Saturday, 31 May 2014

Oxford, Ruskin College & The South African Liberation Struggle


Pete kicks off Mandela Day
Despite a long pause in posting news, I am very pleased to be able to report on the fantastic outcomes following the first Mandela Day event at Ruskin College today.

The event was the idea of, and organised by, my dear comrade and fellow tutor, Peter Dwyer, who has spent a formative period of his life in South Africa, and felt compelled to organise a reflective event following the death of Mandela earlier this year.

Given Pete's academic writing/focus on South Africa ( the day was never going to be a neutral, celebratory, affair.

Indeed the bulk of discussion centred around the neo-liberal economic legacy of successive ANC governments and the way in which the massacre of striking miners in August 2012 (items posted on this in 2012) at the Marikana mine generated profound concerns about the lives of poor, black workers under a majority black government.

Indeed, the day ended with Peter quoting Mandela's famous statement at the 1993 COSATU conference:

“If the ANC does to you what the Apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the Apartheid government.”

Katherine & John
Thus one of the speakers, John Rose, discussed the catalysts for, and potential impact of the recently launched Workers' Party by the explicitly Marxist National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA). Although it is slightly dated, here's a useful insight on NUMSA's position in creating the new party: 

John and his cousin Katherine Levine thoughtfully crafted an insight on their lives as young, white Britons in Southern Africa supporting the liberation movement. John was one of the several London Recruits, hand picked by Ronnie Kasrils whilst studying at the LSE, and who went on to help use 'bucket bombs' to distribute pro-ANC leaflets across South Africa from 1967 onwards. The work of the London Recruits is outlined for the first time in a book of the same name, published in 2012: Katherine was deployed by the ANC in exile to pretend that she was recently married and, whilst venturing on a supposed honeymoon, was actually smuggling arms.

Follow the link for some excellent YouTube clips of John and Katherine at the book launch and of Ronnie Kasrils at the 2012 Marxism event.

The event was kicked off by Anne Mobbs who, like John and Katherine, had spent time in Africa supporting the liberation movement in a varieties of ways outside of South Africa. Anne helped provide the context for the creation of the UK's anti-apartheid movement (AAM) moving on to talk about her joint role in creating the Oxford branch of the AAM.

I was particularly struck by the genuine sense expressed on the part of Katherine, John and Anne that their roles were minor in the liberation struggle and that the true heroes were those whose stories are yet to be told.

Anne, Pete and myself with some
of the pictures from the Ruskin
archive which help illustrate the
Ruskin-SA relationship
I was particularly honoured to have been asked by Peter to spend some time at the event talking about the historical and contemporary relationship between Ruskin and the South African labour movement. The request was partially based on using the opportunity of the event to formally launch the Nomvuyo Ngwaxaxa scholarship which will generously fund a woman trade unionist (and one from another overseas country) to enrol of the MA programme that I run at Ruskin.

Anne had actually done a great job at describing many of the historical links and relationships I had wanted to, and so instead I focused on how the work of the AAM nationally, allied national movements, and the liberation struggle had helped generate a supportive academic and labour movement climate outside of the UK, which resulted in the generation of a wide range of scholarship initiatives which funded study at Ruskin.

Lively, informed debate 
This initial range of contributions helped to kick-start wide-ranging debate around the political legacy of successive ANC governments and the extent to which South Africa retains dominant economic and social legacies of the apartheid era, not least through the maintenance of a dogmatic form of neo-liberalism.

The tenor of this debate was exacerbated following a screening of Miners Shot Down, a bleak, profound depiction of the August 2012 massacre of striking miners at the Marikana platinum mine:

Screening Miners Shot Down
The discussion following the screening was particularly enlivened via significant contributions from a large number of South Africans who had come to Ruskin for the Mandela event. The overwhelming consensus was of a genuine concern for the future political stability of the country following Marikana as it has underlined the stark evidence of a black majority government ruling over the continuing brutal exploitation of poor, displaced, black workers. Mandela's 1993 quote was therefore apt to quote at this stage.

Invariably this perspective was sufficiently nuanced with a confident sense of the country's potential for radical change, and of course the discussion around the new Workers' Party was a feature of this balanced discussion.

Contributions from South Africans help
create a successful event
I left the event today before the final feature, a live performance of music from the Congo All Stars, who you can enjoy here:

The consensus at the end of the discussions/debate was that Ruskin's first Mandela Day had been an overwhelming success, and that Ruskin should host a similar yearly event, taking as its focus a different African country for analysis. I think that this is now very likely to happen.

In Solidarity


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