[ANALYSIS] +PDF: Hattingh & van der Walt, 2015, “The Kurdish Question: Nationhood or Autonomy,” in ‘Ndivhuwo’

Shawn Hattingh and Lucien van der Walt, 2015, “The Kurdish Question: Nationhood or Autonomy,” in Ndivhuwo: Journal for Intellectual Engagement, number 3, 2015, pp. 70-72.

Ndivhuwo is published by Mzwanele Mayekiso, former 1980s anti-apartheid activist and treason trialist from the “people’s power” movement, author of “Township Politics: Civic Struggles for a New South Africa” (Monthly Review Press, 1996) etc. More here.

pdflogosmallGet the article PDF here.

Text below.

The Kurdish Question: Nationhood or Autonomy
Shawn Hattingh and Lucien van der Waltkobane-solidarity

Taking a look at the existential crisis of the Kurdish in Turkey and elsewhere [this article looks at the limits and possibilities of national liberation struggle. It shows how the current Kurdish struggle in Rojava is assuming revolutionary features influenced partly by anarchism, and its inspiring fight against oppressive forces — including the extreme right ISIS movement. It also looks at some of the limits of what is taking place. In closing the article argues that the revolutionary outcomes in Rojava, as opposed to the limits and failures of much of the “Arab Spring,” shows that strong organisation and an emancipatory programme, based among ordinary people is essential — not vague demands for “democracy.”]

p. 70
The Kurds are a nationality concentrated in a territory that straddles four states: Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. For months Kurdish militia have been fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) in Kobane on the Syrian and Turkish borders and have been subjected to ongoing attacks by the Turkish state.

The Kobane (part of Rojava in Northern Syria) conflict is one episode in the longer struggle by the Kurdish national liberation struggle. It is also increasingly associated with a revolutionary reconstruction of society in the region of Rojava, influenced in some ways by anarchism, that is, the tradition of Bakunin and Kropotkin.

Indeed, left-wing ideas like anarchism, and, Marxism-Leninism, have a lengthy history among the Kurds, of which developments in Rojava are one part. National liberation struggles have historically taken many forms. Evidently, nationalism – the doctrine that the whole “nation” must unite across class divisions, to secure a nation-state that can express the “national” will – has played a key role. But nationalism is only one of a number of possible responses to national oppression, and it has only sometimes achieved dominance.

Systems generating national oppression, such as imperialism and colonialism, have, historically, evoked responses ranging from collaboration, to liberalism, to religious millenarianism, to radical right-wing currents, to left movements like Marxism and anarchism/ syndicalism. Conflating national liberation with nationalism misses this complexity, and the far more radical roads that have sometimes opened up.

This crucial distinction – between national liberation struggles, and nationalism – is essential to understanding the evolution of the Kurdish national liberation movement, and the challenges Read more of this post

[SPEECH] Lucien van der Walt, 1996, “What’s “Left”? Is There An Alternative To Capitalism Today?””

Lucien van der Walt, 1996, “What’s  “Left”? Is There an Alternative to Capitalism Today?,” talk given at a public meeting hosted by the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. 22 August 1996.

Comrades, the starting point of this talk today is that we need an alternative to capitalism. We need an alternative to capitalism.

Capitalism: A Disaster for the Majority of the World’s Population

Capitalism has repeatedly failed the majority of the world’s population. According to recent reports:

*358 billionaires have more assets than the combined incomes of countries home to 45% of the world’s people.
*the richest 20% of the world’s population gets 85% of the world’s income. 30 years ago, the richest 20% only got 70% of  the world’s income,

Capitalism has failed the majority of our people too:

*50,000 mainly White commercial farmers own nearly 99% of all private farming land in Africa
*5% of the population owns 88% of all personal wealth.
* 70% of the population lives below the breadline

This is what capitalism is all about — a profit system  in which the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. And capitalism is also the major cause of problems like racism. Capitalism in South Africa was and is built on the super- exploitation of the African working-class. As if this isn’t bad enough, Read more of this post

[SPEECH] Lucien van der Walt, 1998, “The Silent War on the Land against Black Workers”

Lucien van der Walt, 1998, “The Silent War on the Land against Black Workers,” talk given at a public meeting hosted by the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. 27 May 1998.

In recent months, the rural areas have come into focus in the media.

Farm killings

The bulk of media reporting has been focussed on high levels of rural crime­: according to some sources there have been 114 farm attacks in the last two months (The Citizen, 15 May 1998). These are attacks directed at farm-owners, as opposed to ordinary crimes in the rural areas affecting farm-workers.

Contrary to the picture presented in the media, where a real hype has been built around this issue, only a few of these attacks have involved murder: 6 people were killed in the over 30 attacks that took place in May 1998 (The Citizen, 20 May 1998).  However, other attacks have involved violence, and white farmers have responded by promising to form paramilitary organisations, private armies with helicopters, assault troops etc. to defend themselves.    Meanwhile, the post-apartheid government has done its best to reassure farmers, and has claimed to be solving up to 90% of farm attacks (The Citizen, 20 May 1998).

The state insists that the farm attacks are purely criminal, whereas a vocal section of the white farmers — obvious beneficiaries of apartheid, and a bloc still not reconciled to the “new South Africa” — claims there is some sort of coordinated armed struggle going on. Well, there is not any real evidence for this imagined bush war.

Crimes Against Workers

We do not, of course, support violent crime. But what we do oppose is the deeply skewed picture that the media is presenting, and that the organised white farmers have presented. In this picture, farm attacks mean attacks on white farmers, and rural crime is presented as farm attacks.

What the media has systematically ignored are equally criminal incidents like the ongoing mass evictions of black farm tenants and farm-workers, particularly in KwaZulu Natal and the Northern Province, as white farmers, fearing land reform, have undertaken. Using labour­-saving machinery, and making every effor Read more of this post

[DOCUMENT] Poster from 1996 general strike around labour law

Poster from the 1996 general strike called by COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) to try push the new Labour Relations Act (then Bill) in a more labour-friendly direction. A key point of contention was a clause allowing bosses the right to lock-out, which was being pushed by the old National Party (NP), the old apartheid party, then still in government as a junior partner in the post-apartheid state. The lock-out clause was never removed. I still remember the mass march in Johannesburg on 30 April 1996: the power of the working class, its rolling thunder, I was proud and awed to be there … The working class can change history.

PDF of the below is here

1996 protests Wits posters003

[DOCUMENT] South African Sociological Association condemns “Wits 2001” outsourcing

In 2000, I was part of a campaign against outsourcing and neo-liberalism at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). As part of the Concerned Academics Group, one of several structures I was active in, I lobbied for the South African Sociological Association (SASA) to issue a statement firmly condemning the “Wits 2001” programme. SASA agreed, and I was mandated to draft the following letter, and get it signed by then-SASA president, Professor Fred Hendricks, a progressive of great principle.

The South African Sociological Association
SASA c/o Sociology Department, Rand Afrikaans University, Kingsway Box 624, Auckland Park

Colin Bundy
Vice Chancellor and Principal
University of the Witwatersrand
Private Bag 3

Dear Professor Colin Bundy,

At its meeting on Friday 28 July 2000, the Council and the Executive of the South African Sociological Association (SASA) – the professional association of South African sociologists- noted with great concern the intention of the administration of the University of the Witwatersrand to obtain court interdicts against a range of student and labour organisations  (as well as named individuals) on campus.

These applications, which are being made through the Labour Court and the High Court, affect the
National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), the South African Students’ Congress (Sasco), the Student’s Representative Council (SRC), the PostGraduate Association (PGA) and fourteen individuals. The interdicts will restrain protestors from engaging in a very wide of activities deemed by the administration to compromise the normal functioning of the University, and range from restrictions on noise, to a ban on damage to property.

The interdicts follow in the wake of a sustained and remarkably peaceful campaign against the administration’s “Wits 2001” plan by a range of academic, labour and student organisations. At the centre of the conflict is Wits 2001’s support for outsourcing support service functions (which led over 600 retrenchments on the 30 June 2000), the commercialisation of student residences and catering, the defunding of the social sciences by reduced subsidisation from other faculties, and looming academic retrenchments.

Whilst recognising the need to maintain an environment conducive to academic work, and without necessarily endorsing every form of protest, SASA nonetheless believes that the interdicts, if obtained, will not only fail to resolve the conflict on the campus, but, indeed, considerably worsen matters as they stand.

The interdicts will immediately polarise the campus, and greatly increase the likelihood of serious disruptions of campus life when the administration tries to enforce the court orders. The use of court interdicts – and the police presence on campus and arrests that it implies – will have the effect of fundamentally destabilising campus life, radically deepening enmities and conflicts in the institution, whilst also irrevocably harming the image of the University as a site of debate, free speech and learning.

Court interdicts will greatly reduce the possibilities of an amicable resolution, through rational discussion, of disputes on campus. They will create a climate of intimidation and conflict fundamentally at odds with the social role and responsibility of the University as a site of learning and knowledge production. An extremely dangerous precedent is established by the resort to the armed forces of the government to resolve internal problems (and enforce internal disciplinary codes) in the institution.

When it is noted that the conflict at the University is, after all, centred on the social responsibilities of the institution -to its employees, to its students (particularly students from poor backgrounds), and to the scientific project (and, in particular, the defence of science against commercialisation)- a repressive response is totally unacceptable. Such a conflict cannot be resolved by the use of police; such a response cannot be seen as any way compatible with the role of the University and its commitment to academic freedom.

We therefore call on the University of the Witwatersrand to immediately withdraw its application for court interdicts against the named organisations and individuals.

We further call on the University to reopen discussions and negotiations in good faith with all affected University constituencies regarding the Wits 2001 restructuring plan.

We further draw the University’s attention to SASA’s resolution on the restructuring of tertiary education, as passed at our July 2000 congress at the University of the Western Cape (attached). In this resolution, SASA unequivocally commits itself to the defence of public higher education against such restructuring as leads to the exclusion of poorer students through rising student fees, the retrenchment of service and academic staff through outsourcing and defunding, as well as commits SASA to the defence of research and learning in general from commercialisation.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Fred Hendricks
Rhodes University
President of the South African Sociological Association


[ANALYSIS] +PDF: Lucien van der Walt, 2000, “Wits 2001: restructuring and retrenchments” in ‘South African Labour Bulletin’

Lucien van der Walt, 2000, “Wits 2001: Restructuring and Retrenchments,” South African Labour Bulletin, volume 24, number 2, p. 43.

pdflogosmallGet the PDF here. Text below.


The ongoing restructuring of state assets has its echo in the tertiary [education] sector, which employs about 60 000 people. The trend over the last five years has been for universities and technikons to: commercialise their operations; sub-contract out ‘non-core’ activities; and downsize workers and academics.

The latest university affected is the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits),where the university council decided, in February 2000, to outsource departments dealing with building care, catering, cleaning, grounds, maintenance, and transport. This has put over 600 jobs on the line. This is part of the ‘Wits 2001’ restructuring plan.

Downsizing education
Working conditions in the affected departments will plummet as outsourcing companies bring in non-unionised replacement workers on a low-wage, minimal-benefits basis. Wits management hopes to complete the process of turning secure public sector jobs into flexible cheap labour employment by June 2000. It aims to ‘save over R30-million in five years through outsourcing.

But the drive to outsource is also about changing the balance of forces in the university. Outsourcing is a direct threat to the militant local branch of NEHAWU, whose membership is most affected.

Wits 2001 also affects academics. Negotiations over academic retrenchments will follow in September.

The market university
Wits’ restructuring is often presented as a desperate attempt to restructure in the face of declining revenue due to falling state subsidies and declining student numbers.

But Wits 2001 is not just a cost-cutting exercise. It is also about: redefining the nature of tertiary education away from public education towards a market-driven university centred on profit generation; and an orientation towards serving the needs of business and government elites.

The victims are scores of working people and students from working class backgrounds.

Wits 2001 cannot be understood outside of the context of the ANC-led government’s neo-liberal GEAR strategy.

It pushes for ‘reductions in subsidisation’ for and ‘greater private sector involvement’ in higher education. (Wits’ income from government has fallen by 30% in the last five years.)

However, whether Wits 2001 will succeed in the face of determined opposition by organised labour and sections of the academics and students remains to be seen. *



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers

%d bloggers like this: