[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).

 

 

Advertisements

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

Alan Robert Lipman, South Africa (1925-2013) (by Lucien van der Walt)

Alan Robert Lipman, South Africa (1925-2013)

By Lucien van der Walt, 2017, for Southern African Anarchist & Syndicalist History

Alan Robert Lipman, born 6 June 1925 to a Jewish South African family, and raised in Johannesburg and Vrede, passed away on the 27 January 2013.[1] He trained as an architect at the University of the Witwatersrand following a stint in the South African military in the Second World War.

Lipman was a rebel. A member of the radical ex-soldiers’ movement, the Springbok Legion, he joined the Communist Party of South Africa in 1948 as a university student. He was in a cell of the underground South African Communist Party in the 1950s, and was Durban editor of the SACP-linked Guardian. He played an active role in the anti-apartheid movement. He was close to African National Congress (ANC) figures like Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, and was involved in drafting the 1955 Freedom Charter, a key ANC and SACP text.Declared a “named” Communist supporter by then-Minister of Justice, C.R. Swart, Lipman’s writings were restricted, and he was prohibited from attending meetings.[2]

Lipman was also one of the few who broke with the SACP over the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. He left the party, but continued to be involved in the anti-apartheid movement, later gravitating to the National Liberation Committee / African Resistance Movement. Formed 1960, this was a mixture of leftists and radical liberals, and he was involved in its brief armed struggle.

He fled to Britain in 1963, where he worked in architecture, and then in Sociology at the University of Wales, Cardiff.[3] Disillusionment with Marxism-Leninism, and skepticism towards authoritarianism, and the influence of figures like 19th century libertarian socialist William Morris (1834-1896) moved Lipman towards an anarchist position.[2] He was actively involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and played a key role in its Welsh, then its national, leadership.[3]

Returning to South Africa in the 1990 at the request of ANC leader Walter Sisulu (released from Robben Island in 1989), he self-identified as an anarchist. He was appointed Professor Emeritus at the University of the Witwatersrand. He distanced himself from the official liberation movements, and was particularly critical of President Thabo Mbeki, champion of the ANC’s embrace of neo-liberalism and narrow nationalism.[5]

Lipman’s projects after his return included re-designing (with Henry Paine) the housing complex at the remnants of the then-closed Johannesburg municipal power station in Newtown, Johannesburg. The redesigned complex became the home of the Workers’ Library and Museum, a progressive labour service organisation,[8] which later partnered with (then merged into) the left-wing Khanya College. This work won several awards, adding to the honours he received in his venerable years.[4]

A champion of justice and equality, Lipman knew, and was respected, by many people. He remained a prolific writer and continued to engage with popular struggles, and made links to the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front.[6] He spoke, for example, at a two-day workshop held by the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front for the now-defunct Anti-Privatisation Forum, at the Orange Farm Crisis Committee headquarters, 21 May 2006.[6]

In his view: “I spent 35 years of my life supporting the liberation struggle but the ANC is now an anti-liberation movement. Now we need a real ‘People’s National Congress’ – under people’s control – to take back real liberation forward.”[6] His later work appeared regularly in the Sunday Independent and South African Institute of Architects, occasionally in the anarchist paper Zabalaza,[6] [7] and in his 2009 autobiography, On the outside looking in: colliding with apartheid and other authorities.[2]

He was survived by his wife of sixty-four years, Beata; two children and three grandchildren.[1][5]

[1] https://www.leadingarchitecture.co.za/professor-alan-robert-lipman-1925-2013-architect-anarchist-academic-teacher-writer-critic-activist/

[2] Lipman, Alan Robert. 2009. On the outside looking in: colliding with apartheid and other authorities. Johannesburg: Architect Africa Publications, pp. 102-103.

[3] Obituaries at http://www.artefacts.co.za/main/Buildings/archframes.php?archid=2280

[4] http://www.artefacts.co.za/main/Buildings/bldgframes.php?bldgid=8467

[5] http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/alan-robert-lipman

[6] Alan Lipman, 2006, “The Anti-Liberation Movements,” Zabalaza: A Journal of Southern African Revolutionary  Anarchism, #7, at https://saasha.net/2017/04/27/talk-alan-lipman-2006-the-anti-liberation-movements

[7] Alan Lipman, 2008, “Xenophobia, Nationalism and Greedy Bosses: An Interview with Alan Lipman,” Zabalaza: A Journal of Southern African Revolutionary  Anarchism, #9, at https://saasha.net/2017/04/27/interview-alan-lipman-2008-xenophobia-nationalism-and-greedy-bosses-an-interview-with-alan-lipman/

[8] More on the Workers Library and Museum, and its links to the left, can be found here http://www.artefacts.co.za/main/Buildings/bldgframes.php?bldgid=8467 and here  https://lucienvanderwalt.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/notes-and-posters-from-the-workers-library-museum-that-was/

 

 

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

[UPDATED] Adverts for Workers Library and Musem mention Bikisha, Zabalaza Books

The advert below, for the Workers Library and Musem (WLM), mentions its Workers’ Bookshop carrying anarchist/ syndicalist materials from Bikisha Media Collective (BMC) and Zabalaza Books.  The WLM was a non-sectarian labour support organisation, based in downtown Johannesburg, in which some anarchists from the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), then Bikisha participated 1998-2002.  Records indicate sales of BMC and Zabalaza Books materials were brisk. The Workers’ Bookshop carried a wide range of left and labour materials, and was probably the only shop of its sort in South Africa at the time. The WLM was effectively closed and absorbed into Khanya College, with which it had partnered from around 1999, in the mid-2000s. The WLM was used by a range of groups as a meeting space, including the Anti-Privatisation Forum, WSF, and later the BMC, which also ran several Red and Black Forums there. More on BMC at the WLM here.

SOURCE for advert: South African Labour Bulletin, volume 24, number 3, June 2000, page 34.

Click on image for a PDF version.

wlm advert 2000And this one, from Debate: voices from the South African Left, second series, number 5, March 2001, p. 37

WLM ad from Debate 5 2001