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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

“A collection of moving stories of a diversity of people living in the gritty city of gold” – BusinessLive reviews I Want to Go Home Forever

Via Business Live: 6/12/2018

By Yvonne Fontyn

With Tanya Pampalone working as a journalist and Loren B Landau heading the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits University, and the “go-to academic on everything migration and xenophobia in SA”, Pampalone says he was the obvious choice to partner with on a book of “stories of becoming and belonging” in Johannesburg.

They collaborated in 2013 on a book called Writing Invisibility: Conversations on the Hidden City, a collection of long-form stories exploring “different definitions of migrancy and lives lived outside the mainstream discourse”, she says.

Their subjects came not just from SA but reached as far as Kenya and Belgium.

“With the ongoing attacks on foreigners in SA and the various migration issues, Loren and I spoke often over the years,” says Pampalone.

But it was at the end of 2015, after the xenophobic attacks of that year, that she and Landau decided to commit to what became I Want to Go Home Forever.

They wanted to compile a collection of stories that would go beyond the headlines, to the root of the experiences of people involved in the violence.

The result is a collection of moving stories of a diversity of people living in the gritty city of gold, all in some way touched by migrancy, xenophobia, crime and violence.

Continue reading Fontyn’s review here.
 
Book details

  • I Want to go Home Forever: Stories of Becoming and Belonging in South Africa’s Great Metropolis edited by Loren Landau, Tanya Pampalone
    EAN: 9781776142217
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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Yes, we should be worried about state surveillance in South Africa – a Q&A with Jane Duncan, author of Stopping the Spies

In 2013, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden leaked secret documents revealing that state agencies like the NSA had spied on the communications of millions of innocent citizens.

International outrage resulted, but the Snowden documents revealed only the tip of the surveillance iceberg.

Apart from insisting on their rights to tap into communications, more and more states are placing citizens under surveillance, tracking their movements and transactions with public and private institutions.

The state is becoming like a one-way mirror, where it can see more of what its citizens do and say, while citizens see less and less of what the state does, owing to high levels of secrecy around surveillance. In this book, Jane Duncan assesses the relevance of Snowden’s revelations for South Africa.

In doing so she questions the extent to which South Africa is becoming a surveillance society governed by a surveillance state.

Duncan challenges members of civil society to be concerned about and to act on the ever-expanding surveillance capacities of the South African state.

Is surveillance used for the democratic purpose of making people safer, or is it being used for the repressive purpose of social control, especially of those considered to be politically threatening to ruling interests? She explores the forms of collective action needed to ensure that unaccountable surveillance does not take place and examines what does and does not work when it comes to developing organised responses.

This book is aimed at South African citizens, academics as well as the general reader, who care about our democracy and the direction it is taking.

Jane Duncan is a professor in the Department of Journalism, Film and Television, at the University of Johannesburg. Before that, she held a chair in Media and the Information Society at Rhodes University, and was the Executive Director of the Freedom of Expression Institute. She is author of The Rise of the Securocrats: The Case of South Africa (2014) and Protest Nation: The Right to Protest in South Africa (2016).

Nick Mulgrew recently conducted a Q&A with Duncan for PEN SA. Read their intriguing conversation here:

Play it to us straight: should we be worried about state surveillance in South Africa? And if so, what’s the most worrying, or potentially worrying, thing we should be worried about?

Yes, we should be. We should be most worried about the fact that state and private surveillance capabilities are expanding all the time. However, there are few controls on these capabilities, which makes abuse almost inevitable. The technology has run far, far ahead of the law and policy, leaving ordinary citizens with rights such as privacy on paper only. In reality this right is being violated on a daily basis.

There’s a comforting lie that many of us tell ourselves – and perhaps this is more a delusion of the 90s-born generation – that, with the end of apartheid, the kind of invasive surveillance that was once trained on activists, organisers and artists went away and the state occupied itself with other things. We think that invasive surveillance is now predominantly the purview of overseas intelligence agencies and, increasingly, companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google, which facilitate much of our speech and work. But instead of being turned off, has the gaze of surveillance morphed and been turned onto the South African population-at-large?

Well, there’s no doubt that we’re light years away from those days when surveillance was used to repress the liberation movements with impunity. We have a law (Rica) that makes it illegal to spy on anyone’s communications, with limited exceptions. Any state agency wishing to tap someone’s cellphone or obtain their metadata, for instance, requires a warrant.

But there’s certainly evidence suggesting that South Africa’s state spy agencies are often sticking their noses where they don’t belong, into the communications of journalists, for instance, in order to uncover their sources.

The Right 2 Know Campaign, which I am part of, has documented many cases of trade unionists and political activists being targeted by these agencies in the course of their activism. State spy agencies have accused civil society organizations and social movements of fomenting regime change, to justify infiltration and surveillance of their activities.

These practices contain eerie reminders of a past we thought we’d put behind us.

Counterintelligence is particularly susceptible to abuses, as it focuses on measures to impede threats to national security.

Intelligence abuses are not peculiar to South Africa, though. In the UK at the moment, there’s an enquiry into ‘spycops’ or members of an elite police unit tasked with infiltrating social movements there. Some of these spycops have been so undercover that they’ve formed relationships with women in these movements, and even had children with them.

After discovering how she’d been lied to by her supposed partner, one women complained, triggering the enquiry.

That is what spy agencies the world over do; they spy, and not just on those who are genuine threats to public safety, but on those who the ruling elite consider to be politically threatening and inconvenient.

Continue reading here.

 

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Read an excerpt from Ivor Chipkin and Mark Swilling’s Shadow State: The Politics of State Capture

The 2017 publication of Betrayal of the Promise, the report that detailed the systematic nature of state capture, marked a key moment in South Africa’s most recent struggle for democracy.

In the face of growing evidence of corruption and of the weakening of state and democratic institutions, it provided, for the first time, a powerful analysis of events that helped galvanise resistance within the Tripartite Alliance and across civil society.

Working often secretly, the authors consolidated, for the first time, large amounts of evidence from a variety of sources.

They showed that the Jacob Zuma administration was not simply a criminal network but part of an audacious political project to break the hold of whites and white business on the economy and to create a new class of black industrialists. State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) such as Eskom and Transnet were central to these plans.

The report introduced a whole new language to discuss state capture, showing how SOEs were ‘repurposed’, how political power was shifting away from constitutional bodies to ‘kitchen cabinets’, and how a ‘shadow state’ at odds with the country’s constitutional framework was being built.

Shadow State is an updated version of the original, explosive report that changed South Africa’s recent history.

An extract from this definitive book on state capture was recently featured on the Daily Maverick:

In the classical texts, tyranny, as opposed to despotism, refers to a form of government that breaks its own rules.

This is a useful starting point for discussing political developments in South Africa in the past ten years and the civil society response to it. The ANC government under Jacob Zuma became more and more tyrannical as it set itself up against the Constitution and the rule of law in an effort to capture the state.

In moves reminiscent of events in the 1980s, independent journalists, social movements, trade unions, legal aid centres, NGOs, the churches and some academics have helped mobilise South African society against state capture. A new and varied movement has arisen, bringing together awkward partnerships between ideologically disparate groups and people.

What they have nonetheless shared is a broad support for the Constitution, for democracy and for a modern, professional administration, and they are all, broadly speaking, social democratic in orientation.

The publication of the Betrayal of the Promise report, on which this book is based, constituted a key moment, helping to provide this movement with a narrative and concepts for expressing a systemic perspective on state capture that helped its readers to, in the words of former Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, ‘join the dots’.

The particular instance of so-called ‘state capture’ that we discuss in this book is part of a familiar and recurring pattern in the history of state formation in South Africa. It is, in fact, impossible to understand the evolution of South African politics and statecraft without understanding the deeper dynamics of what we refer to today as state capture.

There is a clear and direct line of sight from the origins of the state in the Cape Colony, when it was ‘captured’ by the Dutch East India Company, through to the era of Cecil Rhodes and ‘Milner’s Kindergarten’ – the name popularly given to the young British civil servants who served under High Commissioner Alfred, Lord Milner – in post-Boer War South Africa.

The world that the first generations of mining magnates, the so-called Randlords, built on the Witwatersrand provided the foundation for the election victory of the National Party in 1948.

The post-1948 state actively supported the build-up of Afrikaner capital in a process which effectively captured the state for decades, with the Electricity Supply Commission (Escom, now renamed Eskom) and the South African Railways (now renamed Transnet) at the very centre of that political project.

The corporate capture of the apartheid war- and sanctions-busting machine has been well documented, with arms manufacturer Armscor (renamed Denel after 1994) at its centre.

Also well documented is the powerful role played by corporate South Africa during the transition, to ensure that a democratic state could do little to change the basic structure of the economy.

This was a form of capture in that powerful elite interests subverted the broad vision of transformation that inspired the mass democratic movement that had brought down the apartheid state.

The most recent instance of state capture has galvanised a broad-based coalition of forces that share a commitment to building an uncaptured South African state.

This is what our Constitution envisages.

The choice must not be between different forms of capture, it must be between capture and no capture. In taking this stand we are going up against the defeatist view on both the left and right that ‘the state is always captured, so why the fuss?’

Continue reading here.
 

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Watch: Vishwas Satgar discusses The Climate Crisis

Capitalism’s addiction to fossil fuels is heating our planet at a pace and scale never before experienced.

Extreme weather patterns, rising sea levels and accelerating feedback loops are a commonplace feature of our lives. The number of environmental refugees is increasing and several island states and low-lying countries are becoming vulnerable.

Corporate-induced climate change has set us on an ecocidal path of species extinction. Governments and their international platforms such as the Paris Climate Agreement deliver too little, too late.

Most states, including South Africa, continue on their carbon-intensive energy paths, with devastating results. Political leaders across the world are failing to provide systemic solutions to the climate crisis.

This is the context in which we must ask ourselves: how can people and class agency change this destructive course of history?
 

Volume three in the Democratic Marxism series, The Climate Crisis investigates ecosocialist alternatives that are emerging. It presents the thinking of leading climate justice activists, campaigners and social movements advancing systemic alternatives and developing bottom-up, just transitions to sustain life.

Through a combination of theoretical and empirical work, the authors collectively examine the challenges and opportunities inherent in the current moment. This volume builds on the class-struggle focus of Volume 2 by placing ecological issues at the center of democratic Marxism. Most importantly, it explores ways to renew historical socialism with democratic, ecosocialist alternatives to meet current challenges in South Africa and the world.

Vishwas Satgar is a democratic ecosocialist and has been an activist for over three decades. He is an associate professor of International Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He edits the Democratic Marxism series for which he received the distinguished contribution award from the World Association of Political Economy.

Satgar recently discussed the impact capitalist industrialisation, among others, has on the planet’s ecosystem during an evening hosted by Tshisimani. Watch in full:

Vishwas Satgar: The climate crisis and democratic eco-socialist alternatives from Tshisimani on Vimeo.

The Climate Crisis

Book details

  • The Climate Crisis: South African and Global Democratic Eco-Socialist Alternatives edited by Vishwas Satgar
    EAN: 978-1-77614-054-1
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Anna Dahlqvist’s It’s Only Blood shatters enduring taboos surrounding menstruation


‘Only when we call out the unnecessary shame and stigma that surrounds periods can we demand meaningful change. Dahlqvist’s deft, compassionate storytelling, and her critical global perspective, are a tremendous contribution to the movement for menstrual equity.’
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity

‘A lushly detailed and often intimate portrait of a global social movement. What’s more, Dahlqvist’s perceptive account reveals the insidious power of stigma to limit lives.’
Chris Bobel, author of New Blood: Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation

‘A wide-ranging exploration of the enduring taboos surrounding menstruation, taking the author around the globe. What she uncovers in this provocative and insightful book will make us forever rethink our “first world problems” by putting periods in a global context.’
Karen Houppert, author of The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo

Across the world, 2 billion experience menstruation, yet menstruation is seen as a mark of shame. We are told not to discuss it in public, that tampons and sanitary pads should be hidden away, the blood rendered invisible. In many parts of the world, poverty, culture and religion collide causing the taboo around menstruation to have grave consequences.

Younger people who menstruate are deterred from going to school, adults from work, infections are left untreated. The shame is universal and the silence a global rule.

In It’s Only Blood Anna Dahlqvist tells the shocking but always moving stories of why and how people from Sweden to Bangladesh, from the United States to Uganda, are fighting back against the shame.

Anna Dahlqvist is a journalist specialising in gender, sexuality and human rights. She is editor-in-chief of Ottar, a Swedish magazine focusing on sexual politics and has previously published a book on illegal abortion and abortion rights in Europe.

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Laura Foster’s Reinventing Hoodia makes significant contributions to feminist legal studies and the philosophy of science

Reinventing Hoodia provides a well-researched, critically engaged account of a fascinating contested object of indigenous knowledge and intellectual property. Its illuminating account of hoodia across a range of scales makes significant conceptual and empirical contributions to feminist legal studies and to the history and philosophy of science.”
— Anne Pollock, author of Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference

“Foster’s interdisciplinary work on Hoodia is both novel and timely. She offers a valuable analysis of science and its relationship to indigeneity.”
— Jennifer A. Hamilton, author of Indigeneity in the Courtroom: Law, Culture, and the Production of Difference in North American Courts

“Foster’s fascinating account of complex negotiations between the indigenous San peoples, South African scientists, lawyers, and Big Pharma makes a valuable text for classes in law, the history, philosophy, and social studies of science, women’s studies, and anti-colonial studies. It also expands the horizon of fruitful research projects in these fields.”
— Sandra Harding, author of Objectivity and Diversity: Another Logic of Scientific Research

Native to the Kalahari Desert, Hoodia gordonii is a succulent plant known by generations of indigenous San peoples to have a variety of uses: to reduce hunger, increase energy, and ease breastfeeding. In the global North, it is known as a natural appetite suppressant, a former star of the booming diet industry. In Reinventing Hoodia, Laura Foster explores how the plant was reinvented through patent ownership, pharmaceutical research, the self-determination efforts of indigenous San peoples, contractual benefit sharing, commercial development as an herbal supplement, and bioprospecting legislation.

Using a feminist decolonial technoscience approach, Foster argues that although patent law is inherently racialized, gendered, and Western, it offered opportunities for indigenous San peoples, South African scientists, and Hoodia growers to make claims for belonging within the shifting politics of South Africa. This radical interdisciplinary and intersectional account of the multiple materialities of Hoodia illuminates the connections between law, science, and the marketplace, while demonstrating how these domains value certain forms of knowledge and matter differently.
 
 
Laura A. Foster is an assistant professor of gender studies at Indiana University-Bloomington with affiliations in African studies and the Maurer School of Law. She is also a senior researcher with the Intellectual Property Unit at the University of Cape Town Faculty of Law.

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Eminent historian and author, Professor Phil Bonner has passed away

It is with great sadness that Wits University Press announces the passing of eminent historian and author of various urban histories and histories of black resistance, Professor Phil Bonner.

Phil Bonner (1945-2017), an academic who has been associated with the University of the Witwatersrand for over four decades, leaves a significant body of research and writing. He published many scholarly books and contributed chapters to publications of Wits University Press.

Amongst the books that he co-edited or contributed to are:

Ekurhuleni: The Making of an Urban Region

Alexandra: A History

Five Hundred Years Rediscovered: Southern Africa Precedents and Prospects

A Search for Origins: Science, History and South Africa’s Cradle of Mankind

South Africa and India: Shaping the Global South

One Hundred Years of the ANC: Debating Liberation Histories Today

Emeritus Professor Phil Bonner joined the Wits History Department in 1971 and played a leading role in the development of African History at the University and nationally. He was part of a cohort of young revisionist and Africanist scholars who challenged liberal orthodoxies in the academy and produced new histories that emphasised the experiences of the black majority. His book on the Swazi kingdom, Kings, Commoners and Concessionaires, exemplified this scholarship.

Professor Bonner was also heavily involved in the development of independent black trade unions from the 1970s and in the early 1980s served as FOSATU’s Education Officer. In the late 1980s he offered workers’ education to a number of COSATU’s affiliates. At the same time, he wrote various histories of labour struggles and was a member of the editorial board of the South African Labour Bulletin for nearly thirty years. His involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle led to his detention and threat of deportation.

Professor Bonner was a founding member in 1977 of the History Workshop and was its head from the late 1980s until his retirement in 2012. The History Workshop pioneered Social History – history from below – in South Africa and under his supervision numerous postgraduate students undertook original research on the lives and struggles of black workers, women, youth and migrants in locations, mines, factories and villages. His own research focused on squatter movements, the complexities of urbanisation and histories of black resistance. Oral history was central to the endeavour of uncovering these hidden histories and Professor Bonner was a leading exponent of recording the life histories of ordinary and extraordinary people. He was widely acknowledged as one of the country’s leading historians and his expertise was called on in the production of liberation histories and the development of museums (including the Apartheid Museum).

Under his leadership, the History Workshop became more actively involved in public history and heritage. From the late 1990s he collaborated in projects that produced histories of Soweto, Ekurhuleni and Alexandra. Professor Bonner was the head of the History Department from 1998 to 2003 and served on numerous committees in the University. In 2007 he was awarded a South African Research Chair in Local Histories, Present Realities. In the last few years he was involved in a major project on underground struggles and was completing two books on this subject.

Our deepest sympathies are extended to the family, colleagues, friends and students of Professor Bonner, and those who knew him well. He is survived by his wife, Sally Gaule.


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Wits University Press publisher, Veronica Klipp on the costs of losing local research to global publishers

Writing in the University World News, Wits University Press publisher, Veronica Klipp says local scholarly publishing faces the challenges of the small local market and that the costs of losing local research to global publishers is high.

South Africa boasts an impressive pedigree of scholarly publishing, beginning with the establishment of the University of the Witwatersrand Press, now known simply as Wits University Press or WUP, in 1922, the same year the university was formed.

Presses were later established at the University of Natal, now the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN Press) and the University of South Africa (Unisa Press) in the 1950s, and most recently at the University of Cape Town (UCT Press) in the early 1990s.

In addition to university presses there are scholarly publishers at research institutes such as the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC Press) and the Africa Institute of South Africa – AISA, which publishes mainly journals – as well as commercial publishers with agendas that at least partially overlap with those of university presses, such as SUN Media based at Stellenbosch, among others.

These presses are mostly located in the research arms of their institutions, and most publish in the humanities and social sciences. They are meticulous about peer review, adhering to international ‘best practice’ standards, and are known for the quality of their publications.

In recent years, book publication by local academics has been incentivised after the Academy of Science of South Africa or ASSAf lobbied for an increase in the subsidies for books provided by the Department of Higher Education and Training.

This has doubled the ‘points’ a book can earn, up to an equivalent of 10 journal articles. The funds are paid to the universities where authors are based, which have different policies on how they are allocated; usually they go to the authors’ faculties with a percentage allocated to authors’ research accounts.

It is estimated that the scholarly publishing sector produces 60 to 70 books per annum – more or less equivalent to the output of one small to medium publisher in the United Kingdom or United States.

Turnover from these books is less than half a percent of that of the entire publishing industry, which is dominated by educational publishing (65% of turnover). The general trade sector accounts for around 25%, the academic sector (including scholarly books) for 10%.

The state of play

The overarching mission of the university presses is to publish research for the public good and to grow the knowledge base of the country – a particularly important aim in a young democracy.

Yet this mission has had to be responsive to the increasing financial austerity universities operate in. What works in the presses’ favour is the fact that scholarly publishing here is hybrid: books are often aimed at general readers as well, and there is a huge appetite in South Africa for titles in the areas of politics, history and other cross-over non-fiction.

The early 2000s saw a publishing boom in South Africa, which resulted in greater market reach also for scholarly books. At this time our economy was growing and university presses benefited: print runs often exceeded 1,000 units and many bookshops offered an extensive range with serious scholarly work displayed alongside general trade books.

More recently, our records show that scholarly books sell on average 650 units (many sell less) over a number of years and the concept of the ‘long tail’ of small sales over an extended period also applies locally.

While the relatively small size of the local academy may be one reason for low sales, the fact that most local presses only publish on South African or Southern African subject matter limits the potential audience.

In this context it is also relevant that dissemination on the continent remains a challenge, though some co-publication partnerships have been established. Simply raising prices to international levels (which are geared towards library sales) won’t work in our price-sensitive local market.

Adjusting to a new world

To overcome the challenges of the small local market, presses have tried to maximise international sales through print distribution and export, and engaged in co-publications.

The establishment of digital publishing and distribution networks has, of course, radically altered business models and the possibilities for global distribution of content.

Digital aggregators, print-on-demand models and creation of ONIX metadata for greater visibility are the new dissemination tools developed by international commercial operations, yet many local presses seem not to have taken advantage of them.

It is important to try to understand what is holding them back, and it may have something to do with not being able to visualise the advantages offered by new technologies, especially as the local market has not taken them up.

However, there may a bigger structural problem at play.

University presses here function in a context of extreme austerity with little support from their parent institutions.

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy: in an attempt to save costs, presses are not capacitated in terms of staff or technology; but working in this environment means that its staff members have their noses to the production grindstone, they don’t get to travel, and their access to the global scholarly industry – with the potential to upskill technologically – is compromised.

Academics opt for international publishers

Perhaps this is one of the reasons many academics prefer to publish with international publishers – their reach and impact in the territories that dominate the knowledge economy is just greater.

The South African sector is, in fact, dominated by global North players, especially large commercial publishers.

The origins lie to some extent in our colonial history, but also in the managerialism that began to influence the academy in the early 1990s in an era of rapid globalisation, which saw a sell-off of journals to global companies and even of presses, such as UCT Press to Juta.

As a result, the overwhelming proportion of South African research is published by international publishers, and the academy is forced to buy back its own knowledge, often at exorbitant prices.

ASSAf has conducted research on the publishing patterns of local academics which is to be released soon. In the meantime, statistics for 2013 and 2014 from Wits’ research office show that only 30% to 40% of research published in books or book chapters was published by local publishers.

What needs to be done

As research output across the continent continues to grow, we will have to radically improve the capacities of local university presses if we want to have any chance of controlling our own outputs in the global knowledge economy.

Perhaps the first step universities should take is to value the contributions of local presses to their research missions. This would need to go hand in hand with capacitation, for example through the allocation of a percentage of state research output subsidies to the presses.

The presses, on the other hand, need to demonstrate their ability to disseminate and create impact in the global knowledge economy. In this way they can contribute to the prestige of the local academy, which must have been a key reason for establishing the first university press in the early 20th century.

In many ways, the contribution made by university presses since that time has remained unchanged – namely to disseminate important research from the global South, thereby contributing to international research agendas.


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Has South Africa’s labour movement become a middle class movement? An extract from Labour Beyond Cosatu

Labour Beyond Cosatu goes well beyond the previous volumes of the Taking Democracy Seriously project in some of its sorties, and is not shy of pulling its punches in what is now a highly charged environment. Deeply sympathetic to the project of organised labour yet highly critical of its present trajectory, this collection deserves to attract wide attention internationally as well as domestically. Roger Southall, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

South Africa’s working class movement is still powerful, but pressurised and polarised due to major shifts in its structure, base and forms of struggle. This timely, rigorously researched collection draws attention to key developments within Cosatu and beyond … Highly recommended. Lucien van der Walt, Professor of Sociology, Rhodes University, South Africa

Labour Beyond Cosatu is the fifth publication in the Taking Democracy Seriously project which started in 1994 and comprises of surveys of the opinions, attitudes and lifestyles of members of trade unions affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). This survey was conducted shortly before the elections in 2014, in a context in which government economic policy had not fundamentally shifted to the left and the massacre of 34 mineworkers at Marikana by the South African Police Service had fundamentally shaken the labour landscape, with mineworkers not only striking against their employers, but also their union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Cosatu leaders had started to openly criticise levels of corruption in the State, while a ‘tectonic shift’ took place when the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) was expelled from Cosatu at the end of 2014.

In its analysis of the survey, Labour Beyond Cosatu shows that Cosatu, fragmented and weakened through fissures in its alliance with the African National Congress, is no longer the only dominant force influencing South Africa’s labour landscape. Contributors also examine aspects such as changing patterns of class; workers’ incomes and their lifestyles; workers’ relationship to civil society movements and service delivery protests; and the politics of male power and privilege in trade unions.

The trenchant analysis in Labour Beyond Cosatu exhibits fiercely independent and critically engaged labour scholarship, in the face of shifting alliances currently shaping the contestation between authoritarianism and democracy.

This article, written for The Conversation, is based on an extract from a chapter by Andries Bezuidenhout, Christine Bischoff and Ntsehiseng Nthejane:

Do South African trade unions still represent the working class?

The South African labour landscape has undergone massive changes in the past few years that have left the country’s trade union movement almost unrecognisable from yesteryear.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, still the country’s largest trade union federation, has been bleeding members for a while and has been shaken to the core by the exit of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa. This exit has led to a new formation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions. Both labour federations still claim to represent the interests of the working class.

Something else, perhaps more fundamental has been changing within South Africa’s trade union movement. The membership base has shifted significantly from one dominated by unskilled and semiskilled workers to one that shows bias towards skilled and professional workers. This is captured in a series of surveys undertaken between 1994 and 2014, before the National Union of Metal Workers’s exit.

The data shows that less than 1% of members within the trade union movement classified themselves as professional in early years of democracy. The picture had changed radically by 2008 with 20% of the respondents classifying themselves as professional. It would therefore seem that South Africa’s trade union federation had become a home for middle class civil servants, rather than a working class federation.

The evolution

A group of labour scholars has been conducting surveys of Congress of South African Trade Unions members before every parliamentary election since 1994. The intention of the survey, titled Taking Democracy Seriously, was to study the impact of union democracy on parliamentary democracy.

The data set (drawn from five surveys, with the last conducted in 2014 just before National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa was expelled) tell us much more than just what union members’ attitudes towards democracy is. It paints a complex picture of who trade unions actually represent.

At its high point, the federation had a membership of 2.2 million. This was the result of three waves of unionisation.

The first wave of members comprised of workers who were organised into the initial manufacturing unions that resulted from the militancy of the 1973 strikes.

The second wave started in 1985 with the National Union of Mineworkers – the first to organise black miners and what was to become the largest union in the country – joining the Federation of South African Trade Unions in 1985.

The third wave came with the public sector unions that emerged after 1990. This wave benefited from the Labour Relations Act of 1995 which brought public sector employees under the same dispensation as the private sector in terms of collective bargaining and organisational rights.

In the early years of democracy public sector unions were so marginal to the federation and debates in labour studies that the researchers did not even include any unions from the public sector.

The professional factor

From 1994 union members were asked to classify themselves as being professional, clerical, supervisors, skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled. Less than 1% classified themselves as professional in 1994, 1998 and 2004.

The data reflects a major shift in the last two surveys conducted after the inclusion of public sector unions in the sample. 20% of respondents classified themselves as professional in 2008, and 19% in 2014. This constituted a fifth of federation membership base, certainly a massive shift from the early 1990s.

Those members who classified themselves as clerical remained more or less constant, with those classifying themselves as supervisors increasing slightly from 4% in 1994 to 6% in 2014.

What is interesting though, is an increase of those who classify themselves as skilled increasing from 21% in 1994 to 37% in 2014.

Continue reading here.

Book details

  • Labour Beyond Cosatu: Mapping the Rupture in South Africa’s Labour Landscape edited by Andries Bezuidenhout, Malehoko Tshoaedi
    EAN: 978-1-77614-053-4
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Sarah Nuttall, Achille Mbembe, and Jean and John Comaroff to discuss the The Truth about Crime at Stellenbosch University

The Truth about Crime is replete with original insights. Reflecting on the disproportionate relationship between fear and actual danger in a number of major countries, Jean and John Comaroff explain why criminality, although far from matching many other potential sources of public peril, elicits much more civic outrage. We learn how changes in the meaning of criminality and the nature of crime-and-policing are associated with the recent shift in the relationship between capital, governance, and the state. We also learn how these developments in both the United States and the Republic of South Africa have resulted in steps taken to discipline or control certain groups defined or viewed as threatening. This is a compelling book, a must-read for scholars and laypersons alike.” – William Julius Wilson, author of The Truly Disadvantaged

The Comaroffs’ constant articulation of sparkling ethnographic vignettes, rich statistical data, and highly imaginative insights makes for a truly effervescent argumentation, creative and, at the same time, thoroughly documented. With this combination they offer a powerful book that newly addresses a theme that is becoming central all over the world: our increasing obsession with (in)security.“- Peter Geschiere, author of Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust
 

In this book, renowned anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff make a startling but absolutely convincing claim about our modern era: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves – it is by our crimes. Surveying an astonishing range of forms of crime and policing – from petty thefts to the multibillion-dollar scams of too-big-to-fail financial institutions to the collateral damage of war – they take readers into the disorder of the late modern world. Looking at recent transformations in the triangulation of capital, the state, and governance that have led to an era where crime and policing are ever more complicit, they offer a powerful meditation on the new forms of sovereignty, citizenship, class, race, law, and political economy of representation that have arisen.

To do so, the Comaroffs draw on their vast knowledge of South Africa, especially, and its struggle to build a democracy founded on the rule of law out of the wreckage of long years of violence and oppression. There they explore everything from the fascination with the supernatural in policing to the extreme measures people take to prevent home invasion, drawing illuminating comparisons to the United States and United Kingdom. Going beyond South Africa, they offer a global criminal anthropology that attests to criminality as the constitutive fact of contemporary life, the vernacular by which politics are conducted, moral panics voiced, and populations ruled.

The result is a disturbing but necessary portrait of the modern era, one that asks critical new questions about how we see ourselves, how we think about morality, and how we are going to proceed as a global society.

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