Two fronts of anti-apartheid struggle: South Africa and Canada


There are, to begin with, obvious parallels between the two countries, not least the fact that both Canada and South Africa, as we know them, were outcomes of Western European imperial conquest. True, the histories were somewhat different. In Canada, the indigenous societies – some agrarian-based and others premised on hunting, trapping and a more nomadic existence – were an easy target for something very close to quasi-genocide for much of our early history, and then an extreme form of marginalisation more recently. On the other hand, in South Africa, at least beyond the Cape, the large and more firmly settled and grounded indigenous African populations were less vulnerable to any such ‘final solution’.

Instead, here, whites – when not killing blacks and driving them off the most economically promising land – became adept, as we know all too well, at availing themselves, to the advantage of the white-dominated economy, of the labour of such indigenes.

Not that there were no insights from these diverse processes of conquest and settlement to be shared. Quite the contrary. In fact, instructive parallels were readily grasped, on both continents, by the oppressors themselves, South African leaders, for example, turning eagerly to Canadian experience with ‘Indian reservations’ for guidance in further crafting and firming up their ‘homeland’ structures in the 1920s. As Ron Bourgeault (1998: 7-8), a leading writer on such themes, notes:

It is significant that South Africa came to Canada at different times since the Boer War asking and [obtaining] permission to study the Canadian system by which Indian people were controlled and managed separately from the politically dominant white population. South African took what it needed and applied it to its own situation: first to segregation, and after the Second World War to apartheid. The fundamental difference between Canada and South Africa was that Canada was interested in segregating and managing, as cheaply as possible, a population it did not want as an important source of labour. South Africa was interested in the same type of relationship, but for a people whose labour it needed and wanted cheaply.

As Borgeault further observes, ‘South Africa turned to Canada in the first decade of the 20th century’, since ‘Canada was probably the only advanced capitalist state that had an elaborate system of administration and territorial segregation of an internally colonized indigenous population, a possible exception being the United States’. Indeed, Canada’s Dominions Land Act of the 1870s (after which the South African Land Settlement Act of 1912 and 1913 was actually patterned, according to Bourgeault), and related acts including our very own Indian Act, restricted Indians, as they were then termed (now ‘First Nations’ people), from acquiring property or trading their goods off the reserves. They also deprived Indians of the vote, and even established a kind of pass system for exit and re-entry to reserves. Small wonder that apartheid South Africa was interested.

Bourgeault then emphasises that, in Canada by the twentieth century, retaining the Indians within separate ‘communal organizations’ was preferable to continued genocide-like military campaigns which were now seen as being ‘too expensive and possibly unchristian[!]’. Moreover, by the early 1950s, most such formal restrictions had been removed. By then, of course, the white power structure in Canada could afford to become rather more liberal (granting the vote, for example!); after all the ‘Indian’ population, if still largely resident on the reservations, had now become only a very small minority. Not so in South Africa, where the full nightmare of apartheid was only just beginning. No surprise, then, that as late as 1962,

the South African ambassador to Canada, W. Dirkseven-Schalwyck, made an extensive tour of reserves in western Canada, meeting churches and visiting agency headquarters and educational and agricultural facilities. The ambassador studied the form of band government, the relationship of the central state apparatus of Indian Affairs to the bands, and social and economic problems encountered on the reserves. The ambassador’s interest was in how the Indians were maintained in their ‘homelands’, and how the central state related administratively to their maintenance. (Bourgeault 1989: 7-8)

A second, related point bears noting here. For there were also some intriguing activities undertaken by an apartheid government that continued to play its own tune on the embarrassing parallels between the histories of the two countries. This was particularly notable during the deeply unpleasant Glenn Babb’s aggressive tour of duty as South African Ambassador to Canada in the mid-1980s. Alongside hundreds of television and radio appearances and occasional (and often sharply contested) invitations to campuses and in other locales – at which times he spoke in strident support of apartheid (although he simultaneously sought to imply that it was ‘changing’) – Babb managed to stir up controversy by arranging an invitation to visit their reserve from the leaders at the Peguis reservation in Manitoba (see Babb 2003).

Perhaps the goal of Canada’s native people, in this instance, was to embarrass the Canadian government but Babb turned the occasion skillfully to his account, pointing out the grim, if somewhat divergent, parallels between the practices of the two countries.

Other ‘native’ leaders were prepared to play ball with apartheid, too, in pursuit of their own interests, as witness the tour of South Africa, courtesy of the South African Tourist Board, made by four senior Native Canadian politicians in August, 1987. True, the bulk of native leadership in Canada - even as they pressed forward with their continuing claims and demands against the Canadian government – scorned this practice and made it clear, in Bourgeault’s words, ‘that the Indian people of Canada [chose] not to go down in history as allies of racist fascism’ (1988: 6).

But there was some kind of parallel nonetheless, and momentarily Babb made the most of it. And, not surprisingly, he found support for such tricks and for the evil apartheid regime that sponsored them in Canada more widely: there was, in fact, a considerable network of backing for the combination of prejudice and profit that spawned a support for apartheid South Africa in Canada and hence a certain degree of organised pro-apartheid agitation existed, especially amongst the privileged classes.

The crudely racist, flamboyantly anti-communist and vividly right-wing journalism of Peter Worthington was a particularly prominent feature of this for anyone living in Toronto during these years, but those of us in the Canadian anti-apartheid network at the time were well aware of its broader reach. For example, a well-researched 1988 article in the western Canadian journal, Briarpatch, listed a host of right-wing and business-related groups hard at work defending apartheid: the Western Canadian Society of South Africa and the extremely well-connected Canadian-South African Society, for example. Indeed the husband of Canada’s then Governor-General, Jeanne Sauve, was actually a member of the latter until shamed into resigning in 1985 (see Manz 1988).


But note carefully the operative phrase I used above: prejudice AND profit. By the latter years of the twentieth century the links forged between the Canadian and the apartheid establishments were not primarily based on shared racism in fact, or even on shared Cold War mantras, but on the bald logic of mutual profit-seeking – although it was only last year that our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, saw fit to rise in Parliament in Ottawa and offer ‘an apology to the indigenous people in Canada for the injustices done to them for generations by successive Canadian governments’ in the twentieth century.1

Moreover, as recently as April 2009, Phil Fontaine, the National Chief of Canada’s Assembly of First Nations had an audience with Pope Benedict in the Vatican; there the Pope came very near himself to apologising (settling, in the end, for a less culpatory formulation: namely, a ‘statement of reconcilation’) for the Church’s participation in various acts of cultural despoilation inflicted upon Native communities in Canada.2

Nonetheless, in our own anti-apartheid support work our primary, indeed seemingly endless, preoccupation was with contemporary Canadian corporate links with South Africa. Thus, we engaged in continual efforts to infiltrate corporate general meetings, even managing to nominate the Chairperson of our Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa to the board of one such villainous corporation and only losing the subsequent election by five or six million share-holder votes! And when not picketing them outside in the streets, we also engaged in hours of such tricks as stuffing the deposit and withdrawal tables of numerous Canadian bank branches with fake withdrawal slips that carried on the back injunctions against the practice of loans to South Africa and of ‘banking on apartheid’.

Our constituency for such work ran wide, if not necessarily too deeply in terms of numbers, from our own Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa (TCLSAC) to the ‘Task Force on Churches and Corporate Responsibility’ that focussed the considerable efforts of most of Canada’s main-line churches.

The corporate response was, at best, stony silence (although there were also some attempts to infiltrate private spies into our ranks), but, in any case, our government was equally unresponsive. Despite a brief flurry of activity around Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s involvement in the testy doings within the Commonwealth that encouraged apartheid South Africa to withdraw from that body in the early 1960s, the Ottawa establishment stood pretty firm in its cool lack of interest. This was exemplified, in particular, by the disarming stone-walling of Pierre Eliot Trudeau. ‘It’s not consistent’, he said of his government’s apartheid policy (or, rather, lack thereof). ‘Either we should stop trading, or we should stop condemning’.3

In the event, Trudeau and the Canadian establishment continued to do both! Nonetheless, although support that indulged both in various euphemisms for racism and in uncritical cheer-leading for capitalism – together with judicious red-baiting – did grind on, it also began to become apparent, during the 1980s, that changes were afoot in the western governmental-cum-corporate sphere with respect to South Africa, including in Canada, changes of no small magnitude. Of course, the roots of a rethinking lay primarily inside South Africa itself and in the continuing escalation of internal resistance here during the mid-80s.

But, as we now know, there were also the meetings of business heavyweights with the ANC that were re-writing the ground rules of ‘common-sense’ in South Africa. Capital was beginning to realise, it now seems clear, that it would be foolhardy to get stuck on the racist side of a losing political equation and it began to think of cooptation of the ANC rather than of continued intransigence towards political change as apartheid South Africa became more and more of a pariah. Indeed, here lay – again this is much clearer in retrospect than it was at the time – our own modest role in the anti-apartheid movement: to help disturb capital and its less racist apologists just enough to encourage them to become a more reformist force than they might otherwise have been – a victory of sorts, albeit one with its own very real limitations.

Interestingly, one key to this for those of us in Canada was, once again, the Commonwealth, notably its Eminent Person’s Group mission that came to South Africa in 1986. Mulroney’s own nominee for this delegation was the Head of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Reverend Ted Scott, a sober and centrist Toronto-based prelate but it was the Australian delegate Malcolm Fraser who made the most noise – or at least the noise that Brian Mulroney heard most clearly. Of course, as noted above, a different kind of ‘commonsense’ was already in the air: about this time, for example, here in South Africa Zac de Beer had warned that ‘We all understand how years of apartheid have caused many blacks to reject the economic as well as political system ... We dare not allow the baby of free enterprise to be thrown out with the bathwater of apartheid’.

This time, however – and despite the fact that the South African government thumbed its nose at the EPG – it was Fraser, the deeply conservative former Australian Prime Minister who wrote the mission’s eloquent and tough-minded report, one calling for an extension of sanctions against South Africa in order to force it to its senses before the confrontation here escalated out of control. The EPG feared more violence and bloodshed, but Fraser warned that in an escalating conflict ‘moderation would be swept aside ... The government that emerged from all of this would be extremely radical, probably Marxist, and would nationalize all western business interests’ (Fraser 1986).

It seems clear that Prime Minister Mulroney responded warmly to this reading of the South African situation. To the goal of ingratiating himself with the Black Commonwealth was now added the role of spearheading the forces of enlightened capitalism. Mulroney sought (unsuccessfully) to convince Margaret Thatcher of the wisdom of pressing for change in South Africa at the August 1986 Commonwealth mini-summit convened to follow up on the EPG report. For he had hoped that Thatcher would link the UK to the new Commonwealth-sponsored package of sanctions that was now forthcoming. He was to press the same kind of case at the Venice G-7 meeting of the major industrialised countries in 1987, although again to little avail. As this suggested, Canada was somewhat ahead of the curve: after all, Mulroney was no racist and was thus far more able than either Reagan and Thatcher, with both of whom he would have testy exchanges on the subject both publicly and privately, to begin to adjust the game-plan of ‘official Canada’.4

Of course, during the 1980s, Mulroney also retained a residual suspicion of the ANC, as witnessed by his very cool reception of Oliver Tambo in Ottawa in 1987 (according to the account Tambo gave to a number of us the next day in Toronto [SAR 1987]). Indeed, as the Emergency began, momentarily, to take its toll of internal resistance, Mulroney’s enthusiasm for sanctions against South Africa, never substantively as strong as his rhetoric promised in any case, morphed into an even tamer kind of involvement, his devolving the issue into the even more cautious hands of his External Affairs Minister, Joe Clark, being one indication of this.

But it also seemed to be becoming a matter of rather less urgency with the momentarily successful government internal crackdown in South Africa of the late-80s. Nonetheless, capital continued to recalculate the odds in South Africa – and Canada ultimately became active again too, actually, at Mandela’s urging, standing behind its own sanctions policy until quite late in the day (1993). Needless to say, this meant that it was by now quite content, with other parallel centres of capital, merely to once again urge Canada’s corporations upon a South Africa increasingly deemed quite safe for capitalism. As one official hailed the strong signs of change in SA, in speaking to a Canadian trade paper: ‘I would think that the sky’s the limit.

Anything we like to do here and we do well we can also do in South Africa’ (Gawith 1990). ‘Business as usual’, then. In fact, after a brief flurry of enthusiasm for Mandela – hailed in Canada in his first official visit, with our own mixed record vis-à-vis apartheid conveniently forgotten amidst the prevailing rhetoric of the occasion – South Africa became pretty much ‘an ordinary country’ in Neville Alexander’s deft and telling phrase, an ordinary neo-colony in fact for Canadians interested in the spoils that might now be more ‘legitimately’ on offer (Alexander 2002). But otherwise the country largely drifted out of Canadian purview and official concern.

In fact, whatever way this may have all played in South Africa, it was difficult in Canada to escape the sense that a recolonisation was what our own powers-that-be now saw as being the heart of the matter.


To further explore this point of liberation as, at least in part, recolonisation, I’ll have to now introduce the other side of the Canada-South Africa link: the role played by the Canadian anti-apartheid movement of which I was, for many years and along with a host of other comrades, an active member. I’ve already mentioned a number of struggles in which our movement was involved – although I could spend a great deal more time elaborating on this story. For I venture to say that that movement produced, by its lights and within severe limitations, a noble and useful record.

As I have argued, any interest in South Africa except primarily as a possible source of corporate profit died in establishment Canada with the ascendancy of an ‘ordinary’ ANC here and of a climate of ‘business as usual’. More surprisingly, the residues of the anti-apartheid movement tended themselves merely to wither away as ‘victory’ was achieved, with South Africa, by and large, merely passing out of public and left attention. For the fact is that a very narrow definition of liberation had tended to be at play - albeit not dishonourably – within anti-apartheid circles too. Moreover, despite the best efforts of some of us to challenge the idea that liberation in southern Africa had, actually and unequivocally, occurred, the narrow definition proved to be hegemonic and victory was, in effect, declared.

Let me say a few words about ‘liberation’ then, although this is a theme that I have elaborated upon at greater length elsewhere (Saul 2010 and Saul forthcoming).

For now, though, let me merely suggest that the meaning of the word ‘liberation’ is multi-faceted – although the word has not always been used with an eye to its full range of perfectly plausible, indeed necessary, connotations. Thus at a recent workshop in Dar-es-Salaam – for I have become part of a SADC sponsored team examining the history of the regional liberation struggle between 1960 and 1994 – I suggested that an adequate evocation of the term liberation throughout Africa should indeed be multidimensional, should, in fact, speak in terms of race, class, gender and voice. As I argued there:

The struggle for southern African liberation has been, principally, a struggle for liberation from racial domination, as epitomised, in South Africa, under the term and in the practice of apartheid. However, it was also, for many of the participants, a struggle for liberation on three other fronts:
(i) a struggle for the overthrow and/or strong qualification of the capitalist
system, (defined as it crucially is, by class differentiation and exploitation,
both locally and globally);
(ii) a struggle for democratic voice, for the genuine democratic empowerment of
the entire mass of the population from the bottom up;
(iii) a struggle on the gender front, one waged in the furtherance of claims
centred on demands for a much greater measure of women’s emancipation
and of gender equality. (Saul 2009)

I was promptly brought to heel by the SADC team: the first phase, the overthrow of colonial-cum-racial rule, was what our project must focus on. No use to argue that there was no good reason to think that the African elites who gained power during the first phase would merely push on to the next ‘phases’; indeed, we knew, quite the opposite to be the actual case. Moreover, I urged, the reality of a simultaneity of struggle on the fronts of race, class, voice and gender was not something we Canadians had crudely imposed on the data on the basis of abstractions derived from our revolutionary books.

Rather we had learned about the necessary expansiveness of the concept of ‘liberation’ from the southern African movements themselves, notably from FRELIMO in Mozambique but also from the South African movement. Of course, any such formulation presents a wide range of topics for further consideration but here let me pose the question as to just what those of us in the Canadian anti-apartheid felt we had learned from all of this. Not, certainly, to doubt for a minute that the struggle for racial justice and its achievement was of crucial importance. But did we not also learn, beyond this, that there were other dimensions of the struggle that were also extremely important – and, if we were not circumspect, all too easily overlooked? In short, the glass of liberation can be, at once, both half-empty and half-full.

Here I’ll make only a few points along these lines and I will have to make them somewhat anecdotally while, in so doing, also highlighting further references to Canada as the context within which we were being forced to learn a number of truths about the nature of the transition in South Africa itself. Let us take the question of the class front first, aware that one upshot of liberation has been some narrowing of the economic gap on the racial front, but of a dramatic widening of it as between rich and poor. Would rather more socialism have provided some kind of antidote? Perhaps, yet how likely was that to have occurred on the ANC’s watch?

For here, perhaps, we should also remind ourselves of Thabo Mbeki’s own clear statement on such matters during the period of armed struggle, one that was published in the Canadian Journal of African Studies in 1984. There he wrote that ‘the ANC is not a socialist party. It has never pretended to be one, it has never said it was, and it is not trying to be. It will not become one by decree or for the purpose of pleasing its “left” critics’ (Mbeki 1984:609).

There had been, to be sure, much other evidence of this rightward tilt. For some of us in Canada one particular straw in the wind in the last days of apartheid, one worth noting here, was a workshop I helped organise in Toronto in 1993. A number of activists from the South Africa trade union movements were invited to meet with their counterparts in Canada for a forthright discussion of past, present and future – and the occasion was indeed an interesting and revealing one, the substance of which I have written about at greater length elsewhere (see SAR 1993).

However, I was myself particularly struck by the demeanour of the person the ANC chose to send to Toronto in response to our invitation. He was a person (Tito Mboweni) who was to go on to become a very major player in the ANC team assigned to oversee the economy. Yet from the beginning of his visit to Canada he was sharply critical of me and my fellow organisers regarding the quality of the hospitality he was receiving. The university residence accommodation in which we lodged him and his colleagues (including a number of the Canadian delegates) contrasted sharply with the pent-house treatment he had received the only other time he had visited Toronto, on which occasion he had been hosted by Toronto-lawyer and corporate fixer, ‘Fast Eddie’ Goodman. Last time, too, he had had business class air service all the way, and he insisted upon our upgrading his ticket to that level again!

The most telling incident of all came, however, in one of the sessions of the Workshop itself. Here the possibilities of forging a progressive and a socialist economic future for South Africa were being debated. Our ANC friend’s contribution was, as it turned out, to be an extended joke about FRELIMO in Mozambique, obviously chosen to provide a cautionary tale as to the possible futures open to South Africa.

Mboweni entered into an elaborate yarn which found a Mozambican fisherman catching a big fish and then, on his walk back home, discovering that there was, at the bare-shelved shops, no oil and no wood available for the cooking, no matches to light any fire in the first place, and no rice to be purchased to accompany the meal. Discouraged, the fisherman returns to the sea and throws the fish back in. Then, as the fish swims away, he makes one final leap to the surface, raises a fin militantly and shouts: ‘Viva FRELIMO’. A mildly funny joke, perhaps, if you bracketed off the context of the workshop we were engaged in.

In the event, a kind of embarrassed silence followed. But the real answer came over dinner that night. I said mildly that I wondered at the appropriateness of such a joke presented in such an unvarnished manner in the context of the serious discussion we were having. Our ANC guest was in the process of laughing off my perhaps rather pofaced comment when another South African union representative, a black comrade from Cape Town, said, ‘You know, Tito, when you made that comment and I thought of all the sacrifices Mozambicans had made for our liberation, I felt sick at my stomach’. Conversation ground to a halt. It could come as no shock, then, to read in Hein Marais’ carefully crafted book a few years later that ‘by 1994 ... the left had lost the macroeconomic battle’ (Marais 1998).

Of course, debate about the economic path followed by Mandela, Mbeki and the ANC rages on. While commentators ranging from Patrick Bond to Oupa Lehulere have suggested that other, more radical, options were (and are) available, the balance of forces soon told against such possibilities – at least momentarily and somewhat to the surprise of those who had seen in a vibrant trade union and popular movement base some hedge against possible elite cooptation.

In contrast, Mark Gevisser, despite the strong misgivings he expresses about Mbeki’s attitudes on such issues as AIDS and Mugabe, feels strongly, or so it would appear, that Mbeki and his team (of which our ANC delegate in Toronto was to become a member) merely saw more realistically the limits of the possible from a quite early date. Gevisser does not really express an opinion as to whether, even if this were to be considered a wise, even necessary, course to follow, it should be construed primarily as being a liberation or a recolonisation (see Gevisser 2009).

Similarly, my old friend Ben Turok agrees with Gevisser and even cites him liberally, in his recent book The Evolution of ANC Economic Policy, in arguing that Mbeki has had little choice but to conform to the imperatives of a hegemonic global capitalist economy (see Turok 2008a). But wait: Turok agrees ... and then again he doesn’t. For he also suggests that the passive acceptance of the private sector’s economic lead and the add-on of black economic empowerment (with all its implications for class formation) has merely proven to be a recipe for the demobilisation of the populace and for a neo-colonial South Africa. As Turok then puts the point:

The irresistible conclusion is that the ANC government has lost a great deal of its earlier focus on the fundamental transformation of the inherited social system. It has given almost total concentration to the first economy and the creation of macro-economic stability in the hope that this would bring foreign direct investment. However, even the most pro-active measures to boost the first economy will not overcome the social legacy of apartheid in the form of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

This requires the creation of a developmental state strategy which includes a focus on overcoming dualism and underdevelopment rooted in the urban townships and former homelands by boosting productive capabilities [and] by creating a relatively fully employed productive society ... a developmental society [is] the key to overcoming social and economic stagnation.

In short, in calling for such initiatives as some kind of revival of the RDP, Turok concludes: ‘Much depends on whether enough momentum can be built to overcome the caution that has marked the ANC government since 1984. This in turn depends on whether the determination to achieve an equitable society can be revived’. ‘Unfortunately’, he adds, ‘there is no identifiable coherent strategy to bring such a state strategy into existence’ (Turok 2008a: 263-5).5 My own conclusion: whatever such an alternative ‘coherent strategy’ might look like, if this isn’t a call for a ‘next liberation struggle’ in South Africa, I don’t know what it is!

Such a release of mass popular energies for democratic involvement in the development process seems to have been beyond anything that might have been thought to be readily acceptable by the ANC leadership. For whatever else it inherited from its Soviet backers a measure of undemocratic vanguardism was front and centre. And it was reinforced by both the hierarchical militarisation of the movement that was apparently deemed necessary and also by the not very benign influence of the various authoritarian political systems already on display throughout the region. Some of us in the anti-apartheid movement were nervous about this aspect of the ANC’s practice as it manifested itself in our own experience.

Thus, to take one example, both the ANC and SACTU (and, notably, its SACTU Solidarity Committee very active in Toronto) were loath to grant the emergent trade unions on the ground in South Africa the kind of credibility and credit we sensed they warranted. As we sought to reach out from Canada to such unions we found ourselves haunted by ANC/SACTU incessant reiteration of the theme: ‘Direct links, stink’. Unfortunately, in their battle for hearts and minds, SACTU was assisted, paradoxically enough, by the Canadian Labour Congress, itself a haven of right wing anti-communist sentiment that found itself supporting the right people – the independent trade unions – for the wrong, Cold-War reasons. And some of the best activists in the union movement, because of their justified suspicions of the CLC, came to support, all too exclusively, SACTU and the SACTU Solidarity Movement rather than the new trade unions on the ground (SAR 1986).

This was part of a more general problem in fact, an intense suspicion on the part of the ANC of energies released from the base that were not firmly under the control of the vanguard organisation. Shortly before his death, Rusty Bernstein, the noted ANC/SACP patriarch, himself offered an extended analysis of ‘what is going wrong in South Africa, and why’, an ‘understanding’ of this being, in his words, ‘the essential precondition for any rectification, and thus for any return to optimism about South Africa’s democratic future’. His summary, rooted in more or less the same period as the example I have just given previously and published in full in Transformation, was as follows:

The drive towards power has corrupted the political equation in various ways. In the late 1980s, when popular resistance revived again inside the country led by the UDF, it led the ANC to see the UDF as an undesirable factor in the struggle for power, and to fatally undermine it as a rival focus for mass mobilization. It has undermined the ANC’s adherence to the path of mass resistance as a way to liberation, and substituted instead a reliance on manipulation of the levers of administrative power. It has paved the way to a steady decline of a mass membership ANC as an organizer of the people, and turned it into a career opening to public sector employment and the administrative ‘gravy train’. It has reduced the tripartite ANC-COSATU-CP alliance from the centrifugal centre of national political mobilization to an electoral pact between parties who are constantly constrained to subordinate their constituents’ fundamental interests to the overriding purpose of holding on to administrative power. It has impoverished the soil in which ideas leaning towards socialist solutions once flourished and allowed the weed of ‘free market’ ideology to take hold. (Bernstein 2007)

These added up to a formidable price to be paid, of course, to which I might add only one other. Imagine the benefits of having developed institutions of self-empowerment, beyond the ballot box and the market-place, that would encourage people to grow in self-respect and purpose – to develop, in sum, a transformative consciousness grounded in a transformative practice. How much less likely would withdrawal from the electoral process be or the opting for the grim hatreds and morbid identities of mere xenophobia that we have seen not so long ago in South Africa?

Here, in short, are some of the grim costs of detaching liberation from the substance of democratic voice, and from the space that could have been opened up for people to find more active and creative participation in the making of their own lives. Similar things could be said about liberation and gender. I had the good fortune to supervise Shireen Hassim in Canada during the writing of her dissertation that would become the core of her book Women’s Organizations and Democracy in South Africa – sub-titled appropriately ‘Contesting Authority’. In Canada it evoked for me – even if that was not Hassim’s own project – the spirit of our own anti-apartheid days, especially the promise of gender liberation that was both part of that time and also one key to our own liberation support efforts (Hassim 2006).

Or take the book by a second South African woman, Stephanie Urdang’s And Still They Dance: women, war and struggle for change in Mozambique (one written, closer to the time of the struggle and an important tool, in Canada, of our own support work for regional liberation). This book captured, in gender terms, the spirit, then alive throughout southern Africa, of a more general empowerment.6 Indeed, as regards the South African case, Hassim makes clear the extent to which South African women availed themselves of the broader opportunity of ‘liberation’ to prise open the terrain of gender equality more fully than may have seemed either immediately probable or possible. And yet, soberingly, she also reveals just how the subsequent evaporation of a more full-blown and generalised project of democratised emancipation has allowed the whole process of female liberation to become excessively centralised and bureaucratised – and permitted, as well, a substantial drying up of the range of woman’s organisations from below that could help sustain the push for further advance (see Hassim 2006).

* * *

What, then, can be said by way of a conclusion? I would judge, certainly, that even if the dialectic of our mutual support (between Canada and South Africa) is momentarily broken there is still much to be learned from the kind of review of the checkered history of our interactive past that I have merely scratched the surface of here. Moreover, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. The heyday of uncontested capitalism and the uncritical acceptance of it may not be quite as ‘over’ as that of uncontested racism and the uncritical acceptance of it. Nonetheless, the current crisis of capitalism may yet have some genuinely positive bearings. Perhaps, for example, this crisis even played some role in the fall of Thabo Mbeki – although I await convincing evidence that it has been important in the rise of Jacob Zuma and his project (whatever that may be).

As for North America, I have no illusions that this crisis has actually smashed the myth of the market there – although it has certainly tarnished it. Nor do I know quite how much general promise we can find in the fact that Newsweek plastered its February 2009 front cover, with the banner headline ‘We Are All Socialists Now’. Of course, while significant, this is not a particularly revolutionary claim, speaking as it then does in its sub-heading only of ‘The Perils and Promise of a New Era of Big Government’! Not much there, nor in the accompanying story inside the issue, about the promise of some facilitation of a genuinely ‘democratic voice’, arising from the base and from a popular mobilisation for socio-economic justice. For this kind of socialism, I suspect, a luta continua.


This essay was first presented on May 12, 2009, in much the same form, as a public lecture to the South African Association of Canadian Studies in Cape Town, South Africa, to whom (and especially to the Association’s Chair, Professor Ingrid Fiske) I am most grateful for the invitation to return to South Africa.

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To be sure, the emphasis was primarily on the enforced placement, especially in the twentieth century, of native children in residential schools, remembered by most such children and their parents as abusive and as being driven by both officially enacted legislation and the logic of a distinct brand of cultural genocide. This, rather than the long previous centuries of dispossession and displacement, was what now being apologised for. Nonetheless, these were graphic and important moments. See, inter alia, Stephen Harper, speech to the Canadian House of Commons, June 11, 2008.
On Phil Fontaine’s April 15, 2009 meeting with the Pope – as well reported at the time by Peter Wall on the CBC – see also entitled ‘VJman [Wall] in Rome covering Phil Fontaine’s visit with the Pope’.
Trudeau’s reply to a student at Carleton University who asked how Canada’s policy of trading with South Africa could be reconciled with Canadian condemnations of apartheid (as quoted in the Toronto Telegram, February 25, 1970). Trudeau further stated in response to the question that ‘I have a very poor answer to that. We are keeping on with our trade despite the fact that we condemn the policy [apartheid] in the United Nations. We are not very proud of this approach’. And another occasion, speaking of Canada’s lack of support for the the southern African liberation movements, Trudeau stated that ‘Canada prefers to stand outside of wars if that is possible and that is our attitude with the freedom fighters too’. See, on this and other related matters, Freeman (1998) – where the latter quote from Trudeau is to be found on p.41. For a more general critique of Freeman’s own account – and for a somewhat different perspective on the Canada’s record vis-à-vis South Africa over the years – see Saul (1999).
Sallot (1986), in which article Mulroney is also quoted as saying ‘In the present crisis it is imperative that we all signal together that there will be a common, world-wide and sustained pressure against apartheid, until apartheid is ended’, thereby (as Sallot suggests) ‘voicing a somewhat more moderate tone than some of the Third World leaders’!
In fact, there is an rather odd split in the book between its early chapters and the later ones, as if the writing of it had been interrupted by Polokwane, with a shift in emphasis then being introduced but without the book ever quite having been reintegrated to present a finished and wholly consistent argument. See also Turok 2008b.
Certainly Urdang’s book, like Bob van Lierop’s even earlier and equally exemplary film (A Luta Continua), echoed brilliantly my own first-hand experience in witnessing both women’s emancipation and, beyond that, a process of broad-gauged liberation at work, at least for a certain period, in Mozambique.

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