Category Archives: Zapatistas

Church Land Programme: Living Democracy

Living democracy

Church Land Programme, May 2014.

For good reason, practical questions of grassroots democracy and autonomy remain central in CLP's work and reflection during this period. It's clear that emancipatory politics starts in political events of complete rupture with what exists. It's also clear that the subsequent work taking forward that politics, in struggle/s and in organisation, can only be faithful to itself if it never compromises the principled basis of that politics. That fidelity requires always matching the modes of struggle and the forms of organising with a thoughtful and practical praxis that expresses those axioms and principles. In practice, such fidelity cannot be assumed or taken for granted and nor are there any ready­made recipes for ensuring it, except perhaps the refusal to ever surrender principle to tactics.

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Padkos: Twenty Years of Democracy: “the call of a world that does not yet exist”

The state and corporate media in South Africa won't let us forget that 2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of representative democracy. But the thinking of people's organisations, and the conditions against which they rebel and organise, remind us just how utterly disappointing and hollow that project of state democracy actually is. For those who respect and hear the Truth of autonomous grassroots thought and action, it is patently obvious that the state can no longer be seriously imagined as a vehicle for emancipatory politics. Furthermore, making the terrain of state politics the primary concern or target of popular protest and power tends inevitably to distort and finally defeat its original emancipatory impulse.

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Anarchism, the State and the Praxis of Contemporary Antisystemic Social Movements

Anarchism, the State and the Praxis of Contemporary Antisystemic Social Movements

by Morgan Rodgers Gibson


This thesis is dedicated to providing a theoretical and historical account of the way antisystemic movements have developed and changed. By examining the praxis of contemporary antisystemic movements and tracing the historical failure of ‘state-centric’ versions of these movements, this thesis will argue that an anarchistic praxis – though not a doctrinaire ideological programme – has become a primary point of reference for contemporary antisystemic social movements and that this can be seen, in many ways, as a response to the failure of ideologically motivated, state-centric
versions to bring about substantial, transformative social change once assuming power.

I utilise two different methodologies to this end: 1) narrative process-tracing, in order to demonstrate the ‘failure’ of the state and 2) two qualitative case studies to illustrate my theoretical argument. After tracing, firstly, how a ‘state-centric’ antisystemic praxis assumed centrality within antisystemic movements and, following this, the failure of this praxis and thus the ‘failure’ of the state as an agent of transformative social change, I explore what ‘anarchism’ and an ‘anarchistic praxis’ are. This is necessary due to the sheer depth of contestation and misconceptions surrounding anarchism. Central to an anarchistic praxis is the rejection of the state and externally imposed hierarchy, a conflation of means and ends and the pursuit of a directly democratic praxis independent from the state. This thesis then turns to illustrating its theoretical argument through two qualitative case studies: the Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico and the South African shack dweller’s movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo.

Mondiali al Contrario in Italy

Mondiali al Contrario in Italy

Abahlali BaseMjondolo [“shack dwellers” in Zulu] is the greatest poor people’s movement in the country, operating especially in Durban, Pinetown, Capetown, Pietermaritzburg and Port Shepstone. According to The Times, this movement “has shaken the political landscape of South Africa.”

The weekly magazine Carta and recently published articles and reports that gave rise to the campaign “Mondiali al contrario” [which means taking a totally different look at the World Cup]. Its aim is to bring some of the movement’s founders to Italy (from May 18th to 30th). Here below are the main pieces of news on this initiative.


The 2010 World Cup, which is being hosted by South Africa in June, might not show us the real living conditions of millions of poor, in particular of the shack dwellers. Several communal administrations in fact have decided to evict them so that tourists from all over the world might only see clean and pleasant cities.

Abahlali BaseMjondolo [“Shack dwellers” in Zulu] is the greatest poor people’s movement in the country, operating in over forty cities, especially Durban, Pinetown, Capetown, Pietermaritzburg and Port Shepstone. According to The Times, this movement “has shaken the political landscape of South Africa”.

In recent months Abahlali has been promoting many demonstrations and protest marches, often violently repressed by the police. The weekly magazine Carta and recently published articles and reports that gave rise to the campaign “Mondiali al contrario” [which means taking a totally different look at the World Cup]. Its aim is to bring some of the movement’s founders to Italy (from May 18th to 30th). Here below are the main pieces of news on this initiative, which is already part of Carta’s Clandestine campaign.

«Ipolitiki ephilayo», the politics of life

In the occupied lands of many South African cities the shack dwellers live with no water or electricity, in inhuman conditions. Abahlali was born for these reasons: “We are fighting first of all to be recognized as human beings,” some members of the movement say. “The police and the people in power think they can treat us like rats only because we cannot afford to buy nice clothes. The police beat us because they don’t treat us like human beings. We want to demonstrate first of all our dignity and will insist on this.” (from a reportage published by Carta).

The great challenge of the shack dwellers’ movement towards the institutions is its refusal of the politics of power and its support of the so-called “ipolitiki ephilayo”, the politics of life. Abahlali positively refuses to take part in the activity of political parties or, to be more precise, “the party” (Anc), or to delegate its own battle to some ONG. Democratic participation is at the same time the objective and the method of this great social movement. Its first and foremost goal is starting a process of real democratization of the numerous occupied lands, too often managed by violent and arrogant local “mafiosi”. In “ipolitiki ephilayo” the most important thing is the experience of concrete participation by people. There are no pseudo-illuminated vanguards who guide the fight, but local assemblies. There is an explicit refusal of any personal role or power: the only task of “leaders”, who are elected once a year by public and democratic assemblies, is to facilitate discussion and not to take decisions.

The politics of the Abahlali movement is the politics of poor people. The entire movement is managed by the poor and for the poor. The decision not to delegate the fight to anyone has driven mad local administrators, but also many ONGs and even some ecumenical institutions. In 2009 the movement won a cause at the Constitutional Court which declared the Kzn Slum Act [a law that obligated land owners and municipalities to clear the irregular occupants] unconstitutional.

The violent attack on Abahlali

On September 24th, 2009 – two days before the shantytown of Kennedy Road was violently attacked by the African National Congress [Anc] militia – hundreds of Abahlali members gathered in one of the settlements for the presentation of “Living Learning”, the social inquiry about the movement’s fight. This project was started approximately a year ago by the University of Abahlali baseMjondolo. The military force arrived with guns and sticks in the shantytown where seven thousand people live, causing three casualties and tens of wounded. It didn’t come as a complete surprise. Members of the movement felt they were considered a nuisance.

In the last five years, over two hundred shack dwellers have been arrested, but nobody has ever been convicted. Abahlali baseMjondolo, the largest and most respected post-apartheid social movement, is considered a menace and a nuisance. Abahlali officially started in October 2005, through a great popular assembly of several settlements. However, the “founding” event of the Abahlali fight was March 19th, 2005: exasperated by the continuous disregarded promises [like hygienic water supply, electricity, services and the construction of popular houses] of political representatives, eight hundred people blocked for hours Umgeni road, near Kennedy Road.

The «Zapatistas» of South Africa

According to some activists there is an obvious link between Abahlali and the Zapatista movement: both of them are anti-power movements and deeply engaged in democratic practices and participation, but – according to Abahlali members – while the Zapatista movement is rooted in an aboriginal culture, and therefore closer to the earth, Abahlali seems more cosmopolitan and intercultural. In South Africa Abahlali promoted the Poor People’s Alliance along with the Rural Network, the Landless People’s Movement in Johannesburg and the Anti-Eviction Campaign in Capetown. The movement also collaborates with the Treatment Action Campaign and the Anti Privatization Forum. Moreover, in the last years various Abahlalai delegates have taken part in “social tours”: from New York to the United Kingdom, but also Brasil and Nairobi for the World Social Forum.

The Abahlali tour in Italy: from May 18th to 30th

The World Cup will virtually carry us in South Africa soon. Slightly before that, three Abahlali representatives will travel in the opposite direction to visit us in Italy. From May 18th to 30th Busisiwe, Thembani and Philani will meet associations and movements; they will explain what the World Cup means for poor South Africans, they will speak about the Abahlali fight for land, houses, dignity and democracy in the post-apartheid South Africa and also listen to the story of the social fights we are carrying ahead here. It is a precious and extraordinary occasion that various people have already picked up. These are the main initiatives in place:

Tuesday, May 18: Rome and Castel Volturno
[, tel. ]
[11,20] arrival at Fiumicino;
[14] Carta [via dello Scalo di San Lorenzo 67]: press conference to introduce the campaign [tel. 06 45495659]
[18] meeting in Castel Volturno.

Wednesday, May 19: Reggio Calabria
[18] Social centre “A. Cartella” [via Quarnaro I Gallico], in collaboration with Rosarno’s “Osservatorio migranti Africalabria”: assembly, movie screening and meeting with the Abahlali delegation;
[20] Fundraising dinner

Thursady, May 20: L’Aquila
Soccer match, assembly/debate, movie screening, visit to Pescomaggiore self-build village.

Friday, May 21: L’Aquila and Chieti
Morning: L’Aquila.
Afternoon: Chieti [17,30] sala della Provincia, Abruzzo Social Forum promotes a public meeting with Abahlali

Saturday, May 22: Pisa
Laboratorio Rebeldìa: meeting [18] and dinner [20].
Sunday, May 23: Verona [320 1993967]
Sala Civica Elisabetta Lodi [San Giovanni in Valle]:aperitivo [20] and meeting [21].

Monday, May 24: Santorso and Vicenza
[18,30] meeting in Santorso;
[20,30] Vicenza, Presidio permanente: dinner
[21] Presidio: theatre exhibition and meeting.

Tuesday, May 25: Milan
[20] Cascina Torchiera, in collaboration with the association Todo Cambia: dinner
[21] meeting.
Wednesday, May 26: Varese
Meeting to be defined.

Thursady, May 27: Tourin and Val di Susa
[10] Meeting at the University of Turin with Collettivo Bonobo (Department of Political Science) and Collettivo Riserva Culturale (Department of Letters and Philosophy).
Presidio di Borgone organises a visit to other sites in the valley [Venaus, Susa, Sant’Antonino]. In the evening [20]: open dinner at Presidio di Borgone [everyone is welcome: bring food, we will eat on the grass]; 21,15: meeting/discussion «Mondiali al contr
Friday, May 28: Val di Susa
Meeting with the students of Des Ambrois, Oulx [institute located on the «olympic mountains 2006]. Lunch and visit to natural sites which have been devastated by the interventions for the Olympic games.

Saturday 29 and Sunday 30: Rome
[20] Assembly/debate (hosted by the social centre “Strike”) have already been scheduled, as well as the presentation of the book: «Molto più di un gioco. Il calcio contro l’apartheid» [Iacobelli]. Screening of «Breyani and the councillor» and «Dear Mandela». There will also be a one day trip with the Osservatorio antirazzista to “Città dell’altra economia”, Casette rosse, Forte Prenestino and Pigneto.
Monday, May 31: Rome/South Africa
[19,25] Departure for South Africa.

Campaign coordination

“Mondiali al contrario” is coordinated by Filippo Mondini and Antonio Bonato [Comboni missionaries from Castel Volturno], Francesco Gastaldon [researcher], Michele Citoni [journalist and videomaker], Carta editorial team. For more information: Carta, via dello Scalo di San Lorenzo 67, 00185 Roma.
Tel. 06 45495659 (Gianluca Carmosino, Carta),
Tel. 333 7322892 (Filippo Mondini, in charge of the tour)

How to support the campaign

Everyone can support the campaign “Mondiali al contrario” even with small quotas of at least 30 euros, 200 euros for social organizations. To issue a bank transfer please use these bank details: Banco di Napoli – Collegio Missioni Africane, via Matilde Serao 8 81030 Castelvolturno [Ce], causale «Mondiali al contrario» IBAN IT92Y0101074820000027005524ccp n. 19884808 or conto corrente postale n. 19884808, Missionari Comboniani via Matilde Serao 8, 81030 Castel Volturno [Ce], object of payment: “Mondiali al contrario”.

translation by Loredana D’Elia