South Africa: Anarchism Is All Around Us

Many don’t know what anarchism really is. It’s often dismissed as belonging to heavily-pierced punks whose trademark is disruptive behaviour and aggression. This negative association may in a large part be due to the images of out-of-context, “violent” black-bloc protests we see on television, but often it’s about the way the term is handled by the mass media.

All over the world, including South Africa, the word “anarchy” is employed to decry a population gone mad. Headlines such as “Declined into anarchy”, “On the brink of anarchy” or “South Africa faces state of anarchy” inform our understanding of the term. Yet, more importantly, these articles draw our attention to government and the job it’s supposed to get right: control the people of a nation. Unfortunately, this distracts us from questioning its legitimacy in the first place. Do we need a government at all? Anarchism — the political theory anarchists want to apply to achieve anarchy — has a definite answer: No, we don’t!

In Cape Town, South Africa, there are collectives and individuals, who associate themselves with anti-capitalist movements or directly with anarchism. Christine Hogg spoke to bolo’bolo from Observatory, an anarchist publishing collective, and Soundz of the South from Khayelitsha, an anti-capitalist hip hop and cultural activist collective, to get a clearer concept of what it is they actually do. But, for the sake of clarity, let’s get to that later.

What — if not disorder — is anarchism?

Although the term was already used negatively in Ancient Greece by Plato and Aristotle in association with their fear of democracy turning into tyranny, it has little to do with the way “anarchy” or “anarchism” is understood as a political theory. 19th century philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was the first to claim the term in relation to a set of egalitarian ideals. According to the Oxford Dictionary, its origins date back to mid 16th century: via medieval Latin from Greek anarkhia, from anarkhos, from an- ‘without’ +arkhos ‘chief, ruler’. Arguably, its tumultuous implications are thus merely interpretations.

Simply causing chaos is not what anarchism is about. Its ultimate goal is to bring about equal opportunity for all, free of any sort of domination — a highly ambitious goal that requires a lot of organisation. The theory is widely misunderstood, has many different tendencies, and anarchists themselves often disagree on definitions due to its experimental and constantly evolving nature. “Ask 10 philosophers the meaning of life and you’ll get 11 answers,” could easily be translated to “Ask 10 anarchists to define anarchism and you’ll get at least 11 answers”. Therefore, the following introduction is by no means comprehensive nor definite, but simply a broad understanding gathered from conducting interviews and reading texts such as African Anarchism or Anarchy Works. If you require more in-depth information on all the various forms of anarchism, Google will expose you to a vast amount of literature available online for free.

A participatory society, run by all who want to

At the heart of anarchism’s ethos is the notion that authority corrupts. Rather than having an elected few in charge of the majority, a participatory society run by its people through direct democracy is needed. Anarchists hold the view that consensus-based, non-hierarchical, and localised decision-making will not only be more ethical, but more effective. If everything is constantly reviewed by everyone, change is encouraged and no method becomes rigid and/or futile.

Anarchists also believe that a small number of elected individuals who are in charge of a mass of people are rarely in line with what those people really want or require. The decision made is never a properly informed one. How can somebody who spends most of his time in an air-conditioned office have influence over the working regulations in mines thousands of metres below the earth? The outcome will be pro-elite and anti-workers, self-empowerment made possible through exploitation.

No central ruling authority, but there can be expertise

If this is hard to fathom — how important decisions in high-tiered organisations could be administered by “ordinary people” — think of Wikipedia. Although its founders, Jimmy Wales and co., are not associated with anarchism, the free, open content encyclopaedia can be used to explain how expertise could work in an anti-authoritarian society. There are several studies into the accuracy of Wikipedia, but maybe the most eye-opening one is by the journal Nature. In 2005, they found that Wikipedia contained four errors per page on average, compared to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s three errors per page average. And more recently, further studies have suggested Wikipedia’s accuracy could in fact exceed Nature’s early study. Differences in fields and languages need to be taken into account of course, but the point is that, within a margin of error, a collaborative encyclopaedia, which is constantly reviewed and updated by a mass of people instead of a central authority, works — possibly even better than a conventional one.

Another great example is open source software like Linux. Again, high-profile coding has been mastered by a mass of collaborators to create an operating system that runs smoothly and is less susceptible to malware than intellectual-property-law-protected Windows. Its source code is accessible to all, which means it can be constantly reviewed and improved by a group of different minds instead of a single authority.

If there’s capitalism, there’ll always be inequality

Central to anarchist thought is the belief that the state system, inevitably linked to capitalism — its latest instantiation being neo-liberalism — is the force behind inequality; as long as it’s in place the gap between rich and poor will increase. Run by an authoritarian elite, who will act in favour of their own wealth, the situation for those at the bottom is desperate. Policies can be passed without considering the interests of the public, which often places us at the mercy of profit-based corporations for basic needs such as water, food and accommodation.

This means we’re slaves to our bosses. We give them eight hours of our day towards their profit, just so we can eat, drink and sleep with a roof over our head — all things that, according to anarchism, should be available to all. On top of that, they are in a position to patronize us, pay us too little, and show no respect for our lives; just because their position at the top of the money funnel makes us desperate for the few coins that trickle out at the bottom.

Although there are many debates around what economy would suit an anarchist society, anarchists generally strive to produce and distribute resources based on needs without the use of a currency — often, they would mention a gift-economy. Importantly, while there are some similarities, the big difference to Marxism is that anarchism says state control is harmful and production needs to be run by the workers themselves. Marxists, on the other hand, believe there needs to be government control.

Pseudo freedom

Believing we’re free individuals operating in a democratic society is, according to anarchists, a myth that, once again, serves the elite: it pacifies us to keep uproar at a minimum. The convoluted nature of all the rules imposed on us isolates them from reason and history; we’re taught to believe that they’re in place for our safety. Even if we don’t agree with them, we conclude that there’s no better option, the elected leader will have had his reasons. His reasons, not ours. Anarchism is about not accepting the fine print in a contract. But more so, it’s about taking matters into your own hands through direct action. Instead of relying on distant companies to produce food, an anarchist community (even within a statist system) would set up their own vegetable garden for instance. It’s about showing that organising according to anarchist principles is effective; anarchists don’t need somebody else, like the state, to do it for them.

Naturally, racism, patriarchy, sexism, xenophobia, and animal cruelty are opposed by the all-are-equal, power-to-the-people ideology. Anarcha-feminists argue that feminism is a core element to anarchism and, vice versa, anarchism is a core element to feminism because many hierarchies are predominantly masculine so their destruction would be a “feminisation of society”. Finding all kinds of differences to justify exploitation is a world-wide institutionalised ill anarchists have been fighting for decades. As 19th century anarchist thinker Michael Bakunin put it, “What do we mean by respect for humanity? We mean the recognition of human right and human dignity in every man, of whatever race [or] colour.”

False optimism in South Africa

With a history of racial profiteering in this country, this should, at the very least, make us prick our ears. Despite numerous efforts by the ANC, such as the well-known National Development Plan, aiming to create 11-million jobs by 2030, economic inequality is still one of the highest in the world. The most obvious example is perhaps that our president can spend millions on his private home while, right outside, children walk 28 km to school and back.

Although there have, of course, been positive democratic developments since 1994, the main goal of the ANC, to eradicate poverty, seems stifled. In 2014, Statistics SA released a report stating that 20.2% (a slight decrease to the levels in 2006) live in extreme poverty (no access to an adequate diet) and 45.5% in moderate poverty (access to food, but it would have to be sacrificed for non-food items such as transport). Many will agree that ever since the new government adopted neo-liberal polices, such as the GEAR plan, the ANC’s “pro-poor stance” has lost its glimmer.

While government officials argue that the situation is improving, the reality is that 10.2-million people still live in extreme poverty while the black economic elite — think Julius Malema “inspiring the poor” by wearing Louis Vuitton — spread hope for social mobility. Billboards and television propagate an excessive lifestyle but so do former activists and politicians. Eating sushi of pretty women, popping champagne or flashing fancy belts (while talking of “revolution!”) is a luxury most South Africans, by law, didn’t have access to during apartheid. Twenty years later, a minority of black poster children give the impression that they do now, but the poor majority — who are mainly black but also coloured, Indian and (some) white — simply don’t. Political scientist, Achille Mbembe, sums it up best: “It’s a rainbow nation for a few.”

But, realistically, how?

A great number of South Africans will agree change is needed, but it’s still hard to comprehend how anarchism — a highly utopian theory — could ever take form in reality. Especially, in the global, individuality-and-excess-celebrating society we live in today: psychopaths rape children, wars are fought over oil and natural resources are destroyed to produce ever-improving, disposable technology. The proposition of an all-are-equal, no-authority-needed ideal naturally brings up some questions.

bolo’bolo

Aragorn Eloff, Jamie Evans and Will Baedan*[i] of bolo’bolo — an Observatory-based publishing collective that hosts The Anarchist Bookfair and The Anarchist Winter School without hierarchies or drawing profit — talked about some of the common concerns that arise in connection with anarchism.

One of them is the question of imposed and inherent morality. It seems that anarchists naively believe we’ll all act altruistically if there’s no government. Along the lines of the ideas expressed by 19th century anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, Aragorn believes that even the notion of morals is aggressive. “As anarchists we define ourselves as having shared, imminent ethics that we collaborate on, but we’re not beholden to any moral code written in stone. I think we have an ethos based on just what it is to be alive in this world. We all want to be free and expand; we all want to be free from fear, oppression and domination. Nobody will say no to that.”

Yet today, all we see around us is crime, corruption and exploitation. It seems that “being alive” means killing each other for bucks, which easily leads to the conclusion that we have monstrous instincts. Will disagrees. Rather, he believes humans are the product of the societies we live in. The reason why we think we’re inherently “bad” and can’t see another way to be is mass culture. “In a globalised world, we don’t get a lot of opportunities to see outside. We only see this one way of living; it’s becoming homogenised.”

And even if we were “naturally evil”, Aragorn insists that an anarchist community would offer fewer opportunities for vicious behaviour. “If people are ‘good’, we don’t need these state structures, if people are ‘bad’, we certainly don’t need these state structures.” Capitalism, he continues, rewards exploitative, non-empathetic actions with powerful titles and monetary gain. Nonetheless, anarchists don’t believe unsocial behaviour would completely cease to exist — even when everything is shared equally.

How would crime be dealt with if there’s no police? “Usually, when people ask this question they ask it as though we currently don’t suffer from endemic criminality. Look at all the corruption in the hierarchical institutions that govern our lives. Even every-day petty crime usually committed by people on the far-receiving end of capitalist relations; we’re not good at dealing with it. We punish it in ways that reproduce it. The prison recidivism rate in South Africa is so high,” responds Aragorn.

In an anarchist community, he goes on to say, crime would be re-defined as “something that is opposed to the free equality of all participants”. It wouldn’t, as Will mentions, be an armed officer locking us up because we can’t pay rent or are stealing food. Based on practices of rehabilitation, crime would be treated according to backgrounds and circumstances. “It would be restorative justice, something like the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Mission. Both sides of the story would be heard instead of simply putting people away in cages,” says Aragorn.

And what about psychopaths who are incapable of rehabilitation? “That’s interesting because a lot of research into neuroscience indicates that psychopathic qualities might be an innate, genetic thing. If they are, we’ll always have to deal with people who are full-blown psychopaths, and we could certainly do better than we currently do — which is reward those who show no remorse, are willing to exploit everyone around them and are incredibly manipulative. Those are the shareholders in big corporations, and people who run government. A recent study shows that the percentage of psychopaths in management is larger than anywhere else.”

Still, many people, even if they endorse anarchism in theory, can’t picture a transition to a different society happening. Aragorn stresses it’s important to keep an open mind. “Everything seems idealistic when it’s in its infancy. When Mary Wolstonecraft suggested equal rights for women, a parody came out suggesting equal rights for donkeys. The end of apartheid is another example — it seemed like an absurdity when COSATU and the ANC were fighting for it.”

“Violence is everyone’s, not just the state’s”

While it’s argued that the end of apartheid was largely non-violent, a lot of changeovers in society involved force. What’s the collective’s stance on using violence to achieve a better world? Aragorn thinks this is an important question, because it’s one that ends discussions. He feels violence needs to be seen in context, because often it’s thought about abstractly, in a vacuum. The term is generalised and overused, he says, anything from swearing to shooting somebody is “violence”. And the methods employed by authorities are often, by such definition, more violent.

“I’m always for looking at specific histories and social relations, so I can try and describe them as accurately as possible in order to determine what’s ethical in this situation. There’s not some sort of transcendent morality that says: ‘Throwing a brick through a window is always a bad thing; if it’s violence we can’t do that.’ There are lots of times when it’s perfectly legitimate to do that and in fact unjust not to do it.

“If one thinks about what the word actually means, what it is to violate one’s sanctity of life and undermine one’s existential foundations, then colonialism, patriarchy and capitalism are either directly violence or perpetuate it. In apartheid South Africa, the individual acts of violence — the responses to the government — became an existential form of self-defence or a striving for a peaceful society.” He further explains that the mainstream media maintains the discourse its readers blankly take on: all violence is immoral and the state’s authority can’t be challenged, even if their violence is less justified than the people’s.

So what about peaceful protests? Aragorn divides them into two parts: politics of demand — “asking the authorities to please be nicer” — and, recognizing the legitimacy of institutions — “they are here to help us out”.

“Peaceful protesters assume that we live in a transparent, functioning, ideal democracy where there are no power relations at all — of course that’s not what it is. [Peaceful protests] are based on misguided perceptions. They further entrench in people’s minds that these institutions are legitimate and shouldn’t be questioned. It’s the same when people protest against police brutality by going: ‘Oh we just need to bring these bad apples to justice and tell the other cops to be nicer.’ Cops aren’t there to be nicer or have interest in the people, they are the defence force of the rich and powerful,” he says.

During apartheid, protests were banned. So when there was a demonstration, it normally resulted in a “violent” confrontation with armed officers. Today, we seem to be reverting to a similar situation. Although the constitution states that “Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions”, protests are becoming harder to organise and often met with forcible contention. The Gatherings Act of 1993 is increasingly used to create legal and bureaucratic hurdles for protesters, which means they are often forced into illegality. What’s even more troubling, the police’s combat against demonstrators — even when legal — is becoming more aggressive, sometimes leading to rubber bullets being fired at school children. The most shocking and memorable act of police violence in post-apartheid South Africa is the killing of 37 miners at Marikana on 16 August 2012.

Disillusioned progress: the civil rights movement and apartheid

Justifying illegal or even violent protests under an oppressive regime seems easier than accepting the same within a reformed, democratic society. In the 1980s, protesters took a clear stance on the police: trust was unthinkable because they represented unethical law. Today it’s not so clear cut. If the transition from oppressive authoritarianism to democracy was largely peaceful, then a common assumption would be — especially in a democratic country with a so-called “progressive constitution” — that diplomatic means are the way forward.

Jamie thinks this is the problem. He compares the ending of apartheid in South Africa to the civil rights movement in the US: both of them were unsuccessful. As proof he cites the shooting of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in the US, and the unchanged, even worsened, financial disparity in South Africa. He believes there’s reluctance to critically engage because:

“After 1994, there’s this lingering feeling of accomplishment, like the Rainbow Nation has finally been achieved and social ills are non-apparent. You see it in the way South Africa engages with itself, you see it in the way that Cape Town engages with itself. Neat little hearts can be put up in the CBD promoting the idea of beauty, totally in denial of the townships surrounding the city.”

Note: This was written before the #feesmustfall protests

Violence is not the ultimate goal though

All agree though that “violence” should never unnecessarily be encouraged, just understood within context. Ultimately, a peaceful society is desired. What’s more, simply (although this might be quite an ambitious task already) overthrowing the government won’t magically create an egalitarian utopia. Rather, says Aragorn, “It’s not about ‘one epic revolution’, but various revolutionary practises that get things by the root.” As was the case with the anarchist movement during the Spanish Civil War, radical change needs a lot of preparation on an intellectual and practical level.

Prefiguration

Although anarchism should not be equated to some form of consumer activism, Jamie drinks alcohol in a very moderate capacity and is vegan, while Will is careful about where he spends money. They make it clear, however, that positive change requires way more than simple lifestyle choices. Essentially, Aragorn explains, it’s about “prefiguration”.

This means making a conscious decision to put anarchism into action. Showing to what extent one can challenge the current system’s logic and demonstrate that other ways are possible — even if you start with the way you organise a dinner party. Instead of preaching propaganda, Aragorn believes it’s more effective to exemplify the society you’d like to see in the future by experimenting with non-hierarchical relations every day. “Prefiguration should be your life,” he says.

It’s also, Aragorn further elaborates, an explicitly revolutionary project — not just consumer boycotts, which he believes are often in-effective because corporations know how to recover from them. “It isn’t so much about escaping the current set of values [of the state] as exemplifying alternatives to the best of your ability. It’s a positive project, not just a negative one. Sure, you want to diminish your reliance on the current system, but that’s mainly because you can free up time, capacity and resources to create something different. I think fundamentally anarchism is about a passion for changing current society, not just avoiding it because you don’t like it.”

How this is done varies depending on what possibilities one has within a given situation. “In different times and places that looks different. In some places in history, it’s looked like proper, full-on revolution where millions of people unite and overthrow oppressive social relations. Right now things are really complex and who knows if that’s going to happen. I mean if the revolution unfolded tomorrow, I’d definitely want to be there on the front lines, but I don’t think things are as simple as they used to be.”

Isn’t one easily labelled a hypocrite if one prefigures anarchism within the inescapable system of the capitalist state? Aragorn is aware that capitalism is hard to avoid if one wants to survive. “You’re not a hypocrite if you fight for the abolition of slavery but you’re still in shackles. It’s not like we have a choice. It’s only hypocritical if you say you espouse these wonderful, alternative values, but don’t live up to them when you can,” he answers.

An example he gives for prefiguration, is how the bolo’bolo collective is run. “Some people are really convinced when they realise we don’t have a boss or an owner.” He adds that no amount of intellectual argument will convince a pro-state thinker, but a few hours of field-day, collectivised empowerment are invaluable.

“Anarchism is very idealistic, but I think it’s very enriching right now. It’s not just about being beholden to some future time when we’ll finally be living in an egalitarian way. You find other people who think the same way, are willing to experiment with the lifestyle and share a vision — you experience a great deal of joy in the moment,” says Aragorn.

Soundz of the South

Soundz of the South — an “anti-capitalist cultural resistance movement” from Khayelitsha — use hip hop as their tool for activism. Apart from organising weekly struggle slam sessions in Makhaza, where everyone who wants to can perform, they’ve launched the Afrikan Hip Hop Caravan — an initiative to connect comrades across the globe through their beats, and arrange documentary screenings, talks and school programmes for young kids. Any proceeds they make from selling CDs go into sustaining these projects. Whereas members Anele Selekwa,

Khusta, Mawhetu and Indigenous [i]

(not all members were present for the interview) share some values with bolo’bolo, they have a slightly different approach — as is the nature of anarchism.

Although their collective is driven by anarchist principles, they have stopped calling themselves “anarchists”, mainly because, Khusta explains, “anarchism is not recognized a lot here in South Africa, so you get blocked.” Rather, they make sure that everything they do is non-hierarchical and based on consensus. Developing revolutionary programmes to do away with oppression is their main goal.

It’s not about choosing a lifestyle

Their motivation is far from romantic. “There’s 60–80% unemployment in Khayelitsha, people should be asking, ‘How do these people survive?’” says Anele. For him it isn’t about wearing Nike or not, “That just suggests you’re creating a pseudo-society within capitalism. When I talk anarchism, I’m talking struggle. It’s not about looking inwards and punishing ourselves.”

“It’s about challenging power so people can start running their own communities. When we start talking about anarchism, people assume we should be wearing certain things, eating vegan food and living in the mountain completely delinked from the capitalist system.” Although he acknowledges that it’s fine to do that, he thinks it’s more important to be self-reliant and pay attention to certain realities.

“South Africa is a rich country, but people have been deliberately oppressed for a long time — you cannot escape that if you don’t do something about the correlations in our country, or on the continent for that matter. We need to recognize that everybody has something to contribute and we come from different communities with different challenges. That’s where anarchism comes in. The struggle is about first understanding that there should be solidarity and mutual aid among us comrades.”

Indigenous — who says he’s an activist because he lives in critical conditions, so he has no choice — adds: “Actually anarchism is something we have been living already in our own society. The way people do things here carries a lot of anarchist tradition although it’s still seen as something very foreign in Africa. The models I’ve created from the principles of anarchism are really working for me. I see nothing else as a ‘life key’. It’s made me not see any class and appreciate people as human.”

Practising non-hierarchical organisation

To SOS, non-hierarchical, DIY counter-culture is not only intuitive, but essential for self-reliance. In order to protect oneself from slipping into centralised, oppressive ruling methods, one needs to operate in a collective long before any serious political action is considered.

“With the structures of authority [in South Africa] today, what went wrong was that the culture was never part of the struggle while they were organising,” Khusta says. SOS agree that as many “practice runs” as possible are needed. So, when it comes to taking on roles within SOS, nobody tells anyone what to do. Instead, all members take on tasks voluntarily and rotate. In meetings they would take turns to be the shop steward or scriber. This way, there’s no “gateway to corruption,” Khusta explains.

SOS believe that, instead of a reformist approach, a completely new system that doesn’t allow for oppression needs to be in place. As was the case with many authoritarian communist or post-colony leaders on the African continent — no matter how well-meaning the revolutionaries’ intentions were — seizing power led to another exploitative rule. Arguably, our ruling party’s actions are illustrative of changing course once elected. When asked whether the former struggle heroes got “corrupted”, Anele says, “I think the ANC got what it wanted. They never wanted anything else. They wanted to be kings and chiefs from the beginning. They only presented themselves as liberators and this lie is being perpetuated now.”

Conscientising society through hip hop

So why hip hop for social change? Indigenous explains it’s an important tool for counter-acting state and commercial influence in their community. He calls it “a conscious tipping of the mind”. According to him, mainstream rappers often have a relationship with corporates and, although they’re not always aware of it, force-feed community members a capitalist agenda. Underground hip hop — a movement that came from “nothing” and doesn’t require expensive equipment — is a way of encouraging alternative thought and education. It’s about forming their own, state-removed network of empowerment.

Anele adds, “We know Zuma, when he comes to Khayelitsha he’ll bring certain DJs and Castle beer with him. He’ll talk for an hour and there’ll be music without words. If there are words, they’ll be, ‘Let’s get drunk’ or ‘You must win a woman’. Nothing constructive, right?” So he believes, SOS’s hip hop sessions can encourage critical engagement.

He compares this to hip hop movements in Senegal or Angola. In 2012, a bunch of Dakar artists got together to stop president Abdoulaye Wade from unconstitutionally seeking a third term in office. Or — although he makes it clear both are reformist approaches — in Angola in 2011, there was no other social movement other than hip hop that took on the government.

Should we give anarchism a chance?

It’s easy to accept that authority corrupts. In South Africa, exploitation not only happens under the surface, but is blatantly obvious. The arms deal, Marikana, Nkandla — many South Africans agree: the ruling party can get away with what they want. It’s also easy to accept that capitalism is not sustainable on the long run — at least not for all. History as well as the current economic and socio-political climate suggest both capitalism and authoritarian socialism are untenable and the cause of extreme levels of inequality, which lead to worker abuse, sexism, economic stagnation and racism, amongst other things. A recent study, although it doesn’t suggest an anarchist solution, is Regenerative Capitalism by The Capital Institute.

Anarchism is definitely a risky experiment and needs to be considered carefully with regards to today’s problems. And there are still endless facets, ideas and questions to explore. Yet there’s certainly one thing to be learnt: we need to stop blindly adhering to old-fashioned belief structures — they’re not working for us. Embedded within a rigid system and locked into the rule-respecting mindset of the masses, they haven’t had space to adapt and transform to our diverse situations. Ethical conduct is certainly not the same as law-abiding conduct. So even if you’re not vegan or starting a squat, anarchism is about questioning everything, even the dictionary. It’s about realising that the current status quo is not always the right, nor the only way. Thinking of alternatives — even if they’re not perfect — is the first step towards finding an ideal solution.

Once we’ve understood what anarchism is — not a dogma of angry youths to justify riots but a well-thought-through theory, written about since the 19th century — we can start examining its pros and cons. If we simply dismiss it because we can’t imagine it, we’re stifling creative pursuits of alternative thought. Imagine the beauty of a spontaneous jam session; all musicians adapt their music on-the-spot, without the authority of note sheets to create a holistic sound evolving by the second. We wouldn’t want to reject such harmony because it’s created on the go.

Anarchism is all around us

Lastly, the most common objection to anarchism is that it’s never happened before. This is not entirely true, there are examples in history, the most famous being the anarchist movement during the Spanish revolution. Yet as an intersectional, grassroots theory that places value on local administration, it’s also somewhat contradictory to talk of anarchism on a national level, because this is using the logic of a state. There are examples that occur every day.

In South Africa, instances of DIY and direct action are abounding. When there’s no electricity connection available in disadvantaged areas, shack-dwellers connect it themselves, when Joburgers agree that e-tolls are unfair, they collectively don’t pay the fees, and when a car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, ‘n boer maak ‘n plan. Love is anarchy, children’s play is anarchy and deciding what movie to watch amongst a group of friends is anarchy. As author Peter Gelderloos says in one of his poems, “The best parts of life are anarchy already.”

If you’d like to explore anarchism further, there are a lot of forum discussions and texts to be found online. A good place to start is Anarchy 101 or The Anarchist Library. Locally, a platform to look at is Zabalaza. Or, if you want to get right into hands-on action, you could look into Food Not Bombs — it’s a bottom-up approach to food distribution anyone can take part in.

And of course, you can engage with what bolo’bolo and Soundz of the South are doing. Find them on Facebook here and here.

Special thanks to Lara Reddy.

[i] Except for Anele Selekwa, these are the interviewees’ artist names

[i] Name changed

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