Beyond the Interregnum: From Paroxysm to Peace

by Thomas W. Fraser –

1. Introduction

Writing from the depths of Turi prison at the height of Italian fascism, the neo-Marxist luminary, Antonio Gramsci, silently penned his now infamous Prison Notebooks, in which he inscribed the following declaration: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”[1] Caught adrift in the devastating wake of World War I, assailed by the dismal spiral of the Great Depression and confronted with the mounting spectre of Nazism, one can readily appreciate the historical salience of Gramsci’s declaration. It bespoke an epoch of crisis, a period of unbearable suspension in which the womb of time seemed to convulse beneath the cumulative weight of history. Reflecting on the present, I am compelled to ask: Are we today not confronted with something eerily reminiscent of Gramsci’s fateful interregnum? Are we too not experiencing a paroxysmal convulsion of time? Writing shortly before his death, Bauman explicitly revived the Gramscian category of interregnum in an attempt to highlight what he identified as the crisis of our time, consisting, as he saw it, of the perverse entrenchment of poverty and inequality, institutional atrophy and decay, widespread conflict and social dislocation as well as ecocidal biospheric degradation.[2] In what follows, I shall strive to probe and extend this train of thought by considering, firstly, a broad outline of our prevailing global predicament, followed by a similar treatment of the local. Once having done so, I shall seek to propose a set of considerations crucial, in my estimation, to the present discussion. Most important, I shall argue, is the need for a renewed subjective orientation capable of engendering strategic unity around a minimal set of shared anti-systemic imperatives. However, this will require a fundamental reinvention both of ourselves and of our habitual patterns of intersubjective being.

2. Interregnal Cartography: From the Global to the Local

In the final chapter of their recently co-authored survey of world-systems history, Chase-Dunn and Lerro outline three broad trajectories for the future of humanity, viz: (i) a renewed round of US hegemony, (ii) global collapse and (iii) the consolidation of a global democratic commonwealth.[3] The first of these would consist, in essence, of the reinstatement of US hegemony under an ‘enlightened conservatism’ less prone to unilateral adventurism and more capable of steering multilateral institutions toward greater concern for global equality and co-belonging. The second would consist, by way of contrast, of a perfect storm comprised of continued US hegemonic decline coupled with mounting hegemonic rivalry, economic destabilization and ecocatastrophe. In this case, the combined momenta of conflict and competition would surely overwhelm any conceivable prospect of strategic cooperation, thus entailing a stark regression into full-blown barbarism of the like forewarned by Luxemburg.[4] That being said, the third scenario would consist of an effervescent coalescence of progressive forces across the globe, thus engendering a ‘New Global Left’ capable of steering the tangled vectors of history toward what Shiva has dubbed an ‘Earth democracy’ founded upon the twin pillars of radical sustainability and democratization.[5] In my estimation, it is this latter trajectory toward which we should aspire. In truth, however, honest scrutiny reveals an indeterminate comingling of all three trajectories, with no single observer able to state with absolute certainty which will ultimately prevail. Alas, the fate of futurity hangs in the balance.

Further complicating matters is the added ingredient of subjective disorientation, which a number of contemporary observers have identified as one of the defining features of our time. According to this line of argument, the progressive onslaught of capitalist modernity has, over the span of centuries, been accompanied by a corresponding erosion of subjective consistency across the globe, dissolving the grounding coordinates of tradition in what Marx and Engels once aptly termed the ‘icy water of egotistical calculation.[6] To paraphrase an oft-quoted refrain: all that is solid has melted into air, all that is holy has been profaned, and humanity itself is finally reduced to a bewildered husk set turbulently adrift amidst raging seas. According to Badiou, the dominant response to this predicament has consisted of a perilous fusion of nihilism and conservatism, the former seeking solace in the momentary ecstasy of hedonic trivia and the latter groping after the seeming stability offered by existing power structures.[7] Politically speaking, this combination has functioned as a potent catalyst of false contradiction, giving rise, on the one hand, to explosive episodes of localised resistance incapable of enduring beyond the ecstatic ephemera of negative revolt,[8] and, on the other, to reactionary formations intent on resurrecting the longed-for promise of an obscure ‘golden age’. [9] In this manner, the all too often fruitless blossoming of new social movements has become lamentably commonplace alongside the simultaneous spread of neo-fascist ethno-nationalisms and populist authoritarianisms across the globe.[10] Coupled with this has been an increasingly narcissistic preoccupation with parochial identity formations as well as a corresponding slew of superficial culture wars.[11] In the meantime, the myriad pathologies borne of this chaotic brew are routinely exploited as the forces of capital spiral ever further into auto-cannibalization,[12] threatening not only humanity but the entire tapestry of life.[13]

To what extent are these dynamics legible within our local milieu? Apart from the points already touched on above, it has become increasingly evident that the negotiated settlement of 94’ has largely failed the vast majority of South Africans. For many, this is the logical outcome of what Saul has dubbed the ‘false decolonisation’ of South Africa, the result of which has been the well-documented cascade of consequences now discernible in retrospect, including the hollowing out of the state through corruption, the corporatization of the public sphere, the weakening of progressive labour movements, the racialized entrenchment of poverty and inequality as well as deepening ecological decay. [14] The cumulative logic of this stream of causation was tragically foregrounded during the Marikana Massacre of 2012, an incident which has forced many to confront, in the words of Satgar, “the hard edge of violence fluxing through our stressed social fabric.”[15] At present, we exist largely within the shadow of this sordid legacy, stuck with a corrupt, incompetent and dysfunctional ruling party notorious for talking left and walking right as well as a national opposition dominated, on the one hand, by a centre-right formation uncomfortably tolerant of colonial apologetics and, on the other, by a faux-radical formation fuelled by historical ressentiment and mired in racially chauvinistic populist authoritarianism. The recent displacement of Zuma and consequent foregrounding of the so-called ‘land question’ within public awareness presents an intriguing juncture fraught with risk and opportunity; however, critical circumspection would appear to suggest that we are simply on track for more of the same, with many of Ramaphosa’s recent declarations signalling continuity with business as usual.[16]

Given the above, how might one situate today’s left? Echoing Lenin, we remain stuck as ever with the defining question of ‘What is to be done?’

3. Thinking beyond the Impasse

Do I pretend to have solutions to the problems outlined above? Not at all. Do I even pretend to understand the full depth and complexity of the crisis itself? Certainly not. To begin with, the portrait outlined above is as reflective of me as it is of those aspects of reality I have sought to describe. I cannot be certain of the precise extent of my own ignorance. I am a fallible observer imbued with a finite and selective grasp of reality. As such, any portrait I produce is inevitably bound to be riddled with all manner of error and distortion. It pains me to judge the world around me because I cannot trust in the soundness of my own judgement to begin with. Even more so, it pains me to recommend pathways for humanity because I cannot anticipate whether such recommendations might inadvertently reproduce the very chaos we seek to avoid. To tell you the truth, I am in a certain sense paralyzed, and this perhaps has to do with the crisis of subjective disorientation alluded to above. Perhaps this is nothing more than an elaborate projection. Perhaps it is part projection and part reality – I cannot be entirely sure. When reflecting upon this dilemma, I am constantly haunted by the old biblical refrain, “if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”[17] In the spirit of introspection, I would therefore like to propose the following: in order to transcend the prevailing impasse, it shall be necessary to formulate a minimal set of shared anti-systemic [18] imperatives capable of forging strategic unity among heterogeneous forces and actors across multiple scales of complexity, from the local to the global; from my perspective, such a set should include, at minimum, the principles of (a) radical sustainability, (b) radical democratization, (c) radical universalism and (d) radical nonviolence. In my thinking, one could in fact regard these as minimal axiomatic preconditions for a future world capable of nurturing a sustainable just peace – anything less will inevitably tend toward chaos and violence.

More fundamentally, however, this kind of transition will also require a simultaneous inner revolution, a radical reinvention both of ourselves and of our habitual patterns of interrelationality, for how else could we possibly work toward a more beautiful world? In this regard, we must be willing to reach into the depths of our souls to discover the wounds inscribed within our own being; we must work consciously and courageously through the traumatic blemishes of our inner fabric in order to escalate our capacity for mindful and compassionate engagement. We must ensure that the intention underlying our desire for change stems not from the inner poisons of greed, hatred and delusion but from the antidotes of generosity, compassion and wisdom. In other words, the transcendence of our current predicament requires a simultaneous transcendence of ourselves, and I feel that this dimension is all too often overlooked in our eager zeal to diagnose and manipulate the outer world – this goes for those on all sides of the political spectrum, ‘left’ and ‘right’ alike. To quote Gandhi, “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” [19] Consequently, should we wish to transform the world, we should likewise transform those aspects of ourselves symptomatic of the world we wish to transform – inner and outer transformation must go hand in hand, lest we wish to externalize and reproduce the very wounds we seek to heal. In light of this, I contend that the full scope of what we wish to achieve runs far deeper than simple structural intervention in the outer world. On the contrary, the skilled outer hand requires a mature inner gaze – without the former, the latter cannot sculpt its vision, and without the latter, the former is bound to go astray.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, I have argued that today’s crisis consists of a mix of factors ranging from the spiritual to the socio-ecological. As has been suggested, the fate of futurity hangs in the balance and the ultimate outcome will depend on our capacity to galvanize strategic unity around a minimal set of shared anti-systemic imperatives including, as I have suggested, radical sustainability, democratization, universalism and non-violence. Admittedly, there is nothing particularly striking or original about this line of argument, and although multiple proposals for implementation may be derived from these anti-systemic imperatives, it has not been my primary purpose to formulate such a proposal; instead, my purpose has been more abstract and general in nature. In addition to the preceding, I have likewise argued that the transformation of our outer world shall require a simultaneous transformation of our inner worlds and that the latter is, in a sense, even more fundamental than the former, as it serves as an existential precondition for unfolding our chosen axioms in a manner prefiguratively consistent with the kind of world we seek to realize. In closing, therefore, I would like to say the following: let our politics strive to transform the world for the better, but let it also be imbued with the capacity to love truly, wisely and without boundary.


[1] Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks.

[2] Bauman, “Times of Interregnum.”

[3] Chase-Dunn and Lerro, “The Next Three Futures: Another Round of US Hegemony, Global Collapse, or Global Democracy?”

[4] Luxemburg, “The Crisis of German Social Democracy (The Junius Pamphlet).” 5 Shiva, Earth Democracy.

[5] By ‘subjective consistency’, I refer to the manner in which we as individuals and collectives understand our place and purpose in the world. Consequently, ‘subjective disorientation’ refers to the fragmentation of subjective consistency, that is, a state of individual and collective bewilderment.

[6] Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto.

[7] Badiou, The True Life: A Plea for Corrupting the Young.

[8] Think, for instance, of the likes of Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring and even Fees Must Fall, all of which were indeed explosive yet failed to progress beyond the point of negative revolt and, by extension, to assemble positive structures of enduring consequence.

[9] Think, for instance, of Trumpism and the call to ‘Make America Great Again’ as well the often-regressive urge to recover some or other ‘pure’ form of native identity here at home – a pitfall explicitly cautioned against by the likes of Aimé Césaire and Franz Fanon

[10] In this regard, I would insist on highlighting that these stirrings of neo-fascist ethno-nationalism and populist authoritarianism are evident both on the right and the so-called ‘left’. Apart from the more overt instances observable in Europe and the US, I would argue that even here at home, supposedly ‘progressive’ forces such as the EFF often exhibit highly disconcerting tendencies toward populist authoritarianism.

[11] One need only peruse the media, both mainstream and alternative, to derive samples of this. For instance, consider the predominantly vacuous debates currently surrounding figures such as Jordan Peterson. Likewise, consider the increasing polarization of struggle around identitarian axes of determination, with racial and gendered parochialisms often degenerating into dialogues of the deaf.

[12] A stark instantiation of this may be observed in the US, where big-pharma has unscrupulously fuelled an ongoing opioid crisis even as the NRA seeks to exploit rolling waves of moral panic induced by the cultural pathology of mass shootings – all in the name of a quick buck.

[13] Angus, Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System; Satgar, “The Anthropocene and Imperial Ecocide: Prospects for a Just Transition.”

[14] Saul, “The Apartheid Endgame, 1990–1994.”

[15] Satgar, “The Marikana Massacre and the South African State’s Low Intensity War against the People.”

[16] Satgar, “South Africa Must Resist Another Captured President: This Time by the Markets.” 18 Lenin, What Is to Be Done.

[17] “Matthew 15:14.”

[18] Following the logic outlined in Arrighi, Hopkins, and Wallerstein, Anti-Systemic Movements., I intend by ‘anti-systemic’ those movements intent on opposing and resisting the dominant forces and relations of social determination in a given era.

[19] Gandhi, “General Knowledge about Health XXXII: Accidents Snake-Bite.”


Angus, Ian. Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016.
Arrighi, Giovanni, Terence K. Hopkins, and Immanuel Wallerstein. Anti-Systemic Movements. London: Verso, 1989.
Badiou, Alain. The True Life: A Plea for Corrupting the Young. Translated by Susan Spitzer.
Cambridge [UK]: Polity Press, 2017.
Bauman, Zygmunt. “Times of Interregnum.” Ethics & Global Politics 5, no. 1 (2012): 49–56.
Chase-Dunn, Christopher, and Bruce Lerro. “The Next Three Futures: Another Round of US
Hegemony, Global Collapse, or Global Democracy?” In Social Change: Globalization from the Stone Age to the Present, 359–73. New York: Routledge, 2016.
Gandhi, Mahatma. “General Knowledge About Health XXXII: Accidents Snake-Bite.” In The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, XII:158. Gujarat: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1964.
Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Edited by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1971.
Lenin, Vladimir I. What Is to Be Done. International Publishers, 1969.
Luxemburg, Rosa. “The Crisis of German Social Democracy (The Junius Pamphlet).” In Socialism or Barbarism: The Selected Writings of Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Paul Le Blanc and Helen C. Scott, 202–13. London: Pluto Press, 2010.
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. Translated by Samuel Moore.
London: Pluto Press, 2008.
“Matthew 15:14.” Bible Hub. Accessed March 11, 2018.
Satgar, Vishwas. “South Africa Must Resist Another Captured President: This Time by the
Markets.” The Conversation, 2018.
———. “The Anthropocene and Imperial Ecocide: Prospects for a Just Transition.” In The Climate Crisis: South African and Global Ecosocialist Alternatives, edited by Vishwas Satgar, 47–67. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2018.
———. “The Marikana Massacre and the South African State’s Low Intensity War against the
People.” Defending Popular Democracy (blog), 2012.
Saul, John, S. “The Apartheid Endgame, 1990–1994.” In South Africa: The Present as History, by John S. Saul and Patrick Bond. Johannesburg: Jacana, 2014.
Shiva, Vandana. Earth Democracy. Boston: South End Press, 2005.

Reflections on the prospects of renewal in the era of the new dawn

By Mandla Nkomfe- 1. Introduction
This paper seeks to understand the prospects of organizational, societal, economic and political renewal against the context of our recent past. Given the extent of our accumulated challenges and problems that have set-in; in the body politic, is renewal possible? It further grapples with the very idea of renewal that is so present in our narrative. Is renewal possible? Under what conditions is renewal possible? To understand all this, the starting point is the appreciation of the political moment we are in. But the key question to ask is, what made the current problems (corruption and state capture) possible in the first place. The paper attempts to outline broad parameters of a possible programme of action. This programme is to be located in the understanding that we can effectuate a renewal process in some areas and break with the past in certain areas. The movement forward consists of three related processes which must be carried simultaneously. These relate to:
– firstly, ending state capture,
– secondly, using the constitution as a key ingredient in the renewal process and
– thirdly, undergoing a thoroughgoing societal transformation.
The present situation requires the pessimism of the intellect in that we should be able to rely on doubt as a mechanism of interrogating our phenomena. We should subject our reality to close scrutiny so as not to understand the passing phase as the answer to all our problems. Much as the latest political developments can come across as important when seen against our recent history, we do need to reflect deeply about the challenges facing our country and what they mean for the renewal of our politics, institutions, society and the economy.

Given the accumulated problems (economy, society, values, ethics, and the pervasion of our institutions) in the last decade and/or more, many amongst us have questioned the possibility of the renewal of our public affairs. Some have retreated from the public sphere to private spaces such as family and church. The extent of economic and social marginalization has seen the rise of conservatism, resorting to ethnic bound identities, a collapse of the non-racial project and the growth of misogyny in our spaces.

Political parties as mechanisms of participation and aggregating political views/values are emerging as vehicles for political/economic elites. The party machinery is being corrupted by the need amongst the political elites to access, control and distribute rent in a vertical fashion. This then creates conditions for a perfect capture.
In this situation, is renewal possible? What would be the conditions for renewal? How should this question be framed? Is the idea of renewal the correct one? Renew as a verb is understood to mean, “Resume (an activity) after an interruption”. The underlying text in this regard suggests that the original design was always going to be correct. That’s what happened with the GUPTA’s was an aberration and that we have to go back to our ways-economic path, democratic institutions and liberal inflections in our constitutional dispensation. So, we need to be clear on what is to be renewed. Some amongst us believe that this new political moment presents the opportunity to disrupt and curve new paths. We should experiment with new ideas in order to propel our society to new vistas, a society that will deliver on social justice and deep freedoms to all of its citizens.
Inherent in the idea of the optimism of the will, is the fact that, there has to be a determination to change the material conditions of life for the better. This paper argues that a case for renewal can be made as well as the fact that it is possible to chart new paths by way of disruptions. It is only a determined will that can create conditions for renewal and new break-ups. The key issue is to identify, what is to be renewed and what is to be discarded and in what areas do we chart new routes.

2. Understanding the political moment

Since December, 2017, the political terrain has changed, the Rent-Seeking tendency was pushed back, a new leadership was elected (not without its challenges) and new hope was generated by these developments. For many, possibilities for progressive change have been opened. There is still a need to fully comprehend the meaning/s of the political moment. The situation remains fluid and can be reversed. The dangers remain being that of talks of unity; unity of elite’s vs principled unity, a retreating force creating havoc (looting) and populism (being the year of elections).
It is important to note that change that came within the ANC in December, 2017, was brought about by forces outside of it; these being the markets, judiciary, courts, media, trade-unions, parliament, non-governmental organisations and the rest of civil society. These struggles forced the ANC to reluctantly align with the broad and popular sentiments of South Africans. While the Conference represented a strategic defeat of the visible manifestations of corruption, the system of state capture and corruption remains intact.

This moment has revealed the following:
– The centrality of the constitution as the nation’s moral compass and conscience
– Importance of constitutionalism
– The robust mobilization of civil society organisations – ensuring mass mobilization on numerous issues and raising consciousness of communities around corruption and state capture
– Repositioning of the state as a key site of struggle

We can conclude that the current situation remains in flux. The different layers of rent-seeking groups have the possibility of blocking the agenda for progressive and substantive change in South Africa. We can also conclude that reliance on one person/s is not a guarantee for breaking with the past. Social change will need combined efforts of a conscious people in the multiplicity of their organisations.

3. What made state capture possible?
The roots of our current politico-socio-economic conditions can be traced back to how our national life is organized ranging from the political system to the organisation and the performance of our economy. In this regard, state capture, corruption and the progressive break-down of our value system is not an aberration but a manifestation of a non -functioning polity.

– The recent developments in South Africa’s political affairs mark a high point in our democracy. While the visibility of these contradictions can be found in the phenomenon of state capture (the key symbol and its pervasiveness being the capture by the GUPTA’S), the material basis on these contradictions can be traced to the challenges in the economy (exclusions in terms of race, class, gender and geography). Economic growth and development has delivered little for the majority of South Africans. The ownership and management of the economy is still controlled by few monopolies.

– Entry to economic participation is (finance, network industries, mining) limited. Most studies conducted in South Africa and abroad point to the concentrated nature of our economy. The essence of the migrant labour system remains in place. The crisis of capitalism in our country is defined by massive job loss, displacement of workers, destruction of the environment, emergence of finance capital, the marginalization of other sectors of the economy such as manufacturing and the increase in inequality in terms of income and assets.

– The systemic nature of the crisis of the capitalist economy suggests that the solutions should be systemic and comprehensive. The introduction of rent in the form of black economic empowerment has benefited the few and excluded the majority of people. In this context, there has not been a comprehensive socio-economic transformation. State Capture in the form of the GUPTA’s, lifted corruption to high levels.

– The system of proportional representation in our national and provincial legislatures has reached its limits. While it sought to foster national unity, promote non-racialism and gender parity, it is failing in so far as the idea of accountability is concerned. It creates conditions for a vertical relationship of members and party leadership in political parties. The fidelity is to the party and not so much to South Africa. In recent times, there is a conflation of party and state relations which results in a negative impact in the quality of life of the citizens of the country and instead promotes the serving of the interests of the connected few.

– The system of political party funding does not promote disclosure and public scrutiny. State capture often starts with capture of political parties by anonymous donors. The reform of party funding will go a long way in opening up our political system.

4. Programme of Action
The broad programme for social transformation has to be underpinned by the desire to renew certain aspects of our national lives as well as creating new ways of sustaining life and our democracy. In some situations, ruptures with our hitherto paths have to be a reality. In other words, the Cyril moment must not make us long for the return to the “unproblematic pre-Zuma period” for that would be the highest form of nativism. Certain sectors of our society such as business and those of liberal persuasions wish for the return to stability and go on with life as we understand it. This period may as well represent an opportunity to do things differently. This period has three elements to it.

4.1. Reversing State Capture

One of these being to focus on reversing state capture. This will take some time to conclude. In this period, we have to support the work of the Judicial Commission on State Capture, ensure that there are prosecutions for those implicated in CS, parliament continues with its work of public inquiries, cleaning the state system such as addressing state owned enterprises (SOE’s) and dealing with corruption at municipal level.

4.2. Entrenching the constitution and constitutionalism
The constitution is the basis of our national lives. It embodies our foundational values as a people. A progressive interpretation of the constitution is thus required; otherwise it can be emptied of its progressive intent and content. The starting point for the renewal process has to be the robust implementation of the values and intent of the constitution. This has to address areas such as institution-building (institutions take time to build), reforming our political system (proportional representation/constituency-based system and reforming the political party funding system). The promotion of social capital and social cohesion is the necessary condition for reversing poverty and other negative tendencies that have emerged in our areas. In most situations, there is a link between the collapse of our communities with the extent of the economic marginalization.

4.3. A through-going programme for change

This aspect of the programme has to address fundamental issues that affect conditions for a fair dispensation. This has to look at the economic system that should deliver to all the people in South Africa.

Social Compact- New conditions for the current round of the new deal? Who is prepared to give what amongst the social actors? Is there a sense of solidarity amongst these?

4.4. Conclusion

The present situation requires that we undertake a wide-spread socio-political and economic renewal process that could deliver revolutionary reforms, breaking new ground and tackling concrete immediate challenges. Objectively, all the key elements are there, the key questions are whether the political subjective factor(leadership) is up to the tasks of our times. It requires that, we understand what it means to be a progressive today and what organizational/ institutional forms/ forms of engagement should define, contemporary reality. This will require that activists for social justice display the pessimism of the intellect( nothing should be taken for granted in analyzing social reality) and the optimism of the will (after all, our is to work for change).

Cyril Ramaphosa and the Deepening Crisis of the ANC: Renewal or Perpetuation?

By Gunnett Kaaf- The ANC Nasrec Conference (December 2017) was greeted as a turning point since it brought the end of Jacob Zuma’s era that was marked by the worst forms of the ANC rot. The two major presidential candidates, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa, were portrayed in most of the media analysis as proxies for the perpetuation of the ANC rot as represented by Zuma and for the renewal of the ANC, respectively.
Ramaphosa won with 2440 votes against Dlamini-Zuma’s 2261 votes. The difference was a small margin of 179 votes. The CR slate only won three of the top 6 positions. Even the NEC results displayed the narrow margins in terms of the two contesting slates. On the numbers game, the Ramaphosa victory is clearly treading fragile grounds. But the defeat of NDZ was decisive in weakening the Premier League which has dominated ANC internal politics and was the main force behind Zuma since the 2012 ANC Mangaung Conference.
Now that NDZ was defeated, Ramaphosa won and ostensibly radical resolutions were passed by the ANC conference, is the ANC on the way to renewing?

Renewal or perpetuation?
I propose two possible scenarios for the ANC renewal. The first one is a renewal from below, which can happen if tens of thousands of ANC members organise themselves and rise up against the rot and the mafia; and say: “The rot stops here and it goes no further! Not in our name!” The conference did not herald such a moment. Instead the dominant factions within the ANC seem to have set the stage for the contest and the outcome of the conference. This is because the ANC members have long been sidelined by powerful factions in running the affairs of the organization. Powerful factions have appropriated all power to themselves within the ANC. For all intents and purposes, the ANC remains a mass movement only through passive mass support; the ANC is a mass movement controlled by powerful factions, it is not a mass movement of active and meaningful mass participation.

Members have been reduced to a status of pawns in the numbers game to mobilise support for the victory of warring factions at conferences. So in reality, ANC members have resigned themselves to the power of factions, or they no longer care about saving the ANC since it proving to be an impossible task. So this scenario of members’ revolt within the ANC is not possible, in reality.

The second scenario is a renewal from above which can happen if a leader or a group of leaders set to renew the ANC by rooting out corruption and initiate a path towards a meaningful social transformation for the benefit the majority. Cyril and his group do not resemble a group of radical (even moderate) modernisers who can push a meaningful ANC renewal from above. Their power, as derived from the conference outcome, is fragile; many rogue elements such as Ace Magashule, Jessie Duarte and DD Mabuza are still very powerful.

How Ramaphosa carried out the cabinet reshuffle, following the recall of Jacob Zuma, shows a lack of audacity to kick out all the rogue and rotten elements who are implicated in scandals. Instead, Ramaphosa seem hell-bent on negotiating everything. The outcome of this negotiation is compromises that accommodate corruption, and yet he claims an anticorruption agenda to be the mainstay his presidency.
Ramaphosa seem to be largely relying on the law enforcement agencies to do the cleaning-up of the rot that is widespread within the state. Without necessary political actions to fight the rot, he can only go so far and get nowhere deeper because the rot runs way too deep within various organs of the state. Mind you, we have 40 national state departments, 9 provincial governments with no less than 90 provincial departments, 257 municipalities and about 300 public entities. Corruption is found in most of these 687 state organs, and many of them are large and complex organizations. That’s why law enforcement alone will not succeed because evidence has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law. Most of the public entities play no developmental role and have weak governance regulations and practices, that’s why they are vulnerable to corruption and capture by predatory forces. In the absence of a coherent development plan, most of these state organs fall prey to neoliberal prescripts that do not advocate a strengthened role of the state, instead defer to market forces for solutions. The National Development Plan (NDP) does not close the gap for a coherent development plan because it is largely a vision statement. Even as a vision, the NDP is still based on neoliberal assumptions in how it envisages development.

Ramaphosa and his group don’t have the inclination to revive and mobilise the ANC grassroots to help them carry out the renewal, and kick-out the rogue and rotten elements among the leading personnel of the ANC.
Cyril is only going to be better than Zuma, but will still fail, as he falls short of the minimum requirements for the ANC renewal; he can’t halt and reverse the rot, he will only slow it down. He is better as we can see some good work in cleaning up Eskom and SARS already happening. The Ramaphosa cleanup drive, though limited, may still resonate with the mass support of the ANC; recovering some lost support and avert a worst electoral outcome next year. But that will not be proving the adequacy of the Ramophosa cleanup, but rather it will be merely saving the ANC fortunes in a climate of a weak opposition parties (DA and EFF) and weak (extra parliamentary) mass movements. But then, to the extent that people want real change in their lives after 24 years of democracy, the Ramophosa euphoria will die down sooner than later, and will have no significant effect in alleviating the deepening crisis of the ANC.
Can the ANC overcome its failure and revive to effect a meaningful social change?
The ANC crisis stems from two major sources. Firstly, it is the widespread corruption (the rot) and secondly, it is the failure of the ANC to effect a meaningful social change that advances the development for the majority and overcomes inequality. Because poverty and inequality have become the defining social features in post-1994 South Africa, class struggles have gained a decisive prominence in the political and social struggles that will make or break South Africa going forward. Advancing the social demands of popular classes, who are largely black, is going to be a measure of social progress and a mark of a meaningful social transformation.

Can the ANC really renew itself to the extent leading a meaningful social change?
During the struggle, the ANC, together with its allies, emerged as the most organized force, with a better strategy to mobilise a broad array of national and class forces to struggle for democracy, nonracial society and equality before the law. Contrasting this vision to white apartheid rule, this vision posed a social revolutionary dimension because it required universal suffrage and repeal of racist laws which institutionalized inequality. The ANC therefore emerged as the dominant force in the post-apartheid dispensation because it was better than other liberation forces in organising the people and posing a vision that resonated with the masses. It is perhaps this past glory that makes some to believe the ANC can still renew; clean up the rot and become a force of social transformation again.

After 1994, what was needed was for the ANC to pursue a social transformation with audacity, towards social equality. Instead the ANC embraced neoliberalism with the hope that it would result in foreign direct investment in productive sectors and grow the economy in ways that would create jobs, alleviate poverty and bring about development to township and rural communities. This fantasy of social progress through capitalism would dismally fail.

The ANC chose accommodation within global capitalism largely because of its lack of audacity to pursue a radical programme. There was also no daring to consistently insist on a radical programme, among the radical elements within the ANC led movement. These radical elements included COSATU, SACP, ANC branches, the youth movement, student movement, civics and some progressive NGO’s.

The SACP has no courage of its own convictions. They are fond of making threats of going alone, and making noises about rot when they are sidelined from powerful circles. Once they are brought back into the fold, like Cyril has done with his reshuffle, they tend keep quite. In essence the SACP has no political independent programme of a meaningful radical nature that makes an impact in the alliance. They add no value in the alliance, other than chasing accommodation within the ANC. Their lack of an independent socialist programme that is based on social demands of the workers and poor makes it difficult for the SACP to break out of the alliance impasse, even when they genuinely want to do so.

COSATU has been severely weakened by the implosion following the expulsion of NUMSA and Vavi. Many of the COSATU affiliates have experienced splits.
But perhaps the bourgeois capitulation of the ANC was also born out of its historically weak revolutionary strategy (the NDR) that did not integrate an anti-capitalist outlook. The nationalism of the ANC dominated over the socialist influence of the SACP. So much that even the SACP itself tended to subordinate class struggles to the dominant nationalism.

A radical programme with an anti-capitalist outlook that goes somewhere in challenging the foundations of the South African capitalism( cheap labour, Mineral Energy Complex and a dependent integration into the global capitalist economy) would have helped the push towards a real better life for all and social equality. To stop at the bourgeois revolution (which is what the ANC’s NDR has been reduced to) betrays the historically oppressed black majority, since South Africa’s historical capitalism was allowed to continue and restructure (by globalising and financialising) in terms favorable to South Africa’s big corporates, post-94. This continuity and the restructuring of the historical capital accumulation post-94, betrayed the people because it did not provide acceptable responses to social problems stemming from the apartheid legacy.

Nationalism has never succeeded in overcoming inequality post liberation struggles in the Global South. Instead, everywhere in the Global South where some measure of success has been registered towards social progress and equality, anti-capitalist struggles would have played a decisive role.

Today the ANC is not only reluctant to embarking on a renewal path, marked by a genuinely radical programme, but rather it is incapable of doing so. The ANC is incapable even though they are aware that a meaningful social transformation can only result from radical measures buttressed by popular power. It is because of their awareness of the necessity of radical measures and their own incapability to carry out such measures that the ANC has settled for populist overtures, over genuine radical efforts. That’s why the ANC’s radical economic transformation would be championed by such conservative elements as Zuma, Ace, Nkosazana and Supra! The ANC populist rhetoric that promises radical change, including on land expropriation without compensation, is also a containment strategy for the EFF, aimed at averting the danger of losing big electoral support to the EFF.

Transcend the ANC or get trapped in a tragic impasse
Cyril Ramaphosa’s close links to big business (himself a billionaire business man) will not help the efforts of the ANC to make a genuinely radical turn. As it has been seen from his state of the nation address and the budget speech, he has no semblance of a radical outlook. He is all about the neoliberal business as usual and all that NDP talk.

The ANC is no longer capable of carrying out any big social project because it is, on the weight of its own internal and external contradictions, imploding like an Empire of Chaos. There are no forces of renewal within the ANC fold, the good comrades who still remain in the ANC are trapped in the inertia of ANC politics. It is up to the left and progressive forces outside the ANC to initiate a genuine renewal for the country, based on bottom-up democratic and emancipatory politics and a meaningful social transformation. Otherwise there is a real danger for the whole country to be trapped in a tragic impasse, if we don’t transcend the ANC, to a point where the main agenda is not set by the ANC, but the ANC just become one of the political players.

Gunnett Kaaf is a political and community activist based in Bloemfontein

Talking Transition: The Climate Crisis, Technology and the Nation State

by Prof. Janet Cherry –

Forget the national liberation movement. Forget the idea of capturing the nation state for the national working class. Forget the patriotic bourgeoisie and discard the rhetoric of revolutionary nationalism. Forget the second transition (to national liberation? to economic freedom?) or even a third transition (to socialism?) or a fourth transition (to communism?). There is something else going on in the world, and our narrow national concerns are going to blind us to the real transition that is taking place.

What is a transition? What transition are we talking about here? In the first place, it is a process of change, from one state (in the physical sense) to another; from solid to liquid (melting ice); from liquid to gas (boiling water). “All that is solid melts into air” as Marx famously said:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.” (Manifesto of the Community Party, 1948. Chapter 1)

In the first instance, the transition we are dealing with here is a global transition in the forces of production – a transition away from fossil-fuel based production. This transition is necessitated by the climate crisis. Without going into detail of why this transition is necessary, or how it is occurring, the argument here is premised on the understanding that human society will respond to the imperative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the next decade. If I am wrong, and the tipping point is already past; or if I am wrong and we are subject to a determinist view of history that we cannot change through struggle or agency, then the whole argument falls away. So bear with me and accept the premise above.
If this transition is occurring, it has far-reaching implications for our agenda for building an egalitarian, democratic, socialist society. The technology upon which production is based is changing – in other words, the forces of production are changing radically. The technology allows for decentralised production of energy, food and many of the goods and services which meet basic needs of human society. Decentralised, localised forms of production have, in turn, far-reaching implications for the social relations of production. The means of production can be locally owned and controlled. The monopolisation and centralisation of capital that Marx thought inevitable, can be reversed in the 21st century. Not only production of goods but provision of services, especially banking, communication, information – can be democratised and decentralised.

The climate crisis, which threatens the livelihoods and lives of millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa, is potentially a liberating force in this context. The argument is that decentralised energy production allows for local control over the means of production and this in turn allows for radical changes in the social relations of production. New localised economies which are premised on food sovereignty, energy sovereignty, and reuse of local resources in a circular economy principle, have the potential to fundamentally alter the existing capitalist mode of production. While in the global North, overconsumption and overdependence on fossil fuel means a much more difficult transition to low-carbon economies while retaining a high quality of life, the global South has the potential for a different kind of transition.

Can we change the social relations of production under capitalism, without seizing control of the nation state? Is it possible that localised initiatives can pose a challenge to the inequalities and injustices of capitalism as we know them? The argument against ‘picking lemons’ implies that it is only the undesirable or marginal parts of the economy that are accessible to the marginalised (or the lumpen proletariat, or the precariat, or the rural proletariat); it is only these parts that can be socialised, while remaining on the periphery of the global capitalist economy. And it is true, there are few instances in the global North where working-class communities have really implemented democratic and sustainable socialism. Linking in Samir Amin’s idea of delinking African economies from the global North, it is argued here that radical change is more likely to come from the South, from the most marginal societies in particular – those on the periphery in Wallerstein’s model. Such societies (for example Malawi, Lesotho or Mozambique) which have not completed a transition to capitalism and are less integrated into the global capitalist economy, are in a better position to explore new alternatives made possible by technology. Relationships with China and other BRICS countries may also strengthen this counter-power, but this is not a foregone conclusion.

Our argument in the Transition Township project in Kwazakhele, Nelson Mandela Bay, and in the Amandla! Collective, is that it is possible to explore alternatives to capitalism within the current political dispensation. Our own struggles, over decades, have given us the experience of participatory democracy, of contesting hegemony at local level, and of wielding some forms of power. What we have not achieved is the taking of control of material resources; the wielding of economic power. Our history of local popular power did not result in economic power; even the best NUMSA and NUM worker cooperatives established in the course of the struggle, were unsustainable. The cooperatives established post 1994 as part of a top-down, state-led development in the context of neoliberal macro-economic policies, were equally unsustainable. And while the National Democratic Transition has given us space, we have not used this space effectively. We have not contested it through the discourses of participatory development, participation in development planning (through the IDP process), through the Municipal LED agenda; through the Peoples Housing Process; through rural development policies and programmes; through waste management programmes; through EPWP. None of these have been democratic or worker controlled, let alone socialist; they have involved some dispensing of benefits or wages to the poor, but no control by the working class.
Drawing on the theory of Antonio Gramsci, among others; and the revolutionary practice of Matthew Goniwe, in contesting power at the local level in Cradock in 1985, we aim to take these ideas into practice in the next phase of struggle. Some examples of this are the following:

The decentralisation of energy production: This entails the transition to renewable energy; local control of energy production (why should the big corporates be those who make millions from the government’s IPP programme? Why is it that only wealthy homeowners are retrofitting and selling their power back to the municipality?); and incorporates the ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ campaign which offsets the job losses from the end of coal with the creation of new jobs from renewable energy. The difference in this context is that these million jobs are not ‘jobs’ for ‘workers’ who will be paid a wage by a big company. They are livelihoods for the worker-owners-managers of the local energy company. Our pilot is a neighbourhood cooperative – some comrades refer to it as a ‘Gap Tap Soviet’ model – where the residents are the owners and managers of a common asset, generating energy from ‘their’ public space (as well as their rooftops) and selling that energy. Goodbye Eskom. Goodbye global mineral energy complex. We do not need you in this model. If we cannot make the PV panels ourselves, we will form trade alliances with India and China.

The decentralisation of food production: This entails food sovereignty. Localised production and distribution of food, with the level of localisation being appropriate to the facility of production in that locality. Spinach and tomatoes can be, and are, grown everywhere, in backyards in any part of Sub-Saharan Africa; cattle and goats are kept everywhere, in every township and village in the region. Sugar grows in KZN (and in Mozambique where Huletts is taking over peasant farms) and coffee grows in Limpopo (and in Kenya, for just one example). Our recent household survey in Kwazakhele led to a finding which contests the current dismal-left wisdom that the urban poor are eating a poor diet because they cannot afford fresh vegetables (packaged by Woolworths in three layers of plastic, having been transported 1000 km). On the contrary – working class residents of townships are eating fresh vegetables every day, buying them in singles as they need them, from vendors. Where are the fresh produce markets in every neighbourhood? The market is there, and yet who is benefitting?

The decentralisation of financial services: South Africa has the most appalling concentration of bankers who collude to exclude. While COSATU has admirably contested this issue, the technology that is now available through blockchain has far-reaching implications for this project. While the Bitcoin craze has not affected the poor as yet, the potential for democratised financing is enormous. FORUS is just one example of social entrepreneurship which may prove this point.

The creation of the circular economy through re-use of waste: Waste to energy, waste to food (composting, animal feed, fish food); waste to wealth (buy back to recycling from the most local neighbourhood level); waste to production (plastics to everything from handbags to textiles to water tanks and gutters) – all is potentially accessible to working class communities.

The use of existing public and private resources to generate livelihoods: (we do not talk of ‘wealth’ or ‘capital’, but rather what people need to have a good quality of life, and socially meaningful work). This includes using De Soto’s argument and twisting it; in Kwazakhele, almost all residents live in a house which is now privately owned, with a title deed, secure tenure, a small plot which can (and is) used for growing vegetables, or for building a backyard shack for rent, or for running some other kind of business. There is a great deal of unutilised land in South Africa. In Nelson Mandela Bay, there are a great many unutilised buildings, both public (schools) and private (factories and warehouses).

The repurposing and reclaiming of public infrastructure for public good: The key example in our context is the Swartkops Power Station, which is on the edge of Kwazakhele township. An iconic coal-fired power station which was decommissioned twenty years ago and sold to private interests, now rented out for storing of manganese, it has potential to be the centre of an innovative development on the coast, linking residents of the townships in a vibrant centre of new technology, cultural industries and food production.

The creation of productive facilities using new technology: For example, 3-D printing which enables decentralised and purpose-made production using recycled plastics. Such technology means that it is no longer necessary to have economies of scale or massive capital investment in order to produce what is needed so that it is affordable to the working class. Instead, the working class can control their own production, decide what to produce and consume, and no longer be alienated from their own labour.

All these things could happen, and many aspects of them are about to happen, but not necessarily as an advance of the democratic socialist project. How the technology is used, who benefits, how it is controlled and managed – all this is up to us. Can we change the relations of production? If not, why not? What are the impediments to this? Is it naïve to think that a localised experiment of this nature could be successful? This is the challenge I am putting forward to this first dialogue – and I invite your critical responses.

Mining: The Sunset Industry

By Ferrial Adam –

While for some South Africans, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s SONA (state of the nation address) signalled new hope for the country, for many it was much of the same with the ANC talking left but walking right. An example of this was Ramaphosa’s declaration of mining as a sunrise industry that is going to combat inequality, poverty and unemployment. It is going to usher in “a new path of transformation and sustainability”. [1] In reality, the mining industry has failed to do this in more than 100-years of existence in South Africa. Why would it change now?

It just so happened that the day before the SONA I accompanied an NGO, Bench Marks Foundation to Snake Park in Soweto. What I learnt and witnessed affected me deeply and listening to the President speak about mining as the answer to our economic woes made me very angry.

The true legacy of mining is wrought with slave labour, low wages for rank and file workers; dangerous working conditions; work related illness; gender discrimination; land expropriation and air, land and water pollution; to name but a few. It has consistently enriched a few, president Ramaphosa included. The bottom line is that mining has failed to contribute to sustainability.

Mining is closer to being a sunset industry that is widening the gap between the rich and poor, increasing poverty and contributing to high levels of unemployment. Mining operations in South Africa have had a negative impact on the environment and on the people and communities living close to or downwind of these operations.

This article will address the challenges of the mining sector and will highlight the environmental injustices from the mining sector in South Africa. As such it will argue that mining may be a sunrise industry for a privileged few but if we look at the industry in a holistic way then mining is detrimental to the social and environmental cohesion of society and should thus be regarded as a sunset industry that is losing jobs, investor confidence and is harmful to people and the environment.



The ANC adopted the Mineral Energy Complex model from its apartheid oppressors. Many ANC stalwarts, including our new president have significant shares in mines. The model of mining has been built on cheap, migrant labour that allowed many of the mines to flourish, while the workers and communities close by are subjected to poverty and affected by the harsh environmental impacts.[2] This is still the model being used today and begs the question – Sunrise industry for whom?


A sunrise industry has been defined as “An emerging industry that is gaining favour with investors and is expected to be an engine of future economic growth through steadily rising generation of employment and profits, and comparatively lower environmental costs”[3]. While the South African government is committed to the adoption of market-oriented policies that will supposedly yield job creation, investment, growth, reduced poverty and general inequality, the picture of mining has been very different. [4]

In the past few years almost 50000 jobs have been lost in mining.[5] At the same time, CEOs earn anything from 50 to 100 times that of the rank and file workers. For example, the CEO of Anglo-American earns almost R67 Million, the CEO of BHP Billiton earns R57 Million and the CEO of Goldfields earns R28 Million per annum. [6] In comparison, the mine workers in Marikana were asking for a mere R12500 a month in 2012.

Furthermore, the type of jobs that mining offers poses a threat to workers’ health and safety. When miners get ill, they are either retrenched or not adequately cared for placing a burden on the state and adding to the economic burden of poor families.

If we take the environmental and social impacts into account, then mining is anything but a sunrise industry.


A true reflection of mining

While it is often mentioned that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing us today, the externalities – such as the environmental and social impacts – of mining are either ignored or not included in the ‘profits’ or ‘growth’ of this sector.

Mining operations often result in large scale land grabs, pushing communities off their land and thereby affecting food sovereignty. In Sub-Saharan Africa 60-80% of food that is consumed within rural households is grown by women.[7] Women are the ones who are responsible for producing food, and thus access to and preservation of land is crucial for community and family health/well-being, not to mention basic survival.[8]

Women are disempowered by the way land is taken away and have to spend more time looking for natural resources, including ‘wild fruits, trees, natural herbs, firewood and water’.[9] This results in women resorting to sex work to feed their families.

The mining environment

Air pollution

Mining operations are renowned for high levels of water, soil, air and land pollution. People and the communities who live close to mines are affected by high levels of noise, dust, air pollution, and blasting that comes from the mine operations. Dust from trucks that drive through the communities as well as dust blown from mine waste dumps are ingested either because it settles on locally grown food and livestock or through breathing in the dust,[10] causing respiratory illnesses like asthma.



South Africa is responsible for about 86% of all the waste in Africa as a whole (Institute of Waste Management Southern Africa, 2017).[11] According to Bench Marks Foundation, there are more than 270 tailings dams in the Witwatersrand Basin, that are “mostly unlined and many are not vegetated, providing a source of extensive dust, as well as soil and water (surface and groundwater) pollution.” (Oelofse et al., 2007, p. 617). The dust and water from the tailings waste contain chemicals, minerals and heavy metals that are poisonous, such as arsenic, cyanide, mercury, lead and uranium.[12]


Water pollution

South Africa is a water-scarce country and ranks as one of the 30 driest countries in the world, with an average rainfall of about 40% less than the annual world average rainfall. South Africa has an average annual rainfall of less than 500mm, while that of the world is about 850mm. In South Africa, the state holds the environment, including our water resources, in public trust for the people; this means not only that the water belongs to all the people of South Africa, but that government is supposed to be working on our behalf with regards to our access to as well as use and enjoyment of water.[13] However, Bench Marks Foundation has shown that the issuing of water use licenses within the extractive industry is corrupt and inefficient.

Mining companies in particular have been abusing this process with at least one hundred mines reportedly operating without a water licence in 2014.[14] Communities are regularly prevented from accessing and using the water around the mines.[15] Water pollution and a significant decline in water availability tends to impact women (and girls) more than men, because women and girls are largely responsible for water collection. Because of mining effluent, the water that is available is often contaminated, and it is then women and children who are most affected by skin rashes, urinary infections and other resultant afflictions.  Moreover, having to travel far distances to rivers and streams for potable water increases the hours women spend on unpaid work as well as places them at risk of being attacked or raped.[16]

Water pollution from mine waste rock and tailings might need to be managed for decades, if not centuries, after a mine’s closure. In South Africa in general, and Gauteng in particular, there is a lack of responsible closure and thousands of abandoned mines are the norm. There are 6 000 ownerless, derelict and abandoned mines nationwide and some 600 in Gauteng alone.[17]


Its not just theoretical: the impacts are real

A day before the SONA I accompanied Bench Marks Foundation to Snake Park in Soweto, where they are conducting a health study from the impacts of mining in the area. Like many communities in the south of Johannesburg, this community live on the edge of a gold mine tailings dam, or as we have come to know them as ‘the yellow hills’.

The dust from the tailings has a high concentration of heavy metals and is blown into the community. The dust blows all over including in their homes, clothes, blankets and even the cooking pots. The fine radioactive sand is being used in construction. At one of the homes, I was shown where the cement had been mixed to build RDP homes. The blue-green discoloration was a clear indication that the soil was laden with heavy metals.

Bench Marks Foundation brought along a Geiger counter which was measuring the radiation levels in the area. According to most standards of measurement 0.5 micro-Sieverts (µSv/h) per hour is considered the safe level for medium to long term habitation. Most of the readings on the Geiger counter ranged from 9 to 16 micro Sieverts per hour. The high levels of radiation were measured in and around the homes that we visited.

When it rains, the water on the dump overflows into streams that run into the street. There are no fences or signage to warn people of the hazards. Children play on the mine dumps and swim in the highly toxic evaporation pools. We did a basic pH test and found the lowest was a pH of 3 with the highest a pH of 5.

It was shocking to see the high number of children with cerebral palsy. There is a cerebral palsy child on almost every street. There are so many kids affected that there is a creche that sees to only cerebral palsy children. Cerebral palsy is a developmental disorder that Bench Marks believes – in this area- is partly due to the heavy metals in dust blowing off the hundreds of tailings dumps. Not only are the people exposed to extreme pollution, but they also do not have the support from government or the mining companies. It was disturbing to see a 15 year old affected boy sitting in a car seat made for toddlers.

Government and the mining companies have suggested that there is no link between the children and the mine. Litigation against polluting companies remains extremely difficult without a comprehensive, epidemiological study. Bench Marks believes differently and have thus undertaken a health study in the area. The study is aimed at challenging the mining companies and government to take responsibility and to remove the dangers facing this community.

Street science for environmental justice

Snake Park is just around the corner. We did not have to drive for hours and hours. Even if government does not believe the findings of Bench Marks foundation – there is enough to warrant a study and visit to assess the situation. The mining sector has more than a hundred years of perpetuating environmental injustices across the country. Before Ramaphosa and the ANC give them free reign, we should consider reining this sector in and holding them responsible for damaging the basic fabric of our society.

One of the important tools that Bench Marks is using is education for liberation. Creating awareness and educating members of the communities in which they work to monitor, report, blog and collaborate. This has empowered ordinary people to challenge the mining companies and government. While this has been difficult in the past as mining companies have denied responsibility, street science has forced the balance of power in favour of the communities. Through such networks and groups we can build an environmental and climate justice movement that can give rise to real deep just transitions. So while mining is a sunrise industry for a few mining magnates, the people affected will no longer go silently into the sunset!


[1] State of the nation Address

[2] Andrew England, 2014. ‘South African mining: Stuck in the past’ – e0b9bee0-b0e4-11e3-bbd4-00144feab7de. Accessed, 5 January 2017


[4] Department of Finance, 1996, ‘Growth, Employment and Redistribution: A Macro-Economic Framework’ – Accessed, 17 December 2017



[7] Samantha Hargreaves, 2013. ‘The Impact of Mining on Women’, 17 October – /site/article/1818 Accessed, 2 January 2018

[8] Christina Hill et al,, 2016. ‘Gender and the Extractive Industries: Putting Gender on the Corporate Agenda’, OXFAM Report

[9] ActionAid South Africa, 2016. ‘Precious Metals II: A Systemic Inequality’: 4

[10] Mark Olalde, 2017. ‘The dust mountain that’s just always there’, Accessed, 21 December 2017

[11] Almost three tonnes of ore (waste) is needed to produce enough gold for one typical wedding ring. As at 1997, South Africa produced an estimated 468 million tons of mineral waste per annum (DWAF, 2001).

[12] Bench Marks Foundation, 2017. ‘Policy Gap 12’

[13] Ferrial Adam, 2017. ‘Building People’s Power for Water Sovereignty: An Activist Guide’, Accessed, 18 December 2017

[14] SAPA, 2014, ‘103 mines have no water use licences’,, Accessed, 21 January 2018

[15] Bench Marks Foundation, 2014. ‘Policy Gap 9: South African Coal Mining –  Corporate Grievance Mechanisms, Community Engagement Concerns and Mining Impacts’

[16] Christina Hill et al, 2016. ‘Gender and the Extractive Industries: Putting Gender on the Corporate Agenda’, OXFAM Report

[17] Bench Marks Foundation, 2017. ‘Policy Gap 12’