Lucien van der Walt: discussing crisis in COSATU’s SACCAWU union

Mail and Guardian here

Massive union on brink of collapse

20 Mar 2015 00:00 Sarah Evans

Saccawu is being sued for R30-million by its provident fund but has been given a last chance.
Savings grace: The provident fund of the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union, which represents some of the country’s most vulnerable workers, is under curatorship. (David Harrison, M&G)

One of trade union federation Cosatu’s biggest affiliates is one missed deadline away from being liquidated, potentially leaving 140 000 workers without a union, in a low-wage sector in which labour is regularly outsourced.

The South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (Saccawu) has one more chance to pay R30-million to its provident fund or face liquidation, and probable dissolution.

Although negotiations are continuing to prevent it, analysts have asked whether the development means Cosatu has “taken its eye off the ball”.

The union’s debt stems from allegations of the misappropriation of funds. Its provident fund, under curatorship since 2002, has sued the union for money allegedly siphoned off through an investment fund. But the union has denied the allegations.

The union missed its March?9 deadline to pay back the money or face liquidation. Apparently Cosatu’s top brass recently made a last-minute appeal to the provident fund’s curator, Tony Mostert, for another extension.

If the union is liquidated, it will have no control over its finances and its assets will be wound up. Mostert said liquidation would be a last resort because it would have dire consequences. He had given the union one more extension, “but if they default again, it’s game over”.

Retirement funds are safe
Cosatu also asked him to allow the union access to some of the money in its bank accounts to pay staffers’ salaries, which Mostert agreed to. But, he said, the provident fund was healthy, so the workers’ retirement funds and disability benefits would be safe if the union collapsed.

Lucien van der Walt, a professor of sociology at Rhodes University, said the potential collapse of the union would leave workers exposed in a sector in which casualised labour was prevalent and in which the organising of workers was particularly difficult.

Although there might be smaller unions in the sector, there was no other the size of Saccawu that could absorb workers on a national scale, he said.

“While the situation differs vastly from retailer to retailer, labour broking is cheaper for companies instead of having a big group of permanent workers,” Van der Walt said. “It also allows employers to outsource industrial relations.”

He said workers were often divided into smaller groups in the sector. For example, packers might be organised separately from cleaners in the same shop. Or waiters might be organised separately from kitchen staff in a restaurant.

A number of companies had maintained good relationships with Saccawu, but some large retailers had taken a hard line against unions over the past two decades, in what was already a low-wage sector. “Losing the single biggest union in the sector would leave workers especially exposed,” Van der Walt said.

Richard Pithouse, a politics lecturer at Rhodes University, said the crisis in Saccawu and other unions was indicative of a “serious, entrenched crisis in Cosatu from which there is no easy exit”.

‘Disaster for workers’
“It’s clear that when unions collapse that it’s a disaster for workers. As soon as workers are not organised, bosses will push back as far as they can, both in terms of outsourcing and in changing working conditions. A part of the crisis of Cosatu is that a lot of the union leadership has become distant from workers.”

Pithouse said part of the problem was the idea in the trade union movement that the South African Communist Party (SACP) was the vanguard of workers and would provide the intellectual muscle. But the SACP had become mainly concerned with supporting the ANC and President Jacob Zuma.

“There appears to be an attempt to contain workers, not to empower them. The logic of trade unions, which is to advance workers’ struggles, has been inverted.”

Saccawu is not the only embattled union in Cosatu. The Communication Workers’ Union was hit hard by the strike at the South African Post Office, which arose from divisions between casual and permanent workers, as illustrated by research conducted by Professor David Dickinson from the University of the Witwatersrand.

The Food and Allied Workers’ Union was also dealt a blow by the Constitutional Court in 2013, when it was ordered to pay damages to two workers it had failed to represent adequately in a labour dispute.

Van der Walt said many unions were “rudderless. Cosatu has been concerned with infighting within its central committee, and a lot of that is around trying to get rid of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa [Numsa]. Cosatu took their eye off the ball.”

He said part of the problem was that the unions were at a political impasse. They recognised that the government was part of the problem but were too deeply invested in the ANC to take action.

Van der Walt said the government was as bad as the private sector for not always enabling large-scale unionisation. Retrenchments and labour broking were rife on the shop floor, even at the state-owned Post Office.

Proximity to power
Pithouse said the unions’ original argument was that their proximity to power would give them influence. “The one thing that the unions did take a position on was labour broking, and it went nowhere. It shows that proximity to power isn’t always the way to change things.”

The question was whether this was bad strategy on the part of the unions, or whether it was symptomatic of a bigger system they had bought into. But the result was control of the workers and a patronage network for the union elite.

Pithouse said the economy was increasingly debt- and consumer-based and was no longer built on mining and industry. “So retail is where the money and the jobs are.” This made the potential demise of the biggest union in the retail sector “disastrous”.

Mazibuko Jara, the national secretary for the Numsa-aligned United Front, said Saccawu’s potential collapse and the infighting among Cosatu’s leadership presented an opportunity for the broader labour movement to renew itself.

“What is required is unions that are controlled by workers and unions that think carefully about their political allegiances,” he said.

Saccawu did not respond to requests for comment, and Cosatu’s spokesperson, Patrick Craven, said it would be unwise for him to comment until the matter had been discussed at a senior level in the union federation.

Lucien van der Walt: quoted on “working class solution” to anti-immigrant attacks

Mail and Guardian, from here

Swinging guns and fleeing foreigners: What is the state doing?

15 Apr 2015 18:32 Sarah Evans

Although the latest outbursts revolve around xenophobia, the state needs to put a stop to all violence in South Africa.

From the varied reactions of politicians to the xenophobic violence to the response of the South African Police Service (SAPS) on the ground, the state’s response to the violence is being increasingly scrutinised.

A heavy police presence characterised the streets of Durban and Johannesburg this week as xenophobic attacks – and the fear of xenophobic attacks – spread.

Durban’s CBD appeared quieter on Wednesday, according to reports, but attacks had spread to Pietermaritzburg. About 800 police were deployed in Durban.

In Johannesburg, many shops were closed on Wednesday and police raids conducted amid fears – later proven to be largely unfounded – that foreigners would be attacked.

But the state’s response – rhetorically and on the ground – is considered reactionary and insufficient to quell the anti-foreigner sentiment that abounds, many experts have said.

Analysts say the state’s messaging is confusing and have warned of a tendency towards the language of nationalism.

‘Unhelpful’ rhetoric
Ingrid Palmary, associate professor at the Wits University African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS), who has written extensively on the subject, said the rhetoric coming from the state was “unhelpful, overall”.

“What we’ve seen are contradictory messages from government officials. Sometimes there has been condemnation, but there has also been support for anti-foreigner sentiment, and sometimes inaction. What was needed was a decisive message of condemnation from all sectors of society,” Palmary said.

But messages would remain ineffective without action, she added.

The language of nationalism and patriotism that often came from the state was problematic, said Lucien van der Walt, professor of sociology at Rhodes University.

“Strong nationalism requires a strong enemy. And who is the enemy?”

Side issue
But are the attacks Afrophobic or xenophobic, criminal or organised, and does it matter? While the attacks were clearly xenophobic and criminal, Palmary and others have called this debate, sparked by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko, a side issue.

“Right now that’s an unhelpful debate. That is not my central concern right now,” Palmary said. What is central is the need to stop the violence, she said.

Sanele Nene, political science lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the state response has been badly co-ordinated.

“It seems like the state didn’t think this would be a problem while it has been brewing for some time,” Nene told the Mail & Guardian.

He agreed that the debate over whether the attacks were Afrophobic or xenophobic was a diversion from the real issues. However, he said the attacks were definitely xenophobic, as Pakistanis, Indians and other foreign nationals were also targeted.

“Maybe the president should have spoken much earlier,” Nene said. “It is at times like this when leadership is required. Some people might think his silence was a condoning of the acts. The president’s condemnation would show the world that we do not condone this.”

Critical intervention
Nene said it was critical because President Jacob Zuma comes from KwaZulu-Natal.

“He is probably the only person who can rein in the king [Goodwill Zwelithini],” Nene said.

“[Zuma’s] silence is telling. Either he’s unable to respond quickly or he’s reluctant to respond.”

Research conducted by the ACMS since 2005 has revealed high levels of organisation and co-ordination in xenophobic attacks.

Palmary said the brutality of the attacks is indicative of a failure in the transition from apartheid to democracy.

“This kind of violence has a long history in SA. It shows the lack of faith that people have in official institutions. These xenophobic attacks were triggered by the Somali shopkeeper shooting the boy. Why did the shopkeeper not call the police when he thought he was under threat? Nobody used official ways to resolve the conflict. That also shows a lack of faith in the system,” she said.

Lack of trust in police
Van der Walt said that historically, black and coloured working class communities had very low levels of trust in the police. This had not changed much.

“Historically, black and coloured working-class communities have not been given protection from crime. During apartheid, a lot of the police’s job was to arrest people, mainly for crimes related to pass laws.” This distrust continues today.

“There is a near-complete failure of the state to deal with crime unless it affects the elite. Public trust in the police is exceedingly low. After Marikana, the working-class trust the armed forces even less.

“I don’t think that a few people walking around with guns is really going to solve anything. It’s just putting a lid on it. A much more bottom-up response is required.”

Palmer said that, according to her research, the belief that foreigners were stealing resources was widespread.

Breeding ground for violence
Van der Walt said South Africa, with its policies on foreigners, poverty and inequality, was a breeding ground for violence.

“When there is bitter competition for jobs, spaza shops and so on, that’s the context in which these things take hold. The blame should be fundamentally on the state. It’s delivered a lot since 1994 but overall we’ve kept in place a lot of the structural defects that were in place,” he said.

“South Africa is a very tough and brutal place for a lot of people. The stakes might seem small – like opening a spaza shop – but for many people that is a massive issue. And so the working class and poor lash out at the working class and poor.”

Nene said the state should have seen this coming.

“We’ve been hearing of attacks on foreigners for a long time. You can’t deploy police to deal with the problem that is far deeper than just its manifestation.

“The proper response is integrating foreigners into society and to address underlying causes. We need to discover how and why these attacks are orchestrated.

“This is why you have police intelligence,” Nene said.

‘Faster reaction’
He pointed out that the police’s head office was situated in the Durban CBD where the attacks began. “Their reaction should have been much faster.”

Nene questioned the police’s motives.

“Many politicians are not really opposed to this kind of violence. There have been videos of cops standing around watching people loot. This raises questions about the attitudes of the police towards foreigners.”

Van der Walt said it was clear that the state was not capable of dealing with xenophobic attacks.

He said it was time to consider bottom-up, working class-driven and democratic forms of combatting the issue.

These should not equal kangaroo courts, he said, but could mirror the example of Abahlali baseMjondolo. The movement responded to xenophobic attacks by calling for the children of foreigners to be escorted to and from school.

“It’s a common response to most protests by the state: move in the troops, so to speak. Raid homes, close down taverns and so on,” said Van der Walt.

“I know that sounds idealistic, but it’s just as idealistic to expect the state to solve all of these problems.”

Lucien van der Walt: quoted in Polish press on SA anti-immigrant violence




From here


Michał Staniul

akt. 07.05.2015, 13:30

Pogromy imigrantów w RPA -​ co kryje się za ksenofobicznymi wybuchami?

Osiem ofiar śmiertelnych, dziesiątki rannych, setki zniszczonych sklepów i mieszkań oraz tysiące ludzi zmuszonych do ucieczki. A dodatkowo dyplomatyczna wojna. W RPA przez niemal cały kwiecień dochodziło do pogromów imigrantów. Jednego z brutalnych mordów dokonano nawet przed obiektywem fotoreportera. To wszystko nie pozostawia złudzeń: “Tęczowy Naród” wcale nie czuje się dobrze ze swoją różnorodnością. Tylko dlaczego manifestuje to w aż tak makabryczny sposób?
W ciągu ostatnich siedmiu lat zamordowano co najmniej 350 imigrantów. Każdego roku jest gorzej. prof. Loren Landau, politolog i dyrektor Afrykańskiego Centrum Badań nad Migracjami i Społeczeństwem

Emmanuel Sithole nie był nerwowym człowiekiem. Bliscy wspominali, że nigdy nie podnosił głosu, a gdy w rodzinie wybuchała kłótnia, to właśnie on występował jako rozjemca. Cichy, łagodny, pracowity – tak go opisywali.

Ale kiedy czterech wyrostków ukradło papierosa z jego kramiku, Emmanuel nie mógł tego tak po prostu zignorować. Od dwóch lat harował po 12 godzin dziennie, handlując mydłem i powidłem w nieprzyjaznych johannesburskich slumsach, by utrzymać żonę i trójkę dzieci czekających w Mozambiku. Jeśli pozwoliłby się okradać, lokalne męty nie dałyby mu żyć. Musiał się postawić.

Gdy podbiegł do złodziejaszków, jeden z nich bez ostrzeżenia uderzył go kluczem nasadowym w głowę. Po chwili na sprzedawcę spadły pięści i kopniaki. W końcu pojawił się nóż. Jedno z pchnięć przebiło serce. Wszystko możemy oglądać dziś na zdjęciach – do tragedii doszło na oczach fotoreportera, który akurat szedł do swojej redakcji.

Sithole zmarł dwie godziny później. Czy miał szanse na przeżycie? Być może tak. Najbliższa klinika znajdowała się zaledwie sto metrów dalej. Lekarz, który powinien tego dnia dyżurować, nie zjawił się jednak w pracy. Był obcokrajowcem, a od kilku tygodni w okolicy Johannesburga i Durbanu dochodziło do brutalnych ataków na imigrantów. Dla bezpieczeństwa został więc w domu.

Możliwe, że Sithole był – tak jak stwierdził krótko potem prezydent Jacob Zuma – ofiarą zwykłego ulicznego zabójstwa. Każdego roku w RPA mordowanych jest co najmniej 15 tysięcy osób, większość w czarnych dzielnicach nędzy, często podczas napadów. Sęk w tym, że oprawcy Emmanuela nie ukradli mu ani portfela, ani telefonu. Dla wielu było to ostatecznym dowodem na to, że 35-letni Mozambijczyk padł ofiarą ksenofobii. Był obcym, a Republika Południowej Afryki coraz częściej pokazuje, że ma ogromny problem z zagranicznymi przybyszami.


– Gdy obcokrajowcy widzą nasz kraj, myślą sobie: musimy wykorzystać ten naród idiotów – przekonywał pod koniec marca w czasie jednego ze swoich płomiennych przemówień Goodwill Zwelithini, tradycyjny król Zulusów, największej grupy etnicznej w RPA. – Muszę to powiedzieć: imigranci powinni spakować manatki i wrócić do swoich państw! – wzywał.

Choć zuluski król często uchodzi za polityczne kuriozum, tym razem jego słowa padły na podatny grunt. Już wkrótce w Durbanie, stolicy stanu KwaZulu-Natal, doszło do pierwszych ataków na sklepy prowadzone przez imigrantów. Po paru dniach pogromy ogarnęły sporą część największych dzielnic nędzy w całej prowincji, a po tygodniu wybuchły też w townshipach (południowoafrykańskich dzielnicach nędzy, wydzielonych za czasów apartheidu strefach biedoty) w Johannesburgu. Na celowniku znaleźli się przede wszystkim obywatele Zimbabwe, Nigerii, Malawi, Etiopii, Bangladeszu i Pakistanu.

– Kwerekwere (obelżywe określenie obcokrajowców – red.) zabierają nam pracę – cytowano w miejscowych mediach rozwścieczonych napastników. Do tego dochodziły inne zarzuty: o gwałty, morderstwa, przemyt narkotyków, a nawet handel ludźmi. – Te argumenty pojawiają się zawsze w takich sytuacjach, tak jakby usprawiedliwiały odbieranie życia – mówi Wirtualnej Polsce prof. Loren Landau, politolog i dyrektor Afrykańskiego Centrum Badań nad Migracjami i Społeczeństwem przy johannesburskim Uniwersytecie Witwatersrand. – Nie ma zresztą dowodów na to, by imigranci byli bardziej podatni na przestępczość niż obywatele RPA. Do tego w rzeczywistości często sami tworzą nowe miejsca pracy dzięki swoim umiejętnościom i elastyczności – dodaje.

W połowie kwietnia ataki osiągnęły apogeum. Liczbę ofiar śmiertelnych określono na – umiarkowane, jak na południowoafrykańskie standardy – osiem osób, lecz swoje domu musiało opuścić już kilka tysięcy. Część państw zaczęła zapowiadać ewakuację obywateli, a z całego kontynentu spływały głosy potępienia. Nigeria, rywal RPA w walce o subsaharyjski prym, wymownie wezwała swych czołowych dyplomatów na “konsultacje”.

Wtedy rząd Afrykańskiego Kongresu Narodowego (ANC) postanowił wyprowadzić na ulicę wojsko. Obecność mundurowych prędko przywróciła porządek, lecz nie była wcale oznaką solidarności z gnębioną mniejszością; żołnierze, oprócz patrolowania townshipów, zajęli się masowymi łapankami i osadzaniem imigrantów bez odpowiednich papierów w obozach przejściowych. – Rządzący pokazali tym, którzy wszczynali rozruchy, że w pewnym stopniu są po ich stronie. Chociaż było to politycznie nieodpowiedzialnym przesłaniem, pozwoliło na uspokojenie sytuacji – uważa prof. Landau.

Ląd obiecany?

Już w czasach apartheidu RPA było częstym kierunkiem migracji Afrykanów, zwłaszcza tych zza miedzy. Rasowa segregacja dawała się we znaki niemal każdemu przybyszowi, ale prężny południowoafrykański sektor wydobywczy oferował coś, czego Malawijczycy czy Zambijczycy nie mogli znaleźć w swoich ojczyznach: pracę. Gdy w 1994 roku władza przeszła w ręce reprezentującego czarnoskórą większość ANC, do kraju popłynęła także rzeka liczących na lepszą przyszłość uchodźców z Konga, Zimbabwe i Rwandy, a nawet z tak odległych miejsc jak Somalia i Etiopia. Napływ imigrantów kolidował z podejmowanymi przez rząd ANC próbami wytworzenia nowej, południowoafrykańskiej świadomości narodowej, które opierały się głównie na rozbudzaniu nacjonalizmu. “Nieprzewidzianym skutkiem ubocznym tych działań jest zauważalny wzrost nietolerancji i przemocy wobec obcokrajowców” – ostrzegali w połowie zeszłej dekady badacze pretoryjskiego Instytutu na rzecz Demokracji w RPA.

Co gorsza, masowa poprawa warunków życia, na którą po upadku rządów białych liczyli czarnoskórzy Południowoafrykańczycy, uparcie nie chciała nadejść – do dawnych elit dołączyła bardzo wąska grupa, a większość narodu nadal tkwiła w nędzy. Imigranci, nie mając szans na rządowe subsydia i zapomogi, musieli wziąć los we własne ręce. Według badań Afrykańskiego Centrum Badań nad Migracjami i Społeczeństwem, dzisiaj zaledwie około 15 proc. z 1,2 mln “obcych” w wieku produkcyjnym nie pracuje.

Choć do zbrodni na tle narodowościowym dochodziło wcześniej, prawdziwy wybuch nastąpił dopiero w maju 2008 roku. Zapalnikiem był spór między południowoafrykańskimi a zagranicznymi handlarzami w johannesburskiej Alexandrii (to tam zginął też Emmanuel Sithole), który szybko zamienił się w istną rzeź napływowych. W parę tygodni represje rozlały się na Durban i Kapsztad, a lista zamordowanych wydłużyła się o ponad 60 nazwisk, głównie czarnoskórych imigrantów. Wielu komentatorów zaczęło pisać wtedy o szalejącej w RPA “Afrofobii” – szczególnej nienawiści wobec innych Afrykanów. – Ta teoria nie ma akurat żadnego uzasadnienia, bo ofiarami bywają też Azjaci, np. Pakistańczycy. “Afrofobia” to tylko semantyka, która zamazuje realia – stwierdza w rozmowie z WP prof. Lucien van der Walt, socjolog z Uniwersytetu w Rhodes. – Po prostu zdecydowana większość obcokrajowców żyjących w dzielnicach nędzy pochodzi z innych krajów Afryki, więc to z nimi najczęściej stykają się biedne masy – tłumaczy.

Zgadza się z tym także Loren Landau. – To temat, w którym kwestia rasy odwraca naszą uwagę od innego czynnika: przestrzeni. Do przemocy wobec obcych dochodzi w bardzo specyficznych społecznościach, źle zarządzanych i borykających się z licznymi trudnościami. W takich miejscach każdy z łatką “obcego” – inny Afrykanin, Azjata, czy choćby i obywatel RPA – może spodziewać się ataku – wyjaśnia ekspert z Uniwersytetu Witwatersrand.

Beczka prochu

Mimo że od czasu masakr w 2008 roku ksenofobia w RPA nie przyciągała uwagi Zachodu, wydarzenia z zeszłego miesiąca nie były wcale wyjątkowe. – W ciągu ostatnich siedmiu lat zamordowano co najmniej 350 imigrantów. Każdego roku jest gorzej – opowiada prof. Landau. Czasami do tragedii wystarczy jedna iskra. W styczniu somalijski handlarz zastrzelił nastolatka, który rzekomo próbował włamać się do jego sklepu w Soweto, najsłynniejszym slumsie kraju. Gdy wieść rozniosła się po townshipie, lokalni mściciele przez tydzień palili i dewastowali imigranckie sklepy i mieszkania. Zniszczono kilkaset budynków.

– Republika Południowej Afryki zmaga się z wielkim bezrobociem (oficjalnie 25 proc., nieoficjalnie – powyżej 40 – red.), biedą i nierównościami. To rodzi frustracje i rywalizację o ograniczone miejsca pracy. Gdy dochodzi do tego nacjonalizm, często promowany przez władze lub prywatne media, otrzymujemy przepis na konflikt – dodaje Lucien van der Walt. – Niestety, RPA ma bardzo dotkliwe problemy. Nawet gdyby jutro deportowano wszystkich imigrantów, bezrobocie, nędza i nierówności pozostaną.

[Analysis in translation] [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt e Michael Schmidt, 2015, “Imperialismo e Libertação Nacional”

Lucien van der Walt e Michael Schmidt,  “Imperialismo e Libertação Nacional”itha-teoria1

Neste texto, um trecho do livro Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism [Chama Negra: a política classista e revolucionária do anarquismo e do sindicalismo de intenção revolucionária], Michael Schmidt e Lucien van der Walt realizam uma discussão sobre o imperialismo e a libertação nacional no anarquismo. Tomando como base alguns de seus grandes clássicos, eles mostram quais foram as distintas noções que visaram opor o imperialismo e realizam, também, uma comparação destas noções com aquelas do marxismo ortodoxo.

Source: IATH – Instituto de Teoria e História Anarquist/ IATH – Institute for Anarchist Theory and History (Brazil)


PDF here

[Analysis in translation] [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt, 2015, “Contrapoder, Democracia Participativa e Defesa Revolucionária: debatendo ‘Black Flame’, anarquismo revolucionário e marxismo histórico”

itha-historia1Translation into Brazilian Portuguese of Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Counterpower, Participatory Democracy, Revolutionary Defence: debating Black Flame, revolutionary anarchism and historical Marxism,” International Socialism: a quarterly journal of socialist theory, no. 130 , pp. 193-207, which is here.


Lucien van der Walt. “Contrapoder, Democracia Participativa e Defesa Revolucionária: debatendo Black Flame, anarquismo revolucionário e marxismo histórico”

Source: IATH – Instituto de Teoria e História Anarquist/ IATH – Institute for Anarchist Theory and History (Brazil)

Este texto constitui uma síntese da resposta às críticas do anarquismo realizadas na revista International Socialism; ele foi publicado na edição de número 130 desta mesma revista, visando aprofundar o debate sobre o anarquismo e o sindicalismo de intenção revolucionária (ou apenas “sindicalismo”, conforme tradução deste texto). Respondendo aos críticos marxistas, van der Walt passa por questões como luta armada, democracia, organização política e Revolução Russa, além de evidenciar similaridades e diferenças entre o anarquismo e outras correntes socialistas, especialmente as variantes históricas do bolchevismo.

pdflogosmallPDF here


ENTRY [+PDF + TEXT] van der Walt, Ulrich, Hyslop, Bezuidenhout etal 2009, “(Transnational) Workers’ Movements”

Philip Bonner, Jonathan Hyslop, Lucien van der Walt, Nicole Ulrich and Andries Bezuidenhout, 2009, “Workers’ Movements”, Akira Iriye and Pierre-Yves Saunier (eds.), The Palgrave Dictionary of Transnational History, Palgrave Macmillan, London, New York, pp. 1121-1128.

pdflogosmallPDF is here, and the full text follows the abstract

ABSTRACT: Overviews the movements and struggles of the popular classes over the last 3-4 centuries, covering slaves, serfs,  servants, workers and unemployed, free and unfree. Stresses the importance of global processes and connections, with close attention to the periods of proto-globalisation (17th and 18th centuries), the first  modern globalisation of the 1880s into the 1920s, the “deglobalisation” that followed, and the second modern globalisation from the 1970s onwards. Rejects narratives of neat “north” versus “south” and identity politics models, stressing divisions across and within societies, between those above and those below, based on common processes of class formation and experience globally, and highlighting remarkably wide solidarities, from the “Atlantic working class” of proto-globalisation era to the anarchists and socialists, to the struggles today.


p. 1121

Workers’ movements

The current vogue  of ‘globalization’, popularly used to describe a wide range of contemporary phenomena of international integration ranging from free trade to cosmopolitan cultures to current workers’ movement responses, has the singular merit of directing attention to the importance of international processes in the making of workers’ movements. Global interconnec­tions are a decisive element of modernity and capitalism, and contemporary globalization is only one phase in a larger histor­ical trend in the last four centuries. This suggests the importance of understanding popular class formation as an international process shaped by global forces, whose sig­nificance varies over time. It is useful to reconsider workers’ movements from the perspective of what Marcel van der Linden calls ‘transnational labour history’, which questions the use of the nation-state as basic unit of analysis for understanding labour history.

In relativizing and historicizing the nation-state, transnational labour history directs attention towards examining work­ers’ movements from a global perspective, stressing the role of transnational processes and interconnections in shaping labour his­tory and the importance of comparative


p. 1122

analysis. A national focus was character­istic of both old labour history, focused on institutions and leaders, and new labour history, which examined cultures and identities. Thus, E. P. Thompson’s master­ work took the ‘English working class’ as its focus; it did not really examine the imperial and international context that Thompson’s own material indicated was an important influence. Thus, without discounting the importance of ‘national’ factors in workers’ movements, transnational labour history questions assumptions that workers’ move­ments necessarily develop into national­ level movements, or are primarily shaped by forces operating within the boundaries of the nation-state, and thereby raises ques­tions about the standard practices of fram­ing labour histories as a series of national narratives. Transnational workers’ move­ments are not, we argue, the exceptional moments of interconnection in a history of workers’ movements Read more of this post

JOURNAL [+ PDF]: van der Walt, “Bakunin’s Heirs in South Africa: Race, class and revolutionary syndicalism from the IWW to the International Socialist League, 1910-1921”

Lucien van der Walt, 2004, “Bakunin’s Heirs in South Africa: Race, class and revolutionary syndicalism from the IWW to the International Socialist League, 1910-1921”, Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies, volume 30, number 1, pp. 67-89.

pdflogosmall Get the PDF here

ABSTRACT: The historiography of the socialist movement in South Africa remains dominated by the interpretations developed by Communist Party writers, and this is particularly true of the left before Communism. This article defines the key arguments of Communist writers regarding the left in the 1910s, and develops a critique and reassessment, stressing the centrality of revolutionary syndicalism and anti-racism in the early socialist movement on the basis of a detailed examination of primary materials. It shows how the early left was less the scions of Marx than the heirs of Bakunin, and argues for the reinsertion of the history of the early South African socialist movement into the broader history of anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism.

REFERENCE [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt, 2009, “Anarchism and syndicalism, Southern Africa”, International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest

Lucien van der Walt, 2009, “Anarchism and syndicalism, Southern Africa”, International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest, Blackwell, New York, pp. 147-155.

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Anarchism and syndicalism, Southern Africa


Lucien van der Walt


p. 147

Anarchism, and particularly its syndicalist variant, played an important role in early labor and socialist politics in Southern Africa. Emerging in South Africa in the 1880s, and in Mozambique in the early twentieth century, it reached its apogee in the 1910s. Movements influenced by syndicalism continued in the 1920s, and spread to Southwest Africa (now Namibia), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) by the 1930s. The history of anarchism and syndicalism in Southern Africa, largely confined to a minority of the working class, provides a case of how this internationalist movement developed in the context of British and Portuguese colonialism and a racially divided working class.



Capitalism and Imperialism


The region that became South Africa was marginal to the world economy before the 1860s, mainly significant for the port at the Cape of Good Hope and agricultural exports from Western Cape farms. Port Elizabeth emerged Read more of this post

REFERENCE [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt, 2009, “Plaatje, Solomon Tshekisho (1876–1932)”, International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest

Lucien van der Walt, 2009, “Plaatje, Solomon Tshekisho (1876–1932)”, International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest, Blackwell, New York, online edition

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Plaatje, Solomon Tshekisho (1876 –1932)

Lucien van der Walt

Solomon Tshekisho “Sol” Plaatje was an African intellectual, publisher, and prominent early nation- alist. Like many other early African leaders, he was born to a Christian peasant family at Doornfontein, near Boshof in the independent Afrikaner republic, the Orange Free State (OFS). His father, Johannes Kushumane Plaatje (1835 – 96), was a Lutheran deacon, and Sol grew up on the Lutheran Berlin Missionary Society’s station at Pniel in Britain’s Cape Colony. Christianity would leave a deep imprint upon him, as would the example of the qualified franchise system in the Cape, which allowed a significant minority of Africans and Coloreds access to the voters’ roll. A talented pupil, he received additional private tutoring and assisted the missionaries as a teacher at the age of 15. A Tswana-speaker, he would eventually speak eight languages fluently. Nonetheless, with only three years of formal schooling, Plaatje lacked the impressive qualifications of many other members of the African elite.

At the age of 17, in 1894, Plaatje left to work in Kimberley as a postman, where he married teacher Elizabeth Lilith M’belle (1877–1942) four years later. Typical members of the small African elite, they looked to inclusion in a larger British world based on equal rights. Moving to Mafeking, he became a clerk and court interpreter. During the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), British-held Mafeking came under siege. The African elite were generally supportive of the British, and Plaatje was no exception, preparing intelligence reports with African spies. In 1902 Plaatje established a bilingual paper, the Koranta ea Becoana (Bechuana Gazette), which ran until 1908. In 1903 he played a key role in forming a South African Native Press Association. Koranta was succeeded by Tsala ea Becoana (Friend of the Tswana) in 1910. Tsala ea Becoana closed in 1912, but was quickly followed by Tsala ea Batho (Friend of the People), which ran to 1917.

Plaatje also worked as a labor contractor for the mines from 1909. The African elite’s hope that the British victory in 1902 would lead to the extension of the Cape system to the neighboring colony of Natal, and the defeated Afrikaner republics of the OFS and Transvaal, was dashed by the Union of South Africa Act (1909) which merged the four territories. The Cape franchise was not extended to other provinces, nor could any person of color sit in the national parliament. Subsequent state policies were as devastating, with the 1913 Land Act placing African peasant and commercial farmers under enormous pressure.

Plaatje and others were impelled to act. While he did not attend the 1909 South African Native Convention, he did attend the 1910 convention, and was a founding member of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC, from 1923 the African National Congress) (ANC) in 1912, serving as its first general secretary. The SANNC was founded by the embattled African elite; its first executive included 12 ministers of religion, a building contractor, a teacher, and a labor recruiter and interpreter; an “upper house” of chiefs was also established. Nor did it initially advocate universal suffrage. Figures like Plaatje generally viewed major capitalists as potential sponsors of the African cause, not as foes (the De Beers Company did, indeed, donate Plaatje a meeting hall in Kimberley in 1918). When the state crushed the militant strikes by white workers in 1913, 1914, and 1922, the SANNC applauded its actions.

Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to dismiss men like Plaatje as unconcerned with the African working class, or to see their declarations of loyalty as unconditional. Plaatje stressed loyalty to the Empire and the Crown while criticizing colonial discrimination against Britain’s loyal black subjects; he repeatedly raised labor issues in his press, even if he rejected class struggle “rowdy- ism.” When the Transvaal SANNC developed a radical tendency – centered on African militants like Reuben (Alfred) Cetiwe, Hamilton Kraai, and T. W. Thibedi, all members of the syndicalist International Socialist League and Industrial Workers of Africa – Plaatje viewed the emergence of such “black Bolsheviks” as lamentable. Yet he conceded that such syndicalists were “the only people from whom we have any sympathy and support.” Likewise, following the passage of the Land Act, he toured the OFS and Cape to document its impact on ordinary Africans, later compiling this material into a damning indictment, Native Life in South Africa (1916).

Plaatje’s political style was typical of the early SANNC and the early African nationalists in South Africa more generally: appeals to reason and Britishness, delivered through deputations, the press, and petitions. This moderate approach was shared by contemporaries like Abdullah Abdurahman, leader of the Colored-based African Political Organization. In 1914 Plaatje was part of a SANNC deputation to England to protest the Land Act: this was cut short with the out- break of World War I, upon which SANNC resolved in “patriotic demonstration” to “hang up native grievances . . . till a better time” and meanwhile to “tender the authorities every assistance” (Rall 2003). Plaatje stayed on in Britain at his own expense, writing Native Life and compiling books of Setswana proverbs and folklore, which were published in 1916. En route to South Africa in 1917, Plaatje, a great admirer of Shakespeare, translated Julius Caesar into Setswana, the first of several such translations. He was subsequently offered the SANNC presidency, but declined the post, partly due to family pressures.

In 1919 SANNC sent a second delegation to Britain to plead the Africans’ case to the king and the Versailles Peace Conference. Plaatje was again included. He spent his time completing his novel (the first in English by an African from South Africa), Mhudi: An Epic of South African Native Life a Hundred Years Ago (published in 1930). The deputation was not a success.

Plaatje visited North America from 1920. One stop was the Tuskegee Institute (he was a great admirer of the late Booker T. Washington); he also met W. E. B Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. Nonetheless, much of his time was spent with the interdenominational Christian Brotherhood, a section of which he had established in Kimberley in 1918. He returned to Britain in 1922, where he was involved in some sound recordings and film production, and came back to South Africa the next year. Here he worked as a journalist, writing for the white and black press, including Umteteli wa Bantu (Mouthpiece of the People), and was a prolific writer of letters to the press. He became vice president of the Cape Native Voters’ Association, joined the Independent Order of True Templars, visited the Belgian Congo, and was offered the editorship of Umteteli. Nonetheless, while he remained very well-respected and continued to publish and translate substantial works, he was no longer an important leader.

Plaatje died in 1932 of pneumonia and bronchitis. His funeral in Kimberley was attended by 1,000 people. Today, Plaatje is considered a quintessential early African nationalist leader, as a talented intellectual hemmed in by racial inequalities, and, above all, as an important novelist, historian, and journalist. In 1992 his house and grave were declared National Monuments, while Kimberley itself is today part of the Sol Plaatje Municipality.

 SEE ALSO [in this encyclopaedia]: Abdurahman, Abdullah (1872–1940); Communist Party of South Africa, 1921–1950; Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand (1869 –1948); Sigamoney, Bernard L. E. (1888 –1963); South Africa, African Nationalism and the ANC; South Africa, Labor Movement

References and Suggested Readings

African National Congress (ANC) (1981) Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje: First ANC Secretary-General (1876 –1932). Online at Accessed July 15, 2008.

Rall, M. (2003) Peaceable Warrior: The Life and Times of Sol Plaatje. Kimberley: Sol Plaatje Educational Trust.

Willan,   B.   (1984)   Sol   Plaatje:   A   Biography. Johannesburg: Ravan Press.

Willan, B. (Ed.) (1996) Sol Plaatje: Selected Writings. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.


REFERENCE [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt, 2009, “Kadalie, Clements (ca. 1896–1951)”, International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest

Lucien van der Walt, 2009, “Kadalie, Clements (ca. 1896–1951)”, International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest, Blackwell, New York, online edition

pdflogosmall Get the PDF here


Kadalie, Clements (ca. 1896 –1951)

Lucien van der Walt

Born in or just before 1896 at Chifira village near the Bandawe mission station in Nyasaland (now Malawi) to a chiefly lineage, Clements Kadalie was educated by Presbyterian missionaries at the Livingston Missionary Institution and qualified as a teacher in 1912. Dissatisfied with his opportunities, Kadalie left teaching in 1915, moving to Mozambique and then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he worked as a clerk in various jobs from 1916 to 1917. During this time, he was radicalized by white prejudice and the color bar.

In 1918 he arrived in South Africa and went to Cape Town, where he met sympathetic white trade unionists like Alfred F. Batty, head of a left-wing breakaway from the segregationist South African Labor Party. He also encountered the revolutionary syndicalist Industrial Socialist League (not to be confused with the syndicalist International Socialist League). Unable to speak any of the local African languages, he was often assumed to be an African-American and was associated with the local Colored community in his personal life.

In January 1919 Kadalie formed the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU), initially a union for Colored dockworkers, holding the post of secretary. The union attended the 1919 congress of the Cape Federation of Labor Unions but did not affiliate. Kadalie’s charisma and oratory skills played a key role in ICU fortunes, and Kadalie became a full-time official from 1920 onwards. In December 1919 the ICU cooperated with the revolutionary syndicalist Industrial Workers of Africa in organizing an unsuccessful strike by African and Colored dockworkers in Cape Town.

In 1920 the ICU merged with other African general unions and the Cape section of the Industrial Workers of Africa at a conference in Bloemfontein, which aimed to form One Big Union. The union expanded rapidly from the mid-1920s onwards, achieving immense success among African farm workers and tenant farmers, despite ongoing official harassment. In 1927 it claimed a membership of 100,000 and was represented by Kadalie at the International Labor Conference in Geneva. The ICU also established sections in South West Africa (now Namibia) in 1920, Southern Rhodesia in 1927, and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in 1931.

However, weak structures, substantial corruption, infighting, and repression saw the ICU decline rapidly in the years that followed. The 1926 expulsion of Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) members like Johnny Gomas andT. W. Thibedi was another blow. ICU ideology  – a mixture of the ideas of Marcus Garvey, revolutionary syndicalism, and other currents -was unstable and the union lacked a clear strategy. Kadalie’s attempts to reform the union, with the aid of liberals and British labor, failed. From 1928 onwards the ICU splintered, with Kadalie leading the Independent ICU faction. The ICU faded away in the early 1930s, although it was later revived in Southern Rhodesia. Kadalie moved to East London and became a provincial organizer for the nationalist group, the African National Congress (ANC). Visiting Nyasaland in 1951, he contracted an infection and died soon after his return to South Africa.

 SEE ALSO [in this encyclopaedia]: Communist Party of South Africa, 1921– 1950; South Africa, Labor Movement

 References and Suggested Readings

Roth, M. (1999) Clements Kadalie, 1896 –1951. In They Shaped Our Century: The Most Influential South Africans of the Twentieth Century. Cape Town: Human and Rousseau.

Skota, T. D. M. (Ed.) (1966) The African Who’s Who: An Illustrated Classified Register and National Biographical Dictionary of the Africans in the Transvaal. Johannesburg: Frier and Munro.


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