Barriers and Openings to a New Socialist Internationalism: South African Histories, Strategies and Narratives

by Patrick Bond*

Introduction: pre-1994 South African internationalism

The 1864 meeting of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA) brought the universality of proletarian ideas and representatives into focus. At St Martin’s Hall in London, delegates converged from France, Italy, Ireland, Poland and Germany. From a South African vantage-point in 2014, there have been extraordinary moments, like that one, to look back upon, in the interests of inspiring a renewed bottom-up popular-internationalist optimism for these global times. After a brief review of parallel historical moments, this article’s second section considers some of the terrain upon which renewed, radical transnational civil society has recently emerged: anti-racism and reparations for apartheid profiteering; political solidarity (Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Palestine and Burma); “global governance”; environmental management; and economic policy. The single most explicit barrier, as discussed in the third section, is persistent working-class xenophobia, with its distinctive roots in divide-and-conquer capitalism. The article concludes by reflecting on new opportunities for socialist internationalism that flow logically from the historic roots and contemporary fruits of cross-border struggle, especially now that AIDS treatment advocacy and grassroots water decommodification strategies have taken society in positive directions, and a genuine socialist impulse is rising from metalworkers and allied “United Front” community and environmental activists.

To foreground those opportunities, consider two of the central problems acknowledged even in mainstream society as the most vital issues of our time: climate change and economic volatility. Respectively, 54 and 52 percent of those people the Pew Research Center surveyed in 2013 list these as the two most pressing threats, ahead of the favored threats of world elites (Islamic extremism, Iranian and North Korean nuclear capabilities, etc).1 For socialist internationalists, this is a confirmation that campaigns bubbling in the world social movements these past few years are now well situated to shift from a war of position to a war of movement. The question asked in this article, is whether in this new context, leftist cadres are ready to mobilize far more effectively than they have to date in their local and national settings, and to quickly upgrade their tentative internationalism to conjoin the economy and climate in a way that forces open a simple question: will capitalism fatally soil our world nest, or can a socialist movement arise with the required balance to address the system at all scales, avoiding localistic and nationalist cul-de-sacs? While we cannot answer that at this stage, the concluding section considers the power relationships and strategic options unveiled when South Africans successfully seek solidarity, e.g. in cases of AIDS treatment and water decommodification.

At present, we may be forgiven for retaining optimism of both will and intellect. South Africa is a site with impressive particularities, extremely high levels of social protest, and an exceptionally bright future for the left. It is a society blessed by what was perhaps the world’s most vibrant anti-corporate internationalism, during the anti-apartheid sanctions campaign. So although atypical, it is interesting to consider aspects of socialist internationalism that are becoming more visible, especially in terms of economic and environmental justice. If socialist internationalism cannot thrive in South Africa, and if tendencies to xenophobia cannot be squelched in the process, then it is hard to imagine success in any other site.

First, however, we might recognise a few seminal moments of transnational unity (even of the lowest common denominator) of the sort characterized by the First International at that London IWA meeting. Such flashbacks would perhaps begin with an event a further 60 years back, the 1804 Haitian revolution, and then interrogate early 19th-century anti-slavery campaigning (although bearing in mind the 2007 debunking of Charles Wilberforce on the bicentenary of his prohibition law). From the early 20th century onwards, tremendous efforts were made to forge racial solidarity across vast geographic distances, such as the earliest recorded African liberation conference, organized in London by Trinidadian lawyer Henry Sylvester-Williams in 1900 (three years before he moved to Cape Town). Subsequent efforts to build African diasporic unity were made by Marcus Garvey, George Padmore and W.E.B. Du Bois, and also lesser-known stalwarts like Anna Julia Cooper and Anna Jones in New York, and Charlotte Manye Maxeke in South Africa.

A full history would also do more justice to influences of both imported and exported strategies and narratives. These include, first, Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha, initially practiced at scale in 1913 in what is now KwaZulu-Natal Province (at Newcastle) midway between his 1894-1914 homes in Durban and Johannesburg. Gandhi was soon deported and took the approach back to India, with extraordinary results three decades later. Second, there was the simultaneous rise of the African National Congress (ANC) thanks in part to John Dube’s elite education gained at an Ohio liberal arts college, Oberlin. Dube lived just a mile from Gandhi for many years and founded the ANC in 1912 (although Gandhi did not understand the merits of alliance with Africans at that stage). Fifty years later came the Black Consciousness philosophy developed by Steve Biko, which also emanated from Durban just at the time the city’s port witnessed the revival of the country’s modern labor movement.

In between, South African liberation activists were inspired by the (partially-successful) 1950s-70s decolonization movements across the continent, especially armed uprisings in Guinea-Bissau (led by Amilcar Cabral), Angola (Agustinho Neto) and Mozambique (Samora Machel) that were successful against Portugal in 1975 (after its own fascist government was replaced in a coup) and against the Rhodesian regime (led by Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo) in 1980. The ANC and PanAfricanist Congress had initiated low-level guerrilla warfare aimed at minor economic infrastructure in 1960, though in retrospect, this mainly amounted to occasional symbolic “armed propaganda” attacks and they may have contributed less than they caused internal harm, e.g. a demobilization of the masses, a militarist culture, infiltration by apartheid spies, and within South Africa, more severe “anti-terrorist” clampdowns. Black South Africans and their allies also enthusiastically watched the US civil rights and Black Power movements emerge through that decade, and Martin Luther King repaid the solidarity with joint United Nations sanctions, campaigning alongside ANC leader and fellow Nobel Peace laureate Albert Luthuli in 1966. Ongoing awareness about neo-colonialism resulted from the liberation movements’ era of exile (1962-90), with recent South African leaders like Thabo Mbeki continuing (to this day) to cite what Frantz Fanon considered the widespread “false decolonization” then underway in Africa, as he predicted so accurately in 1961 in his last work, The Wretched of the Earth.2

The figure of Nelson Mandela as a carrier and amplifier of these traditions is obvious; even after his death he remains the most potent reminder of the liberation struggle. Fierce debate continues today in South Africa about his role in the Communist Party during the early 1960s, as well as about the varied contributions to the SA struggle from African allies, the USSR and China. Most importantly, Cuban intervention against apartheid’s army in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, Angola, in 1988 was a turning point in regional power relations, along with the West’s victory in the Cold War. Together they justified white retreats on the military and political fronts. The prestige that the exiled ANC could claim amongst mass constituencies around the world (from Third World liberation movements to Scandinavian social democrats) set the stage for Mandela’s return in 1990 to the “international community.” However, with power relations at their most adverse during the early 1990s, Mandela gazed upwards at Western power not as the anti-imperialist fighter whom in 1962 the CIA helped imprison for 27 years by alerting the police to block a road near Durban, but instead as a reconciler able to make peace with both local racists and the world capitalist elite in preparation for his 1994-99 presidency. Tragically but truthfully, that reconciliation has been labelled, by his former comrade and later SA Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, the “Faustian Pact” in which Mandela conceded that international capital would play a formidable role in the country’s 1990s transition from racial to class apartheid, including worsening the society’s world-leading inequality, doubling unemployment, and deeply damaging local and regional ecologies.3

Given the short-term success of Mandela’s false decolonization and the continuing electoral popularity of the ANC, the medium-term imperative of South Africa’s working class is to struggle for local, regional and global justice against his political-economic legacy. That legacy includes his corruption-riddled party, given that it now appears impossible – to all but staunch SACP loyalists – to reform (as the interview in this volume with Irvin Jim demonstrates). In considering a “foreign policy bottom up” for the period ahead, the vagaries of past South African internationalisms do play a role, even if marginal. Lessons do need to be learned by anyone with a class-conscious project who would attempt to link national liberation to anti-imperial sentiments, as “Third Worldist” analysts are wont to do, often at the risk of excessive romanticism. Indeed there is even a current of thinking on the left that suggests that the new BRICS bloc – led by a neoliberalized Brazilian president once dedicated to building a genuine labor party, aggressive Russian nationalists, the Indian Hindu-centric elite, the raw-capitalist Chinese Communist Party and the Moscow-trained leaders of South Africa – can become anti-imperialist,4 notwithstanding overwhelming evidence that it is in fact sub-imperialist.5

To understand the dynamics of these emerging-power circuitries may require us to recover IWA argumentation prioritizing class unity across borders. But conditions in South Africa also immediately require that the IWA be augmented by the insights Rosa Luxemburg provided in her 1913 book The Accumulation of Capital. Much of her empirical material was secondary literature about the world’s periphery, including the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), the German colony of Namibia, and South Africa. Drawing on this background information, Luxemburg’s theory of imperialism put at its center the tension between capitalism and non-capitalist social relations, from which a more sophisticated socialist internationalism must subsequently proceed:

Accumulation of capital periodically bursts out in crises and spurs capital on to a continual extension of the market. Capital cannot accumulate without the aid of non-capitalist relations, nor… can it tolerate their continued existence side by side with itself. Only the continuous and progressive disintegration of non-capitalist relations makes accumulation of capital possible… Historically, the accumulation of capital is a kind of metabolism between capitalist economy and those pre-capitalist methods of production without which it cannot go on and which, in this light, it corrodes and assimilates. Non-capitalist relations provide a fertile soil for capitalism; more strictly: capital feeds on the ruins of such relations….6

That same dilemma confronts anyone working on the internationalist class struggle front today: under conditions of capitalist crisis – one response to which is a “continual extension” of globalization – how can the parasitical relationship of capitalism to the non-capitalist spheres be brought into socialist framing with the requisite respect needed for alliance-formation that will be capable of pushing society beyond capitalism?

Again, for historical precedent, South Africa is rich in examples, with early indicators of cross-border class-struggle relevance not limited to the communist, socialist and anarchist ideologies (including working-class institutions from British Fabian traditions) that were imported through white settler-colonial routes. In addition, a home-grown process of regional labor organizing among black workers known as the Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU) took root during the 1920s, after its launch in Cape Town. This location reflected the unprecedented strength of dockworkers whose 1919 strike shook South Africa, but the ICU soon gained members across Southern Africa. The union rose to 100,000 members in 1929 before fading when its charismatic leader, Clements Kadalie, was forced out through infighting. At that point, a Third Internationalist commitment to conjoining “communist” and nationalist struggles began, after South Africa’s first (whites-only) communist party had notoriously endorsed racist job-protection formulations during a 1922 mineworkers strike. The relations between the Soviet Union and South African forces remained strong – though of dubious merit in terms of broader internationalism – until ruined by perestroika in the late 1980s and the USSR’s crash in 1991. Further left, starting in the late 1920s, Trotsky’s brief correspondence with his South African allies in the late 1930s confirmed a small but persistent current of revolutionary socialist thinking and activism.

Most importantly though, from the late 1950s South Africa benefitted from an anti-racist internationalism that chose a formidable global campaigning approach with strong anti-capitalist content: boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS). The campaign targeted firms active in South Africa, with the argument that capitalists making super-profits from apartheid (especially thanks to the migrant labor system) were immoral, that the taxes they paid to Pretoria fuelled oppression, and that even though the firms’ South African workers would be adversely affected by BDS, those workers and their organizations mainly supported this non-violent strategy. When anti-apartheid BDS peaked in mid-1985, by all accounts it contributed substantially to South Africa’s economic crash. For it was not only the renewed militancy of poor and working-class people in South Africa during the 1980s that ended white political power, it was the weakening of a central pillar of the system’s support: international economic legitimacy and the profitability of racism to multinational corporations. The strength to wedge a fatal split between these corporations (especially banks) and their local English-speaking capitalist allies in Johannesburg and Cape Town on the one hand, and the white government in Pretoria on the other, was a vital contribution of international solidarity.7

It is not surprising that BDS is being applied today to Israel and to fossil fuel corporations with repeated reference to South African victories. This history stands contemporary activists in strong stead, as Irvin Jim’s interview in this volume makes clear:

We need to be able to challenge the multinationals and their agenda with militancy and uncompromising persistence.… It is not possible to challenge this global nature of capitalism without creating a global network of solidarity between trade unions in addition to raising the level of consciousness of workers.8

But the dire state of the main global labor networks – i.e. the sad choice between a corporatist International Trade Union Confederation and a semi-fossilized World Federation of Trade Unions – requires the largest and most militant South African union, Jim’s National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and their new United Front allies, to now consider an internationalism that unites through and beyond class solidarity. Numsa will come under even more intense attack from the ANC, SACP and Cosatu [Congress of SA Trade Unions] in 2014-15 as their leaders scope out a potential political party for poor and working people. In this context, a full-fledged emancipation for South Africa will traverse not only local sites of oppression, but also various terrains already mapped out by transnational radical civil society networks, in which South Africans have regularly played a lead role. It will also entail a stronger resistance to xenophobia, patriarchy and nascent ethnicist ills that weaken the South African working class. Finally, it will tackle the two biggest issues – the melting climate and melting world finance – with the requisite capacity to link issues in the most visionary eco-socialist way possible. The last two decades of nascent internationalism in South Africa, including solidarity on the AIDS medicines and water-justice fronts, guide us at least some of the way.

Contemporary internationalisms

There are at least a half-dozen moments of revealing international solidarity politics that erupted from a tense post-apartheid society. Various measures of this tension might be cited. For example, in September 2012, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report rated the South African working class as the world’s leader in adverse employee-employer relations (in a survey done even prior to the August 2012 Marikana massacre and subsequent wildcat strike wave). This was an impressive ratcheting up of class struggle over the prior year, when the SA workforce ranked only 7th out of the 144 countries surveyed. In September 2013 the SA workers again won the label of most militant proletariat in 148 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum, far ahead of second-place Venezuela.9 Communities were also world leaders when it came to the rate of protest, with police measuring 1,882 “violent” protests in the year 2012-13. According to the minister of police in September 2013, “Over the past four years, a total of 46,180 protests were attended to and all were successfully stabilized, with 14,843 arrests effected.”10 It is telling that he included as a “success” the August 2012 police intervention at the Marikana platinum mine owned by Lonmin, which included a well-documented premeditated massacre of 34 workers, the planting of weapons on dead victims, and torture of at least 44 survivors.11

Given the extreme degree of class struggle these data represent, the possibility of labor internationalism is enticing, especially considering that millions of working-class people across the world participated in sanctions campaigns against South Africa during the 1960s-90s. One reflection of that legacy was the choice of South Africa to host the 2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism (WCAR). The official WCAR talk-shop itself was considered an historic defeat for those insisting on advancing social justice. Demands made by anti-racism activists – namely, reparations for slavery, colonialism, apartheid and neocolonialism, and a more profound censure of Zionist neo-apartheid oppression of Palestinians – failed to move the UN meeting, or even gain the host’s support. Neither South African President Mbeki nor UN Secretary General Kofi Annan deigned to meet the more than 10,000 demonstrators (led by internationalist poet Dennis Brutus and the first official Mandela biographer, Fatima Meer) who marched to within a few meters of the Durban International Convention Centre entrance on 31 August 2001. Los Angeles community leader Eric Mann remarked on the “leverage and impact of the march, but also the bitterness of the exchanges between its leaders and the South African government” in part because of “the Durban Social Forum coalition’s critique of neoliberalism, in particular, the privatization of public services such as water, and its support for the demands of the landless movement.”12

On subsequent days, the streets came alive with campaigns for reparations and Palestinian liberation, supported with great vigor by groups as diverse as Jubilee South affiliates, South Africa’s large Muslim community and thousands of international anti-racism activists. The NGO parallel summit also generated a progressive resolution, and when it was rejected by UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, she was booed as she left the hall. All of this increased pressure on the official delegates who issued vaguely progressive sentiments inside the WCAR, which in turn led to the US and Israeli governments storming out. But WCAR rejected the demand from NGOs and some African state leaders that payment be made by the North to compensate for centuries of colonial plunder, whose effects continue contributing to vastly imbalanced economies, societies and international power relations. The EU’s chief negotiator, Belgian foreign minister Louis Michel, justified his own country’s history in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at a press conference: “Colonialism could not be considered a crime against humanity, for at the time it was a sign of economical good health.”13 Mbeki and his foreign minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, refused to support reparations activists, saying merely that more donor aid was needed.14

Frustrated by the failure of the WCAR to advance their agenda, leaders of Jubilee South Africa, the Khulumani apartheid-victims group and other faith-based activists turned to the US and Swiss courts. Civil cases for billions of dollars in damages were filed on behalf of apartheid victims against large multinational corporations which made profits from South African investments and loans.15 The Bush regime and corporate lobbies pleaded with US courts to nullify an interpretation of the Alien Tort Claims Act that made apartheid-reparations suits possible.16 In April 2003, in the wake of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s final Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report which recommended a reparations payment by businesses which benefited from apartheid, Mbeki announced that it was “completely unacceptable that matters that are central to the future of our country should be adjudicated in foreign courts which bear no responsibility for the well-being of our country.” Further efforts by the Reparations Task Force and Cape Town’s Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane prior to the lawsuits failed to generate even a civil discussion about the corporations’ profiteering from the apartheid crime against humanity.17 In July 2003, Mbeki and justice minister Penuell Maduna – later a lawyer for the same firms – went to even greater lengths to defend apartheid-era profits, arguing in a 9-page brief to a US court, that by “permitting the litigation,” the New York judge would discourage “much‑needed foreign investment and delay the achievement of the government’s goals. Indeed, the litigation could have a destabilizing effect on the South African economy….”18 As a friend of the court on behalf of the claimants (alongside Tutu), Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz replied that the comments by Mbeki and Maduna had “no basis.”19

Attacking the reparations movement appeared to be a critical priority for world elites, both because of the billions of dollars in apartheid profits under contestation and also because later, there arose a “climate debt” demand for reparations based on the Global North’s excess consumption of greenhouse gases (in 2009, the US State Department’s negotiator at the UN climate summit, Todd Stern, decisively rejected any “culpability or liability” for US climate debt to victims of extreme weather events, droughts, floods, rising sea levels and other damage). Recognizing the far-reaching implications of the Jubilee and Khulumani campaigns, in November 2002 Clinton-era US deputy treasury secretary Stuart Eizenstat, a supporter of reparations claims against pro-Nazi corporations, provided “talking points” to help capital fight the Alien Tort Claims Act. Eizenstat worried that if South African reparations activists “can galvanise public opinion and generate political support… they may achieve some success despite legal infirmities.”20 Working explicitly against the prospect of reparations activists winning public support, in August 2003, Africa’s richest man, Nicky Oppenheimer, renamed the Rhodes Building in Cape Town alongside Mandela, when opening a new foundation, “Mandela Rhodes.” Mandela used the occasion to attack the reparations lawsuits as “outside interference” and then remarked (without apparent irony), “I am sure that Cecil John Rhodes would have given his approval to this effort to make the South African economy of the early 21st century appropriate and fit for its time.”21 Quite.

A few weeks earlier the New Left Review had published an interview with Soweto community leader Trevor Ngwane, who did not mince words: “Without detracting from those twenty-seven years in jail – what that cost him, what he stood for – Mandela has been the real sell-out, the biggest betrayer of his people.”22 Ngwane referred not only to the deal with the International Monetary Fund in December 1993 that Kasrils also identified as seminal; there were at least a dozen other such instances, which included joining the World Trade Organization on disadvantageous terms, adopting World Bank policy advice to raise interest rates to record highs, repaying the foreign banks which financed apartheid, lifting the main exchange controls, cutting corporate taxes dramatically, privatising crucial state assets, adopting a home-grown structural adjustment policy, and in many other ways serving the interests of multinational corporations and local elites.23

On the other hand, the lasting memory of Mandela struggling for – and never compromising on – the ‘one person, one vote’ minimalist democratic demand will continue to inspire internationalist solidarity in coming decades. Civil society forces remained loyal in general, but on dozens of important policy debates took issue with Mandela’s government. Nevertheless, in the wake of his disappointing 1994-99 presidency, there were two other major opportunities to generate progressive global-scale pressure through Mandela’s prestige. One was in 2003, when Washington went to war in Iraq because, as Mandela put it, “All Bush wants is Iraqi oil.” In February of that year, Mandela said, “Bush, who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust. If there is a country which has committed unspeakable atrocities, it is the United States of America… They don’t care for human beings.”24 One year later, however, Mandela retracted this statement. When the Iraq War began in March 2003, South African activists protested strongly against both George W. Bush and the state’s Denel Corporation, which was selling arms to the Bush/Blair regimes for use in Iraq. To be sure, one section of the anti-war movement, with ANC, Cosatu, SA Communist Party and some church membership, did not raise or support the critique of Denel, and that was one reason for a split anti-war movement, with the left mobilizing much larger numbers of protesters in various demonstrations in 2003.

The second opportunity related to AIDS treatment, which Mandela endorsed after it had become an extremely important wedge issue between at least five million HIV+ South Africans and global capital (“Big Pharma”) and its allies in the World Trade Organization and US government. Still, that belated endorsement was extremely important in hastening the delegitimization of Mbeki’s AIDS-denialist stance. There are many explanations for his posture, which has been held responsible by Harvard Public Health School researchers for more than 330,000 unnecessary deaths. They include Mbeki’s apparent fear of – or fibbery about – an alleged CIA plot on behalf of Big Pharma.25 Regardless of motives, Mbeki’s move postponed generalized access to AIDS medicines, which was the goal of Big Pharma since those in Africa needing treatment couldn’t afford to pay the huge monopolity-prices for it. It was only the combination of internal and external pressure against extraordinary odds that overwhelmed the AIDS activists’ opponents.

Another example of vibrant internationalist sentiment is the rise of global grassroots environmentalism. A year after the first big protest against the United Nations at the Durban WCAR, the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (“Rio+10”) was held in Johannesburg. It quickly became another site of struggle, mainly against “neoliberalized nature.” On 31 August 2002, 30,000 demonstrators, including many thousands visiting from abroad, marched 12 kilometers from an impoverished township to the main convention center, decrying the UN’s capitulation to corporations.26 Environmental campaigning with global linkages had begun in South Africa during the 1990s, because the post-apartheid government’s ecological stewardship proved even worse than apartheid’s. In nearly every category of threats to ecology – natural and social – this abysmal record is well documented by the government’s own statistics.27 Some of the internationalist networks that emerged to fight state and capital focused specifically upon hazardous chemicals (Thor mercury), occupational safety and health (especially asbestosis), nuclear energy, incineration, timber plantations and the petroleum industry. In Durban, by the mid-2000s, some of the strongest civil society linkages and solidarity relations were being forged by communities struggling with oil (South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and groundWork, e.g. with Nigerian and Ecuadoran anti-petroleum activists) and other toxins, and fighting carbon trading (Durban Group for Climate Justice). Two South Durban activists won the coveted Goldman Environmental Prize (Bobby Peek in 1998 and Desmond D’Sa in 2014), as did an anti-fracking campaigner (Jonathan Deal from Treasure the Karoo Action Group in 2013).

In one of the most impressive solidaristic cases of environmental and social justice, the group Abahlali baseMjondolo (“movement of shackdwellers,” with many thousands of followers, mostly in Durban) won repeated international support – including demonstrations at South African diplomatic missions abroad – when their marches and protests were regularly banned or repressed, their shacks forcibly removed, or their activists murdered. Many of the grievances related to a degraded home environment where water, sanitation and electricity were lacking.28

After some minor victories, however, this activism faded, as did many of the major urban social movements from the early 2000s.29 Then in 2014, the Abahlali project appeared to be distracted from a liberatory politics when the organization endorsed the electoral campaign of the white-dominated, neoliberal opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). As Abahlali’s president S’bu Zikode put it, “This decision is not one that is based on ideology. Poor people do not eat ideology, nor do they live in houses that are made out of ideology.”30 Since the DA would not have influence over housing in Durban, the reasons for this apparently emanated from Abahlali’s concern for their community leaders’ security, in the wake of a series of attacks on the movement, and their desire for political support.31 Although there are very intense debates about what kind of international solidarity has been generated in this case, with one Durban critic of social movements charging romanticization of Abahlali to the extent even of “censorship” of local strategic disputes (by a Harvard journal, allegedly engineered by a well-known progressive anthropologist),32 the innovative impact of Abahlali’s networking cannot be disputed. Abahlali at its peak gained the solidarity of an extraordinary mix of middle-class social-movement aficionados and academics33 on the one hand, with working-class “Right to the City” activists in several major urban centers on the other. Bridging such divides, the award-winning film Dear Mandela brought the movement’s 2005-12 accomplishments to much wider audiences.34

Other revealing moments showed how the spirit of solidarity could wax, wane and wander, especially when ideological processes became confusing. The Landless People’s Movement (LPM), for example, received exceptional solidaristic support from the global peasant-support network Via Campesina (VC) during the early 2000s, because, as Peter Rosset reported in 2005, VC’s technical staff felt that, “There are situations with young, inexperienced organizations in the VC, like the case of the LPM in South Africa, and others. Can the VC play some sort of mentoring and training role? If we don’t, it is likely that such organizations will be captured by donors or NGOs.” The then lead LPM organizer, Mangaliso Kubheka, listed the merits of internationalism, specifically citing VC activists who came from Brazil’s Movement of Landless Workers:

We cannot trust the government, the NGOs, or the donors not to have their own agendas. Through the VC we have been exposed to other social movements, and we have learned a lot about how to fight for our rights. We have also learned about what to do with land once you have it. We have received a lot of encouragement from the VC, encouragement in the fight for land and for food sovereignty… The international VC who were there helped a lot in mediating our internal problems. Also at the World Summit on Sustainable Development [in August 2002], the VC gave us courage, and encouraged us to do our march even though the government was threatening us. It was critical that the government see that the LPM had international support. It is crucial that we have international partners, because the South African government is terrified of being exposed if they do something bad. For example, they fear international solidarity actions when they arrest LPM leaders… We desperately need more visits to the LPM by international leaders of the VC. This has two purposes: one is to show a public face of international support for the LPM, and the other to give us advice on internal organizational issues.35

This was all true, yet no amount of advice and solidarity could halt the LPM’s ideological and institutional collapse, partly because of institutional shortcomings (including the classical problem of rural patriarchy), partly because of adverse relations with land-reform NGOs, and partly because of state repression and divide-and-conquer politics which peaked in 2002. According to Berkeley-based scholar activist Zach Levinson, as recently as 2010, ideological degeneration and hype were also factors.36

Within South Africa, solidarity links to three other liberation campaigns were also fraught with ideological contradictions between a predatory post-apartheid state and progressive civil society: Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Palestine. The latter advanced furthest and fastest, in part because it suited the ANC to remind its constituents of the long struggle for freedom it shared with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. However, while through 2013, Pretoria led the world on enforced labelling of products from the illegally-Occupied West Bank territories, hence discouraging their consumption through moral suasion, there continued a great many diplomatic and economic relationships with the Israeli regime that the local BDS movement insisted be broken, to no avail.37 One example was the regular appearance of Israeli ships in the Durban harbor – though once in early 2009, just after 1400 Gazans were killed by Israeli forces in a single month, the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) refused to unload a ship in protest (instead, scabs did the job that day, and sadly, the much-applauded Satawu action was not repeated). The strengths of BDS against Israel included two university showdowns in which local activists defeated Zionist pressure.38

The Zimbabwe and Swazi democracy movements received periodic boosts from supporters (including Cosatu) in the main South African cities. But the two movements’ own lack of internal coherence – e.g. failure to specify their desire for symbolic, smart or serious financial sanctions, or border blockades – represented a missed opportunity as their struggles for justice ebbed and flowed. There were two suggestive processes from the South African labor movement. First, Cosatu periodically blockaded the SA-Swazi border post, though this never proceeded beyond an occasional irritation, and the ties between Pretoria and Swaziland’s King Mswati remained tight (even personal in Zuma’s case, for his notorious nephew Khulubuse married one of Mswati’s daughters in 2013).39 Second, recall the inspiring refusal by Satawu (and then Mozambican, Namibian and even Angolan) workers to unload bullets and weapons from a Chinese frigate destined for Robert Mugabe’s repressive armed forces at a critical juncture during the 2008 national election.40

These examples notwithstanding, South African labor internationalism was uneven. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, some sections of Cosatu – especially textile workers whose leadership often adopted a corporatist approach to unionism – also mistakenly endorsed the failed, protectionist “Social Clause” concept within the framework of World Trade Organization reform.41 They were also prone to occasionally issue myopic global governance proposals that coincided with processes in the International Labour Organization. Generally, however, Cosatu maintained a progressive internationalist approach, finding common cause with oppressed peoples, and along with the SA Community Party regularly offered strong moral support to the Cuban, Bolivian and Venezuelan governments. The overall problem for Cosatu remained its alliance with the ANC government, as shown in a 2007 conference on internationalism in which state officials postured about progressive foreign policy initiatives, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. By late 2013, the alliance appeared to suffer what might become a fatal stress, insofar as the largest trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), whose 340,000 members numbered roughly a quarter of Cosatu, refused to endorse the ANC because of its persistent neoliberalism and corruption. Numsa’s internationalism was one of its greatest strengths.42

These are just examples – not a comprehensive list – of how, dating to the end of formal apartheid, “foreign policy bottom-up” was established by progressive South Africans under difficult conditions, in which “talk left walk right” rhetoric from the ANC often distracts attention. But difficult class politics require mediation. For example, one class vector that unites many of the cases above is the middle-class basis for many of the initial appeals to internationalist solidarity, as staff in NGOs (and to some extent universities) fired up the internet ether to make connections that, in turn, related many of the base movements to each other in sectoral gatherings. This was most visible, from 2001 and nearly every year thereafter, at the World Social Forum, a venue which itself came under increasing critique because of its middle-class orientation. But precisely that power and capacity require serious scrutiny so that they are not misused. And in terms of barriers to progressive solidarity, a second class-contradiction represented one of the most unfortunate tendencies within the South African working class: its penchant for xenophobic responses to socio-economic challenges.

Defeating – or defeated by? – working-class xenophobia

In May 2008, it was evident that South Africa’s prolific community and labor protests could as easily be directed against fellow residents and workers – especially if they hailed from outside South Africa – as against the deeper-rooted sources of problems such as unemployment, housing shortages and excessive (often cut-throat) internecine commercial competition within the townships. Along with rising domestic violence and the AIDS pandemic, the xenophobia wave was perhaps the most obvious manifestation of a tearing social fabric. As in Zimbabwe during its 1990s period of failing neoliberal economic management, South African nationalists, especially the black upper- and middle-class, are ascendant.43

There remain deep economic problems rooted in the apartheid-era economy, such as the migrant labor system.44 Because of the liberalization of both trade and finance, and especially because of the decision by the Mandela and Mbeki governments to allow the largest corporations to delist their Johannesburg Stock Exchange financial headquarters in favor of London, the current account deficit grew to a dangerously high level by May 2008 (-9 percent), compared to the ability of the economy to generate foreign exchange. Interest rates were raised more than 10 percent as a neoliberal defence mechanism. In the process, much more foreign debt was taken on, and employers had greater recourse to hiring cheaper immigrant workers. Although overall corporate profits were up more than 7 percent against worker wages – the wage share fell from 56 to 49 percent – since the low-point of the late 1980s, a decisive problem remained for those anticipating a labor-intensive growth trajectory: manufacturing profits had fallen dramatically since the early 1980s in relation to financial and speculative profits. South Africa’s export advantages remained in a few areas difficult to maintain, such as auto components, coal, and base metals (the latter required vast electricity subsidies to aluminium smelters). Low fixed investment rates persisted, especially by private sector investors, in part because of excess idle capacity in existing plant and equipment. That mainly explained the very low level of Foreign Direct Investment, contrasting with dangerously high inflows of liquid portfolio capital attracted by South Africa’s high real interest rate. The repeated currency crashes passed along high price inflation in petroleum and food, generating yet more social unrest.

This economic context set the stage for the nightmare that played out in May-June 2008, when repeated upsurges of xenophobia over several weeks caused at least 64 deaths (mostly of immigrants) and the displacement of at least 70,000 people, mainly in the metropolitan areas of Johannesburg and Cape Town. The state’s failure to assess the threat to immigrants has been the subject of extensive discussion. When these tendencies in the society were formally drawn to Mbeki’s attention in the December 2007 African Peer Review Mechanism report – “xenophobia against other Africans is currently on the rise and must be nipped in the bud” – Mbeki replied that this was “simply not true”.45 But not only had there been multiple reports in prior months about the murders of shopkeepers from Somalia in Western and Eastern Cape townships, as well as police brutality and abuse at the Lindela repatriation centre outsourced by Home Affairs. In addition, a 2006 FutureFact survey asked South Africans if they agreed with this statement: “Most of the problems in South Africa are caused by illegal immigrants or foreigners.” The depressing results:

67 percent agreed, a substantial increase on a few years ago, when the figure was 47 percent. And it is reflected among all population sectors of the country. FutureFact also put this statement to respondents: “Immigrants are a threat to jobs for South Africans and should not be allowed into South Africa” – with which 69 percent agreed.46

When the violence began in mid-May 2008, the immediate reaction from the state, academics and NGOs was the call for more civic “education,” usually about human rights, the plight of refugees, or the role that neighbouring societies played in hosting South African exiles during apartheid. However, beyond platitudes, civic education would not be sufficient to address genuine grievances, as the government’s Human Sciences Research Council found:

South African citizens literally feel “besieged” by a range of socio-economic challenges. This feeling is particularly acute for men of working age who are struggling to find employment or make a living and feel most directly threatened by the migration of large numbers of “working men” from other parts of the continent.47

There are various ways in which the structural tensions translate into violence against immigrants:

— lack of jobs, as formal sector employment dropped by a million after 1994, and declining wage levels as a result of immigrant willingness to work for low pay on a casualized basis;
— immigrant tenacity in finding informal economic opportunities even when these are illegal, such as street trading of fruits, vegetables, cigarettes, toys and other small commodities;
— housing pressures whereby immigrants drive up rentals of a multi-occupant dwelling unit beyond the ability of locals to afford;
— surname identity theft (including fake marriages to South Africans who only learn much later); and
— increases in local crime blamed on immigrants.

Behind some of this tension is the recent expansion of the migrant labor system. In 1994, the choice was made not to rid South Africa’s economy of migrancy, which could have been accomplished by improving wages, maintaining much higher employment, turning single-sex migrant hostels into decent family homes, and compelling the extension of formal employment benefits (health insurance, housing, pensions) to black workers and their families, as is the case with higher-income white workers. Today, hostels remain but with the rise in unemployment, the buildings are often full of unemployed men, and these were the source of many xenophobic attacks.

Although South Africa’s racially-defined geographical areas formerly known as Bantustans have disappeared, the economic logic of drawing inexpensive labor from distant sites is even more extreme now that it no longer is stigmatized by apartheid connotations. Instead of hailing mainly from within South Africa, the most desperate migrant workers in the major cities are often from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, countries partially deindustrialized by South African business expansion since 1994. Others are refugees from the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where South African and other multinational corporations actively colluded with war lords to generate illicit precious-metals and mineral outflows, at the expense of several million deaths.

Additional structural factors in the regional labor market – especially sites where immigrant workers predominate – also contribute to stress in everyday life: the HIV/AIDS pandemic (especially along trucking routes); the prevalence of child labor; ongoing farm labor-tenant exploitation; low skill levels and inadequate training; rising privatization pressures and controversies over other public sector restructuring measures; sweatshop conditions in many factories; and a new two-tier wage system aiming to fragment South Africa’s already highly-flexible labor market. Contrary to popular belief, even the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the IMF consider South African workers to be the fourth least protected (in terms of job security) in the industrial world, after those in the US, Canada and Britain.48 In one frank admission of self-interest regarding immigrant workers, First National Bank chief economist Cees Bruggemann told Business Report, “They keep the cost of labor down… Their income gets spent here because they do not send the money back to their countries.”49 If many immigrants don’t send back remittances (because their wages are low and the cost of living has soared), that in turn reminds us of how apartheid drew cheap labor from Bantustans: for many years women were coerced into supplying unpaid services – child-rearing, healthcare and eldercare for retirees – so as to reproduce fit male workers for the mines, factories and plantations.

And in turn, the need for civil society to think beyond the immediate grievances and find international solidaristic relationships remains. On 24 May 2008, Johannesburg civil society mobilized several thousand people – local supporters and immigrants alike – to march through Hillbrow in solidarity with immigrants. Various other initiatives in townships across South Africa showed that communities could welcome immigrants back, and live in harmony. The provision of resources by churches, NGOs and concerned citizens was impressive, even while the state backtracked from responsibilities, and in some cases including Durban, actively oppressed fearful immigrants who remained homeless and unable to return to communities.

The state’s role often flagrantly contributed to the problems. As just one example, in June 2012, a riot at the main immigrant detention center west of Johannesburg, Lindela (privatized to a notorious corporation, Bosasa, a company created by the ANC Women’s League), revealed how the South African Department of Home Affairs held people “at the centre for longer than the 120 days stipulated in the Immigration Act. The conditions under which refugees at the centre on Gauteng’s West Rand are held have been a cause of concern for NGOs and refugee organizations for several years.”50 In 2006, Boassa (the firm running Lindela) had been condemned by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee for its annual $7.5 million “rip off” profit, as well as for deaths in detention, but was nevertheless reappointed. Bosasa guards “treat us like animals,” according to refugee complaints, and several respected NGOs – Lawyers for Human Rights, Section 27, Passop and Médecins sans Frontières – repeatedly complained about lack of healthcare at Lindela and Cape Town’s Maitland Refugee Centre. But when asked to address the grievances, two Home Affairs spokespeople “said they were too busy to attend to the query because they were writing a speech for the minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.”51

At that very moment, Dlamini-Zuma was campaigning across Africa to become the African Union Commission chairperson, attempting to unseat the Francophone incumbent Jean Ping of Mali. There were widespread allegations not only that her candidacy was ironic in view of Home Affairs xenophobia, but that South Africa was practicing subimperial ambitions in an underhanded way, drawing complaints from countries which normally would not have supported a candidate from one of the four most powerful African countries (Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa) to be the African Union commission leader, as a matter of retaining regional balances. To overcome the opposition, according to the leading South African newspaper, at that very time, “Pretoria stands accused of buying support for its candidate for African Union commission chief.”52

Conclusion: The next socialist internationalism

A much more robust socialist-internationalist ideology is a necessary though insufficient condition for overcoming the kinds of debilitating limitations described here. In what was surely its greatest accomplishment, the 1864 IWA established a clear sense of genuine debates within the world’s organized working class, even if after 1868 the classical differences between socialists (Marx) and anarcho-syndicalists (Bakunin) drove an ideological wedge through the movement. At least the contending political standpoints were set out in a clear manner; in future internationals, these were honed into statements of socialism that reflected the balance of forces of their day: “Workers of the world unite!” in the First International; reformist parliamentary social democracy and labor party formation during the Second International (1889-1916); the Comintern Third International (1919-43) centered on the Soviet Union’s national interests and early versions of Third World nationalism (“Workers and oppressed peoples of the world unite!”); and the Trotskyist Fourth International (1938-63) which was all too purist and sectarian. A Fifth International was promised by Hugo Chavez in 2007, but there appears no prospect of that project’s revival following his 2013 death.53 All fell short of creating a broader left-internationalist politics in their time, partly because of the organizational and intellectual cultures they had forged. But for all their faults, the foundational principles, analyses and practices of the Internationals were doubtless global in vision and socialist.

In contrast, Frantz Fanon lamented in 1961, “For my part, the deeper I enter into the culture and political circles the surer I am that the great danger that threatens Africa is the absence of ideology.”54 The same can be said of many failures of the left in post-1994 South Africa. So to conclude, in a period since the 1960s in which the New Left introduced a permanent concern for gender, race, nation, different-abledness and the natural environment, what are the more optimistic assessments we can provide from South Africa? Is there a near-term future which features the ideological maturity and richer class analysis and practice required to overcome xenophobia and build bridges across borders? Four final examples illustrate the terrain, the more hopeful prospects, the daunting challenges, and at least some of the dangers ahead as we seek a new socialist internationalism: campaigns for free AIDS medicines and against water privatization which have been successful, and for climate justice and international financial sanity which have not been yet, but must be in future, as well as modes of solidarity we need to generate, and bad habits of North-to-South scholar-to-activist condescension (and worse) to avoid.

First, the 1999-2004 solidarity among health activists won by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) was an extraordinary accomplishment, representing the most favorable internationalist politics since apartheid’s demise. When TAC began its work in late 1998, an annual course of anti-retrovirals (ARVs) cost $15,000, restricting access to a tiny minority. Pretoria’s 1997 Medicines Act provided for compulsory licensing of patented drugs, but that law was immediately confronted by the US State Department’s “full court press” (the formal description to the US Congress), in large part to protect intellectual property rights generally, and specifically to prevent the emergence of a parallel inexpensive supply of AIDS medicines that would undermine lucrative Western markets.55 US Vice President Al Gore directly pressured Mandela and Mbeki in 1998-99, demanding they revoke the law. But in July 1999, Gore launched his 2000 presidential election bid, a campaign generously funded by big pharmaceutical corporations (which in a prior election cycle provided $2.3 million to the Democratic Party) and so TAC’s allies in the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACTUP) began to protest at Gore’s early campaign events. The demonstrations ultimately threatened to cost Gore far more in adverse publicity than he was raising in Big Pharma contributions, so after two months of persistent ACTUP protest, he changed sides and withdrew his opposition to the Medicines Act, as did Bill Clinton a few weeks later at the World Trade Organization’s Seattle Summit. Big Pharma did not give up, and filed a 1999 lawsuit against the constitutionality of the Medicines Act, counterproductively entitled “Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association v. Nelson Mandela” (which even Wall Street Journal editorialists found offensive). By April 2001, additional protests by Médecins sans Frontières, Oxfam and other TAC solidarity groups at Big Pharma member offices in the world’s major cities compelled the withdrawal of the lawsuit. By late 2001, the Doha Agenda of the WTO adopted explicit language permitting overriding of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights for medical emergencies. As a result, once Mbeki’s position was defeated by TAC within internal ANC political processes two years later, local generic medicines manufacturers lowered costs substantially through voluntary licensing of the major AIDS drugs. By 2013 more than two million people were receiving AIDS medicines for free at public clinics, and South Africa’s life expectancy soared to 61 from a low of 52 in 2004. However, the narrowness of the solidarity and the campaign’s strategy must also be remarked upon, for the main criticism levelled against TAC during this period was that in order to achieve these objectives, it had to continually revert back to a modus operandi “within the box” of a single issue, never daring to connect-the-dots to areas that would have been logical as accompanying campaigns, such as demanding free electricity (to rid homes of dirty energy like paraffin, coal and wood) or free water. Without clean energy and water, the spread of respiratory and water-borne diseases take millions of patients quickly from HIV+ to full-blown AIDS.56

Second, water is indeed a useful lens to view movement-society relations, because another international campaign involved South Africans at the very height of world concern about household water privatization. In Johannesburg, one of the world’s highest-profile “water wars” commenced in early 2000, at precisely the same moment the “Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life” in Cochabamba, Bolivia overturned a privatization project of the World Bank and Bechtel Corporation. Leaders of both movements – Oscar Olivera and Trevor Ngwane – met at the World Bank protest in April 2000 to compare notes on analysis, strategies, tactics and alliances; after high-profile roles in that demonstration, both then featured in well-circulated films about their struggles.57 In July 2000 at the University of the Witwatersrand Urban Futures Conference, the Johannesburg region’s Anti-Privatization Forum burst onto the scene, with its core support from Soweto, and adopted an explicitly socialist program. In the process, South Africans like Ngwane helped to turn the world water wars into ongoing tribunals against commodification, and then into debates about whether human rights narratives should be adopted internationally. While there are certainly arguments in favor of deploying “rights talk,”58 in the case of Mazibuko versus Johannesburg Water, South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled in October 2009 against Soweto plaintiffs organized by Ngwane, and in favor of the neoliberal policies imposed by French water privatizer Suez when it managed Johannesburg Water from 2001-05. Although Suez was compelled to leave Johannesburg before it applied for a 25-year extension on its contract, the damage was done: water was supplied via pre-payment meters and in much lower quantities than the minimal needed (the ANC’s 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme promised at least 50 liters per person per day). In Mazibuko, activists used every argument on behalf of greater water provision, but although the first two judgements in the High Court and Supreme Court backed the Sowetans, the final court judgment confirmed Johannesburg’s policies, illustrating the danger of appealing to rights. After losing, many activists reverted to their preferred method of water access: illegal reconnections of the water pipes after state disconnection, following the logic of a popular slogan of the time: Destroy the meter, enjoy free water.59

The reason the water case is important in solidarity terms is that it set out the limited parameters of both local constitutionalism and liberal internationalism. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserted in 1948 that all individuals have certain basic entitlements to political, social, or economic goods, including even employment. These were generally ignored, but against the background of commodified water policies spreading across the world, a new global movement arose after 2000 asserting that water is essential to human life. After the Cochabamba, Soweto and similar struggles, social conflict surrounding water began to be framed in terms of the right to water. In a sense, the success of the Third International – even after it faded towards the end of World War II – was in establishing a pole against which liberal internationalism had to stand. The UN General Assembly’s July 2010 reassertion of “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights” was probably the high point, and in 2012 at the Rio+20 UN environment summit, further backsliding occurred, led by the United States and its allies.60 What can be learned from the South African cases is that evoking socio-economic entitlements can, in some circumstances, provide activists with the moral standing required to combat large systems of power, especially national states. Defensive and occasional offensive victories can be won. But at the same time, the rights narrative takes activists out of their normal habitat of social mobilization, and into what can become a counterproductive space. Rights talk, according to critics, tends to:

— promote individualist strategies based on private/familial scales instead of public/political processes;
— be consumption-oriented, without linkages to production and ecology;
— be “framed not to resist but to legitimise neoliberalism” (as Daria Roithmayr argues);
— leave in place society’s class structure, which “bleeds off any real move to dismantle these processes through redistribution and reparations” (Roithmayr);
— adopt a technicist discourse which alienates the mass base and society in general;
— make mass-based organisations the “client,” and one that is increasingly “domesticated” (according to Tshepo Madlingozi), with some activists even told to halt protests during litigation so as not to anger judges;
— be “watered down” in South Africa, made less potent thanks to Constitutional clauses of “progressive realisation,” “reasonable” measures, “within available resources”;
— lead activists up legal alleyways that distract them from a more transformative route to politics;
— be self-defeating because simply for class reasons, judges are among society’s most conservative elites; and
— never satisfyingly deliver the goods – not when the overall objective of the ruling elite is often to create scarcity.61

There is a different approach: an eco-socialist narrative, for example, of “the Commons.” The difference is not merely that water is demanded as an individualized consumption norm in one (rights) and is “shared” in the other (commons). Other contrasts between the political cultures of rights and of commons are explicitly analysed by Karen Bakker, who insists rights advocates suffer a “widespread failure to adequately distinguish between different elements of neoliberal reform processes, an analytical sloppiness that diminishes our ability to correctly characterize the aims and trajectories of neoliberal projects of resource management reform.”62 Rights narratives also artificially split political economy from political ecology, because the social and natural interrelationships of a struggle tend to be fragmented. It is here, again, that the critical ideological conflicts between liberal internationalism (the budding world human rights regime) and socialist internationalism are playing out, just as did earlier dialectics in the IWA.

The third case in which South Africa serves us with solidaristic lessons is climate justice. While space does not permit a full evaluation of how eco-socialist currents have belatedly risen to contest a fossil-addicted energy system, and how Durban’s December 2011 hosting of the UN Conference of the Parties 17 revealed market failures, state failures and civil society failures, these are predictable enough. The balance of forces never improved much, after the Durban Group for Climate Justice emerged in October 2004 based on solidarity between activists and allied researchers across the world fighting carbon trading – the bankers’ strategy to commodify the air and sell the right to pollute.63 Still, along the way the largest World Bank loan ever – $3.75 billion for the largest coal-fired power plant under construction anywhere on earth, Eskom’s Medupi station (whose greenhouse gases exceed the national totals of 115 individual countries) – was nearly foiled by an impressive solidarity campaign catalysed by groundWork, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, and Earthlife Africa in April 2010.64 A similar campaign began in late 2013 to impose financial sanctions on the carbon-intensive parastatal agency Transnet to derail its $25 billion port-petrochemical expansion, attracting the surprisingly positive attention of The Economist and Guardian once D’Sa won the Goldman Environmental Prize in April 2014.65 But international solidarity to move South Durban forward will necessarily move from the defensive to the offensive, with “transition town” assistance coming from climate justice activists to not only reverse the plans of state and capital, but ensure an alternative low-carbon and labor-intensive development strategy that meets the South Durban Basin’s basic needs for housing, services, transport and even urban agriculture.66

Fourth, the necessity of resisting climate change coincides precisely with the need to reboot the world financial system, since so many of the forces of capitalist crisis and financialization that generate “false solutions” within an ostensible “green economy” (e.g. bogus strategies like carbon trading) are also driving overconsumption and overproduction through overindebtedness.67 In reply, the leading force in South Africa in the wake of Jubilee South Africa’s early 2000s collapse is Numsa, which has established itself as one of the world’s greatest labor voices for renewable energy, and in addition has the country’s most advanced critique of free capital flows, with a strong record of advocacy for the reimposition of exchange controls.68 Only with a radically different scale of financial policy can the minimally sensible regulation of economics take place, as even John Maynard Keynes himself suggested in 1933: “Ideas, knowledge, science, hospitality, travel – these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible, and, above all, let finance be primarily national.”69

It is here that we see the South African post-apartheid left beginning to transcend the single-issue constraints of TAC and the rights-commons divide observable in the water sector, and ratchet up the pressure on climate politics and against internationalized finance. It is here that not only decommodification, but also deglobalization of capital must be considered vital to expanding access to basic needs like medicines and water, and in South Africa this has occurred thus far even though power relations were terribly adverse at first. They turned much more favorable because of the globalization of popular solidarity. Even if this formula was the opposite of the South African government’s typical stance – which leaned towards the globalization of capital and, with respect to globalized people, harsher immigration controls bordering on xenophobia, plus repression against visiting protesters at major events – there was continuity in people’s support for black South Africans facing threats to their lives, from the era of racial apartheid to the era of class apartheid.

To achieve this conception of a foreign-policy bottom up, requires balance between what Peter Waterman has described as the six versions of solidarity: “Identity, Substitution, Complementarity, Reciprocity, Affinity and Restitution. Each of these has its own part of the meaning of international solidarity; each is only part of the meaning, and by itself can only be a limited and impoverished understanding of such.”70 But the solidarity between the Global North and Global South that lies ahead should also take note of the many problems repeatedly encountered amongst solidaristic scholars and social movements in South Africa. These, in my view, boil down to ten “sins” that are often committed, and indeed that problems recorded in the pages above testify to:

gatekeeping (or worse, hijacking): in which a researcher takes ownership of a movement, its interpretation and even access;
substitutionism: replacing (not augmenting) the local understanding with the researcher’s understanding or vision;
ventriloquism: replacing local phrasing with a researcher’s own words (in press releases, articles, statements of demands, etc);
careerism through parasitism: exploiting information gained, without reporting back or turning benefits back to the base;
technicism or legalism: sometimes necessary to contest the enemy’s technicism, but sometimes incapable of comprehending realities, usually causing premature deradicalization;
divisiveness: favoring or profiling certain factions or individuals, often in a sectarian way;
hucksterism: romanticizing and overstating the importance of the movement/struggle;
score-settling: importing researchers’ petty internecine rivalries, and causing degeneracy in movement politics as ego-clashing replaces open, honest debate;
failure of analytical nerve: inability (often due to fear) to draw out the fully liberatory potentials of the movement and its struggles; and even
betrayal: turning against the movement, giving information to its enemies, or accepting the validity of unwarranted enemy arguments.

This, then, is simultaneously the most hopeful and sobering set of lessons from internationalism following apartheid. The challenge is for the next South African left to tackle. Undoubtedly the strongest component of South African democratic eco-socialism in the 2015-19 period, before the next general election, is the metalworker breakaway union as it attempts to forge solidarity with local community, social and environmental activists. To do so, the “United Front” that is being built must be at once sufficiently concrete to carry forward the “Movement Towards Socialism” declared by the metalworkers in late 2013 on the ground (in spite of long-standing class and political differences between workers and the mass of unemployed, not to mention women who suffer South Africa’s extreme versions of patriarchy) and sufficiently internationalist to generate the next round of solidarity with South African radicals. In the past, like Marx’s mates in the IWA, South Africans have taught the world an enormous amount about the potential for transformative power deployed from below. In the future, similar lessons beckon us all back to a form of socialist solidarity that is still very much work in progress here, and everywhere.


*This paper was presented to the Gyeongsang National University Institute for Social Science, supported by a grant from the National Research Foundation of Korea.

1. Pew Research, “Climate Change and Financial Instability Seen as Top Global Threats,” Washington, 13 June 2013,

2. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 2005).

3. Ronnie Kasrils, Armed and Dangerous (Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 4th Edn Foreword, 2013).

4. Rhadika Desai, “The Brics are building a challenge to western economic supremacy, The Guardian, 2 April 2013; Pepe Esposito, “Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa: BRICS go over the Wall,” Asia Times, 27 March 2013; Glen Ford, “Throwing BRICS at the US Empire,” Black Agenda Report, 28 March 2013

5. See, Patrick Bond, “Sub-imperialism as Lubricant of Neoliberalism: South African ‘deputy sheriff’ duty within Brics,” Third World Quarterly, 34:2, 2013, 251-270.

6. Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1968), Chapter 29.

7. Connie Fields, “Have you Heard from Johannesburg: The Bottom Line,” film; Patrick Bond, Elite Transition: From Apartheid to Neoliberalism in South Africa (London: Pluto Press, 3rd Edn, 2014); John Saul and Patrick Bond, South Africa – The Present as History (Oxford: James Currey, 2014).

8. Irvin Jim interview in Socialism & Democracy, “The Strength of Our Collective Voice: Views of Labor Leaders from around the World,” this issue.

9. World Economic Forum, Global Competitiveness Report 2013-14, September 2013,

10. Nathi Mthethwa, “Remarks by the Minister of Police at the release of the SA Police Services 2012/2013 National Crime Statistics,” Pretoria, September 2013,

11. Patrick Bond, “Marikana’s meaning for crisis management: An instance of South Africa’s Resource Curse,” in Ulrike Schuerkens (Ed), Global Management, Local Resistance (London: Routledge, 2014). For a gender solidarity perspective on Marikana and other anti-extractivist struggles in the Southern African region, see the Women in Mining project website:

12. Eric Mann, Dispatches from Durban (Los Angeles: Frontline Books, 2002), p.127.

13. Ben Cashdan, Globalization and Africa: Whose Side are We On?, video, Johannesburg, Seipone Productions (2002).

14. Business Day, 7 September 2001.

15. Patrick Bond, Talk Left, Walk Right (Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2006).

16. Business Day, 17 June 2003.

17. Financial Times, 19 May 2003.

18. Sunday Independent, 25 July 2003. Replying to this logic a month later, prize-winning Indian author Arundhati Roy told BBC radio, “In what ought to have been an international scandal, this same government officially asked the judge in a US court case to rule against forcing companies to pay reparations for the role they played during apartheid. Its reasoning was that reparations – in other words justice – will discourage foreign investment. So South Africa’s poorest must pay apartheid’s debts so that those who amassed profit by exploiting black people can profit more?” (BBC, 24 August 2003.)

19. Sunday Independent, 9 August 2003.

20. New African, July 2003.

21. Sowetan, 26 August 2003. In 2007, after an early court defeat that threw the case out, the plaintiffs’ appeal in the US courts was victorious, leading Mbeki to again back US corporations, claiming the judges implied “that US courts are better placed to judge the pace and degree of South Africa’s national reconciliation. I can’t understand why any South African would want to be brought under such judicial imperialism.” The answer was obvious: justice was not being done to apartheid’s victims at home. Even though the Alien Tort Claims Act came under repeated attack by corporations and conservative judges, the case continued in mid-2014; see Michael Osborne, “Apartheid lawsuit passes another hurdle,” Business Day, 5 May 2014.

22. Trevor Ngwane, “Sparks in the Township,” New Left Review, July-August (2003). Ngwane noted: “The ANC was granted formal, administrative power, while the wealth of the country was retained in the hands of the white capitalist elite, Oppenheimer and company. Mandela’s role was decisive in stabilizing the new dispensation; by all accounts, a daring gamble on the part of the bourgeoisie.”

23. These agents had paid sufficient tributes to Mandela that his wife Winnie claimed he had a $10 million asset base accumulated from 1990-96. See Jet, “Nelson and Winnie Mandela divorce,” 8 April 1996.

24. John Murphy, “Mandela slams Bush on Iraq,” CBS News, 3 February 2003,

25. According to the then editor of the Mail & Guardian newspaper in a report never rebutted, President Thabo Mbeki believes the CIA is part of a conspiracy to promote the view that HIV causes AIDS. Mbeki also thinks that the CIA is working covertly alongside the big US pharmaceutical manufacturers to undermine him because, by questioning the link between HIV and AIDS, he is thought to pose a risk to the profits of drug companies making anti-retroviral treatments. Mbeki fingered the CIA in his address to African National Congress MPs at a caucus meeting in Parliament. Howard Barrell, “Mbeki Fingers CIA in AIDS Conspiracy,” Mail&Guardian, 6 October 2000,

26. Bond, Talk Left Walk Right, Chapter Seven.

27. See Patrick Bond, Unsustainable South Africa (London: Merlin Press, 2002) and Politics of Climate Justice (Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2012).

28. See Ashwin Desai, We are the Poors (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002), described by Naomi Klein as “one of the best books yet on globalization and resistance.”

29. Patrick Bond, Ashwin Desai and Trevor Ngwane, “Uneven and combined Marxism within South Africa’s urban social movements,” in C.Barker, L.Cox, J.Krinsky and A.Nilsen (Eds), Marxism and Social Movements (London: Routledge, 2013), 233-255.

30. Sibusiso Tshabalala, “Why Abahlali endorsed the DA: S’bu Zikode speaks to GroundUp,GroundUp, 5 May 2014,

31. These included the June 2013 assassination of a high-profile Cato Manor Abahlali activist (Nkululeko Gwala), and the local ANC’s attack on Abahlali’s Kennedy Road settlement in September 2009. See Raymond Suttner, “The Abahlali/DA pact: difficult situations require difficult decisions,” Polity, 5 May 2014,

32. Heinrich Bohmke, “The social movement hustle” (2013),

33. See, e.g. Nigel Gibson, “Zabalaza, Unfinished Struggles against Apartheid: The Shackdwellers’ Movement in Durban,” Socialism and Democracy, 21:3 (2007), 60-96.

34. Christopher Nizza and Dara Kell, Dear Mandela (2012),

35. Peter Rosset, “Participatory Evaluation of La Via Campesina,” Center for the Study of the Americas, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas Mexico, 2005,

36. Zachary Levinson, “Social Movements in South Africa,” International Viewpoint, 5 September 2012,

37. See

38. Patrick Bond, “From Apartheid South Africa to Palestine”, Counterpunch, 13 October 2010, and Patrick Bond and Muhammed Desai, “The Academic Boycott of Israel,” 24 May 2012,

39. See, e.g. Cosatu Press Statements, “Swaziland border blockade,” 4 April 2006,

40. Nicole Fritz, “People Power: How Civil Society Blocked an Arms Shipment for Zimbabwe,” SA Institute for International Affairs, Occasional Paper 39, Governance and APRM Programme, Johannesburg (2009).

41. Patrick Bond, Against Global Apartheid (London: Zed Books, 2003).

42. See Irvin Jim interview, this issue; and Patrick Bond, “South Africa’s Resource Curses and Growing Social Resistance,” Monthly Review, 65, 11 (2014),

43. Gill Hart, “The Provocations of Neoliberalism: Contesting the Nation and Liberation after Apartheid”, Antipode, 40, 4 (2008). See also Gill Hart, Rethinking the South African Crisis (Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2013).

44. Baruti Amisi, Patrick Bond, Nokuthula Cele and Trevor Ngwane, “Xenophobia and Civil Society: Durban’s Structured Social Divisions,” Politikon, 38, 1 (2011).

45. SA Press Association , “Mbeki Critical of Crime Issues in APRM Report”, Pretoria, 6 December 2007.

46. Mail&Guardian online, “What we feel, warts and all”, 12 July 2008,

47. Human Sciences Research Council, “Citizenship, Violence and Xenophobia in South Africa: Perceptions from South African Communities,” Democracy and Governance Programme, Pretoria (2008). 

48. International Monetary Fund, “Article IV Statement: South Africa”, Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund (2010).

49. Lyse Comins, “African immigrants add value to local economy”, Business Report, 22 May 2008.

50. Chandre Prince, “Lindela ‘hell’ ignored: Home Affairs accused of turning blind eye to reports of abuse of refugees,” The Times, 8 June 2012.

51. Mckeed Kotlolo, Graeme Hosken and Philani Nombembe, “Riot puts spotlight on ‘violation’ of refugees: Home Affairs branded xenophobic,” The Times, 5 June 2012.

52. Sean Christie, “Vote lobbying lands SA in hot water,” Mail&Guardian, 1 June 2012.

53. Luis Bilbao, “Hugo Chavez, Internationalism and Revolution,” Links, 19 March 2013,

54. Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth,186.

55. Nicoli Nattrass, The Moral Economy of AIDS in South Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2004); Patrick Bond, “What is it to be radical, in neoliberal-nationalist South Africa?,” Review of Radical Political Economy, September (2011).

56. This changed only in 2008 with the xenophobia crisis when TAC’s Khayelitsha activism became multi-sectoral, and subsequently several TAC leaders branched out into new NGOs such as Section 27 and Ndifuna Ukwazi which had broader self-mandates.

57. Olivera’s struggle was portrayed in Blue Gold: World Water Wars; Even the Rain; and One Water. Ngwane starred in Two Trevors go to Washington.

58. The case in favor of “rights talk” was that it resonated with the Constitutional accomplishments of South Africa’s progressive forces, because winning what are typically regarded as the world’s most advanced socio-economic rights provisions in the 1996 document proved an important step in TAC’s campaign. Indeed, in July 2002 a Constitutional Court judgement forced the Mbeki regime to begin providing the mother-to-child HIV-prevention medicine Nevirapine. However all other Constitutional Court judgments on socio-economic rights before and after were either affirmative in a defensive way (e.g. striking down shack-clearance legislation in KwaZulu-Natal province) or negative for plaintiffs.

59. Mazibuko & Others v City of Johannesburg & Others, South African Constitutional Court 28, Johannesburg (2009); Patrick Bond, “Water rights, commons and advocacy narratives,” South African Journal of Human Rights, 29, 1, June (2013), 126-144.

60. Patrick Bond, “Values versus Prices at the Rio Earth Summit,” Links, 19 June 2012,

61. See, e.g., Daria Roithmayr, “Lessons From Mazibuko: Shifting From Rights to the Commons,” 3 Constitutional Court Review 317 (2010).

62. Karen Bakker, “The ‘Commons’ versus the ‘Commodity’’: Alter-Globalization, Anti-Privatization and the Human Right to Water in the Global South,” Antipode, 39, 3 (2007), 430-455.

63. I set these lessons out in Patrick Bond (Ed), Durban’s Climate Gamble: Trading Carbon, Betting the Earth (Pretoria: University of South Africa Press 2011), and Patrick Bond, “Durban’s Conference of Polluters, Market Failure and Critic Failure,” ephemera, 12, 1/2, March 2012,ís-conference-polluters-market-failure-and-critic-failure

64. Bond, Politics of Climate Justice, Chapter Six.

65. The Economist, “South African campaigner wins environmental prize,” 28 April 2014; John Vidal, “South Africa’s ‘cancer alley’ residents face new threat from port development,” The Guardian, 28 April 2014; SDCEA, “Port-petrochemical expansion threatens South Durban,” 2013,

66. Alternative Information and Development Centre, “Million Climate Jobs,”

67. Patrick Bond, “Global Economic Volatility and Slap-Dash Repairs to the International Financial Architecture,” in M. Vernengo, G. Epstein and T. Schlesinger (Eds), Banking, Monetary Policy and the Political Economy of Financial Regulation (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2014).

68. Patrick Bond and Azwell Banda, “South African Workers Tackle Neoliberalism,” Against the Current, November-December 2009, and Samantha Ashman and Nicolas Pons-Vignon, “Political Rupture in South Africa and the National Union of Metalworkers,” Global Research, February 2014,

69. John Maynard Keynes, “National Self-Sufficiency,” The Yale Review, 22, 4, 1933, 755-769.

70. Waterman explains: Identity is expressed by the slogan “Workers of the World Unite!”, implying one long-term general interest; Substitution is exemplified by development cooperation, or ‘standing in’ for the poor, exploited and powerless; Complementarity is the solidarity of “differential contribution” to a common interest or aim (which could be between workers, or North-South); Reciprocity is the exchange of similar quantities or qualities over time; Affinity suggests personal identity/friendship between, say, eco-feminists, socialists (of a particular hue), and even stamp-collectors; Restitution is recognition and compensation for past wrongs. See Peter Waterman, Globalisation, Social Movements and the New Internationalisms (London: Cassell, 1998), Chapter One.

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