SAR, V15 N4, October 2000
Regional war. The first time as heroism. The second time: not as farce, but as tragedy - specifically the tragedy of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a war that has drawn in national armies from across the region (Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe) and from eastern Africa as well (Uganda and Rwanda). It is also a war that seems to have no easy end in sight - despite the fact that, as we write this editorial (in late-October), leaders of several of these belligerent nations are meeting once again, this time in Maputo, Mozambique, to seek to find a way out of the quagmire that the Congo has become.
The first time as heroism? The reference is to the thirty years' war for southern African liberation, 1960 to 1990, a high water mark of regional accomplishment that seems all too hastily to have receded into the mists of history. Then, as had been only infrequently the case in Africa north of the Zambezi, revolutionary violence and ever more effective forms of mass action had proven necessary to defeat white minority rule, colonial and quasi-colonial, across most of southern Africa.
It was a period bounded, in its beginnings, by the 1960 banning of the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) precipitating attempts by these movements to launch armed struggles in South Africa, by a further build-up in Angola of the pressures that erupted into violent confrontation there in 1961, and by Dar es Salaam's emergence as the central staging ground for liberation movements from Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa dedicated to struggles farther south. It was a period that spanned the ensuing conflicts that brought independence to both Angola and Mozambique in 1975 and the establishment of majority rule in Zimbabwe in 1980. And it was a period that closed, in 1990, with the liberation of Africa's last colony, Namibia, and with the release, in South Africa, of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC that set the stage for a period of negotiations (19901994) towards establishment of a democratic constitution there and the holding of the "freedom elections" of 1994 that brought the ANC to power. The victory that was thus cumulatively earned has come to stand as one of the most dramatic moments in all of African history.
The outcome of the thirty years war also remained a contradictory one, of course. Certainly, the overthrow of white minority rule was an achievement of world historical consequence: however much it was an historical anomaly, such rule would not have disappeared of its own accord. At the same time, the devastation inflicted across the region during the war, and especially upon Mozambique and Angola, was vast both in material and human terms. Moreover, as we have had numerous occasions to note in the pages of SAR over the years, the broader goals that often emerged so tantalizingly in the course of these struggles - the promise of a deep-cutting democratization of the societies affected, for example, and the transformation of the impoverished state of the mass of the population of the region - have proven difficult to realize. Even the sense of a common regional identity that might have been expected to surface from a shared region-wide struggle has been offset, if not entirely effaced, by many of the same kinds of xenophobias and inter-state rivalries that mark the rest of the continent.
Enter, then, the second regional war, the range of regional intervention in the DRC marked, at times, by certain quasi-legitimate security concerns on the part of some of the protagonists (Rwanda and Angola, for example) but more often by the venality and opportunism evident on all sides. At the core of the problem has been the cruel and exploitative Kabila regime itself, resolutely opposed to any hint of a democratic process that might offer a chance of domestic reconciliation and a way out. But Kabila is also ringed, for and against, by African states (and a range of global economic actors as well) whose elites have seemed to be principally preoccupied with carving up the riches of the Congo for themselves. The only sure losers, it can confidently be said, have been the peoples of southern, central and eastern Africa themselves.
It is within this desperate context that the interview with Congolese rebel militant Jacques Depelchin presented in this issue might be thought to offer, nonetheless, a flickering ember of hope. For he sees in certain specific patterns of bottom-up resistance to the war of the elites that otherwise rages above the heads (and over the dead bodies) of ordinary people in the Congo the prospect of a new kind of peace-making in Africa. It is a process he has seen at work in Mozambique in recent years and one he also professes to be at work, increasingly, in neighbouring Angola.
One can only hope that the kind of people's peace-making thus evoked by Depelchin can indeed find greater resonance - and in Angola at least as urgently as in the Congo. For in Angola the denouement of the thirty years war for southern African liberation has been even more fraught than elsewhere in the region. There the seeds of violence sown within the anti-colonial struggle itself and watered by the war's further internationalization after "independence" continued to produce bitter fruit well after 1990 and right up to the present day. Indeed, in contemporary Angola - as powerfully described by David Sogge in another key article in the present issue - the politics of warlordism and elite venality has become so extreme as to seem almost a cruel parody of the genre.
More than Depelchin, Sogge also emphasizes the context of a parasitic global capitalism that at once feeds, and feeds off, this kind of domestic political cancer. His is a chilling account indeed of "business as usual" and of the parameters of clientage in post-Cold War southern Africa - what with oil company executives and US State Department officials all but falling over themselves in jockeying to reach the Angolan feeding trough.
Lest we despair altogether, however, Sogge also sees fit to offer us some hope - developing a strand to his argument that represents, in effect, a positive echo of Depelchin's own main point. For Sogge too finds some promise in the opportunities still discernible in Angola for resuscitation of mass action from below, and for the kind of popular assertions that might ultimately ground a more promising project of domestic tranquillity and development. Perhaps, he seems to imply, the spark of humanity and courage that once drove a just war for southern African liberation can yet produce - in Angola, in the Congo, in southern Africa as a whole - a just and democratic peace.
Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 15 No 4
Editorial: Regional War - Pg 1
Angola: The Client Who Came in from the Cold - Pg 3
by David Sogge
The Politics of Land: ZANU vs the MDC - Pg 11
by Samuel Kariuki & Lucien van der Walt
Realizing the Promise: Land Restitution in East London - Pg 16
by Landiswa Maqasho
Malawi: The Trouble with Democracy - Pg 19
by Stephen Brown
Lean and Very Mean: Restructuring Wits University - Pg 24
by Franco Barchiesi
University Workers: Exclude them Out - Pg 27
by Bridget Kenny & Marlea Clarke
Tough Choices: Trade Unions and Swapo - Pg 31
by Herbert Jauch
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