Africa Beyond the Privatisation of Liberation, A Call to Reclaim the Revolution

Africa Beyond the privatisation of liberation, A Call toReclaim the Revolution

South Africa is a society where the actions of political leaders in the state machinery are threatening to reverse of the popular struggles for liberation. Seventeen years ago, the formal shackles of apartheid were rattled. But the structural basis of apartheid was never dismantled. When Nelson Mandela became the head of state in 1994 there had been euphoria all over Africa, indeed all over the world, that a new road toward a non-racial democracy was being taken. The majority of the people wanted a better life: an end to racism, access to health, life, peace and a decent environment. However, very soon after the integration of the ANC (African National Congress) into the structures of apartheid, the political leadership of the African National Congress turned their backs on the ideas of transforming the society and embraced the ideas of liberalisation and the privatisation of the economy. The ANC embraced unbridled capitalism. Using the cover of reconciliation, the former powerful transnationals supported a class of blacks to enter banking, insurance and retailing as long as they accepted the standards of racist hierarchy and sent their children into the schools that taught Eurocentism.

The ANC was a party that was based on a tripartite alliance: the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Of these three partners the most forthright in calling for fundamental change was COSATU. The South African Communist Party aspired to be the intellectual and ideological standard bearer for the alliance. At one level the path toward liberalisation should have been opposed by the SACP, but the South African Communist Party found a convenient formulation to support the capitalist road. Their understanding of the stages theory of Marxism meant that South Africa had to pass through a period of capitalist development before the working class could be ready for an alternative to capitalism. This theoretical understanding of Marxism that twisted the revolutionary ideas of class struggles justified the support for the privatisation of large sections of the economy. In a very short time, international capital understood that the faces at the top may have changed but the conditions of exploitation and plunder would not fundamentally change.

Slowly, as a new class of political leaders became comrades in business and a new rhetoric of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) came into the popular parlance, the goals of providing houses, electricity and water for all were diluted. It became state policy to support big capital in South Africa while providing the enabling environment for a new class of African capitalists. These Africans gave cover for the expansion of South African corporations into the rest of Africa. NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) became the cover for this expansion of South African capitalism. Former apartheid capitalists were exultant as South Africa’s ‘entrepreneurs’ traversed the continent behind the diplomatic cover of the African Renaissance. The African capitalists fronting for the old apartheid structures accepted the rules of the capitalist system, the racist hierarchy and ethnic power bases and looked to ways to maintain the system while seemingly opposing the very same system that they propped up. The rhetoric and slogans were still brought out for elections but there was no fundamental change in the direction of society. Once the top leadership accepted the rules of private appropriation of wealth they moved into gated communities and built new connections for self-enrichment. Those with connections to the families of the former freedom supporters became the gate-keepers for tenders and contracts and jockeyed for resources at the lower interstices of the system. In the process of this jockeying, the push for privatisation reached the stage where liberation was being privatised as a basis for enrichment and conspicuous consumption. African liberation became a slogan to be supported by those sections of private capital that were on good terms with the political leadership.


The road to the privatisation of liberation in Africa is not new. This strategy for the enrichment of former freedom fighters had been perfected in Kenya where the British and the USA worked hard to divide the forces of liberation. After silencing and neutralising those who wanted liberation to be meaningful for the people, the leaders of the Kenya liberation struggle celebrated obscene private ownership of wealth as Nairobi became the cockpit for imperial destabilisation of Africa.

In Zimbabwe, the integration of former freedom fighters into the circuits of the Rhodesian state found a new path. After integrating former freedom fighters into the civil service, into the university, into the army, into the police and into the wider bureaucracy, the freedom fighters wanted the land of the settlers. They turned to the language of third liberation to seize the land of the white farmers. What would have been a righteous act of reversing the theft of land from African workers and peasants became one more vehicle for the liberation fighters to become private capitalists. The conditions of the workers on the land did not change as the state became more repressive and intolerant of the wider society. Repression and the privatisation of liberation went hand in glove in Zimbabwe.

Mozambique, Namibia and Angola followed similar paths of the privatisation of liberation. These governments renounced ideas of planned transformation of the colonial relations and embraced neoliberalism with gusto. This meant that in Mozambique the structures of the popular organs such as the women, youth, workers and peasants were weakened. International and western non-governmental organisations invaded the rural communities while the working people were denied the basic democratic rights for collective bargaining and industrial democracy. Journalists who attempted to expose the rampant corruption at the top leadership were warned, and one was killed in order to send a message that there should be no opposition to the privatisation of liberation. Namibia became a caricature of this rush towards privatisation and the legitimation of neoliberal capitalism. As in Zimbabwe, the ruling party became an instrument of patronage and privilege while the leadership issued robust homophobic rhetoric to divert the attention of the poor.

Angola was a special case in the business of privatising liberation. Unlike the other societies, the stakes were much higher. The Angolan society is blessed with major resources on the land and in the sea. Today Angola is a top petroleum exporter in Africa. Oil, timber, diamonds, fish and a host of minerals gave the political class enough to bring the top generals into the business of plunder. Jonas Savimbi had fought tenaciously to be the standard bearer for Western capitalism in Angola. However, very early on the MPLA (People Movement for the Liberation of Angola – Labour Party) accepted the IMF (International Monetary Fund) terms and conditions for neoliberal capitalism. After the defeat of the Savimbi faction of the political leadership in February 2002, the MPLA leadership went all out to use the vast wealth to build a capitalist class. Their skills for negotiating with international capital had been honed in the fight to defeat Savimbi. Clandestine and new means of procuring weapons had to be developed and in the process the Angolan leadership learnt the inner workings of offshore banks, money launderers, gun running and the underworld of banking and finance. The MPLA leadership built relations with China to widen their bargaining position with international capital. However, this outreach to China and Brazil did not affect the privatisation process. In fact, Chinese private entities such as the Chinese Investment Fund strengthened the capitalist element of the party by importing conditions of labour relations that denied rights to Angolan and Chinese workers.

Liberation slogans were banded about to disguise the vast differences between the new rich and the 88 per cent of the people who remained poor and in wretched conditions. The Angolan state supported a vast business enterprise as it became state policy in Angola to ensure that the rulers and their families were enriched. Liberation was privatised and the wealth and power of the first family was one indication of the processes of privatisation. Liberation had become a business and the victories of the people were being distorted for the wealth and power of the ruling families. For the first 10 years after the end of apartheid, the Angolan political leaders kept the South African capitalists at arm’s length but after gaining confidence the overt forms of cooperation were sealed by a visit of José Eduardo dos Santos to South Africa in December 2010.


In South Africa, because the aspirations of the people had been shaped by centuries of struggles for dignity and to end racism, the top leadership of the ANC had to constantly redeploy the language and slogans of liberation in order to maintain their support base. As in Angola the pie was bigger, so there were so many more resources because the field of capitalist accumulation spread all across Africa. The popular forces among the oppressed did not lose their traditions of organising independently of the ANC. Racism, xenophobia and crude ethnic manipulation became the tools for the local capitalists to divide the working peoples.

Protests intensified as the people saw that the new government was not interested in transforming the apartheid structures. Strikes, demonstrations, go-slow and other forms of political opposition increased as the people saw elections becoming another vehicle for the networking of capitalists. Service delivery protests and occupations in South Africa intensified as the people sent warnings to the ANC that the service delivery protests could converge into an Egyptian-style uprising in South Africa. The Communist Party became removed and cut off from the alternatives and it devolved to the youth to search for new forms of struggle beyond the vanguardism that gave sections of the ANC the idea that they should hold on to power.

In fact this call for divine assistance to support the ANC came from none other than Jacob Zuma, who told people during the last local government election that: ‘The ancestors will turn their backs against you and you will be bad luck forever if you leave the ANC unhappy.’ Jacob Zuma has demeaned the meaning of links to the ancestors by invoking the ancestral spirits on the side of capitalist accumulation. This appeal for ancestral support comes at a time when within the ANC there are tremendous realignments in order to ensure new processes of succession. There is now intense competition among those who will be at the top of the system of exploitation and domination. In the midst of this tussle between factions of the ANC, the South African Communist Party seeks to be primer inter pares while holding on to ideas of the non-capitalist path of development. These communists are involved with the top power struggles as to who would control the state. These communists worked inside the liberalised economy and talked left while supporting right-wing policies. The Communist Party did not show by their actions that they wanted an alternative, and in the absence of clarity the populist elements from the ANC Youth league filled the political vacuum by championing the cause of opposing white domination.

The overt racism of the white capitalists in South Africa knew no bounds. After a re-assessment of the new ANC government, these whites were emboldened to expand their political and racist ideas under the banner of neoliberalism. Within the church, the schools, universities, the old media and other intellectual and ideological institutions the struggles intensified but the white capitalists understood that the black capitalists supported the idea of the superiority of the capitalist mode of production. In essence, these blacks supported ideas of racial hierarchy and sent their children to schools that practised overt racial discrimination. So bold had the whites become that at one of the premier universities, the University of Cape Town, it was decided that there was no need to teach African studies.

In this political wasteland, Robert Mugabe appeared attractive and earned massive applause when he visited South Africa. Youths who considered themselves radical hailed the actions of the Zimbabwe political leadership. In particular, the leader of the ANC Youth league grew in stature as a power broker in South Africa political circles by connection and expresions of the aspiration of South African youth. After a visit to Harare, Zimbabwe in 2010, this leader of the ANC-YL Julius Malema became even more forthright in his opposition to ‘white control’ of the southern African economy. It was in the tradition of black aspiration that Julius Malema called for the nationalisation of mines and the commanding heights of the economy. In the days prior to the 18 May local government elections, the ANC-YL released its discussion document on ‘economic transformation’, proposing to amend the constitution to empower the state to expropriate private property, particularly land and mines, without compensation.

In the midst of a capitalist crisis where there is an urgent need for popular control over the activities of capitalists, the call for nationalisation from South Africa sounds appealing, but this appeal must be grasped in the context of the inter-capitalist struggles at the top ranks of the ANC. Malema, sections of the Communist Party and other top leaders of the ANC are now in fact members of the capitalist class in South Africa. Their treatment of workers who labour in their enterprises does not differ from other capitalists. In this context, the calls for nationalisation must be supported by calls for worker control and for the transformation of the economic relations in South Africa.

RECLAIMING THE AFRICAN LIBERATIONIn celebration of the 25 May African Liberation Day, I was the guest speaker at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. There are social forces in society who are working for peace, justice and social transformation. I was invited by the Umtapo Centre to deliver the Strinni Moodley Memorial Lecture. The title of the lecture was ‘Towards an Africa without borders in the 21st century: Without unity and peace, there is no future for Africa’. This event on African Liberation Day drew activists who celebrated the work of Strinni Moodley and Steve Biko. These activists are working across borders in Africa and want African liberation to be meaningful for the next generation.

The Umtapo Centre is seeking to strengthen the revolutionary understanding of ubuntu in order to harness new energies of the people for the prolonged popular struggles to transform South African society. This year the Umtapo Centre is 25 years old. As a formation that cut its teeth under apartheid, the Umtapo family is but one of the many networks in South Africa that are opposed to the privatisation of liberation. Throughout Africa it is imperative that education for transformation support the calls for social transformation. Private property cannot be nationalised with the same mindset that supports the crude consumption of the black capitalists in gated communities. These capitalists manipulate the workers of South Africa on the basis of racial and ethnic identification, and more significantly, these capitalists promote xenophobia to discriminate against other African workers who believe in the concept of Africa for the Africans.

Today as South Africa is elevated to being a member of the emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China), there are sections of the political leadership in South Africa who want South Africa to be a regional hegemon in Africa. Such elements pay very little attention to the challenges of building a truly united Africa. There are now initiatives such as the Grand Free Trade area for Africa embracing 26 countries. After a summit in East Africa last year, the heads of states of the three regional blocs – the EAC (East African Community), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community, (SADC) – agreed on the expeditious establishment of a free trade bloc. These efforts will be stillborn because their ideas about trade do not involve the free movement of people across Africa. These leaders want to facilitate the free movement of trade and capital while they restrict the free movement of people.

After five decades of the privatisation of liberation from Kenya to South Africa the working poor in southern Africa are seeking new strategies for liberation. There is an urgent need for unity of the peoples of Africa and freedom of movement across borders. The workers in Swaziland and Botswana have embarked on prolonged struggles for change and it is imperative that as we celebrate African liberation this year we recognise that the African liberation struggle has taken a new course. The revolutionary directions in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired a new generation of liberation fighters. These forces of liberation understand, as Kwame Nkrumah did, that no one country can be free while other parts of Africa are dominated. It is important to remind readers that on this African liberation day there are still colonies in Africa (with the most glaring case that of the Western Sahara) along with over 28 colonial territories in the African diaspora in the Caribbean.

The present tasks of liberation are being defined by a new generation who do not want to be dehumanised in the 21st century. They want to reclaim the paths of emancipation and end the privatisation of liberation. 

{Horace Campbell is professor of African-American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He is the author of ‘Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA