Dossier: South Africa

Volume 24, No. 1 Fall 2008

Editor's Note


Patrick Bond: South Africa's "Developmental State" Distraction

The idea that the South African ruling elite has the political will to establish a “developmental state” project early in the 21st century is popular, but is not borne out by evidence thus far. Patrick Bond reviews new information about the neoliberal project’s failures, which range from macroeconomics to microdevelopment to pro-corporate megaprojects, and which are accompanied by a tokenistic welfare policy not designed to provide sufficient sustenance or entitlements to the society. The critique by the independent left might be revised in the event that the trade unions and communist influences within the ruling Alliance strengthen, but there is a greater likelihood that the world capitalist crisis will have the opposite impact. Nevertheless, widespread grassroots protests and impressive campaigning by civil society keep alive the hope for a post-capitalist, post-nationalist politics, as bandaiding South African capitalism runs into trouble.

Ashwin Desai: Productivity Pacts, the 2000 Volkswagen Strike,

and the Trajectory of COSATU in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Focusing mainly on the 2000 strike at Volkswagen in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape, Ashwin Desai argues that the signing of productivity pacts by the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) involved the signing away of many of the shopfloor gains made during the struggles of the 1980s. It also meant that management was able to call upon the union to discipline workers who challenged the pacts. This in turn saw workers come out in a strike that in reality was a strike against their own union. The strike and the changing nature of labor relations in the auto industry prompt some conclusions about the role of the biggest labor federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), in the contested transition in South Africa.

Franco Barchiesi: Hybrid Social Citizenship and the Normative Centrality

of Wage Labor in Post-Apartheid South Africa

The post-1994 ANC-led government has tried to combine institutional interventions aimed at overcoming racialized social inequality with a fundamental acceptance of the need to make the economy competitive within the scenarios of neoliberal globalization. The resulting social policy discourse placed a priority on waged employment and individual job-seeking initiative, to the detriment of universal, non-work-related social programs. The state’s promotion of a form of social disciplining centered on wage labor has, however, clashed with a material reality in which waged employment faces an enduring crisis evident in both spiraling unemployment and the proliferation of precarious and unprotected occupations underscoring growing working-class poverty. The policy discourse’s growing inability to reflect material realities of marginalization in relation to the crisis of waged employment raises important questions concerning the capacity of the new institutional dispensation to govern South Africa’s long transition.

Dale T. McKinley: The Crisis of the Left in Contemporary South Africa

The left in South Africa, fourteen years into the post-apartheid era, needs to face harsh realities: despite a long and often courageous left history, there does not exist an anti-capitalist and socialist vision that has the potential to challenge fundamentally, and to change, South African capitalism and to unite left forces. The practical result is a strategic crisis in which an unnecessary dichotomy has been erected between anti-capitalist mass struggle and action, and the need for a socialist organizational form to give politically strategic expression to such struggles. Dale McKinley argues that it is the left’s responsibility to work towards a political alternative that emanates from, and is grounded in, the ongoing and linked struggles of the mass of organized workers and poor against the impact and consequences of neoliberalism. Not to undertake this task is to condemn class struggle and left politics in South Africa to the realm of cyclical mitigation and crisis.

Ulrike Kistner: "Africanization in Tuition": African National Education?

The current rhetoric of “Africanization” ostensibly refers back to pan-African or national-liberationist ideals. However, the “transformation agendas” of South African higher education institutions, of which “Africanization” forms an integral part, have been shown to be closely linked with the commercialization and corporatization of the university, and with elite nationalism. Many African academics across the continent have articulated this development in terms of a sense of loss. This article investigates that sense of loss. To the extent that African intellectuals expected their visions for political and social transformation to be taken over by the postcolonial developmentalist state, their hopes were dashed by national chauvinism, by the recession of the state and the tightening grip of repression. Rather than revisiting nationalism and “indigeneity” as potentially critical forces, this article cautions against such reclamations, proposing a renewal of the emancipatory aims of higher education focused on the teaching-learning relationship.

Shane Graham: Layers of Permanence: A Spatial-Materialist Reading of Ivan Vladislavić's The Exploded View

Critics of Vladislavić’s fiction have tended toward dehistoricized textual readings focusing on the author’s clear preoccupation with words and word games. Such readings have often ignored or downplayed Vladislavić’s equally clear interest in the material processes and socio-physical spaces that shape and enable life in the city. This essay develops a spatial-materialist interpretation of his novel The Exploded View, reading word games and puzzles as part of a larger attempt to map the labyrinthine geographies of the post-apartheid city. Vladislavić forges a mode of representation that can register the continual inscription and effacement of social relations onto the physical urban landscape. This narrative strategy, similar to what William Kentridge calls an aesthetic of “imperfect erasure,” operates in tandem with the trope of the “exploded view” to dissect contemporary Johannesburg and lay bare the social and economic processes that create and intersect it.

Kelwyn Sole: Licking the Stage Clean or Hauling Down the Sky?:

The Profile of the Poet and the Politics of Poetry in Contemporary South Africa

Kelwyn Sole describes some of the issues and trends in contemporary English-language poetry in South Africa. Focusing on the current fashionability of poetry and the aura that surrounds the figure of the poet in the media and public sphere, he summarizes some of the uses being made of poetry at the moment. On the one hand, it is being utilized as a tool of nation-building and an advertising medium for big business. On the other (and usually in sharp distinction to this) it is being mobilized by poets as a means of social critique and an expression of anger vis-à-vis current structures of power. Questions are asked of the susceptibility of lyric poetry in particular to usage by political and business elites as a means to assist the construction, in its audiences, of a consumerist sense of self; as well as to provide models of citizenship in tune with the discursive priorities of the South African state in its current, capitalist form.

Dennis Brutus: Africa's Struggles Today

New poems from Dennis Brutus, as well as a 2003 interview on “Africa’s Struggles Today.” In line with the integrated discursive, aesthetic, and conceptual modes of Brutus’s political engagement, the form of presentation of this material breaks up the boundaries both between poetry and prose, and between literature and politics.

Book Reviews

Imre Szeman: Marxism after Marxism

Imre Szeman reviews Göran Therborn’s From Marxism to Post-Marxism? The title is posed as a question, but the book leaves little doubt about the necessity of such a move. But would “post-Marxism” involve the abandonment of the insights of Marx and of the dialectic, or would it be better thought of as the refocusing of these very traditions on our own “bad new days”?