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Longer, analytical article.  A Flawed Freedom: Rethinking Southern African Liberation - Review

Summary & Comment: Saul worked during early liberation days in the 60’s and 70’s in Tanzania and Mozambique. As teacher and professor he supported the goals of the liberation movements African National Congress and FRELIMO. This heightens his regret that the aims of the movements to be liberating - participatory, socialistic in ideology- have not been fulfilled. This he attributes to neocolialism from West and lack of selfless African leadership. JK

Author: John Saul - review by Evans Rubara Date Written: 20 October 2014
Primary Category: History Document Origin: Africafiles
Secondary Category: Southern Region Source URL: http://www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=27236
Key Words: Southern Africa, liberation, partial, neo-liberalism.

African Charter Article #20: All peoples shall have the right to existence and self determination and the right to free themselves from the bonds of domination. (Click for full text...)

Printable Version


Book Review - `Liberation Torch in Southern Africa.'

How many books should be written on the subject of African liberation to sufficiently define the word “enough”? As we progress further into the 21st century, flow of different perspectives on African liberation – its strengths, weaknesses and what needs to be done continues. Such perspectives only lead the reader to question whether the postcolonial Africa is really liberated, and whether there is a need for a proper liberation of African nations?

Saul (2014) takes the readers into the historical narratives of liberation struggles in a number of countries in the southern Africa. As a way to explain and validate the points raised, the writer uses narratives or examples from other countries in the Southern Africa such as Tanzania, Namibia, Angola, and Mozambique while the main discussion seem to focus on South Africa and the struggle against apartheid. Central to the narratives and arguments of this book is the discussion of the postcolonial and post-Apartheid southern African nation-states, their politics and governance structures, and their sociopolitical and economic impacts. 

At the outset, the book acknowledges the fact that liberation struggles in the southern African countries, even though subject to criticism and further analysis, defeated colonial and apartheid racisms. In particular, Saul (2014) terms the anti-apartheid activities in Southern Africa (1960 – 1990) in general as “an event of singular and positive significance” (pg. 2). In the same breath, this new book suggests that that true liberation in southern Africa is not yet fully realised.

The book also argues that liberation in the southern African countries saw the exit of the physical domination of the colonial domination but specifically its contribution to the “overthrow of the grotesque white racist dictatorships that had been harboured in Southern Africa” since 1948, it only presents but “a glass of freedom” (pg. 2). In his earlier work, Saul (2011[i]) quotes Eduardo Mondlane’s[ii] speech where the founder of Frente de Libertacao de Mocambique[iii] (FRELIMO) asserts that African liberation in its totality was misguided as the proponents of African Freedom were only interested in getting rid of white domination ( see also Saul 2014: 18). Summarising this concept in this new book, Saul (2014) stresses the fact that African liberation struggles were successful only in national and racial terms. In economic field, companies from the colonial power and elsewhere in the west remained in some significant control via debt, and the disabling terms of loans set by the IFI’s. This has therefore “made something of a mockery of the decades of liberation struggle that had once seemed to promise” egalitarian rule (pp. 2, 18).

Re-creation of Colonial Structures

Apart from stating the lack of particular and constructive and far-reaching liberation objectives in general terms, the book proceeds to give factors that lead to such ‘half-baked’ liberation to the postcolonial/post-Apartheid southern Africa.

Saul explains Marxist theories in understandable terms. With an inclination to the Marxist school of thought, and his (Saul’s) literary predecessors such as Marx & Engels (1848), Fanon (1963), Milliband (1969), Rodney (1972) to name a few,  this new book suggests that leaders in the postcolonial and post-Apartheid Southern African States bought into the neoliberal capitalist society structures. This is exemplified in its presentation of the creation of regional economic and political elite groups (pg. 5). Saul (2014) expressly points to the intermediary role played by the State apparatus actors (pp. 92, 99). This is direct influence from colonising policies.  In bringing to life the writings of Fanon (1963) on the subject, Saul (2014) quotes Fanon’s famous book Wretched of the Earth and reminds the readers that after independence:

The national middle class discovers its historic mission: that of the intermediary. Seen through its eyes, its mission has nothing to do with transforming the nation; it consists, prosaically, of being the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged, which today puts on the mask of neocolonialism [recolonization] (Fanon 1963 in Saul 2014: 92)

As with all experienced writers, Saul (2014) in this new book acknowledges the realities of “Globalisation” that has worked in recent decades to supplant the previous saliency of “conventional”, more western and nationally-rooted” (pg. 5) imperialists and colonists tenets. Important to notice is the fact that his use of the word “Globalisation” carries more than just the simplistic meaning, that is ‘global market. The book employs this word to express relational features of world economics between countries (pg. 6). Hence the inclusion of how, through what he terms in this new book as the “Empire of Capital” (pg. 6) working through the international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), furthers the intermediate exploitative relations in the capitalist elitist states in the global north as well as in the global south and the emerging economic and somewhat political networks from India, China and Japan  (pp. 8, 19, 21, 43, 84 - 95). However, while leaders in southern African nation-states help in the furtherance of the neoliberalising capitalist market-led policies, they in return, also meet their own selfish economic and political ambitions.

The Ramifications of the Southern African ‘Half-baked’ Liberation

In his earlier work, Liberation Lite (2011) and quoting Eduardo Mondlane (1920 – 1969), Saul suggests that African liberation fore-fathers, in general, took on “hate of colonialism” as the basis on which they opposed the “colonial structure  [in order] to establish a new social structure” (Saul 2011: 20). But apparently, some lacked ideas as to what organisational structure and national ideology would be effective. In this quote, Mondlane asserts that “some [liberation fighters knew] and had ideas, but [these were] rather theoretical notions that were themselves transformed in the struggle” (Op. cit). With that in the background, in this new book, Saul (2014) suggests that the “process of recolonization in Southern Africa [has proved to be] anti-climactic in its essence and humanly damaging in the extreme” (pg. 3).

He then moves to illustrate the different types of `social restlessness’ that have been recorded in most of the southern African nation-states. He lists mass social movements in the region, terming them “ticking time-bombs […] stirring potentially effective and presumptively counter-hegemonic activity” (pg. 11, 12). As well, Saul highlights impunity of the multinational resource-extracting companies in the region exemplified in the Marikana Massacres as well as recalling such incidents in the past, i.e. Sharpeville and Soweto (pp. 14, 15). This could be said in the contexts of countries like Tanzania where community members in the mineral rich northern regions decry the presence of the multinational mining companies.[iv] 

All this is attributed to the “economic choices” (pg. 21) made by those in leadership roles – especially within State apparatuses in the southern African nation-states. The result of all this is summed up well in concluding remarks in the book. Essentially there are deepening levels of inequality of the people in these countries, and their outcries go unheard as they are afflicted by the unheeding leaders they chose by ballot and this is “especially disconcerting” (pg. 21).

Some Critical Perspectives on the Book

            Overall, this book is a good starting point to understand the sociopolitical and economic discourses in the Southern African region. It gives the reader what politics have been at play since the beginning of calls for African liberation - southern Africa in particular. Narrowed even further, this publication takes those who have not interacted much with the politics of South Africa to begin to understand its complexities. It should be noted, with regards to South Africa’s Apartheid, that this book only covers the 1960 – 1990 timeframe. The process that led to the South African Apartheid process, beginning with the elimination  of native Saan and Hottentot peoples starting from the early days  with the first Dutch arrival in 1652 at the Cape led by Jan van Reebeck. The Bantu contestation, known as the Kaffir wars followed 127 years later in 1779 with subsequent restriction of the movements of coloureds in 1809.[vi]

However, there are elements which require more balanced explanation. It is easy for any writer, no matter how seasoned and experienced they are in their field to let their bias show. For example, it is interesting how when talking about African leaders who deliberately abused their authority, Saul (2014) gets overzealous (pg. 32). Indeed it is true that Mwalimu[vii] Nyerere’s Ujamaa policies and implementations and commitment to the participation of the people in Government had some limitations.  But a turning point in some of his views on Mwalimu Nyerere seems to arise from the fact that his student, Simon Akivaga, who was Kenyan, got extradited from Tanzania (pg. 32). He writes:

“Standing nearby, I saw my own student Akivaga, the Kenyan leader of the University Student Council who, having been summoned for a meeting with the principal, was then dragged, at gun-point, down the cement stairs at the front of the administration building, tossed like a sack of old clothes into a waiting army vehicle and sped away to his expulsion both from the university and from the country” (pg. 34)

His deportation was in contrast to this idealistic quote from an excerpt from a local publication at the time saying, “Nyerere called on the people of Tanzania to have great confidence in themselves and to safeguard the nation’s hard-won freedom” [viii] (pg. 34). Akiviga’s freedom of speech vanished! Yet it was perhaps merely (though unfairly) because he was Kenyan and came to Tanzania for studies therefore, and it would be considered ‘inadvertent’ of him to be involved in politics in another country. 

Even though in different sections of the book Saul (2014) agrees with a number of writers on the successes of Mwalimu Nyerere’s Ujamaa policies (pp. 35, 36), in this book he suggests that “Nyerere drifted much too close to the authoritarian horn of this dilemma on numerous occasions for one to be entirely confident of his own good judgment in each case” (pg. 38). As much as such assertions may resonate well with others supporting his views, they are and were not the sentiments of the majority of Tanzanians.

In his favour, Nyerere must be commended for stepping down from leadership when he realized that his main policy- Ujamaa- had not succeeded as he wished.

Another aspect which needs to be mentioned are Saul’s critiques of  African leaders who deliberately chose to govern their countries in their own ways and to an extent for their own benefit. An example is Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Granted, he has been a leader for too many terms, he should step down. Saul (2014) uses terminology such as “villainous” (pg. 27) when talking about the support that countries making up the Southern African Development Community (SADC) show to Zimbabwe’s Mugabe. This is disturbing language.  

Similar sentiments could be expressed about leaders in the developed countries; for example, George Bush invading Iraq on manufactured evidence and without authority. Not that even Saul would hesitate to call Bush villainous!

Among African Leaders in general there were and are conflicting ideas and influences from West (and East). For 3 decades after liberation the Cold War raged, and all liberation leaders had support from the Eastern bloc, and rejection from the rest. Most of leaders in the postcolonial/post-Apartheid nation-states in the southern African region, as well as the rest of postcolonial nation-states in the African soil, were bombarded with numerous ideas about government and economics. Ideas coming from native Africans on structures and methods of governing have usually been scorned by Western capitalist elitists, who were terrified of countries going for communist ideas. I dare say that I am one of the people who according to Saul (2014) “argue […] that Nyerere was merely blocked in his own high-minded intentions by the global realities of power and by recalcitrant politicians and bureaucrats in his own camp” (pg. 38). This is not just about Mwalimu Nyerere and Ujamaa, but about almost all leaders who dared to follow a different way from that prescribed by the Western capitalist society. Some of them like Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Eduardo Mondlane, and Thomas Sankara etc. ended in tragic or unexplained but highly suspicious deaths. Those who follow the neoliberalising policies are treated to criticism from many in civil society, and some from nonaligned nations.

Indeed Southern Africa is still poor and living “unfulfilled dreams and unrealized possibilities” (pp. 43, 44). Rightly so, Saul (2014) poses a question as to whether there is any hope that Africa will be able to produce its own black capitalist society (pg. 100).  or, as well, anythng other than a capitalist economics.This is a question which needs to be supplemented by two other questions: When will the Western capitalist patrons let Africa decide its own destiny? When will African leaders grow-up and realise it is that time to prove the Western ‘benevolent’ critics wrong?

[i] Saul, John 2011: Liberation Lite: The Roots of Recolonisation in Southern Africa; Africa World Press, New Jersey – USA

[ii] Eduardo Mondlane was an educator, a nationalist, and the leader of the Mozambique independence movement Frente de Libertacao de Mocambique (FRELIMO). In 1969 Mondlane was killed by a bomb which had been disguised as a notebook and sent to him by unknown assassins. Information accessed at: http://www.blackpast.org/gah/mondlane-eduardo-chivambo-1920-1969

[iii] Mozambican Independence Front

[iv] More reading on this can be found in: Lissu, Tundu 2001: In Gold We Trust: The Political Economy of Law, Human Rights and Environment in Tanzania’s Mining Industry, Work in Progress, Law, Social Justice & Global Development Journal (LGD), 2001 (2). Accessed on March 05, 2014 at: http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/global/issue/2001-2/lissu.html;

Kerr, Stephen & Holloway, Kelly 2002: The Men Who Moil For Gold; Special Investigative Report; The Varsity And The Atkinsonian. Accessed on April 22, 2013 at: http://www.miningwatch.ca/sites/www.miningwatch.ca/files/Bulyanhulu.pdf; and

Butler, Paula 2014: Colonial Walls: Psychic Strategies in Contemporary Mining-Related Displacement; Refuge Vol. 29, Number 2. Accessed on March 06, 2014 at: http://pi.library.yorku.ca.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/refuge/article/viewFile/38169/34564  

[vi] Racism and Apartheid in Southern Africa, South Africa and Namibia: A book of data based on material prepared by the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The UNESCO Press, Paris 1974. Accessed at: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0001/000122/012289eo.pdf

[vii] Teacher in KiSwahili

[viii] The Nationalist (Dar Es Salaam), issue of September 5, 1967

Pub: Between the Lines; Paperback, 2014. 199 pp.   ISBN: 978 1 77113 150 6

Review by Evans Rubara for Africafiles.

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.

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