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PEASANTS AND POLITICS: With so much attention in southern Africa recently focused on events like the granting of Peace Prizes and the outcomes of various processes of formal negotiations, it is easy to forget that the region remains primarily a rural one. And just where are the peasants while all this urban politicking is going on? The present issue of SAR seeks to supply some answers to this question. (jbv)

vol 9 no 3

Editorial and contents for Vol 9 No 3
the SAR editorial collective

Printable Version
Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 9, No 3, January 1994
Page 1


With so much attention in southern Africa recently focused on events like the granting of Peace Prizes and the outcomes of various processes of formal negotiations, it is easy to forget that the region remains primarily a rural one. And just where are the peasants while all this urban politicking is going on? The present issue of SAR seeks to supply some answers to this question.

Pride of place attaches to South Africa here, with two articles that draw rural questions firmly forward onto the agenda for discussion. Henry Bernstein's lead article is a magisterial overview of the issues - "the land question," "the agrarian question" - that will challenge policy makers in the post-apartheid period, while Michelle Friedman's contribution, far more than a footnote to Bernstein, shows the crucial ways in which rural questions intersect with issues of gender inequality. Interestingly both articles, while delineating the practical, even technical, matters that are so central to considering agricultural production and to ensuring rural livelihoods, are drawn, in the end, towards discussion of the necessity of political - rather than merely technocratic - solutions. Without empowerment of the rural dwellers themselves - and, notably, of rural women - neither humane nor productive outcomes are likely in the desolated areas, peri-urban and beyond, that lie outside South Africa's cities.

Politics is also seen to be of the essence in other articles in the current issue, articles that focus on questions of rural development elsewhere in the region. In the case of Stoneman and Thompson's snap-shot of the troubled issue of food security in Zimbabwe it is the politics of imperial dictate, via the World Bank and other powerful global actors, that frames the problem. For Tapscott it is the ebb and flow of internal Namibian politics - around questions of emergent class interests and diverse ethnic calculations - that stalls the process of land reform. And in Mozambique, Otto Roesch tells us, the collapse of earlier agricultural endeavours - under the weight of both government miscalculation and externally-sponsored destabilization - has most often unleashed forces, expressing novel class interests and recrudescent traditional power centres, that promise the very opposite of popular empowerment.

* * *

How, then, are peasants to become a more active and positive presence within the broader political processes that affect their lives? Roesch sees some hope in the peasant cooperatives that are emerging, at least here and there, in the Mozambican countryside. Similarly, as regards the South African situation, Friedman turns for inspiration to Mam'Lydia and the Transvaal Rural Action Committee while Bernstein sketches more broadly the possible bases for the progressive endeavours of rural dwellers. But why, Bernstein asks, is the ANC not doing more to connect with the potential agents for popularly-rooted "structural reform" that he identifies as existing in the rural areas?

This question becomes part of a much larger issue, of course, one that will inevitably see its way into the pages of SAR throughout the coming year. For this is the year of democracy in South Africa, and all signposts point expectantly towards April 27, . . . and beyond. An achieved democratic election in South Africa will be no small accomplishment. Indeed, just how grim the future can be when such a thing proves impossible is amply demonstrated by Victoria Brittain's sad account, in this issue, of the current moment in Angola. But what also seems clear is that there is more than one brand of "democracy" and that the nature of the democratization process that takes place in the coming months in South Africa will determine just how empowered the dispossessed of South Africa, rural and urban, actually find themselves to be as they enter the "post-apartheid period."

Democracy? There is, for example, a liberal version, one described by political theorist Philip Green as being merely "representative government, ultimately accountable to 'the people', but not really under their control, combined with a fundamentally capitalist economy." In many western countries, the almost exclusive focus on elections and parliaments that this system highlights serves merely to domesticate and demobilize any deeply-rooted and highly self-conscious popular politics and tends to remain viable so long as, materially, the system manages to satisfy most people's minimum needs.

Needless to say, this kind of system is noticeably vulnerable to authoritarian overthrow or internecine collapse in the more impoverished parts of the world. Moreover, the depoliticization of democracy that it encourages tends to be achieved at the expense of what Tanzanian writer Issa Shivji has termed "popular democracy" - defined by him as an ideology and a process of on-going, bottom-up resistance to inequality and established privilege, world-wide and local. What is likely to be the import of the ANC's recent achievements in this respect? As it happens, recent democratic developments have been read by different observers in diametrically opposite ways.

Thus, some see the ANC engaged in a kind of "elite-pacting" with their opposite numbers - in the National Party, the World Bank, and the like - to produce merely more continuity than change in South Africa's established socio- economic structure. Others see the movement as judiciously consolidating, through negotiations, the political and constitutional ground upon which it can then - with its allies (the trade unions, the civics, the women's organizations) - spearhead more vigorously the cause of an even more fundamental transformation of South Africa.

We will keep these different possibilities in mind as we continue to chart the democratization of South Africa - and, indeed, of southern Africa more generally - in future issues of SAR . Here it is necessary only to echo the core argument of analyses like those by Bernstein and Friedman in the current issue: that the process of rural transformation (like the process of transformation in so many other spheres) must be about empowerment - about "popular democracy" - if it is to have any real resonance at all.

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Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 9 No 3
"Peasants and Politics"

Editorial: Peasants and Politics - 1

The Rural Challenge: The ANC and the Countryside - 3
by Henry Bernstein

The Rural Challenge: Women and Land - 8
by Michelle Friedman

Land Reform in Namibia: Why Not? - 12
by Chris Tapscott

The Politics of the Aftermath: Peasant Options in Mozambique - 16
by Otto Roesch

Banking on Hunger: Food Security in Zimbabwe - 20
by Colin Stoneman and Carol Thompson

Angolan Democracy: The International Betrayal - 23
by Victoria Brittain

Trade Union Strategies: The Debate Continues - 26
letters by Avril Joffe and Sam Gindin

Counterpoint - 29
by Marit Stiles

Review: The Literate Factory: A Mozambican Case Study - 31
review by Jonathan Barker

Printable Version

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