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  • Challenging Hegemony: social movements and the quest for a new humanism in post-apartheid South Africa
  • Elke Zuern (bio)
Nigel Gibson (ed) (2006) Challenging Hegemony: social movements and the quest for a new humanism in post-apartheid South Africa. Trenton, NJ and Asmara, Ethiopia:Africa World Press.

The challenge in capturing the complexities of contentious politics is to demonstrate the common structural factors that help to explain stark inequality and marginalisation without discounting the agency of individuals and communities to respond; it is also to demonstrate the similarities between diverse actions without homogenising a very heterogeneous and contentious field of movement politics. Challenging Hegemony sets out to do this. The authors broadly define the influence of neo-liberal economic politics internationally and the ANC's dominance domestically and lay out the theoretical and empirical implications of this hegemony. Radical social movements provide the clearest challenge to this hegemony, but their role is neither automatic nor uncomplicated by debates and divisions. In order to balance the power of hegemony with the politics of resistance and the development of alternative frameworks, the contributors to this volume demonstrate the dialectical relationships at play. This is difficult to do while still providing a clear analysis, but the book as a whole does a commendable job in working to meet this challenge.

The neo-liberal economic policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund as well as those of the South African government since the introduction of the Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) framework, broadly define the economic and social paradigm that the authors seek to challenge. Neocosmos, 'Rethinking Politics in Southern Africa Today: elements of a critique of political liberalism', Bond, [End Page 152] 'Johannesburg's resurgent social movements', and Mngxitama, 'National Land Committee, 1994-2004: a critical insider's perspective', most directly work to define the functioning of this hegemonic system, respectively focusing on the power of 'Western, state-dominated, (neo-) liberal political thought' (55), 'Johannesburg's neo-liberal municipal restructuring' (105) and the politics and false promises of NGOs. Neocosmos argues that on the African continent both neo-liberalism and state nationalism 'are founded on liberal precepts and are fundamentally authoritarian' (59). He adds that the technocratic language of state development works to exclude the very people in whose name development is meant to be achieved. Neocosmos concludes: 'Democracy cannot emanate from the state (nor can it be defined by state logic), but only from altering relations between state and society as a result of political prescriptions emanating from society itself' (92).

Bond offers a closer look at the human impact of the restructuring of service delivery in Johannesburg and the sharp disconnections not only between what people need and what they receive but also between what the state promises during election campaigns and what is actually available to citizens in practice. This overview outlines the stark marginalisation that ordinary people face, the motivation for a number of radical movements and the incredible challenges they face in bringing about real change. Mngxitama's analysis complements Bond's arguments by demonstrating the lack of focused attention to land restitution and reallocation and the incredible inequities that the current system maintains. Here Mngxitama demonstrates the controversial and difficult role played by NGOs which he argues, despite partial victories, work to limit real transformation. He points to two 'very seductive discourses which helped to maintain the fidelity of organs of civil society such as NGOs to the new state: "National Liberation" and "Developmentalism"' (176) thereby lending support to a number of central arguments made by Neocosmos in his chapter. Mngxitama clearly demonstrates how the National Land Committee (NLC) was trapped both by its early liberal politics and by its later partnership with the state into supporting policies that unfortunately have not worked to empower those most affected by land dispossession, such as farm workers.

These three chapters offer a number of the book's central critiques of liberalism and the liberal tradition. Together with the remaining chapters, they effectively work to demonstrate the shortcomings of a purely rights based approach and the ways in which working through the existing system often reproduces fundamental inequities and limits the construction of true alternatives. This...


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pp. 152-156
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