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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
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

In Race Otherwise Zimitri Erasmus questions the notion that one can know race with one’s eyes, with racial categories and with genetic ancestry tests

Race Otherwise brings together the full amplitude of Zimitri Erasmus’s thinking about how race works. It tunes into registers both personal and social. It is not without indignation, and not … insensitive to emotion and … the anger inside South Africa. It is a book that is not afraid of questions of affect. Eros and love, Erasmus urges, are not separable from the hard work of thinking.’ – Crain Soudien, CEO of the Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa

Race Otherwise

‘People from different parts of the world ask ‘what mix’ I am. Which would you prefer? Salt and vinegar or cinnamon and sugar? Neither one of my parents was black Black. Neither one of them was white White. I am not half-and-half.’
(from Chapter 1, ‘This Blackness’)

How is ‘race’ determined? Is it your DNA? The community that you were raised in? The way others see you or the way you see yourself?

In Race Otherwise: Forging a New Humanism for South Africa Zimitri Erasmus questions the notion that one can know race with one’s eyes, with racial categories and with genetic ancestry tests. She moves between the intimate probing of racial identities as we experience them individually, and analysis of the global historical forces that have created these identities and woven them into our thinking about what it means to be ‘human’.

Starting from her own family’s journeys through regions of the world and ascribed racial identities, she develops her argument about how it is possible to recognise the pervasiveness of race thinking without submitting to its power. Drawing on the theoretical work of Frantz Fanon, Sylvia Wynter and others, Erasmus argues for a new way of ‘coming to know otherwise’, of seeing the boundaries between racial identities as thresholds to be crossed, through politically charged acts of imagination and love.

Zimitri Erasmus is a professor of Sociology in the department of Anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She is the editor of the seminal volume Coloured by History, Shaped by Place: New Perspectives on Coloured Identities in Cape Town (2001) and in 2010 she was a UCT-Harvard Mandela Mellon Fellow. Race Otherwise: Forging a New Humanism for South Africa is her first monograph.

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“It covers all the issues of our country” – Paul Slabolepszy on his award-winning play Suddenly the Storm

Paul Slabolepszy’s Suddenly the Storm set in Johannesburg’s East Rand at the home of an ageing former police officer Dwayne Combrink and his much younger wife Shanell, poses the question of whether the wounds of the past can ever truly be healed.

Combative, volatile, constantly on the verge of exploding, Dwayne and Shanell Combrink are two halves of a white South African workingclass couple, living an uneasy truce as they struggle with the day-to-day trials of scraping together a living and dreaming competing dreams.

But beneath Dwayne’s angry, violent exterior lies the heartbreak that governs his attitude to life. Dwayne is a man in mourning. Shanell believes his current level of despair was sparked by the death of his childhood friend and recent work partner, Jonas, but the source of his mourning and anger lies much further back. When the elegant and self-contained Namhla Gumede, born on 16 June 1976, arrives on their doorstep seeking answers to questions that have remained buried for 40 years, Dwayne and Shanell finally find out the truth.

What starts as a smouldering dark comedy suddenly turns into a roller-coaster ride of startling revelations, rage and recrimination … before the storm finally breaks.

Here Paul discusses his Naledi award-winning play on SABC:


 

Suddenly the Storm

Book details

Paul Slabolepszy’s new play, Suddenly the Storm, wins coveted award for Best New South African Script

Paul Slabolepszy’s new play, Suddenly the Storm has won the coveted Naledi award for Best New South African Script. The play script was recently published by Wits University Press. Zakes Mda, award-winning playwright and novelist said of the play, “Slabolepszy is a master of dialect which makes his East Rand characters so authentic you could be sitting in a bar in one of these Ekurhuleni towns listening to their real-life equivalents and laughing at their jokes.”

Apart from winning the award for Best New South African Script for Slabolepszy, the play won two more awards from its six nominations at the Naledi Theatre Awards in Johannesburg, winning Best Theatre Set Design and Best Lighting Design.

Slabolepszy is an acclaimed playwright, as well as radio, television and screenwriter of more than thirty plays. A selection of his play scripts have been published by Wits University Press as Mooi Street and Other Moves. The book, a collection of six plays written between 1984 and 1993 was recently reprinted.

Veronica Klipp, publisher at Wits University Press expressed her delight in the play winning these accolades and added that Slabolepszy’s play scripts had been used by high schools learners as well as university students for many years.

Suddenly the Storm is Slabolepszy’s first new play since 2009 and marks his first return to the stage as an actor in nearly two decades.

The play will be performed with Slabolepszy in the lead role in Durban from 10 to 12 August 2017 at the Playhouse Loft Theatre.

Slabolepszy is a master of dialect which makes his East Rand characters so authentic you could be sitting in a bar in one of these Ekurhuleni towns listening to their real-life equivalents and laughing at their jokes. Through his dialect he is able to elicit real pathos in all his characters … With Slabolepszy you are always waiting for something menacing to happen, and it does in this play.
– Zakes Mda, award-winning playwright and novelist

Paul Slabolepszy’s Suddenly the Storm set in Johannesburg’s East Rand at the home of an ageing former police officer Dwayne Combrink and his much younger wife Shanell, poses the question of whether the wounds of the past can ever truly be healed.

Combative, volatile, constantly on the verge of exploding, Dwayne and Shanell Combrink are two halves of a white South African workingclass couple, living an uneasy truce as they struggle with the day-to-day trials of scraping together a living and dreaming competing dreams.

But beneath Dwayne’s angry, violent exterior lies the heartbreak that governs his attitude to life. Dwayne is a man in mourning. Shanell believes his current level of despair was sparked by the death of his childhood friend and recent work partner, Jonas, but the source of his mourning and anger lies much further back. When the elegant and self-contained Namhla Gumede, born on 16 June 1976, arrives on their doorstep seeking answers to questions that have remained buried for 40 years, Dwayne and Shanell finally find out the truth.

What starts as a smouldering dark comedy suddenly turns into a roller-coaster ride of startling revelations, rage and recrimination … before the storm finally breaks.

Suddenly the Storm

Book details

 
 

Mooi Street and Other Moves

Watch an interview with Mandla Mathebula, author of The Backroom Boy: Andrew Mlangeni’s Story

It probably took a fraction of a second from the knock – a single bang – to the opening of the door and the entry of an unexpected visitor into the room. They had just finished their lunch. The unannounced visitor … simply pretended that everything was normal. There he stood – unfazed and somehow gigantic in his presence. The room had suddenly been invaded by a man who was to be a landmark in the lives of the trainees …

The Backroom Boy
opens dramatically in China, 1962. Andrew Mlangeni is one of a small select group undergoing military training there. The unannounced visitor is Mao Tse-Tung or Chairman Mao as he was known, Chairman of the Communist Party of China.

Mlangeni was selected as one of the first-ever six members who received military training in China before the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe. He seems to have been chosen because he was a dedicated, intelligent and dependable operative, rather than a leader. Even after his release after 25 years on Robben Island, Mlangeni was not given a senior position in the post-apartheid democratic government. ‘I was always the backroom boy,’ says Andrew Mlangeni about himself.

Andrew Mlangeni, is a struggle stalwart, Rivonia Trialist, and Robben Island prisoner 467/64 who was next door inmate to Nelson Mandela’s acclaimed 466/64 prison number. Released after 26 years of incarceration, he served as Member of Parliament, and is Chairman of the ANC’s Integrity Commission and Founder of the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation. With the passing of Ahmed Kathrada (March 2017), Mlangeni (91) is one of only two Rivonia Trialist still alive with Denis Goldberg.

While still at school, Andrew Mlangeni joined the Communist Party of South Africa and also the ANC Youth League. These were the organisations that shaped his values. Decades of resourceful activism were to lead to his arrest and life sentence in the Rivonia trial. Mlangeni’s lifelong commitment to the struggle for liberation reverberates with other biographies and memoirs of leading figures, such as Rusty Bernstein’s Memory Against Forgetting and Albie Sachs’ We, the People: Insights of an Activist Judge. This story of an ANC elder is a well-researched historical record overlaid with intensely personal refl ections which intersect with the political narrative. Above all, it is one man’s story, set in the maelstrom of the liberation struggle.

This biographical project has been developed for, and published in conjunction with, the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation.

The Backroom Boy is one of Wits University Press’ bestsellers.

Polity recently conducted an interview with Mandla Mathebula, the author of Backroom Boy. Watch the full clip here:

 

The Backroom Boy

Book details

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.

Book details

OR Tambo Centenary Lecture: “What did we achieve?” asks Justice Albie Sachs on the drafting of the Constitution

In a four-part lecture delivered as part of the Oliver Tambo Centenary Series, former Justice Albie Sachs confronts aspects of the Constitution with direct parallels to critical issues faced by the country right now. Read Sachs’ recent piece for the Daily Maverick – “The Constitution as a Framework for Struggle” – here:

I didn’t sleep the night before the actual constitutional negotiations started. It was 1992, and the prospect of spending days on end in the gloomy, sprawling building near the Johannesburg airport grandiosely entitled the World Trade Centre was not enticing, even if it was slightly enlivened by a banner proclaiming CODESA (Convention for a Democratic South Africa). Yet what kept me awake was not the cheerlessness of the venue. It was fear. My deep dread was that, after all the generations of struggle – in my case, working as an advocate by day and in the underground at night, then spending days, weeks and months in solitary confinement, with sleep deprivation thrown in, followed by 24 years of exile, seven as a stateless person, and being blown up by an apartheid bomb, losing my arm and my sight in one eye – my terror was that we would give away in a few weeks at the negotiating table all the gains we had won through strenuous travail over the decades in the trenches. I thought of my close comrades who had been tortured to death or assassinated: Solwandle Looksmart Ngudle, Elijah Loza, Babla Saloojee, Ruth First and Joe Gqabi. Would we betray their memory?

I think back to that time when I hear passionate young activists today speaking about how the Constitution was made. As they see it, at some key moments Mandela got together with certain captains of big business to assure them that, provided everyone got the vote, there would be nothing in the new Constitution to rock the existing economic system or require massive restoration of land to the people. The kinder version is that Mandela’s position was weak and he had no other option. Less generously, he was too naïve and trusting. More critically, he was simply a sell-out. These claims reduce to a simple all-defining chat by a few top personalities what was in fact an arduous, six-year-long violence-beset struggle over the Constitution, with a total breakdown and one severe crisis after the other. The role of millions of people who participated in different ways is simply eliminated.

The actual role that Mandela played at CODESA is completely misrepresented. As I have explained in my first two Oliver Tambo Centenary Lectures [See: here and here] the basic non-racial, democratic design of our Constitution came not from Mandela but from Oliver Tambo. Mandela’s role in negotiations was in fact to be the public face of the ANC and to ensure that the negotiation process remained firmly on track. Those of us who were there have to tell our story. The making of the Constitution was in fact a huge act of decolonisation in South Africa. It tore down the pillars of white domination in the political sphere and provided the instruments for achieving the next stage of liberation, namely, economic and cultural emancipation.

It is surprising that the central drama of the South African constitution-making project is not known. It wasn’t over the economic system, but over who should have the right to determine it. It wasn’t over a unitary state versus federalism – that was important but relatively secondary. It was in fact over an issue that had been raised while we were still in Lusaka and that is almost forgotten today: group rights, as Pretoria had demanded, versus majority rule and a Bill of Rights, as the ANC had insisted on.

As the struggle against apartheid had visibly gathered strength inside South Africa and worldwide denunciation of the system had intensified, proposals for new constitutional arrangements in South Africa had come pouring in from all sides. Invariably they had been based on forms of power-sharing between whites and blacks. The tenet had been that, given the deep historical and cultural cleavages in South Africa, the only way that the white minority could be expected to surrender their monopoly on power was if they were granted secure constitutional protections against a black majority rule.

Continue reading here.
 

We, the People

Book details

Watch: Edward Webster discusses the The Unresolved National Question

The Unresolved National Question in South Africa is an extremely valuable contribution to the decades-long debate on South African nationhood. Its striking feature is its highly professional and balanced approach to the various narratives and traditions that address the National Question.
— Vladimir Shubin, Russian Academy of Sciences

The re-emergence of debates on the decolonisation of knowledge has revived interest in the National Question, which began over a century ago and remains unresolved. Tensions that were suppressed and hidden in the past are now being openly debated. Despite this, the goal of one united nation living prosperously under a constitutional democracy remains elusive.

This edited volume examines the way in which various strands of left thought have addressed the National Question, especially during the apartheid years, and goes on to discuss its relevance for South Africa today and in the future. Instead of imposing a particular understanding of the National Question, the editors identified a number of political traditions and allowed contributors the freedom to define the question as they believed appropriate – in other words, to explain what they thought was the Unresolved National Question. This has resulted in a rich tapestry of interweaving perceptions.

The volume is structured in two parts. The first examines four foundational traditions – Marxism-Leninism (the Colonialism of a Special Type thesis); the Congress tradition; the Trotskyist tradition; and Africanism. The second part explores the various shifts in the debate from the 1960s onwards, and includes chapters on Afrikaner nationalism, ethnic issues, Black Consciousness, feminism, workerism and constitutionalism.

The editors hope that by revisiting the debates not popularly known among the scholarly mainstream, this volume will become a catalyst for an enriched debate on our identity and our future.

Here, co-editor Edward Webster, Professor Emeritus in the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at Wits University, discusses the debate surrounding race, gender and class – the unresolved questions our nation is grappling with – on SABC News:

The Unresolved National Question

Book details

Listen: Jean and John Comaroff, authors of The Truth About Crime discuss what crime says of a society

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.

Anna Saldinger recently interviewed the authors on the Californian radio station KPFA. Listen to their conversation here:

 
 
Book details

Watch: Andrew Mlangeni on Morning Live

Backroom Boy is a riveting account of a long life in the struggle for freedom both before and after the attainment of democracy in 1994. It is a living account of the many turns and twists in the life of a cadre in the centre, but backstage of the struggle for freedom in South Africa.
— Siphamandla Zondi, professor and head of the school of Political Science at University of Pretoria

This book is a valuable and dependable source book to ANC and MK (uMkhonto we Sizwe ) history with a lot of factual information that would not be known to the general reader.
— Albie Sachs, retired Constitutional Court judge and author of We, the People: Insights of an activist judge

“It probably took a fraction of a second from the knock – a single bang – to the opening of the door and the entry of an unexpected visitor into the room. They had just finished their lunch. The unannounced visitor … simply pretended that everything was normal. There he stood – unfazed and somehow gigantic in his presence. The room had suddenly been invaded by a man who was to be a landmark in the lives of the trainees …”

The Backroom Boy opens dramatically in China, 1962. Andrew Mlangeni is one of a small select group undergoing military training there. The unannounced visitor is Mao Tse-Tung or Chairman Mao as he was known, Chairman of the Communist Party of China.

Mlangeni was selected as one of the first-ever six members who received military training in China before the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe. He seems to have been chosen because he was a dedicated, intelligent and dependable operative, rather than a leader. Even after his release after 25 years on Robben Island, Mlangeni was not given a senior position in the post-apartheid democratic government. ‘I was always the backroom boy,’ says Andrew Mlangeni about himself.

Andrew Mlangeni, is a struggle stalwart, Rivonia Trialist, and Robben Island prisoner 467/64 who was next door inmate to Nelson Mandela’s acclaimed 466/64 prison number. Released after 26 years of incarceration, he served as Member of Parliament, and is Chairman of the ANC’s Integrity Commission and Founder of the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation. With the passing of Ahmed Kathrada (March 2017), Mlangeni (91) is one of only two Rivonia Trialist still alive with Denis Goldberg.

While still at school, Andrew Mlangeni joined the Communist Party of South Africa and also the ANC Youth League. These were the organisations that shaped his values. Decades of resourceful activism were to lead to his arrest and life sentence in the Rivonia trial. Mlangeni’s lifelong commitment to the struggle for liberation reverberates with other biographies and memoirs of leading figures, such as Rusty Bernstein’s Memory Against Forgetting and Albie Sachs’ We, the People: Insights of an Activist Judge. This story of an ANC elder is a well-researched historical record overlaid with intensely personal reflections which intersect with the political narrative. Above all, it is one man’s story, set in the maelstrom of the liberation struggle.

This biographical project has been developed for, and published in conjunction with, the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation.

Here Mlangeni discusses the book, his critique of the current government, and lack of unity in South Africa on Morning Live with Leanne Manas.


 
 

The Backroom Boy

Book details