Organizing to Disorganize so we can Reorganize

The past week the eSwatini Institute of Alternative Ideas hosted guests from different countries to share experiences from their own struggles and revolutions. Among the guests was Mostafa El-Sayed Hussin, an Egyptian born journalist and social justice activist now exiled in Norway.

Hussin shared his experiences on organising and how the gains of the Egyptian uprising were reversed two years after the revolution. He also shared an insight on what is currently unfolding in Tunisia. My biggest take away from his insights was an acknowledgement that one of the reasons the Egyptian revolution failed is that prior and during the revolution they failed to form an organization in order to guide the masses and defend the gains of the uprising post the revolution.

Another interesting perspective came from Tererai Obey Sithole, an MDC Alliance Youth Chairperson. He shared experiences from the #Tajamuka (we are fed up), #ThisFlag and #July31Movement. Amongst other things, Sithole told us how the army stole the people's moment and subsequently installed current Zimbabwean President, Emerson D Mnangagwa. 

A few days later the institute was able to host Commissar Godrich Gardee who is currently Head of International Relations of the Economic Freedom Fighters South Africa. Commissar Gardee schooled us about the power of organisations and how revolutions are not a product of social media popularity but direct face-to-face contact with the people.

The Institute had to bring in Youth Activist and lawyer Joseph Busega from Zambia and Deputy Minister of Information and Communications in Namibia Emma Theofelus to draw lessons for the nascent struggle of eSwatini.

Busenga gave us a detailed account of how the youth organised to outvote Edgar Lungu in Zambia and Theofelus gave us an insider account of the struggle for the youth and women to controls and steer the direction of the Namibian revolution as led by the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO).

The central theme in all these discussions are lessons for our country on what led to the failure of the Egyptian revolution, why the EFF is able to fill stadiums after stadiums during rallies and why the removal of Robert Mugabe did not lead to fundamental change in Zimbabwe.

All these discussions were more educational in our context because we are dealing with a different phenomenon where people do not understand the power of organisations to wage any revolution. In fact, others get irritated at the mere mention of organisations (political parties, trade unions or civil society) all they want to hear is what does our MP want to say.

The discussion by Gardee was welcome because there has been a romanticisation that individuals, in this case our MP´s, are the be it and all of the revolution and can do miracles on their own. On the other side of the pendulum, there are those who mistakenly think political parties are jealous of the popularity of our MP´s and, to use Bheki Makhubu's words, have 'hijacked the struggle'.

The corrosive toxicity of Tinkhundla individualism is forcefully being parachuted as the way to go in our struggle. In the words of Canadian Diaspora convener, Hleli Luhlanga, Individualism serves to isolate and violently crush political dissent. She went on to claim that the 'individual politics' and 'doing it alone' is a product of if not an affirmation of the 1973 decree. 

We are here today because Tinkhundla hates people working in unity for a common goal. To replicate this politics is to perpetuate the very ideology we trying to roll back. 

Others think the emphasis on being organized means joining political parties or forming one. All these things miss the point. The #FeesMustFall movement in South Africa is an example of a social movement that organically emerged out of student struggles and managed to bring together students from different political formations to fight for a common goal. 

We must refuse the temptation of unfairly demanding all answers from our MP’s. They can only go so far as individuals no matter how well meaning they can be. Commissar Gardee made this point very clear. He was emphatic that organizing a revolution needs a collective effort.

You cannot be an organizer, underground operative and international lobbyist at the same time. No struggle has ever been won by individuals without an organisation backing them. 

In fact, this open refusal to work within a collective is an express admission that we still affirm Tinkhundla 'anti organisation' ideology. This is a discourse we must reject because it perpetuates Tinkhundla ideology in subtle ways.

Perhaps the starting point is to ask Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, aka Bobi Wine, on lessons on organisations as being the bedrock for any successful revolution. 

Bobi Wine thought his popularity owing to music would win him votes in Uganda but he learned the hard lesson that organisations are the alpha and omega in any revolution. After taking counsel from other social justice activists across the world he joined NUP in 2020 and became President and then successfully contested national elections where he came impressively second.

This is a lesson Julius Malema understood very early and Mamphele Ramphele found out very late. The result is that Malema’s EFF is celebrating eight years and Ramphele’s Agang fizzled out. Malema spent time forming EFF and Ramphele thought she would rely on her academic prowess, charisma and good PR she was getting in the media.

We must go back to Kwame Ture for lessons on organizing and mobilizing. Ture teaches us that we must make clear distinctions between mobilizers and organizers. To be an organizer you must be a mobilizer but being a mobilizer does not make you an organizer. Ture gives the example of Malcolm X whom he recognizes as a great mobilizer and organizer but says Martin Luther King, on the other hand, was a great mobilizer but not a great organizer.

When Malcolm went to a place, he left a mosque. When King went to demonstrations, he broke down segregation and he moved on. As a matter of fact, King was not concerned with organization to the point that even though he was the most popular Baptist preacher in America and beyond the shadow of a doubt the most loved, yet he could not become president of the National Baptist Convention because he could not organize.

Ture goes further to teach the difference between mobilization and organization. One of the characteristics of mobilization is that it is temporary yet an organization is permanent and eternal. Clear differences must be made because the unconscious can usually be captured easily around one issue item but it’s hard to capture them around organization. But this unconscious must be brought to an organization.

He continues: “We must transform mobilization to organization. We say the enemy will try to use mobilization to demobilize us. Many brothers and sisters who’ve been to the million and more marches will say to you, ‘I was there.’ Well what are you doing today my sister? ‘I was there. There weren’t too many sisters out there, but you know with a million brothers you know where I had to be. I was there.’ Yes, and then of course you find brothers, ‘I was there, I was there.’ What are you doing today brother? If we’re not careful, we allow mobilization to become an event. The struggle is never an event it’s a process, a continual eternal process

This is a lesson those who are anti organisations need to learn very quickly. The struggle must never rely on the brilliance of individuals because we are all fallible and can be exhausted, bought, imprisoned or even killed in the long run. Even those who mistakenly claim Mandela was a face of Anti-Apartheid miss the fact that this was a concerted effort of an organisation he was a member of.

Had Mandela been a lone ranger the world would have probably forgotten about him two years into his jail term. I must emphasise again that this does not mean at all that our MP’s must form or join a party but they must accept the collective discipline of organisations. Being a loose individual operating outside of a collective will become taxing 12 months from today. 

The advantage with an organization is that it gives political players mandates and allows our leaders to derive the authority to do and speak things for the collective. Organisations also create systems where leaders account politically and financially to some structure(s). Even better, leaders’ ideas are able to be carried way beyond where the leadership is presently situated. 

It is for that reason that during our discussion with  Gardee he never made responses and contributions personal by using the pronoun “I” but he would consistently say “we” to denote the importance of speaking for a collective.

We must therefore build the democracy we yearn for now. Accountability and building strong institutions are the lifeblood of democracy hence without organizations it is very difficult to account for our actions or lack thereof.

Those of us who raise warning signals about the posture of some of our MP's must not be shouted down as jealous or divisive. As we continue to wage our struggle from the clutches of the Tinkundla royal minority we must inculcate the culture of robust debates and discussions without fear or favour. 

With that said, we must also be alive to the realities that once there is more than one school of thought, disagreements are inevitable. No matter how much we wish for everything to be smooth reality says things will not go as we wish.

We can never escape the telling lessons and experiences from other countries and ours is to make sure that the enemy camp does not capitalize and exploit these fault lines to derail our course.

As a parting shot I must warn that for revolution to succeed we must have a war room where we plan, monitor and evaluate programs and not depend on the system to score own goals on which we then capitalize on. This is not sustainable. 

Liberation will not be an accident of history, it ought to be a logical result of deliberate planning and coordination. That is where organisations come in with clearly defined programs and action plans.