I was at a talk the other day where a PAC/APLA veteran spoke at the District 6 museum. It was disappointing for a number of reasons but one thing that he said struck me in particular.
He said that the armed struggle is over.
That statement in particular struck a chord because I had been, before then, been thinking about some things related to the concept of armed struggle in contemporary South Africa. That statement and its sentiment highlighted exactly the dynamics I had been thinking about and was trying to subvert…
True, the ‘armed struggle’ in the way that it was thought and fought in late apartheid is over. But surely we are blinding ourselves to a whole lot of realities if we take that statement as truth?
We live in a highly militarised society. People are armed. Certain people are armed.
Cast our minds back to 2012 when unarmed (in every useful, relative sense of the term) poor Black men, miners, were executed by the (armed) state.
Marikana is everything.
[I’m convinced that you can understand almost everything about South Africa and its contemporary and historical contradictions if you truly dig into the class, race and gendered dynamics surrounding this state-sanctioned mass execution]
For one thing, Marikana reminded us that, actually, armed struggle is not over. Armed struggle is truly alive, we just need to shift our understanding of who is armed, and who makes decisions to take up arms, for what reasons and at which points.
Aside from the horrors of Marikana, which highlight the armed collusion of white capital and the state, we have to recognise that our society is armed to the teeth, on the daily.
ADT is the armed wing of the suburbs.
‘Tactical units’, 4x4s with two armed Black men wearing bulletproof vests, patrol the suburbs giving every middle-class Black person the heeby-geebies when they realise they forgot their keys and are going to have to hop their fence. And reminding poor Black people where they are not supposed to be (unless they are doing the reproductive labour of suburban homes, even so, don’t hang around).
Private security for the predominantly white ‘burbs, armed to protect plundered wealth and land.
The red ants… The armed wing of the close cahoo-sion between Johannesburg local government and real estate capital. Arming the gentrification frontier. Poor people have been violently removed from countless buildings in the inner city to clear the way for a new urban aesthetic that doesn’t include them, although it might include us middle-class Blacks in some type ’a way [shout out to Maboneng].
University campuses, the increasingly militarised fortresses of useless knowledge. Private security, the chosen armed wing of the bourgeois intelligentsia. Funny how there is easily an extra R2 million per month for hired thugs but insourcing workers will supposedly break the bank. Actually that’s not funny, it’s absurd and, unfortunately for most of us, that neoliberal absurdity is armed.
So what must now happen? The elite. The state. Capital. The forces of the status quo are armed and are struggling. Against us. With violence they are defending stolen wealth, land and the white supremacist patriarchal hierarchy, and, by armed force, they are struggling to expand that empire.
Looking at the current situation, I urge us to rethink our understanding of armed struggle.
PostScript/aside. When revolutionary movements choose to take up arms, it is because that is forced upon them by the violence of the system they are trying to dismantle
* This piece was first published with Vanguard Magazine in February 2016 at: http://vanguardmagazine.co.za/armed-struggle-in-a-time-of-saps-chubb-and-private-security-what-must-happen-now/