Amandla: A new voice from within the South African Left

A very unusual and exciting project was launched in South Africa this past June. Amandla (www.amandla.org.za), an on-line and hard-copy journal, emerged from within overlapping sections of the South African Left. At a point when the radical Left internationally desperately needs innovative theory, Amandla appeared on the scene as a means for the summation of the South African experience and a mechanism for badly needed debate within that significant movement.

I have admired the South African Left for years. Yet the South African Left has been torn by its own internal contradictions. Those who have aligned themselves with the South African Communist Party have tended to favour the continuation of the tripartite alliance of the African National Congress, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and the South African Communist Party, despite the grip that neo-liberalism has held on the ANC-led government [note: the reasons for this situation go beyond the scope of this commentary]. Separate from this section of the South African Left can be found at least two other components: smaller radical Left political parties, normally very critical of the tripartite alliance; and an altogether different amalgam of groupings that tend to be what can be described as the South African social movement Left (e.g., anti-HIV/AIDS; Clean water movements; anti-poverty). To a great extent these different components of the South African Left have all but ignored each other except and insofar as they have attacked one another, sometimes with an unnerving intensity.

Into this mix has stepped Amandla, which has served as a political project to promote dialogue within and between different segments of the South African Left. The two issues that have been published are quite fascinating in their breath. Most interesting has been the fact that the South African Communist Party, which tended to shy away from even acknowledging a Left outside of the tripartite alliance, has had an important presence in this project through interviews and articles, including by leading members.

Amandla is important for those of us in the USA both for giving us insight into the thinking within South Africa, as well as for, hopefully, inspiring us to do likewise in the USA. In terms of giving us insight into South Africa, the South African Left, regardless of any problems it faces, remains among the most vibrant on the planet. It is confronting issues of national and regional economic development in the face of imperialism, as well as attempting to address the challenge of building a pro-socialist movement in a post-liberation society. The latter is noteworthy for many reasons, not the least being that the South African Left often finds itself up against former comrades, individuals who know all the right words and phrases of the Left, but who use them to advance a different set of class interests.

In reading Amandla I found myself thinking equally about the situation in South Africa and in the USA. Amandla may become a vehicle for a reconfiguration of the South African Left, at least over time. The result of such a reconfiguration is impossible to predict, but the active debate and engagement of different political tendencies could result in a very different practical working together and operational unity. It might, perhaps, result in the gelling of a new national-popular bloc that advances 21st century politics against neo-liberalism.

In the USA, though there are significant magazines and websites, there is nothing quite comparable to Amandla, and this is a serious loss for us. Much of the sectarian banter that so many of us have experienced at one point or the other over the last thirty years has drifted away like an echo in a cave, yet this has not meant that serious, principled exchanges emerge that result in a heightened practical and strategic unity. Magazines and websites exist that are normally sponsored by a group or core which may open their pages to the point of view of another tendency, but that is qualitatively different from the sort of movement intervention that Amandla potentially represents in South Africa.

Readers should not look at Amandla through the eyes of a voyeur, but rather through the eyes of members of the radical Left on this side of the ‘pond’ who are seeking knowledge and analysis of the situation in Africa, but also as those attempting to draw lessons for how we can qualitatively change the state of the US Left. Publications have historically had the potential, and actuality, to serve to challenge and, in some cases, change the discourse in movements. Drawing from that lesson we should ponder, in turning the pages of Amandla, whether we would benefit from such a project.


Bill Fletcher, Jr. is an international and labor writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, and is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He can be reached at [email protected]

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