Anarchism in Africa

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Anarchism in Africa refers both to purported anarchic political organisation of some traditional African societies and to modern anarchist movements in Africa.

"Anarchic elements" in traditional cultures[edit]

Sam Mbah and I. E. Igariwey in African Anarchism: The History of a Movement make the claim that:

To a greater or lesser extent, all of [...] traditional African societies manifested "anarchic elements" which, upon close examination, lend credence to the historical truism that governments have not always existed. They are but a recent phenomenon and are, therefore, not inevitable in human society. While some "anarchic" features of traditional African societies existed largely in past stages of development, some of them persist and remain pronounced to this day.[1]

The reason why traditional African societies are characterised as possessing "anarchic elements" is because of their relatively horizontal political structure and, in some cases, the absence of classes. In addition to that, the leadership of elders normally did not extend into the kinds of authoritative structures which characterise the modern state. A strong value was, however, placed on traditional and "natural" values. For example, although there were no laws against rape, homicide, and adultery, a person committing those acts would be persecuted together with his or her kin. The principle of collective responsibility was sometimes upheld.

Class systems had already existed in some African civilisations (such as Nubia, Egypt, Axum and the Hausa Kingdoms) for millennia, but processes of social stratification accelerated from the fifteenth century onwards.

Modern anarchist movements[edit]


After the 2001 Black Spring in Kabylie, anarchist organisers have been able to create a moderately sized anarchist community in the town of Barbacha.


The anarchist movement first emerged in Egypt in the late nineteenth century, but collapsed in the 1940s.[2] The movement has reemerged in the early 2010s.

The movement re-entered global view when a number of anarchist groups took part in the 2011 Egyptian revolution, namely the Egyptian Libertarian Socialist Movement and Black Flag.[3] The Egyptian anarchists have come under attack from the military regime and the Muslim Brotherhood.[4][5][6] On October 7, 2011, the Egyptian Libertarian Socialist Movement held their first conference in Cairo.[7]


The Nigerian anarchist movement emerged in the early 1990s, with the establishment of the anarcho-syndicalist Awareness League.

South Africa[edit]

Anarchism dates back to the 1880s in South Africa, when the English anarchist immigrant Henry Glasse settled in Port Elizabeth in the then Cape Colony.[8] Anarchists played a role in the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), established in Cape Town in 1904 and open to socialists of all persuasions. The first specifically anarchist organisations was the revolutionary syndicalist International Socialist League (ISL), founded in Johannesburg in 1915. It went on to establish branches across much of South Africa, excluding the western Cape where the anarchists split from the SDF to form the Industrial Socialist League (IndSL).[9] By mutual agreement, the IndSL operated in the western Cape, while the ISL operated in the rest of the country. The IndSL and the ISL would go on to organise the first trade union among workers of colour in South Africa, the Industrial Workers of Africa (IWA), modelled on the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Swept up in the atmosphere created by what at the time appeared to be a victorious worker revolution in Russia in 1917, the ISL and the IndSL dissolved into the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) at the latter's founding in 1921, providing many notable early figures until the Comintern ordered the expulsion of the syndicalist faction in the party. Unaligned syndicalists like Percy Fisher were active in the miners' 1922 Rand Rebellion, a general strike-turned-insurrection, and strongly opposed the racism of a large sector of the white strikers. The IWA meanwhile merged into the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union (ICU) in 1920, one reason the ICU exhibited syndicalist influence.[10]

The anarchist movement in South Africa only re-emerged in the early 1990s with the establishment of small anarchist collectives in Durban and Johannesburg. The Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM) was founded in 1993. It was succeeded by the more tightly organised Workers' Solidarity Federation (WSF) in 1995. As opposed to the looser ARM, the WSF was in the tradition of platformism. In 1999, for a range of reasons, the WSF dissolved. It was succeeded by the Bikisha Media Collective (BMC) and Zabalaza Books. These two books co-produced Zabalaza: A Journal of Southern African Revolutionary Anarchism and were active in the Anti-Privatisation Forum.[9]

In 2003, the platformist Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (ZACF, or ZabFed) was founded, drawing in the BMC and Zabalaza Books (whose Zabalaza journal became the journal of the ZACF) as well as a number of other collectives that had been set up in Soweto and Johannesburg, including a local chapter of the Anarchist Black Cross. In 2007, in order to strengthen its structures, ZabFed reconstituted itself as the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF, or ZabFront). The new ZACF is a unitary "federation of individuals", as opposed to a federation of collectives like ZabFed, and has recently also come under the influence of especifismo, a tendency which originated within the Federación Anarquista Uruguaya (FAU, or Uruguayan Anarchist Federation). While committed to promoting syndicalism in the unions, ZACF work was in practice largely focused on the so-called "new social movements", formed in South Africa in response to the perceived failures of the African National Congress (ANC) government post-apartheid.[11] The ZACF was involved in the campaigns of the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) and the Landless People's Movement (LPM). It has also been involved in solidarity work with Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign.[12] In addition to such work, the ZACF is active in organising workshops and propaganda.

Anarchist organisations in Africa[edit]

  • International Socialist League (South Africa), 1915–1921
  • Industrial Workers of Africa (South Africa), 1917–1920
  • Industrial Socialist League (South Africa), 1918–1921
  • Awareness League (Nigeria), 1990s–Present
  • Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (South Africa), 1993–1995
  • Workers' Solidarity Federation (Southern Africa), 1995–1999
  • Bikisha Media Collective (South Africa), 1999–2007
  • Zabalaza Books (South Africa), 1999–2007
  • South African chapter of the Anarchist Black Cross, 2002–2007
  • Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (Southern Africa), 2003–2007
  • Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (Southern Africa), 2007–Present
  • Black Flag (Egypt), 2010s–Present
  • Libertarian Socialist Movement (Egypt), 2011–Present

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mbah, Sam; Igariwey, I. E. (1997). African Anarchism: The History of a Movement. Sharp Press. p. 32. ISBN 1-884365-05-1.
  2. ^ Gorman, Anthony (2010). ""Diverse in Race, Religion and Nationality...But United in Aspirations of Civil Progress": The Anarchist Movement in Egypt, 1860–1940". In Hirsch, Steven & van der Walt, Lucien (eds.). Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1870-1940: The Praxis of National Liberation, Internationalism, and Social Revolution. Brill Publishers. pp. 3–31. ISBN 978-9004188-49-5.
  3. ^ "Egypt unrest: Interview with an Egyptian anarchist". Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  4. ^ "Egyptian Anarchists and Revolutionary Socialists under attack". Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  5. ^ "An Egyptian anarchist on the renewed revolution in Egypt - Workers Solidarity Movement". Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  6. ^ FEATURES: Anarchists: Preferably Stateless Archived in 2013.
  7. ^ Anarchist: First Conference of Egypt's Libertarian Socialists (2011)
  8. ^ Nettlau, Max (1996). A Short History of Anarchism. London: Freedom Press. p. 262.
  9. ^ a b South African Struggle Archives (c. 2000). "Anarchism, revolutionary syndicalism and anti-authoritarian movements in South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland". Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  10. ^ van der Walt, Lucien (2011). "Anarchism and syndicalism in an African port city: the revolutionary traditions of Cape Town's multiracial working class, 1904–1931". Labor History. Routledge. 52 (2): 137–171. doi:10.1080/0023656x.2011.571464.
  11. ^ ZACF. "What is the ZACF?". Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  12. ^ CNT (2011). "Zabalaza: A Voice for Organised Anarchism in South Africa" (PDF). CNT. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 2 August 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Anarchism and Revolutionary Syndicalism in South Africa, 1904-1921" by Lucien van der Walt
  • "Military Dictatorship and the State in Africa" by Sam Mbah and I. E. Igariwey, an anarchist critique of the African military dictatorships.
  • "African Anarchism: The History of a Movement" by Sam Mbah and I. E. Igariwey [1]

External links[edit]