Sheep magazine Archive 2: issues 10-17


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

to make it almost impossible to benefit

from development while being outside

the party. In a context in which the party

machinery offers the only viable route

out of impoverishment for many people,

responsibilities to family can begin to

conflict with responsibilities to neighbors

and comrades. This can result in a situation

where some members of the movement go

over to these structures. It can also result in

a situation in which party structures return,

from outside, at gunpoint.

For these reasons it is very difficult to sustain

the political autonomy of a territory once

the state has conceded its legitimacy and

brought it into the ambit of its development

program. Material success – winning

land and housing – becomes political

defeat. This has meant that while Abahlali

baseMjondolo has endured, and grown,

during a decade of struggle in which the

movement has always remained vibrant, the

sites where the struggle is waged with most

intensity have been dynamic.



If the political form of the commune is

understood as the self-management of

a spatially delimited community under

popular democratic authority, then –

although the term commune has not

been used within the movement – it

could certainly be argued that Abahlali

baseMjondolo has been and, despite the

trauma of serious repression, remains

committed to the construction of a set of

linked communes.

However, if the commune is understood as

a form of politics with explicit commitments

to the radical traditions developed in 19th

century Europe, then things are more

complex. Although the movement’s politics

has evolved over the years it has always

been committed to some principles that

had a productive resonance with standard

European conceptions of socialism and

communism. This is true with regard to

what, using Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar’s

terms, can be described as both its interior

emancipatory horizon and the practical

scope of its day-to-day actions.

But dignity has consistently been a far

more central concept than socialism. The

practical scope of the movement’s work has

overwhelmingly focused on the sphere of

social reproduction rather than the sphere

of industrial production.


In 2005 many people had thought that, via

a powerful movement, they would secure

land and housing, on their own terms, in a

couple of years. Now there is a strong sense

of the ANC as an outrightly oppressive


June 2016

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