Wits University Press recently launched a book titled Marxisms in the 21st Century: Crisis, Critique and Struggle. Today The Con publishes a section titled Provincialism and Retribalisation from  the chapter Critical Reflections On The Crisis And Limits Of ANC ‘Marxism’ by Mazibuko K. Jara


Another outcome of the 1994 political settlement was the break-up of South Africa into nine provinces largely coinciding with ethnic and language boundaries. In my analysis, the creation of these provinces has diluted the goal of building a united non-racial South Africa. As a result, tendencies to provincialism, regionalism and ethnicity have been entrenched and in the future they may become centripetal forces against national unity.

The creation of provinces may have removed bantustans, but more significantly failed to move away from the social content of these spaces (Mare 2003). These were spaces of extreme discrimination and inequality. It is in these spaces that social reproduction is tenuous for the black working class. It is in these same spaces that there has been extremely limited racial and social integration because apartheid geographies have been reinforced by post-apartheid spatial development patterns.

No wonder it then becomes easy for creeping racialisation to become a national expression of provincialism, regionalism and ethnicity.

The compromises the ANC government made with traditional leaders are another factor which can potentially reinforce the narrow and chauvinistic rise of ethnic identities, cultural practices and undemocratic rule by an unelected and parasitic elite.

This perpetuates the ‘subject’ status of rural people, thus denying them their ‘citizenship’. How can rural ‘subjects’ be part of a progressive twenty-first-century African nation? Surely it is only free ‘citizens’ who can be such?

Indeed the Freedom Charter recognised the cultural diversity of South Africans but this did not imply that cultural identities are eternally frozen categories and that the expression of different identities must ultimately serve to foster national unity (Carrim 1996).

The African Renaissance project and the invoking of African identity has had the effect of freezing these categories as if they were in some timeless pre-colonial Africa which has not even reached the stage of evolving into an oppressed black nation.

Even worse is the establishment of forums of traditional leaders in the cosmopolitan and largely urbanised African constituency of the Western Cape. This can have the effect of further ethnicisation of communities, thus threatening broader integration.

When it comes to how rural areas of the former bantustans are governed in the post-apartheid period, the ideology of segregation continues. Tradition, custom and welfare are now instruments to govern rural areas and are used to perpetuate the logic of segregation and second-class citizenship for the people who live in these rural areas.

They remain citizens of the bantustans and not of a democratic South Africa. No matter what their personal preferences, they must still pay their dues and loyalty to unelected and ethnic-based tribal rulers. Full citizenship, rights, democracy and development are not what drive state policy in rural areas.

It is useful to remember that the 1996 Constitution established wall- to-wall elected municipalities across every inch of South African territory. This new local government mandate was a break with the colonial and apartheid periods where local government in the former homelands combined and concentrated administrative, judicial and executive power in a single state functionary, the tribal authority.

It is completely forgotten today that the overwhelming majority of traditional leaders were perverted and co-opted as instruments of colonial and apartheid rule. This was through a process of conferring statutory powers upon them: traditional leaders were conferred with statutory powers over Africans in ‘black areas’.

These powers and the statutory structures within which they were exercised formed the building blocks of the homeland system. The new constitutional framework dismantled the homeland system and removed governmental powers given to tribal chiefs. However, what the 1996 Constitution provided for was reversed in subsequent, post-1996 laws – the Communal Land Rights Act, Act 11 of 2004 (CLARA) and the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, Act 41 of 2003 (Framework Act).

The Framework Act allows all former tribal authorities to continue in the post-apartheid period under their new identity as traditional councils. In other words, the Framework Act does not discontinue the previously hated tribal authorities that were established by the apartheid-era Bantu Authorities Act, Act 68 of 1951.

This entrenches apartheid-era tribal boundaries and author- ities in virtually all rural areas in the former apartheid homelands, even in areas where there were no longer chiefs.

The Framework Act essentially refashions the old tribal authorities as ‘traditional councils’ without much transforma- tion of their content, purpose, functions and powers. It gives traditional councils the very kinds of unaccountable governance powers tribal authorities had under the 1951 Bantu Authorities Act. These powers contributed to various abuses and ultimately led to the loss of legitimacy of tribal authorities in many areas.

The Framework Act seeks to locate traditional leaders as the primary institutions of power in rural areas. The Framework Act also enables government to devolve governance powers and responsibilities to traditional coun- cils in fourteen areas of responsibility, including land administration; natural resource management; registration of births, deaths and customary marriages; justice; safety and security; and economic development. In practice, the powers are exercised on such a large scale that it renders the traditional councils an impermissible fourth sphere of government.

The preservation of tribal boundaries and authorities makes post-apartheid South African citizenship and the depth of rural democracy dependent on geography. People living in former homelands are made tribal subjects under a separate legal regime and form of governance from other South Africans. They become insulated from the reach of the laws applying to other South Africans and are subject to customary law as defined and interpreted by tribal chiefs.

The consensual nature of customary law is now also undermined when it is applied within fixed jurisdictional boundaries derived from the Bantu Authorities Act, as is done in the Framework Act. With the Framework Act, traditional leaders have begun to circumscribe the power and agency of the majority of rural dwellers, features which are an essential part for the development of consensual customary law. This is inconsistent with undoing the legacy of apartheid laws.

The anti-bantustan revolts that exploded during the 1980s were struggles to be part of a united South Africa and a rejection of the ethnic identities that were perverted, frozen and imposed by apartheid.

The post-apartheid legal framework on traditional leaders betrays those struggles and attempts to impose a map of neatly delineated separate ‘tribes’ on the 17 to 22 million South Africans living in former homeland areas. Current attacks on ‘outsiders’, whether labelled foreigners, AmaMfengu, ‘Pedis’ or ‘Shangaans’, illustrate the direction things could take.

To justify this slide, the state has used a discourse laden with phrases such as the ‘recognition and promotion of the institution of traditional leadership’, ‘status, role and place’ and ‘institutionalising traditional leadership’.

Absent from state discourse are ‘rural democratisation’, ‘democratic transformation of rural social relations’, ‘empowering communities’, ‘self- agency and self-empowerment of rural communities’, ‘sustained social mobilisation of rural communities’, ‘people-driven rural development’, ‘detribalising the former bantustan countryside’ and so on.

To conclude this section, it is useful to refer to ANC president Jacob Zuma’s role in emboldening tribalised identities. In his political fight to become ANC president, Zuma combined the use of victimhood with the strategic deployment of ethnic appeals. In KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma was central in rolling back the Inkatha Freedom Party (a Zulu nationalist movement implicated in apartheid rule and violence).

He did not do this on the basis of organising a working class movement into a solid democratic popular support base, using the slow and painstaking methods of persuasion (Horn 2008). He led a group in the ANC that courted the Zulu king (King Zwelithini) and other important cultural symbols (such as the popular Shembe church) as quick-fix personalities to bring with them all their subjects/believers as voters (Horn 2008).

Such an appearance has a powerful effect on locals who are searching for identity and popular welfare in light of growing immiseration.

After his June 2005 dismissal as the deputy president of South Africa, Zuma continued to publicly court the Zulu king and other Zulu cultural symbols. He went beyond Zulu ethnicity to actually cultivate and entrench ethnic identity and symbols of other cultural groups.

He did this to communicate a powerful but reactionary message: the modernising Thabo Mbeki is a threat to the traditions that the majority of the people hold dear. When such an accessible Zuma is now seen as victimised by a modernising Mbeki, the choice is clear for a Shembe church follower: ‘Zuma is my man’.

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