A Flawed Freedom: Rethinking Southern African Liberation

A Flawed Freedom: Rethinking Southern African Liberation

by John S. Saul


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Twenty years on from the fall of apartheid in South Africa, veteran analyst and activist John S. Saul examines the liberation struggle, placing it in a regional and global context and looking at how the initial optimism and hope has given way to a sense of crisis following soaring inequality levels and the massacre of workers at Marikana.

With chapters on South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique, Saul examines the reality of southern Africa’s post-'liberation' plight, drawing on the insights of Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral and assessing claims that a new 'precariat' has emerged.

Saul examines the ongoing 'rebellion of the poor', including the recent Marikana massacre, that have shaken the region and may signal the possibility of a new and more hopeful future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745334790
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 03/20/2014
Pages: 152
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

John S. Saul has been, since the 1960s, an activist in support of southern African liberation both in his native Canada and in southern Africa itself. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 by the Canadian Association of African Studies for his writing and lecturing on South Africa.

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The Failure of Southern African Liberation?

Many of us came to southern Africa from the starting point of support for the peoples there who were struggling, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, against the white minority/colonial regimes that dominated them and shaped so negatively their life chances. And, in this respect, there was of course to be a record of enormous achievement, one realised against great odds and especially so when that achievement is measured against the stunted expectations that many around the world had when the 30-year war for southern African liberation first announced itself in the early 1960s. Victory in southern Africa? Here, surely, was a dramatic African achievement to celebrate.

Well, yes and no. In fact, many in the worldwide liberation support/ anti-apartheid movement, seduced perhaps by the bold promises of the liberation movements themselves, had come to understand that defining liberation merely in terms of national liberation from white colonial dominance told, at best, half the story. Important as it was to overcome apartheid and similar racist structures in southern Africa, it was easy to see that people in southern Africa were also seeking to liberate themselves from class and corporate oppression, from structures of male domination, and from authoritarian political practices. These goals came readily to seem to be at least as important to any true liberation as was national self-assertion. Nonetheless, the fact is that these attendant goals were to fall by the wayside; indeed now, some decades after the fall of the most visible forms of colonial and racial domination, it has become ever more apparent just how narrow the definition of "liberation" has been permitted to become.

For liberation in any expansive sense is, quite simply, something that has not occurred in southern Africa. How to explain this? There has been, for example, the global fall of socialism (at least in its Soviet form) and the consequent loss of that particular point of reference and support. There is, as well, the extreme nature of "historical backwardness" (in terms of shortfalls in economic capacity and in the scarcity of requisite kinds of expertise amongst the hitherto subject populations) that was bequeathed as the legacy of the region's various ruthless colonialisms. And there has been the vulnerability of the new indigenous elites (not least from the ranks of the liberation movements themselves) to a too-easy seduction into the ranks of privilege and self-interested power. And this in spite of the fact that, in the period of the initial struggle for liberation, the ostensible aims of liberation movements were defined in terms of much more transformative, even socialist, ends. In contrast to such "promises," the prevalence of starkly neo-colonial outcomes has been sobering.

Or think of it instead as having been a recolonization, one imposed by a new "Empire of Capital." Such a conceptualization arises from the fact that it is now much less easy than it was previously to disaggregate global capital into national capitals and to see any specific capital as being primarily attendant upon some nationally based imperialism and its colonialism. No, coming from the Global North and West (as it has done historically) but also now from the East (Japan, China and India), this new empire of linked capitals (competitive but interactive and fused together in novel ways as part of a global network of economic power) is what is currently recolonising Africa. As suggested above, in our "Introduction" to this volume, nation-states (of both the North and the East) do still have an independent role with diverse raisons d'état that also play into the imperial equation. Nonetheless the globalization of capital has introduced something new to the workings of imperialism – principally a "colonization" of a novel type by a new empire (of capital), a recolonization of much of the global South in fact. True, such recolonization has been accomplished with the overt connivance of indigenous leaders/ elites – those who have inherited power with the demise of "white rule" but who, in doing so, have also manifested a far greater commitment to the interests of their own privileged class-in-creation than to those of the mass of their own people. But this merely reinforces the fact that this brave new world is far from being a happy one for the vast mass of southern African citizens – despite the freedom that they had seemed to have won.

A victory of sorts then. And now in the century's second decade we have already marked several key anniversaries. Take 2010 itself, the dawn of the decade in which this book has been written. This was a date that fell precisely fifty years after the launching, in 1960, of the "thirty years war (1960–1990) for southern African liberation," 35 years after the year of Angola's and Mozambique's independence, more or less 30 years after the day of independence in Zimbabwe, and a full 20 years after both Namibia's inaugural day and the release from prison of Nelson Mandela that marked so clearly the first of the very last days of apartheid (days of transition that would culminate in Mandela's election as president in 1994). There has been something to celebrate then, yet it is a sad fact that one already felt in 2010, and even more forcefully by mid-decade, compelled to ask the question as to just who actually won the struggle for southern African liberation. As I continued, having elsewhere framed precisely this question:

We know who lost, of course: the white minorities in positions of formal political power (whether colonially in the Portuguese colonies or quasi-independently in South Africa and perhaps in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe). And thank fortune, and hard and brave work, for that. But who, in contrast, has won, at least for the time being: global capitalism, the West and the IFIs [international financial institutions], and local elites of state and private sectors, both white and black. But how about the mass of southern African populations, both urban and rural and largely black? Not so obviously the winners, I would suggest, and certainly not in any very expansive sense. Has it not been a kind of defeat for them too?

How much of a defeat? Various country case studies – like those that comprised the body the Africafiles/Roape symposium that this chapter first served to introduce – did, cumulatively, give a very clear sense of the reality of this defeat. Merely note here that in South Africa, for example, the economic gap between black and white has indeed narrowed statistically – framed by the fact that some blacks have indeed got very much richer (from their own upward mobility as junior partners to recolonization and from the fresh spoils of victory that this has offered them). Yet the gap between rich and poor is actually wider than it ever was – and it is growing.

Much valuable research (by the likes of Terreblanche, McDonald, and Nattrass and Seekings) documents this harsh fact – and other similarly sobering facts – and its stark implications. But note also the intervention several months ago by a leading South African prelate, Rev. Fuleni Mzukisi, who charged that poverty in South Africa is now worse than apartheid and is, in fact, "a terrible disease." As he said: "Apartheid was a deep crime against humanity. It left people with deep scars, but I can assure you that poverty is worse than that ... People do not eat human rights; they want food on the table."

This outcome is the result, most generally, of the grim overall inequalities between the global North and the global South that, as in many other regions, mark southern Africa. But, more specifically, it also reflects the choice of economic strategies in this latter region that can now imagine only elite enrichment and the presumed "trickle down benefits" of unchecked capitalism as being the way in which the lot of the poorest of the poor might be improved there. How far a cry this is from the populist, even socialist, hopes for more effective and egalitarian outcomes that originally seemed to define the development dreams of all the liberation movements. Indeed, what is especially disconcerting about the present recolonization of the region under the flag of capitalism is that it has been driven by precisely the same movements (at least in name) that led their countries to independence in the long years of overt regional struggle. But just why this should have occurred, how inevitable it was, is something that demands careful consideration.

To be sure, the record varies somewhat from country to country. Thus, Mozambique under Frelimo (a case-study of which is included as chapter 3 in this volume), once the most forthrightly socialist of all the region's countries, has had to abandon that claim. True, it has also abandoned its initial brand of developmental dictatorship in favour of a formal democratization that has stabilised the country – albeit without markedly empowering the mass of its people or improving their socioeconomic lot. Indeed, a recent textbook by Bauer and Taylor on southern Africa (a book of sympathetic though not notably radical predisposition) notes that the election to the presidency of Armando Guebuza who is the "holder of an expansive business empire and one of the richest men in Mozambique hardly signals that Frelimo will attempt to run anything but a globalist, neo-liberal agenda – regardless of the abject poverty suffered by most of the electorate."

As for Angola it has, until quite recently, experienced a much greater and more dramatic degree of divisive fragmentation than Mozambique – although its antidote to that, since the death of Jonas Savimbi, has had as little to do with popular empowerment and broad-based development as have the present policies of its fellow ex-Portuguese colony, Mozambique. In fact, it has been argued that it is only a handful of progressive international initiatives (Human Rights Watch, Global Witness and the like) that have had some success in holding the feet of exploitative corporations and of Angola's own government to the fire of critical scrutiny. For unfortunately, as David Sogge argues in his essay on Angola in the original symposium (see footnote 1, above), the country's own population, battle-scarred and battle-weary, has been rather slower to find effective means to exert their own claims. Yet, as the same Bauer and Taylor volume quoted above feels forced to conclude of Angola, oil money and corruption have merely "exacerbated the already glaring discrepancies between rich and poor" and have, "quite simply, threatened the country's recovery and future development."

Meanwhile Zimbabwe, in the brutal thrall of Mugabe and Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), has witnessed an even greater deterioration of national circumstances than either of these two countries. There, say Bauer and Taylor, "the ZANU-PF's stewardship of the economy [has] been an unmitigated disaster," while its politics, through years of overt and enormously costly dictatorial practices, have produced a situation, as Richard Saunders details (in his own essay in the original AfricafFiles/ Roape symposium that followed this essay/introduction), that is proving enormously difficult both to displace and to move beyond.

The results in both Namibia and South Africa, even if not quite so bloody as those produced by Renamo's war, the prolonged sparring of Savimbi with the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and Mugabe's depredations, are not much more inspiring in terms of effective mass empowerment and broad-gauged human betterment – as the cited articles by Henning Melber and Patrick Bond demonstrate. Thus, a long-time and firmly loyal African National Congress (ANC) cadre (Ben Turok) has himself, in a recent book entitled The Evolution of ANC Economic Policy, acknowledged both the contribution of ANC policies to growing inequality in his country while reaching "the irresistible conclusion that the ANC government has lost a great deal of its earlier focus on the fundamental transformation of the inherited social system"!

In sum, South Africa, like the other "liberated" locales of the region, has become, in the sober phrase with which Neville Alexander has titled a book of his own on South Africa's transition from apartheid to democracy, merely "an ordinary country" – despite the rather finer future that many, both in southern Africa and beyond, had hoped would prove to be the outcome of the long years of liberation struggle. But Alexander's characterization could be said to apply to all of the countries in the region: what we now have, instead of a liberated southern Africa that is vibrant, humane and just, is a region of a very different sort indeed.

Moreover, not only is there deepening inequality within countries but, in the region taken as a whole, there is also – to take one glaring example – a situation in which South Africa's capitalist economic power now merely complements global capitalist power in holding the impoverished people of southern Africa in quasi-colonial thrall (as a recent series of articles in Africa Files Ezine on South Africa in the southern Africa region has recently documented) – while doing disturbingly little to better the lot of such people, the vast majority both in South Africa and elsewhere. Or take the Southern African Development Community (SADC): it has become (albeit with a few honourable exceptions) primarily a club of presidents that reveals itself to be – as the sad case of its kid-gloves treatment of Zimbabwe and its backing of an otherwise deservedly embattled Mugabe amply demonstrates – more a source of tacit support for the status quo than a force for facilitating any kind of just transition to effective democracy in Zimbabwe.

In truth, it is now often said by people of a Left persuasion that the current global situation offers no real alternatives, no real hope, for Africa (including southern Africa). It cannot, they say, count on any plausible socialist alternative. Moreover, a seasoned observer like Giovanni Arrighi can only urge Africa to look to a relatively benign China (a doubtful haven of hope, one fears) and/or to the kinder and gentler practices of its own elites in order to realise even a marginal adjustment to its desperate plight. Others fall back on the equally unlikely prospect of a revolutionary transformation of the exploitative West to then lift many of the key barriers to a brighter future. Thus, as one friend has recently written to me: "I don't see how the South can ever liberate itself in the absence of a new socialist project becoming powerful in the North." Yet he feels forced to add that "I don't see that happening until people are hurting and see no prospect of meeting their personal needs under globalized neoliberalism, and until a new left movement with a serious attitude to organization and democracy." But this is a faint hope too, my correspondent – who confesses to feeling "very pessimistic" – obviously fears.

Failing a revolution in the global capitalist centres, however, what are the actual prospects for some dramatic change occurring within the region itself, one, necessarily, driven from below? The present author has called elsewhere for "a next liberation struggle" in southern Africa for precisely this reason, a struggle, like the one that is currently afoot in several places in Latin America for example, that seeks to at least neutralise the intervention of imperialist forces from the North while also facilitating the empowerment of its own people in political and economic terms.

And there are localised and grassroots resistances in the region in a wide variety of settings and on a broad range of policy fronts that seek to make headway and even to begin to add up to potential hegemonic alternatives to the failed liberation movements that we still see in power. Moreover, some attempts to so resist – the initial rise of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in opposition to Mugabe, for example, and the removal of the brazen Thabo Mbeki from South Africa's presidency before the end of his term; the dramatic grassroots resistance, especially in South Africa, to the AIDS pandemic that stalks the entire region; and the signs of a resurgent economic nationalism that threatens to renegotiate contracts with the private sector and even to reverse certain privatizations – do begin to so promise: promise, that is, to "add up," even if, to this point, "not quite" and certainly "not yet"!

So the question remains: how might one hope, even expect, that the diverse instances of resistance that are visible could come to pose hegemonic alternatives in southern Africa to the recolonization that has been the fate of that part of the continent in the wake of its seeming "liberation"? What might Africans on the ground in the region have to do next, and how can they best be supported from outside in doing so? Equally importantly, how might residents of the global North organise themselves in order – with respect to any "next liberation support struggle" – to best assist them: staying the hand of our own governments and corporations on the one hand, and speaking out clearly and effectively on behalf of such movements for genuine liberation on the ground, on the other? One thing is clear: the liberation struggle continues. We cannot live in the (recent) past. We must act to shape the future.


Excerpted from "A Flawed Freedom"
by .
Copyright © 2014 John S. Saul.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press Between the Lines.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: “Globalization Made Me Do It” vs. “The Struggle Continues”
1. The Failure of Southern African Liberation?
2. Tanzania Fifty Years On (1961–2011): Rethinking Ujamaa, Nyerere and Socialism in Africa
3. Mozambique – not Then but Now
4. On Taming a Revolution: The South African Case
5. The New Terms of Resistance: Proletariat, Precariat and the Present African Prospect
6. Conclusions: The Struggle Really Does Continue in Southern Africa
Appendix: “More Comfortably Without Her?” Ruth First as Writer and Activist

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