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On Militancy, Self-reflection, and the Role of the Researcher

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This paper began in response to Ibrahim Steyn's work on Abahlali baseMjondolo Western Cape, (AbM-WC) – a Cape Town-based social movement I was involved with for a few years. An initial desire for clarity evolved into a self-reflective investigation into my own work with the movement's base community, QQ-Section. Throughout the paper, I problematise certain contradictions in my involvement thereby taking Steyn's work and the call for critical research seriously. This led me to re-evaluate my praxis, giving me the opportunity to question methodologies of social movement researchers. To account for the problematic role the investigator plays, I propose alternative militant, thorough, and self-critical ways of conducting research.
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Politikon
South African Journal of Political Studies
ISSN: 0258-9346 (Print) 1470-1014 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cpsa20
On Militancy, Self-reflection, and the Role of the
Researcher
Jared Sacks
To cite this article: Jared Sacks (2018): On Militancy, Self-reflection, and the Role of the
Researcher, Politikon, DOI: 10.1080/02589346.2018.1523349
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/02589346.2018.1523349
Published online: 20 Sep 2018.
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On Militancy, Self-reection, and the Role of the Researcher
Jared Sacks
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
ABSTRACT
This paper began in response to Ibrahim Steyns work on Abahlali baseMjondolo Western
Cape, (AbM-WC) a Cape Town-based social movement I was involved with for a few
years. An initial desire for clarity evolved into a self-reective investigation into my own
work with the movements base community, QQ-Section. Throughout the paper, I
problematise certain contradictions in my involvement thereby taking Steyns work and the
call for critical research seriously. This led me to re-evaluate my praxis, giving me the
opportunity to question methodologies of social movement researchers. To account for the
problematic role the investigator plays, I propose alternative militant, thorough, and self-
critical ways of conducting research.
Introduction
I read Ibrahim Steyns paper, Intellectual representations of social movements in post-apart-
heid South Africa: a critical reection (2016) a month after its publication in Politikon Vol. 43
(2). It was only then I realised that I was one of the key subjects of Steyns PhD thesis sub-
mitted the previous year. For him, I embody the conceptual link between what intellec-
tuals have written about other social movements and the internal relations of power
within Abahlali baseMjondolo Western Cape (AbM-WC). Politics of pay-walls and inaccessi-
bility of theses is not my focus; but, it says a lot about the function of academics, when
documents remain obscure to its research subjects
1
who may or may not even be
aware of the publication of their
2
academic work.
My treatment in these documents concerned me. Recognising I had been misquoted,
my immediate reaction was an inclination to set the record straight. Aspersions had been
cast on my character and it was likely that other people interviewed had been treated
similarly.
I emailed Steyn requesting the notes of his interview with me (Sacks, J. [2012]. Telepho-
nic interview with Ebrahim Steyn on April 9, 2012. Cape Town) and any other documents
and recordings he could share with me. While legally unaware of my rights, ethically, I
knew that he should be committed to a certain measure of transparency and cooperation
so that, when I did engage him, the dialogue could be open and productive. Steyn,
however, refused to share this with me arguing that, legally, he did not have to and
that the interview notes were in storage and inaccessible (Steyn, I. [2016], October 6).
Research Notes. Personal email communication with author). After reiterating my
request, he stopped responding to me.
© 2018 South African Association of Political Studies
CONTACT Jared Sacks jared.sacks@columbia.edu
POLITIKON
https://doi.org/10.1080/02589346.2018.1523349
I then tried institutional channels. Academics advised that I was legally entitled to
Steyns notes. Navigating the ethics committee of his alma mater and formally lodging
a Promotion of Access to Information Act request proved fruitless. More than six
months later, I was back to square one. (Surprisingly, the committee chair informed me
that Steyns thesis did not receive ethics approval since it was not a university requirement
(Guse, T. [2017, February 8]. Humanities Academic Ethics Committee. Personal email
communication with author).) I recount this story, in part, to illustrate the institutional
power academics have over their subjects even socio-economically privileged persons
as myself. Even while recently taking up an academic role as a PhD candidate, I was
unable to successfully navigate the universitys institutional bureaucracy. Still, I want to
admit to a silver lining: after being forced to reect on and thoroughly interrogate
Steyns work for over a year, I could approach the matter dierently. I hope this extended
engagement
3
will prove thoughtful and critical.
Self-reection
I worked with QQ-Section shack settlement for many years, beginning in late 2007 when a
re destroyed 20 homes. Back then, QQ-Section was aliated with the Western Cape Anti-
Eviction Campaign (AEC). Visits to Abahlali baseMjondolo in KwaZulu-Natal (AbM-KZN)
inspired Mzonke Poni, QQ-Sections community leader, to discuss creating a local spin-
owith the settlements committee.
As a young activist, I was animated by Ponis ideas and his stated goal of building a truly
grassroots, non-professionalized, democratic organisation representing the interests of
shack-dwellers throughout Cape Town. Because of the AECs focus on evictions, water
cut-os and electricity disconnections, many QQ-Section residents and even AEC
leaders themselves, felt the campaign did not have the ideal organisational structure
and focus for shack settlement struggles. Since occupied land is collectively controlled,
shack settlements that grow out of such occupations
4
have a stronger tendency
towards a mass-based, community-aliated collective organisational struggle.
5
Poni introduced me to QQ-Sections elected Executive Committee. At such meetings,
and through individual discussions with committee members thereafter, we negotiated
the nature of my role as an outsider. From them, I learned the importance of problematis-
ing my involvement as a white male from an economically privileged background. I come
from a family of poor Jewish migrants who ed violent pogroms in Eastern Europe and
who immediately took advantage of their incorporation into whitenessunder apartheid.
Its partly this familial genealogy of shifting from oppressed to oppressor,
6
which has
driven me to oppose subjugation in all forms while forcing me to acknowledge my privi-
leged position as an actor seeking to support these struggles.
Yet, privilege was something that committee members forced me to confront in a very
practical way: insisting I learn isiXhosa and conform to the community, not vice versa. They
also asked me to attend community mass meetings, personally get to know residents, and
live with a family in the settlement for a few weeks, not as a poverty tourist, but rather to
better learn from their culture and build stronger, long term relationships. I stayed with Ma
Sisana in her one-room shack, shared a bed with her children, and contributed nancially
towards food. She was especially uncomfortable when I insisted on helping with house-
hold chores; she believed its not a mans job. Sisana allowed me to sweep the oor
2J. SACKS
and wash the dishes only after signicant negotiation mediated by her older daughter
who helped translate.
Unequal power relations persisted throughout my long relationship with residents. I
had access to a car, nancial resources and computer skills that leaders could use to
mobilise for the movement. As a white man, many women residents consciously and
unconsciously deferred to me. Struggling throughout to problematise this relationship, I
insisted on not being acceded to, especially on intellectual questions. Sometimes I
failed to interrogate this, unable or unwilling to always notice when and how residents
upheld my privilege. Sometimes, while recognising it, I allowed pressing issues to
obscure these power inequalities. Once, in 2008, some youth followed me into the settle-
ment and robbed me at knifepoint. The leadership of AbM-WC were meeting nearby and
immediately took oin search of the culprits in nearby Q-Section. In appreciation of their
support, I never questioned whether they would have made the same eort for another
resident. I didnt confront my special treatment as a middle-class, white visitor.
Still, we talked race and class, refusing to take its dynamics for granted, particularly their
insistence that despite my close relationship with community members, I remain a political
outsider (aorded an opinion but no nal say over decisions). This meant that all meetings
I attended continued to be conducted in isiXhosa and that they did not permitted me
taking sides in internal conicts. Ultimately, they had the right and responsibility to
resolve these kinds of questions even if it meant that patriarchal or other forms of author-
itarian power could undermine the legitimate aspirations of other residents.
In this context, I refused to become involved in the internal problems that emerged
within AbM-WC around 2009, which Steyn (2015) has documented in detail. Most active
members in QQ-Section knew that I felt Poni had begun abusing his power as elected
chairperson of the movement. While residents were becoming increasingly frustrated
with Ponis actions, particularly his lack of consultation at progressively infrequent mass
meetings and his tendency to monopolise resources and knowledge, many feared con-
fronting him as he assumed signicant institutional and intellectual power in the commu-
nity. Steyn has correctly attributed concern with Poni positioning himself as civil societys
gatekeeper to the movement (Steyn 2015, 145). It was a catch-22 for me: If I attempted to
aect the proceedings, I would be using my privileged outsider status and access to
resources to inuence, perhaps control, the movement an exercise in patronage. If I
did not, I could possibly be accused of being silent in the face of authoritarianism and
oppressive social relations.
Self-critique
Idealists merely project those values on the idealized without coming to interrogate them-
selves about their own values; that is to say, without having a subjective experience that trans-
forms them. (Colectivo Situaciones 2003,4)
Recently, I discovered a paper called On the Researcher Militant by the Argentinian activist
group Colectivo Situaciones. It expressed many of my concerns as a new PhD student
trying to navigate the institutional, oppressive nature of the university. The piece is the
outcome of autocritique, problematising the groups simultaneous role as researcher
and activist.
7
Rejecting idealism, they attempt to engage with the tension between com-
mitment and complicity in the struggles of movements and unions; thus, in Steyns words,
POLITIKON 3
without romanticisingthem. For intellectual projects in all social movements, this is
necessary work. Colectivo further asserts that the rst step in refusing idealism is interro-
gating ones own values: this subjectication of self forces the militant researcherstobe
complicit.
In 2009 I began curtailing my involvement with AbM-WC due to how it came to operate.
While the movement began with strong formal structures including elected representa-
tives mandated to call meetings, plan actions and oversee nances, I believed Ponis
growing impatience with the learning curve of new leaders made him assume undesig-
nated roles. The QQ community had previously held a mass meeting calling for the elec-
tion of a separate Childrens Committeeand the creation of a crèche within the
settlement. They recognised the socio-economic benets of spaces like pre-schools that
could also act as a community meeting space and help mobilise residents around
housing struggles. Galvanized by QQs Executive Committee, hundreds of residents
donated over ve Rands towards its construction and asked me to petition CHOSA, an
NGO I worked with,
8
to match the thousands they raised. My role at CHOSA and that of
my colleague, Zukie Mabuya, was to motivate for this collective project, aiming to faciliate
rather than prescribe its development.
After the crèche was built by community volunteers and staed for a few months with
unpaid teachers, Poni suggested that some of the money be diverted towards AbM-WCs
activities, eectively undermining the elected Childrens Committeesnancial indepen-
dence. The Committee, to its credit, refused this and received support from the settle-
ments Executive Committee and its newly elected chairperson. As I restricted my work
with AbM-WC, Mabuya and I focused on supporting the Childrens Committee, attempting
to keep out of the conict embroiling AbM-WC.
Retrospectively, this approach had both positive and negative consequences. The
crèche, fortunately, remained fairly insulated from what happened between AbM-WCs
leadership work continued and, to this day, still has signicant, active support from com-
munity volunteers and donors (who have rebuilt the crèche twice after destructive res).
Yet, the drawbacks of this approach remain a concern. Firstly, this partially depoliticised
the crèche as an important vehicle linking the struggle to care for QQs children with
that of land and housing; the crèche was still used for AbM-WC meetings but previously
uid relationships between them were strained. The formidable Childrens Committee
chairperson, whom everyone simply called Gogo, insisted her own authority not be under-
mined by allowing AbM-WC to maintain too close a relationship with her committee. This
unfortunately weakened certain overtly political goals laid out by the QQ-Section commu-
nity like setting up a youth organisation focused mobilising youth around land and
housing activism. Without AbM-WCs active assistance, this project never got othe
ground.
With hindsight, I should have worked harder to engage with AbM-WC leadership during
those critical years starting in 2009. Being mindful of my own privilege and role within the
community contributed to a lack of communication between myself and some leaders
allowing rumours to circulate that I was trying to inuence the outcome of AbM-WCs
internal leadership struggles. Whereas before, in working closely with the movement,
my role was continuously problematised, subsequently, lack of communication limited
collective reection on my relationship with the dierent committees. Perhaps, if I had
re-engaged with AbM-WC, I could have motivated QQ-Section leadership and AbM-WC
4J. SACKS
to hold deeper conversations concerning the role of the crèche in the wider movement. In
other words, taking a step back from AbM-WC to focus on supporting the community
crèche should not have undermined previous lines of communication with movement
leadership.
My other failing also grew out of this self-detachment from AbM-WC. Avoiding involve-
ment in that space legitimised a certain complacency in my relationship with QQ-Sections
residents. Whereas in previous years (20072009), I worked hard building strong relation-
ships with residents, thereafter, my primary role liaising with the Childrens Committee
became more formalised undermining relationships of reciprocity and friendship that
were key towards challenging my racial, gender and class privilege. This also allowed
me to skirt responsibility in attaining prociency in isiXhosa. By this time, I could under-
stand most of what was said in meetings, but I still could not respond in their own
language.
In terms of responsibility and praxis this was clear laziness. Linguistically, this limitation
undercut attempts to build deeper, sustainable and cooperative relationships hence my
commitment to becoming uent within the next two years. However, uency cannot
resolve this gap entirely since so much communication is enmeshed in a culture that
will never be my own. Still, if I had worked harder in obtaining uency, it would have
helped me navigate the tensions that emerged.
Valuing immersion, theorising outside the canon
Over the years, I have repeatedly been reminded that the melodrama of politics often to
operate as distinct from the material experiences of people it claims to represent. Once
rhetoric dominates political space, it engulfs discourse, closing down discussion and per-
mitting only supercial talking points. At the socalled grassroots, it is necessary to dis-
tinguish substance from rhetoric which through rumour and insinuation serves
certain political interests. Repeating claims often enough, makes them seem like fact.
That said, elements of truth can often be found even in the most dubious claims; while
the question of legitimacy can never be divorced from politics. The most politically
eective innuendos are ones that maintain kernels of truth.
This means that research into the internal workings of social movements cannot be
done on-the-cheap. Supercial critiques taking for granted a movements public
persona remain inadequate. Academic research of this sort is often shallow; in looking
to transcend the local, it can become ignorant of complexity, hierarchy and power.
Steyn points this out in his PhD thesis and I certainly agree. He asserts, correctly, that
the tendency to romanticise the new movements is in part a consequence of inadequate
methodological approaches to studying them(2015, 2).
9
To go beyond the surface, one
cannot merely rely on social movement leaders, interlocutors and ocial communications
to adequately describe complexities of the movements politics. The thought of a move-
ments rank-and-le are indispensable. This is a serious and recurrent methodological
shortcoming for academics and other professional intellectuals. No movement, however
egalitarian, is homogenous; it is simplistic to assume consensus where there is none.
Therefore, it would be negligent to ignore Steyns proposition that instead of romanticis-
ing the autonomy of social movements researchers have to look critically at how it is
POLITIKON 5
being shaped by the complexities and contradictions embedded in relations between
social movements and the state(2015, 45).
That said, in attempting to make his political point about romanticism, Steyn fails to
reect on the signicant archive of self critical and anti-romantic militant research on
social movement theory. The work of the radical indigenous anthropologist Silvia Rivera
Cusicanqui, for instance, shows how the Bolivian Left (its academics, trade unions, social
movements) have introduced and reinforced hierarchical, patriarchal, racist and commo-
died social relations into indigenous communities. Likewise, in examining indigenous
self-government, like with communal ayllu, Cusicanqui has refused to idealise their
forms of communal governance while still acknowledging the credibility of indigenous
organisations as a counterpoint to authoritarian Leftist populist projects (Rivera Cusicanqui
1987a,1987b,1990,2015). There is a wealth of research out there from activist oriented
researchers intimately involved in social movements, engaging in deeply thoughtful analy-
sis and collective autocritique and sometimes questioning the academic project
altogether. They have sought alternative methodologies benecial to their comrades in
the struggle.
10
The issue here is not the absence of critical research, but rather how aca-
demic hegemonies prevent the appreciation and propagation of such research sidelin-
ing them in favour of canonical texts. The dilemma is two-fold: (1) the canon is written
primarily by white, Western, middle-class cishet-men and (2) the process of canonisation
itself disciplines/legitimises knowledge. While messy, it must be the role of militant
researchers to immerse themselves in the self-reective, critical praxis of movement thin-
kers who decentre and disrupt the canonisation of acceptable thought.
Avoiding shallow research
Unfortunately, much of Steyns research betrays a lack of critical immersion into the actual
workings of AbM-WC. It may be somewhat unfair, as someone who worked in QQ-Section
for over eight years, to pick out seemingly minor inaccuracies in Steyns research. Yet,
these shortfalls have an important outcome the misrepresentation of local dynamics
within the movement and the hard work of the people involved.
To be clear, I do not seek to challenge Steyns core premise, nor all the wider con-
clusions of his research. Many claims of dysfunctional and authoritarian social relations,
analyzed through his interviews with AbM-WC leaders, hold weight. Former chairperson,
Poni, still should account for his role sidelining other members and assuming broad auth-
ority over the functioning of the organisation, particularly its nances. War on Want, the
movements primary external funder, should do some serious introspection regarding
its technocratic, outcome-driven approach, which encouraged the degeneration of move-
ment structures (Steyn 2015, 208) (Sacks, J. [2012]. War on Want. Personal email com-
munication with Ebrahim Steyn, April 4). We, who have been involved with the
movement over the years, should continue to engage critically with the contradictions
of the roles we have played.
11
QQ-Section
Given this cautionary note, I cannot help but get the impression that, while Steyn inter-
viewed 22 AbM-WC members and former members out of 36 total interviewees (2015,
6J. SACKS
270271) there was a lack of ethnographic immersion into the everyday workings of the
movement and the communities it claimed to represent. I say this because he got some
basic information wrong easily corrected if he had spent more time in AbM-WC
aliated settlements. In his April 2012 interview with me, he claimed that a street com-
mittee whose chairperson was a resident named Andilerepresented QQ-Section.He
said Mbongeni Mkaliphi provided this information; I knew this was not accurate. After con-
versing with committee members, I claried to Steyn that Andile, a community leader
commonly referred to as Qwanashe, was not the chairperson, but the deputy chair.
Instead, Mkaliphi was the QQ-Sections elected chairperson. I also claried that, unlike
SANCO, the QQ-Section committee decided to call themselves an executive committee,
specically dierentiating themselves from the African National Congress (ANC) (Sacks,
J. [2012]. On QQ structure. Personal email communication with Ebrahim Steyn, April
13). This was important because Steyn failed to understand QQ-Sections distinct organis-
ational structure thereby indicating the communitys link to the ANC.
12
This was my rst
inkling that, beyond language barriers, Steyn had not spent enough time engaging
beyond structured interviews with AbM-WC leadership.
Recently, various residents informed me that, while Steyn had attended a few AbM-
WC events, he did not attend any executive committee meetings or public mass meet-
ingsin QQ-Section. This may explain why he got some information wrong, unable to
dierentiate between typical SANCO-led communities and QQ-Section, where residents
asserted relative democratic control over its leadership. Hence, while AbM-WC became
increasingly authoritarian between 2010 and 2012, QQ-Section maintained its own
accountability structures. Because Steyns PhD thesis focused almost entirely on AbM-
WCs top structure, representing members in multiple shack settlements, it ignored indi-
vidual settlements politics. He misses what took place daily within AbM-WC: weekly
community meetings, discussions of housing policy, and recurring grievances laid by
community members against AbM-WCs top leadership. This also explains why Steyn
took the Treatment Action Campaigns inaccurate claim of a xenophobic attack inside
QQ-Section at face value (Steyn 2015, 118); the community actually mobilised against
an attack on a Somali-owned spaza shop carried out by residents of adjacent Q-
Section.
13
Steyn argues that there are two options available to disillusioned AbM-WC members:
switch to supporting an alternative movement or withdraw from the struggle
altogether (2015, 213). During the waning phaseof the movement, Steyn notes that
leaders from various aliate communities asserted agency by withdrawing partici-
pation. However while this is true of most AbM-WC aliates, this did not happen in
QQ-Section. Likewise, it is simply incorrect to claim that Mzonke Poni eventually
decided to stepdown [sic]as movement chairperson (2015, 134). Rather, residents con-
vened a series of mass meetings inside QQ-Section calling for the disposal of Poni and
the reassertion of democratic control over the movement. Eventually, anger boiled over
and Poni was forced out. This demonstrates that in communities like QQ Section, where
a strong culture of discussion and deliberation persisted,
14
other options are available:
namely, standing up and ghting back for control of ones movement. Steyn could
have seen this quite clearly if he had immersed himself more deeply in the functioning
of aliate settlements.
POLITIKON 7
Organisational structure
Steyn seems to have misunderstood the historical development of AbM-WCs organis-
ational structure. According to him, AbM-WC is a horizontally structured movement
that was formed in 2008 in QQ, an informal settlement in Site B of Khayelitsha(2015,
11). However, even in its early years, calling AbM-WC a horizontal movement would be
inaccurate; its formation constituted the election of a formal, somewhat hierarchically
structured top leadership committee empowered to make operational decisions on
behalf of aliates. This committee had signicant authority even though, constitutionally,
it was required to report back to obtain mandates from community mass meetings. AbM-
WC was not as informal as Steyn assumes: its constitution meticulously laid out the organ-
isations rules of operations. Steyn asserts that AbM-WC was structured as a at or horizon-
tal movement, as illustrated in Figure 4.6. It comprised two formal leaders a chairperson
and deputy chairperson and several informal leaders, which will be referred to as bridge
leaders in this thesis(2015, 128). However, even in its waning phase, the movement did
not comprise this structure so-called bridge leadersactually took formal roles within the
organisations executive.
Of course, by 2010, this formal top-structure had broken down partially of its own
accord, partially due to the actions of leadership. However, a more accurate description
of AbM-WCs structure would have acknowledged the hybrid of hierarchy and horizontal-
ity which was relatively formal until these structures were later undermined. Membership
fees, which were collected yearly beginning with the movements founding, not once o
as Steyn claims (2015, 8), is another example of this formal structure. I remain unsure why
Steyn did not acknowledge this hybrid, formal composition. However, one outcome is this
incorrect claim; ‘…sadly AbM-WC had no female formal leaders and only one female
bridge leader during both the waxing and waning periods(2015, 147). I cannot vouch
for the makeup of the movements leadership during the waning period. However,
between 2008 and 2010, there had been at least ve women leaders within the formal
executive of AbM-WC. Beyond Ivy Mbotshelwa (who was no mere informal bridge
leader), there was Boniswa Mpoko from QQ-Section, Andiswa Kolanisi and Nomsa Molon-
gana from Macassar Village, and a few other women leaders from UT and TT sections.
Theliwe Macekiswana, who became one of the leaders of the Macassar Village occupation,
previously resided in QQ-Section and is one of the original founders of AbM-WC (Macekis-
wana, T. [2017]. Personal communication with the author. Enkanini Settlement, Khayelit-
sha, August 12). This erasure of womens roles within movements is all too common
and it is entirely possible that many of the women Steyn interviewed did not acknowledge
or remember formal positions they and their comrades previously held. That said, this does
not discount the reality that AbM-WC remained male dominated and overridingly
patriarchal.
There is a qualitative dierence between horizontal and informal forms of organisation.
Yet, Steyn does not treat this with much appreciation. Formally structured horizontal
organisations contain forms of collective organisation based on very clearly outlined
(though not necessarily written) governance structures and procedures: a clear delegation
of tasks, role rotation and equal access to resources. As Macekiswana pointed out, many
positions may have been temporary, due to a lack of elections, but they were not informal
(Macekiswana, T. [2017]. Personal communication with the author. Enkanini Settlement,
8J. SACKS
Khayelitsha, 12 August). Steyns misreads Jo FreemansTyranny of Structurelessness,
asserting that the experience of AbMWC also corroborates Freemans argument that an
informally or horizontally structured movement is not inherently more democratic than
a formally or hierarchically structured one(2015, 161). Yet, Freeman was specically speak-
ing of how informality causes abuse of power within movements. She was not advocating
for hierarchy, but for more democratic and formal horizontal movement structures to
guard against such abuse (Freeman 1970, 144146). Still, Steyn is correct that within for-
mally structured horizontal organisations, power relations remain, with individuals able to
use such structures to undermine democracy, silence detractors and marginalise
oppressed groups. However, the case of AbM-WC does not demonstrate the pitfalls of hor-
izontalism, but rather the tyrannythat can take place when individual authorities dissolve
formal accountability structures. In fact, QQ-Section residents eventually forced Poni out
by asserting, in a horizontal manner, their formal collective power.
Misrepresentations
I requested Steyns interview notes because I felt I had been misquoted and misrepre-
sented. Granted, written notes may represent a selective interpretation of the two inter-
views with me; they cannot automatically be considered reliable records. Regardless, it
is necessary to correct a few things. I hope this encourages improved documentation
and transparency in future research.
I never said that Mzonke Poni was simply the chairperson because no one else
wanted that responsibility (Steyn 2015, 143); there are many reasons residents did not
assume this role. He correctly cites some: Ponis education, leadership skills and
oratory ability; but also the converse: most residents lacked condence in their own abil-
ities. Poni was undoubtedly a hard worker with the time, unlike others, to commit to
leadership responsibilities; he was unemployed but had alternative sources of income.
I also never asserted, in response to Ponis accusations, that it is easy to blame him
[myself] as he is [I am] from the wrong race”’ (Steyn 2016, 5). I do not subscribe to
such crude anti-black politics. I made it clear to Steyn, however, that Ponis accusations
that I was behind negative sentiments inside QQ-Section were baseless because, in prin-
ciple, I refused to become involved in the conicts within the movement. Ponis
ngering of me, I argued, was an attempt to deect responsibility for the overwhelming
frustration that residents had with his leadership.
Steyns analysis of my role is inconsistent. He claims that I refuse to criticise Ponis lea-
dership because he was my gatekeeper, providing me access to QQ-Section (2015, 164
165). Yet conversely, he accuses me of mobilising against Poni and refusing to acknowl-
edge movement leadership by speaking and interacting in a manipulative and disrespect-
ful fashion directly with rank-and-le membership (2016, 5). As I hope is now clear, my role
was more nuanced. While Poni introduced me to the QQ-Section and other settlements, I
built working relationships with people at all levels. While I was open about my disagree-
ment with Ponis leadership style and authoritarianism, I refused to be drawn into leader-
ship battles despite the legitimacy of grievances. If the movements membership planned
to oust its leadership, which it eventually did, it was necessary they act of their own accord
rather than due to the inuence of an outsider like myself. To me, this is the basis of agency
and democracy.
POLITIKON 9
Throughout his paper on Intellectual Representations (2016) and in sections of his PhD
thesis, Steyn directly links the internal conditions and power relations within AbM-WC to
academic writings on other South African social movements including the work of Desai
and Pithouse (2004), Gibson (2011) and Neocosmos (2009). This reads somewhat odd
because by the time Steyn published his research, academics and other intellectuals
had written little about the AbM-WC.
15
It seems his argument about how intellectuals rep-
resent other social movements is tacked on to his work on AbM-WC for alternative reasons
than demonstrating something substantial about representations of AbM-WC. Although I
never wrote anything on QQ-Section or AbM-WC, I am somehow implicitly pigeonholed as
playing an intellectual role and writing romantic pieces on the movement.
16
It is, therefore,
worth noting again that I welcome critical research into how social movements are rep-
resented especially coming from people involved substantially in the movements
praxis. My choice not to sign the collective letter by academics (Friedman 2015) criticising
Politikon for publishing the Bandile Mdlalosearticle, was not because I agreed with Mdla-
loses account; rather, I felt a dierent form of engagement with her claims would be more
productive. For critique to have value, especially concerning subaltern groups lacking
specialist lingo and access to academic spaces, it is necessary to adopt alternative critical
research methodologies.
Reecting on the question of patronage
Perhaps the most complicated charge Steyn levels against me is that I engaged in patron-
age relationships with QQ-Section leaders:
the evidence suggests, at least implicitly, that Sacksnancial support to the QQ community,
which fanned tensions between the settlements community leaders and the main leader of
the movement, may have allowed him to engage in a patronage relationship with the bride
[sic] leader and other community leaders in QQ. (2015, 209)
It is necessary to carefully reect on the ways NGO funding recreates hierarchical relation-
ships that could be considered patronage this is a worthwhile endeavour. However,
Steyn never denes his use of the word patronage. His reference to the important
edited volume on NGOization by Choudry and Kapoor (2013) also gives no clarity on
the way contributors employ this highly contested term. Without a clear denition, it is
difcult to engage thoughtfully with Steyns accusation.
There already exists substantial literature on the question of patronage politics within
movements. In South Africa, controversial work by Leo Podlashuc (2011) on the NGO Slum
Dwellers International (SDI) demonstrates the top-down control and patronage relation-
ships leaders created to manage the South African Homeless Peoples Federation
(SAHPF).
17
Camalita Naickers(2014) reference to gendered patronage networks
amongst Marikana mineworkers is another example. Other relevant cases include ethno-
graphies and analyses of Latin American movements in Argentina (Auyero, Lapegna, and
Poma 2009; Lapegna 2013), Uruguay (Alvarez Rivadulla 2012), and Ecuador (Wol2007).
Alvarez Rivadulla tackles the denition of clientelism a patronage-based political
system head on: Political clientelism refers to the particularistic exchange of favours
for political support, generally understood as taking place in an unequal relationship
between politicians and clients(2012, 39). She problematises this denition because
10 J. SACKS
there is little agreement on what this entails. If narrowly dened, this implies the quid pro
quo exchange of material benets for votes or political support. The broader denition
however includes subtler relationships of providing favours for support is implicit and
hard to prove. Nonetheless, Alvarez Rivadulla warns that while the strict denition
excludes many instances of patronage, the more expansive denition sees any unequal
supportive relationship as patronage; in trying to explain a lot, ends up not explaining
anything; and it is more dicult to falsify(2012, 40).
The instances cited above speak specically about patronage relationships with politi-
cal parties and the state. Yet, AbM-WC was formed, partly, as a repudiation of party patron-
age embodied by the ANC-aliated South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO)
committees in Khayelitsha. The founding of the QQ-Section Concerned Residents and
its later evolution into AbM-WC was premised on explicitly rejecting engagement in this
kind of political patronage. This mirrors the example of Network Breakdowngiven by
Auyero, Lapegna, and Poma (2009,710).
That said, patronaged-based political support is not limited to electoral politics; it could
include support for a social movement leader doling out favours,
18
an NGO providing
funding in exchange for following a certain political line,
19
or an outsider activist with
access to resources, such as myself. James Scottsdenition is instructive:
The patron-client relationship--an exchange relationship between roles--may be dened as a
special case of dyadic (two-person) ties involving a largely instrumental friendship in which an
individual of higher socioeconomic status (patron) uses his own inuence and resources to
provide protection or benets, or both, for a person of lower status (client) who, for his
part, reciprocates by oering general support and assistance, including personal services, to
the patron. (1972, 92)
Thus, exchangecould constitute, even unwittingly, the granting of political support con-
cerning internal AbM-WC struggles or for a specic political programme due to the pro-
vision of nancial or non-monetary resources. This is how I understand Steyns
allegation regarding my conduct within QQ-Section.
Of course, when time and money is involved in unequal power networks, relationships
tend to be fraught, contradictory and unstable. In poor communities, where relationships
are often informal, this can seem a lot like patronage. For instance, it is likely that my past
and continued sympathetic standing in the settlement is due, in part, to myself and
Mabuyas work for CHOSA, the funder of their community-run crèche. However, we consti-
tuted our roles specically to avoid such de facto patronage relationships through formalis-
ing, via written contract, CHOSAs support to QQ-Section. By design, executive committee
members like Mkhaliphi were not involved in running the communitys crèche a separate
Childrens Committee was set up, ensuring the continued independence of executive
leaders. Mkhaliphi, therefore, did not benetnancially from NGO funding nor from
having his child at the crèche. Contrary to Steyns assumption, Mkhaliphis positive view
of our involvement was limited to his belief that funding beneted the community as a
whole.
20
Moreover, while some residents likely perceived that I was personally responsible
for making funding decisions, we made clear in meetings that CHOSA operated with a
depersonalised decision-making process that involved all staand board members.
However, a patronage relationship could still have existed indirectly if I was involved in
the activities of AbM-WC. As Scott explains, a patron always requires reciprocity for favours
POLITIKON 11
they dole out and the balance of benets accrued always heavily favour the patron (1972,
93). Yet, as I have made clear, I recused myself in 2009 from any instrumental or political
role in AbM-WC. Steyn presents no evidence that I was involved beyond some vague accu-
sation that I may have fanned tensionsinside the movement. Mrs Mabuya and I could not
have been involved in a patronage-type relationship because the structure of nancial
support existed independently from the political functioning of AbM-WC. This is not to
say the role we played in supporting the crèche was free of complexity and contradiction.
The inequalities inherent in our relationship should be problematised. For instance, it is
likely that some community residents were, at times, unwilling to contradict us, fearing
that crèche funding could be cut. Yet, this had no bearing on how AbM-WC functioned
a far cry from the patronage relationships some NGOs command in the Philipines
(Choudry and Kapoor 2013, 118139) or the political support middle class directors of
SDI demanded in exchange for the cushy salaries and benets they gave to SAHPF move-
ment leaders (Podlashuc 2011, 21). It would be more worthwhile, therefore, if Steyn had
made an eort to engage more thoroughly with the actual nature of our involvement
inside QQ-Section.
The problem of method
In a capitalist society organised around hierarchical and exploitative social relations, the
Leftist academic is said to oer a way out: a methodology of inquiry able to spotlight
the societys contradictions therefore contributing to an alternative body of knowledge
for social change. Yet history has demonstrated this assumption to be awed. Most Left
intellectuals, no matter their theoretical aliation, have sought to defend their personal
power and privilege when threatened by actual radical movements. An emblematic
example of this tendency is Theodor Adornos well-known denunciation of the 1968
German student movement in defense of his Institute for Social Research at Goethe Uni-
versity (Adorno and Marcuse 1999).
One reason for this is how institutions seek to reify and control knowledge production,
especially theories of struggle and social change. The radical intellectuals of yesterday,
such as Marx, Gramsci, and Foucault among others, have today become part of an alterna-
tive Leftist canon. They position the academy as indispensable to generating knowledge of
struggle when, in reality, it is struggle itself and the people directly involved who are pro-
ducing new ideas and theories. This is not an anti-intellectual argument, but a call to refor-
mulate intellectualism as a non-elitist endeavour. This requires revisiting the question of
method, not only to recognise how theory is already produced in a decentred manner,
but also to formulate alternative research methodologies.
When the academic writes, they tend to centre the academy, its gures, and its
debates. Gayatri Spivaks famous tongue-in-cheek question, can the subaltern speak?
(1988) plays this function. Conscious of biological capability, subalterns would likely
deem the formulation itself as absurd. Rather, the process of struggle self-valorises
thought and voice. As the Symphony Way Pavement Dwellers once asserted: We may
be poor but we are not stupid! We may be poor, but we can still think!(2011, 1). Thus,
a subaltern intellectual may respond to such elitist questions by asking: If the researcher
does not write about it, does it mean that it did not happen? If an academic journal does
not publish ones critique, does it mean that reection did not occur? Steyn attempts to
12 J. SACKS
highlight power relations and contradictions between intellectuals and social movements
to show how the academic Left idealises these struggles, but fails to appreciate complex-
ity. He writes, How is it possible to understand the current moribund or weak state of most
of the social movements in post-apartheid South Africa, if power relations in them are left
undiscussed?(Steyn 2016, 9). We, who have engaged in academic work on South African
social movements, have a case to answer on this point. Yet, this question fails to acknowl-
edge that reection and self-criticism already takes place within movements themselves,
regardless of whether it is disclosed in academia. In the rst part of this paper, I attempted
to describe my engagement with residents in QQ-Section and former members of AbM-
WC through self-reection. Yet, collective reection and action has always been part of
the modus operandi of this movement, as it is with any other.
21
Steyn does not recognise
that this occurs regardless of involvement and documentation by the outsider.
If people in struggle theorise in complex and productive ways, then the researcher who
reformulates this knowledge for the academy without contributing back into the move-
ment is engaging in parasitism on the intellectual work of others. Fittingly, Steyn cites
AbM-WC member Mbele Sithelos complaint concerning white foreign researchers who
interview shackdwellers, take their pictures and then promise to assist them. However,
once the researcher leaves the informal settlement, the residents never hear from him
or her again(2015, 205). Steyn further notes that such behaviour as highly unethical
and reckless, and it therefore deserves to be chastened(2016, 10). I have noticed this
common grievance throughout impoverished communities in Cape Town and with
good reason. However, this concern should not only apply to white foreign researchers.
To this day, Steyn has not returned to QQ-Section, spoken to any key former leaders of
AbM-WC, or provided them with a summary of his research. What was the purpose of
his analysis of AbM-WC, if his subjects are not even engaged in its ndings?
Steyn berates academics for promising research subjects the world and then failing to
deliver. He critiques the proliferation of dependency relationships and patronage between
the intellectual/ outsider and the movement leader/insider. These points are entirely valid.
Yet is leeching oanothers experiences and ideas for career benets and vague promises
of societal change, not just as questionable? We need new methodologies, new ways of
engaging in research that seek to break down hierarchies and forms of exploitation that
dominate the way research is conducted today.
I recently spoke with comrades from the Symphony Way Pavement Dweller commu-
nity, now living in Blikkiesdorp, about the question of who produces theory. They
responded adamantly that, if their experiences and ideas are so important to researchers,
if they are considered knowledgeable about their own condition, then academics should
pay them just like any other expert. They cited routine instances of students and pro-
fessors coming to Blikkiesdorp, taking their knowledge, reframing it for academic legiti-
macy, debating it, and then obtaining degrees, writing books, and receiving awards.
They made it clear to me that this is simply a question of unpaid work and exploitation.
Radical autonomist feminists such as Leopoldina Fortunati and Selma James have fore-
grounded how capitalism devalues unpaid work by categorising it as an act of love. They
were specically referring to womens housework, but also extended the argument to any
activity reproducing the worker for capital. Whether aiding researchers through trans-
lations, interviews or acting as informants, subalterns are key actors producing intellec-
tual value to be extracted for the researchers benet; research subjectsplay an unpaid
POLITIKON 13
reproductive role that academia does not economically value. Like paternalistic patriarchs,
well-meaning researchers often glorify subjects for their voluntarism and altruism thereby
obscuring relationships of exploitation. Like the Wages for Houseworkcampaigns (Dalla
Costa and James 1975; Federici 1975), research participantswork must be made visible,
politicised through reconstructing research methodologies, encouraging co-research,
co-authorship and considering collective and individual compensation. Under capitalism,
the only thing more exploitative than getting paid peanutsworking for others, is doing
that work for free. Jamaican-British researcher, Sonia Thompson, has been exceptional in
making explicit this connection between paying research participants and feminism
(1996).
Nonetheless, several complications arise when employing such unconventional meth-
odologies. Compensation can have negative, sometimes destructive outcomes and should
not be viewed as an inexible blueprint. Emma Head investigates its eect on consent and
whether it can result in participants telling us what he or she feels we want to know(2009,
342). There are also legitimate concerns regarding research commodication. Payment
and non-monetary contributions can risk creating patronage relationships increasing
the researcherspower over movement activists. Yet, academia is already commodied;
the investigator already benets nancially through exploiting their subjectsknowledge
and experiences. Questions also remain regarding patronage within academia and the
researcher is often accused of tailoring their conclusions to funders or supervisors. One
cannot advocate a rigid code of conduct for research; university ethics committees are
an unfortunate example of this approachs failure. We cannot evade the necessity of
doing research dierently. Radical, ethical methodologies, informed by feminist praxis,
and negotiated through conversation and serious co-research, are indispensable. Enga-
ging with bottom up processes, however messy, are necessary alternatives to rigid, pre-
existing theoretical frameworks. This is both a commitment to methodological diligence
and a profound ethical question.
Conclusion: moving forward, with commitment
Self-reection makes it apparent that one cannot evade the inevitable contradictions of
militant research. It is necessary to embrace the messiness of solidarity and responsibility
(Nagar 2014, 2) including appreciating the danger of producing an idealised vision of col-
laborative or anti-oppressive re-search, recognising that even research with emancipatory
intentions is inevitably troubled by unequal power relations(Sudbury and Okazawa-Rey
2009, 3). We must be cognisant of how women remain oppressed and exploited, how
white supremacy mediates individual and collective relationships, and how hierarchies
persist through class structure. No xed rules of engagement exist; they must be nego-
tiated through situated solidaritiesspecic to particular contexts and locations (Nagar
2014, 5). Concurrently, we must also be aware of the dangers of reifying collaboration
and alliance work and turning it into a universalism or a panacea(Nagar and Lock
Swarr 2010, 18).
Critique cannot legitimize calls for researchers to maintain a critical distance, unburden-
ing them from having to navigate strong, personal and chaotic relationships. Within such
spaces, no researcher can emerge unscathed absolved of questions surrounding such
relationships. In becoming complicit in struggles, Colectivo Situaciones contends that:
14 J. SACKS
There is no purism of knowledge; investigation becomes risky, any easy distinction
between the researcher and the researched breaks down(Mason-Deese 2013). In South
Africa, student activists are claiming space and collapsing this abstract distance. The
Publica[c]tion Collective, ghting the academic who seeks to impose order, extols us to
think decolonially:
If we think academically we might fail to grasp this moment and the thoughts of those writing
i. Do not seek to frame the unframeableas scholars tend to do, but rather reect on our
process so you might come to appreciate it for what it is a process and a collective
project rather than a thing on its own. (Publica[c]tion Collective 2017,3)
Collective militant research, rather than distance from accountability, may be imbued with
contradictions. Yet, it remains more genuine and ethnographically precise.
What some might see as patronage, others may interpret as reciprocity. While not false
distinctions per se, it is not always immediately perceptible to what extent relationships of
exchange are unequal/clientelistic or relatively reciprocal/egalitarian. What some might
argue is acquiescence to gatekeepers, others will maintain is a militant commitment to fol-
lowing collective mandates. Ultimately, any sincerity regarding universal ideals of the
greater good, cannot be seen on its own terms, but need to be understood within its
social context of negotiated roles and responsibilities. One does not experience friendship
or love in an innocent way: we all come out from them reconstituted(Colectivo Situaciones
2003, 6). My relationship with QQ-Section was certainly messy. However, perhaps my great-
est failing was attempting to distance myself from movement relationships to focus on the
crèche, rather than engaging and communicating amid contradiction. I hope that through
this paper, I have begun to tackle the meaning of militant self-reection.
Notes
1. Subjectrefers to a person about whom an investigator conducts research, rather than philo-
sophically in terms of subjectivity. As a privileged subject of Steyns research, I was able to
access his journal article while his AbM-WC subjects could not. To address this, I printed
article and thesis to shared with them. Still, language and literacy restrictions prevented
most members from engaging with its contents beyond the verbal explanation I provided.
I.e. there is no equivalence between my position and Steyns other subjects.
2. They,their,them, are also used in the singular as gender neutral pronouns.
3. My focus is AbM-WC. There is no space in this paper, nor the ethnographic knowledge, to
respond to Steyns assertions regarding other movements. Procedurally, I avoid conating
AbM-WC with AbM-KZN: distinct organisations with dierent philosophies and operational
structures.
4. Not all shack settlements are founded like this.
5. Note: whereas council ats and bond home communities organise around shared issues such
as evictions excluding many less precarious residents, in shack settlements, all residents
become implicated in developmental issues. Still, shack settlements are often divided by pol-
itical aliation.
6. This has nuance because of a global resurgence of anti-Semitism.
7. One can distinguish Colectivo Situaciones from other academics engaging in reexive, activist
ethnography (Burawoy 2013; Scheper-Hughes 1995) as Colectivo position themselves primar-
ily as militants immersed in movement struggles; their research tends not to serve an aca-
demic function. Rather than publishing in academic journals, Colectivo shares its research
with movements (LatinAmericaBureau 2010).
POLITIKON 15
8. I helped found CHOSA in 2005. After reection, we decided to restructure the organisation to
operate horizontally and democratically without a boss. Space restrictions limit further
extrapolation.
9. Methodological questions developed later.
10. See also the pioneering method of radical co-authorship (Nagar 2014; Sangtin and Nagar
2006) and collaborative research by the Publica[c]tion Collective (2017).
11. Unfortunately, the other key outsider involved with AbM-WC, Martin Legassick, is since
deceased. Despite his shortcomings, I believe he also would have engaged critically with
these questions.
12. Many individual residents still voted ANC. But, unlike most other shack settlements in Khaye-
litsha, the party had no organisational presence in QQ-Section.
13. There were no Somali-owned shops in QQ-Section, though, possibly, some residents of QQ-
Section participated in attacks inside Q-Section,
14. Poni did help inculcate a strong, deliberative democratic culture in QQ-Section after disaliat-
ing from SANCO and before AbM-WCs 2008 launch. Until about 2009, deliberative zone meet-
ings representing sub-sections of about 100 households would precede each community-
wide meeting.
15. Martin Legassicks(2009) unpublished work, two articles by Steven Robins in 2014 and 2015)
focused on the Social Justice Coalition (not AbM-WC) and a short blog post by Matt Birkinshaw
(2008).
16. True, I have written about other communities and movements like the Marikana Land Occu-
pation (Cape Town) and AbM-KZN and have now taken on a new role pursuing a PhD. If
deemed inaccurate/romantic, my writing should be critiqued in relation to those organiz-
ations rather than AbM-WC Perhaps a future self-reective paper may be needed here.
17. Podlashuc was forced to retract some claims after the SDI leadership and a top political gure
threatened to sue.
18. Ivy Mbotshelwa makes this claim to Steyn (2015, 149). Being hearsay, I would hesitate to give it
credibility without concrete evidence.
19. See SDI and SAHPF.
20. Though her role paralleled mine, the involvement of my colleague, Zukie Mabuya, was erased
in Steyns thesis.
21. I do not idealize this. Just because auto-critique occurs within movements does not mean this
process is necessarily sucient, democratic, or progressive.
Acknowledgement
I would like to thank the residents of QQ Section for welcoming me into their community and for
teaching me a thing or two about the slow and painstaking nature of collective democracy. A
special thank you to Theliwe Macekiswana for her time and intricate knowledge of the history of
AbM-WC. I would also like to thank three anonymous friends and colleagues who reviewed drafts
of this piece. I did not receive funding for the research and writing of this paper.
Disclosure statement
No potential nancial conict of interest was reported by the author. However, the author engages in
self-reection with regards to the conicts inherent in his personal and professional relationships
with other subjects in the text.
ORCID
Jared Sacks http://orcid.org/0000-0001-9534-5869
16 J. SACKS
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Article
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This book uses stories, encounters, and anecdotes as well as methodological reflections, to grapple with the complexity of working through solidarities, responsibility, and ethics while involved in politically engaged scholarship. Experiences that range from the streets of Dar es Salaaam to farms and development offices in North India inform the discussion of the labor and politics of co-authorship, translation, and genre blending in research and writing that cross multiple—and often difficult—borders. The book links the implicit assumptions, issues, and questions involved with scholarship and political action, and explores the epistemological risks and possibilities of creative research that bring these into intimate dialogue. It reveals a politically engaged researcher and writer working to become “radically vulnerable,” and the ways in which such radical vulnerability can allow a re-imagining of collaboration that opens up new avenues to collective dreaming and laboring across sociopolitical, geographical, linguistic, and institutional borders.
Chapter
This chapter examines the role of women within the family as a source of social productivity, that is, of surplus value making. In pre-capitalist patriarchal society the home and the family were central to agricultural and artisan production. Women, children and the aged lost the relative power that derived from the family's dependence on their labor, which was seen to be social and necessary. In order to see the housewife as central, it was first of all necessary to analyze briefly how capitalism has created the modern family and the housewife's role in it, by destroying the types of family group or community which previously existed. The “unreliability” of women in the home and out of it has grown rapidly since then, and runs directly against the factory as regimentation organized in time and space, and against the social factory as organization of the reproduction of labor power.
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Mdlalose’s [2014. “The Rise and Fall of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a South African Social Movement.” Politikon 41 (3): 345–353] personal account of Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) throws into stark relief the tendency among academics and intellectuals to ignore weaknesses and contradictions in social movements. It seems that many academics and intellectuals are more inclined to exaggerate the virtues of social movements, perhaps to accentuate their own theoretical and ideological commitments. It is with this in mind, I feel, that the letter of concern over the publication of Mdlalose’s article in the Politikon should be read. In this article, I intend to show that Friedman [2015. “Letter for Concern by Steven Friedman and Signatories.” Politikon 42 (1): 129–131] and his co-petitioners, who have written on AbM, have a great incentive to defend the movement against Mdlalose’s criticism of its practices. The petition works to defend the celebratory social movement narrative as manifested in the writings of left-wing academics and intellectuals on the movement (predominantly white, male and middle-class), through which, as Walsh [2015. “The Philosopher and His Poor: The Poor-Black as Object for Political Desire in South Africa.” Politikon 42 (1): 123–127] argues, they gained power to represent social movements in intellectual and other spaces.
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This report was originally written for CODESRIA, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, and is due to be published by CODESRIA as a monograph in the near future. Interface is very grateful to Prof Neocosmos and to CODESRIA for the opportunity to present a preliminary version of this report. We hope that this enables social movements elsewhere in the world to learn from some of the most systematic reflection yet on the current shape of popular struggles in Africa. Preface and acknowledgements This work was originally written as a report for the Codesria Multinational Working Group on Citizenship and submitted in 2007. It has been revised since then. The argument is deployed along the following lines: The contemporary critique of neo-liberalism has concentrated overwhelmingly on its economic theory and socio-economic effects. Very little has been written so far on its political conceptions, particularly of the limited thinking which it imposes on political thought and practice. This work makes a contribution to the latter endeavour by making a case for thinking an emancipatory politics in contemporary Africa. It shows that civil society -the expression of the freedom of the citizen in neo-liberal discourse -must be understood, not as organised society, but as a domain of politics where the hegemony of a liberal, state mode of politics prevails. Politics also exists beyond, or at the margin of civil society. Neo-liberal politics predominantly produces passivity or rarely a politics of petitioning the state. This political passivity must be countered by an active citizenship which often exists beyond the domain of state politics including civil society itself. But this active citizenship -political agency -is not necessarily conducive to a politics of emancipation; it merely enables the possibility of the envisaging of alternative modes of thought and political 'possibles'. To initiate a discussion of the theorisation of emancipatory politics in Africa, this work briefly outlines the philosophy of change of Alain Badiou, and the anthropology of Sylvain Lazarus. In particular it concentrates on the latter's understanding of subjective 'modes of politics' and political 'prescriptions'. Using this perspective, it becomes possible to identify a National Liberation Struggle (NLS) mode of politics as a sequential political subjectivity which dominated on the continent from the 1940s to the 1970s. The main characteristics of this NLS mode of politics are outlined. However, this manner of thinking emancipatory politics has now come to an end, so that emancipation has to be thought differently today in Africa. I then argue in some detail that the period 1984-86 in South Africa (re-) discovered the beginnings of a new mode of Interface: a journal for and about social movements Key document Volume 1 (2): 263 -334 (November 2009) Neocosmos, Rethinking militancy 264 politics, which in several important ways contradicted the core features of the NLS mode. In particular this was a politics which did not see its object as the seizure of power, but as the transformation of the lived experience of power. The monograph ends by comparing the politics of two current post-apartheid South African social movements -the Treatment Action Campaign and the Abahlali baseMjondolo. It shows that, despite appearances, it is the former which has operated within the domain of the state politics of civil society, and the latter which operates beyond those subjective limits. Hence it is the latter which shows the closest fidelity to the event of 1984-86, and which is thus the closest thing today, at least in South Africa, to being the bearer of a thought of emancipatory politics.
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During the years in which the women's liberation movement has been taking shape, a great emphasis has been placed on what are called leaderless, structureless groups as the main form of the movement. The source of this idea was a natural reaction against the overstructured society in which most of us found ourselves, the inevitable control this gave others over our lives, and the continual elitism of the Left and similar groups among those who were supposedly fighting this over-structuredness. The idea of structurelessness, however, has moved from a healthy counter to these tendencies to becoming a goddess in its own right. The idea is as little examined as the term is much used, but it has become an intrinsic and unquestioned part of women's liberation ideology. For the early development of the movement this did not much matter. It early defined its main method as consciousness raising, and the structureless rap group was an excellent means to this end. Its looseness and informality encouraged participation in discussion and the often supportive atmosphere elicited personal insight. If nothing more concrete than personal insight ever resulted from these groups, that did not much matter, because their purpose did not really extend beyond this.
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Through the in-depth ethnographic study of one squatter neighborhood in Montevideo and its leader's political networks, this article illustrates a successful strategy through which some squatter neighborhoods have fought for their right to the city. This consists of opportunistic, face-to-face relationships between squatter leaders and politicians of various factions and parties as intermediaries to get state goods, such as water, building materials, electricity, roads, and ultimately land tenure. Through this mechanism, squatters have seized political opportunities at the national and municipal levels. These opportunities were particularly high between 1989 and 2004, years of great competition for the votes of the urban poor on the periphery of the city, when the national and municipal governments belonged to opposing parties. In terms of theory, the article discusses current literature on clientelism, posing problems that make it difficult to characterize the political networks observed among squatters.