some occasional radical positions on land and privatization, unions overall did not manage to push for radical economic transformation. This left working class interests stranded. A few years ago, Namibia’s second trade union federation, the Trade Union Congress of Namibia (TUCNA) developed its own policy proposals. This at least signaled an intention to tackle broader socio-economic issues and not be confined to a narrow collective bargaining agenda. (Jauch.2017)
In Zimbabwe a similar situation prevailed. Despite the socialist orientation of Zanu (PF) at the time it ascended to power, it became constrained by the Lancaster House Arrangement Like South Africa and Namibia, Zimbabwe had the advantage and opportunity to learn from African countries that received independence and received advises from statesmen from these countries. Based on Mozambique’s experience after it had chased the Portuguese out of the country and embarked on an intensive nationalization program, Samora Machel cautioned Zimbabwe against post-independence revolutionary zeal, and Julius Nyerere implored with President Robert Gabriel Mugabe to preserve the Jewel of Africa – referring to Zimbabwe’s relatively developed and diversified economy. (Chitambara et al 2011). The Mozambican experience that Machel implored Zimbabwe to learn from indicates the barriers that the economy dominated by beneficiaries of settler-colonialism and racial-capitalism hold for post-independent Southern African countries. It underscores the fact that Nyerere Should has qualified his plea to Zimbabwe to keep the jewel of Africa with a caution about the hollowness of hoping to leverage whatever positive elements of the inherited economy without addressing the realities of a disarticulated economy, characterised by a disharmony between its various parts and the existence of tiny enclaves of opulence and filthy riches alongside oceans of poverty and wretchedness. In this regard, it is instructive to examine the observation of Chitambara et al (2011) that:
….if Zimbabwe was a “jewel” at independence; it was certainly a flawed one. The inherited economy was based on the philosophy of white supremacy that resulted in the evolution of a relatively well-developed and modern formal sector, employing about one million people (a fifth of the labor force) , that existed alongside an undeveloped and backward rural economy , the home of 70 percent of the Black population. The ‘jewel’ was the ‘enclave’ part of the economy, which had been developed on the ruthless dispossession of the source of livelihood of the majority of the people, in particular their access to land, which forced them into wage employment. Movement across these structures was strictly controlled such that the prevailing relationship between them was an exploitative one. (Chitambara et al (2011).
The late Zambian economist, Guy Mhone has written extensively about enclavity, primitive accumulation, migration and rural marginalization and labor absorptive capacity in Southern Africa and how the economy characterised by enclavity thwarted and arrested possibilities of pro-poor development, and inclusive and shared growth Zambia.

In South Africa, many theorists have employed Trotsky’s thesis of Combined and Uneven Development to highlight the systemic and structural barriers created by the continuities of an enclave economy accruing from settler-colonial racial-capitalism. This highlights the importance of strategic policies simultaneously aimed, building the capacity of State Owned Enterprises, enhancing the efficacy Private Public Partnerships, facilitating active participation of indigenous people in the economy through skill development, business support and affirmative action programmes and transforming patterns of ownership and control of the economy through redistribution and redress programs and reconstruction and social policy programs aimed towards the overhaul of the socioeconomic and physical or geographic structures of racial segregation apartheid geography. Zimbabwe’s Transitional National Development Plan indicated some sense of learning from other African countries. It declared that in some countries in Africa growth and development was impeded by external and internal constraints that include inappropriate policies and strategies, misallocation of human and material resources building costly, unproductive and often unnecessary capacity. The Transitional National Development Plan went further to mention the results of suck skewed policies as uneven development, stagnation, and decline, leading to no significant and sustained improvement in the living standards of a people as a whole. (Chitambara et al (2011). However the constraints of Lancaster House agreement, the impositions of the IMF and the World Bank and lack of political will and courage to carve an alternative developmental path saw the Zimbabwe National Union -Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) government religiously implementing the Structural Adjustment Programmes, much to the disadvantage of the working-class and the poor. The rigorous adoption and implementation of Effective Structural Adjustment Programs (ESAP) in Zimbabwe once again proved that liberalization and financialization is not a panacea to underdevelopment.

The Zimbabwean government inherited the most developed financial sector in Southern Africa, with four commercial banks, two discount houses, three merchant banks, three building societies, three finance companies, the Post Office Savings Bank, the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, a large number pension and provident funds, three development finance institutions, including Agricultural Finance Corporations established in 1924 to fund agricultural projects and two stockbroking firms. (Chitambara et al (2011). These highly segmented financial institutions were not changed in any fundamental way by the new government in the first decade of independence, making the financial services to remain exclusive of the majority of the population, available only to urbanites that constitute less than thirty percent of the population. (Chitambara et al (2011). Under the rubric of ESAP, Zimbabwe embarked on a rapid financialization project, based on the logic that a well-developed financial sector plays a casual and central role in promoting socioeconomic development and that financial development reduces income inequality and absolute poverty.
Based on the argument that excessive regulations and controls interfere with competition and make banks less efficient, more fragile and reduce industry’s access to finance, the Zimbabwean government adopted the liberalization of the interest regime and its transformation into a market-based framework as its strategy to mobilize savings. This strategy is in line with the theoretical underpinning of the financial sector reforms that emphasizes the link between interest rates and savings and postulates that liberalization will, amongst others, increase financial savings and improve the quality and quantity of investments and that increase in domestic interest rates relative to foreign rates will encourage capital flow thereby augmenting domestic savings, resulting in a large pool of loanable funds. (Chitambara et al (2011). The reforms introduced by Zimbabwe in this regard were
• relaxation of regulations pertaining entry of new financial institutions
• the government committed itself an exchange-rate policy that allowed Zimbabwean dollar to depreciate over time by the inflation differential between Zimbabwe and its major trading countries
• Zimbabwean residents and companies were allowed to open foreign-currency denominated accounts with authorized dealers in Zimbabwe
• foreigners were allowed to purchase shares in the Zimbabwean stock exchange subject to 25 per cent limit on a counter , with a single investor limited to 5 percent
• restrictions on access to domestic borrowings by foreigners was abolished
• in February 1995 Zimbabwe agreed to commit to article 8 of the IMF (Chitambara et al (2011).

Chitambara et al (2011) observes that financial liberalization not only deregulated interest rates but also facilitated the onset of the first stage of financial deepening – the emergence of new financial intermediaries and banks, with a number of banking institutions increasing by more than three folds by 1990, constituting fourteen commercial banks, four merchant banks, three finance houses, six discount houses and five building society. The fact that most of the new entrants in the financial sector were owned by indigenous Zimbabweans makes the banking sector one of the sectors in which economic empowerment of the indigenous was achieved smoothly. (Chitambara et al (2011). However, the most important question, which is critical, especially for South Africans – is did the well-developed and diversified, and relatively indigenized financial sector result in socioeconomic development? Did financial development contribute to the reduction of income inequality and absolute poverty? Did the economic empowerment of indigenous Zimbabweans translate into the broader empowerment of the indigenous people of Zimbabwe as a collective or to their social development and economic development?
An answer to this question is a big NO or as South Africans would say, for the underclasses and the majority of the population, it offered ‘dololo’ . This comes out very clear in this account by Chitambara et al (2011)
“The influx of new entrants into the financial sector resulted in intense competition for customers between the new indigenous Zimbabwean banks and the old, orthodox banks, mainly foreign owned. However, the community did not benefit much from this competition, as the pricing of banking products did not improve. Average lending rates increased from 12percent in 1990 to 34.7 percent in 1997, while interest on three-month deposits rose from 10.3 percent to 32.5 percent over the same period. In addition, when measured in terms of depth of products and services offered, the new banking institutions did not offer any innovative services, choosing to fight for space in the market for generic banking products, mainly deposit mobilization and lending to well established companies and individuals with high net worth. A lack of risk management skills and weak corporate governance structures limited the capacity of new institutions to develop new structures. As a result the banking sector continued to serve its prime clients, leaving the SMEs and other marginalised sections of the community without access to financial services. (Chitambara et al (2011).
This example of how the poor benefitted fokkol from financial reforms that took place within the framework of ESAP in the name of inclusive growth indicates how the roots of the financial doldrums in which Zimbabwe found itself can be found in the imposition of the neoliberal trajectory on Zimbabwe and the failure of its government to boldly the colonial, neo-colonial, racial and uneven nature of the economic structure head on right from the beginning. Instead of bold action the government resorted to using paying lip service to the land issue each election time. When it became clear that the workers and the poor are tired of slogans and flag independence, the government was forced to go the route of land redistribution, and indigenization, appropriated popular sentiments to project itself as an anti-colonial force in order to prop up its power. This happened at the time trade union movement was divided between a section that uncritically endorsed government agenda and a section that aligns itself with a liberal bourgeosie opposition that tremendously failed to align itself on the side of the masses, refused to support land repossession project. The MDC actually expelled –International Socialist Organization (ISO) member – Gwisai Munyaradzi – who was then MP on the MDC ticket – for pushing for MDC to support land redistribution agenda.

The absence of a strong, united and radical trade union movement and of a strong socialist movement left the radical transformation agenda in the hands of the ruling Zanu PF who mostly used it as a vote-catching mechanism and as a means of patronage and self-enrichment of the political and social elite associated with Zanu PF rather than as a break with capitalism or practical search for a socialist alternative. The questions in this regard are: will the trade union movement and broad working-class organizations in South Africa, choose the path of entrusting the government with the radical economic agenda uncritically, or the path of making its distrust of government to take an dismissive and absenteeist posture or that of a critical support of the government’s RET trajectory, exploiting positive aspects thereof to articulate a socialist alternative, exposing and combatting attempts by the social, political elites to eat in the name of transformation, and developing its own policy proposals and creating its own platforms and strategies to pursue this goal rather than relying solely on government efforts and platforms? What can we learn from Zimbabwe in terms of transforming the white-dominated financial sector in South Africa in a manner that benefits all South Africans rather than create a few elite who operates with the same profiteering logic of the white and\or foreign owned financial cartels? Related to this question is the question of the meaning of national liberation and class struggle in the South African context, specifically the extent to which formulating these as discrete questions that can be addressed in stages creates an ideological and political, philosophical and practical dilemmas, and to what extent locating the RET within this paradigm raise questions.
In this regard there is a need to for the working class to critically on the extent to which there is a need for critical review the notions such as national liberation, Colonialism of Special Types, the National Democratic Revolution and the Native Republic Thesis which have always featured heavily in the dominant traditions within the liberation movement insofar as characterization of the South African struggle is concerned. In his article, National Liberation: What significance, if any, for South Africa today? Leonard Gentle makes the point that though the land that is today still officially known as South Africa was a British colony up to the establishment of the South African state through the Act of the Union of 1910, the parties that negotiated settlement of 1994 were all South Africans unlike in Zimbabwe the Lancaster Agreement was between Britain and the liberation movements.

He therefore concludes that in South Africa ‘national liberation’ could not have meant the achievement of national independence from or secession from a colonial oppressor state in the strict sense of the word. In response to this problematique of how to characterise apartheid state the SACP coined the term Colonialism of a Special Type in the 1950s to describe the oppression of White minority rule as akin to colonialism, albeit with the colonizer not being a foreigner but an occupant. Such characterization amounted to regarding White South as settlers; a term later associated more with the Pan Africanist Congress that split from the ANC in 1955. From the 1960, partially because of the discomfort with the settler-colonial connotations and partly because of the influence of the two stage theory and the Black Republic thesis as propounded by the USRR, the SACP and ANC used the concept of National Democratic Revolution (NDR) to explain the character of the South African struggle. The gist of NDR was that the struggle is national in form but democratic in context. This meant that the struggle should be conducted in two stages, respectively aimed at the goals of the attainment of liberation from colonial racial oppression and the attainment of socialism. Flowing from this logic was the idea that the first stage that should lead to a Black Capitalist Republic shall be led by the Patriotic Front in the form of the African National Congress and the second that should lead to socialism shall be led by the South African Communist Party as the vanguard party. ( Gentle.2012). As late at 2010, the General Secretary of the SACP, comrade Blade Nzimande asserted that the objective of the NDR has always been understood as the defeat of repressive and colonial regimes to build people’s democracies under the leadership of the motive forces, mainly the oppressed and exploited. He also stressed that such revolution may not be able to proceed to socialism immediately in circumstances were the motive forces are not strong or conscious enough to drive socialist revolution or where other objective factors pose a limitation to transition to socialism.
This view is in harmony with the assertion of the ANC National Working Committee in 2009 that the NDR is called as such because its national and democratic tasks are aimed at dealing with the political and socio-economic manifestations of apartheid colonialism and that
While the motive forces strive to change the elements of the capitalist system in the interests of the NDR, they have to manage the capitalist system in line with the main elements of its own logic.
In its Second Transition document of 1912, the ANC further amplified its strategic mechanism of managing the capitalist system in the interest of the NDR by arguing that the NDR requires a black bourgeosie and should even appeal to sections of the white capital that are ‘patriotic”. Given the points raised in this paper about the need to locate a revolutionary transformative agenda outside the logic, structures and regimes and regiments of capitalism, what are the possibilities of the NDR located within the framework of creatively harnessing capitalism in the interest of democratization of the polity and economy transitioning into radical socio-economic transformation, let alone socialism?
What are the implications of pinning the hopes of the attainment of the objectives of the NDR and the possibilities of a second transition on liberal constitutionalism and creative management of capitalism? As Ari Sitas has observed, the dominant discourse within South Africa, particularly within the tripartite alliance is not only that the post-apartheid dispensation is an unfinished National Democratic Revolution or a national democracy in the making, but also that an electoral or insurrectionary alternative is premature. (Sitas. 2012). The second transition concept mooted by the ANC at its 2012 policy conference and subsequent policy positions as minor version of transition from the NDR Social Revolution is thin in details such as how it offers any substantial break with the political economy trajectory based on neoliberal macroeconomic and the residualisation of social policy to safety-net aimed? What implication does the idea that since the ANC can directly access, reach and influence the working-class, urban and rural poor through local councilors and local branches, it does not need the mediation of the civics, has on the strategy of communists and progressive trade unions building socialism now through the politics of encroachment and constructive criticism within the ruling party? (Sitas 2012). Gentle (2012) pose the following questions in relation to the NDR: “What does ‘national in form’ means? “Who is the South African nation? “What did the liberation movement mean “national liberation? Gentle (2012) correctly probes the notion of national liberation by a reminding us that in terms of the notion of ‘nation’ , only White people were considered as the South African nation in the 1910 and that only white people made the decision in 1961 that South Africa should become a republic outside the British Commonwealth. One can add that Black people were not included in the Ja\Nee vote that was intend to gauge whether the SA government of that time had the citizen’s nod to pursue the negotiated settlements. This is precisely because in terms of the apartheid lexicon and its systemic and institutional framework only White people as a collective were perceived to constitute the South African nation, with Black people as a collective perceived and portrayed as a collection of tribes. This the logic that informed the establishment of the Bantustan, urban townships sometimes segmented into Sotho section; Nguni section etc and what was then called Radio Bantu; with tribal segmented radio stations, e.g Radio Sesotho, Radio Zulu, etc. It is in response to this apartheid notion of South Africa as constituting of the White nation and a collection of tribal groups and the balkanization of the country along racial and tribal lines that the idea of a unitary democratic South Africa in which there is no whites or blacks, minorities or majorities but a single South African nation permeated the broader liberation movement. But to what extent can we say we have attained the nation-building part of the liberation project? Are there significant and noticeable steps toward dismantling and reconstructing the apartheid geography and antecedent structural and institutional arrangements beyond surface modification of the old society and renaming apartheid constructed institutions without doing away with their racial and tribal constructions?

Telling cases in this regard is how the housing and social infrastructure development programme of the post-1994 government has failed to challenge and reconstruct apartheid spatial arrangements and the how the ghost of the 1951 Bantu Authorities Act is being resurrected in the form of a Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act where the Chiefs enjoy more powers than they did in the Bantustan regimes of the Nationalist Party, ( Giyosi 2012) often at the expense of the rural poor, especially in places located in the former Transkei and former Ciskei area. Another case in point is how we have simply renamed Radio Sesotho, Radio Zulu, and Radio Xhosa etc to Lesedi f.m, Ukhosi FM, Umhlobo Wenene without transforming them into instruments of integration instead of tribally based institutions they essentially remain. The issues flagged raise the following questions: how far we are as country with the nation-building project? What are there contrarieties within this nation-building project? To what extent has South Africa learnt from other countries in Africa about the pitfalls of national consciousness that Fanon referred to? The questions about the meaning and relevance of national liberation and NDR in the current context are related to overall question about the class structure of South Africa: What does the revolutionary agenda entail? Who are the motive forces? What kind of alliances and solidarities need to be built and what are the challenges and threats contained in such alliances? In this regard, it may be useful for the broader left to grapple with the following questions posed by Gentle (2012):
….when did South Africa shift from being a British colony and become something else….what is that something else….and what was that “something else” before 1994? And more importantly, what is that something else today? What is the character of the bourgeosie? And what is the character of the working-class in South Africa? Is it simply a unified working class for which race does not matter? What about the middle class? Does South Africa today still replicate the old divisions for access to the social surplus generated by the working-class? What strategies and tactics should the underclasses employ to win their goals …and who is on the side of the under-classes and who is against them?
How should the trade union movement and the working-class frame RET?
Perhaps the best way for labour and working-class to answer the pertinent questions raised above is to locate RET within the historical-material roots and systemic and structural base of racial, class and gender oppression in Southern Africa and South Africa in particular. A critical examination of the roots of racial and class oppression in the global South and Southern Africa in particular reveals an intersection between capitalism (classism), colonialism (imperialism) and racism and racial segregation. In order to deal with the crisis of the exhaustion of natural resources and the conflict between capital interests and labor and social demands, Capitalism in the Nothern Hemisphere had to launch beyond geographic borders in search of raw resources and cheap labour.
Capitalist colonial expansionism then had to enlist racism as moral justification expansionism of the plunder of the lands and wealth of other people and the super exploitation of their labor through subjugation to subhuman working and living condition. The fact that colonialism and or imperialism conscripted racism as its moralizing doctrine logically resulted in colonial societies being based on structures of racial segregation. Emergent capitalism in Southern Africa enlisted the pre-existing structures of racial segregation established by racism to fend cheap labor for itself through the proleteriazation of the African people, using the mechanisms of the forced labor, In South Africa, the apartheid policies established by the National Party regime served to institutionalize the structures of racial segregation established by colonialism and expanded by racially-based capitalism. In his article on the South African political economy, Martin Legassick eloquently explains inextricable link between colonialism, capitalism and racism in the context of South Africa.
South Africa was formed through colonial conquest, by first the mercantile Dutch East India Company from the mid-seventeenth century followed by the British from the early nineteenth century. From that time on colonialism resulted in racism, slavery, attempted genocide, the expropriation of the land of indigenous people and the exploitation of their labour as forced labour. Here lie the roots of national oppression. Full-blooded capitalism developed late in South Africa in comparison with Europe and the United States. The real impact of capitalism came only with the discovery of gold and diamonds, in the mineral revolution at the end of the nineteenth century, as the world economy was undergoing the transition to imperialism. Diamond and gold mines required large amounts of cheap labour. They used the pre-existing structures of colonialism and racism and transformed them into structures of segregation to generate this supply as cheap black migrant labour, supervised by racially privileged white workers. The ideology and structures of segregation prepared the way for the ideology and structures of apartheid. Segregation and apartheid, therefore, served the interests of capitalism rather than merely the ideology of Afrikaner nationalism. (Legassick. Undated)
This account of the roots of national and class oppression indicates that the program of transformation in South Africa must effectively be that of de-colonialization, socialisation and the de-racialization and democratization of both the polity and the economy. While this implies that redistribution, redress\ restitution, reconstruction should be at the centre of social policy and economic policy, it also means that South Africa must honestly address the difficult question posed by the Fallism movement: how possible is it to achieve redistribution, redress\ restitution, reconstruction without brutally confronting the legacies, continuities and symbols of the structures of colonialism, white supremacism and patriarchy? The argument that the de-coloniality and intersectionality discourse presents before us is that de-racialising capital within the precincts of colonial and neo-colonial structures is as cosmetic as de-colonization without a break with capitalism, patriarchy and related forms of social division, social exclusion and social disenfranchisement ultimately amount to the ruling, corporate and social elites seating at the capitalist table eating on behalf of everybody, while the underclasses as a whole, Black people in particular, women and other marginalised sectors of society remain on the periphery, condemned to feasting on crumbs. It points to the fact that the task of the trade union movement and the working-class has to be pushing the RET discourse beyond pursuing shared growth to dislocating the edifices of colonialism, capitalism, racism ad patriarchy. Patrick Bond (cited in Legassick. Undated) pointed to the need for the transformation agenda to highlight this historic task of the working-class and their organization in his response Blade Nzimande’s passionate call for South Africa to go back to the RDP, to wealth redistribution, greater social spending, and heavy investment in infrastructure, together with policies that created long-term jobs and sustainable livelihoods for the majority. In a passionate plea made in to the Black Management Forum, , Nzimande correctly asserted that growth alone, even if it reached 6%, wouldn’t necessarily translate into jobs. Where there was such a “huge wealth gap”, even growth of 10% a year wouldn’t help people without structural change.
Bond responded that Nzimande is right, but he needs to spell out clearly that this involves a struggle to nationalize the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ control and management and that the strategy for inward-industrialisation to provide for the basic needs outlined in the RDP should lea inexorably to a strategy for workers’ power, workers’ control of the economy, and workers’ democracy. The argument raised by Patrick Bond point to the fact that for the working-class Radical Economic Transformation, or revolutionary social, political and economic transformation will be superficial if it does not amount to development of a strategy a strategy for workers’ power, workers’ control of the economy. In this regard, it may be useful to quote at length, Simon Clarke, whose book, Keynesianism, monetarism, and the crisis of the state, influenced Bond’s views expressed above:
“The necessity of socialism has never been more urgent. The objective conditions for a democratic socialist society have never been more fully developed. The concentration and centralization of capital has socialized production to an unprecedented degree. The computer, through which monetarism has been able to perfect the subordination of society to the alienated rule of money, provides the instrument that makes it possible to bring the complex apparatus of social production under democratic control. “There is no reason why socialism should not put itself back on the historical agenda, if only it can learn the lessons of its defeats. The fundamental lessons are three. First, the basis of socialism can only be the socialization of production. Only by bringing social production under social control can the contradictory tendencies of capitalist accumulation, that lead to the pauperization of growing masses of the world population, to the intensification of class struggle, to wars and to recurrent crises, be overcome. Second, socialism has to be internationalist. This is not dictated simply by the internationalization of capital, for the crisis is unleashing nationalist political and ideological forces that counter such internationalization. It is more fundamentally a political imperative. Nationalism is the supreme expression of the alienated form of the capitalist state, fetishing the ‘illusory community’ of the nation against the emerging unity of the ‘real community’ embodied in the collective organization of the working class. Third, socialism has to be democratic. This does not mean that socialism should confine itself within the limits of the formal democracy of the capitalist state. The experience of state socialism and social democracy alike shows that the attempt to build socialism from above, on the basis of the illusory community of the capitalist state and the formalism of its democratic processes, soon leads the state to confront the real community of the democratic organizations of the working class as a barrier to socialism. The socialization of production cannot be divorced from the question of the political forms of such socialization” (Clarke 1988)
The conclusions that can be drawn from the question raised in this paper with regard to (1) the conceptual and practical framework of RET, (2) the an analysis of the roots of national and class oppression in South Africa and (3) the historic the task of the working-class is that genuine radical economic transformation has to result in an overarching change in patterns of ownership of the land, the major means of production and the commanding heights of the economy. It has to entail a move from private ownership to public ownership and state control of the land, the major means of production and the commanding heights of the economy and the socialisation of essential services such as water, energy, health, education, and transport. It also has to entail doing away with a dis-embedded economy that is centred on the activities of private corporations and the state only without taking consideration of and capacitating other economic actors such as the family, homebased economic and business activities, economic and business activities that take place at the community level, in organizations, within the informal economy and in broader society. It has to take the form of re-embedding the economy in society and reinforcing the intersection between political democracy and economic democracy. It should be intertwined with the creation of democratic worker control of production and workplace democracy and community control of public institutions like schools, hospitals and clinics. True radical transformation of the economy has to facilitate cooperative, collaborative and communal processes and structures of production, distribution and consumption.
Radical economic transformation should go beyond economic reforms aimed at creating a Black capitalist industrialist class. It should go beyond simply de-racialising the upper layer of the capitalist structure but leaving the bottom structures the same, characterised by Black working-class suffering and White privilege. The way forward for labor and working-class organization with in relation to the RET discourse can be summarized with one slogan: Resist, Mobilize, Transform! Resist both the ploys of capital to arrest the moves towards economic transformation and the machinations of the Black capitalist and comprador bourgeoisie to turn RET into elitist project in which the rich and connected eat the nation’s wealth in the name of and on behalf of the masses. Mobilize to build the strength, power and capacity of the forces of socialist forces to fight and win battles at the shopfloor, at the boardrooms, on the street, in the parliament, etc. Unleash the force and power of the forces in all these platforms to push for systemic, structural and institutional transformation.

1. Mphutlane wa Bofelo teaches Political and Social Development at Workers’ College in Durban, KwaZulu –South Africa \Azania. The views expressed in the paper are not necessarily subscribed to by the Workers’ College.

2. DITSELA is the Development Institute for Training, Support and Education for Labour. It was established in 1996 by the main trade union federations in South Africa, to help build a strong trade union movement.

3. Karl Paul Polanyi (October 25, 1886 – April 23, 1964)[1] was an Austro-Hungarian economic historian, economic anthropologist, economic sociologist, political economist, historical sociologist and social philosopher. He is known for his opposition to traditional economic thought and for his book, The Great Transformation, which argued that the emergence of market-based societies in modern Europe was not inevitable but historically contingent. Polanyi is remembered today as the originator of substantivism, a cultural approach to economics, which emphasized the way economies are embedded in society and culture. This view ran counter to mainstream economics but is popular in anthropology, economic history, economic sociology and political science.

4. Rosa Luxemburg ( 5 March 1871– 15 January 1919) was a German-Polish-Jewish Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist, anti-war activist, and revolutionary socialist who became a naturalized German citizen. She was, successively, a member of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL), the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). She articulated a pointed criticism of both the Leninist and the more moderate social democratic schools of socialism, Luxemburg.

5. Walden Flores Bello (born November 11, 1945) is a Filipino academic who served as a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines. He is a professor of sociology and public administration at the University of the Philippines Diliman, as well as executive director of Focus on the Global South. Socialist Worker described Bello as “one of the most articulate and prolific voices on the international left” and that “he has devoted most of his life to fighting imperialism and corporate globalization”. Bello was also a supporter of Hugo Chávez and was impressed by his opposition to the United States, stating after Chávez’s death that he was “a class act, one impossible to follow. Wherever you are right now, give ’em hell”

6. “Economic Transformation: Employment Creation, Economic Growth and Structural Change: Strengthening the programme of Radical Economic transformation.” ANC National Policy Conference Discussion Documents. http://www.anc.org.za/sites/default/files/National%20Policy%20Conference%202017%20Economic%20Transformation_1.pdf

7. The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) agreed on the principles of power-sharing, protection of minority rights and guarantee of property rights as the corner-stones of the Government of National Unity. The National Party had entered the negotiation process saying these are the non-negotiable conditions upon which any future constitution of South Africa should be based. The property clause remains in the current constitution of South Africa.

8. Herbert Jauch has been with the labour movement in Southern Africa for over 20 years. He served as executive member of the Namibian National Teachers Union (NANTU) as well as on various committees of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW). Since 1995 Herbert worked as labour researcher, carrying out research projects for the Southern African Trade Union Co-ordination Council (SATUCC) as well as Namibian and South African trade unions. Herbert was instrumental in developing a labour diploma course for Namibian trade unions and served as director of the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LARRI) in Katutura, Windhoek from 1998 until 2007. He was LaRRI’s senior researcher until January 2010 and now works as freelance labour researcher and educator with various organisations in Southern Africa.

9. The Lancaster House Agreement, signed on 21 December 1979, allowed for the creation and recognition of the Republic of Zimbabwe, replacing the unrecognized state of Rhodesia created by Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965. The terms of the Agreement provided for Zimbabwe Rhodesia to temporarily revert to its former status as the Colony of Southern Rhodesia, thereby ending the rebellion caused by Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence. In addition to the terms, Robert Mugabe and his supporters were pressured into agreeing to wait ten years before instituting land reform. Both the British and American governments offered to compensate white citizens for any land sold so as to aid reconciliation (the “Willing buyer, Willing seller” principle), and a fund was established to operate from 1980 to 1990.

10. South African slang for ‘nothing’

11. Afrikaans word essentially meaning having nothing, being nothing, nothing left, literally “fuck all”

12. The International Socialist Organization (ISO) is a revolutionary socialist organization in that identifies with Trotskyism, Leninism, and the Marxist political tradition of “socialism from below.

13. Leonard Gentle is the former director of the International Labour and Research Information Group (ILRIG), an NGO that produces educational materials for activists in social movements and trade unions. He has been an anti-apartheid activist for many years and has worked as an organizer for the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (SACCAWU), the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (NUMSA) and as an educator for the International Federation of Workers’ Educational Associations (IFWEA).

14. Ari Sitas is a South African sociologist, writer, dramatist and civic activist. His publications include Voices that reason, Black Mamba Rising: South African Worker Poets in Struggle, William Zungu: A Xmas Story, Slave Trades, and Towards a Postcolonial Sociology?

15. Ari Sitas is a South African sociologist, writer, dramatist and civic activist. His publications include Voices that reason, Black Mamba Rising: South African Worker Poets in Struggle, William Zungu: A Xmas Story, Slave Trades, and Towards a Postcolonial Sociology?

16. Patrick Bond (born 1961, Belfast, Northern Ireland) is professor of political economy at the University of the Witwatersrand Wits School of Governance. He was formerly associated with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he directed the Centre for Civil Society from 2004-2016. His research interests include political economy, environment, social policy, and geopolitics

17. Simon Clarke (born 26 March 1946) is a British sociologist specialising in social theory, political economy, labour relations, and the history of sociology. He has a particular interest in employment relations in China, Vietnam, and the former-Soviet nations. He is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Warwick.


Ashman, S, Fine B and Newman, S. 2011. The Crisis in South Africa: Neoliberalism, Financialization and Uneven and Combined Development. Socialist Register http://www.socialistregister.com/index.php/srv/article/view/14326#.WgAy8Y0UlYc

Bello, W. 2002. cited in Melissa Serrano and Edlira Xhafa. 2011. “The quest for alternatives beyond (Neo—liberal) Capitalism”, Working Paper no 14. International Labor Organization. (ILO): Geneva.
Clarke, Keynesianism, pp. 359-360 cited by Martin Legassick in South African political economy
Chitambara P, Kanyenze G, Kondo T, and Martens, J. 2011. Beyond the Enclave: Towards a Pro-Poor and Inclusive Development Strategy for Zimbabwe. Weaver Press: Harare
Herbert Jauch. Personal Conversations. 06\10\2017
Gentle.L. 2012. “National Liberation: What Significance, if any, for South Africa Today?” in Cornell, V. (ed).2012. National Liberation: Any Significance Today? Papers from the ILRIG April Conference. Ilrig: Cape Town.
Giyosi. MP. 2012. The Antimonies of National Liberation Movement Theory and Practice: the African National Congress 1910-1960” in Cornell, V (ed) 2012. National Liberation: Any Significance Today? Papers from the ILRIG April Conference. Ilrig: Cape Town.
Legassick. M. “South African political economy” undated. http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za/files/Legassick%20SA%20poli%20econ%20today.pdf
Luxemburg, R. 1913. The Accumulation of Capital. https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1913/accumulation-capital/index.htm

Polanyi, K. 1994. The Great Transformation. Beacon Press. Boston. http://inctpped.ie.ufrj.br/spiderweb/pdf_4/Great_Transformation.pdf

Scott, B. R. 2006. Bruce R. Scott, Chapter 2, Capitalism, Democracy and Development, June 27, 2006
Sitas. A. 2012. Where have all the stages gone? The Challenges of Working Class Fragmentation. in Cornel. V (ed) 2012. National Liberation: Any Significance for Today? Papers from the ILRIG April Conference. Ilrig: Cape Town.

July 24, 2017


Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,politics — ABRAXAS @ 10:34 am

Strini Moodley Memorial Lecture presented on 19 July 2017, Howard College Theatre, University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN)

Respected leaders and members of the UKZN community, Umtapo Centre, the Steve Biko Transformative Educational Project and broader KZN civil society, I greet you in the name of the oneness, unity and fellowship of humanity: Sanibonani, Shalom, Namaste, Assalaam Alaykum, Kgotso ebe le lona. As frightened as I am by the word ‘memorial lecture’ and equally surprised when I saw the official invite to this event falsely accusing me of being a “lecturer”, I am greatly honored to be part of the speakers at this memorial lecture of comrade Strinivasa Raju Moodley – the man fondly known as Connection.


The Connection nickname symbolized Comrade Strini’s inclination to interact with and bring people together beyond social, political, cultural and geographic borders. A memorial is indeed a fitting tribute to a man whose political and cultural work was by and large against de-historicizing the many social, political and economic problems facing humanity. The symbolic and political significance of the concept of memorial in this context is also due to the fact that comrade Strini subscribed to the Black Consciousness philosophy, a philosophy that has articulated the relationship between memory and being very well. Indeed Black Consciousness – like other philosophical branches Africana Philosophy such as Pan Africanism , Black Existentialism , Black Existential Feminism and Critical Race Theory , stresses the importance of remembering , particularly critical interrogation of the past and its link to the present and the future as a political act, that has either liberating or oppressive consequences depending on the meaning that one attach to their place in history and their role in the making of history.

Black Consciousness has properly identified the impact of the colonialist project of denigration, disfiguring and mutilation of the histories and traditions of an oppressed people as denying people a sense of being and belonging and therefore denying them their humanity. The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) – of which Strini was a co-founder in Azania – identifies the re-humanization of the oppressed people and their mental and physical liberation as the central aim of national and class struggles the world over and as the central focus of our struggle in Azania. The BCM articulates Black Self-realization, as the key mover of the agency of Black people as the most downtrodden of the exploited under-classes of Azania. It proposes Black Solidarity and Black Power as the most potent instruments to confront and challenge the structures of racial-capitalism that deny Black people their humanity, and advocates egalitarian socialist values and practices as the medium through which the humanity of all people – irrespective of the colour of their skin, their gender, their sexuality etc can be reclaimed.

Screen shot 2017-07-24 at 11.29.55 AM

This takes us to today’s theme. I must admit that the first challenge I had in deciding how to approach my talk was deciding on which of the two proposed topics to speak on:

1. How can the flames engulfing the country be extinguished?
2. Socialism and humanism are they two sides of the same coin?

My struggle with the topics was precisely because I found the two topics so intertwined that it would be difficult to talk about one without speaking to the other. I found the implied framing of socialism and humanism as discrete and separate ideals and goals problematic. I also struggled with the notion of extinguishing the flames.

What flames are we referring to? Are we referring to the flames of spontaneous, organic and organised resistance engulfing the country as exemplified by Rhodes Must Fall, Fees Must Fall, popular land repossessions actions and nationwide protests against the squeeze of the continuities of apartheid-capitalism and neoliberal policies on poor and working-class people’s lives? Or which flames are referring to? There are so many flames engulfing the country. The country is engulfed by the fires and flames of industrial pollution that endangers the lives of thousands of people particularly poor working-class communities such as the people of Durban South basin who for decades have endured the assault of air pollution, oil pollution, water, noise pollution and land degradation on their lives and wellbeing caused by the activities of SAPREF , Engen Refinery and several polluting industries ranging from waste water treatment works, numerous toxic waste landfill sites, a paper manufacturing plant and a multitude of chemical process industries, the people of Zamdela


in Sasolburg who for fifty years have been subjected to poor air quality as a result of high concentration of sulphur dioxide emissions and fine particulate matter courtesy of the Sasol Chemical Industry, and several communities in the country who almost three decades after democracy are still literally breathing raw sewerage? Azania is engulfed by socioeconomic violence unleashed on poor communities by neoliberal capitalist policies that churn unemployment, poverty and inequality. It is engulfed by rampant maladministration and corruption in the private and public sector. Azania is engulfed by the continuities of apartheid-capitalism and racial, class and gender disparities. Azania is engulfed by what for a lack of words I refer to as internecine wars between various fractions, appendages and outlets of capital in the scramble over who must turn the state into its private property and cash-cow the most. The various kinds of flames engulfing Azania are related to the flames engulfing other countries and other people all over the world. What I know, however, is that the Strinivasa Moodley we know, would be more interested in igniting and kindling to high voltage the flames of popular resistance and revolutionary war against social, political, economic, gender and environmental injustice. And to my understanding, Strini perceived Socialism as a scientific expression of humanist ideals.

This understanding influences me to use my poetic license and abuse the position of being the speaker to reformulate the my topic today as RECLAIM THE HUMANISM OF SOCIALISM TO EXTINGUISH THE FLAMES ENGULFING THE COUNTRY

Herbert Marcuse poignantly expresses the point that we make that Socialism is humanism when he states:

“In the Marxian conception, socialism is humanism in as much as it organizes the social division of labor, the “realm of necessity” so as to enable human beings to satisfy their social and individual needs without exploitation and with a minimum of toil and sacrifice. Social production, controlled by the “immediate producers,” would be deliberately directed toward this goal. With this rational organization of the realm of necessity, human beings would be free to develop themselves as “all-round individuals” beyond the realm of necessity, which would remain a world of want, of labor. But the qualitatively new organization of the realm of necessity, upon which the emergence of truly human relationships depends, in turn depends on the existence of a class for which the revolution of human relationships is a vital need. Socialism is humanism in the extent to which this need and goal pre-exist, i.e., socialism as humanism has its historical a priori within capitalist society. Those who constitute the human base of this society have no share in its exploitative interests and satisfactions; their vital needs transcend the inhuman existence of the whole toward the universal human needs which are still to be fulfilled. Because their very existence is the denial of freedom and humanity, they are free for their own liberation and for that of humanity. In this dialectic, the humanist content of socialism emerges, not as value but as need, not as moral goal and justification but as economic and political practice—as part of the basis itself of the material culture.” I would like to agree with Marcuse that Socialism and humanism in its radical sense are inseparable.

My view is that the political, social and economic crisis facing the world today has its roots in (1) the barbarism and injustices of market supremacism, racial supremacism and patriarchy, (2) the inadequacy of representative liberal democracy and social democracy, (3) the excesses of commandist communism and vanguardist Marxism, and (4) the failure of the dominant discourse to locate racism and patriarchy as much central to problems we face as capitalism. Therefore this crisis cannot be appropriately dealt with without appealing to the radical humanism of socialism. It equally cannot be adequately addressed without locating socialist and radical humanist thought in the quest for forms, expressions and organs of power beyond the state, the market and formal political parties. Most importantly, the rediscovery and resurgence of the humanist goal of Socialism or what Biko and the BCM refers to as the vision of an egalitarian socialist society that bestows a human face to the world will be just a matter of chasing shadows if socialist and leftist thought in general is not located to the specificities and peculiarities of the conditions and problems faced by Black people, women, the gay-lesbian-transgender –intersex and queer communities, refugees and immigrants, disabled people and other disempowered , powerless , silenced and marginalised people. It is clear that to rediscover and articulate the mission of the quest for a humanity, socialism has to disabuse and redeem itself from the myth that socialist ideals and practices begins with Karl Marx and Frederick Engels and ends with Vladmir Lenin (with Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg said in hushed tones, Mao somehow tolerated, Antonio Gramsci somewhere in the background – Frantz Omar Fanon and CRL James as the bastard kids; IB Tabata , Archie Mafeje and Neville Alexandre too Black to be in the canons and Black socialist women completely left out.) Most importantly, socialism has to rid itself of the twin devils of statism and economism to explore participatory democratic politics and collaborative, cooperative, communal, social and sustainable modes of production and distribution of wealth and knowledge.

This means that we have do discard and bid goodbye to a predictive and commandist kind of socialism that not only claim to have all the answers but also claims that only a particular party and a particular inner-circle within this party possesses the spiritual powers to see the future, and therefore the rest of society must depend on the brains and eyes, guts and whims of this group of intellectual sangomas for its destiny and future. It is ludicrous to subscribe to the notion that one party can be the leader of society instead of its taking its cue from public demands, societal issues and the dynamics of time and place. It is absurd to portray one party as the vanguard of the working-class instead of the under-classes as the vanguard and a socialist party drawing from the daily experiences and struggles of the wretched of the earth. It is ridiculous for one political organization to impose itself as the sole authentic representative or torchbearer of a particular philosophy and to deny the plurality of voices and diversity of perspectives and slants within one philosophy, ideology or movement. As a matter of fact the very notion of which social force is the vehicle should be interrogated in a critical manner that avoids being essentialist about the questions of class, race and gender and also avoids being prescriptive and dogmatic on the agents and forms of struggle. As

Herbert Marcuse correctly asserts:

Socialist theory, no matter how true, can neither prescribe nor predict the future agents of a historical transformation which is more than ever before the specter that haunts the established societies. But socialist theory can show that this specter is the image of a vital need; it can develop and protect the consciousness of this need and thus lay the groundwork for the dissolution of the false unity in defense of the status quo.

Indeed Strini perceived Socialism, Radical Humanism, and Black Consciousness as the way out of the mayhem in which we find ourselves where children and women are unsafe in the streets, at home, in schools and at every space and wherein everyday there is one or other form of protest in demand of very basic necessities that should be a given in a normal society.

Strini understood that in the context of Azania any project aimed at re-humanizing the people who are at the intersection of the ravages of racial, class and gender oppression that does not have the insight of Black Consciousness, Black Feminism and Ecological perspectives and does not take into cognizance of all forms of social exclusion, marginalization and powerlessness is bound to fail. This comes out very clear in Strini’s input on the beginning of Umtapo where he clearly articulates a Radical Humanist and Socialist perspective on the notion of Peace Activism in our context. Strini mentions that

Umtapo was established in response to internecine violence in the community particularly internecine violence among political parties and that it was aimed towards an intervention programs that would make people to be in solidarity with one another to work together to address the root of the problem instead of fighting one another. (The Beginnings of Umtapo. Youtube.com). Explaining that in the context of all the wars and violence in Africa and the world peace has acquired a new meaning (ibid), Strini indicates states that:

“ …the whole notion of a peace activist is not different from the old days. In the old days we were freedom fighters. I think today every freedom fighter has to be peace activists. What is a peace activist? A peace activist is not a person who is only interested in the absence of war but is more concerned about the quality of life of every human being. A peace activist will be fighting for will be for development of the quality of life of every human being in the world. Not just in your own community, not just in your own family, not just in your own neighborhood, but the world over. That is what Umtapo sets out to do… to multiply themselves in the community. The way we want to go about with this is to establish a leadership institute that will be able to train young people to be leaders who are committed, accountable, incorruptible, who are able to have a keen awareness of their own self and their own history and are also able to mould and design new country, a new country that will have leaders who are gonna make it their role to eliminate violence, corruption and unemployment and all the things that have riddled the country, primarily the problem of poverty. (The Beginnings of Umtapo. Youtube.com)

Here Strini clearly articulates the idea that genuine struggle and achievement of peace lies in the struggle for and realisation of social, political, economic, gender and environmental justice and in the creation of an egalitarian society wherein all human beings have at their disposal the human, social, political, economic, cultural and environmental conditions required for their overall wellbeing or for meaningful human existence. He stresses:
• the importance of solidarity, self-realization and focusing on the roots rather than the symptoms;
• the role of activists as facilitators of individual and collective agency to mobilize collective action for social change;
• the need for committed, accountable and incorruptible leadership
• the vision of a development agenda that radically deals with the intersection of problems that is injurious to the welfare and wellbeing of people and the environment.

Strini’s emphasis of the importance of focusing on the roots rather than the symptoms of a problem is evocative of

0Jose Marti’s assertion that to be radical means to go to the roots. It is no wonder that within the BCM Strini was known as the irrepressible prophet of the revolution. At the personal level my most unforgettable memory of Strinivasa Moodley was of him workshopping us on Freirian pedagogy. I remember specifically his statement that has lived with me for all my life and that shape my social, cultural and political activism:

“The role of a facilitator is to kill himself\herself’

What I understood Strini to be saying was that the role of facilitators is not that of a gate-keepers of knowledge, power and resources nor is the task of facilitators to build an empire for themselves or to consolidate the establishment but rather to create a world in which their services is no longer required, a world in which knowledge production and education and active participation in social, economic, political and cultural life is not the preserve of the propertied and the elite.

That as activists, in any terrain – be it in academia, organised civil society, organised labor and in social and political movements etc – we should assume the role of facilitators rather than that of lecturers, teachers and leaders who know all the problems. What Strini is telling us is that we should see ours as the struggle against establishments, hierarchies, orthodoxies, dogmas and canons and rather than the the enterprise propping up the system that is based on various forms of social stratification, social disenfranchisement and social exclusion.

That our task is to smash the gated pedagogy that entrenches inequalities and commoditize education and other social services in the name of standards and the bottom-line. There is therefore no doubt that if comrade Strini was here he would be among those calling for expropriation of the expropriators, for socialisation of land and the major means of production, for equal redistribution of wealth, for the public control and social ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, for free and de-colonial education, for free, decent and habitable housing, free and quality public healthcare and quality and safe public transport, shouting at the top of his voice:

Rhodes Must Fall!
Fees Must Fall!
Outsourcing Must Fall!
Capital Must Fall!
Racism must Fall!
Patriarchy must fall!
South Africa must fall for Azania to rise!

The point we would like to make here is that Socialism and humanism, to be specific, radical humanism, are two cups of the same liter or rather socialism minus humanism is socialism minus its core. By humanism here we are not referring to many variants of utopian and liberal humanism. By now it should be common knowledge that Western humanism or liberal humanism has been exposed and rendered false in its promise of human freedom without altering the capitalist relations of productions that fosters unequal, inequitable and unjust power relations. Western humanism and liberal humanism has also been rendered a falsity by its failure to confront the structures of racism and patriarchy and has its indecisiveness in the face of the ecological disaster associated with unbridled accumulation.

The humanism of Marxism has been undermined by a rigidly statist and economistic paradigm characterised by vanguardism and burecratic centralism. The falseness of the democratic and humanist postures of former Stalinist, one-party and bureaucratic centralist communist regimes lies in the fact that they seek to become more humanistic by making arrangements with Western imperialism or by using the socialist lexicon to implement the neoliberal capitalist agenda. We can see this playing itself in Azania with the tendency by those in power to pay lip service to the concept of people’s power while propping up the power of capital and entrenching systemic, structural and institutional arrangements that create a form of democracy that is effectively an empire of the social, political and corporate elites. But for genuine socialists and communists there is not denying the fact that any liberatory project worth thje salt has to be based on the humanist notion that enslaved human beings must accomplish their own liberation and therefore on a frontal attack on all structures serves as barriers to human agency for liberation. Such an understanding implies that the task of socialists is to engage in a simultaneous process of cultivation of individual and collective agency and exposure and confrontation of the systemic, structural and institutional arrangements that constrict, suffocate and throttle human agency.

Herein lies the humanism of Socialism: The idea that human beings are makers of their own history and should be at the centre of all social, political, economic and cultural activities and processes that have an impact on their life and shape their destiny; and that all structures, systems and institution that deny human beings this should be fought and smashed by any means necessary. As Herbert Marcus observes, “the human reality is an “open” system: no theory, whether Marxist or other, can impose the solution…’I find myself in agreement with Herbert Marcus that the tasks of all who are activists and intellectuals, all those who are still free and able to think (and bold to act), is to develop the conscience and consciousness of enslaved human beings who must accomplish their own liberation…. to make them aware of what is going on, to prepare the precarious ground for the future alternatives. This Socialist humanist ideal fits like a hand-in-glove in the Black Consciousness idea that the oppressed people should be the agents, subjects and objects of their own liberation, it resonates with the motto of the disability movement in Azania, Nothing about us without us and with the maxim that has since been hijacked and commercialized as clothing label: for us by us. Indeed a true liberatory project is one that is by the people for themselves and the role and work of a revolutionary activist in this regard is summed up in the advice of Lao Tzu :

“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves.”

Some of the practical things we could do to deal with the flames engulfing the country and the globe are to:

1. Revitalizing anti-sectarian radical popular-education, civic education, worker-education, worker-culture and theater for social transformation, centering these on the organic struggles and campaigns of the labor, student, youth, women and community organizations and using them to strengthen initiatives such as Fees Must Fall, Outsourcing Must Fall, Anti-eviction campaigns and popular protest for housing and land.

2. Exploration and experimentation with or consolidation of existing grassroots-based community development programmes and solidarity economy initiatives that tap into the principles and practices of eco-socialism and sustainable living approaches

3. Identifying spaces within and outside of existing formal and informal education platforms and broader labor , civic and social movement platforms to explore and experiment with the ideals of a cooperative higher education and the building of a broader movement for transformation of public higher education from what Henry Giroux refers to as a “bordered” or “limited” enterprise to a “borderless,” socially and politically conscious sphere directed towards the project of democratization and borderless pedagogy that moves across different sites – from schools to the alternative media – as part of a broader attempt to construct a critical formative culture that enables people to reclaim their voices, speak out, exhibit moral outrage and create the social movements, tactics and public spheres that will reverse the growing tide of authoritarianism.

4. Explore the idea of bringing radical socialist and broader left groupings that are not beholden to the current neo-liberal state and capital around a National Socialist Forum that explores a common platform of action around issues of common agreement and common interests that could include, among others:

(a) A series of workshops, seminars and campaigns to advocate for human, political, social and economic development policies and programs that serve to radically democratize the society, the state and the economy and to move South Africa towards the nationalisation and socialization of the primary means of wealth, the commanding heights of the economy and essential social services.

(b) A national summit on land redistribution, agrarian reform, sustainable industrial development and social and economic transformation aimed at consolidating and linking current struggles and campaigns on these issues and developing a cogent policy and political program on them.

(c) An ongoing campaign and advocacy against gender-based violence that will include a series of Gender and Sexuality workshops and seminars at schools, universities, communities and workplaces as an educational initiative aimed at tackling the attitudes, practices and systemic and structural factors that account for the explosion of various forms of violence and oppression against women and children and against the GBTQI community.

(d) Campaign for a popular constituent assembly that will do away with the sellout constitution that came out of the fraudulent Codesa process
The radical humanist socialist approach we propose to tackling the issues must attack and complete breakaway with the dominant narratives promoted by racism, capital and patriarchy that seeks to portrays Black people, workers, women, the GLBTQI community, refugees and immigrants, homeless and landless people as a problem instead of as people faced with particular economic, social and psychological challenges and problems caused by racism, capitalism and patriarchy. As Biko correctly responded to the racist notion of the black problem, ‘there is no such thing as the ‘Black problem’ but that the problem is quite simply white anti-Black racism.’ We should offer the same answer to those who turn Black students and Black youth into a problem rather than as people faced by the problem. When Black youths in particular are assailed with social rhetoric that asks them not to make any reference to the apartheid past or its impact on their social realities and are encouraged to restrict their focus on seizing the abundant opportunities and spaces for self-development opened up by post-apartheid legal and constitutional framework. When Black youths are told that an enabling environment has been created for them through the bold of heroes and sheroes of the struggle, and theirs is the new struggle of pulling themselves up by their own bootstrings to occupy the spaces and seize the opportunities.

When Black youth are bombarded with the rhetoric that overemphasize individual effort and individual agency above collective agency aimed at structural change and social transformation such as “phanda, pusha, play” (Hustle, push and play), vukuzenzele” (wake up and do it for yourself), #uzoyitholakanjani uhlel’ekhoneni?” (How will you find it when you are sitting at the corner?” Socialist Humanism and BC will enable the poor black rural and township child bombarded with “uzoyitholakanjani uhlel’ekhoneni?”Occupy your space” to respond:

i am not at the corner
out of my own volition
it’s the only space
left for me to occupy
the hospital has no space
for a bed for my TB
my numeracy is too wanting
for me to know the safe number
for me to raise at a specific
time and place to a particular
person in the prison space
my mind is an occupied space
campus culture declared me a dropout
the arts architecture history lectures landed me in Venice
literature left me in London of bygone days
the curriculum spoke to me in a strange language
the fees kicked me out of the space
at home i wrestled with the rats in bed
fought with roaches for a place at the table
till the red ants evicted
my family from our shack-house
because we spoiled the value
of the house of mister mayor
i am not at the corner
out of my own volition
i put a table on the street corner
to sell potatoes and cigarettes
metro police came with guns and the law
to kick me out of the very corner
me and my buddies gathered
around the corner to wash
cars for some money for bread
the rich man came with fancy machines
produced papers the local government
& took away the corner and the clients
i relocated to another corner
only for municipality to ask
me to produce business license
i am not under the bridge
out of my own choice
i identified a good space
where i can stand guard
on people’s cars for R30 for the shelter
big business came up with elegant uniform
donkiepiel & superficial smiles

Indeed Socialist Humanism will arm the youths and students, the poor and the unemployed with the political consciousness to boldly declare that as long as the systemic , structural and institutional arrangements not only push them to the corner but also allow for the rich and propertied to even colonize the very corner they are quarantined to : sizohlala sizinyova ne government ..Until there is truly a government of the people by the people for the people!!!
Without any apology: Izwelethu I Afrika. I Afrika Izwelethu! One Azania: One People! One Nation: One Azania!

May 3, 2017



“The modern proletarian class does not carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern workers’ struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight… That’s exactly what is laudable about it, that’s exactly why this colossal piece of culture, within the modern workers’ movement, is epoch-defining: that the great masses of the working people first forge from their own consciousness, from their own belief, and even from their own understanding the weapons of their own liberation.” – Rosa Luxembourg

This essay explores the principles and ideologies embedded in the Fallism or the Fallist Movement in relationship to the discourse on transformation in South Africa. It examines how the continuities between apartheid and post\neo-apartheid realities shape the political consciousness, ideological perspectives and activism of the Fallism generation. From this basis the essay explains the emergence of Fallism in South Africa through the logic and notion of historical experiences- historical consciousness, material conditions – social consciousness, structure – agency nexus. The essay further examines the interplay between spontaneity and organization in the context of Fallism, applying Rosa Luxemburg’s notion of the Dialectics of Spontaneity and Organization. It concludes by enlisting Walter Benjamin’s theory of Traditions of the Oppressed to argue that Fallism represents both continuity and discontinuity of the traditions of the historic liberation movements and emergent Social Movements in South Africa.

Journalist Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya asserts that the name Fallism is derived from the fact that the common thread in the campaigns and movements concerned is the call or demand that something or someone must fall. This essay concentrates on the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall, with some reference to Outsourcing Must Fall Movements. The decision to focus on these ‘movements’ is influenced by the explicit interconnectness of the issues they deal with. The three movements\campaigns operate within a shared ‘socio-geographic’ community and site of struggle (Higher Education\ Campus) and all deal with issues directly and indirectly related to conditions and sense of alienation & de-humanization, marginalization & exclusion, discrimination & exploitation in a space in which the protagonists are subjected to a peripheral and subaltern existence. These sections of Fallism also have a shared opposition to neoliberal capitalist exploitation and ‘new imperialism’ and a devotion to the theme of de-commodification, de-coloniality, intersectionality, solidarity and anti-sectarianism in their struggles.

The Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall Movements are particularly overt in their non-partisan\ non-alignment stance in relation to political parties and social movements and in their declaration of their unifying philosophical and ideological frame of reference as Black Consciousness, Pan Africanism, Black Feminism and Queer politics. The campaign for the resignation of President JG Zuma pursued under the slogan ‘Zuma Must Fall’ is not included in this essay particularly because of its lack of the attributes shared by these three segments of Fallism. While the campaigns\movements that are the focus of this essay continue to exist as Rhodes Must Fall, Fees Must Fall and Outsourcing Must Fall, the Zuma Must Fall initiative seem to have found its home, expression, platform and movement in Save South Africa. In their intellectual\ ideological\political homilies, speechifying, and symbolisms the three ‘movements’ are explicit that the issues they raise are a mobilization platform and point of entry in their struggle against racism, classism, sexism, patriarchy, neoliberalism and new imperialism, and their struggle for de-commodification of labor and education, and for de-colonialisation at all levels of society and the state.

Implicit in their discourse is a critique of the kind of South Africa they don’t want and general articulation of the kind of Azania they dream of or at least the principles around which it should be constructed. One cannot say the same of the campaign for Jacob Zuma to step down as the president of South Africa. Beyond its key theme of protection of constitutionalism and the rule of law, it does not project any unifying philosophical and ideological worldview and vision of the social system it envisages. In his emphasis of the need for people struggling against injustice to start imagining how they will live afterwards, Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya raises the concern that he has never heard what those behind the Zuma Must Fall initiative think must happen thereafter. It is for the reasons outlined here, that the Zuma Must Fall is not included in this appraisal of the Fallist Movements. Thus, for the purpose of this essay Fallism shall refer to movements who use the strategy of focusing on one key symbol, issue or figure as a rallying and mobilizing point to advance an ideological and political program directed towards the fall of structures of oppression, exploitation, discrimination, disenfranchisement, exclusion, powerlessness, based on race, class, gender and other forms of social exclusion.

Rhodes Must Fall: Engaging the colonial legacy and the continuities of racial-capitalism in post\neo-apartheid SA

“We need history, but our need for it differs from that of the jaded idlers in the garden of knowledge.”- Nietzsche, On the Advantages and Disadvantages of History for Life

On March 9, 2015 students at University of Cape Town rose up in a protest against a statue at the University of Cape Town (UCT) that commemorates Cecil Rhodes. The protest movement grew bigger to focus on the wider issues represented by the alienating presence of the arch-imperialist’s statue at the university. The character of the movement is aptly captured by the UCT chapter’s definition of itself as “a collective movement of students and staff members mobilizing for direct action against the reality of institutional racism at the University of Cape Town.” The statue of Cecil John Rhodes was ultimately removed on 9 April 2015, following a vote of the UCT Council on 8 April 2015 but the RMF lives beyond the fall of the statue and has culminated into a wider movement to “decolonize” education across South Africa. The Rhodes Must Fall (RMF emerged as an expression of the discontent and rage of Black students and Black staff at University of Cape Town (UCT) in response to the alienating colonial architecture, euro-centric culture of the university and a fee structure that is completely hostile and unsympathetic to the realities and experiences of Black people. The collective experience of racial profiling, financial and academic exclusion and general alienation in a high education institution with Euro-centric ethos found motif in the struggle against the symbolic representation of the colonial legacy, i.e the statue of the arch-colonial racist – Cecil John Rhodes. However the issues that mobilized the movement are deeper and bigger that a protest against the statue. At the core of these issues is the history of the universities’ indifference to Black students feeling of being alienated by its euro-centric education practices and lilly-white culture, its downplaying of the students’ struggle with exorbitant fees and its apathetic response to incidents of rape and violence against women on campus. It is not a wonder that students in other universities immediately connected to the issues raised by the campaign that initially started at UCT and that within a short space of time Rhodes Must Fall became a movement, with participation by university students across the country. Raeesa Pather observes response from some UCT students to the Rhodes Must Fall movement has revealed the day-to-day racism that slips under the campus radar. The students she interviewed shared stories and experiences of white students referring to RMF students as “monkeys” and “kaffirs” or “savages” who “destroy everything they touch” on social media; and of black staff and students frequently reduced to tears by the racism they encounter from their peers. Recognition of the relationship between the valorization and denigration of the black body, the sexualization and objectification of the female body, the vulgarization and censure of the queer body and the commodification and exploitation of the body of the worker, and the ridicule and belittling of disabled bodies, led the activists of Rhodes Must Fall and later Fees Must Fall and Outsourcing Must Fall to intersectionality.

The practical reality of the connection between the social structures that oppress, exploits, de-humanizes and discriminates against Black people, women, the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Intersex (GLBTI) community, workers and disabled people raised awareness of the interconnection between racism, capitalism, patriarchy, homophobia, ableism etc. Black students’ reflections on and awareness of the broader social, political, economic and cultural environment that shape their marginal and peripheral existence at the lilly-white institution made them to ponder on the continuities between pre and post-1994 South Africa. Ironically, it is precisely the fact that a significant number of the current generation of students falls under the category of youths born after 1994 that raised their keen awareness of the continuities between the social and power relations under in the settler-colonial and racial-capitalist set-up and in the post\neo-colonial and liberal –capitalist dispensation. The Black students realization of the systemic, structural and institutional nature of these continuities made them recognize that the contrast between the born-free label given to them and their conditions and feeling of being un-free in the higher education and broader social environment is the result of the untransformed nature of the education system and the social system within which the education system functions.

True to the Marxian notion of the nexus between material realities and social conditions and historical and social consciousness, the harsh material reality of being the other in a university with a history of being a white university in a colonial town raised the Black students’ social and historical consciousness. On the other hand, the material and social reality of being beneficiaries of privilege accrued from social stratification based on race, class and gender made a sizable number of conscientious white students and academics find common cause with Black students in their struggle against neo-colonialism, while a significant number of white students and academics held on to the comforts and privilege and saw the Rhodes Must Fall Movement as an unnecessary disruption. The racist mindset of some of the White academics is reflected by an academic at one historically white university who rebuffed the concern that the dominance of texts by White Anglo-Saxon writers in books prescribed in the English literature department alienated Black students as simply a matter of Black students being lazy.

The students’ recognition of the complementarity between the education system and the socio-political-economic system is reflected in their deliberate adoption of Black Consciousness, Pan Africanism, Queer Politics and Black Feminism as their philosophical and ideological frame of reference and their articulation of the intersection between race, class and gender. This finds resonant expression in the assertion by Kealeboga Ramaru, a student in RMF student that: “When we say ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ we mean that patriarchy must fall, that white supremacy must fall, that all systematic oppression based on any power relations of difference must be destroyed at all costs”.

After the fall of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes the students continued to operate under the name Rhodes Must Fall, interpreting the name as symbolizing the fall of systematic oppression accrued from colonialism. The students’ observations that the two decades of transformation being the catchphrase at the centre of government policies and public discourse have brought no meaningful change realized that social, political, economic and educational structures are made un-transformable by the colonial and neo-colonial base, foundation, parameters, conventions and protocols upon which they are rooted. Therefore students moved away from a simple call for transformation to a call for the de-colonialisation of universities to create a campus environment, university culture and education practices that embracing rather than alienating of the reality of being black and female and working-class in the world.

This necessitates institutional codes and practices, epistemology and pedagogy rooted in the historical-material realities of South Africa instead of jettisoning and rebuffing the historical, cultural, social and political realities of South Africa and Africa. Thus, the immediate practical program of the movement constituted of three major practical demands \proposals, that is, (1)the university must hire more Black academics, (2) the university must stop outsourcing workers, and (3) the university must develop an Afro-centric curriculum. These demands are centered on the theme of de-coloniality but also express the idea of Black Solidarity and the principle of Black-Worker Students Solidarity which reflect the students’ awareness that their education issues are inseparable from broader societal issues and the specific experiences of the broader Black community and the working-class. In as far as organizational form and organizational culture is concerned Rhodes Must Fall from the inception asserted the principles students’ self-organization around common issues and collective activity involving all students organizations and students from various social and political backgrounds, without affiliation to a specific political party and without a rigid organizational structure or hierarchy. While committing to stay student-centric and non-partisan, the movement accepts support and advice of elders and activists from organized civil society, labor, social and political movements.

The organized student formations affiliated to political parties like Pan African Students Movement, EFF students and South African Students Congress (SASCO) are active in the movement. This raises concerns and challenges of struggles and contestations for political hegemony of the movement among the different political and ideological currents. This is also complicated by the diversity of the entire student body. The movement seeks to mediate this diversity through intersectional politics that are inclusive of all its members. The movement has therefore positioned itself as a place of all people in agreement with the themes and objectives of de-coloniality and intersectionality, including white people. However, the movement is clear and uncompromising that de-colonialisation of higher education institutions shall be led by Black students. The perception that universities like Rhodes and UCT are colonial fortresses also influences the students’ confrontational and non-trusting attitude towards university administration.

This attitude was expressed well by Kealeboga Ramuru’s on the occasion of the falling of the statue Cecil John Rhodes:

“We must at no point forget that management is our colonial administrators, and their removal of the statue is merely an attempt to placate us and be perceived as sympathetic….Our freedom cannot be given to us – we must take it.”

The movement is equally unapologetic choice of confrontational and transgressive methods and tactics. It offended the liberal sensitivities of many people with its defense of Chumani Maxwele’s poo protest , its exclusion of white students from certain for a and its defense of PASMA’s chanting of the “One settler, one bullet” slogan at the movements gatherings at UCT. Members of the Rhodes Must Fall defense of the slogan are that the slogan is a rallying call to protest and tackle colonialism at the universities.

Fees Must Fall & Outsourcing Must Fall: The Dialectics of Spontaneity and Organization

The principles of de-commodification, de-coloniality and intersectionality born out of Rhodes Must Fall were later adopted and updated by the Fees Must Fall Movement which emerged in mid-October 2015. The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation’s research-study report titled ‘#Hashtag: An analysis of the Fees Must Fall Movement at South African Universities’, found that the issues of decolonization and transformation were central themes promoted by those involved in the protests. This confirms the link between the philosophical and ideological framework of RMF and FMF as informed by the commonness of their political terrain and the practical realities that brought them into existence. Fees Must Fall began in mid-October 2015 in response to an increase in fees at South African universities. The students soon found common course with the workers at the university who are subjected to precarious labor in the form of casualization and outsourcing. The protests started at the University of Witwatersrand and spread to the University of Cape Town and Rhodes University. The protests received sympathy from various sections of South African society and elicited international solidarity. A Cape Town daily newspaper, The Cape Argus, invited student co-editors to edit the day’s edition of the newspaper. Articles were written, commissioned and edited by the students involved in FMF. On 23 October 2015, a group of around 200 students gathered at Trafalgar Square the United Kingdom in front of South Africa House to show support of protesting students in South Africa. On the morning of the same day university vice chancellors and student representatives met with President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria to negotiate a way forward. Whilst they were meeting, a large group of protesting students assembled outside the Union Buildings to await Zuma’s response. A small group turned violent, setting fire to a portable toilet and breaking down fences. The police responded with tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets. Another group of students called for restraint and discipline, stressing it was a peaceful protest. Later in the day, after about 3pm, President Zuma announced from within the Union Buildings that there would be no increase in university fees in 2015.

The announcement was welcomed by the students as a victory and brought a stop to the Fees Must Fall protests. The 2015 protests led to the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training. In 2016 the students resumed the protests in response to the announcement by the Minister of Higher Education of fee increases capped at 8% for 2017, with each institution given the freedom to decide by how much their tuition would increase. The 2016 protests saw the movement lose momentum, due to alleged sabotage by the Progressive Youth Alliance – which is aligned to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and internal divisions. The alleged infiltration by PYA and the apparent difficulty experienced by Fees Must Fall Movement to deal with the tensions emanating out of contesting political and sectional interests and the relatively ad hoc nature of its programs have raised issues about the weaknesses of Fallism, particularly is spontaneous character and apparent aversion to conventional organizational arrangements.

An extensive research on the strengths and weaknesses, victories and successes Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movements is required for a more objective appraisal of Fallism. A brief examination of these strength’s and weakness will suffice for this essay. In the main the key strength of Fallism is its insistence of non-partisan student-centered action, Black student leadership, student-worker-community solidarity and intersectionality. This helps to reignite the unity-in-action coalition-building, movement-building traditions of the 70s and 80s that facilitated for civic, labor, political and community organizations and people of all social backgrounds to work together against apartheid. The respect for diversity and plurality and keen awareness of the plight of excluded and discriminated sectors of society made RMF and FMF a place where the gender and sexuality issues and the feminist and queer voices found a platform more than ever before in the history of student struggles. Included in the strengths is the ability to elicit international solidarity, as was the case with the liberation movement in its struggle against apartheid-capitalism. Within a short period of time the call for de-colonizing universities had crossed the borders of South Africa, with progressives at Oxford University up in campaigns for the removal of the statue of Rhodes on their campus just after the protests have spread throughout South Africa. The brought public focuses – locally and globally – to concerns that have been there but waiting for vociferous articulation and vigorous action. The most important of these concerns is the reversals and replacement of multi-culturalism and sensitivity to the distinct needs and demands of historically oppressed and marginalised communities by rising fascism, market fundamentalism and empire politics. This particularly relate to the rampant “institutional racism” in the world and more insidious and crude in South Africa. Amit Chaudhuri’s definition of institutional racism as the resurrection of the colonial order, which was by no means managed exclusively by racist individuals, but by people who believed that a skewed system was normal is more relevant in the South African situation. The Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movement amplified and exposed this conception of institutional or systemic or structural racism with exposure of how some of the institutions that pride themselves of centers of progressive liberal, social democratic and leftist traditions were reeking with racist attitudes and practices.

The movement forced the state and society to explore for underlying reasons behind question such as: why are there so few black professors in South Africa? Why are there so few Black African South African post-graduates at South African institutions? Why do Black students feel so alienated at universities and why are female students so unsafe at the universities? Why South African students have turned on their parents’ generation? Most importantly, the Fallist movements have helped South African’s to reflect on the extent to damages of overzealous obsession with reconciliation and nation-building without bold confrontation the structures that produces and entrench racism, classism, sexism and related forms of discrimination. It exposed the failures of the country to deal honestly and decisively with the issues of redress, restitution, restoration, reparation, redistribution and reconstruction as the sine quo non for genuine reconciliation and sustainable nation-building. It also highlighted the relationship between the dominant values within the institutions and broader society and the power and social relations that are shaped by skewed patterns of ownership and control of the economy. The immediate victories of these Fallist movements include:

• the fall of the statue of John Rhodes at UCT,
• the setting up of the commission,
• the government’s increase of the amount budgeted for higher education by R17-billion over 3 years,
• government’s commitment ton increase subsidies to universities by 10.9% a year,
• the increased the use of blended learning by South African universities to assist non-protesting students complete their courses,
• free education returned to the centre of policy debates in the country, with the then minister of Finance, Pravin Gordon pronouncing that on 25 August 2015 that that if corruption could be addressed, South Africa could afford to cover university fees for students from poor backgrounds,
• the theme of de-colonialization became more pronounced in the transformation discourse in South Africa
• the Outsourcing Must Fall campaign born out of the Fees Must Fall Movement put a spotlight on the plight of workers who are in precarious labour at universities and spread to other sectors in the economy where workers are subjected to precarious labor and unfavorable conditions of employment
• outsourcing Must Fall led to UCT announcing that hundreds of previously contracted will be insourced from July 2016
• at the University of Free State workers won a 100% pay rise as part of the in-sourcing agreement with management, with the Socialist Youth Movement (WASP’s youth wing) playing a leading role.

Another gain for the movement was the overwhelming support for its cause from civil society. The greatest weaknesses of the movement is the inability to keep the momentum of advocacy and activism for the overall de-colonialized for free and de-colonized education going beyond the protests in response to specific issues. After the fall of the statue the Rhodes Must Fall activities subsided and its voice in the public discourse faded somewhat. Similarly, the Fees Must Fall seems to be more active and vocal at the time of registration and protests against financial exclusion. Whatever work these organizations do in between the protests is not out there in the public domain. The loose character of the movement reduces its capacity to plan ahead for eventualities such as the arrests of its members and fight back. The lack of structure and codes of operation also reduces the capacity of the movement to defend its activities and independence in situations where established and resources organizations engage in acts aimed at deviating the agenda and program of the movement or hijacking it. The spontaneity of the movement’s its actions and its seeming aversion to organization and structure also denies it the ability to develop a protracted and sustained political program. It also means not all people who participate in its programs and activities are oriented or subscribe to its values such as non-discrimination and respect for diversity. This result to situations that it can’t effectively reign on those who act in contrast to its principles such as misogynist and homophobic elements who may be found in the student movement who may display these tendencies at the protests and rallies of the movement. The movements also seem to lack the capacity to protect its protests from infiltration and to reign on criminal elements and political agents deployed to take focus away from the essence and subject of their struggle. Some form of organizational structure with a leadership collective, foundational documents, program of action and code of practice would be helpful for the movement to avoid the situation whereby it is not in control of who can speak and act on its name and what the centre of authority is with regard to its activities and programs. A case in point is made of how, while the FMF insist on not having an organized leadership structure, the media ordained Nompendulo Mkatshwa the face of the 2015 Fees Must Fall, with t Destiny Magazine portraying her as the face of Fees Must Fall. Some people on twitter asked why the Magazine chose to portray Mkatshwa as the face of FMF ahead of Wits SRC president Shaeera Kalla who was effectively the one leading Mkatshwa and questioned not only why the magazine put a face to the movement but also why it specifically chose the picture in which Mkatshwa wore an ANC scarf. Destiny Magazine claimed that the magazine did ask Mkatshwa to wear a more “neutral” scarf, but she refused. It is difficult to dismiss the suggestion that Mkatshwa’s refusal to wear a more neutral scarf was a political decision and action aimed at providing mileage for SASCO and at showing that influence of the congress movement permeates everywhere in society. Similarly it is difficult not to find the decision of the media to refer to Mcebo Dlamini as the leader of the Fees Must Fall Movement as part of a ploy to impose a person from within the congress movement as the voice and face of Fees Must Fall. This imposition of Mkatshwa and Mcebo as the face and voice of FMF as well as the alleged hijack of the march that was meant to go to Luthuli House by PYA created tensions and division.

In the context of a loose movement it becomes more difficult to quell in a manner that does not polarize the movement. The divisions within student leadership somehow, weaken their case, throttle their fighting capacity and disarm them from engaging a protracted uninterrupted struggle for de-colonialisation. It makes it difficult for them to develop a common platform on which they can continuously engage in broader public discourse, bringing in their de-coloniality project to debates on economic freedom and related issues such as land redistribution and radical economic transformation. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya articulates the problematic of focusing energies on immediate gains without reflecting on long-term institutional, policy, strategy and programmatic issues when he observes:

“I get the sense that most of the energy (of the Fallists) is spent on dealing with the present problem without adequately preparing for life after the problem has been solved, as if they do not believe their campaign will bear fruit……We only need to look to our recent past to see how struggles hinged on being opposed to something, but not necessarily pro another thing, end up.”

A Black Consciousness elder who works closely with the RMF mentions that the members of the movement say their rationale for not having a leadership structure is to avoid harassment. This reason is not plausible enough because whether a resistance to oppression and injustice takes a completely spontaneous nature, organized, unorganized or semi-organized forms, whether there is a leadership collective or not, the system will make attempts to crush it. The harassment of individuals is unavoidable, and so is infiltration and attempts to co-opt the movement of a section thereof. It is also important to note that the absence of a centrally coordinated program of action, the political education , mobilizing and activism initiatives become disjointed and open to capture by organizations or political forces that are dominant at a particular university. On the other hand the relatively loose and spontaneous character of the movement can be useful in protecting it from the hierarchical, authoritarian and dogmatic conventions that often stunts creativity and plurality of perspectives within traditional political parties and social movements. An awareness of the gaps and advantages in both spontaneity and organization could allow for a dynamic conversation between older activists who are schooled in the lore and tactics of organization and the younger generation with more inventive maneuvers and channels characteristic of current waves of popular uprisings. However the obstacle to this seems to be skepticism towards organization on the part of the Fallism and contempt for spontaneity on the part of the traditional left and radicals. While the Fallist movement seems to be overly sensitive of the shortfalls of organization and hierarchy\structure and overzealous in its faith in spontaneity, the old generation of activists seem to be overly dismissive of the potency of spontaneity and romantic of the uses of organization. This perception of a rigid dichotomy or separation between spontaneity and organization is not helpful. Perhaps the best way forward for the moment should be seeing spontaneity and organization as complimentary rather than incompatible.

This will allow for organic responses to immediate situations but also building organizational and leadership capacity and political and ideological development that allow the movement to make certain interventions that utilize the spontaneous actions to build capacity for sustained and protracted struggle. This approach is in line with Rosa Luxembourg argument that spontaneity and organization are not separable or separate activities, but different moments of one political process. Luxembourg defines “spontaneity” is a grass roots approach to organizing a party-oriented class struggle. Believing that spontaneity is the elementary moment from which the class struggle evolves to a higher level of organization, Luxembourg argued that one cannot exist without the other. She advocated that organization mediates spontaneity; and spontaneous struggles provide a momentum and environment for organization. This idea that organization must mediate spontaneous action becomes more important in the face current experiences of how the organic uprisings in the Middle-East and Northern Africa – so-called Arab Spring – either quickly dissipated or were captured by interests that had nothing to do with revolution precisely because of a lack on ideological agenda and political program. The manner in which the 2016 wave of Fees Must Fall protests were redirected by the PYA also highlights the need for organization to mediate spontaneity. On the other hand, the manner in which organizational arrangements and highly centralized hierarchical structures of authority and processes of decision-making are used in traditional political movements to put a squeeze on dissent and entrench gate-keeping and empire-building tendencies exemplifies the deficit of organization.

The many examples of how organizational traditions are sometimes at variance with current material realities and contemporary experiences of the people prove the theoretic correctness of Rosa Luxembourg’s proposition that organization should be informed by the daily struggles and immediate organic actions of the masses as they spontaneously engage with the issues facing them. A nuanced application of the Dialectic of Organization and Spontaneity, rooted to the dynamics of South Africa, could be useful for Fallism and conventional political, civic, social, community and labor organizations. It can enable them to explore and engage in a dynamic process of fusion of spontaneous action and anarchist traditions with organizations and deliberate planning. This would allow for spontaneous action to benefit from the insights and expertise of organization, and for organization to draw strength and build from the space and conditions created by spontaneous struggles.

Conclusions: Continuity and discontinuity of SA liberation struggle politics in Fallism

‘The continuum of history is the one of the oppressors. Whereas the idea [Vorstellung] of the continuum levels everything to the ground, the idea [Vorstellung] of the discontinuum is the foundation of real tradition.’ — Walter Benjamin

The Fallist anti-colonial and anti-racist struggles – and the language that developed out of the struggles – went beyond the class and gender perspectives of social and power relations. Fallism traced the roots of political oppression, economic exploitation and social denigration of Black people in South Africa to colonialism and imperialism.

Consequently it identified racism and white supremacism as the ideology employed in service of capitalism, colonialism and imperialism. Thus, Fallism re-ignited Pan Africanist, Black Consciousness and Black Feminist traditions and re-located the perspectives Du Bois, Garvey, Cessaire, Sengor and Lumumba; Nkrumah, Sobukwe; Cabral, Malcolm X, Kwame Toure (Stockely Carmichael) Biko, Sankara, , Ivan Van Sertima, Assata Shakur, Bella Hooks at the centre of current struggles and contemporary policy debates on transformation academia and broader society.

It also heightened students and youths students’ interest in and interaction with current Pan Africana philosophies and Black intellectual traditions such as the Afro-centricity of Molefi Kete Asante and Afro-Pessimism of Frank Wiltherson. Consequently, Fallism motivated students, youths and workers to fuse the language, culture and images of the liberation movement traditions and with contemporary modes and new chic & cheeky avenues and idiomatic expression of struggle. In so doing, Fallism simultaneously reclaims and appraises the traditions of struggle and messes up, unsettles, disrupts and discontinues these traditions to create forms of politics and activism that speaks to the turbulence and hurly-burly of the time\s and place\s and spaces they find themselves in. It plays James Brown’s “Shout it aloud: “I am Black & Proud!” and the BCM’s “Black is Beautiful” at high voltage to express the hope and ideal of Blackness freed of White Supremacism and Black inferiority\docility complex. At the same time it irrepressibly screams that “Blackness is an excrement of Whiteness” , “Blackness is death” in recognition of the wretchedness of Black bodies and desolation in an extremely anti-Black world where Blackness is not a mere cultural identity, but a position of accumulation and fungibility (Saidiya Hartman)….a condition—or relation—of ontological death.

To a mind that is longing and romantic about the past ways activism and the struggle at the expense of being cynical of everything in new ones, Fallism urinates on the graves of heroes. To a mind that is puffed-up and quixotic about the present modes of activism and forms of struggle at the price of making modernity, avant-gardism or newness the creator of everything, Fallism is the all-mighty new and fresh beginning. What we are referring to here are two extreme paradigms of engaging with a ‘new’ movement\moment like Fallism. On one extreme is the viewpoint of projecting a particular moment\movement as a momentous, earth-shattering tumultuous big moment of complete rupture that disrupts and ends histories and traditions and begin a brand-new new history and creates spanking new traditions. The problem with the romantic view of any particular movement\moment in history as the new big thing or as the end and beginning of history is that it buries the histories and traditions of the oppressed in the name of creating a new philosophy and culture of liberation. It therefore presents history and philosophy, and tradition and progress as binary opposites. This gives the so-called new person the pomposity that makes him to strut around like he is the first person to see the world as it is. It therefore denies the new movement the wisdom that philosophy derives from history and the sensitivity and discernment that progress develops from tradition. This is typified by the tendency to think of concepts such as de-coloniality, intersectionality, and anti-sectarianism and confrontational and transgressive politics as new inventions of Fallism, rather than principles and practices born out of the concrete and tangible historical and material realities within whose womb the agency, activism and struggle of the Fallist generation is born. This framework prohibits the old generation connection and intimacy to the language and struggle of the new generation and to dismiss it as the folly of the young.

It also disallows the young generation the perception and insight to realize how their idiomatic and practical expression of struggle is indebted to the history and traditions of the struggle of the old. On the other extreme is the framework that ascribes everything to tradition and therefore see the new movements\moments as simply a continuance of the old. This framework perceives the concepts and practices of new movements as simply versions and extensions of the old and therefore jettisons anything that tends to significantly vary from old ways as an aberration; a deviation that should be seen as an abomination. Neither of these perspectives is useful. One perceives tradition as “a great retarding force,” and one sees modernity as a destabilizing force. One sees organization as a great hindrance and the other perceives spontaneous action as an inoperable circuit. But in reality tradition and modernity, history and philosophy, organised action and spontaneous action feed from one another and can’t exist without the other. There is a dialectic interaction between the students’ historical memory \ historical consciousness (of the slave rebellions, anti-colonial struggles and liberation wars, of the battle of Isandlwana, the June 16, 1976 uprising, etc) and their objective experiences of marginalization \exclusion\discrimination.

Fallism should be seen as continuing as well as discontinuing the traditions of the Congress Movement, the Pan Africanist and Black Consciousness Movements, the Social Movements that emerged in the 90s in response to capitalist globalization and neo-liberalism, and the Black Consciousness inspired counter-hegemony and counter-culture movements like the Blackwash and September National Imbizo that preceded the Rhodes Must Fall, Fees Must Fall and Outsourcing Must Fall movements. This kind of understanding will allow the older generation of activists and segments of the historic liberation movement to appreciate the new movements as building on the legacies and traditions of struggle of their predecessors and responding creatively to current realities- discarding, updating and replacing modes of resistance and protest with new forms of rebellion and activism. Leigh-Ann Naidoo captured this well in her ‘Open Letter to Barney Pityana on the Rhodes Must Fall Movement’ in which she inter alia beseeched:

“If you would show solidarity and engage from the vantage point of being willing to listen and learn rather than knowing better than them, then you would be able to start seeing the amazingness of these young students – mostly undergraduates and honours students. They don’t have all the answers as they grapple with competing oppressions and urgent issues. They are working with concepts like ‘intersectionality’ that bring in to focus the multiple oppressions that occur in addition to the race/class lenses of the past. The movement and its public or popular education programme has created a space that has allowed for people with varying privileges and their corresponding blind spots, to be part of the conversation. This is radical dialogue, which I believe formed part of the legacy with which BC has left us……Biko and you would be impressed by the Black female voices and black transsexual voices in the conversation.

But you don’t have access to any of this because you choose to stand outside of the movement and last we heard from you, you were challenging Prof Pumla Gqola, who has been writing and thinking about radical BC, because you believed somehow that the idea of removing the statue was not well or deep enough thought through. Pumla has come to speak and listen at Azania House, why haven’t you? Is it perhaps because it may make your boardroom meetings with the powerful untenable? Or is it that you have been contorted by privilege and comfort? I am asking because I truly don’t know and would like to understand how so many of the people who fought and sacrificed to fight Apartheid and all its oppressions can stand by silently now and ignore the fact that while things have changed, a lot has morphed into something worse. Poverty and inequality under the ANC’s watch is getting worse, and there has been a rampant entrenchment of white privilege, even under a black government.”

Leigh-Ann Naidoo was essentially appealing for Pityana to see his SASO\BPC activist self in the young activists of Rhodes Must Fall and hear the voice of chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi’s protest against his (Pityana) radicalism of the 70s in his (Pitaya’s) critique of the confrontational and transgressive politics of the Fallists. Indeed the history of the liberation struggle in Azania is the history of the disruption of tradition to create or reclaim a tradition or rather the history of discontinuity and continuity. The South African Native Congress of 1912 disrupted the tradition of resistance to colonialism and imperialist invasions along tribal lines and introduced the mobilization of African people around African Nationalism. Under the new name of the African National Congress (ANC) and within the framework of the Freedom Charter it interrupted African Nationalism with its adoption of multi-racialism and non-racialism. The Pan Africanist Congress contested the multi\ non-racialism framework with its notion of the oneness of the human race and the centrality of the African experience and African people in the struggle against colonialism. The Black Consciousness Movement updated the PAC’s scientific explanation of race as a social construct and a function of the politics and the economy with the Anti-racism position and an explicit broad definition of Black to include all ‘people of colour.’ The ANC Youth League the ANC generation of the 50s and the Pan Africanist Congress respectively disrupted the old ANC tradition of petitions and deputation to international institutions and took the struggle into the realm of mass action with the 1949 Program of Action, the Defiance Campaigns and the Anti-Dompass demonstrations. The Poqo operations went beyond peaceful protest to armed resistance. The 1970s generation fueled by the fire of Black Consciousness moved beyond the traditions of protest to and resistance and rebellion and the 80s generation took the rebellion to the level of rendering apartheid South Africa ungovernable with peaceful and violent acts of civil disobedience, popular uprisings and armed insurrections. As Walter Benjamin observes, history is not based on a progressive flow of “homogeneous, empty time” directed to the future but on a disruptive constellation of the present and the past. The impact of the legacy of the past and the lessons we gain from the exercise of discerning what of the past is use-worthy material and what is garbage material implies that the past is not simply gone. In other words, the past cannot be fully historicized.

The point is not whether or not the struggling oppressed maintains or disrupts traditions in their quest to develop the culture of liberation and to demolish the structures and traditions of oppression. The points is how best the struggling oppressed update and improve the most liberatory traditions of their past and how they frees themselves from the most oppressive traditions of the past. It is precisely by opening themselves to an interrogation and interruption by the new generation of activists and movements that old generations of activists and movements can be assured of a revolutionary continuation of the best of their practices and a revolutionary discontinuation of the worst of their practices. There is a dialectic and complimentary relationship between the optimism of “Shout it aloud: “I am Black & Proud”; “Black is beautiful” and the pessimism of “Black life is death”; “Blackness is the excrement of Whiteness”. Understanding this dialectic is not only the function of how ‘the struggling, oppressed class relates to its oppressed past’ in order to know what ‘past is constitutive or destitute of tradition’. It is also the function of identifying which aspects of the tradition are oppressive and which possess liberatory ethos.

Walter Benjamin asserts that ‘The history of the oppressed is a discontinuum.’ – ‘The task of history is to get hold of the tradition of the oppressed.”. The argument we have presented in this essay is that history constitutes both continuity and discontinuity and that the past carries both oppressive and liberatory memories and practices. Consequently our position is the task of the oppressed is more to identify which tradition is inherently or potentially oppressive and which is inherently or potentially liberatory. Therefore we conclude that the task of the Fallists and other new emerging movements is to combat and discontinue the oppressive aspects of social and political traditions and to reclaim, update, preserve, continue and expand the liberatory elements of social and political traditions.

Screen shot 2017-05-03 at 8.13.15 PM

(Mphutlane wa Bofelo is an anti-establishment underground poet\essayist and popular-education and worker-education facilitator currently based in Durban in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province of South Africa)

. This essay expands on the view expressed by wa Bofelo in the keynote address at the Mandela Bay Book Festival on 17 March 2017 on the subject of ‘Black Consciousness Poetry and the Fees Must Fall Movement’
Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya. 2016. Fallists need future view too. The Mercury. 9 April 2016
Azania is the name first adopted by the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and later endorsed by the Black Consciousness Movement and leftist Socialist formations like the African Peoples Democratic Union of South Africa (APDUSA), New Unity Movement (NEUM) and Workers Organization for Socialist Action (WOSA) as the name of a liberated South Africa. The literal translation of Azania is the land of the Black people. Citing Runoko Rashidi and Ivan van Sertima (editors), African Presence in Early Asia, Tenth Anniversary Edition, Transaction Press: New Brunswick: 1995, Black Consciousness stalwart and Maoist theorist, advocate Imrann Moosa asserts that the etymology of Azania to the Zanj Rebellion( 869 – 883 A.D.). The Zanj rebellion constituted of a series of small revolts that eventually culminated into a large rebellion that saw the 500 000 slaves sacking Basrah and setting up their own state, advancing to within seventy (70) miles of Baghdad itself. The Zanj built a city in the marshes known as al-Moktara (the Elect City) that was almost impregnable due to its watery location, and they also built a fortified town, al-Mani’a. They even minted their own currency. The Zanj thus took over the Caliphate and maintained a marooned state for some fifteen (15) years.
Rhodes Must Fall. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodes_Must_Fall (Accessed 9 April 2017)
Raeesa Patel. Rhodes Must Fall: The Movement after the statue. The Daily Vox. Monday, April 24, 2017 http://www.thedailyvox.co.za/rhodes-must-fall-the-movement-after-the-statue/ (Accessed 19 April 2017

On 10 March 2015, UCT student Chumani Maxwele flung the human waste on the statue of Rhodes, calling for the monument to be taken down. This led to scores of protesting students drenching the statue of Cecil John Rhodes in human excrement.
Langa, M. (ed) 2016. # An Analysis of Fees Must Fall Movement in the universities of South Africa. Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation: Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
Rhodes Must Fall. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodes_Must_Fall (Accessed 19 April 2017)
Amit Chaudhuri. 2016. The Real meaning of Rhodes Must Fall. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/mar/16/the-real-meaning-of-rhodes-must-fall (Accessed 20 April 2017)

Vhahangwele Nemakonde. Is Nompendulo the face of Fees Must Fall? http://citizen.co.za/news/news-national/868535/is-nompendulo-the-face-of-fees-must-fall/ (Accessed on 28 April 2017)
Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya. 2016. Fallists need future view too. The Mercury. 9 March 2016
Luxemburgism – Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation http://www.liquisearch.com/luxemburgism/dialectic_of_spontaneity_and_organisation (Accessed 20 April 2017)
Luxemburgism – Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation http://www.liquisearch.com/luxemburgism/dialectic_of_spontaneity_and_organisation (Accessed 20 April 2017)

Afro-pessimism http://incognegro.org/afro_pessimism.html (Accessed 21 April 2017 )
The Daily Maverick, 14th April 2015
Walter Benjamin cited by Sami Khatib. 2015. Walter Benjamin and the “Tradition of the Oppressed”. http://anthropologicalmaterialism.hypotheses.org/2128 (Accessed 21 April 2017)


February 29, 2016

Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,registered — ABRAXAS @ 12:56 pm


December 28, 2015

MPHUTLANE WA BOFELO on The Influences and Representations of BIKO and Black Consciousness in Poetry in Apartheid and “Post” apartheid South Africa/Azania

Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry,politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 11:52 am

This essay examines the influences of Stephen Bantu Biko and Black Consciousness on (Black) poetry in South Africa, focusing particularly on the points of convergence and divergence, connection and disconnection between the poetry movement of the era between the 1960s and 1980s—the so-called “Black Consciousness era”—and the post-1994 poetry resurgence. It looks at the aesthetic, stylistic, and thematic content of the works of some of the prominent “BC-era” poets (socalled Soweto Poets) and the thoughts and works of some of the current generation of South African poets. The chapter also explores the issue of the representations of Black Consciousness and Biko in the works of these poets and concludes with some thoughts on connecting the Black Consciousness era and post-1994 poetry movements.


The life and thoughts of Stephen Bantu Biko have been immortalized in various works and mediums of literary, visual, and performed arts such as songs, books, websites, theatre plays, poems, films, paintings, sculptures, clothing labels, and graffiti on the walls in various townships of South Africa declaring: Biko Lives! It is apt that literature and the arts be one of the media to serve as a tapestry for the invincibility and immortality of Steve Biko’s message of self-definition, self-realization, selflove, self-respect, self-reliance, and self-expression as a potent weapon for the physical and psychological liberation of oppressed and downtrodden people. The development of Black culture and thus Black literature was one of the main tenets of the Black Consciousness Movement. Through the influence of Biko and the philosophy of Black Consciousness the poets and writers of the late 1960s and early 1970s saw themselves as spokespersons for blacks in the country, refusing to be beholden to “proper” grammar and style, searching for black aesthetics and literary values, and afro-centric artistic and cultural expressions rooted in the historical-material experiences of Black people and grounded on the socioeconomic and political realities of South Africa/Azania and the global struggles of oppressed people.


The literary revival spurred by the Black Consciousness Movement came in the aftermath of “the Drum decade,” referred to as such because of the significant role played by Drum magazine with its publication of the expository, investigative, and sociopolitical journalistic writings of the likes of Henry Nxumalo and Nat Nakasa, short stories by writers of the caliber of Es’kia Mphahlele, and satirical pieces by the likes of Casey Motsisi. Many of the Drum decade writers exposed the brutalities and banalities of settler/colonial domination and apartheid/capitalism. The fallout from the Sharpeville massacre led to exile for many of these writers and artists. The political oppression of the resistance itself led to a new growth of Black South African literature mainly inspired by the new consciousness and new forms of struggle that emanated from the birth of the Black Consciousness Movement under the leadership of SASO-BPC and people like Stephen Bantu Biko, Mthuli Ka Shezi, Barney Pityana, Mosiuwa Patrick “Terror” Lekota, Ben Khoapa, Mualusi Mpumlwana, Winnie Motlalepule Kgware, Aubrey Nchaupe Mokoape, and Strinivasa “Strini” Raju Moodley.

The Rediscovery of the Reality of Being Black in the World

Playwright, poet, and journalist Strinivasa “Strini” Raju Moodley (also known as “Connection,” the name he acquired on Robben Island) was a member of the black radical theatre group The Clan when he met Biko, and was instrumental in the formation of the first union of black theatre, the South African Black Theatre Union (SABTU), and the Theatre Council of Natal (TECON). The Clan was made popular by its satirical depiction of Black people’s lives and the inequities and injustices in South Africa in plays like “Black and White,” “Resurrection,” and “Africa Hurrah!”—a collaboration with the Jazz group Dashiki that fused poetry in its music. A former member of The Clan and a stalwart of the BC movement, Asha Moodley is of the view that the noticeable situation of inequality was responsible for the politicization of Black students and Black writers and the Black Community in general. She asserts that the works of writers and artists were a symbolic reflection of the rediscovery of blackness and a reflection of the general heightened state of awareness of “the reality of being Black.” Asha Moodley recounts that in addition to its overtly political and revolutionary message, what was radical about their theatre at that time was its integration of drama, music, poetry, and visual art, its reliance more on improvisation than on props, and the interaction and dialogue between the audience and the performers. Moodley refers to this form of theatre as “total theatre.” She mentions that the effective use of humor in the writings of Drum decade writers like Casey Motsisi appealed to them. She also cites writers and poets of the Negritude movement like Diop, Senghor, and Césaire as one of the influences in their works. Moodley indicates that they found affirmation from reading the works of black writers in The Classic, the earliest literary journal of the time.1 In later years, South African literary practitioners became influenced by Black American and British poets such as Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Mutabaruka, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Gil Scott Heron, Amiri Baraka (formerly Leroi Jones) and The Last Poets— one of the earliest poetic voices of influence on hip-hop. The post-1976 era also saw writers like Gcina Mhlophe tapping into traditional African folktales and fables as a medium of popular education and alternative entertainment.

0 Strini Moodley

According to Moodley, The Clan’s reputation led to the group being invited to perform at BC movement events, and ultimately to the participation of some of the members, including Strini Moodley and herself, in the formal structures of the movement. Although the writers and artists operated independently of the movement, the BC movement played a significant role in the development of writers by establishing journals such as Black Perspective and Black Creativity and Development, and the Black Review. These provided an annual review of the state of affairs in the country as seen through the eyes of Black people, and therefore countered the often jaundiced and jazzed-up view presented in the mainstream media. Moodley adds that they also organized biannual national drama festivals at Orient hall in Durban where groups like Wits Drama Society and the Serpent Players performed. Staffrider magazine became the dominant forum for the publication of BC-inspired and BC-oriented literature, mostly in the form of poetry and short stories. The Soweto uprising was the pinnacle point of the new consciousness and the creation of a new form of Black person—free of the mental chains and infused with a sense of dignity and pride as well as the spirit of resilience and resistance. Sipho Sipamla, Mongane Wally Serote, Mafika Pascal Gwala, and Don Mattera paved the way and inspired a myriad of followers, most notably poet-performance artist Ingoapele Madingoane; painter and musician Matsemela Manaka; the fire-brand word-bomber Lesego Rampolokeng; and the renowned Mzwakhe Mbuli. Mzwakhe, who became closely associated with the structures of the Congress Movement and became known as the people’s poet in the 1980s, popularized the idea of doing oral poetry over music.

Black Consciousness and the Resurgence of Poetry in the Late 1960s and Early 1970s

With its emphasis on psychological liberation and self-reliance, the Black Consciousness movement became a rallying point for cultural reclamation, cultural rejuvenation and artistic production. Apart from its message of political consciousness, the BC movement articulated a message of cultural and religious awakening as reflected in the questioning of mainstream Christianity and the development of Black Theology (BT) that rejected the status quo to produce a new Christian paradigm geared toward revolutionizing both the material and cultural structure of South Africa. Writers of the BC movement period were in the forefront of heeding that cultural call and poetry and plays became the major genres of that period. Couched in graphic language designed to arouse the emotions of listeners, their poems were often performed at political rallies.


The first poetry book to be published by a black poet in this era is most probably Oswald Mtshali’s The Sound of a Cowhide Drum, which was an appeal for sympathy for the plight of poor black people. Sipho Sepamla was at first considered a “contemplative” poet, but by the time of The Soweto I Love (1977) his poetic persona fully identified with the oppressed. Sepamla also wrote a novel of this turbulent time, A Ride on the Whirlwind (1981), several other novels, and his Selected Poems were published in 1984. The early poems of Mongane Wally Serote published in volumes like Yakhal’inkomo (1972) and Tsetlo (1974) are short and sharp, and tackle the life and attitudes of a politically aware black person, looking at his society and its discontentment. In later volumes, Serote begins to develop an epic, incantatory voice with the long poems of Behold Mama, Flowers (1978) and Come and Hope with Me (1994), winner of the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. Don Mattera’s poems in the poetry anthology Azanian Love Song became anthems of the struggle, recording the pain and anguish of the oppressed and the injustices of the system, but also infusing the spirit of hope and resistance in the oppressed black majority. The volume also includes beautiful love poems as well as poems simply celebrating the beauty of humanity. Although writers like Es’kia Mphahlele have attributed the drastic shift toward poetry among those South African writers who lived and worked inside South Africa in the 1960s to the fact that the immediacy of the political realities demanded poetry which d id not need the long, consistent work of prose, Nadine Gordimer and others have argued that the poetic form was s imply less obvious and would bypass government censorship.


However, poetry did get banned; the first collection of poems banned under the Publication Act was Cry Rage by James Mathews and Gladys Thomas. Subsequent poetry books suffered the same fate. According to Amatoritsero,2 this was probably because poets, particularly the poets of the Black Consciousness period, were too emotionally close to the subject and not subtle but rather explicit in their choice of diction and imagery. Amatoritsero asserts that perhaps one good reason for the persistence of poetry, apart from the fact that the government tolerated it more readily since they assumed it reached a smaller audience, was the performance culture that began to emerge in the face of ironclad control and the lack of adequate publication outlets. He reminds us that literature anywhere in Africa was actually “orature” in several forms like parables, fables, work songs, praise songs, lullabies, genealogy chants, the folk ballad, the dirge, the abuse, and stories—all verbally transferred generation to generation. In many ways, the advent of performance poetry (now popularly known as the spoken word scene, and tapping the slam poetry and hip-hop traditions) could be seen as poetry returning to its oral roots in the form of readings and performances, in the absence of traditional mediums of orature.


The Thematic and Aesthetic Concerns of Post-1976 Poetry

The stylistic, aesthetic, and thematic concerns of the Black Consciousness poets were based in the idea of a complete break with the economic base and sociocultural superstructure of settler/colonial capitalism and aimed at recreating political and cultural expression of the South African reality, rooted in historical-material experiences of Black People and defined by the concrete and tangible conditions of the black majority. This meant confronting the white power structure and providing inspiration for black solidarity as an instrument of Black Power, as well as destroying the complex of inferiority and the culture of subservience—and on their ashes building a culture of resilience and resistance. Although the stylistic and aesthetic part of this project meant breaking with Eurocentric conventions of literature— which included deliberately breaking the English language, mixing it with indigenous African languages, township slang, and fusing the literary genres—the thematic part meant engaging and disengaging every aspect and apparatus of the system and putting together the building blocks for the creation of a new society.

Peter Horn observes:

To the black poet, as to any black, the white power structure is visible in very concrete terms; just as the American negro “in the ghetto sees his white landlord come only to collect exorbitant rents and fail to make necessary repairs . . . sees the white policeman on the corner brutally manhandle the black drunkard in a doorway, and at the same time accept a pay-off from one of the white-controlled rackets . . . sees the streets in the ghetto lined with uncollected garbage, and he knows that the powers which could send trucks in to collect that garbage are white.”3


In confronting state control over South African black life, the poetry raged against constant supervision by the white government and by white employers, and therefore poured scorn and ridicule upon the main tool of this constant surveillance of black people’s every move—the “pass,” a document which determined where one was allowed to live, work and travel. In a satirical poem, “To Whom it May Concern,” Sipho Sepamla expounds t he absurdities o f this instrument o f white power. Mafika Pascal Gwala gave poetic voice to the cries of black people whose loss of the dompass (or forgetting it at home) earned them a “Kwela Ride”— a ride in the police van—to the next jail, which, as described in a poem by Oswald Mtshali, could easily become a “Ride upon the Death Chariot.” This poetry did not just record the injustices but exposed the fact that the power structures perpetuated and entrenched the master-servant, rich-poor relations between white and black South Africa because of the necessary relationship between white privilege and black poverty.

Speak magazine argued:

That standards of whites are high because those of the black are low, and that the total machinery of the state, all its apartheid laws, are necessary to protect this privilege against the demands of the black worker. If the white can benefit from plentiful and undemanding labour, it is because the blacks can be exploited at will and are not protected by the laws of the country; if he can easily obtain positions of power and influence, it is because they are reserved for him and others are excluded from them.”4

Black Consciousness-inspired poetry portrayed the reality of the underprivileged and exposed the hollowness of attempts to justify oppression on the basis of the fallacious notion that black people cannot rule themselves and should be under the tutelage of white people. It also dealt with the reality that white supremacy thrived on a black inferiority complex and internalized sense of submissiveness, and the realization that psychological emancipation of Black people required new political strategies and a new consciousness that would combat the realities of racist society effectively. The greatest obstacle to this spirit of self-assertion was that centuries of colonial and imperialist domination, and decades of apartheid capitalism, had imposed on black people a “rigid discipline” of unconditional submission, an innate sense of inferiority and paralyzing fear of the white man and the power structures of white supremacism.


Mongane Wally Serote’s “Anonymous Throbs + A Dream” is a poetic articulation of the break with the culture of submissiveness and of a search for a new consciousness and for forms of struggle other than nonviolent, passive resistance:

I did this world great wrong
with my kindness of a dog
my heart like a dog’s tongue
licking too many hands, boots and bums.

Although many critics have dismissed the BC-era poets as protest poets, many of the poems, like Serote’s “Sunset,” moved beyond lamenting the conditions of oppression and looked forward to the triumph of the forces of liberation, and also painted a vision of the kind of society a liberated Azania would be. The certainty o f autopian tomorrow i s significantly symbolized by black night and not white day, yet there is also an expression of the poet’s fear of terror, even necessary terror: The humanistic ethos of the poetry is expressed by the articulation of a black poet’s fear that he may become as brutal, as insensitive, and as callous as the white oppressor, and in doing what is needed he might lose his essential humanity. Serote’s poetic contemplation of the dialectics of violence and counter-violence, inhumanity and arising counter-inhumanity, best expressed this fear. Horn observes that the theme of the cleansing power of rain and storm, of the rebirth of the barren and drought-stricken field by water, is a common theme in South African poetry, denoting (in the case of black poets) the total upheaval to restore the life of humanity of African society, the destruction of “white lies” by “black truth,” as in Stanley Motjuwadi’s poem, “White Lies.”5

The Relationship Between the Poets and the Political Structures of the BC Movement

Apparently, the Black Consciousness influence was the result of general political education and mass conscientization efforts of the BC movement rather than a product of an attempt to recruit writers and artists into the fold of the BC movement. Though almost every poet wrote politically-inspired and socially-engaged poetry with clear indication of the BC influence, not all poets operated within the formal structures of the BC movement. Some writers eventually joined the BC movement formally while other writers and groups simply operated autonomously and independently but with some link with and support from the Black Consciousness movement, which helped to organize venues for performances and provided them with platforms at rallies. This interdependent relationship between the BC movement and the writers and artists is confirmed by Lefifi Tladi’s account:

Dashiki became a very important group because we were fusing music and poetry and our music was more towards malopo, this traditional music. The poetry was socially committed . . . Dashiki worked within the political structure [of] Black Consciousness with absolute independence. The BC movement used to book places where we could perform, whatever we wanted. That was one of the best outreach programmes. From there we started organising other groups like Batsumi, Medumo, ya bo Bra Paul Motaung, the late. And o ther g roups l ike Medupe. We went into universities broadening the consciousness of students, and organising exhibitions . . . Dashiki was an important band of that era.6

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Mzi Mahola

According to Mzi Mahola, theatre performers like John Kani, Malefetse Bogolane, George Luse, Nomhle Nkonyeni, Winston Ntshona of the Serpent Players, and Mzwandile Maqhina of the Black Slaves and others like Khaya Mqhayisa were members of the BC movement but were not directed or mandated by the BC movement. Mahola is of the view that although the BC movement d id not necessarily recruit writers to join it, writers were drawn into the movement by the platform and the opportunity to be heard as well as the chance for growth. Mzi Mahola, who experimented with poetry writing when he was doing Matric in 1969 and joined the BC movement in 1970, says his writing was encouraged in the BC movement where he was told to write in English because black people did not have to be told that they were suffering; that it was white people who caused our suffering and, therefore, should be told. However, it is apparent that there was a voice within the movement for writing in African languages.7

Ike Muila

Rismathi Mathonsi recounts that at one of the writers’ meetings, discussions centered on the use of English and African languages, and that people like Sipho Sipamla and himself advocated for more writings in African languages.8 Though he does not have any work published in an African language, Sipamla is renowned for writing in a mix of English, Afrikaans, and isiXhosa and was a major influence on the writers of the 1980s like Ike Muila, who only writes in Iscamtho, the South African township-born slang—so-called tsotsi taal. Poet, jazz artist, and painter Lefifi Tladi—who was a leading member of Dashiki—writes most of his poems in Setswana and experiments with proverbial and idiomatic expressions. He says this is his way of highlighting the richness and depth of African languages:

I was telling my young students that we need a new generation that is going to write poetry that draws from African proverbs, and which is able to translate to our contemporary setting. I used as an example these few lines of a poem: “Gophuthulla metsweditswedi ya hlago, kego ngatholla masedi a sedimosang ditoro” which means something l ike “Unfolding the oasis of nature is to share the light that makes dreams visible.” The beauty and depth of this is that for any person to see anything, you need light, but what kind of light is it that makes dreams visible? This shows you how much we can go into our languages. Our languages are fantastic! There are so many ways to say things; I find my language more sophisticated. Our linguists actually need to invent new symbols to express some of this wealth . . . when it comes to ways of thinking for example, African languages have no “he” or “she.” So they suggest no gender “hierarchy.”9

The presence of writers of the era who wrote in African languages and their commitment to the development of indigenous African languages, as captured in Tladi’s words, indicates that the BC movement did not impose rigid and fixed rules and/or prescriptions on writers and artists in as far as the choice of language is concerned. Actually, many writers have observed the fact that many musical groups and artists started writing in their own languages more in the 1970s. Mzi Mahola traces his journey into the BC movement to listening to Biko give a public address at Fort Hare in 1968 when he was doing matric at Lovedale. He declares that the BC movement inculcated in the individual a sense of being, pride, dignity, and self-confidence. “It changed people’s passive and negative attitude of viewing themselves as inferior and made them feel equal with whites. Its ideology was premised on the legitimization of blackness.”10

Mahola also mentions that his writing matured from the influence, advice, and evaluation of BC movement members like Barney Pityana and John Kani. “Either you had talent or there was no platform for your poor work. There was a program of encouraging and stimulating cultural awareness in black people. Individuals were encouraged to read and write and to express themselves in crafts and visual arts,” says Mahola, lamenting that culture has vanished. He says the lack of interest in reading has resulted in the loss of the love of languages. And hence the poor quality of the manuscripts that many of the current generation of writers produce. However, Mahola is quick to add that though the Black Consciousness era produced inspiring cultural expressions, the repressive conditions and police brutality served to demoralize and demotivate writers. For example, Mahola’s first poetry manuscript was confiscated by the police in August 1975, and this devastated him so much that he spent the next fourteen years without writing a single line of poetry.

Perhaps such repression, complemented by the dictates of market forces and the trappings of capital in the mainstream entertainment industry, played a major role in some of the poets, playwrights, and artists toning down their political messages later in their careers. However, poets like Mzwakhe Mbuli maintained the culture of social commentary poetry in the 1980s and inspired many in the younger generation of writers.

The Response of Poetry to Global Capitalism and Neoliberalism

With the advent and euphoria of a democratic South Africa, the huge political audiences waned and less attention was paid to poetry as compared to other literary genres in as far as government and corporate funding and prominence in academia and the media was concerned. Poetry continued to be housed mainly in small journals, websites, and café venues, and prose remained the medium that commanded more publicity and commentary in academia, with attention and discussions centered on established names like Coetzee and Gordimer, a long with a number of emerging voices such as Zakes Mda, Ivan Vladislavic and Sindiwe Magona. Kelwyn Sole observes that the prose writers in the first decade of democracy have tended to concentrate their attention on themes that resonate with and seem to offer space for representation of a number of social issues that have been widely discussed in public life and in the media since 1994.11 He asserts that perhaps most academic attention has been focused in the direction of prose because most novels and short stories are impregnated with narratives of reconciliation, multiculturalism, examination of memory, and the redefinition of identity. However, Sole argues that such themes are not absent in poetry, and that in actual fact the younger generation of poets seems prepared to both expand its social purview and experiment with form. Although heeding the post-apartheid mood of exploring human life more multidimensionally rather than merely through political narratives, many of these poets continued to lay emphasis on and put into practice the notion that poets also have roles of social responsibility and political commentary. The political developments post-1994 helped to ferment and sustain socio political commentary poetry. The shift of the ANC in power—from its previous position of “national democracy plus economic egalitarianism” to unbridled capitalism/free-marketism—unsettled popular expectations of an equitable distribution of wealth and resources and the opening of doors to education, health, and other social services in a new dispensation. The most significant element of this shift was the adoption of the Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) policy, effectively meaning the adoption of an orthodox neo-liberal framework as both a policy and vision of the government, and therefore the erosion of the relatively welfare- oriented principles of the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP). At the local level the implementation of neo-liberal policies resulted in the poorest of the poor being victims of massive retrenchments and escalating levels of unemployment, electricity and water cutoffs, evictions, and outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, and klepsella. Although ordinary people are the ones who feel the squeeze of neoliberal capitalist policies the most, and therefore have a much clearer perception of the barbarism and corruption of global capitalism, they seldom speak out and they are rarely listened to. Kelwyn Sole is of the view that literature can act as a vehicle for such ordinary views and that poetry has done this in an eloquent fashion in South Africa. He cites the critical voices of poets like Mxolisi Nyezwa, Nkwapa Moloto, Sphokazi Mthathi, Vonani Bila, Phedi Tlhobolo and even members of the ruling party like Mongane Wally Serote and Jeremy Cronin. Their works frankly question the meaning of freedom in the new South Africa and highlight the contradictions of the new dispensation, the vagaries of the market, the enormous chasm between the quality of the lives of the poor and the rich, the corruption of power, the pomp and decadence of the emergent black bourgeoisie and the mediocrity of “parrot poetry.” However, there is no homogeneity with regard to the relationship of poets/poetry with the political elite and corporate capital, or as far as poetry’s response to the seductions of power and the vicissitudes of the market.


Ever since Zolani Mkiva rose to prominence in 1990 by praising Nelson Mandela and later becoming ordained Imbongi Yesizwe, poet to the nation, and the president’s poet laureate, a number of oral poets see
their task as the public praising of leaders and their policies, curtainraising for every state function or corporate event. The most well-known poet of the 1983–1990 era of political turbulence, Mzwakhe Mbuli, even performed praises on television advertisements for commercial products and parastatals, such as Cremora Coffee Creamer and Spoornet (South Africa Rail).

Spoken Word and Social Activism Post–1994

The era of political independence, with its emphasis on freedom of expression and the opening of access to information, saw many young people getting interested in poetry. Many of these young people were influenced by hip-hop and the s lam poetry phenomenon. Only a few remnants of the BC generation of writers are still active today and, according to Mzi Mahola, “one can surmise that the negation of literature in the class and disappearance of the culture of reading brings about the demise of BC
socially engaging poetry” (my own emphasis). Mahola attributes this to the fact that the Censorship Board of the Nationalist government had cleaned the shelves of all relevant literature, and periodically banned
certain publications and journals like Time Magazine and South African Outlook which played major roles in inspiring and informing communities, and to the current absence of projects similar to the tertiary programs run by the BC movement. He explains:

At tertiary institutions the BC movement had programs of developing and encouraging public speaking where popular guest speakers were invited to deliver speeches; debates formed part of the program as well as mock trials for law students. It was varsity culture and norms to come across public debates where students would be analyzing topical issues in public places. Alternative media and popular journals encouraged people to read so as to empower and broaden their minds. All that is history now. Today one
does not see the role of literature in developing writers and educating our people because it has been neglected from lower levels. In certain schools and provinces literature has become anathema to learners.12

Mahola sees the slam poets as filling the vacuum that was left behind after the gradual exit of the socially-engaging BC protest poetry of the pre-1994 era. He explains that the present generation has other problems to deal with. However, Mahola laments that the expression of their problems
tends to take the form of an articulation of personal frustrations. He s ays, “The BC poetry w as meant to conscientize, mobilize, moralize, politicize, inspire and motivate. It sought to spread and promote BC
philosophy and ideas. Spoken word seems to attract youth only and it does not carry any particular message or philosophy espoused by the community. The stage is for individualism where DJs battle. Unlike BC poetry, spoken word relies on musical backing, rhyming, repetition, and weird language which are meant to entertain. Spoken word is not meant to be analyzed and understood but to entertain.”13

This sweeping generalization about spoken word and slam poetry ignores the plurality and diversity of voices within the spoken word scene. The label “slam poet” is misleading when applied to many of the poets who also write so-called “page poetry,” essays, and drama, but who use the spoken word/slam poetry platform to reach out to a wider audience, and also to free poetry from the elitist enclave of “high art.” Unfortunately, the media and academia (preoccupied by labels) impose the slam poetry / hip-hop label on any young poet or any poet who also uses the stage as a platform of sharing his poetry. Hence Lebo Mashile’s poetic combat of this stereotype: “Shake off the dust of ‘slam poetry’ expectations / And relieve the green words / where the world is no obstacle to my desire.” In Durban, cultural workers, social activists, poets, MCs, and hiphop activists within Izimbongi Zesimanje/Nowadays Poets, Slam Poetry Operation Team (SPOT), the Ghetto Prophecy Movement (GPM), and Young Basadzi Projects (YPB) are at the forefront of attempts to use art as a platform and medium of popular education, political conscientization, social development, and economic empowerment. One significant program is the Ghetto Kids project initiated by the GPM band led by Sandile Sibiya. This project imparted life-skills education to displaced children (so-called “street kids”) through the vehicles of hip-hop, break-dance, graffiti, gumboots, creative writing and disc-jockeying. According to MC and hip-hop activist Bullet, the aim of the project was to move beyond pity and sympathy to embrace the displaced children as a part of the broader Ghetto Prophecy Movement, which included GPM, its fan-base, and all the artists, groups, and social activists participating in the project. The key aspect of the project was to give the children a sense of being and belonging, and to unlock their hidden potentialities, capacities, and talents and help them to use these for their own empowerment. Miracle (Sphephelo Mbhele), who joined the movement in 2001, recounts: “Ghetto Kids became something else. It grew and embraced kids from all over. We had ‘white’ kids breaking with ‘street’ kids. We had parents initially dropping off kids but now staying through the whole show. Ghetto Kids had rules like no smoking or drinking of alcohol during the session, none of the older cats were allowed to perform, etc.”14 Miracle and Zorro (Lwazi Xaba) have initiated Izwi poetry nights, a series of collaborative performances between poets and jazz bands at the Zulu Lounge, inaugurated with a performance on February 1, 2007. SPOT, headed by DJ Cool-fire (Eric Nkosinathi Hadebe), conducts creative writing workshops and s lamjams in high schools and a lso uses Slam Showcases to address issues like HIV/AIDS, poverty, and homelessness. Members of the Nowadays Poets have participated in programs such as the Fatherhood Project and were also commissioned by the eThekwini Municipality to run the Creative Ink project, a part of the Urban Renewal Programme in the Inanda, Ntuzuma Kwamashu (INK) area. The Young Basadzi Project has run several creative writing workshops in high schools and has collaborated with various NGOs in community outreach projects. In 2006, the YBP published a collection of poetry and prose by young South African women.

KGAFELA OA MAGOGODI I MIC WHAT I LIKE from African Noise Foundation on Vimeo.

Undertones of BC in Current Works of Black Poets

A careful look at the performed poetry/spoken word/slam poetry scene and some of the recently published poetry books would reveal that there are a variety of voices with a socially-engaging message inspired by the ethos of Black Consciousness, A frocentricity, and Pan-Africanism a s well a s anticapitalist, feminist and/or womanist, and environmental concerns. Among these voices one can include Kgafela Oa Magogodi (Thy Condom Come, I Mike What I Like), Vonani Bila (Magicstan Fires, In the Name of Amandla), Lebogang Mashile (In a Ribbon of Rhythm), Mzi Mahola—one of the few BC-era poets still active on the literary scene—(Dancing in the Rain), Myesha Jenkins (Breaking Surface), and Bandile Gumbi (Pangs of Initiation). A typical example of a satirical take on the corrupting effect of power and the lures of capital on leaders is found in Magogodi’s poem “No More Carrots,” which shows how the system dangles material wealth and offers of high offices like a carrot to co-opt and corrupt conscientious people. In his debut poetry CD, Magogodi paraphrases Biko’s famous signature, “I write what I like” into I Mike What I Like. The title-poem is a poetic testament of the poet’s resolve not to be a parrot poet and his refusal to let his literary expression be dictated by political correctness. Anticapitalist activist, poet, and publisher Vonani Bila’s poetry is marked by its expression of sympathy and empathy for the most marginalized and underground sections of society.


Another important feature of Bila’s poetry is its narratives of village anecdotes and legends that capture everyday life experience in rural Limpopo, particularly Elim Village, as well as its tributes to celebrated and unsung practitioners of the literary, visual, and performing arts—Jackson Hlungwani, Lucy Shivambu, Noria Mabasa, John Baloyi, Willi Mangayi, Obed Ngubeni, and Elias Baloyi—mostly from the Limpopo Province. Bila is also renowned for his poetic critique of neoliberal capitalism and the Washington consensus agenda, particularly the squeeze of neoliberal policies on the poorest of the poor in South Africa and the world:

“In the
name of Amandla / tell me what has changed in this village / the tap is dry/
coughs hot air/the pump is off/granny has no cash to buy diesel/she walks
distances to draw dirty water/in the still pool/ in the poisoned dam / where
people share water with animals.”15

Bila’s boldness comes out in a critical
look at freedom struggle heroes who are regarded as holy cows by many
African poets. He asks Mandela troubling questions in “Mandela Have You
Ever Wondered,” and is very frank with Mugabe in “Dear Gabriel”:

I don’t care
how many tobacco & flower white farmers
the war vet-chefs ambushed & butchered last night
nor how many shops were torched
not even the rise & fall of Hitler hunzwi bothers me
nor the aborted & bogus Lancaster house agreement
nor how many foreigners & funders have fled the country
I care about men and women by the roadside
liberated vagabonds
who walk from Harare to Johannesburg on foot
swimming across the crocodile infested limpopo
braving the mewing wild cats
& the pecking vultures
victims of the roving green fly.

Bila’s poem “Mr President, Let the Babies Die” has effectively become an anthem within the circles of the anti-capitalist social movements. It was performed at the World Social Forum in Brazil and is quoted in full at the end of Patrick Bond’s critique of South Africa’s neo-liberal trajectory, Talk Left, Walk Right:

This is the millennium plan
followed by declarations and slogans
poor men and women goaded by the western whip
dawn of a new century
money talks
the rich get richer
we can only sell our breasts and thighs for a living
I’m scared of urban beasts
their tongues are too sharp
in the meantime
ghetto babies die in public toilets.16

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Mahola’s is a patriotic voice but outspoken in its criticism of the leader ship and populace. He tackles themes such as corruption, moral degeneration, talk of an African renaissance, the aloofness of the erstwhile freedom fighters from the masses, and the lack of accountability. The latter is aptly captured in the poem “Impassable Bridge”:

I phoned for an MP
A former bosom friend
His secretary asked
In connection with what
It punctured my ego
I felt my manhood shrinking.17

Lebo Mashile

In “In a Ribbon of Rhythm,” television personality and poet Lebo Mashile articulates the joys and sorrows of being a (black)woman in a patriarchal and male-centric world, celebrates the beauty, resilience, and resourcefulness of women, and gives voice to the stories and songs/cries of ordinary women. She calls on women to “tell your story / let it nourish you / sustain you / and claim you / tell your story / let it twist and remix your shattered heart / tell your story / until your past stops tearing your present apart.” Her call is for every child to know she is “wrapped in a ribbon of rhythm” and her mission is “to show pretty black girls / how to look at their hearts / with eyes blaring full blast / the way you did / together we can build a bridge / to the promises in their faces / and pull them towards poems / by pretty black girls / wearing the crown of change.”18

Lebogang Mashile’s colleague in the Feela Sister Spoken Word Collective, Myesha Jenkins, breaks the private/public, personal/social dichotomy, articulating and capturing the human side o f social issues like w omen abuse, the disempowerment of women, and patriarchal and sexist practices and stereotypes. She celebrates the connectedness of the black experience and the resilient spirit of black people in “Diaspora,” rages against war in “Fighting men,” and declares her love for revolutionary women (Dora Maria Tellez, Nora Astorga, Haydee Santamaria, Asanta Aguilar, Nguyen Thi Binh, Laila Khalid, Thenjiwe Mthintso, Sheila Weinberg) in “Revolutionary Woman.”19

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Bandile Gumbi

Bandile Gumbi describes herself as a guerrilla poet and defines her poetry as “conversations with myself.” In the poetry collection Pangs of Initiation, Gumbi addresses the politics and complexity of identity, interrogates art, poetry, and freedom, and highlights the contradictions of the new South Africa and the dangers of assimilation:

“We are definitely stuck /
between the s’s / of assimilation / a banana is an exotic fruit in africa / when
chasing / coconut dreams.”20

The poem “After the Fact” evokes the spirit of Biko to triumph above the commodification and commercialization of his name on the alter of “bumper sticker consciousness.” Here the poet rages against the transformation of former freedom fighters into corporate fat cats and laments the demise of the struggle: “Someone seems to be shouting / Biko is in parliament / driving a Yengeni / living in yuppiedom / these are definitely post times /vibrations: struggle my life! / burned with
the 80s / but the phoenix is yet to rise from the ashes.”

For Gumbi, the hopeless and desperate characteristics of black people’s lives in the new South Africa marks “the death of Black Consciousness”:

He lap-danced / To the jukebox tunes / Home of the brave / With his head buried in sand dune / BC, He! Bantu! / Ngiyamgcoba!

Post-Struggle Praise-Singing and Performance Poetry

In post-1994 South Africa, the praise poetry genre was repopularized
with the huge prospects for government and corporate funding and the
lucrative chances of being praise-singers for the president, premiers,
mayors, and ministers, and official advertisers/ambassadors of particular
corporate products/companies. The mass media, with its proclivity
to promote mediocrity and to churn out instant celebrities, plays a critical
role in promoting poetry for its own sake as opposed to the poetry
of commitment. Although many of these poets raise contemporary
issues like HIV/AIDS, sexist and patriarchal practices, gender-based
violence, and poverty and inequality, a lot of them are either courtier
clowns and praise poets or simply escape into the world of neo-romanticism
away from socioeconomic and political issues emanating from the
neocolonial, neoliberal capitalist dispensation. The mainstream corporate
world and government and civil society organizations have all
recognized the power of the spoken word/performed poetry and traditional
African oral poetry as mediums of communication. Therefore,
there is an increase in the use of poetry and hip-hop and kwaito music
for advertising and public relations. Performance poets are increasingly
being commissioned by corporations or the government to write
or perform their works to advance one cause or the other. This adds
another dimension where the lure of quick bucks and celebrity status
as well as awards, honors, and titles like poet laureate or the prospects
of being the official imbongi of a high-powered political individual or
office, threatens the dedication and commitment of the poets to poetry
as an art form and to the poetry of conscience and, therefore, threatens
the literary quality of the works produced. The competitive aspect
of the slam poetry scene in particular, along with rampant commercialization,
has led to more individualistic rather than communitarian.

In this regard, the instructive observations of freelance journalist and poet Goodenough Mashego deserve some lengthy quotation:

The spoken word scene is abuzz with talented souls who are mostly BC, or anti-establishment. The problem is that the scene is only exclusively an urban phenomenon. Jo’burg has got its people who walk around with groupies who will ululate even when they fart. I have a feeling it has developed elitist tendencies which are going to kill it and the message . . . You have “celebrated” slam poets who will come at book launches and never recite, only to distribute flyers about where their next paid gig will be. That’s the undoing. One is left wondering how they can claim Bohemia while their attitude smirks of Utopia . . . Money can buy anything. I never believed it until I saw some BC heavy-hitters who are appointed to head state institutions toning down on their rhetoric. I think most of them who are now mainstream cannot write hard-hitting commentaries or poetry while they know they might be called to present their works in front of the President and his side-kicks. You can’t label Zuma corrupt when he is paying your bills, you can’t quiz the destructive nature of the arms industry when DENEL has invited you to a luncheon. That poem that you have that says “Mandela is a blunder/ leading the nation asunder” will die a natural death when you have to perform for Oprah during the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund gala dinner. Sometimes they just make you mainstream to steal you from the people to whom you really matter.21

Lefifi Tladi is of the view that the mediocrity and lack of direction prevalent in artistic and literary circles reflects the general crisis of identity in a post-independence, neocolonial dispensation characterized by amnesia
and the assault of eurocentricism and Western hegemony on the mindset of South Africans. “The problem today is that the issues now have changed because it is not an issue of black people or white people. We don’t have focus. Artists are on their own, and the direction is not defined. So we are improvising most of the time. That’s why it’s easy to be an artist because there are no guidelines . . . We have an identity crisis. Everything is wishywashy . . . We are all part of this confusion where we are trying to define what is South African.”22

The Misappropriation of Biko/BC

Mashego argues that the dictates of capital are one of the major reasons for the lack of a Black Consciousness-oriented popular theatre and spoken w ord: “Poets like K gafela (oa Magogodi), Vonani (Bila), Mpho (Ramaano), and a few outspoken individuals do still talk from the heart. But at the end of the day even artists get hungry and have to eat, and it’s the ruthless capitalists who have the money. They are the ones who run the State Theatre, Polokwane Auditorium and other venues where you need approval to utilize. Connections between the arts, spoken or written, and BC still exist. One needs to read the text because I think that’s where honesty lies. Performance is another thing, the audience dictates the direction. Post-’94 one looks at the audience and sees the Mayor and tones down on the venom. I’m not saying BC artists sell out, I’m just saying they need to eat, and that’s the consideration.” Mahola posits that another reason for a lack of connectivity between BC-era poetry and the current poetry resurgence is the censorship and systematic purging of BC-oriented materials and works by writers like Fanon and Cabral off library bookshelves.


Mashego’s account of the difficulty he experienced when trying to access books by the likes of Césaire and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, as part of an initiative to establish the first African Library, somewhat supports Mahola’s assertion. “We faxed the list to embassies of all the countries that once colonized a certain part of Africa to search for the books through their cultural desks and donate them to us. Something like, ‘give us back our wisdom.’ Nothing was happening and we were only exhausting money calling these embassies and one day I met Mama Miriam [Tlali] at the same event where I met the late Phaswane Mpe and we started talking. Tlali said, ‘o ka se di thole ngwanake. Ke nahana hore ba di rekile tso tsohle ba di tshuma ka mollo.’ [I think they bought all BC literature and burned it.] Now you see, the colonizers or racists had a SWAT team that was out to make sure that any literature that sympathized with BC got destroyed. They had a plan to separate oral and literature from a BC agenda because they knew African people are artistic people who sing and dance when happy, sad and celebrating. What needs to be done now is to make a call to our government,
‘please, give us back our wisdom, even if it’s on paperback.’”


This view is supported by Asha Moodley who says that, among other things, the fact that a great deal of time in the SASO-BPC trial was taken on interrogating the writings of BC leaders like Strini Moodley and Stephen Bantu Biko, shows that there was a constant and concerted attack on Black creativity. She also highlights the fact that in addition to the murder of prominent BC leaders like Mthuli Ka Shezi, Mapetla Mohapi, Onkgopotse Tiro, and Steve Biko by the apartheid regime in the 1970s, thousands of Black Consciousness adherents were killed for their political beliefs between 1983 and 1990. Moodley goes further to suggest that there is currently a systematic attempt to gloss over—or obliterate from the memory of South Africans—the era between 1960 and 1980 in narrating the history of the struggle for liberation in South Africa, and to appropriate Stephen Bantu Biko by political forces that have always been detractors and critics of Biko and the philosophy of Black Consciousness. She says it is not unusual for corporate capital and the political establishment to appropriate the message of revolution and change and utilize it for their own interests. Part of this, argues Moodley, is the commodification of martyrs and heroes of the struggle as exemplified by the designer clothes bearing the names of Biko and Che Guevara. Mashego is more scathing in his attack on the misrepresentation and abuse of Biko’s name: “True, Biko is becoming the new media agenda, thanks to people like Xolela Mangcu, the Steve Biko Foundation, Writes Associates and Nkosinathi Biko. But he is being commercialized like Che Guevara. Biko is now a screensaver on a 14 year old’s cellphone and a Ventersdorp farmer’s desktop. But, who is Biko?; ask any of the people who are wearing his T-shirt while holding a can of Black Label and soliciting sex without a condom from a 15-year-old girl. The media is prostituting Biko instead of representing him.”

Screen shot 2015-12-28 at 6.54.26 PM

Some Proposals on Connecting the “BC Era” and Post-1994 Poets and Writers

Splits and lack of unity and cooperation among the three political parties that claim Black Consciousness have left South Africa with no visible and audible party-political force articulating a Black Consciousness perspective at the macro level of parliamentary politics. The general state of disorganization and dysfunctionality within these parties makes it difficult for them to connect with the resurgent literary and cultural movement that carries some resonance of Black Consciousness. The few communitybased organizations and cultural organizations with some affinity to Black Consciousness operate in isolation from each other with no efforts to synergize and consolidate their works. The need to solicit corporate funding forces many organizations to lie low as far as a more pronounced commitment to Black Consciousness is concerned. The silence and/or marginalization of many BC-era writers and the cooption of a handful of them (either into the corporate world or the structures of government) make it difficult for the younger generation of writers and poets to connect with their literary predecessors. What is missing is a conscious and well-coordinated program to link up the present literary and cultural movement with the past and to educate the current crop of poets and cultural activists about their predecessors.

In spite of this lack of awareness about Black Consciousness-oriented writers and the actual contributions of the BC movement in pushing literature and the arts in South Africa forward, Biko and Black Consciousness continue to be points of reference (or at least a source of inspiration) for writers, including the slam poets and hip hop artists. Bullet indicates that the philosophy of Black Consciousness, with its emphasis on self-reliance, serves as an inspiration to the artists and groups that do community development work. But they prefer to be nonaligned when it comes to party politics, and nonsectarian in their dealings with communities and organizations. Attributing his political consciousness to his mother’s account of how his grandfather was dispossessed of his plot of land and how many African families and communities were d isplaced by forced removals, Bullet declares that parents and the older generation have a responsibility to teach the younger generation their history and to raise their awareness about cultural, social, economic, and political issues affecting their communities.23

Mashego suggests the way forward: “The same way the current US hip-hop practitioners are linking to Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder, and others, the old generation must not hold on to their masters as if they were their hearts. They should let the young generation exploit that. If there is a book entitled This Way I Salute You, it shouldn’t be a matter of a thousand lawyers converging around a copy of the Copyright Act before a young spoken word artist can be a llowed to use that as a title of his hip-hop or spoken word album.” Asha Moodley suggests that one way of doing this is to create a platform where the BC-era poets and other artists of that era share the stage with the current crop of writers and artists in concerts, festivals, seminars, workshops, and exchange programs. She also calls for a drastic change in the school curriculum to ensure that African literature and writings by Black writers take center stage in languages, literature, and moral and cultural studies from primary to tertiary education. Mashego also proposes that the politics of ethnicity and tribalism need to be exposed and combated through the vehicles of drama, theatre, writing and poetry. These works should point out the weakness of such thinking, with Black Consciousness as the point of departure.

1. Interview with Asha Moodley, January 19, 2007.
2. Amatoritsero Godwin Ede. BC movement South African Literature: (www . nigeriansin.
3. Peter Horn, “When it Rains: U.S, BC and Lyric Poetry in South Africa,” Speak, Cape
Town 1, no.1 (October-November 1978).
4. Speak, Cape Town, 1. no.1 (October–November 1978).
5. Ibid.
6. “Hidden Treasures: Lefifi Tladi.” Pulse (www.news.com/citypress/entertainment/
0, 7515, 186-16982018078, 00html).
7. Interview with Mzi Mahola, January 8, 2007.
8. Interview with Rismathi Mathonsi.
9. “Hidden Treasures: Lefifi Tladi.” Pulse (www.news.com/citypress/entertainment/
0, 7515, 186-16982018078, 00html).
10. Interview with Mahola.
11. Kelwyn Sole, “The Witness of Poetry (Economic Calculation, Civil Society and the
Limits of Everyday Experience in Liberated South Africa)” in Botsotso, Contemporary
South African Culture 13.
12. Interview with Mahola.
13. Ibid.
14. Interview with Sphephelo Mbhele aka Miracle.
15. Vonani Bila, Magicstan Fires (Elim Hospital: Timbila Poetry Project, 2006).
16. Vonani Bila, In the Name of Amandla (Elim Hospital: Timbila Poetry Project, 2004).
17. Mzi Mahola, Dancing in the Rain (Scottsville: UKZN Press, 2006).
18. Lebogang Mashile, In a Ribbon of Rhythm (Capetown, SA: Oshun Books, 2005).
19. Myesha Jenkins, Breaking the Surface (Elim Hospital: Timbila Poetry Project, 2005).
20. Bandile Gumbi, Pangs of Initiation (Somerset west: H.A Hodgie, 2004).
21. Pulse; Hidden Treasures; Lefifi Tladi: (www.news.com/citypress/entertainment/
0, 7515, 186-16982018078, 00html).
22. Interview with Goodenough Mashego, January 8, 2007.
23. Interview with Bullet, December 2, 2006.

December 21, 2015


Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 11:37 am

bold and audacious

free spirit

irrepressible voice

open express

of the right of the body

to receive and give pleasure

according to its own tastes

not society’s dictates

before rhodes must fall

afore fees must fall

you declared the walls

in the mind must fall

the walls of inhibition

the walls of prejudice

the walls of conformism

this way i break the walls

let go of the chains in the mind

come to you

free and bold

declare my fantasy

to see you and me

on top below

behind in front

all over each other

no man and no woman

just free bodies

exchanging pleasure

sometimes i’m a man

sometimes i’m just

a body wanting to be sucked

rubbed worked all over

in whatever way

by any means

any body warm and strong

tender and fast or whatever attribute

just something inside so strong

any liquid to suck

any flesh to eat

just sometimes

i am a body

a body a body

horny body

blazing with desire

December 19, 2015


Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 10:17 am


a river

an ocean

a flood

a storm

unruly waves of desire

screaming towards you


these words are

not even a fraction

of unspoken desire

to invade your body

be a voluntary slave

inside you

nothing can express

this burning desire

as true as the act

of moving into you

dissolving my whole self

into the vast ocean

of your love; your being


deep in my heart

there is a song

a river

a storm

a flood

uncontained desire

i am handing myself to you

imprison me

between your legs

tighten your thighs

keep me a slave in your body

jail me inside you

let me know no sweetness

except the deliciousness

of your body and all its juices

don’t ever release me

from the clutches of your lust

into you I am alive

keep me there

i can’t go there

and come back

wanting anything

except coming into you

December 18, 2015


Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 11:05 am

give you my arms

wrap yourself around them

let their grip warm you

keep them for the night

turn them into your spa

these tender hands are at your service

i am surrendering myself to you

take me completely

take me from all sides

take me slowly

take me fast

take me in a heart beat

take me on the floor

take me in the car

take me in the chair

take me anyway you like

make me your pillow

lay calm on my chest

reach nirvana between your legs **
these words are
not even a fraction
of unspoken desire
to invade your body
be a voluntary slave
inside you
nothing can express
this burning desire
as true as the act
of moving into you
dissolving my whole self
into the vast ocean
of your love; your being

deep in my heart
there is a song
a river
a storm
a flood
uncontained desire
i am handing myself to you
imprison me
between your legs
tighten your thighs
keep me a slave in your body
jail me inside you
let me know no sweetness
except the deliciousness
of your body and all its juices
don’t ever release me
from the clutches of your lust
into you I am alive
keep me there
i can’t go there
and come back
wanting anything
except coming into you

December 17, 2015

mphutlane wa bofelo on the ballad of sugar moon and coffin deadly

Screen shot 2015-12-17 at 8.46.12 PM

December 6, 2015


Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 8:15 am

This morning

I woke up

With a song

In my heart

I searched

The dimension and breadth

Of the world

Travelled to the universes

Seeking for an instrument

With a melody

That can be true

To the depth of

The breath-taking beauty

Finally I settled

On this absolute truth

Only your voice

With a spontaneous laughter

An easy giggle and an ordinary ‘hello’ on the phone

That leaves my heart

With a song beyond words

Can give verbal tapestry

To this song, now wordless

Buzzing in my ear-drums

This morning I woke up with a poem

In my ears

The music of your laughter

The symphony of your giggle

The dance of your footsteps

The jive of your body-movement

Whistling in me

A rhythm and blues classic

Coming onto me in a jazz beat

Drum and bass at the back of my mind

My trembling body

Playing its own number

A rock & roll tune

With amazioni drums at the frontline

Your voice doing

A Nina Simone in my ears

November 24, 2015


Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 1:48 pm

say you love me

sing for me

scream your want for me

dance your lust for me

shout your desire for me

lie naked before me

table your body for my eyes

i am here for your taking

i cook myself for your mouth

i am your dish

serve me fresh and raw

keep me in your heart

cover me under your pants

let us be slaves to the passion

go with the stream

follow the flow our feelings

no philosophy

no ideology

no religion

no morals

no culture

no tradition

not even us.

no complexities

love be the only motion

love be the only law

love be the only culture

love be the only religion

love be the only philosophy.

November 20, 2015


Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 10:41 am

reflections of that day

reads like a romantic

blue epic movie

banned before preview

all viewers can imagine

are sparks of passionate blazes

reminisces of the fire in me

at the bedazzling sight

that spontaneous urge

to lift the stranger

up my shoulders

squeeze the breasts

feed on the mouth

with my lips

my tongue dancing

all over the body

forbidden delicacies

in my mind the movie

plays eternally

your voice the soundtrack

feel you more than i can say

the feeling just overpowers me

catches me out of my breath

disallows me any other feelings

and when your name comes into my ears

i hear no other music

the sound of your voice

invades my entire being

helpless i surrender

to the power of your presence

every line i write to express

my experience of your presence

is bound to be a moment of orgasm

November 12, 2015


Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 6:31 pm

I want all of you

every bit of you

every inch of your being

i want every piece of your flesh

every atom of your body

surrender yourself to me

i’m realising myself into you

carry me in your arms

hold me between your thighs

hide me between your breasts

pull me into every opening of your body

let me explore every territory in you…

do me slowly

come to me fast

move into me tender

bump on me rough

do me on the floor

take me online

suck me on the phone

lick me in my dreams

take me sitting

seize me standing

throw me where your fantasies take you

take me

take me

take me

i’m yours at your service

i’m yours according to your lust

i’m yours to your desires

i’m yours according to you taste

slice me and take me piecemeal my pieces

swallow me and eat me in chunks

just do me and do me all the time

November 10, 2015


Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 4:35 pm

Some white men crazy about black pussy

some white women crazy about black dick

some black folk crazy about white dicks and white pussies

some crazy about any pussy

some crazy about any dick

some crazy about dicks only

some crazy about pussies only

some crazy about pussy and dick equally

some crazy only about their own pussies and dicks

how the last breed reach their southernmost only the imagination know

November 2, 2015

mphutlane wa bofelo, poetry africa 2015, durban

Filed under: kagaportraits,mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 2:53 am


September 17, 2015

FREE STATE POETS ENCHANT DURBAN an article By Mphutlane wa Bofelo

Filed under: free state black literature,mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 11:43 am


Free State has some of the most prolific and finest writers in South Africa but in the past they were seldom given enough national acknowledgement and platform to showcase their work in various parts of the country. Thankfully as a result of the superb talent and literary achievements of several Free State born writers both based in the province and in other provinces as well as efforts of platforms such as Free State Writers and the Bloem Poetry Movement, many people across South Africa and internationally are beginning to take note of and interest in writers and poets from the Free State. One of the exceptional literary activists from the province, Bloemfontein-based poet and journalist, Magic Khotseng gave Durban an appetizing taste of the literary elegances distilled in Bloemfontein and the Free State when he recited at two events paying homage to Black Consciousness thinker and activist, Stephen Bantu Biko. Khotseng first enthralled the lovers of the spoken word and the young people most of whom expressed their connection to Biko’s ideals and thoughts because of their daily realities and experiences in the township at the Remembering Biko: Conversations and Verses event held at Ntuzuma F Library on the 11 September 2015. This event was jointly hoisted by Slam Poetry Operation Team (SPOT) and its sister organization, the Nowadays Poets, and Ubuciko Bomlomo Infotainment.

An exponent of Black Consciousness himself, Khotseng eloquently shared the personal and socioeconomic experiences that brought him into the broad Black Consciousness Movement and motivated him to employ literature and community work as mediums of self-healing, community-healing, sociopolitical awareness and development. As a child Khotseng witnessed his family moving from a relatively adequate house and site to a three-room house built by the apartheid regime as a result of the forceful removal of his community from Batho location to Rocklands. As if this was not enough his migrant labour father was tricked by a policeman who convinced him to exchange his three-room house for a two-room house in Bochabela ostensibly because of the latter’s proximity to the city. This experience and the broad socioeconomic conditions of Black people saw Magic Khotseng becoming a student activist, first with Congress of Azanian Students Organization and later with Azanian Students Movement. His activism in Black Consciousness Movement led him to conferences and campaigns in which he experienced and was inspired by the performances of Ingoapele Madingoane, Matsemela Manaka and Mafika Gwala.

Khotseng experience of growing without a mother, literally being raised by the community, motivated him to work with the displaced children – so-called street kids- through the Iphahamiseng Community Child Centre. His work with these children resulted in his debut poetry collection, “Hold Back Your Tears”. His upcoming book, which is earmarked to be launched in 2016, “The Son will grow”, is dedicated to his mother and the community of Mangaung which taught him that a child is raised by a community. Khotseng story resonated well with the young people from the INK area (Inanda, Ntuzuma and Kwamashu), which was selected as the nodal point for the government’s urban renewal program and has one on the highest levels of poverty and unemployment. But it is when he articulated himself in the language of poetry and music, teaching the young people some of the classic freedom songs and reciting sociopolitical poetry that Khotseng had the audience on the feet, calling for more.

The piece that caught the imagination of the audiences was “If wishes were horses”. In this poem Khotseng eulogizes the colorful, exotic and breath-taking natural beauty of mother Africa. He takes the readers\audiences on an idyllic tour of the continent where they walk in Masai Park enjoying the serene beauty of Kenyan landscape, climbing mount Kilimanjaro and taking a dive in the Atlantic Ocean, and then ruthlessly wakes them up from their slumber with subtle but poignant allusion to the socioeconomic realities and systemic and structural arrangements that are a barrier to the capacity of the majority of Black African people to tour their countries and their continent, let alone access some of the most exquisite and historical sites in Africa. The striking beauty of this poem and the emotive political undertones it carries were manifested when the audience asked for it on the following day, on the 12 September when Magic Khotseng performed his set for the annual Outer National Verses for Biko and Tosh which was held at Ekhaya Arts Centre in KwaMashu

Khotseng’s Durban recital comes few weeks before one of Mangaung’s son and perhaps one of the most industrious and committed young literary activist and cultural worker Free State, Serame ‘Icebound’ Makhele will be featured in the prominent Poetry Africa Festival hosted by the UKZN’s Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) from the 12th October to the 17th October 2015. Icebound is a founder and convener of Bloem Poetry Movement which hosts monthly sessions in collaboration with PACOFS. Bloem Poetry has developed performance skills of many local poets. Icebound was selected to coordinate the Macufe Poetry Festival in 2014 and is currently part of the Free State Cultural Ensemble initiated by the provincial Legislature. The ensemble includes dance, music, drumming and poetry and has performed in this year’s Africa Day Celebrations and FS Women’s Month dialogues. If the poetic magic that Khotseng exhibited at Verses for Biko and Tosh is anything to go by, the Durban audience can prepare themselves to be bewitched by the Bloemfontein literary potion when Icebound takes the stage at Poetry Africa.

November 28, 2014

MPHUTLANE WA BOFELO on art and politics in South Africa after the Marikana massacre

Filed under: art,mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry,politics,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 11:33 pm


Do you think art can be didactic in a good way?

This reminds me of the question that a fellow writer who is also a publisher asked me recently: “ Why do stories matter?” My answer was: Narratives bring personal and psycho-social and socio-political and cultural context to issues, emotions, philosophies etc because every character presents a particular voice and perspective and the setting and scene gives you the context within which to interrogate the actions. I went on to say that fiction mediates social reality and deconstructs it by providing us with faces, voices, places, moments that allow us to go into the inner factors and a myriad of forces at play in society and beyond. I think this somehow sums up my perspective that the literary, visual and performed arts should not merely reflect social reality but should also mediate and interrogate that reality and imagine other ways of thinking, doing and living beyond what is there. Yes, art can educate, raise consciousness, and make moral judgements and value-leaden statements without being too preachy, propagandistic in a dogmatic and prescriptive way.


What is this “need to document”? Of what use is it?

Artists’ creation of works that serves to capture and document moments and histories is part of the struggle of memory against forgetting. Oppressive and exploitative structures thrive on amnesia. The manufacturing of consent, the construction of false-consciousness and the production of weapons and mediums of mass illusions rely heavily on making the people to move from one moment, festival and tragedy to the other without reflecting on the previous. It is easy to create hype about the next election if people forget about the travesties that occurred in past elections; and to get the South African people excited about hosting the Olympics if they have no memories of how the Olympics have affected other countries who hosted them before or engage in no critical reflections on the promises of 2010 World Football Crap and who gained and lost out of the flip it is here moment. Documentation can wake people from slumber and can be used to hold the establishment to account.


Is South Africa a productive field for art today? In what way? How would you describe the art scene here?

South Africa is a very interesting place to live in today for artists. This is a country pregnant with possibilities for fresh and creative ways of imagining the world and yet full of examples of how the celebration of mediocrity, romanticization of ‘struggle history’, obfuscation of the present and valorization of the paradise called the future ensures that we are trapped in to the status quo; and the mantra of patriotism and social cohesion is used to normalize conformism, complacency and apathy and to mask the contradiction, inequities and injustices based on class, race, gender, sexuality, disability and other forms of exclusion, discrimination and marginalization. The tragi-comedy comedy in the whole situation offers ample material for the creation of art. The entrenched culture of carrot –and- stick; demonization of critical minds and patronage to the parrots means that one either joins in the worship of mediocrity and the religion of convenience or simply dare to dream, think, imagine and make art and life outside prevailing orthodoxies, dogmas, canons and hierarchies. I think this country has proponents on both sides, just that those challenging orthodoxies, dogmas, canons and hierarchies are not in the papers, on TV, in the books, and shall not get the awards and honorary doctorates….naturally so …..

I have given poetic tapestry to this in my poem, Blues for the Jazz Rappers, dedicated to Robbo the technician and Lesego Rampolokeng

Blues For Jazz Rappers

(For Robo The Technician & Lesego Rampolokeng)

ladies and gentlemen!

i will not observe any protocol

to me hierarchy is the foundation of tyranny

pat me not on the shoulders

no ovations for me

i am not part of the propaganda machine

i have no regard for your orders

my regards are on the shop-floor

my credibility is in the ghetto

the pavement is my alter

to the masses i bow

that’s the only god i know

the underground is my heaven

rebellion is my religion

the mainstream is the hell i refrain from

sorry mister corporate and missus government

keep your podiums

high tables, circus stables

red carpets for puppets

blood in the wallets

the sting is in the conscience

emotions on sale, psalms for rent

some count cents for sense

for the rands they are the red ants

throw heretics off the stage

to clear the way for the market

silence in the theatre

it’s not police sirens

but the voice of the poet

doing a judas\brutas against Rap Master Supreme

a hatchet job for the gods

of poetry for pleasure

too many punches and no lines

they slaughter literature

googled beats & pirated melodies for the ambience

the gullible are in trance

perhaps it’s time for a séance

summon the ghost of Cesaire

call the presence of Count Bassie

invite the Mahlathini roar

bring on Mahotela Queens, Dark City Sisters; Nina Simone

an orchestra of voices

from the under-belly

we come wailing

with bob and the wailers

on the Pharaoh Express

bavino sermon a jeremiad against gutter education

no histrionic choruses

it’s a rage against clones & their masters

no mastering needed for this sound-track

it is beats pumping against the killing of life

no bane robotics, sir

some went mechanic with the sound

others technical with the word truth

robo lyrical with the technique

a return to the verbal

conscious music a freedom-weapon lethal

it’s no beats from the box, sir

it’s hearts pounding against the odds

life hip and hopping

at the grassroots

we rap the blues

from the ground

thunder, the wind

& the ocean

play our kind of jazz……

on that note of kinds & all that jazz

the word is clear

there is only one cry

the language of love

and resilience is universal

human experience has one voice

the difference is in the accents

you can rave to the rhythm and poetry

of throbbing hearts

croon it from the soul

jazz it up with polyrhythmic sounds

rock & roll with it on the dance-floor

rap and shoot it from the hip

chant it as pop or freedom songs

hum it as the spirituals

sing it as the gospel truth

or in raga style

you may wrap the moods

in expansive colours;

it all amount to the same thing

the yearning for love

in its many facets

in one word we call it blues


What is the role of music in film?

Music and film can fall under either of the categories mentioned in answer to your previous question. It can question, instruct, liberate, pacify; it can heal, conscientize, awaken or deaden the mind and the body. It can delink the personal from the public or it can show how political the personal is and how much private interests have a squeeze on the public and a hold on the state. Music and film can be part of the injection of amnesia or it can combat the de-memorization and de-historicization process; refuse to fall to the fallacy of the end of history; the lie that human inventiveness has reached its pinnacle; that there is no world other than the consumerist, crass materialist, capitalist world; the lie that accumulation and consumption are the culminating points of human existence or simply put, the dogma that to be is to accumulate and to live is to consume, with no consideration for the environment, other species and other generations. The music and film I root for is one that says: there are other worlds, other thoughts, other modes. In the choice between There in No Alternative (Tina) and There Must Be an Alternative (Themba), and I root for the music that stands for hope….


What can art tell us about Marikana? What can art do with Marikana? With “democracy” after Marikana?

Marikana highlight the struggle of There Must Be An Alternative against the gods and demons of There is No Alternative. It’s the people beginning to rise against hierarchies, orthodoxies, dogmas and canons in a big way. It also shows the extent of the collusion between the gatekeepers in the union movement and other movements and the captains of capital and the state. But it points to the possibility of building a borderless movements that links the struggles of all the damned of the world and their allies. But it tells us of the violence and brutality of the ideology of the establishment and how language and culture are part of the key instruments. Art can show the ideology, culture and language at play behind Marikana. I think art can give eternal life to the victims of Marikana. Art can make the ghosts of Marikana haunt the oppressors and exploiters of every ilk. Art can ask\make\move people to refuse to forget. ART CAN \IS\MUST BE LIFE \HOPE\STRUGGLE

Screen shot 2014-12-04 at 9.50.39 PM

July 19, 2014

the weekly dissident

Filed under: kaganof,kagapoems,mphutlane wa bofelo — ABRAXAS @ 8:21 am

Screen shot 2014-07-18 at 5.20.37 PM
Screen shot 2014-07-19 at 8.18.42 AM

read the full article here: http://www.thedailyvox.co.za/the-weekly-dissident-a-conversation-with-aryan-kaganof/

July 17, 2014

Jazz By The River

Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 12:12 pm

lungs battling iscor flames

despite the new leaf arcello mittal claims

i come ridding vaal river waves

rowing over emfuleni

paddling to the vaal bank

i hear vaal dam screaming for peace

refengkgotso is not the cry of fishes trapped in a net

but of human souls caught in the poverty trap

shattered bodies find mental solace

in brash dances, cheap beer and cut-rate spirits

acid from car-batteries add spunk to homebred brew

brothers and sisters drown their sorrows in jazz by the river

but don’t tell them about Mackay Davashe, Chris McGregor & Thelma Segone

these revelers think Coltrane was a train-driver

Nina Simone a madam from the Midvaal

still to the rhythm & blues they swing their hips

the smart boys the cool cats ululate to the symphony of black bodies

with chants of “ check daai ding…hoor net daar!”

a mantra that says: this dog is into jazz

just don’t ask big buddy the man-about-town

what Marsalis said jazz is and is not

don’t bother the sharp man with bookish homilies and arguments

between proponents of fusion and protagonists of unadulterated jazz

or where the hell Miles’ improvisation,

versatility & spontaneity fit in in the whole debate

mister and madam new rich don’t need restless minds

the fiddle class cannot afford unrest

they just want to relax without stress

take a rest at Abrahamsrus

any excuse to shake that ass

even in the name of jazz

play it philanthropic and dedicate the carnival

to the lost fight against HIV & AIDS

at the end of the day it makes logic

to say it really is a massive act of social responsibility

just to offer the masses the comic relief

of a momentary escape from the ghettos & bundus

of Fezile Dabi:





the labour camps; backyards & scrapyards

of lily suburbs, white farms and wage slavery plantations

sasol, safripol, polifin, karbochem



aurora, ashanti,

anglo-american corporations

the sweatshops & warrens of unbridled

accumulation of capital & shameless commodification of life

July 16, 2014

mphutlane wa bofelo – the river that returns to me

Filed under: literature,mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry,politics — ABRAXAS @ 9:42 pm


September 18, 2013

mphutlane in the free state

Filed under: free state black literature,mphutlane wa bofelo — ABRAXAS @ 2:24 pm

Screen shot 2013-09-18 at 2.23.14 PM

first published here: http://freestatewriters.blogspot.com/2013/09/mphutlane-mesmerises-bloem-with-his.html

June 11, 2011

mphutlane wa bafelo on james matthews

Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry,politics — ABRAXAS @ 9:13 pm

15 august 2007

Veteran educator, activist and stalwart of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa, Yusuf Cajee recently shared with me his recollections of the time he was arrested by the South African Police while distributing copies of Muslim Views (then Muslim News) which were accompanied by few copies of the poetry collection, “Pass me a Meatball, Jones” penned by the then editor of the paper, James Mathews. He recalled that under the editorship of Matthews, the paper often found itself at the wrong side of the law and at the receiving end of the scissor and razor of the censors as a result of its resonant and critical critique of the status quo under apartheid capitalism.

Yusuf Cajee also mentioned that he recently requested a long-time associate of Mathews to ask the veteran poet to send him copies of “Pass me a Meat Ball, Jones”, because he never got the chance to read it in the era of apartheid. Boeta Yusuf and many who never got the opportunity to drink from the poetic well of wisdom that springs from the fountain of the ingenious mind, resilient spirit and tireless soul of Matthews will be relieved to know that “Cry Rage :Odyssey of a Dissident Poet” is a collection of poetry from five poetry books (“Cry Rage”, “Flams and Flowers”, “Pass Me a Meatball, Jones”, “No Time for Dreams” and “Poisoned Wells and Other Delights”,) and selected poems from two monumental poetry anthologies, Black Voices Shout and Exiles Within. And they will surely discover that the thematic and stylistic concerns of the book are as politically and culturally relevant now more than ever before.

Remarking about his fiery and provocative poetry that unflinchingly and purposefully offends the sensitivities of advocates and proponents of poetry as high art and caused the amnesiac liberals who want the past consigned to the dustbins of history to walk out of his reading at the Cape town International Bookshop, Matthews remarked: “I am seventy-seven years old but I am still full of shit”. Telling those who cannot deal with his poetry they have the right and freedom to leave, and also remarking that now that he had left drinking, he gets drunk on words, Matthews jokingly referred to his choice to read radical poetry in the sober and comfort zone of Cape Town International Conventional Centre: “I do write love poetry, but I will read love poems when I am ninety five.” If your are an ardent fan of “rock-the-boat”, “defy-convention”, “tell-it-as-it is-poetry’ like yours truly, after reading “Cry Rage: Odyssey of a Dissident Poet”, you are more likely to concur that at seventy-seven Matthews still rocks, or to put as blunt as he would, if this mind-fucking poetry is anything to go by, 95 year-old, romantic Matthews is sure to kick some butt.

Garnered from an artistic and socio-political activity that stretches over a period of more than three decades of contemporary South African History, “Cry Rage: Odyssey of a Dissident Poet” lambastes arts for art’s sake and poetry for pleasure and hold no pushes in striking a blow in defence of literature and arts in service of the agenda of socio-economic and political transformation and cultural reawakening of the subaltern people. The poetry is scathing in its attack of the philosophy of apartheid and all the practices. It equally harangues the hypocrisy of progressives and liberals who: “speak so sorrowfully about children dying of hunger in Biafra\ but sleep unconcerned about the rib-thin children of Dimbaza\ they spend their Rands to ease the plight \ of the suffering in Bangladesh \ But not the thought of a cent to send\ to relieve the agony of ilingi\ they raised their voices in horror at \ the killing of eleven jews at munich\ but not a murmur of the thousands\ of killings of my people all over the land\ black people are driven to death by white law\ yet they will say they never knew.” The poet spares no holy cows in castigating the politics of ethnicity and xenophobia raising an ugly head in the “new South Africa”. In his vintage spirit of to no compromise, Matthews, unarguably the father and living ancestor of Black Publishing and a pioneer of the poetry of change, is fearless in confronting the neo-colonial and neo-liberal state of affairs in the country he obstinately refuses to call South Africa. (At the Bookfair, Matthews furiously proclaimed:” South Africa is a geographic position. This country is Azania”)

True to tradition, Matthews opens “Cry Rage”, “No Times for Dreams” his selected poems from “Exiles Within” and “Poisoned Wells and Other Delights” with a rebellious scorn of poetry of niceness and resonant choice of social commentary poetry. The opening poem in “cry rage” leaves no stones unturned in advancing the poets stance on the longstanding debate between poetry for the sake of it and poetry for a social purpose: “It is said the poets write of beauty\ of form\of flowers \and of love \ but the words I write\ are of pain and rage\ I am no minstrel who sings of songs of joy\ mine a lament\ I wail of a land\ hideous with open graves \ waiting for the slaughtered ones. balladeers strum their lutes \ and sing tunes of happy times\ i cannot join in the merriment\ my heart drowned in bitterness\ with agony of what\ the white man’s law has done”.

“No Times for dreams” opens with the reaffirmation of the poet’s commitment to the poetry of commitment and conscientious literature: “I wish I could write a poem\ record the beginning of dawn\ the opening of a flower\ at the approach of a bee\ describe a bird’s first flight \ then I look at people\ maimed shackled, jailed\ the knowing is now clear\ I will never be able to write\ a poem about dawn, a bird \ or a bee”.

The opening poem from “Exiles Within” is perhaps the most lethal word bombardment on poets who opt for poetry for the sake of word-play: “There are poets who parade as pimps\ whose words are decorations for their whoring\ they escape the suffering related by ho chi min\ of a man imprisoned because of his freedom’s need\ they sell themselves in the drawing-rooms of the lords\ art for art’s sake is what they parade\ the lament of pain wrested from the lips of lorca\ did not find sanctuary in the falsity they display\ a line so finely polished to reflect their falseness \ metaphors and meters part of the deceit they weave\ when the hail of iron opened the chest of Pablo neruda \ tears did not wet their faces as they turned away\ their lies evident\ lyrical lines offered for profit\ as they gathered their grin from words pillaged\ as the death in its brutality embraced steve biko\ lamentations did not loosen their lips in sorrow\ the cause of freedom not the road they walk\ poets turned pimps have not the knowing of an honest word.”

The aptly titled “Freedom Owns the Poet’s Soul” from “Poisoned Wells and Other Delights” is the poet’s testimony of his decision to utilise his gift of turning words into poetry to appropriate poems as freedom songs: ” Freedom owns the poet’s soul\ he shall not be garbed in \ a cloak of ideology\ his voice not laced by legislation\ His voice, the voice of birds; a robin heralding hope\ a nightingale lyrically lamenting pain\ an eagle emoting the people’s power\ on bird-wing he will streak\ from freehold to the dungeon \ his songs filled\ with fire; the words flaring flames\ the poet’s fervour fuelled with \ strength gained from draughts of \ intoxicating water drawn from an Oasis of deep\ dank poisoned wells”.

To rubberstamp his point, Matthews ends “Cry Rage” with a disclaimer, disowning the poet moniker and embracing the mantle of chronicler-cum-griot-cum-people’s historian-cum-activist-writer\writer-activist (a rather ironic confirmation of, or maybe a cynical retort to the criticism raised by some lovers and scholars of poetry that the work of Matthews is prose pretending to be poetry): “To label my uttering poetry\ And myself a poet\ would be as self-deluding \ as the planners of parallel development\ I record the anguish of the persecuted \ whose words are whimpers of woe\ Wrung from them by bestial laws\ they stand one chained band \ silently asking one of the other\ will it be the fire next time?”

For the benefit of the born-free shopping mall generation of the 2000-something epoch, Matthews’ early work is a poetic narration\preservation -some poetry purists would argue prosaic\ journalistic documentation- of the apartheid years. From it they will learn about the tragedy of children who died in Biafra, the rib-thin children of Dimbaza, the suffering in Bangladesh, the suffocation of Mannenberg and the forced removals, detention without trial, and the 180 day act, the killing of Imam Haroon and Stephen Bantu Biko, the raping of black culture by white syphilization, the Soweto uprisings, the struggle in Palestine, the sorrow of Beirut, the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the sell-out actions of sanction-busting Percy Sledge, and the sheroic stand the Nina Simone’s and the Mirriam Makeba’s, of etcetera, etcetera. Mathews poetic criticism of the negro-phobic, non-white-ism attitudes of self-hatred and inferiority complexes in the heydays of Apartheid remains relevant in these times of Americanism, “black coinsciousness”, cosmetic africanism and pop Rastafarianism: “My sister has become a schemer\ and scene stealer\ her swinging breasts strangled by a bra\ face smeared with astra cream\ skin paled for Whiteman’s society\ songs of the village \ traded in for tin pan alley \ “black is beautiful” has become \ as artificial as the wig she wears.”

The more recent poems of the 2000 to 2002 period deals with themes such as the one-sided and half-hearted reconciliation, xenophobia and ethnicity, the pain of transformation\change and the challenge of re-humanizing the brutalised and de-humanised: “learning to laugh and love again is a painful task\ in the land where laws in the past where as harsh as the desert sun\ scorching soul’s sensitivity”. Matthews approaches the call towards an African renaissance with a sense of hope and a vision of a reawakening of a people:” I hear the sound of\ people sounding drums\ I look at scenes painted \ on a canvas of faces \ I see antiquity reflected\ in the eyes of people\ words and music reveal \ the truth of our heritage\ we shall paint our history\ in vibrant colours\ orchestrated with music \ from a thousand drums\ setting dancers a’ swaying\ poets and writers\ mount your words\ into satisfying phrases\ to give strength\ to sculptors sculpting\ images of glory \ musicians strum strings\ to aid singers \ of songs urging’\ painters to fill\ a canvass \ sparkling an African renaissance.”

But he also approaches it with a critical and questioning eye: “Can an African renaissance emerge\ like a phoenix \ from the ashes of Rwanda genocide\ volcanoes of violence burst forth\ on Africa’s soil\ havoc spewed in places of despair\ releases streams of displaced humanity.. is an African renaissance an illusion\ a fantasy conjured by the spin-doctors\ to give substance to a vision proclaimed\ an African renaissance will not be sloganised as a political programme\ the emergence of an African renaissance will flower from the minds of the people”. Matthews is equally critical of the excesses and abuses of power and the escalating levels of corruption:”

Freedoms fruit has turned into bitter crop\ its ripeness spoiled by the blight of corruption\ through the greed of a grouping of gardeners\ sated with gain plundered in the harvesting\ at ease in the conservatory of law-making.. the people’s new elite are seated in places of splendour \ they have become world travellers\ familiar faces \ at ease in the courts of foreign lands\they converse with leaders of former partners in the bondage of our people\ their travelling has distanced them from the villagers of limehill and dimbaza.. .”

Being the consistent and tireless freedom struggler James Matthews gives tapestry to the voice and struggle of the subaltern, under-classes of Azania who catches the fire in the new era of neo-liberal capitalism: “the new marginals \ not sharing the sweetness \ of our rainbow coloured land \ register their discontent\ with increasing rumbles of rage\ as they are humbled\ by the arrogance displayed\ by those exhibiting\ rainbow drapes.”

He is equally critical of the cooption of poets by power and capital: “are the new poets \ coerced into party poets\ their verses that sustained \peoples anger\ against apartheid abomination\ now structured into sycophantic\ symphonies lauding the new elite…” My favourite poem in the collection is “it is too late to relate my belated mourning”- which I consider to a powerful message to this nation that suffers selective memory and only give lip-service praises to heroes at their funerals: “let not the burying of my bones\ be a bothersome thing\ now that I have tasted the sweetness\ of victory over the evil\ of apartheid feast \instead upon the productivity of my flesh\ that served the useful role \ in the procurement of freedom\ if praises are to be sung\ as I am lowered into my grave \ then let the song be sung\ to those who have helped in the righteousness of the our cause\ let their names be known\ rescue them from \ shadows of obscurity\ where they have been consigned \ let not the burying of my bones \ be a bother something.” If perchance, like Yusuf Cajee, you were denied the opportunity to read Matthews, seize the opportunity now and get yourself a copy of “Cry Rage: Odyssey of a Dissident Poet.”

As for me, I am looking forward to more and more of Matthews love poems (and pray for his long life).

first published here: http://kasiekulture.blogspot.com/2007_08_01_archive.html

January 5, 2011

Love letter to the anarchists (from the black bourgeosie and political elite)

Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry,politics — ABRAXAS @ 5:44 pm

Dear ultra radicals

It’s been an uphill

To write this appeal

Let old wounds heal

We want to enjoy our meal

Here is the new deal

No more upheavals

It’s a season of festivals

The struggle is a striptease

We change faces with ease

Photo-shoots for press release

Leaders smile for cheese

The red star strips

For the black tsar

Yesterday’s black star

Today’s sushi eater

Sensual aroma adds the flavour

Crockery is so antique

We play in the big league

It’s all about being

In the winning streak

Please, radical freak

Give pragmatists a break

Permanent revolution is so sick

We all have struggle fatigue

This Marxist jargon is so opaque

There is no clear time-table

When the state will wither away

We choose the middle path

Firebrand in words

Lukewarm in deeds

It’s not that we don’t see

Where the wind is blowing

We just want to make sure

We survive all weather

Don’t think we are all tight-ass

In fact we like the groove

In your fiery rants

And the ass we like to tap

We care no rat ass

If it’s jazz or rap

Or the house is bloody noisy

Whether your

Outdoor life is


Or (like some of us) you love

Booty & pussy viewing

(Outdoors or indoors)

It’s not our fucking business

If your bums fall

Off your pants or you

Sniff yourself & the

Neighbourhood to death

Fill prisons with

Abel killed Cain &

Lull yourself to

Heavenly merry

With Marry had a little lamb

Imbibing red wine

To drink the blood of salvation

It does not bother us

Just leave society’s

Dirt underneath

That we may walk

The red carpet

Without guilty hearts

Like we said:

We are not deaf

To the cries

At the bottomless pit

Of the bottom rung

Of the careless cash society

As a matter of fact

Sometimes we too feel

Like kicking rather than

Kissing some filthy

Rich arse all the time

We just want to hold on

To the sun before it fall

Yes, we want the sun

To continue shining

Only for the few

In our position

Who would not?

December 15, 2010

reflections on identity

Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo — ABRAXAS @ 8:53 am

I see my primary identity and of all people as that of being human. Central to the essential message and core values of all beneficiary philosophies, religions, life-systems and cultures is the quest for the life full of humanity, dignity and integrity. My sense of being and belonging as a person, is primarily inspired by the need to be truly human and to live in a humane world. Everything else – being an artist and activist, a husband and a father, a Sesotho-speaking South African Black man with egalitarian, comprehensive and progressive Sufi expressions of Islam and radical socialist-humanist ideals of sharing, caring and compassion – flow from the quest to be a better humanbeing and the struggle for a humane society and is part of the journey towards being the perfect person or complete human being – insaan kamil .

My love, care, compassion and struggle for the discriminated, oppressed, exploited, marginalised and downtrodden is specifically because their humanity, dignity and integrity is being trampled upon. My grudge and beef with all types of tyrants, despots, oppressors, exploiters and discriminators is because of their denigration and denial of the humanity, dignity and integrity of others. Since it takes the loss of humanness to oppress others, to call or force the oppressors to stop their tyranny and injustice is in way giving them an opportunity for the redemption and reclamation of their own humanity and integrity, which actually happens if they truly acknowledge their wrong-doing and non-pretentiously commit their lives and resources to redress and reparation and become part of genuine efforts towards the restoration of the dignity and humanity of those they oppress. So, ultimately the one thing that matters the most is the fact that we are all human and should live our lives with dignity and integrity. Any other identity is not of so importance if it is not assumed in order to claim or reclaim the human dignity and integrity of one’s self and all people and peoples.

That does not mean that one must exile himself or herself from the socio-political, economic and cultural realities that impacts on one’s self and the world he or she lives in. For me, the reality of being Black in the world and the particularities and specificities of the experiences of the Black World: Azania, Africa, and the Global South is critical to how I engage with the social and power structures, how I interact with the text of the Qur’an and the prophetic traditions, and how I interact with socialist, environmental, feminist discourses and all other theories and philosophies. My Blackness is a concrete socio-political, economic and cultural reality that I can only avoid at the expense of escaping away from the world I live in, which will make me a person from nowhere. And if you move and operate from nowhere you cannot map your destiny on your own accord, therefore you might find yourself everywhere but not anywhere. As the Sufi would say, “if you are everywhere you will be nowhere but if you are somewhere you will be everywhere.”

My Blackness is the point from whence I move in search of my humanity; and my humanity connects me will all peoples of the world. But Blackness can only do this for me if I define it myself and define it only in the light of the quest for true humanity, the quest for liberation, which is only possible through struggle that I myself should wage, and one can only wage a meaningful struggle if s\he knows himself and herself and believe in himself \ herself and his\her capacity to transform his consciousness, character and the world. Any other road will lead to black as a colour, black as a ghetto, black as a prison, black as the opposite of white, in other words, black as the excrement of whiteness. This kind of blackness, which effectively is non-whiteness, is essentially self-alienating, self-flagellating identity that forever leaves one living as a shadow of whiteness.

As a Muslim I cannot leave as a shadow or as an image of anyone for I am made in the image of Allah. I make and recreate my reality and my reality is nothing if it does not push me on the journey towards the one an only Absolute Reality – The Source of Everything. But how can I find Allah if I cannot even find myself? How can I find the Source of peace if I cannot be at peace with myself? If I cannot find peace in myself, if I cannot live at peace with myself and therefore be able to be at peace with all humanity, how can I claim to even to be journeying towards the Source of Peace? If I cannot find the human and the humane in my Blackness, if I cannot identify my Blackness with love and light, if I cannot kill all notions of associating Black with darkness and inability, will I ever be able to claim my humanity? The answer is simple, it’s only when I look at Blackness and I see beauty, love and light, only when I look at he mirror and see the Beautiful Person; and move inside myself and meet the Perfect Human being that I can truly claim to have attained Inner Peace and can therefore be an instrument of love and light; an activist for peace and justice.

November 12, 2010


Filed under: mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 7:22 am

home is where the heat is

a paraphrase

of the heron

as the mellow

voice of poetry

in a jazz accent professes

home is where the hate is

buzzing in me

sweet melody-memories

of the saccharine time

when the heart was at home

and great hits

came from there

before the sham hit

& hurt the heart

& home became

where all the fake is

and the bedroom

and the love nest

turned out to be

where all the hurt is

the prophesy

of the ultimate

bluesologist was

the revolution shall

not be a sitcom

a soapie or a docu-melodrama

before him it was prefigured

his generation was the

last to believe

there are still ears

tuned to the truth of words

that one day the pretence

will be spoken of in past tense

now the new messengers listen

to the original ghetto blues

the hip-hop of the time

on youtube & press the button

to spread the message

to the messengers

on facebook &

twitter the next

underground gathering

the punch line is

sample is homage

to the original:

an ovation

to grandmaster

remaker of language

creator of new idioms

he who turned

the lexicon upside-down

to revive the spirit

and essence of words

to save adages

from the catastrophe

of evolving into clichés

and free people

from the dungeon

of tired & rested maxims \ wasted wisdom

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