Interview: Lucien van der Walt, 2010, on Johannesburg anarchism, Wits 2001, NEHAWU, Anti-Privatisation Forum

Interview from the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) archives,  created by Dale McKinley, held at the South African History Archive (SAHA), at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg. In this interview Lucien van der Walt talks about his background, the anarchist and left movement in Johannesburg in the 1990s and 2000s, and experiences in the APF, a major coalition of post-apartheid movements founded in 2000. He also draws some lessons from the APF experience.

PDF of interview here.

Full reference details for interview: Lucien van der Walt, 23 March 2010, Interview, Johannesburg. Interviewed by Dale McKinley, Johannesburg.The Anti Privatisation Forum collection, AL3290, South African History Archive (SAHA), Constitution Hill, Johannesburg.

More on SAHA, an independent archive, here.

Index to APF collection here (register online for access to all materials).

 

[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).

 

 

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 What is Anarcho-syndicalism? here. This is the Word version recovered from older discs and may not be the 100% final version.

Some images of Bikisha Media Collective (BMC) at the anti-EU summit, Gothenberg, Sweden, June 2001

Faces blurred: BMC comrades on left and right. Standing with delegates from Asia

 

BMC comrade speaking at meeting of independent syndicalist unions (face blurred)

 

BMC comrade in centre (in front of white pillar, face blurred)

 

With flag at start of march by syndicalist unions (face blurred)

 

8 September 2002: “South African Anarchists Join International Libertarian Solidarity”

South African Anarchists Join International Libertarian Solidarity Network
September 8, 2002 – statement by Bikisha Media Collective & Zabalaza Books

More on International Libertarian Solidarity Network here and here.

Announcements
Several South African anarchist projects — Bikisha Media Collective (BMC), Zabalaza Books (ZB) and the Zabalaza Action Group (ZAG, formerly the Anarchist Union) — have signed up as members of the new anarchist network International Libertarian Solidarity (ILS) of which the following organisations are also a part: Al Abdil al Taharouri (AAT, Lebanon), Alternative Libertaire (AL, France & Belgium), Confederacion General del Trabajo (CGT, Spain), Organisasion Communiste Libertaire (OCL, France), RÈseau No Pasaran (France), Consejo IndÌgena Popular de Oaxaca — “Ricardo Flores Magon” (CIP-RFM, Mexico), Confederation Nationale du Travail — “Vignoles” (CNT-V, France), Federacio Anarquista Ga?cha (FAG, Brazil), Federacion Anarquista Uruguaya (FAU, Uruguay), Marmitag (Greece), Organizace RevolucnÌch Anarchistu-Solidarita (ORA-S, Czech Republic), Organizacion Socialista Libertaria (OSL, Argentina), Organisation Socialiste Libertaire (OSL, Switzerland), Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation (SAC, Sweden), and the Workers’ Solidarity Movement (WSM, Ireland).

Other groups that support the ISL are the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, international), Anacho-Sindico (India), the North-Eastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC, Canada & the USA), Sibirskaya Konfederatsia Truda (SKT, Russia) and Unione Sindacale Italiana — “Roma” (USI-R, Italy).This makes the ISL one of the most important players on the international anarchist stage today, alongside the International Workers Association (IWA) — established in Berlin in 1922 as the anarchist unionist alternative to the communist Red International of Trade Unions — and the International of Anarchist Federations (IFA), founded in Italy in 1968, to unite anarchist political organisations. But the ISL is not another international. It is rather an international anarchist network, other anarchist international networks include the Anarchist Black Cross Federation, started in London in 1967 to assist anarchist and class war prisoners, and the Insurrectional Anarchist International (IAI), founded in Italy in 2000, to co-ordinate anarchist resistance in the Mediteranean [sic..

Our participation in the ISL dates back to the BMC delegation sent to Paris for the “Other Future” international anarchist congress organised in 2000 by the CNT-V which saw 6,000 anarchists take to the streets with a forest of red-and-black flags for May Day. There, delegates of 15 participating organisations agreed to form a new network to: a) connect the growing anarchist unions, anarcho-communist, platformist and anarcho-synthesist groups that fell outside the IWA; b) co-ordinate international anarchist engagement with the emerging anti-capitalist movement; and c) for established Northern organisations to assist emergent anarchist organisations in the global South. Last year, at “LibWeek” in Madrid, the decision was realised when the international movement set up the ISL, which has expanded significantly since then. Bikisha Media and Zabalaza Books sent a message of support to Madrid to endorse the establishment of the network of which we are now a part.

The ISL is by no means a paper tiger: so far, the network has helped the FAG-Brazil with finances in setting up a printing works and a community centre. There are also ISL-sponsored projects under way in Uruguay and another planned in Siberia. We should take this opportunity to thank ISL member organisation the SAC-Sweden for their kind donation of funds — under an agreement separate to the ISL — to our anarchist printing project.

Our original message to the founding congress of the ISL read:

We as South African anarchists are encouraged by this important initiative — the establishment of an international co-ordinating network to aid anarchist organisations in their engagement with the anti-globalisation movement. Such a network is vital if we are to survive the attacks on our organisations and our class — and if we are to succeed in our fight against neo-liberalism. We would also like to add the names of our two organisations to those endorsing the “Anarchist Declaration for the 21st Century”.

Since the 1970s, our enemies, capital and its siamese twin, the state, have been suffering from one of their inevitable periods of crisis as markets hit natural consumption ceilings and the rate of profit continues to fall. Even the opening of the former Soviet and East Bloc workforce to foreign exploitation, with robber barons breaking down vital industries to steal handfuls of cash, has been unable to stop the slide.

But like hungry bears, our enemies are even more dangerous despite their weaknesses. On the one hand, their claws are sharper: they have developed warfare, terrorism and propaganda to technological and psychological levels never achieved before. On the other hand, we, their prey, are weak: the international working class revolutionary movement, both anarchist and otherwise, has been dispersed and destroyed by decades of fascism. After the Berlin Wall fell, our enemies announced the end of history, claiming that they had achieved the perfect social balance, a balance built historically on millions of dead, and today maintained by millions of lives cheapened by poor working conditions, corrupted by a fouled environment, marginalised by casualisation, raped by patriarchy, excluded by so-called democracy and, if necessary, eliminated by death-squads.

But the bears miscalculated. History is not over. The anti-globalisation movement is the most significant international social movement since the 1960s. There are dangers: professional networks of paid middle-class activists have attempted to turn it into their own club, a collection of narrow sectarian interests. Also, totalitarian and right-wing organisations, whether fascist, religious fundamentalist or authoritarian socialist, are trying to control grassroots actions against the IMF/World Bank, the “free” trade agreements and the multinational corporations. But this is a global movement of the oppressed. Its instinctive nature is anti-authoritarian, workerist and militant. This is the true home of all anarchist revolutionaries today and we fully support all efforts by anarchists to position themselves at the forefront of the struggle and to put their ideas at the centre of the global debates on how to beat the ravages of turbo capitalism.

The anti-globalisation movement must be dominated by anarchist forces and arguments. We as anarchist revolutionaries must throw ourselves wholeheartedly into this struggle. But we must remember our key strategic strength: the united forces of the proletariat, whether industrial or commercial. This means that while community struggles are essential, they can be no substitute for revolutionary organisation in the workplace, at the point of extraction of profit. The traditional working class may have changed, but workers’ status as wage-slaves has not, regardless of how the capitalists have tried to divide their common interests. And it is only the workers who have the technical power and class incentive to stop the engines of capitalism. Only a revolution in the relations of production by organised labour and a seizure of the means of production by the producers can end the terrorism of capital and the state. Assisted by the peasantry and the poor, the workers can and will defeat neo-liberalism, however it disguises itself: racism, housing evictions, neo-colonialism, electricity cut-offs, sweatshops,  criminalisation of protest, or other masks.

FOR WORKERS’ SELF-MANAGEMENT, DIRECT ACTION AND INTERNATIONAL REVOLUTION!

NO PASARAN!

— Bikisha Media Collective & Zabalaza Books

News report: BMC at the anti-EU simmit, Gothenberg, 2001

As noted in other posts (here and here), two comrades from South Africa’s anarchist  Bikisha Media Collective, a successor of the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), attended and spoke at the anti-European Union summit in Gothenberg, Sweden, in mid-June 2001. The following newspaper clipping (in Swedish, from Aftonbladet, then Sweden’s largest tabloid), had some coverage of the event. By sheer luck, it also included a picture (p. 15) of the BMC comrades (see main photo, the two people in the foreground, right, in brown and green jackets respectively).

Get the PDF here.

 

Photo: BMC comrade speaking at Gothenberg protests, Sweden, 2001

The photo below recently surfaced at Wikipedia, where it was incorrectly identified as the image of a speaker from the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (ZACF, later ZAC Front) speaking in 2005. In fact, the speaker is comrade AN, from the Bikisha Media Collective (BMC), speaking in 2001 at the Gothenberg anti-EU protests. More on the BMC in those events can be found here.

2001-an-bmc-gtb-south_african_activist_39036979

Cap (from structures): Workers Library and Musem, Johannesburg (BMC role)

Members of the 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. Below is a cap produced by the WLM for a major cultural event in 1999, the “Zabalaza WorkerFest” (BMC members were not active in this event, but the cap indicates some of the scope and ambition of the WLM).

Note: The term “Zabalaza” means struggle and the “Zabalaza Workerfest” had no links to the later anarchist formation, the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (later “Front”, ZACF). More on BMC at the WLM here.

 

WLM cap 1999

T-shirts (from events/ summits): CNT-F (“Vignoles”) t-shirt from 2000 Paris “Le Autre Future” event (BMC)

Members of the Bikisha Media Collective attended the April / May 2000 “Le Autre Futur” international anarchist and syndicalist congress hosted in Paris by the National Confederation of Labour-France (“Paris”/ “Vignoles”, hereafter CNT-F). This brought together a number of formations, internationally, mainly the bigger revolutionary and anarcho-syndicalist unions. These included the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) from the United States, the anarcho-syndicalist Unicobas from Italy, and the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) of Spain. Also present was the syndicalist-influenced Central Workers Organisation (SAC) of Sweden. BMC members participated actively in the events.

Note: There were important splits amongst the syndicalist unions internationally, thus the CNT-F hosting this event was known as the “Paris” or “Vignoles”CNT-F after its headquarters at 33 Rue de Vignoles (33 Vignoles road) in Paris. BMC and its successors never took an official position on the splits, but it would be fair to say that they had and have historic ties with the CNT-F, CGT and SAC.

The t-shirt below was an official event t-shirt bought by a BMC member.

 

CNT F

CNT B