Armed Struggle and Democracy: The Case of South Africa

Armed Struggle and Democracy: The Case of South Africa

Armed Struggle and Democracy: The Case of South Africa

Armed Struggle and Democracy: The Case of South Africa


The impact of the concept(s) of armed struggle for the notion(s) of democracy in South(ern) Africa is the focus of this paper. Originally submitted to a conference on (Re-) Conceptualising Democracy and Liberation in Southern Africa, held in Windhoek, Namibia during July 2002, it argues from the point of departure of the personal involvement of the author in the issues raised.The author was part of a group which criticised the strategy of armed struggle in the ANC. With this paper he inspires a debate, which can claim relevance for current issues of democracy in South Africa and the Southern African region more generally. Given the degree of personal involvement of its author, this analysis is contemporary history based on personal insights, and provides arguments for a necessary discussion.


The Nordic Africa Institute established a research network on “Liberation and Democracy in Southern Africa” (LiDeSA) during 2001. An initial workshop in Cape Town (organised jointly with the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town in December 2001) initiated first discussions with and among scholars in the Southern African region. Some of the papers submitted then have since been published in this Discussion Paper series (nos. 18 and 19). An international conference on “(Re-) Conceptualising Democracy and Liberation in Southern Africa” took place as a follow-up in July 2002 in Windhoek. It was organised in collaboration with two local civil society agencies, the Legal Assistance Centre and the Namibia Institute for Democracy. Most of the 20 contributions presented then will be published in different ways during 2003.

This paper was originally drafted for and submitted to this conference and was subsequently slightly revised. A much shorter version will be included in another conference-related publication. Since this long version has merits in itself, it is also being made available separately as a Discussion Paper. It will, in addition, contribute as a substantial chapter to a forthcoming monograph in preparation by the author, in which he combines his current analytical assessment with a number of earlier articles written during the late 1970s and the early 1980s. The monograph is to be published during 2003.

The separate publication of this paper now aims to achieve a maximum degree of access to the text. Given the personal background and experiences of the author, his analysis is entitled to claim relevance to the debate around issues of liberation and democracy in South(ern) Africa. Suspended and finally expelled from the ANC as an activist in exile for his publicly articulated political ideology and conviction, he returned to South Africa in the 1990s to continue his career as a scholar. This paper uses the author's own experiences and commitments as a point of departure for a necessary discussion. It thus offers hitherto unknown insights into a controversy with direct impact on the political culture within the ANC and South Africa today. In this regard it is a fascinating piece of contemporary history and a personal account resulting from direct involvement, which hopefully will provoke both politically as well as academically inspired and oriented debate on related issues.

Henning Melber Uppsala, October 2002 . . .

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