Men (and women) make history, but they do not make it just as they please: they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past (Marx and Engels 1970: 96) (parenthesis added).
This research is concerned with the role of agency, not only of collective actors (e.g. organisations), but also of the individuals they comprise, in the process of political change. Moreover, it explores the personal, social, and political lives of those individuals (‘activists’) who participate in the struggle for change. Beyond the important generalisation that people can and do change the world, but not in circumstances of their own choosing, what I am interested in examining and analysing is what this means in practice.
While the focus and the emphasis is on the ‘lives of struggle’ of the participants in a process of change, the research is also concerned to understand the ways in which individuals lives and actions are ‘embedded’ in social, economic and political structures, whose dynamics affect (constraining and offering opportunities) the individuals concerned, but which also, in turn, are changed by the actions of these individuals. The research is therefore both historical and sociological, about the lives of real people and about the broader dynamics of social, political, and economic change.
Social relationships develop within wider structures of social relations and processes that shape them: but at the same time, those structures are themselves altered and sometimes transformed by individual and collective action. The analysis of an activists’ life history will therefore be incomplete if analysed in “isolated contemplation” and this necessitates an “insistence on context” (Ginzburg 1993). My concern then, is lives of struggle – agency and structures - a historical, political sociology (cf Thompson).
I take as my ‘case study’ the contemporary struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Studying this process at a ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ level my concerns are, centrally with those activists involved in the liberation struggle and beyond, with the similarities and differences in the ways in which they were involved and the ways in which their participation in this struggle has affected them, personally, socially, ideologically, etc.
Using a life history approach (see 2.5.2) combined with an examination of social processes and a historical structuralist analysis of the macro environment, I examine the relationships between the collective experiences of individuals and the movements of which they are a constituent part of and the wider political-economic structures within which these act and operate. It is through this interaction that I believe people make history – ‘history from below’ – social change as the product of the activity of ‘ordinary people’, unlike “traditionalists” who “think that only political, constitutional and administrative history is real history” (Hill 1995: 245). Before discussing how history from below relates to this thesis, we will outline the broader parameters of the thesis.
OVERVIEW OF THESIS
This chapter introduces the main practical and conceptual concerns that motivate this research, the relationship between ‘history from below’, the contemporary South African liberation struggle and our focus on particular activists. As the activists we are interested in belong to the ANC, their follows a historical overview of the organisation and the links between national liberation and nationalism as the primary ideology that influences the ANC leadership, activists and the liberation struggle.
Part one of chapter II situates the thesis in the debates about structure and agency, their inter-relationship, how the notions of class, conflict, and economic crises etc can aid an understanding of how social change happens, the social relationships that conditioned the liberation struggle and the relationship between structure and agency. Part two, outlines epistemology, methodology, and fieldwork, introducing the basic tenets of Naturalistic Inquiry (NI) and how this relates to the application of the fieldwork. Ending with a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the fieldwork and a critical evaluation of NI and what the lessons of this approach might be for others.
Chapters III and IV provide the social, economic and political context from which we can better understand the role and lives of activists. We outline and examine the conflict that characterised the liberation struggle and the process of social change from a broad macro level. Chapter III delineates the social conditions of ‘revolt’, principally, between 1970 to 1990, showing how this process resulted in the growth in a black working class – and the formation of independent trade unions and the course of the liberation struggle that activists were involved in.
Part one of chapter IV maps the negotiation period between 1990 to 1994 and documents how the nature of the liberation struggle shifted and how this, and extenuating factors, conditioned the transition to elections and the role of activists in this process. Part two, examines the evolution of the ANC from liberation organisation to a party of government, in which those we are interested in were elected, between April 1994 to June 1999, undertaken with a special emphasis on how the relationship between the ANC and its political partners was affected.
In chapter V, we meet some of those former activists who became members of government. Weaving their life histories amidst the social processes and relationships outlined in previous chapters enables us to find out more about their role and reflections on their participation in the liberation struggle. How they (and others) became politically active, what they learnt, the ways in which they developed as cadre through political education and how this was reinforced through their activity.
In chapter VI, we discuss how their roles have changed, how they are faring as members of government, how they understand the transition to democracy and other topical issues. Interwoven with the ‘politicians’ thoughts we compare their experiences and analysis of ANC rule with current, critical trade union activists to establish if and how they differ and if the politicians have changed the views they were associated with before they went into government.
In chapter VII, we conclude with a review of the thesis and drawing upon the primary and secondary data we look at the ways in which activists are affected by their participation, how we can understand this process and any changes in their ‘world view’. We end by highlighting the implications of the findings for our understanding and use of, and debates around, agency and structure.
CHAPTER I:MAKING HISTORY IN SOUTH AFRICA
CHAPTER II: METHODOLOGY, EPISTEMOLOGY AND FIELDWORK
CHAPTER III: CLASS, CRISIS, AND CONFLICT: THE SHAPING OF ACTIVISTS
CHAPTER IV: FROM ‘GRASSROOTS’ TO GOVERNMENT: 1990-1999
CHAPTER V: FORGED IN THE HEAT OF STRUGGLE: LEARNING THE LESSONS OF ACTIVISM DURING APARTHEID
CHAPTER VI: FROM ‘GRASSROOTS TO GOVERNMENT’: UNDERSTANDING POLITICIANS EXPERIENCES
CHAPTER VII: CONCLUSION
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