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Southern Africa Report Archive

SOUTHERN AFRICA'S TRAGEDY? "Did anyone notice? 1995 was a year of anniversaries in southern Africa: twenty years of independence in Angola and Mozambique, fifteen in Zimbabwe. Yet even in these countries themselves there seemed little enough to celebrate. Not that anyone would wish a return to the bad old days of white minority rule in the region, of course. But the fact remains that, increasingly, southern Africa is itself less easy to distinguish from the rest of the continent than it seemed to be in the days of liberation movements and righteous struggles against antique colonialisms and anachronistic pigmentocracies. . ."

vol 11 no 2

Editorial and contents for Vol 11 No 2
the SAR editorial collective


Printable Version
Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 11, No 2, January 1996
Page 1
"Editorial"

EDITORIAL: SOUTHERN AFRICA'S TRAGEDY?

Did anyone notice? 1995 was a year of anniversaries in southern Africa: twenty years of independence in Angola and Mozambique, fifteen in Zimbabwe. Yet even in these countries themselves there seemed little enough to celebrate.

Not that anyone would wish a return to the bad old days of white minority rule in the region, of course. But the fact remains that, increasingly, southern Africa is itself less easy to distinguish from the rest of the continent than it seemed to be in the days of liberation movements and righteous struggles against antique colonialisms and anachronistic pigmentocracies. True, the region did provide Africa with its one recent moment of "good press" in the western media: the 1994 South African election. Now, however, it is the horrors of Rwanda and - with the quasi-judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa - Nigeria that are much more likely to grab the headlines. And, as if in tandem, the countries of southern Africa seem merely to be yielding up their own variants of what Colin Leys has termed, in more continent-wide terms, "Africa's tragedy."

Such, in any case, is the clear implication of this issue's trio of lead articles on the past year's anniversariats: Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Note, however, that Leys interpretation of Africa's tragedy is rather different from that normally to be found in our newspapers. In recent writing (notably in his article "Confronting the African Tragedy" in New Left Review , #204 and in his new book, The Rise and Fall of Development Theory ) he does not ignore (or excuse) the failures of Africa's political elites, and he is also cognizant of the fact that African crises often take on an "inter- tribal" cast. But he does insist on linking these realities to the globalizing tendencies of a currently ascendant transnational capital: to the false promise of an all-wise and benevolent market, and, absolutely central, to "the acceptance of the freedom of capital to move across national boundaries" without let or hindrance.

Indeed, as he has written, the "death of society" which this kind of market utopianism (delivered, most often in Africa, in the name of "Structural Adjustment") has imposed on the continent has not resulted in "a market-based social and economic recovery based on individuals and their initiatives in the marketplace. It has been, instead, an ethnic-based regression, as people have been pushed back on reliance on precolonial social bonds for survival; and in some cases it has resulted in economic and social catastrophe, aggravated by the legacy of three decades of superpower sponsored militarization."

Leys' conclusion: "that, for all countries of the world, recapturing control over their own destines requires the re-establishment of social control over capital and the resubordination of markets to social purposes." As he also points out, this is as much a challenge for Canadians - faced with "the death by a thousand cuts" currently being inflicted upon our own society and sense of social purpose by the likes of Chrétien, Harris and Klein - as it is for Africans. The only difference is that, "for the weaker regions, such as most of sub-Saharan Africa, this is literally a matter of life and death"!

Leys has ideas about what might be done in and for Africa - in terms of creative initiatives dealing with issues of debt, trade, aid and development strategy - but, as he further states, "such ideas would come to seem rational only in world that was in the process of rejecting the currently predominant ideology of the market." His sobering conclusion: "While this world must come, it is not yet in sight, and meantime the African tragedy will unfold."

Unfortunately, there is little in the picture drawn in our three lead articles to qualify the starkness of this conclusion. Africa's tragedy has indeed moved south - even if somewhat unevenly (the situation in Zimbabwe described by Richard Saunders is different from that in Angola, detailed by Victoria Brittain, and Angola in turn is different from Mozambique). Nor are the threads of resistance to such a fate - a resistance that is certainly present in each of these countries - always easy to discern. These articles are therefore as much challenge as reportage. "While this world must come . . . ", writes Colin Leys. As he would certainly acknowledge, there is a great deal of political work to be done - in Africa, in Canada, elsewhere - to make that statement more than just another avowal of faith, utopian in its turn.

* * *

Is South Africa the exception that proves the rule in the region? The answer must be "yes and no," as our coverage in this issue of South Africa's recent local elections helps document. As Hein Marais suggests, it has been a pretty good year for the ANC politically. And yet, as he further testifies, finding the economic key to unlocking progress for large numbers of South Africans remains an elusive goal for the ANC, one full of especially dangerous portent for the future. This is most true of Kwazulu-Natal where, for various bad reasons (as David Pottie reports), the local elections did not take place. Indeed, in that province the continuing escalation of violence suggests that, for many South Africans, southern Africa's tragedy is now.

Nor are the tensions of the time - and of the continent - absent even from a rather different sphere, that of South Africa's foreign policy-making. Here, ironically, we return to the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, half way across the continent, with which we began this editorial. For there seems to have emerged a consensus among observers that South Africa's policy of "constructive engagement" with Nigeria in the period prior to the execution was seriously flawed: half-hearted, ineffective, too clever by half ("SA foreign policy in crisis after Nigerian debacle," headlines Southscan , for example). As you will see below, these events lend added point to the debate about "the huge shortcomings in South African foreign policy" here forwarded by Dan O'Meara - in response to articles on the subject in a previous issue by Roger Southall and Peter Vale (both of whom have also provided replies, at once gracious and thoughtful, to O'Meara's own intervention).

The truth shall make us free? Not necessarily. But our feeling is that the pursuit of greater clarity, a pursuit that premises this kind of debate, can't do the cause of resistance to the tragic overtones of southern Africa's current plight any harm either.

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Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 11 No 2
"Southern Africa's Tragedy?"

Editorial: Southern Africa's Tragedy? - 1

Angola: It's Not Over - 3
by Victoria Brittain

Zimbabwe: ESAP's Fables - 8
by Richard Saunders

Twenty Years After: Recolonization in Mozambique - 12
by John S Saul

South Africa: The Local Elections
I. The Big Picture - 18
by Hein Marais

South Africa: The Local Elections
II. . . . but Not in KZN - 21
by David Pottie

South African Foreign Policy: What's the Problem? - 25
by Dan O'Meara

Reviewing Mandela's Autobiography
I. Michael Valpy: * (one star) - 29
II. David Cooke: **** (four stars) - 31

Letters to the Editor - 33

Ken Saro-Wiwa's closing statement to Nigerian tribunal - back cover

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.

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