South Africa’s Next Revolt: Eco-Socialist Opportunities

Patrick Bond


The political ecology of South Africa reflects extreme uneven and combined development. As one crucial aspect of this condition, environmental degradation extends deep into the households and workplaces populated mainly by the country’s black majority. The regroupment of the socialist movement will, in the coming months and years, have to embrace the environmental challenge just as profoundly as it will need to reindustrialize the economy under worker and social control, while also redistributing wealth and restructuring the reproduction of labour power in a humane, rational manner to spread what is now women’s caregiving responsibilities properly. As these overlapping processes unfold, there are opportunities to ‘red-green’ several aspirational strategies now being articulated by leading eco-socialist currents: renewable energy generation, manufacturing localization, minerals beneficiation, land reform, urban repurposing and desuburbanization, the cessation of migrant labour relations, shifts from private to public transport and other overdue geographical restructurings. These objectives are supported, at least in principle, by all social forces aside from the most dogmatic neoliberals.

Several bottom-up victories since the end of apartheid in 1994 offer examples of the decommodification, destratification and deglobalization approaches that can be emulated so as to move forward the eco-socialist agenda: access to free HIV/AIDS medicines, the partial decommodification of municipal water and electricity services, and workplace health and safety class-action lawsuits (especially over silicosis). Still, the most vital missing element in 2017 is a political party that reflects and regenerates eco-socialist campaigns and ideology deep within the society. To assess the potential with the optimism of the will and pessimism of the intellect required now more than ever demands that we review, first, the characteristics of capitalist crises felt so acutely in economic, socio-ecological and gendered respects following two decades of neoliberal-nationalist politics; second, the now-shifting political alliances from above, and from below the fragmented red and green political forces that have, albeit haltingly, finally begun a regroupment process; third, inspirational moments when indicative victories were won in spheres of social reproduction; which in turn, fourth, may inform a series of struggles that lie ahead.

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