Radical Agendas: Afterword

By John Saul 

It took more than six-months for the “e-issue” of AfricaFiles, where this series and the six essays that comprise it first were written and released once a month from July to December, 2015, to appear – and the overall series may therefore reflect something of the unavoidable time-lag between each essay in their monthly appearance. Moreover, it is this issue of AfricaFiles (that e-magazine’s final number unfortunately) that is now presented here as a series for parallel publication in ROAPE’s own new virtual-extension of itself; indeed, ROAPE’s added e-format, so self-evidently a valuable extension of the journal’s own outreach, is also (if I, as a committed protagonist of both, may say so) in many ways an appropriate successor to Africafiles itself.

Of course, journal pieces can take quite a long time to work their way through the hands of editors in any journal, and I am gratified, looking back at the various pieces here re-incarnated in ROAPE Online, to find nothing that is not fresh and insightful. At the same time a lot can happen in six-months in a country as volatile as South Africa presently is and my introductory essay to this series, written more than six-months ago, reflects this fact. It was then easy to overestimate the broader impact of the Numsa split from COSATU and the likely political import of its newly-crafted United Front, for example. Of course, such developments continue to be relevant and exciting but, as Webster’s article in this series testifies, activists are still struggling to further discover just how relevant such novel practices can actually be, and in what precise ways they can best be developed to take on more effective organizational form and to engage in ever more pertinent actions.

In contrast we have also seen the quite recent emergence of boisterous and irreverent student fees-based protests, as alluded to in Hassim’s article in this series and as is central to Satgar’s concluding essay; indeed, the potential for such an outcome I could even glimpse for myself when I spoke at UJ earlier in the year [see my account of that talk in the recent year-end edition of SA’s Transformation journal]. But I would never have predicted the scope and intensity of such protests. Nor would I have seen quite so clearly that they would prove to be one more promising component of the increasingly vibrant and assertive civil society surveyed here by McKinley – with the assertions of that civil society now further reinforced by the novel environmental activism discussed by Cock (also above).

For there is real promise here; indeed, as Satgar puts the point above, “the crisis of state and ruling party legitimacy is deepening.” In sum – trite but true – the struggle in South Africa continues…as all the contributors to this symposium have confirmed and as, I trust, ROAPE (in both hard-copy and virtual formats) will continue to report upon and bear witness to.

John S. Saul has also taught at York University, the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), the University of Eduardo Mondlane (Mozambique) and the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa). He is the author/editor of more than twenty books on southern Africa and development issues.


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