“Action, comrades action” Social movement learning and knowledge generation in the anti-apartheid struggle during the decade of resistance 1980–1990

Martin, Richard and Cin, Melis (2022) “Action, comrades action” Social movement learning and knowledge generation in the anti-apartheid struggle during the decade of resistance 1980–1990. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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This research investigates the learning and knowledge-generating capacities of social movements during the anti-apartheid struggle of the 1980s. The geographical context of this study is the metropolitan area of Cape Town, South Africa, where activists were engaged in collective action against the apartheid state. Social movements as sites of learning during the anti-apartheid struggle have received little attention, and there is a scarcity of literature on activists’ learning as a dimension of political mobilisation in South Africa. Most studies emphasise the socio-political dynamics of activism with little attention paid to the learning and knowledge generating capacities of the anti-apartheid movements. The 1980s witnessed an increase in the mass mobilisation of communities and workers inside the country, with increased isolation of the apartheid state internationally because of sanctions, in the area of sports, culture and the economy and an increase in insurrectionary political violence – both at street level and in the form of underground guerrilla warfare. To stem the tide, the apartheid government attempted numerous reforms, and when those did not work, they resorted to brutal violence against unarmed, non-violent mass protests and cross-border raids on the military training camps of the liberation forces based in friendly African states. Social movement learning is a growing area of interest in adult education research (Foley 1999; Holst 2002; Hall and Clover, 2005; Kapoor and Choudry, 2010; McFarlane, 2011; Ollis, 2012; Choudry, 2015; Ismael, 2015; Choudry and Vally, 2018; Earl, 2018). A common theme that emerges from the literature is that the intellectual work of movements goes unseen, and that the voices, ideas, perspectives, and theories produced by activists are often ignored in academic accounts. The conceptual framework for this study draws on the work of Paulo Freire’s ‘conscientisation’ (1974), and Griff Foley’s ‘learning in social action’ (1999). During the anti-apartheid movement, activists acquired critical skills and knowledge that empowered them to understand how the apartheid state power worked to deny them their rights; social movements provided the space to challenge power relations, contesting the Apartheid state hegemony and to develop counter narratives that guided their praxis. Through the process of raising consciousness, activists and the oppressed at large became aware of the systems and structures that had an impact on their lives. This research draws on phenomenology to understand activists learning and knowledge generation capacities. The study design involved interviewing twenty activists drawn from a purposeful sample of one hundred activists who were active in the political and underground movements and across ideological divides. This study used semi-structured interviews to allow activists to reflect on their personal experiences and to uncover their learnings. A great deal of learning in the anti-apartheid movement was informal and unconsciously acquired, and the unconscious learning only came to the fore upon reflection The data is discussed under two headings: 1) ‘Learning to become an activist’ and 2) ‘Learning through and in activism’. Understanding the processes of ‘learning to become an activist’ traces the primary drivers for their early activism. These included their micro-level experiences of the brutality and injustice of apartheid and poverty which created an impulsive urge to oppose the system. It is out of this experience that a common purpose and solidarity emerged. Macro-level struggles in communities, factories and schools contributed to ‘moments of rupture’ that became important networks to strengthen mobilisation and linking activists to different organisations. Exposure to political education prepared activists to engage in social protests and develop thoughts on what a democratic South Africa could look like. Political education was therefore an important vehicle in the fight for ideological dominance. ‘Learning through and in activism’ is the process of unpacking the learning content and processes that took place in movements. This learning enabled activists to develop frames that they used to translate local and single issues into a more comprehensive critique of the apartheid power establishment. The learning included beliefs and values that guided action and offered an alternative view of society, and these were grounded in the experience of struggle. Learning also included understanding how to recruit and build political organisations where activists could expand their capacity and fuse solidarity and develop movement identity. This study contributes to the body of knowledge in three areas. Firstly, it draws on the activists’ lived experience to shed light on the motive for engaging in the anti-apartheid struggle. Secondly, through a process of reflection, activists brought to light the skills and knowledge that they acquired whilst engaging in struggle. Thirdly, the study accepts that political violence was a part of the ‘repertoire’ of action and strategies of the anti- apartheid struggle (given the context of apartheid brutality), and it therefore extends activists learning to include prisons and military underground as spaces for learning. This study concludes that learning in the anti-apartheid struggle was primarily informal, drawing on critical pedagogy, and took place in non-formal education spaces.

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?? social movement learning, activists learning ??
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16 Jan 2023 17:20
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16 Jul 2024 06:01