Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Book Review: Liberation Movements in Power. Party and State in Southern Africa


By Takura Zhangazha*

Professor Roger Southall’s new book, Liberation Movements in Southern Africa, Party and State in Southern Africa with a specific focus on the African National Congress (ANC), the Zimbabwe African National Union and the South Western African Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) is both brave and has the potential for controversy.  All however based on succinct analysis of the subject matter(s).

The book  is an audacious read in the sense that the author brings to the fore the common characteristics of the three aforementioned national liberation movements (NLMs) and tentatively seeks to demonstrate how they are in hegemonic  decline, though at varying levels.

Because the question of NLMs in Southern Africa long duree in power is a longstanding one both in relation to academia and oppositional politics (sometimes read as liberalism), this particular book is a worthy read.
It adds to significantly to the broader debate around the impact of liberation struggle politics on post independence southern African states.

The initial common ground for analyzing these three specific movements of Southern Africa is given as the fact that they all evolved within the context of settler colonial capitalism or settler colonies which remained adamant in the face of the British and other empires giving way to majority black rule in other African colonies.

 In claiming so, the book also outlines the impact of this same said settler capitalism on the evolution of gradual industrialization and urbanization of components of the three countries as a key factor in the initial political characteristics of the NLMs.

 For many a Pan Africanist, this is would be a controversial political point were it not in large part, academically and historically more valid than deniable.

Our NLMs are in part, products of the political economies of their time of genesis. Hence the book outlines the fact that most of the initial and even current leaders of the NLMs analysed either met in the initial unions established by migrant workers or at South African universities such as Fort Hare.

 Furthermore Southall outlines the commonality of genesis seen in similarities over and about quarrels concerning what would come to be effected as the next phase of the struggle, namely, embarking on guerrilla warfare to attain independence.

There is great detail in the elaboration of the historical similarities of the NLMs in the three interlinked struggles (from tribalism, factionalism, assassinations, potential secessions and electoral manipulation). But perhaps what is more significant is the explanation of how, in the aftermath of becoming ruling parties, the NLMs continued, even if by default, to share common characteristics in the direction of decline.  

For example at national independence all three liberation movements shared a common characteristic of seeking what can be referred to as ‘racial bargains’ of embracing free market economics and accommodation with both colonial and global capital despite their radical Marxist rhetoric .

They have also all sought to further consolidate power with the expiry of transitional constitutional arrangements with most consolidating it to become almost undefeatable at what they have generally claimed to be democratic elections.

There is particular emphasis on Zanu Pf’s transgressions  which are presented as both a warning of how bad it can all become or alternatively potentially as a warning that the other two (ANC and SWAPO) must avoid that same route. 

Mention is made of the nature and quality of the opposition to the NLMs but this is done more in sympathy though correctly blaming the former’s weakness on the latter’s repressive or even hegemonic tendencies.
And this is the key departure point for the explanation of the decline of the NLMs. 

It is a succinct argument concerning the decline in their hegemonic character and how it is increasingly merely the politicization of the masses without the social and economic transformation. The NLMs have moved from Marxist to socialist through to Leninist National Democratic Revolution (NDR) rhetoric as cover for their evident continued embrace of neo-liberal socio-economic policies and political elite ‘primitive accumulation’.

Even in Zimbabwe’s case, as the author writes, where there have been claims of success with the land reform programme, the corporatist and neo-imperial nature of the state’s interaction with Chinese capital remains in tandem with a continued departure from the initial aspirations of liberation struggles. 

The rhetoric of indigenization and economic empowerment, to the author, is of limited import without the requisite skills, technology or foreign direct investment for implementation. All of which, in similar fashion to the immediate post independence periods, are not readily available in all of the three countries. What appears to be more readily available is an increasing culture of elite cronyism and corruption around the redistribution of resources that are indigenised.  

In the final analysis, Southall offers a way out, but not necessarily for the NLMs. He does so broadly, but again with sympathy to those forces he may consider more democratic. He advises that the model of the democratic developmental state that is currently being utilized by the ANC is corporatist and flawed. Simultaneously he also argues that the social democratic model is not suitable given its apparent embed status  with neo-liberalism in Europe. 

What might be better, according to Southall, is a social democratic developmental state. With all its attendant risks. Whatever model is utilized what is evident for the author is that NLMs are however in hegemonic decline, specifically as liberation struggle value driven popular organizations.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)