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REVIEW: A Flawed Freedom: Rethinking Southern African Liberation

2016-01-15 12.33.55

Author:   John S. Saul

Title:   A Flawed Freedom: Rethinking Southern African Liberation

Toronto:   Between the Lines Paperback, 2014: 199 pages.

ISBN:   978 1 77113 150 6

Reviewer:   AfrikaYetu

How many books should be written on the subject of Afrikan liberation to sufficiently define the word “enough”? As we progress further into the 21st century, flow of different perspectives on Afrikan liberation – its strengths, weaknesses and what needs to be done continues.

Such perspectives only lead the reader to question whether the ‘postcolonial’ Afrika is really liberated, and whether there is a need for a proper liberation of Afrikan nations?

Saul (2014) takes the reader into the historical narratives of liberation struggles in the Sothern Afrikan region. To explain and validate the points raised, the writer uses narratives and examples from other Southern Afrikan countries such as Tanzania, Namibia, Angola, and Mozambique. The main discussion, however, focuses on the South Afrikan and the struggle against apartheid.

Central to the narratives and arguments of this book is the discussion of the ‘postcolonial’ and ‘post-Apartheid’ Southern Afrikan nation-states: their politics and governance structures. As well as the sociopolitical and economic impacts of colonial and apartheid rules.

The book acknowledges that liberation struggles in the Southern Afrikan countries, even though subject to criticism and further analysis, defeated colonial and apartheid racisms. But it also presents the ‘other’ side. On the one hand, Saul (2014) perceives anti-apartheid activities in Southern Afrika (1960 – 1990) in general terms as “an event of singular and positive significance” (pg. 2). On the other hand, the new book suggests that that true liberation in Southern Afrika is not complete.

It argues that liberation in the Southern Afrikan were successful in doing away with the physical presence of the colonial domination. In what seems to be a far-fetched idea, the book claims that Afrikan liberation movement succeeded in the “overthrow of the grotesque white racist dictatorships that had been harboured in Southern Afrika” since 1948. It doesn’t stop there! It goes further to say that this success was just but “a glass of freedom” (pg. 2).

This seems to echo what he already expressed in his earlier work. In Saul (2011[i]), the writer quotes Eduardo Mondlane’s[ii] speech. In the speech, Mondlane asserts that Afrikan liberation in its totality was misguided as the proponents of Afrikan Freedom were only interested in getting rid of white domination ( see also Saul 2014: 18).

In summarising the above concept in this new book, Saul (2014) suggest that  that Afrikan liberation struggles “made   something of a mockery of the decades of liberation struggle that had once seemed to promise” egalitarian rule. Let’s look at other perspectives expressed on this new book.

Recreation of Colonial Structures

Apart from stating the lack of a particular, constructive and far-reaching liberation objectives in general terms, the book indicates factors that led to the ‘half-baked’ liberation in the postcolonial/post-apartheid Southern Afrika.

With an inclination to the Marxist school of thought, and his (Saul’s) literary predecessors such as Marx & Engels (1848), Fanon (1963), Milliband (1969), Rodney (1972) to name a few,  this new book suggests that leaders in the ‘postcolonial’ and ‘post-apartheid’ Southern Afrikan States bought into the neoliberal capitalist society structures.

This is exemplified in its presentation of the creation of regional economic and political elite groups, and the intermediary role played by the State apparatus. He clarifies his point by echoing Fanon’s articulations in the Wretched of the Earth. Saul (2014) thus reminds the reader:

The national middle class discovers its historic mission: that of the intermediary. Seen through its eyes, its mission has nothing to do with transforming the nation; it consists, prosaically, of being the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant through camouflaged, which today puts on the masque of neocolonialism [recolonization] (Fanon 1963 in Saul 2014: 92)

He acknowledges the realities of “Globalisation” that has worked in recent decades to supplant the previous saliency of “conventional”, more western and “nationally-rooted” imperialists and colonists’ tenets. Important to notice is the fact that his use of the word “Globalisation” carries more than just the simplistic meaning, that is ‘global market.

The book employs this word to express relational features of world economics between countries. Hence the inclusion of how the “Empire of Capital” working through the international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), furthers the intermediate exploitative relations in the capitalist elitist states.

This scenario, according to Saul (2014) is present in the Global North, the Global South as well as the emerging economic and somewhat political networks from India, China and Japan etc. In the equation, Southern Afrikan state apparatus only supports the furtherance of neoliberalising capitalist market-led policies and in turn meet their selfish economic and political ambitions.

The Ramifications of the Southern Afrikan ‘Half-baked’ Liberation

In Saul (2011), it is suggested that Afrikan liberation forerunners, in general, took on “hate of colonialism” as the basis on which they opposed the “colonial structure [in order] to establish a new social structure” Saul (2011). But apparently, they lacked ideas as to what organisational structure would be effective:

“…some [liberation fighters knew] and had ideas, but [these were] rather theoretical notions that were themselves transformed in the struggle […] process of recolonization in Southern Afrika [has proved to be] anti-climactic in its essence and humanly damaging in the extreme”.

This book illustrates different social restlessness, mass social movements, and corporate impunity recorded in most Southern Afrikan countries. These are describes as both ‘potential’ socioeconomic and political “ticking time-bomb” and ‘effective’ “counter-hegemonic” activities. The responsibility lies in the hands in the social, political and “economic choices” made by the State actors.

Some Critical Perspectives on the Book

Overall, this book serves as a rather shallow ‘tester’ in starting to understand the sociopolitical and economic discourses in the Southern Afrikan region. It gives the reader, a far too ‘simplified’ view of what political complexities have been at play, especially in South Afrika, from the 1960s to 1990.

In reading this book, the following points needed more clarification:

  1. The seeming shortening of South Afrikan apartheid era: this book only covers the 1960 – 1990 timeframe. This is not the South Afrikan apartheid era in its entirety. The process that led to the South Afrikan apartheid process, including the Namibian genocide, started in 1652. This was established by the first Dutch settlement at the Cape led by Jan van Riebeeck. The Bantu contestation, known as the Kaffir war followed 127 later in 1779 with subsequent coloureds movement restriction in 1809.[iii]
  2. Every writer has a bias but… some of the biases expressed in Saul (2014) on early phases of Afrikan ‘modern’ leadership are overzealously stated. Specifically, the reference to Mwalimu[iv] Nyerere’s Ujamaa’s policies as well as well as the support given to Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, terming the latter as “villainous”.
  3. Even though in different sections of the book Saul (2014) agrees with a number of writers on the successes of the Ujamaa policies, he however, finds “authoritarian” elements in different aspects of decisions and steps that were taken in implementing Ujamaa as a social, political and economic discourse. The book does not explain the Tanzanian context or try to understand reasons for such decisions as were made.
  4. The subjective manner in which some sections of this book are written, may expresses how the subjects of the imperialist metropole dislike decisions made by the would be Afrikan nation-states.


Saul (2014) gives a sense that even though independence in the Southern Afrika was important and long overdue, Afrikan leaders had no right to an independent decision as to what social, political and economic path suited their context. The only leaders who deserved the Western endorsement were those who subscribed to the colonists’ prescribed social, political and economic structures. Some of Afrikan liberation forerunners, such as Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Eduardo Mondlane, and Thomas Sankara etc. ended in tragic or unexplained deaths.

Indeed! Southern Afrika is still poor and living the “unfulfilled dreams and unrealized possibilities”. Saul (2014) poses a question as to whether there is any hope that Afrika will be able to produce its own black capitalist society. This is just one side of the question coin!

The other side is: when will the Western imperial-capitalist patrons let Afrika decide its own destiny? …and yet another: when will Afrikan leaders grow-up and realise it is that time to prove the Western ‘benevoluntourist’ critics wrong?

Further Readings

[i] Saul, John 2011: Liberation Lite: The Roots of Recolonisation in Southern Afrika; Afrika World Press, New Jersey – USA

[ii] Eduardo Mondlane was an educator, a nationalist, and the leader of the Mozambique independence movement Frente de Libertacao de Mocambique (FRELIMO). In 1969 Mondlane was killed by a bomb which had been disguised as a notebook and sent to him by unknown assassins. Information accessed at:

[iii] Racism and Apartheid in Southern Afrika, South Afrika and Namibia: A book of data based on material prepared by the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The UNESCO Press, Paris 1974. Accessed at:

[iv] Teacher in KiSwahili


This entry was posted on Jan 15, 2016 by in Politics & Democracy, Self-determination & Liberties.

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