African Literature: Post-Colonial Struggles

A 9-week reading group
Thursdays, April 27 through June 22, 7:30 to 9:30 pm
Organized with the Indigenous People’s History and Literature Group

“Real misfortune is not just a matter of being hungry and thirsty; it is a matter of knowing that there are people who want you to be hungry and thirsty.” ― Ousmane Sembène

During this term we will begin with Egypt with Mahfouz, visit West Africa with Chris Abani then travel south to South Africa with Zakes Mda then conclude in June with NoViolet Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. Again we examine four different areas of Africa as the peoples there emerge first from European colonization, then face the forces of global domination in the long neoliberal phase we yet endure.

Respected Sir
Naguib Mahfouz
Egypt, 1975
With this portrait of a misanthropic civil servant, Mahfouz devises a cunning send-up of egregious ambition, stodgy bureaucracy and cloying piety. The novel’s overblown language mirrors the grandiose aspirations of protagonist Othman Bayyumi, an archives clerk who schemes for a lofty appointment as Director General, expounding that “a government position is a brick in the edifice of the state, and the state is an exhalation of the spirit of God, incarnate on earth.”

Song for Night
Chris Abani
Nigeria, 2007
Song for Night is the story of a West African boy soldier’s lyrical, terrifying, yet beautiful journey through the nightmare landscape of a brutal war in search of his lost platoon. Our guide is a voiceless protagonist who, as part of a land mine-clearing platoon, had his vocal chords cut, a move to keep these children from screaming when blown up, and thereby distracting the other minesweepers. The book is written in a ghostly voice, with each chapter headed by a line of the unique sign language these children invented.

The Heart of Redness
Zakes Mda
South Africa, 2007
In Mda’s novel, there is Camugu, who left for America during apartheid, and has now returned to Johannesburg. Disillusioned by the problems of the new democracy, he follows his “famous lust” to Qolorha on the remote Eastern Cape. There in the nineteenth century a teenage prophetess named Nonqawuse commanded the Xhosa people to kill their cattle and burn their crops, promising that once they did so the spirits of their ancestors would rise and drive the occupying English into the ocean. A failed prophecy split the Xhosa into Believers and Unbelievers, dividing brother from brother, wife from husband, with devastating consequences. 150 years later, the two groups’ decendants are at odds over plans to build a vast casino and tourist resort in the village, and Camugu is soon drawn into their heritage and their struggles for a future worth living for.

We Need New Names
NoViolet Bulawayo
Zimbabwe, 2012
Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad. But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few.

The Indigenous Peoples’s Reading Group, which has grown from the enthusiastic call for the need of greater understanding of the long history of the peoples of North America and other continents of the world who were of those continents before and remain after the European colonists came to settle and bring this capitalist relations to every corner of the globe. Our group began following a stirring presentation by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz September of 2014 where she introduced An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

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Popular Struggles in South Africa

Popular Struggles in South Africa:
Urban Revolt: State Power and the Rise of People’s Movements in the Global South
and The Spirit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism in South Africa

A report on current and future liberation movements in South Africa with
Trevor Ngwane, Luke Sinwell and Manny Ness

On 16th August 2012, thirty-four black mineworkers were gunned down by the police under the auspices of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) in what has become known as the Marikana massacre. Luke Sinwell’s The Spirit of Marikana tells the story of the uncelebrated leaders at the world’s three largest platinum mining companies who survived the barrage of state violence, intimidation, torture and murder which was being perpetrated during this tumultuous period. What began as a discussion about wage increases between two workers in the changing rooms at one mine became a rallying cry for economic freedom and basic dignity. This gripping ethnographic account is the first comprehensive study of this movement, revealing how seemingly ordinary people became heroic figures who transformed their workplace and their country.

The urban poor and working class now make up the majority of the world’s population and this segment is growing dramatically as the global population expands to 10 billion by mid-century. Much of the population growth results from the displacement of rural peasants to the urban cores, resulting in the vast expansion of mega-cities with 10 to 20 million people in the global South. The proliferation of informal settlements and slums particularly in the global south have created the conditions in which urban areas have become the principal sites of social upheaval as people seek to improve their living conditions. Drawing from case studies in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, the various chapters in Urban Revolt: State Power and the Rise of People’s Movements in the Global South map and analyze the ways in which the majority of the world exists and struggles in the contemporary urban context.

Trevor Ngwane and Luke Sinwell will discuss the current situation in South Africa where trade union militancy has spread more broadly in the five years since Marikana, the anti-austerity student movement remains strong at most universities and other schools, and socialist parties are experiencing growth and are at times uniting to fight the neoliberalism of the post-apartheid state.

Mgcineni ‘Mambush’ Noki (imagined in the wall painting wearing a green blanket) was one of the 34 mineworkers killed by the South African police on August 2016 while on strike demanding a ‘living wage’ in the most potent episode of state violence against civilians in the post-apartheid period. Mambush and the others live on as the insurgency grows broader and deeper in South African society and beyond.

Through detailed case studies, Urban Revolt unravels the potential and limitations of urban social movements on an international level.

“A superb addition to the literature on the contemporary global crisis and its micro manifestations.” —Patrick Bond, BRICS: An Anticapitalist Critique

The urban poor and working class now make up the majority of the world’s population. Much of the population growth results from the displacement of rural peasants to mega-cities. The proliferation of informal settlements and slums, particularly in the Global South, have created conditions ripe for social upheaval as people seek to improve their living conditions and win basic human rights. Drawing from case studies in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, the chapters in this book map and analyze the ways in which the majority of the world exists and struggles in the contemporary urban context.
“What emerges from this collection is a complex picture of resistance, which nevertheless provides nuanced hope for a universalist project of social transformation…. The result is often a refreshing and accessible journey into urban revolts that the reader may have less familiarity.”
—Leo Zeilig, African Struggles Today: Social Movements Since Independence

“Capitalism itself is in crisis so it means, as Marx said, the CEOs of the world, government leaders, have now become personifications of capital. They no longer have any control. They speak for capital. They are just meant to trample on our rights willy nilly. They did that in Greece until a left party took over and then now they are turning the screws on that left party. It’s harder in countries such as the USA where socialism is a swear word as it is in Eastern Europe.”
—Trevor Ngwane, Counterfire, 2015

“Fanon somewhere quotes Marx on how the social revolution “cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future.” The EFF, the student movement and the working class movement has to find a way forward without going back to nationalism as an ideology of struggle. The struggle against imperialism has to break out of the discourse of colonialism without denying this history and its legacy…at its heart will be proletarian internationalism rather than bourgeois nationalism.” —Trevor Ngwane, 2016

Trevor Ngwane is a scholar-activist who is active in the Socialist Group and the United Front, organizations that seek a pro–working class pro-poor future for South Africa and the world. His PhD thesis recently awarded by the University of Johannesburg is titled “Amakomiti as democracy on the margins: Popular committees in South Africa’s informal settlements.”

Luke Sinwell is a senior researcher with the South African Research Chair in Social Change, University of Johannesburg. He has published widely on social movements and popular protest. His latest book is an ethnography called, The Spirit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism in South Africa (Pluto Press, 2016).

Immanuel Ness is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He has authored and edited of many books including: Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class (Pluto Press, 2015) and Ours to Master and to Own: Worker Control from the Commune to the Present (Haymarket Books, 2011). Ness is co-editor of the third world political economy quarterly, Journal of Labor and Society.

Copies of Urban Revolt, The Spirit of Marikana and Southern Insurgency will be available for purchase.

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Day 2, Session 4—Southern Insurgency: Mass Movements Throughout the Global South

A presentation and discussion with Manny Ness and Lisa Maya Knauer
Manny Ness provides an expert perspective of three key countries where workers are fighting the spread of unchecked industrial capitalism: China, India, and South Africa. He considers the broader historical forces in play, such as the effects of imperialism, the decline of the international union movement, class struggle, and the growing reserve of available labor. Lisa Maya Knauer will look at other responses to neoliberal capitalism focusing on the Americas: resistance to anti-extractivist projects, refugee/migrant flows to the U.S., and organizing efforts by Central American workers in the U.S.

Lisa Maya Knauer is a founding member of the MEP and its predecessor, the Brecht Forum. She has taught a variety of classes on feminism and Marxism, and gender and capitalism. She is currently working with indigenous resistance movements in Guatemala, and with immigrant women workers in the U.S. In her day job, she is the chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. (you don’t need to include the academic affiliation if you don’t want)

Immanuel Ness is a political economist and professor of Political Science at City University of New York. He edits Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society and is the author of numerous works including Guest Workers and Resistance to U.S. Corporate Despotism. He has worked and organized in the food, maintenance, and publishing industries.

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Student, Worker and People’s Movements in South Africa

The Practice of Popular Politics and Urban Land Occupations

Camalita Naicker

From a recent piece by Camalita written in Kafila:
There is no doubt therefore, that what we are witnessing is a revolutionary political moment in history. Midnight’s children are learning to walk and talk. They are also learning that they have not been ‘born free,’ and their freedom is necessarily and inextricably linked to the freedom of those around them. If sustained, this collective form of politics and mass mobilization reminiscent of the 1980s people’s power movements could change the country’s political trajectory and demonstrate to Zuma and the shadowy figure of what was once the African National Congress that, as the shackdwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo puts it: Amandla ngawethu inkani (the power is ours by force).

Camalita Naicker is a PhD candidate at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa with a focu on urban land occupations. She is an important student activist in the student movement and particularly in the recent “stop-all fees- movement.” She has also done studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi

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