Beyond the privatisation of liberation

Published on Pambazuka News, by Horace Campbell, May 26, 2011.

As Africa celebrates Africa Liberation Day this week, the great challenge for the continent’s peoples remains liberation from privatisation, writes Horace Campbell.

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.



In 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. (full long text).

* (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. See Horace

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