Michael Neocosmos:From People’s Politics to State Politics: aspects of national liberation in South Africa 1984 -1994

From People’s Politics to State Politics: aspects of national liberation in South Africa 1984 – 1994

This article, written in 1994, the first year of the ‘new South Africa’ examines the shift from popular people’s politics to state politics during the transition from apartheid. It has been a valuable article for South African anarchists.

The 1980s in South Africa witnessed an explosion of popular-democratic struggles championed by a host of autonomous civil society organisations whose activities became central in the campaign against the apartheid system and the quest for the creation of a democratic state. By the 1990s, however, especially in the lead up to and after the election of the ANC into office, South African politics appears increasingly to be subjected to the same broad logic of statism that was experienced in other parts of Africa at the dawn of independence from colonial rule. At the heart of this statism is the defeat of the popular movements which, in South Africa, as in the rest of Africa, were so vital in the struggle for political change, being the oppositional forces with the popular democratic tradition and agenda that offered the best chance for the emergence of a democratic state. Increasingly depoliticised, the role of the popular movements has been emptied of the vitality that can ensure that `the people’ are able to generate and make autonomous democratic prescriptions on the state. The politicisation of civil society and the democratisation of the state are projects in the South African transition which will have to be revived if the authoritarianism that inheres in statism is to be defeated. This is the challenge before the democratic forces of opposition and change in contemporary South Africa.

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