Monday, 9 July 2012

African Struggles Today: Social Movements Since Independence

I encourage you to read a new book co-edited by my Ruskin colleague Peter Dwyer, our tutor in radical economics. This book has been edited by Peter and Leo Zeilig, Research Associate at the Center for Sociological Research in Johannesburg and a Senior Lecturer in the department of sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand.

What this book does is updates our understanding of the forces that have helped push and shape social movements across Africa, but with a particular focus on the southern African states of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland.

What the book provides is a deep-rooted critical analysis of the range of opportunities and challenges facing social movements and other civil society organisations in the context of globalisation and the grassroots struggle for social justice.

The first review of the book has been posted by Socialist Review and written by Charles Kimber:

This is a book about the potential for social transformation from below in Africa, and therefore a rejoinder to the vast majority of writing on the continent. It is self-consciously designed as "a corrective to the tendency to see Africa's postcolonial half-century as one dominated by political repression, economic decline, and ethnic conflict" which can be solved by the intervention of various outside agencies - stretching from multinationals to imperialist armies to NGOs. The book is rooted in "the history of protest and resistance over the last six decades - as manifested in strikes, marches, demonstrations, and riots". But the major focus of the book is on developments over the last 20 years.

Almost unnoticed by the mainstream press, a series of democracy movements swept across Africa from about 1990. In four years some 30 regimes, many of which had ruled for long periods, were brought down by revolt. However, although these movements could topple ancient dictators, they did not fully develop into social revolutions. Instead they were generally brought under the wing of neoliberalism. This experience of explosive movements for change therefore has to be set against their limitations - including the question of political leadership and organisation and the ideological underpinning of the revolts. Such questions are not of importance for Africans or people who are interested in African politics alone: they concern questions that face activists everywhere. Therefore this history and analysis deserves much wider circulation. Readers who may have knowledge of one part of Africa will gain from the detailed analysis of countries that they are less familiar with. Dwyer and Zeilig helpfully discuss the role of the employed working class and its relationships to other social groups - peasants, the unemployed, "informal" workers and so on. They put forward a subtle understanding of the central role of workers (broadly conceived) but say, "There is no division between labour-based struggles and myriad acts of resistance' - they are in practice mutually reinforcing." Finally there is a good discussion of the "social forums" process in Africa .

Zeilig and Dwyer "hope that activists who read this book - both African and Western - will see struggles and movements as messy, ideologically confused, and inherently contradictory - but that the book will also help them navigate through the mess, clear up confusion, and expose contradiction."

They have done much to fulfil that hope.

Peter and Leo are happy to promote the book via a guest talk - email Peter to arrange this:

You can buy the book here:

In Solidarity


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