Letter from Sam Mbah to WSF, 1999

Letter from the late Sam Mbah, of the now-defunct Nigerian anarcho-syndicalist formation, the Awareness League, to the South African-based Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF). Dated 12 April 1999, the letter  arrived in South Africa around the time the WSF was heading for dissolution. In the letter, the WSF was granted the right to republish Sam Mbah and IE. Igariwey’s classic text, the 1997 African Anarchism: the history of a movement (See Sharp, Tucson, USA); the letter also mentions a planned speaking tour of South Africa by Mbah (which fell through), and a proposed Pan-African Anarchist Conference in South Africa (including Africans from the diaspora). The WSF and the Awareness League always sought to build close ties, but these were primarily by post and, given unreliable services and serious repression in Nigeria, somewhat sporadic; email was not used, mainly because this was extrenely rare in Nigeria at the time.The 1990s WSF actively pursued links with other African anarchists and syndicalists, mainly in (officially) English-speaking countries: it had a section in Zambia, shipped materials to Zimbabwe;  regarding West Africa, had contacts with the Awareness League and a short-lived Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union amongst diamond miners in Sierra Leone (also in contact via post);it had some erratic contacts with Egypt. Mbah, sadly, passed away from heart problems in late 2014. By all accounts, the Awareness League disappeared in the 2000s,

Mbah’s letter is here


Kadalie and the ICU – graphic from South African radical journal “Africa Perspective” in 1981 (no. 19)

Kadalie and the ICU

Kadalie and the ICU – graphic from South African radical journal “Africa Perspective” in 1981 (no. 19)

The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (the ICU) was the largest black union and protest movement in 1920s South Africa, also spreading into neighbouring Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South West Africa (now Namibia).  It was influenced by IWW syndicalism, even adopting a version of the IWW constitution in 1925, and pushed for a general strike the next year. However, syndicalism was not the only influence: ICU ideas were, as writers like Helen Bradford have shown, an unstable mix, drawing from currents as far apart as Garveyism and liberalism. It’s internal structures were also far from the participatory democratic ideal. However, if the ICU was not truly syndicalist, Lucien van der Walt argues, it cannot be understood unless the syndicalist influence is noted.

The Kalomo Land Saga – Zambian Anarchists, 1998

The Kalomo land saga is a good example of what peasants can achieve when they decide to work together. Without use of arms, the peasants of Kalomo, a small town in the southern province of Zambia  took over the two  huge state ranches which almost circle the small town.

Kalomo is famous in Zambia because it is the first capital of Zambia in 1908. Being the first capital helped it to be  among the first Zambian urban settlements which attracted the European settlers and British  administrators. Kalomo had also another attraction, the railway line passes through the town. This  enabled the area to be accessible to the copper mines on the north and the ever growing tourist town of Livingston. As a result the outlaying area round Kalomo town was quickly taken up by farmers and ranchers. Today, Kalomo still remains among the Zambian town that continues to have the largest commercial farming community. Continue reading

“A History of the IWW in South Africa” – Lucien van der Walt, 2001

IWW logo

This article was published by Lucien van der Walt in Direct Action (Australia, Summer 2001) as “Many Races, One Union! The IWW, revolutionary syndicalism and working class struggle in South Africa, 1910-21.” It was reprinted in Bread and Roses (Britain, Autumn 2001) as “A History of the IWW in South Africa.”

Note: An incomplete version has also appeared on the internet under the title “1816-1939: Syndicalism in South Africa,” described as “a short history of radical trade unionism, class struggle and race in Southern Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries.”  The dates are wrong (there was no syndicalism anywhere in 1816, and while the IWW-influenced ICU would last in Zimbabwe into the 1950s, there was no syndicalism in South Africa in 1939) and several paragraphs are missing, in that version.

For PDF of scanned Direct Action version: click here

For PDF of scanned Bread and Roses version: click here

Lucien van der Walt, Autumn 2001, “A History of the IWW in South Africa,” Bread and Roses

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and the ideas, goals and organisational practices for which it stood, had an important influence on the early labour movement and radical press in South Africa. It also had an impact on neighbouring Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Furthermore, at least five unions were founded on the IWW model in this period. Four of these unions pioneered the organisation of workers of colour, most notably the Industrial Workers of Africa, the first union for African workers in South African history Continue reading

“Obituary: Hamba Kahle Wilstar Choongo!” – Michael Schmidt, AInfos, 2002

AWSM of Zambia with Michael Schmidt

AWSM of Zambia with Michael Schmidt.
Wilstar is standing on the left at the back, Michael is left front.

THE international anarchist movement will be saddened at the belated news of the death of Wilstar Choongo, founder of the Anarchist & Workers’ Solidarity Movement (AWSM) of Zambia.A self-taught anarchist activist, Wilstar first came to the attention of the movement in 1996 through his lone battle to improve the salaries of employees at the University of Zambia (UNZA)where he worked as a librarian — and where he built up a formidable collection of anarchist works for the use of students.

Zambia, a former British colony, gained its independence without much of a struggle in 1964. The 30-year African socialist regime of Kenneth Kaunda proved disastrous. The economy remained essentially extractive, agriculture shrivelled as farmers flooded into the cities because of urban food subsidies. Then the collapse of the copper price in the mid-1970s put paid to any hoped-for recovery. Continue reading

“Revised Constitution of the ICU” – Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa, 1925

The Workers Herald - Official Organ of the ICU

The Workers Herald – official organ of the ICU

Whereas the interest of the workers and those of the employers are opposed to each other, the former living by selling their labour, receiving for its labour only part of the wealth they produce; and the latter living by exploiting the labour of the workers; depriving the workers of a part of the product of their labour in the form of profit, no peace can be between the two classes, a struggle must always obtain about the division of the products of human labour, until the workers through their industrial organisations take from the capitalist class the means of production, to be owned and controlled by the workers for the benefit of all, instead of for the profit of a few.

Under such a system, he who does not work, neither shall he eat. The basis of remuneration shall be the principle, from each man according to his abilities, to each man according to his needs. This is the goal for which the ICU strives along with all other organised workers throughout the world. Further this organisation does not foster or encourage antagonism towards other established bodies, political or otherwise, of African peoples, or of organised European labour.

Source: Thomas Karis and Gwendolyn M. Carter, editors, 1972, From Protest to Challenge: a documentary history of African politics in South Africa, 1882-1964, vol.one, pp. 325-326

Class struggle without Borders: The Recolonisation of Africa and the Future of the Left – WSF, August 1998

WSF logo

I would like to thank the Socialist Caucus for extending an invitation to a speaker from the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF) in South Africa. I would also like to thank the University of Zambia for hosting me this evening.

I am a member of the Workers Solidarity Federation. Let me start by saying what the WSF is not. We are not a political party that runs in elections. Nor are we a trade union. We are a libertarian socialist (anarcho-syndicalist) political organization. We believe that socialism must come from below through the direct action of workers and peasants. We support all forms of struggle against privilege and oppression. However our main focus is on the trade unions, which we see as a crucial mechanism for bringing about radical, and necessary – social change. Our membership base is predominantly amongst Black students and Black workers. Continue reading