Monday 28 April 2014
Satgar and Hart: Debating Neoliberalism in South Africa
Vishwas Satgar, Antipode journal
Gillian Hart, Rethinking the South African Crisis: Nationalism, Populism, Hegemony, Durban: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2013. ISBN: 978 1 86914 251 3 (paper)*
The Gramsci-inspired bibliography on South Africa is not that large, but does include an influential and serious body work on key conjunctural shifts and political-economic dynamics that have shaped South Africa. In the post-apartheid context two books stand out, Hein Marais’s (2001) South Africa - Limits to Change and Gillian Hart’s more recent Rethinking the South African Crisis. Hart’s text is extremely important and courageous in the context of South Africa’s fiercely contested political discourse. Hart steps in front to contest existing understandings of the state, racial geographies, crisis, hegemony, and transition. Her attempt to challenge what exists is not only an academic intervention but also grounded in deep normative concerns about the trajectory of South African politics.
As a Gramscian feminist and geographer, Hart walks a path with other leading theorists who have provided important ways of placing Gramsci in contemporary social theory. Alongside Anne Showstack Sassoon, Chantal Mouffe, Stuart Hall, Michael Burawoy, and Marcia Landy, Hart brings to the fore three crucial analytical dimensions that mark Gramscian scholarship. She makes a crucial contribution in terms of thinking with and yet going beyond Gramsci with regard to [i] the spatial, [ii] nationalism, and [iii] passive revolution.
First, building on her earlier work on Gramsci as a spatial thinker, Hart draws on Lefebvre’s work on the production of space and Foucault’s work on governmentality, to provide a textured understanding of how technocratic local government has been made, and how it has managed unruly populations in post-apartheid South Africa. She shows how the rationality of Foucaultian governmentality has engendered techniques of rule to ensure fiscal viability through cost recovery from South Africa’s poor. To develop this argument Hart goes beyond broad macro analyses of the making of local governmentality in South Africa to ground her argument in serious ethnographic work in two towns in the hinterland of South Africa, located in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. She builds on her earlier book, Disabling Globalisation (Hart 2002), but follows the operations of governmentality at work in local power relations in relation to the commodification of water and the attendant ‘water wars’. Water conflicts have been documented previously in South Africa, including the technologies of rule.
However, Hart situates this in the context of changing, but still racialised, local geographies, gendered class conflict, and technocratic rule. In chapter 3, Hart provides ethnographic insights that are both riveting and compelling. In mapping the spatial contours of water conflicts in the towns of Ladysmith and Newcastle, she brings to the fore complex cost recovery practices, the role of a public water corporation leading the commercialisation of water provisioning, and the complex tapestry of local politics. Most analysts have tended to reduce civic protest action either to the ‘rebellion of the poor’ or ‘pop-corn protests’ that are episodic and fragmented.
However, Hart’s ethnographic lens contests these understandings as she probes the intersections of race, class, gender, racialised geography, and technocratic rule. The story she tells about the Newcastle Concerned Residents Association, for instance, and its capacity for symbolic and strategic actions while being eschewed by all political parties, is fascinating and dramatic in its role. Moreover, this line of analysis provides a strong basis from which to argue that the central contradictions of post-apartheid South Africa are located at the level of local government. The squeeze of technocratic cost recovery is central to engendering local social conflict and a crisis for the local state.
Next, Hart provides a compelling focus on and understanding of articulations of different forms of South African nationalism to render the contemporary country more intelligible. In this way Hart thinks with but also goes beyond Gramsci, by setting up an extremely novel framework to understand the link between de-nationalising and renationalising dynamics at work in shaping the form of hegemony prevailing in South Africa. This is very different from other political economy analyses that have either attempted to make sense of the unravelling of ANC hegemony through narrow policy analysis with an emphasis on short-comings, or through a class compromise (or elite pact) understanding of South Africa’s post-apartheid politics and transition. In chapter 4, Hart attempts to understand how articulations of the South African nation and hegemonic appropriations of nationalism by the African National Congress feature prominently in the making of contemporary South Africa. Recognising the place of nationalism in ANC discursive practices (e.g. on the national question and National Democratic Revolution) Hart shows how forms of nationalism are made and articulated as part of de-nationalising and re-nationalising processes.
De-nationationalisation refers to the processes and practices that globalise and restructure South Africa’s domestic political economy, centred on the minerals-energy complex. Re-nationalisation refers to discursive practices and projects shaping articulations of nationalism. Hart brings into the remit of re-nationalisation the various articulations of the ‘rainbow nation’, the ANC government’s punitive immigration practices, grassroots xenophobic attacks, and battles in the ANC-led Alliance about the meanings of the National Democratic Revolution. It is through the prism of denationalising and re-nationalising that South Africa’s crisis is given a much more complex analytical framing, while attempting to appreciate the country’s crisis as the unravelling of ANC hegemonic rule as well. All of this connects chapter 2 of the book, which deals with grassroots struggles and containment responses, and chapter 5, which lays bare the degeneration of ANC politics and the rampant populism coming to the fore.
As Hart astutely points out, this can go in any direction. It also portends a possible roll back of democratic achievements in South Africa. Hart compels us to ask: is South Africa heading for a new form of fascism, with the emergence of racist and populist young politicians like Julius Malema, a product of ANC authoritarian nationalism? Finally, chapter 6 illustrates a further engagement and disengagement with Gramsci in thinking about the analytical value and strength of a passive revolution understanding of post-apartheid South Africa. Hart is alive to the challenge of translation of Gransci’s categories in different contexts. Moreover, Hart brings to the fore a crucial link between Gramsci and Fanon to explicate the category of passive revolution as it relates to the racialised dynamics and specificities of race in post-apartheid South Africa.
Mobilising Gramsci and Fanon, Hart explores three dimensions of passive revolution: [i] the spatio-historical; [ii] dialectics; and [iii] humanism. This is the most difficult chapter to situate in Hart’s sophisticated understanding of South Africa. A meta-reading of the chapter might suggest there is a dialectical connection between unravelling ANC hegemony and now a shift into a passive revolution given the degeneration of ANC nationalism. Are we now witnessing a dialectical historical sequence at work? Despite the difficult fit, the chapter is a crucial theoretical addition.
While Hart makes a major contribution to both analysing and theorising the South African crisis there are two crucial challenges confronting her work. The first relates to spatial reductionism or the idea that the local state is the major site of contradictions and crisis. In this regard Hart has to respond to two criticisms. First, and as she understands, the Gramscian conception of the state in the Prison Notebooks is that of an ‘integral’ state and at the same time a ‘relational’ state. The integral conception of the state is an expanded one which includes civil and political society (‘state=civil society+political society’) at a national scale. Gramsci observed such a change in the late 1800s in the Western context as part of thinking through the specificity of state-civil society relations.
Gramsci’s relational conception of the state recognises that it is also shaped by a historical bloc of social forces. The notion of the historical bloc brings together structures and superstructures; it steers clear of both economic reductionism and idealistic distortions. At a less abstract level of analysis, the leading or hegemonic social force in such a historical bloc is able to define the form, role, and functions of the state. In Gramscian scholarship the ‘integral state’, the ‘relational state’, and the relationship between the two has engendered its own interpretive controversies about the relationship between hegemony, civil society, and the state. However, for the sake of this argument, recognising that there is a specific conception of the state at work within Gramsci’s thought makes it difficult to merely think about crisis as simply engulfing the local state.
What about the state in crisis in its integral sense and at the national scale? What about the crisis of the historical bloc of forces making up the ruling forces prevailing over the state in its totality? Second, and flowing from the idea of a crisis of the integral state, is a recognition that cost recovery and technocratic forms of rule have diffused into various levels of the state. The state, in asserting a financialised rationality in its provisioning of public goods, at the same time faces various challenges from myriad social forces, on different terrains.
This means there are multiple spatial choke points to both contest the state and engender fiscal crisis; the geographies of resistance are more than just water wars. For example, attempts at imposing a toll road system in Gauteng province, the heartland of South Africa, has met with stiff resistance from unions, commuters, and citizens. This has placed the multi-billion rand project in crisis and the gridlock has even affected South Africa’s standing with credit rating agencies. Similarly, billions spent on building coalfired power stations (in Medupi and Kusile, for example) have stalled on numerous occasions, around workers demanding higher pay and improved working conditions. At the same time, consumers have been fighting against electricity price hikes that are meant to assist Eskom (South Africa’s electricity parastatal) pay back billions in World Bank finance for these projects. All of these spatial choke points have also added to the total crisis of the integral state and the ANC-led historical bloc of class and social forces prevailing over the state.
A final challenge to Hart’s intervention relates to her eschewing a role for a sophisticated political economy analysis that places neoliberalism at the centre of understanding post-apartheid South Africa. By dismissing such forms of analysis as ‘not having traction’, we are left with an analysis centred mainly on the unravelling of ANC hegemony devoid of any understanding of how ANC hegemonic nationalism and neoliberalism articulate, on the one side, and on the other, how social struggles and left alignments are forming in response to this. The Marikana massacre that Hart correctly identifies as important, has not only contributed to a rupture in the ANC-led historical bloc of class forces, but has also been a spur to major class realignments and detachments from the ANC-led Alliance. Besides the decline of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), once upon a time the largest union in South Africa and a staunch ally of the ANC, the Marikana conjuncture has ruptured the working class support base of the ANC-led bloc of forces in the direction of left re-alignment. In this regard, the decision by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA; currently the largest union in South Africa with over 300,000 workers) to withdraw from the ANC-Led Alliance, to declare it is not supporting any party in the forthcoming national elections(it is withdrawing its awesome organisational machinery from actively campaigning for the ANC), and to initiate a process of left convergence with social movements and other progressive forces to form a united front and explore the possibility of a worker’s party, is extremely significant. It is even more significant because the entire discourse of the NUMSA is about the defeat of the working class because of 20 years of post-apartheid neoliberalisation. Furthermore the NUMSA evokes a form of nationalism other than the one Hart discusses: it points to a betrayal of the Freedom Charter, the cornerstone programmatic commitment and revolutionary nationalist basis of the ANC-led Alliance.
Further evidence of this betrayal for the NUMSA is the state-led massacre of 36 mineworkers on 16 August 2012 in Marikana. Unfortunately, Hart’s analysis will have difficulties making sense of this rupture given that it articulates a strong critique of the ANC’s commitment to neoliberalism, particularly the recently adopted National Development Plan. The NUMSA’s organic intellectuals have a lived experience of neoliberalisation as thousands of jobs have been lost in South Africa’s liberalised manufacturing sector. They are certainly not spinning their wheels as Hein Marais suggests in his endorsement of Hart’s text.
These criticisms notwithstanding, Hart’s contribution is a welcome addition to the ongoing challenge to make sense of the complicated field of South African politics.
Endnote *There is a new edition of the book (including a note on South Africa after Mandela) forthcoming in the University of Georgia’s ‘Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation’ book series - Hart G (2014) Rethinking the South African Crisis: Nationalism, Populism, Hegemony (new edn). Athens: University of Georgia Press.
References Hart G (2002) Disabling Globalization: Places of Power in Post-Apartheid South Africa.
Berkeley: University of California Press Marais H (2001) South Africa - Limits to Change: The Political Economy of Transition (2nd edn). London: Zed
Vishwas Satgar Department of International Relations University of the Witwatersrand email@example.com March 2014
April 5, 2014
Response to Vishwas Satgar’s review of Rethinking the South African Crisis: Nationalism, Populism, Hegemony by Gillian Hart
First off I’d like to express my gratitude to Vish Satgar for his generous, comprehensive, and careful review of my book – and to recognize as well his own important contributions to a Gramscian understanding of the present conjuncture in South Africa.
In addition to Satgar, other South African activists and scholars have called me to account for the stance I take in the book on “neoliberalism”. Accordingly, I see the invitation by the Antipode editors to respond to Satgar as an opportunity to engage an important set of debates in South Africa and beyond. Satgar maintains that by failing to place neoliberalism at the center of understanding post-apartheid South Africa, I eschew a sophisticated political economy analysis of unfolding forces – including a hugely significant recent shift in the South African political terrain when, in late December 2013, the largest and most influential union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), withdrew its support for the African National Congress (ANC), and is moving to forge a united front of progressive movements. Satgar argues that “Hart’s analysis will have difficulties making sense of this rupture given that it articulates a strong critique of the ANC’s commitment to neoliberalism, particularly the recently adopted National Development Plan” (2014: 7). He also questions what he calls the spatial reductionism of my argument that local government has become the key site of contradictions.
The challenge, it seems to me, is not only to explain the NUMSA split, but also whether (and if so how) the sort of argument I make in the book might contribute to efforts
to constitute political forces to the left of the ANC. Since the political stakes are high, I feel it important to try to clarify my argument.
Let me start with multiple meanings of “neoliberalism” variously defined as an economic program; a class project; a historical variant of capitalism; a doctrine or a “thought collective”; a rationality of rule to produce governable subjects; and a seductive cultural project. Neoliberalism also of course functions as a popular category to condense popular opposition.2 In post-apartheid South Africa neoliberalism very quickly became equated with GEAR (an acronym for Growth, Employment and Redistribution), the extremely conservative package of neoliberal macro-economic policies that the ANC government unilaterally imposed in 1996 – at the same time elbowing aside the neo- Keynesian Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). For many on the left within and beyond the ANC alliance, the shift from RDP to GEAR inaugurated what came to be called the ANC’s 1996 class project, and signaled a shift from racial to class apartheid. Starting in the late 1990s and gathering force in the early 2000s, neoliberalism in the form of GEAR came to operate as a hugely important popular category for crystalizing and condensing multiple expressions of discontent. It also functioned as a term of abuse, especially in relation to Thabo Mbeki. His identification with GEAR played powerfully into his deep and growing unpopularity with a large segment of the population.
Since the ousting of Mbeki in 2008, the Zuma administration has rhetorically distanced itself from neoliberalism and GEAR – even though it was Mbeki who initially drove significantly increased government spending and a series of other interventionist (including ostensibly “pro-poor”) initiatives after 2003/4, in important part as a strategy of containment (Hart 2006). As a consequence, “neoliberalism” as an oppositional category has lost much of the political traction it once had. Indeed, for many on the liberal right, the economy is being strangled by over-regulation, militant unions ramping up wages, and excessive spending on welfare that is bleeding “responsible” (read white) taxpayers dry.
2 As I will suggest in a forthcoming essay, we in South Africa have a great deal to learn from recent Latin American experiences and debates about the uses and limits of neoliberalism as both an analytical and popular category.
3 This rhetoric further bolsters ANC claims that “we are not neoliberals”, and that the global economy is fully to blame for economic woes and the terrifying escalation of unemployment. I agree with Hein Marais (2011: 137) who argues that “Paradoxically, in singling out and demonising GEAR as the grand moment of rupture and betrayal, the left helped government and corporate South Africa script their claims of a qualitative break”.
Without question the Zuma administration’s National Development Plan (NDP) to which Satgar makes reference caters first and foremost to corporate capital, and can be seen as a continuation of a neoliberal class project. Yet the chances it will have anything like the traction that GEAR did in concentrating broadly based political opposition seem small.
One prominent set of efforts to reassert that the ANC is indeed neoliberal invokes a sort of hydraulic model in which “top-down” neoliberalism is seen as calling forth “bottom up” resistance – albeit in the form of low-grade “popcorn protests” – with ongoing protests taken as proof that neoliberalism is alive and well. Nationalism (or “neoliberal nationalism”) features in these analyses only to reassure us that it is exhausted, helping to pave the way for oppositional movements to cohere as neoliberalism intensifies. This is emblematic of a more general tendency on the left either to ignore nationalism or treat it as an unfortunate manifestation of false consciousness.
My book is in part a critique of this sort of approach, and an effort to suggest an alternative to debates over whether or not the ANC is neoliberal. Its starting point is the imperative to take very seriously the multiple, proliferating expressions of popular anger and discontent that I call “movement beyond movements”, which exploded over the decade of the 2000s following the implosion of the first round of anti-neoliberal “new social movements”. Undoubtedly such anger is driven in part by often appalling material conditions that can be linked to neoliberal economic policies and neoliberal forms of capitalism more generally (more on this below). Yet precisely because the anger of the poor can go in many directions as S’bu Zikode puts it, politics cannot be read directly off material conditions – and what needs to be understood and explained is the ramping up of populist politics and their entanglements with multiple expressions of nationalism.
Also in need of explanation is how this roiling popular anger has gone hand in hand with increasingly anxious interventionism by the ANC government. On one level, these interventionist moves can be seen as a (somewhat belated) version of what has variously been called roll-out neoliberalism or revisionist neoliberalism – i.e. the process through which the market orthodoxy that seemed so firmly entrenched in the early 1990s in many regions of the world gave way through that decade to overtly interventionist moves to contain the disruptive tendencies unleashed by neoliberal capitalism. The key point, though, is how spectacularly unsuccessful these moves have been in South Africa, and how they have been accompanied by growing police brutality.
A key tenet of revisionist neoliberalism is a focus on “the local” as a primary site of efficiency, democracy, social capital, good governance, participation, and so forth. For many who subscribe to ideas of neoliberal governmentality, “the local” is also an important locus for the production of neoliberal subjects who will govern themselves.3 What we see in South Africa – and this is one of the key arguments of the book – is how local government has become the key site of contradictions.
Satgar takes me to task on this point, arguing that a properly Gramscian analysis of the integral state “makes it difficult to merely think about crisis as simply engulfing the local state”; and that cost recovery and technocratic forms of rule have diffused to various levels of the state, producing what he calls “multiple spatial choke points” such as toll roads in Gauteng and massive state spending on environmentally devastating coal-fired power stations, both of which have generated powerful opposition. He asserts, in other words, that I am according excessive privilege to local government.
I maintain that local government is in fact qualitatively different from other sites of technocratic governance. Most immediately local government constitutes the key site for the management of indigence. It is also a vitally important arena of accumulation, as local councilors are transformed into a petty bourgeoisie on the road to class power (as Ari Sitas puts it) through struggles over access to the growing resources flowing into local government coffers. Rather than a “spatial choke point” or simply the locus of struggles Satgar interprets my work as drawing on a Foucault’s concept of governmentality. Actually I find neo-Foucauldian analyses of neoliberal governmentality quite limited (Hart 2008). Instead I draw on Gramsci’s analysis of how passive revolution increasingly came to entail bureaucratic elaboration and consolidation through which the ruling class and its intellectuals transformed political debates into narrowly bureaucratic or technical questions.
5 over specific resources (water, housing, etc.), local government is where technocratic forms of government come into relation with contestation and acquiescence in the multiple arenas of everyday life. A reflection of its importance is that each of the expressions of popular anger that I call “movement beyond movements” – including Marikana – has an irreducibly local dimension.
Let me be clear that in positing the importance of local government I am emphatically not in any way suggesting or implying that “crisis is simply engulfing the local state”. That would amount to the sort of impact model that I vigorously opposed in Disabling Globalization: Places of Power in Post-Apartheid South Africa (2002), drawing on a relational conception of the production of space that informs this book as well. Rather than any sort of “engulfment”, my argument is that the ongoing, unstable, and unresolved crisis in South Africa today is partly produced through power-laden practices, conflicts, struggles – as well as compliance and acquiescence – in the multiple arenas of everyday life; and that historically grounded ethnographic studies can potentially illuminate these processes of production. At the same time, conceiving “the local” not as bounded units but as nodal points of connection in socially produced space means that locally specific dynamics both feed into and are shaped by wider processes – they are, in other words, dialectically connected with forces at play elsewhere.
This is where the simultaneous spatio-historical processes I am calling denationalization and re-nationalization enter the picture. At the moment when the ANC and other political parties were unbanned in 1990, the South African “nation” did not exist: it had to be produced through practices and processes of re-nationalization that encompass multiple articulations of nationalism. De-nationalization refers to how, simultaneously, powerful South African conglomerates were straining to break away from the confines of the national economy and to reconnect with the increasingly financialized global economy from which they had been partially excluded during the 1980s by sanctions, exchange controls, and the heightening crisis of the apartheid state.
De-nationalization shines the spotlight on the specific but changing character of South African capital and its relations with the post-apartheid state in the context of the rise of new forms of finance capital since the 1970s.4 It encompasses GEAR, but instead of seeing 1996 as the primary moment of rupture it compels attention to the crucial and ongoing role of corporate capital in the transition from apartheid since the second half of the 1980s – including what we now know are a set of secret negotiations over economic policy in 1993. It focuses as well on practices and processes that exceed GEAR – including massive and escalating capital flight in which the Zuma administration has been fully complicit; how corporations have restructured their operations to enable continuing disinvestment from the national economy; their ongoing influence over ANC government policy; and how these forces continue to play into and intensify brutally racialized inequalities and the degradation of livelihoods of a large proportion of the South African population. Far from eschewing a political economy analysis, I see neoliberal forms of financialized capitalism as central to these processes – but they have to be understood in terms of their concrete spatio-historical specificities and transnational connections.
De-nationalization also needs to be understood in relation to processes and practices of re-nationalization.5 Most important among those I identify in the postapartheid era are articulations of South African nationalism that conjure up histories, memories, and meanings of racial oppression, racialized dispossession, and struggles against colonialism and apartheid. They co-exist with “non-racial” articulations of the Rainbow nation, and with efforts to bound “the nation” in harsh new ways that fuel xenophobia – and all three are in tension with one another.
Inextricably linked with the contradictions erupting at the level of local government, de-nationalization and re-nationalization are playing out in relation to one another in increasingly conflictual ways – and their dialectical interconnections are what drive my analysis of the unraveling of ANC hegemony and the forces propelling the proliferation of populist politics. Since Satgar challenges my analysis of hegemony for The most lucid account of the neoliberal counter-revolution in my view is by Peter Gowan (1999; 2009), who traces the shift from what he calls the Bretton Woods Regime of relatively fixed exchange rates and capital controls to the Dollar Wall Street Regime and the emergence of new forms of finance capital.
Elsewhere (Hart 2006) I have suggested the salience of Gowan’s analysis to South African debates. For a useful recent account of neoliberalism as financialization, see Fine (2012).
5 As I have argued elsewhere, identifiably neoliberal projects and projects play out on terrains that always exceed them (Hart 2008).
7 neglecting neoliberalism, I’d be interested in his alternative analysis of “how ANC hegemonic nationalism and neoliberalism articulate”.
Let me now try to respond to Satgar’s question about “the state in crisis in its integral sense and at the national scale” and a related question about “the crisis of the historical bloc of forces making up the ruling forces prevailing over the state in its totality”. Since Satgar and I have different readings of Gramsci’s concepts of the integral state and historical bloc, I’ll answer with reference to the section of the Prison Notebooks that I draw on most directly: his analysis of crisis in “Analysis of Situations. Relations of Force” (Gramsci 1971:175-185; Q13§17) in which he argues that “The specific question of economic hardship or well-being as a cause of new historical realities is a partial aspect of the relations of force, at the various levels”. Of direct relevance as well is the concept of passive revolution.
If one understands the transition from apartheid through the frame of passive revolution, it was centrally about re-establishing the conditions for accumulation on a more stable basis, as well as enabling corporate capital to reconnect with the global economy.
Yet this effort to resolve the prolonged crisis of the apartheid state has generated new instabilities, contradictions, and conditions of crisis in a Gramscian sense. In a nutshell, capital needs the ANC to manage the fallout from its accumulation strategies and keep the lid on things, which the ANC tries to do with articulations of nationalism that are part of re-nationalization – but processes of de-nationalization are rendering this hegemonic project increasingly impossible. In other words, rather than just the charges of greed, corruption and incompetence commonly leveled against the ANC, there are far more deepseated (or “organic” in Gramsci’s sense) processes through which ANC hegemony has been unraveling over the post-apartheid era.
What appear to be driving Satgar’s question over the crisis of the historical bloc (I would use the term social bloc in this context) are doubts about whether my analysis is capable of explaining NUMSA’s splitting from the ANC, which happened over four months after the book was published in South Africa. Actually I would argue that what needs to be explained is why it has taken so bloody long for at least some segment of the working class movement to split from the ANC given the relentless assault on the livelihoods of working (and increasingly unemployed) people, only very partially alleviated by social grants, in the face of obscene and escalating inequality. While we probably agree that the Marikana massacre was a decisive moment of rupture, the question is why did it take so horrendous an event for NUMSA eventually to disengage? The answer, I suggest, lies in understanding ANC hegemony as well as the processes through which it has been eroding – which is precisely what the book is about.
Finally there is Satgar’s critique that “NUMSA evokes a form of nationalism other than the one Hart discusses: it points to a betrayal of the Freedom Charter, the cornerstone programmatic commitment and revolutionary nationalist basis of the ANC-led Alliance”. It is indeed the case that in mid-2013 when I finished the book, I failed to predict both the NUMSA split and the specific articulation of nationalism that it is invoking.6 Yet I most certainly do recognize the Freedom Charter as a key element in articulations of South African nationalism, and conclude the book with a discussion of how Govan Mbeki participated in the formation of the Freedom Charter in Ladysmith in the mid-1950s. That NUMSA is invoking the Freedom Charter as a way of trumping the ANC alliance’s notion of the National Democratic Revolution is not surprising, and is in fact totally consistent with the argument of the book about how articulations of the nation and liberation are crucial to hegemonic politics. What is ironic is that NUMSA’s predecessor MAWU (the Metal and Allied Workers Union) was deeply suspicious of Charterist politics.
This leads me to a concluding point about how my analysis speaks to some of the challenges that NUMSA is currently confronting in its strategy of constituting a united front – which turn around the simultaneous imperatives and dangers of articulations of the nation and liberation. As I write in early April 2014, a month before the incredibly important May 7 election, we are witnessing an extraordinary confluence of forces. On the one hand the combination of Mandela’s death and Zuma’s Nkandla scandal have eroded the ethico-political traction of the ANC’s articulations of the nation and liberation just at the moment when they are most needed. Yet my analysis suggests that it is premature and dangerous to declare that ANC nationalism is exhausted as some on the left are doing – The 2014 US edition of the book contains a note entitled “South Africa after Mandela” in which I do discuss the NUMSA split.
and to imply that nationalism can therefore safely be set aside. Indeed, the Economic Freedom Fighters are vigorously re-articulating nationalism in terms of race and nature – the theft by white colonizers of the land and rich mineral resources of South Africa – while also dismissing the Freedom Charter on the grounds that it “sold the birthright of Africans, precisely because of that clause: Africa belongs to all of those who live in it, both black and white”.7 At the same time they are invoking Badiou and Žižek to position Malema as a bizarre combination of Mao and a Maggie Thatcher of the left.8 NUMSA may not now be spinning its wheels, as Hein Marais remarked of the South African left in general in his endorsement of my book written in mid-2013. Yet they confront a formidable set of challenges, as well as opportunities – which is why the political stakes in how we understand the present conjuncture are so high.
References Fine B (2012) Neoliberalism in retrospect. In Kyung-Sup C, Fine B, and Weiss L (editors) Developmental Politics in Transition: The Neoliberal Era and Beyond (pp 51-69). London: Palgrave McMillan.
Gowan P (1999) The Global Gamble: Washington's Faustian Bid for World Dominance. London, New York: Verso.
____ (2009) Crisis in the heartland: Consequences of the new Wall Street system. New Left Review 55: 5-29.
Gramsci A (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks. London: Lawrence & Wishart.
Hart G (2006) Post-apartheid developments in historical and comparative perspective. In Padayachee V (editor) The Development Decade? Economic and Social Change in South Africa 1994-2004 (pp13-32). Pretoria: HSRC Press.
____ (2008) The provocations of neoliberalism: Contesting the nation and liberation after apartheid. Antipode 40: 678-705.
Marais, H (2011) South Africa Pushed to the Limit: The Political Economy of Change. London: Zed Books.