Letter on Chiapas, 1996, from Durban Anarchist Federation

Letters page, Mail and Guardian, Johannesburg, 12 July 1996. Letter by member of Durban Anarchist Federation, who had visited the Zapatista zone in Chiapas. Note: the Durban Anarchist Federation, which went through various names and in 1997 largely merged into the Workers Solidarity Federation. Activists from the Durban Anarchist Federation also set up what is today Zabalaza Books, a South African anarchist publishing project that continues today as part of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front milieu.

Praiseworthy Zapatistas

I WAS pleasantly surprised by the unusual editorial subtlety which linked the crisis of conscience South African organised labour is experiencing with the refreshing innovations being forged by the Zapatista movement in southern Mexico (June 28 to July 4).

It was obvious long before 1994 that Cosatu’s biggest looming battle would revolve around the inherent paradox of their erstwhile ANC/SACP equals becoming their masters under a democratic dispensation.

The greatest genuine threat to ANC dominance will come from within its own ranks, perhaps a new, radical workers’ movement grown out of Cosatu.

In February this year, I paid a month-long fact- finding visit to Chiapas and the Guatemalan highlands. The Zapatistas understand that the only ones who can free the people are the people themselves, not some kind of elite, dictatorial vanguard, whether state-capitalist (communist) or private-capitalist. Unlike most liberation movements, they have retained their sense of humour and humanity and bucked tradition by having an unusually high number of women in combat commands. Also, there are many similarities between their experience and ours.

The Zapatista way has for the first time put true empowerment and human rights at the top of the Mexican and regional political agendas.—- Michael Schmidt, Durban Anarchist Federation, Bishopsgate

South Africa, and South African anarchism, through West African eyes [1997]

South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle and unions (both strengths and limitations), and South African anarchism and syndicalism, were mentioned several times in Sam Mbah and IE. Igariwey’s 1997 classic text, African Anarchism: the history of a movement (See Sharp, Tucson, USA). The authors, Nigerian militants, highlighted the South African movement as one of the oldest and most important in Africa (not much was known of the time, at least amongst English-speakers, of the very important currents that had existed in North Africa, or impacts elsewhere in the continent). The 1990s South African movement, in turn, was deeply impressed by the then-1,000 member anarcho-syndicalist Awareness League in Nigeria, of which Mbah and Igariwey were leading lights; the League joined an anarcho-syndicalist international, the International Workers Association, in 1996, a body claiming direct descent from the 1922 “Berlin” international set up after anarchists and syndicalists broke ties with the Communist International / Comintern. Mbah, sadly, passed away from heart problems in late 2014.

From African Anarchism:

Chapter 1: What Is Anarchism?

“Anarchism as a social philosophy, theory of social organization, and social movement is remote to Africa — indeed, almost unknown. It is underdeveloped in Africa as a systematic body of thought, and largely unknown as a revolutionary movement. Be that as it may, anarchism as a way of life is not at all new to Africa, as we shall see. The continent’s earliest contact with European anarchist thought probably did not take place before the second half of the 20th century, with the single exception of South Africa. It is, therefore, to Western thinkers that we must turn for an elucidation of anarchism.

Anarchism derives not so much from abstract reflections of intellectuals or philosophers as from the objective conditions in which workers and producers find themselves. Though one can find traces of it earlier, anarchism as a revolutionary philosophy arose as part of the worldwide socialist movement in the 19th century….”

Chapter 3: Anarchistic Precedents in Africa

“As for outright anarchist movements, there have existed and still exist anarchist groups in South Africa — notably the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement in Johannesburg, and the Durban-based Angry Brigade [this was apparently one of the incarnations of the Durban anarchist movement that later ended up in the Workers Solidarity Federation and in Zabalaza Books — SAAHSA]. South Africa’s pioneer anarcho-syndicalist organization, however — known as the Industrial Workers of Africa — Continue reading

Affiliation to International Libertarian Solidarity ca. 2001


Like the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (later Front, ZACF) was keen on international linkages. It was part of the International Libertarian Solidarity (ILS) network of slightly over 20 groups from across the world, mainly indepedent anarcho-syndicalist and revolutonary syndicalist unions, as well as anarchist political groups (mainly Platformist and especifist). Due to the various splits in the syndicalist unions, the ILS (which attracted some of these unions) was opposed by the International Workers Association (which attracted others).

globe_sILS member groups (besides ZACF) included Auca – Socialismo Libertario (Argentina), Organisación Socialista Libertaria (Argentina),  Luta Libertaria (Brazil), Federação Anarquista Gaúcha (Brazil),     North-Eastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (Canada & USA), Ora-Solidarita (Czech Republic), Réseau No Pasaran (France), Offensive Libertaire Et Sociale (France), Alternative Libertaire (France),    Organisation Communiste Libertaire (France), Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland), Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici (Italy), Al-Badil Al-Chooui Al-Taharouri (Lebanon), Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca “Ricardo Flores Magon” (Mexico), Red Libertaria Apoyo Mutuo (Spain), Organisation Socialiste Libertaire (Switzerland), and the Federación Anarquista Uruguaya (Uruguay). The unions involved were Confederazione Italia di Base Unicobas (Unicobas, Italy) , Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT, Spain), and SAC (Sweden). Messages of support for the main founding meeting in Madrid in 2001 also came from Anacho Syndico (India), Federation Anarchiste (France), IWW (USA), SKT (Siberia), USI-Rome (Italy) (the latter three are also unions).

ILS was short-lived, although it undertook some solidarity projects with the Latin American Groups, issued an electronic bulletin, and adopted a Declaration, which is provided below. More can be read of ILS at wikipedia here and its webpage is archived here.

Declaration of the International Libertarian Meeting
Madrid, 31st March & 1st April 2001

The men and women from different parts of the world who have come here

Continue reading

[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

Zabalaza Books Bulletins

Produced by Zabalaza Books, a South African anarchist publishing project going back to the 1990s, these short anarchist bulletins convey some core anarchist and syndicalist ideas and texts.

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