Sheep magazine Archive 2: issues 10-17


Lefty online magazine: issue 10, May 2016 to issue 17, November 2016

sustained its autonomy from political parties

and, later on, NGOs. In both cases the

response from constituted authority was to

resort to colonial tropes and present the

movement as criminals under the control of

malicious external white authority.

While the movement always understood that

its original and fundamental power lay in

self-organized communities, the capacity

to occupy and hold land and the use of

disruption via road blockades, it was never

solely concerned with this sphere of action.

Alliances were also sought with actors

outside the settlements, like journalists,

lawyers, academics and religious leaders.

There were regular interventions in the

wider public sphere, via lawful forms of

mass protest as well as the media, and an

often very effective use of the courts to, in

particular, take contestation over land off

the terrain of violence.

Autonomy was taken seriously within the

movement, but it wasn’t imagined as an

exodus from sites of constituted power. It

was imagined more like Antonio Gramsci’s

idea of the neighborhood council as a

political commitment that would enable

effective collective engagement on other

terrains. People spoke, by way of analogy,

of occupying space in sites of constituted

power, like the media or the university.


The organizational form developed by

Abahlali baseMjondolo enabled a political

space in which the oppressed, albeit it in

this case self-identified as the poor rather

than the working class, could, as Marx said

of the Paris Commune, work out their own


Although this process has, at points, had

to grapple with internal difficulties and

frustrations – such as new entrants bringing

in contradictory projects, families seeking

to turn the risk and commitment of a child

or sibling into a reward, or distortions

consequent to repression – it has often been

undertaken with a strong sense of collective


But any affirmation of the commune as a

political strategy rather than a description of

an organizational form has to take careful

account of the fact that, since 1871 and

continuing with more recent experiences in,

say, Oaxaca and Oakland, the declaration

of a commune has seldom resulted in a

sustainable political project. States rarely

tolerate the emergence of even modest

instances of dual power. In Durban the

intersection of the ruling party, which

employs technocratic, Stalinist and ethnic

language to legitimate the centralization of

authority, has used two primary strategies


June 2016

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