[Archived webpage]: The Workers’ Library and Museum (Johannesburg)

Previous posts have looked at the Workers’ Library and Museum (WLM) in Newtown, Johannesburg, and mentioned the role of anarchists (mainly, Bikisha Media Collective) in it from the late 1990s into the early 2000s: see here.

The WLM webpage from those days is long gone, but happily, there is a navigable snapshot of it here (off-site).

 

 

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VIDEO: The Newtown power complex before the Workers Library and Museum

There is an interesting video, captured from a VHS, from a report on the TV station M-Net, on the Newtown power complex in what looks like the late 1980s. The Newtown power complex, in downtown Johannesburg, was the site of the old municipal power station. It was all but abandoned by the late 1980s: the state of the building attests to this, and so does the fact that the council’s main interest (in the video) is to move some old trees from the premises, to another owned by the municipality. The decrepit building visible from 03.34 (time on video) was the old housing section that was refurbished as the Workers Library and Museum (WLM) in the 1990s. (Below the video you can see a photo of how the building looked before used as the WLM, and how the WLM looked in its early years).

 

Before becoming the Workers Library and Museum…

The Workers Library and Museum in its early years

Repost: “Notes and posters from the Workers’ Library & Museum that was…”

Several posts on the history of the Workers Library and Museum (WLM) and the role of anarchists in this body in the late 1990s and early 2000s can be found on this site: see here.

There is an interesting account of this period by a one-time member of the Bikisha Media Collective (BMC) here (off-site link).

ca. 2003: “Whose Town is Newtown?”

As noted elsewhere, anarchists from Bikisha Media Collective (BMC) played a key role in the Workers Library and Museum (WLM), a non-sectarian labour service organisation then based in Newtown Johannesburg, from the late 1990s into the early 2000s. The WLM was run by an elected committee, with various subcommittees, and BMC members were active in these structures. Some more information on this here and here. As the building used was the property of the Johannesburg town council (later the Greater Johannesburg Meropolian Council), use the buildings depended a good deal on the municipality’s goodwill. In the early and mid-1990s, the municipality was effectively willing to provide the building at a nominal cost (the users were charged for water and lights, and were responsible for maintenance and investment) . The building was part of a former power station complex, which had been closed in the 1970s: the redesign of the old housing section for use by the WLM was an award-winning project by left-wing architects Henry Paine and Alan Lipman.

As neo-liberalism kicked in, and the Newtown Precinct was rethought (by the municipality) as a Continue reading

Nigerian, Sierra Leone and South African anarchist and syndicalist links in the 1990s

The 1990s upsurge of anarchism found one expression in South Africa, where the anarchist and syndicalist tradition re-emerged after a break of decades. But this was not unique in English-using African countries. A substantial section of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was formed among diamond miners in Sierra Leone, but destroyed in the country’s ongoing civil war in 1997, leading members ending up displaced in Guinea to the north. In Nigeria, the anarcho-syndicalist Awareness League emerged in 1990, claiming over 1,000 members, and joined the syndicalist International Workers Association in 1996. Its roots were in Nigeria’s large (mainly Marxist) left, and its development is partly described in a book issued by two League members,  Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey, African Anarchism (published 1997, See Sharp Press in the USA: See Sharp version available here; also in an interview with Mbah in 2012, here).

Yet there was very little direct contact between the West African groups, and those of South Africa: news of one another was often second-hand, there was no direct contact by email (email use was a rarity for many African people at the time, even in South Africa), only the South Africans had a website (the Workers Solidarity Federation / WSF had a basic website from around 1995,  on the then-popular, now-dead Geocities system; the WSF’s sister group in Ireland, the Workers Solidarity Movement / WSM,  put the then-available materials on the Nigerians and Sierra Leoneans on a basic site, which is still online here); communication between the groups, such as it was, was by snail mail, which was very erratic.

The Awareness League gained global attention when a number of its members were jailed in 1992  on the eve of a short-lived transition from military rule. The anarcho-syndicalist Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA) in the United States of America built an international campaign, reliant on the then-key methods of spreading news in the anarchist and syndicalist milieu: snail mail. This meant mass mail-outs (of letters to groups), plus press statements that got picked up by anarchist and anarchist-friendly papers (these papers were also widely distributed by mail, the custom being that each group or paper would send free copies to a number of other groups).

So the South African Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM) read about the campaign in American anarchist papers, got letters from the WSA (see scanned copy of a WSA package sent to the South Africans here: this includes material by the League) and both ARM and WSF wrote about the Awareness League (here, here, here). The Nigerians meanwhile wrote about the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM) in African Anarchism . ARM and WSF regularly sent materials and letters to the Awareness League, but only in 1999 did it get a direct letter from Sam Mbah. News about the IWW in Sierra Leone reached WSF through email contacts in the West. The South Africans sent letters and materials, but never heard back.

The Sierra Leone IWW did not survive the civil war; the Awareness League dissolved in the 2000s, and the stalwart Mbah passed away in 2014; and neither formation had obvious successors; while the WSF dissolved in 1999, it was replaced by projects like the Bikisha Media Collective, in turn absorbed into the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Fedeation (later, Front, the ZACF), in 2003.

A 1990s Durban-based group in South Africa, the Anarchist Awareness League, was obviously named after the Nigerian group: see here. This, too, ended up in ZACF.

WSF, 1997, “Only the Workers can Free the Workers: A South African Anarchist Pamphlet”

This text was published by the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF) in South Africa in 1997, and is a shorter version of What is Anarchism? A South African Anarchist Pamphlet: author of both was Lucien van der Walt: details here. The emphasis was on South African issues, and accessible writing. It was republished in 2003 in its current format by WSF successor groups, the Bikisha Media Collective (BMC) and Zabalaza Books. It is not clear what changes, if any, were made in 2003.

Get the PDF here. This text was found at the Zabalaza Books website, which has materials going back to the 1990s, and is located here. Note that is a PDF, and laid out in a format designed to be printed out as a folded, stapled A5 pamphlet.

Get the text here. This is apparently the same text as the PDF (not checked).

There was also an Afrikaans translation of the pamphlet, for distribution in the Western Cape. It differs slightly from the English version, and presents itself as an introduction to the WSF in the title and in the opening. Its in a PDF here and in text here.

 

 

 

WSF, 1996/ 1997/ 1999, “What is Anarchism? A South African Anarchist Pamphlet” (and variants and spin-offs)

This text was published by the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF) in South Africa in the late 1990s The first edition appeared in 1996. The 1997 version (2nd edition) was then reissued by the WSF successor organisations, the Bikisha Media Collective (BMC) and Zabalaza Books in 2003 in the current format. It is not clear what changes, if any, were made in 2003. The cover  is an image of two comrades at the 2001 WCAR protests in Durban. There was a 1997 spin-off called Only the Workers can Free the Workers, a 1998 one, Breaking the Chains: A History Of Libertarian Socialism in 1998, and then a 1999 (3rd) edition,  What is Anarcho-syndicalism? (see below).

The 1997 text placed a heavy emphasis on South African issues, and included extensive South African perspectives on student movements, the unemployed, imperialism, race in South Africa, the issue of trade union reform, and so on. It also included some material on “anarchism in action”in Russia and Spain. The 1997/ 2003 text is currently still in print by Zabalaza Books, as well as by Black Cat Press in North America: see here. The text drew some sections drew directly on a 1980s pamphlet by the Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM) in Ireland, to which WSF was closely linked. But it added extensive South African material, and also expanded the “anarchism in action” part.

Meanwhile, a shorter variant was published in 1997 (also reissued by BMC and Zabalaza Books in 2003), as Only the Workers can Free the Workers, which is available here. An expanded 3rd edition was written by Lucien van der Walt,  now called What is Anarcho-syndicalism?, for the February 1999 WSF conference. This was notable for providing a greatly expanded and global history: the discussions of Spain and Russia were now just part of a larger story starting with the movement’s orgins in the First International, with material on the 1880s, the rise of syndicalism globally from 1890s, discussions of the 1920s and 1930s, and the movement after 1945, as well as thematic discussions  of the history of anarchism and syndicalism in fights against imperialism, women’s oppression and racism. A longer version of the history, by the same author. was issued by the “WSF National Secretariat” as Breaking the Chains: A History Of Libertarian Socialism in 1998, later expanded into books etc.

Get the PDF of the 1997 text here. Note that the text was found at the Zabalaza Books website, which has materials going back to the 1990s, and is located here. Note that is a PDF, and laid out in a format designed to be printed out as a folded, stapled A5 pamphlet.

Get the 1998 Breaking the Chains: A History Of Libertarian Socialism here.

Get the 1999 text here. This is the Word version recovered from older discs and may not be the 100% final version.