[OPE-L] Martin Legassick on Depelchin's Silences in African History

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sun Mar 05 2006 - 22:55:34 EST

re: the Walter Rodney thread; Legassick has 
written some very important work on formally
unfree labour

Silences and voices: a review of Jacques 
Depelchin's, Silences in African History: between 
the syndromes of discovery and abolition.

By Professor Martin Legassick
History Department
University of the Western Cape

The last time I saw Jacques Depelchin I drove him 
(together with Ibrahim Abdullah) around the 
townships of Cape Town. We drove along a road 
bordered by shacks in Khayelitsha and Jacques 
commented "this is worse than anywhere I have 
seen in Africa." Some of those shacks were the 
so-called QQ section of Khayelitsha which, along 
with a number of areas in the Cape Town 
metropolis this last winter, rose in revolt at 
the lack of delivery of services and housing, 
putting up barricades of burning tyres to close 
the road that Jacques and I had driven on, and 
throwing their garbage across the road. A few 
weeks later I held a workshop for youth in QQ 
section. We talked about their situation, and 
about capitalism, and I encouraged them to write 
letters to the mayor of Cape Town, Nomaindia 
Mfeketo, or to Thabo Mbeki. One youth, Yanga 
Gregan Sawula wrote to Mbeki:
"I'm writing this letter in the pain and the poor 
living that our, or even your, people in Site B 
QQ section are living, situated, and making life 
in. Our people are living in the danger zone 
under the electric poles that can explode any 
time. Some of us are in the squatter settlement 
that are not even proper made, these houses are 
ever flooded. We don't even have electricity, 
toilets or running water.
"Mr President we are coming to you because our 
ministers and mayors are not listening to our 
complaints. We've tried by all means to talk to 
them but they show no response.
We want serviced land with electricity, toilets 
and running water. We are demanding this thing 
because it is our right as the citizens of South 
Africa to have a better house. You have promised 
us a lot of things and know we demand houses so 
if you are not responding to our complaints then 
prepare for our action, what actions you will see 
when it happened, and you know we are capable of 
doing any thing. We want and demand HOUSES! QHINA 
[power] !!!"
I will return later to the significance of this voice.

The book
        I was put in mind of this voice by 
Jacques Depelchin's book, Silences in African 
History: between the syndromes of discovery and 
abolition. It is a rich, erudite, wide-ranging, 
profound, and thought-provoking book. As 
practicing historians, it forces each one of us 
to confront ourselves and our own practice of 
historical writing. In searching for truth in 
Yoruba thought according to Emmanuel Eze, "I put 
myself at risk: I expose my preoccupation and 
beliefs - in search of that which may well 
challenge or reshape themŠ This is a challenge at 
once threatening and exhilarating, for it is a 
situation where who I am is as important as what 
I know." (p. 31)  These are words for all of us 
historians. Historical writing, for Jacques, 
involves ethics and morality and not just 
'evidence'. This book, moreover, is not just 
about African history as its title suggests, but 
about world history. Indeed it is not just about 
history, but about anthropology, economics, 
politics, philosophy, literature. It challenges 
our thinking on all the big questions - on 
fascism and the Holocaust, on capitalism and 
socialism. It provokes not just one's thought but 
one's emotions, because it is a reasoned book 
underpinned with strong emotions. Some of it - 
not being a philosopher or a literary critic but 
just a simple historian -- I found difficult to 
        Let me begin my trying (at the risk of 
over-simplification) to state the underlying 
message of the book. It is a critique of the 
dominant trends of 'Africanist history', produced 
by outsiders to the continent, and with it, of 
their economics and their anthropology. 
(Fictionalised 'Africanist history' is in 
contrast with a genuine history of Africa.) 
"Relations of domination" asserts Depelchin, 
"produce scientific disciplines which deal with 
social reality from the perspective of the 
dominant group" (p. 123)  - not only in the 
content of those disciplines, but in their form 
and structure, their grammar, their rules of 
evidence etc etc. And the relations of domination 
shaping the history of the world and of Africa 
have been, since the commencement of the Atlantic 
slave trade, those of capitalism. "From 
enslavement, through pacification campaigns, Red 
Rubber (Morel, 1906) and its variations, colonial 
occupations, the continuation of colonial rule by 
other means through destabilization, and low 
intensity warfare, the common thread has been the 
promotion and defence, by any means necessary, of 
one socio-economic system: capitalism." (p. 4)
        What are the silences between the 
syndromes of discovery and abolition? What are 
the syndromes of discovery and abolition? Like 
Wamba-dia-Wamba's account of the palaver (pp. 
177-180) there is not one specific definition of 
these, but a multi-layered one, developed through 
the book. The 'syndrome of discovery' is 
essentially the belief promoted by outsider 
writers on Africa that they have 'discovered' 
everything about Africa (the syndrome of 
'explorers' back to Columbus now practiced 
instead by academics), rather than recognizing 
that what they have discovered has long been 
known to Africans. "The central characteristic of 
the syndrome of discoveryŠ is the conviction 
among its carriers that knowledge as defined, 
understood and practiced by them cannot be 
modified by knowledge contained in the 
'discovered' societiesŠ. Reproducers of the 
syndrome will consciously and unconsciously 
silence, prevent and cover up any facts which may 
interfere with the notion that they are the only 
possible discoverers." (pp. 2, 7, 144, etc)
The syndrome of abolition is closely linked. It 
is the moral condemnation of slavery as if the 
abolitionists had 'discovered' its immorality, 
ignoring its condemnation from the beginning and 
the revolt against it by its victims, the slaves. 
The syndrome can be given a more generic meaning: 
"the abolition of any degrading human condition 
presented at first as a discovery not made by the 
sufferers or the victims but by the degraders and 
humiliators moved by remorse or something less 
noble." (pp. 6, 8, 56, 72 etc). Thus, by 
extension, the anti-colonialism of the 
metropolitan 'Africanists' embodies the 
abolitionist syndrome, since it was a belated 
'discovery' of an exploitative immorality long 
condemned by the colonized. Both syndromes at the 
same time cover up the core relations of 
exploitation and domination - those of 
capitalism. Thus, "while it became acceptable to 
condemn slavery, capitalism itself was never 
questioned." (p. 56) - and the same for 
colonialism. . "Nothing is 'discovered' until 
such 'discovery' can become part of the arsenal 
of the reproduction of the superiority of the 
discoverers." (p. 12)
Just as the abolitionists believed the slaves had 
no concept of freedom, but that it was 
'discovered' and 'brought' by them, so the 
colonialists and the 'Africanists' believed that 
the idea of 'democracy' was brought to Africa 
from the outside - ignoring all the evidence of 
democratic practice in indigenous Africa. (pp. 
Both syndromes clearly create silences in 
history, or, more accurately, perpetuate the 
silences of the voices of the victims that have 
already been created by repression - rather than 
liberating the historical truth. (pp. 9-10) "The 
very process of expansion of capitalism through 
the Atlantic slave trade, followed by territorial 
occupation by European powers, has been at the 
root of the most systematic reproduction of that 
denial [of African history]Š. Military violence 
and economic interest were the twin pillars which 
ensured permanent silenceŠ. Those who tried to 
fight against it [the logic of capital 
accumulation]Š were crushed by methods which were 
aimed at instilling a paralyzing fear among the 
survivors." (p. 14; cf pp. 9-10)
The exploitation of Africa, its domination by the 
metropolitan powers, did not begin with 
territorial occupation (as is asserted by 
'Africanist historians') but with slavery. (84) 
"By the time Europe took possession of colonial 
territories in Africa one was not dealing with 
two separate entities, economically speaking. By 
then European economic wealth and political power 
were, at least in part, the result of its 
exploitation of the continent." (Here Depelchin 
correctly follows Walter Rodney's How Europe 
Underdeveloped Africa, his contemporary at the 
University of Dar es Salaam before his return to 
the Caribbean and tragic assassination - and is 
influenced also by the pioneering works of C.L. 
R. James, Black Jacobins (1938) and Eric Williams 
Capitalism and Slavery (1944)). The real history 
of Africa is a part of the history of the 
northern powers rise to dominance in the world - 
a "crucial ingredient in the prosperity of the 
West" (p. 77; cf p. 84) -- and this is elided 
from the history of those powers as well as the 
history of Africa as well as from development 
economics. (pp. 18, 88, 96, 132) Though I believe 
Rodney's book would have been more correctly 
titled How European Capitalism Underdeveloped 
Africa - to place responsibility squarely where 
it belonged and not on those Europeans who did 
not own the means of capitalist production.
Ideologically, with enslavement, the African 
became a non-person with a non-history - a 
'savage'. Then came colonialism, to 'civilise' 
the savage without a history. The continued 
denial of a history to Africa served to cover up 
the crimes of enslavement and colonialism. (p. 
85) The 'discovery' of African history by the 
'Africanists' came only with the ending of 
colonialism - in order to shape that history with 
further cover-ups. (pp. 2, 12) The 'history' 
subsequently written - by the Africanists - is 
filled with silences. The achievements of  'Black 
Athena" (Egypt) discovered by Cheikh Anta Diop 
are denied to Africa and covered up (pp. 2-3, 
6-7, 15, 59, 73, 93, 101). 'Pre-colonial' 
history, for those such as Jan Vansina and John 
Iliffe, is everything before European territorial 
occupation - thus covering up the metropolitan 
powers' exploitation of Africa during the slave 
era. (pp. 142) The history of slavery and the 
slave trade is sanitized by writers like Philip 
Curtin, Joseph Miller and John Thornton - by 
claims that the Islamic slave trade was worse 
than that of the Atlantic, by claims that the 
Atlantic slave trade was unprofitable, by claims 
that Africans were implicated in their own 
enslavement (failing to separate some rulers from 
the slaves) etc. (pp. 93-6, 112, 116.) 
"Resistance historiography", pioneered by Terence 
Ranger, has focused merely on the facts of 
resistance: "very little attention was devoted to 
defining what was resisted" (pp. 4-5, 15) - thus 
covering up again the presence of capitalist 
Depelchin quotes Fanon's indictment of 
'abolitionist' "humanism". "That same Europe 
where they were never done talking of Man, and 
where they never stopped proclaiming that they 
were only anxious for the welfare of Man: today 
we know with what sufferings humanity has paid 
for every one of their triumphs of the mind." 
(The Wretched of the Earth, 1963, p. 312). 
Depelchin then paraphrases Fanon with one of his 
many elegant and telling aphorisms: "Europe went 
everywhere in the name of humanity, but massacred 
it wherever and whenever it ran into it." (p. 89) 
Clifton Crais, writing of the British takeover of 
the Cape Colony after 1806, similarly writes of 
the "Janus face" of liberalism - of the 
missionaries who favoured the abolition of 
slavery but also on the whole welcomed the 
conquest of the lands of the Xhosa and their 
subordination as indentured labour, a paradox 
identified more generally by Cooper and Stoler: 
that, from the late 18th century, conquest, 
exploitation and subjugation by European powers 
coexisted and coincided with increasingly 
powerful claims in political discourse to 
universal principles as the basis for organizing 
a polity.  And the one missionary who opposed the 
conquest of the Xhosa was to be subsequently 
celebrated by the liberal historian W.M. 
Macmillan as the "first and greatest 
segregationist" - and the same W.M. Macmillan is 
still regarded by white South African social 
historians as a straightforward progressive 
A model for Jacques is Patrice Lumumba who at the 
ceremonies for the independence of the Congo 
confronted an astonished King Baudouin's 
"harmonious" treatment of the handover with an 
impassioned spontaneous speech on the crimes of 
colonialism: "it is too early to forget." 
Depelchin compares Lumumba with Toussaint 
L'Ouverture, leader of the Haitian slave revolt 
from 1791 putting enlightenment philosophy into 
practice (compared with the pure contemplation of 
the philosophers themselves). Lumumba wanted a 
rupture with colonialism, not a negotiated 
continuity, he asserts (pp. 11, 80, 85-6, 156) 
Depelchin compares Baudouin's views with those of 
the historian Braudel who, writing in the era of 
decolonisation, was trying to restore the French 
sense of grandeur and magnanimity, as the 
selfless civilisers who now desired to transform 
their colonial subjects into equal partners and 
to 'forgive and forget' the past. (pp. 78-80) 
Braudel puts forward the ideas of 
multiculturalism - of a 'plurality of 
civilisations' - yet these will still be 
"defined, ordered, ruled and studied from Europe 
and for Europeans" As Depelchin points out, in 
the current vogue of 'multi-culturalism' the 
histories of the oppressed (Africans, 
Afro-Americans, women, Native Americans) are 
marginalized so that the dominant history is not 
that of capitalism (silenced) but that of "the 
triumph of the human spirit". (p. 88) Courses in 
"Western civ". It reminds me of a book I read 
upon first going to the United States in 1964, by 
W.H. MacNeill, titled The Rise of the West. Like 
Braudel, it purported to treat plural 
civilizations and I was intrigued by its 
presentation of the history of Chinese and Indian 
civilization, and of the nomads of the Eurasian 
steppes - but appalled by its final sections on 
the triumph of "Western civilization."
Depelchin - following Ben Magubane's expose of 
anthropology in the early 1970s (p. 109) - also 
identifies the 'anthropological syndrome' - 
denying history by freezing colonial people into 
an abstract 'historical present' so they could be 
looked at 'as they were before the European 
conquest'. "Anthropology abstracts from history 
by pretending that all that counts is the past 
frozen into the present" he writes, in another 
elegant aphorism. (pp. 58, 130)  He also reminds 
us that the earliest anthropology was physical 
anthropology - the measurement of colonial skulls 
to demonstrate they did not measure up to those 
of the whites: "Once slaves were categorized as 
not human, it was not difficult for any science 
to approach Africans as objects." (p. 106) 
Indeed, as he also reminds us, in the period of 
the partition of Africa, 'specimens' of Africans 
were put on display in the imperialist powers, in 
circuses and even in a zoo in New York City. (pp. 
Depelchin's treatment of economics parallels that 
of Marx - penetrating beneath the fetishisation 
of commodification to the realities. He rightly 
pours scorn on the fetishisation of measurement, 
of numbers, at the expense of a qualitative 
treatment of history - pointing out how 'numbers' 
exclude the marginalized, women no less than 
Africans. (pp. 116-120) He points out how the 
concept of "development" has become the equally 
paternalistic modern version of the civilizing 
mission, combining the abolitionist and the 
discovery syndromes. Thus, prior to the 
'developers' Africans are supposed to have had no 
notion of nor desire to improve their economic 
condition. But just as it was Europeans who first 
"discovered" and then "civilized" the "savages", 
so development has "discovered" and will get rid 
of "the poor." (pp. 128-9, 135)
        For Depelchin, the elevation by 
historians of the Holocaust to a unique 
experience has also generated silences. Firstly, 
it denies the 'low intensity genocidal' (p. 32) 
experiences which were the prelude to fascism 
which "came as the end product of centuries of 
capitalist bestiality, exploitation, domination 
and racism - mainly exercised outside Europe" (p. 
34) - including the near extermination of Native 
Americans. Secondly, it has distracted attention 
from such subsequent genocides as that in Rwanda, 
where Depelchin (with many others) accuses the 
United States of preventing timely UN 
intervention to halt the genocide and accuses the 
'Africanist' establishment of echoing that 
apathy, and reducing the genocide to a spectacle. 
(pp. 27, 36-37, 48). Moreover its presentation as 
a unique experience which can 'never happen 
again' numbs consciousness of the potential 
greater genocide contained in the existence of 
nuclear weapons, or for that matter in the 
military horrors of US imperialism in Vietnam in 
the 1960s and in Bush and Blair's genocidal war 
in Iraq today. Contradictorily, but exhibiting 
his dialectical method, Depelchin however praises 
the silence of the barber regarding experience of 
the Holocaust in Lanzmann's film Shoah, over the 
mawkish sentimentality of Spielberg's Schindler's 
List. (pp. 41-2)

The way out
Depelchin is not a positivist who believes the 
historian is a neutral appraising an objective 
world. He celebrates the insights of quantum 
physics - that observation impinges on that which 
is observed. (p. 121, 126) Atomic-level matter 
shows only a tendency to exist in a definite 
place at a definite time. At the same time 
Depelchin shows his materialism in repudiating 
the narcissistic self-indulgence of the 
post-modernist approach: that history is merely 
texts: "historians do not produce history. It is 
already there, but given their profession - 
discoverers of history? - they cannot but 
continue to propagate the notion that it is they 
who are the first producers of history." (p. 77)
That is all positive. Where I question Depelchin, 
however, is in his apparent leaning towards 
orality and performance as the sole way of 
breaking out of the silences. What he writes on 
the palaver as a "way of living democracy", his 
account of Karen Barber's analysis of Yourba 
'oriki', his stress on the production of history 
as a creative act and hence constantly undergoing 
change is all exciting. It is also true, as he 
writes, that: "In a continent which has been 
raided for slaves, then partitioned and raided 
for its material wealth, objective histories will 
continue to be incomplete as long as the impact 
of those violating processes among the population 
is ignored on the spurious grounds that it cannot 
be documented." (p. 158) Hence the fact that 
fiction - Sembene Ousmane's magnificent God's 
Bits of Wood, or Toni Morrison's Beloved-- - can 
tell us things about a railway strike in Senegal 
and slavery, respectively, that 'factual history' 
But does this mean there is no place for written 
texts based on the archives and oral texts. What 
about Depelchin's own From the Congo Free State 
to Zaire, 1885-1974? Does not that also break the 
silences of 'Africanist history'?

        Depelchin rightly roots the problems of 
our time, and the force that has shaped history 
since the 16th century, as capitalism. For a 
period, the Russian revolution appeared to 
present an alternative way forward for humanity - 
in the overthrow of capitalism. Now capitalism 
has been restored in the Soviet Union, and in all 
the other countries (save Cuba) that modeled 
themselves on the Soviet Union. But what are the 
lessons to be learnt from this experience.
        Trotsky - someone whose thought has been 
silenced not only by capitalist historians, but 
also by those of the bureaucratic Stalinist 
system which developed in the Soviet Union - 
regarded the Russian revolution as a model for 
the colonized world. Generalising its lessons as 
those of 'permanent revolution", he explained 
that socialist revolution did not have to take 
place in the most 'developed' countries first. 
The working class had become saddled with solving 
the unfinished tasks of  'bourgeois-democratic' 
revolution as well as those of socialist 
revolution, through taking power in a democratic 
way. But socialism could only be completed on a 
world scale.
        Depelchin writes that "Abolitionists were 
for the abolition of slave labour, but not for 
the abolition of the exploitation of labour by 
capital, which is what the most radicalized 
slaves fought for." (p. 63). Until the twentieth 
century it was possible for slaves to achieve 
this only through withdrawal from the global 
system - along the lines of maroon communities, 
or the revolution in Haiti. The Russian 
revolution changed all that - although for 
reasons there is no time to go into, its promise 
was only fulfilled in distorted ways, in the 
revolutions in China and many other countries 
after the Second World War - including, by the 
way, Mozambique and Angola in my view - 
revolutions which ended capitalism but put in 
their place not workers' democracy but 
bureaucratic rule.
Depelchin explains the failure of the Soviet 
Union in these terms: "The alternative attempts 
at building socialism by borrowing from the 
same-thinking arsenal (outcompete capitalism in 
the production of commodities, and do it through 
state decrees) could not but fail." (p. 76) Along 
with this, Depelchin appears to oppose the 
Marxist idea that the development of the 
productive forces of society has a liberating 
power. (pp. 77, 99). In Africa, he opposes to 
this "what is central is the human being." (p. 
144) Permit me to disagree with Depelchin on 
these points. Yes, state decrees were 
bureaucratic. But it is in my view capitalist 
production of commodities (defined in Marx's 
sense of exchange-values, produced through the 
market) which today fetters - holds back -- the 
development of the forces of production - thereby 
ensuring both the impoverishment of the majority 
of humanity, mass unemployment even in the 
imperialist powers, and the uncertainty of booms 
and slumps. The productive forces are not 
comprised solely of machinery and so on - their 
principal component is human beings, the working 
class. To liberate the productive forces - and 
ensure the greater production of use-values which 
can eliminate poverty and eventually create 
abundance for all - is the task of the working 
class, through taking control of production and 
building socialism.
Despite the ending of capitalism, state ownership 
of production, and planning, what was built in 
the Soviet Union was not socialism, because rule 
was usurped from the working class by a 
bureaucratic elite. Though initially the 
productive forces were developed at breakneck 
speed, in the end the relations of production in 
the Soviet Union (the bureaucracy, the 
national-state) equally fettered the development 
of the forces of production. Socialism, in my 
view, can only be developed on the basis of 
workers' democracy and cannot be confined within 
a single country.  I return to this below.

South Africa
        I first met Jacques in Dar es Salaam in 
December 1975 at a conference on South Africa, 
attended also by the late lamented Ruth First and 
Harold Wolpe, and others. It was just after the 
liberation of Mozambique and Angola, which were 
big steps forward for the continent of Africa - 
though while we were there the news came through 
of the apartheid regime's first invasion of 
Angola. It was just months before the Soweto 
uprising. (My first and only previous visit to 
Mozambique was in 1978, when Ruth First invited 
me to come and teach at the Centre for African 
Studies, which the ANC in fact blocked me from 
        From 1976 onwards, with only momentary 
pauses, the working class and youth were active 
in mass struggle in the country through the 
1980s. At the same time the apartheid regime - 
like Reagan in Nicaragua - waged a vicious 
genocidal proxy war against the non-capitalist 
regimes in Mozambique and Angola through RENAMO 
and UNITA. Then came the unbanning of the ANC, 
SACP and PAC and the negotiations which resulted 
in democratic elections and an ANC government.
        Although I did not encounter Jacques in 
South Africa until later, he had already attended 
a Ruth First memorial symposium at the University 
of the Western Cape in 1992. His paper, reprinted 
in Silences, was very prescient. He wrote that 
"The transfer of power will not necessarily mean 
the transformation of deep rooted social and 
economic processes." (p. 71) He could already see 
at work the compromises of the 'abolitionist 
syndrome' and the consequent propping up of 
capitalism - and he criticized ex-Marxists like 
Stephen Gelb, Michael Morris and Dave Hindson for 
warning against "frightening the owners of 
capital" and for acceptance of continued class 
divisions in society. (pp. 53, 64-5)
        The causes of the negotiated compromise, 
in my view, were because of a stalemate of forces 
resulting from the fact that the ANC had no 
realistic strategy for overthrowing the state, 
and was in fact ideologically holding back the 
only force which could have achieved this, the 
working class.  Together with this, there was in 
the early 1990s a huge increase in 
state-sponsored vigilante violence against the 
masses (mainly by the Inkatha Freedom Party) in 
an attempt to terrorise them to accept compromise.
        The consequences have been dismal. In 
1996 the ANC government adopted the neo-liberal 
GEAR economic policy, of cuts in the budget 
deficit, privatization and trade liberalization. 
A recent book by an economic adviser to the 
presidency boasts that this was done to 'protect 
South Africa's sovereignty' against the dangers 
of IMF-World Bank intervention! Implement an 
IMF-World Bank structural adjustment policy to 
pre-empt them implementing it!!
Under GEAR, a million jobs were lost from the 
formal sector of the economy, and over the first 
ten years of democracy there is substantial 
evidence not only that inequality has increased 
but that the numbers of the impoverished and of 
the unemployed has risen. On a realistic 
definition, more than 40% of the economically 
active population are unemployed, and amongst 
youth and women the percentages are higher. 
Despite the building of 1,5 million houses, the 
number of those living in informal settlements 
(shacks) has increased from 1,4 million to 2,4 
million, according to the Housing Minister 
herself. Thousands of people in shack settlements 
either have no toilets at all or have to use the 
infamous and undignified 'bucket system', 
depositing nightsoil in buckets which are 
collected periodically. In Cape Town there is a 
backlog of 260, 000 houses, with some 16,000 
joining the queue a year - yet the other day the 
city's Director of Human Settlement Seth Maqetuka 
declared it was possible to build only 8000 
houses a year.  What an admission of defeat!
The main beneficiaries of the last ten years have 
been South Africa's big monopolies and banks - 
Anglo American, Old Mutual, South African 
Breweries - allowed to freely invest overseas for 
the first time and taxed less than under 
apartheid. Recently Barclays Bank has returned to 
South Africa, buying up ABSA bank. There is a 
court case against Barclays and other foreign 
banks in New York for their role in propping up 
apartheid - but the South African government is 
taking an active role in opposing any 
reparations. Banks in South Africa, by the way, 
have a rate of profit "consistently higher than 
that of major banks in most other parts of the 
The inequalities are becoming obscene. Wages of 
employees as a percentage of GDP has fallen from 
51% in 1993 to 45% in 2004 while profits have 
increased from 25% to 30%. Between 2003 and 2004 
alone the average gap between the remuneration of 
executive directors and the wages of workers on 
the average minimum rate across all sectors 
increased from 111:1 to 150:1.  The Oppenheimer's 
wealth is estimated at R30 billion and the 
Rupert's at R11,5 billion, but the black 
beneficiaries of BEE are not far behind with 
Patrice Motsepe (shares worth R3,5 billion) and 
Tokyo Sexwale (shares worth R1,5 billion). Tokyo 
Sexwale benefited by R140 million through a deal 
with ABSA and Cyril Ramaphosa by R103 million 
through a deal with Standard Bank, both in 2004.
The succession dispute currently tearing the ANC 
apart is a red herring. Despite the fact that he 
is backed by COSATU and the South African 
Communist Party, Jacob Zuma offers no alternative 
economic vision, and is by no means a 'friend of 
the workers'. COSATU and the SACP instead of 
pursuing this chimera should break from the 
Tripartite Alliance with the ANC and launch a 
mass workers' party with a programme for 
democracy and socialism.

The way out: again
        Depelchin, in his 1992 paper on South 
Africa, written at the time of the capitalist 
triumphalism of the "end of history", wrote that 
"The submission to the rules dictated by capital 
at the end of the twentieth century is probably 
more total than it has ever been." (p. 54) But 
what history is once again showing is that 
working people oppressed and exploited by 
capitalism will again and again seek the road of 
struggle and change.
Despite the US-led occupation of Iraq - and 
despite the dead end of Islamic fundamentalism, 
which is in fact a response to the historic 
twentieth century failure of Communist Parties in 
the Islamic world to present a way forward - 
there is hope again: in Latin America for 
example. In Venzuela the Bolivarist movement led 
by Hugo Chavez - who has won nine elections and 
currently enjoys 70% popularity in the polls - is 
being looked to from around the continent. Chavez 
has declared: "There is a new logical alternative 
to capitalism, which is no other than socialism, 
and we are building our own socialist model 
without emulating the ones from the past" and 
"It's impossible for capitalism to achieve our 
goals, nor is it possible to search for an 
intermediate wayŠ I invite all Venezuelans to 
march together on the path of socialism of the 
new century."
The revolution in Venzuela still hangs in the 
balance. Nationalisation of unproductive 
industries, regulation of the banks is 
proceeding. There is a movement for cogestion 
(workers' control) which presages workers' 
democracy. Workers' democracy, as Depelchin 
points out in Silences (p. 66) is the question 
dealt with by Lenin in State and Revolution - the 
means of dismantling the capitalist state. (True 
workers' democracy, in my view, is little 
different from how Wamba-dia-Wamba characterises 
the palaver. (cf pp. 177-8)) But let us remember 
the fate of the Chilean revolution in 1973 - the 
bloody US-sponsored coup of General Pinochet. The 
"Hands of Venzuela" solidarity campaign which has 
been taken up in the United States and Europe is 
important to all the oppressed of the former 
colonized world. And if the Venzuelan revolution 
is consummated, it must become an example for 
people to find their way to socialism world-wide.

Khayelitsha again
It is not only in Latin America that people are 
moving into struggle. The worsening situation in 
South Africa, described above, has also - as 
pointed out at the start of this paper - 
stimulated the development of social movements 
outside the ANC. Against the spin doctors of the 
ANC who are attempting both by repression and 
ideological denial to silence these voices, it is 
equally the task of the contemporary historian to 
liberate and amplify them.
Let me then finish with another letter from QQ 
section, Khayelitsha, from a school student, but 
not the voice of book learning but of experience 
gained from struggle:
  "Dear Thabo Mbeki -- we demand development in QQ 
section and decent housing for all and I don't 
want capitalist GEAR policies. I don't want a 
bucket system because it was meant to be 
abolished in 1996 but it's still existing in SST 
section in Town Two. Our local councillor 
Makaleni don't give a damn about QQ section. 
Mbeki you said you create jobs for all but there 
is no such."
He concludes in the words that are also spoken at 
all mass meetings of the social movements in 
"Phanzi the banks, phanzi! Phambili socialism forward! Smash capitalism smash!"
If liberating history is a way of advancing the 
struggle for socialism, so equally the struggle 
for socialism is the only lasting guarantee of 
the liberation of history.


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