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Liberation Movements in Power: Party and State in Southern Africa
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Price: R 295
Publication Date: 2013-06-19
Binding: Softcover
ISBN: 978 1 86914 248 3
Width: 156
Height: 234
Pages: 400

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Review by Nicola De Jager # 2014
Stellenbosch University
Politikon, 2014

With the aftermath of colonialism and apartheid still embedded in the hearts and minds of many, the analysis of liberation histories and the subsequent post-liberation governments was initially met with the knee-jerk reaction of tiersmondisme — an unquestioning solidarity and support of the ‘third world’ and its struggles. Yet ‘liberation movements as governments’ have tended to be a disappointment both internationally and especially nationally, thus requiring proper critical analysis. In many cases it seems that liberation movements were less a victory for democracy, than merely a transfer of power from colonial/apartheid rulers to the victorious liberationists. Besides some initial work by Henning Melber (previously a member of Namibia’s South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO)), Sara Dorman, Stephen Ellis, Christopher Clapham and a few others there has been a dearth of proper fearless delving into the topic. Southall’s book rises to the challenge.

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Review by Michael Bratton
Michigan State University
International Journal of African Historical Studies

In this imposing opus, Roger Southall offers a comprehensive comparative account of the rise to power and subsequent “slow death” of national liberation movements (NLMs) in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Once “harbingers of hope and freedom,” the African National Congress (ANC), the South West African Peoples Organization (SWAPO), and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) “lost their moral compass” once they acceded to governmental power. Instead of fulfilling the movements’ hybrid promises of liberalism, nationalism and socialism, the incumbent political class in every country instead constructed machine-like party-states that now specialize in elite self-enrichment while systematically undermining development, democracy and the rule of law.

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Review by Henning Melber
The Namibian, Weekender 23 May 2014

From Liberation Movements to Party Machines


The Independence of Zimbabwe (1980), Namibia (1990), and the first democratic elections in South Africa (1994) marked the end of Apartheid and settler colonial minority rule in Southern African societies.

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Review by Leo Zeilig
ROAPE Editorial Working Group
Review of African Political Economy, Vol. 41, No. 139, 2014

Roger Southall starts his book Liberation Movements in Power with an important observation. Southern African decolonisation was going to be unlike the earlier wave of national liberation: it was not going to make the same mistakes, ‘southern African NLMs [National Liberation Movements] were widely deemed to have special qualities, whether those related to ideological sophistication, representativeness of advanced class formation or simply commitment to high-minded principles’ (4). The regimes, so the argument went, that would emerge from these more ‘sophisticated’ liberation struggles would be unlike their predecessors that had emerged from the first period of decolonisation. In place of flag independence, real (and even socialist) transformation would take place, as he writes towards the end of the book: ‘The NLMs of southern Africa all expressed the intention to escape the fate reserved for the postcolonial national bourgeoisie of Fanon’s unflattering description’ (274).


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The liberation movements of Southern Africa arose to combat racism, colonialism and settler capitalism and engaged in armed struggle to establish democracy. After victory over colonial and white minority regimes, they moved into government embodying the hopes and aspirations of their mass of supporters and of widespread international solidarity movements. Even with the difficult legacies they inherited, their performance in power has been deeply disappointing.


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