Home | About Us | News Feeds RSS | Subscribe | Support Us | User Login | Search

Southern Africa Report Archive

CLASS SNUGGLE VS. CLASS STRUGGLE: It's unusual for SAR (indeed, for any magazine) to lead, as we do below, with an exchange of views about an article published in a previous issue. And yet the questions raised are just too important to be allowed to languish in our back pages or merely to be consigned to some ``Letters to the Editor'' column. At stake, we feel, are fundamental matters about how we can best characterize the nature of the transition in contemporary South Africa and how best we can cope politically with the fall-out from that transition. (jbv)

vol 15 no 2

Editorial and Contents for Vol 15 No 2
SAR editorial collective


Printable Version
Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 15 No 2, February 2000
Page 1
"Editorial"

EDITORIAL:
CAPITULATION?

It's unusual for SAR (indeed, for any magazine) to lead, as we do below, with an exchange of views about an article published in a previous issue. And yet the questions raised are just too important to be allowed to languish in our back pages or merely to be consigned to some "Letters to the Editor" column. At stake, we feel, are fundamental matters about how we can best characterize the nature of the transition in contemporary South Africa and how best we can cope politically with the fall-out from that transition.

Of course, this is not an unfamiliar theme in the pages of SAR , as faithful readers will know. But seldom has the issue been raised so starkly and unequivocally as Glenn Adler and Eddie Webster do here. Indeed, we value the forthrightness with which they put forward their case for "class compromise." It helps us to clarify our own positions to have things spelled out quite so clearly, even though we remain deeply unconvinced by their arguments (their "class compromise" looks, under prevailing circumstances, much more like a call for "class capitulation" on the part of the working class). Indeed, with such analyses passing for common currency in South Africa, we are even more concerned about South Africa's future prospects than we might otherwise be.

It is not the task of this editorial to enter deeply into these issues, however. Fortunately, two of our number - Carolyn Bassett and Marlea Clarke, whose original article ("Alliance woes: COSATU pays the price," SAR [Vol. 15 No. 1, December, 1999]) prompted Adler and Webster's riposte - are available to make their own reply in these pages. We think they do so convincingly and in a way that may advance the debate.

We can, however, flag a couple of particularly crucial points here. For Adler and Webster, the key relationship in contemporary South Africa is that between economic growth on the one hand and democracy on the other. Their article is designed to illuminate the difficult trade-offs between these two goods.

Unfortunately, there are two things wrong with this central formulation. What if, as seems to be the case, mere capitulation to the dictates of the global economy cannot produce meaningful and transformative growth in South Africa in any likely or foreseeable future? What should trade unions and other organizations that seek to focus the concerns and energies of the popular classes (churches, women's groups, civic associations, rural action groups and the like) do then? Our view: the possible realization of "growth" along current policy lines should not be written, as self-evident, into the assumptions of debates over these issues.

Secondly, at a point when business and government seem to be making the most of running behind a starkly neo-liberal, pro-business agenda, Adler and Webster counsel the working class not to rock the boat with untoward claims and demands. Why? For fear of jeopardizing democracy! But isn't this, in essence, a "blame the victim" approach, one usually (and best) confined to the Olympian posturings of the doyens of American-style political science and their progeny.

Adler and Webster are fond of likening the current situation to the political impasse of the early 1990s when constrained "negotiations" opened up new possibilities. Yet this is a dubious analogy. For one thing, as Bassett and Clarke make explicit in their reply, the present moment is not so much an impasse as a defeat for the popular classes. In point of fact, aren't things less like the early 1990s and more like earlier moments during the anti-apartheid phase when regime intransigence seemed to offer, momentarily, no further space for manoeuvre and advance? The response then - as, arguably, it should be now - was not capitulation but renewed mobilization and re-imagined resistance: the refusal to take no for an answer.

Obviously, there is a crucial difference: the ANC, as last year's electoral results made clear, is legitimate and hegemonic in a way that the apartheid regime never could hope to be. Hence the dreaded spectre of the "political wilderness," much evoked by Adler and Webster, to which COSATU must not consign itself by any too precipitate action. But isn't this merely to accept the tyranny of the status quo, to adopt a certain cock-eyed "realism" as self-fulfilling prophesy, and to unlearn the lessons of long years of struggle in South Africa. What if the trade unions were instead to think profane thoughts and imagine a reinvigoration of radical politics and an outreach to those broader constituencies of Africans left behind by the self-styled "African Renaissance" of the rising black middle class?

Such a step forward could, of course, take place within the Alliance or outside it: this is for South Africans in struggle to determine. But it is difficult not to think that this epitomizes precisely the kind of stark choices that will be offered the popular forces in South Africa in coming years. In our view, concerned intellectuals should be preparing the ground, both inside South Africa and abroad, for a deeper understanding of such emerging imperatives within the country's on-going drive for liberation, not further obfuscating the issues.

* * *

Beyond this debate, the present issue owns much to the industriousness of Tom Lodge. His own travels across the region in recent months to investigate processes of democratization have taken him to, amongst other places, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Namibia. It is difficult to take too much solace from the masterful accounts of developments in each of these countries that he has produced for us. Thus the Congo continues, on Kabila's egregious watch, to be picked apart by regional jackals while SWAPO in Namibia is found to be reverting to its old tricks of launching scurrilous ad hominem attacks on opponents and wrapping itself in the flag to crush the fledgling Congress of Democrats at the polls.

Can the seeds of an active civil society that Lodge detects in the Congo begin to bear positive fruit despite the odds? Can CoD politicians of the quality of Ben Ulenga and Ignatius Shixwameni mount, both inside parliament and beyond, the kind of sustained critique of SWAPO's policies that will eventually make them even more credible tribunes in the eyes of ordinary Namibians? Time alone will tell.

Meanwhile, farmworkers are stirring politically in Zimbabwe, confirms Blair Rutherford in this issue; gross corruption is being exposed around the infamous Lesotho dam project, reports Lori Pottinger; and the fight to redefine the nature of the apartheid debt and to resist its overbearing claims continues in South Africa, writes David Hemson. Class struggle or class snuggle in southern Africa? Still too close to call.

- 30 -

-------------------------

Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 15 No 2
"Class Snuggle vs. Class Struggle"

Editorial: Capitulation? - 1

South Africa: Class Compromise . . . - 3
by Glenn Adler and Eddie Webster

South Africa: . . . Class Struggle - 7
by Carolyn Bassett and Marlea Clarke

"Democracy May Yet Happen": Tom Lodge in the Congo - 11
by Tom Lodge

Scandal in Lesotho: Caught Wet-Handed - 16
by Lori Pottinger

Zimbabwean Farm Workers: The Struggle for Utopia - 21
by Blair Rutherford

Heavy Handed Democracy: SWAPO's Victory in Namibia - 26
by Tom Lodge

In Debt to Apartheid - 30
by David Hemson

Zunade Dharsey -- 1960-1999 - 33
by David McDonald

Printable Version

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.

     top of page

 back to SAR page