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Southall, Roger, Liberation Movements in Power: Party and State in Southern Africa.

Southall, Roger, Liberation Movements in Power: Party and State in Southern Africa. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press 2013, 384 pp.

This is an important comparative study of three liberation movements in Southern Africa that moved into government: the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in Zimbabwe, the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) in Namibia, and the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. All three, to different degrees, 'liberated' their countries from forms of colonialism and then exhibited similar tendencies after coming to power and becoming political parties. Southall shows how party and state have tended to merge, how the former liberation movements have shown intolerance to opponents, and how, claiming to represent the people, they assert that they should therefore remain in power indefinitely. This assertion is backed by a selective reading of history, one that glorifies their role in the armed struggle and the transitions to majority rule and that plays down the authoritarianism, paranoia and brutality the liberation movements often displayed in the course of that struggle. Southall explains such tendencies with reference to the dynamics of settler colonialism, the ways in which the liberation movements secured 'victory' in what were negotiated settlements, involving compromises, and the form of the transitions that took place to nominally liberal democratic and capitalist societies.

The photograph on the cover of the book shows four Southern African leaders (not at a Frontline States summit, as stated on the back cover, but at a Southern African Development Co-Ordination Conference one). Two are presidents of countries that Southall does not discuss: Mozambique, where FRELIMO has exhibited similar tendencies to the three movements he writes about in this book, and Zambia, where independence was not achieved as the result of an armed struggle and where the party that came to power at independence subsequently met electoral defeat. Southall is not concerned with this wider Southern African context, says little about links between his three movements and what they learned from others' struggles, and discusses them unevenly. Only the ANC under President Jacob Zuma is given a chapter of its own. The other chapters are thematic, with some overlap in their content. After considering the different forms of settler colonialism in the region, and analysing "the contradictions of victory", Southall moves to the liberation movements in power. He then discusses, often in rich detail, how they have consolidated themselves in power through elections; their attitudes to parliament and the judiciary; the role played by corruption; and the evolution of what he calls "the party-state" (p 171). He continues with the liberation movements' relations with trade unions, civil society, rural government and the media; business-state relations (pp 212ff); black economic empowerment, indigenisation and land reform; class formation, the decline of ideology and the evolution of party machines. Then in a Conclusion entitled "The Slow Death of the Liberation Movements", he sees them as organisations that have become instruments to serve the often corrupt interests of the new ruling elites. They are no longer progressive or really committed to democracy and constitutionalism. Because they have failed to meet the socio-economic challenges facing their countries, they will, he suggests, inevitably decline.

There is not space here to discuss his arguments in detail. Suffice it to say that, while much of his text is dense and unlikely to prove easy reading for students, his book is now essential reading for anyone interested in this topic. Unlike, say, John Saul, who has often played down the constraints on the liberation movements when they came to power and criticised them for not meeting unrealistic goals, Southall is sober and realistic, and his analysis raises the key question: if Zimbabwe, which has the longest history of post-struggle rule, is the extreme case among the three, with Namibia somewhere in the middle, is South Africa, now under almost two decades of ANC rule, moving inexorably in the direction the other two have taken? Some will immediately respond that South Africa is a much more complex society, and may suggest that Southall does not stress enough the differences between it and the two other countries (one of these of course being the role of the internal resistance in bringing about the victory of the liberation movement; significantly the United Democratic Front (UDF), which played so important a role in South Africa in the 1980s, does not feature in the index). His book can only help spark further debate about future trajectories in the region, and it should long remain a leading text for anyone wanting to know how the three countries got to where they are today.

Chris Saunders

University of Cape Town
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Author:Saunders, Chris
Publication:Strategic Review for Southern Africa
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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