Above (from left)::
Karl Marx in Angola, 1974
Inkjet print on cotton paper : 800 x 600 mm : edition 10 : 2009

A Luta Continua
Adapted Fang mask, epoxy, industrial foam, enamel paint, nails, string, warthog ivory : 520 x 360 x 400 mm : 2009
Univeristy of the Witwatersrand Art Collection

A Luta Continua

Comprising individual works manifest across sculpture, photography and text-based conceptualism, this body of work continues my investigations into the ongoing ramifications of imperialism on the African continent, by attempting to charter the expansion of Marxist theory from the Western, historical centers of Capitalism outwards to the staggering variety of Marxist socio-economic experiments conducted within the contemporary Third World context – specifically sub-saharan Africa. Of particular focus is the manifestation of Marxist influence within the sphere of the Namibian War of independence (1966-1989), a definitively Cold War exercise that saw the various influences of Angola, Cuba, the Soviet Union, South Africa and the United States of America engaged in a protracted military conflict based almost exclusively on ideological grounds. The machinations of this ideological conflict are then grafted to the macro view of the role of Marxist ideology on African nation-states post-Independence coupled with the resurgence of Marxist doctrine in the face of the current global economic collapse.

For the exhibition of A Luta Continua – translated as The Struggle Continues from Portuguese – a tripartheid relationship between fictional object, the staged photographic documentation of the mask in context and the sincere text-based conceptualism, mimics the relational dynamics present in the normative museological means of displaying traditional African art objects; usually with photographic documentation of the mask in performance / contextual framing, coupled with the object itself (in this case a fictional mask) removed from this documented context and offered as a largely visual commodity.

 

TREATMENT / OUTLINE –

“A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality.”

– Karl Marx; Das Kapital; Vol. I; Chap. 7; Pt. 1

 

“[Africa is] not about to throw off one colonial yoke for another.”

– General Olusegun Obasanjo, current President of Nigeria referring to communisim in an address to the OAU, Sudan, 1978

 

“In Africa there is greater danger that newly granted independence may turn out to be but a brief interlude between the rule of colonialism and the harsh dictatorship of international communism.”

– John Foster Dulles, 1958

 

“Disney has something do with the future. It's a virtual space, not unlike the Acropolis. The Disney characters, the environment, the aesthetic are so refined, the relationships so perfect. It's the invention of a world. A Shangri-La that is directly connected to a political agenda, a type of prison that you are seduced into visiting.”

– Paul McCarthy quoted in: Reimschneider, B. & grosenick, U.; Art Now; Taschen G.m.b.H.; Koln; 2001

 

"Owners of capital will stimulate working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalised, and State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism.”

– Karl Marx, Das Kaptial, 1867

 

“If governments “are not in a position to show that we can create a social order for the world in which such crises do not take place”, warns German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “then we’ll face stronger questions as to whether this is really the right economic system.””

– German Chancellor Angela Merkel quoted by Peter Gumbel; Rethinking Marx; Time Magazine; 2 February 2009; p. 41

 

During the nineteen fifties and sixties the vast majority of former European colonies in Africa achieved their independence from their erstwhile "mother countries." Viewed continentally, this can be said to have dated from 1952, when the Free Officers Movement of Egypt ousted King Farouk and created a Republic. South of the Sahara, the first African State to achieve independence was Ghana, known as the Gold Coast during the colonial period, whose first independent Prime Minister was Kwame Nkrumah, who led his fellow Ghanaians to freedom in 1957. From 1958-1961 a spate of other territories followed suit, seeking to disengage from the rule of Britain, France, Spain and Belgium. Yet there were holdouts. The Portuguese-ruled colonies of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, and the white-minority ruled South Africa were among exceptions to the pattern of "decolonization" which had been set in motion during 1960, "Africa year" when British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan declared that "the winds of change are blowing across the African continent." South Africa, Portugal and in 1965 the small but minerally-rich polity of Southern Rhodesia made clear their opposition to African majority rule, and showed a willingness to use violence to prevent this from occurring. While most Africans would have preferred not to have to resort to the expedient of taking up arms, the example of the bloody Algerian Revolution against French minority rule was still fresh in many minds by the early nineteen sixties. Starting in 1960, an uprising occurred in Angola against Portuguese rule. This took shape four years after the founding of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, whose Portuguese acronym was MPLA. Later on in that decade similar movements arose in Guinea-Bissau, the PAIGC, (Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) and the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo). 1960 was also the year that the armed struggle began in earnest in South Africa, under the auspices of the African National Congress and its rival, the Pan-Africanist Congress. By 1965, with Southern Rhodesia's UDI or Unilateral Declaration of Independence, Africans seeking a voice in Rhodesian politics gravitated to the Zimbabwe African People's Union and later, its own schismatic rival, the Zimbabwe African National Union. By the late sixties, both groups would mount military wings which took to the bush to fight against Rhodesia's brutal security forces. The nineteen sixties in Southern Africa, therefore, became synonymous with the era of liberation wars or armed struggle.

– from the Collection of David H. Anthony, University of California Santa Cruz, 2002

 

“Why are most Africans in Sub-Saharan Africa getting poorer while most people in the rest of the world are becoming better off? In its seminal study, Can Africa Claim the 21st Century? the World Bank made the following observations about Sub-Saharan Africa: "Despite gains in the second half of the 1990s, Sub-Saharan Africa (Africa) enters the 21st century with many of the world's poorest countries. Average per capita income is lower than at the end of the 1960s. Incomes and access to essential services are unequally distributed. The region contains a growing share of the world's absolute poor, who have little power to influence the allocation of resources.

All modern schools of political thought, from Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin on the left to Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman on the right, are agreed on at least one thing: the private sector is the driver of modern economic development. In a quest for greater security and comfort, the theory goes, private individuals and their households are driven to seek more and more material wealth. This process in turn compels these private individuals to produce more and more, and exchange what they produce with other individuals who are also seeking greater security and comfort. The sum total of these acts of production, exchange and consumption constitute the modern capitalist economy. The capitalist economy is therefore inherently driven to produce more and more, so that its denizens may get greater and greater security and comfort. For the private individuals to produce more and better, they must generate savings that they plough back into the production process as new and improved techniques, processes and products. This enables them to constantly produce more, better and diverse products capable of exchange with other private individuals who are doing the same.

This is the inexorable logic of capital accumulation. The more you produce the more you must produce, the cheaper you must produce and the better products you must produce, because if you do not, others who are seeking greater security and comfort will displace you in the marketplace and you will therefore suffer reduced security and comfort. The key words of this system are therefore production, exchange, markets, savings, improved techniques (research and development), medium of exchange (money), and economic growth. Africans are no different from other human beings in the quest for security and comfort. However, the great majority of Africans are today experiencing the opposite; less security and comfort, hunger, homelessness, violence and starvation on a daily basis.

Africa, however, has arguably one of the largest private sectors in the world today. Most Africans live and work in private households that populate the African countryside. Theoretically, if we refer to the model described above, Africa should be a hive of economic activity and growth driven by the logic of these private individuals and households attempting to maximize their security and comfort. What has gone wrong? In the model described above, the underlying assumption is that private individuals are free to pursue their search for security and comfort and they, therefore, own and control the means of achieving their objectives. They are assumed to be free to exchange what they produce without hindrance and that where they are able to make savings, they are free to retain those savings and plough them back in improved techniques or in other investment avenues as they may wish.

This is not the case with the private sector in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is predominantly made up of peasants and subsidiaries of foreign-owned multinational corporations. Neither of these two groups have the complete freedom to operate in the marketplace because they are both politically dominated by others - non-producers who control the state. Herein lies the weakness of the private sector in Africa that explains its inability to become the engine of economic development. Africa's private sector lacks political power and is, therefore, not free to operate to maximize its objectives. Above all, it is not free to decide what happens to its savings. Let us start with the situation of Africa's peasants.
According to Marx, peasants are not able to form an independent political force that can represent their interests; they are therefore open to exploitation by other social groups that dominate them politically. Africa’s peasants are prey to the forces that have the ability to form political organization and therefore control the state.

Fundamentally, the political elite uses its control of the state to extract the surplus or savings that if the peasant were free to retain, they would have invested in improving their production techniques or diversify into other economic activities. Through marketing boards, taxation systems and the like, the political elite diverts these savings to finance its own consumption and strengthening of the repressive instruments of state. The Economist on July 17 made the following observation about Ethiopia's dependence on foreign food donations: "By law, all Ethiopian land is owned by the state. Farmers are loath to invest in improving productivity when they have no title to the land they till. Nor can they use land as collateral to raise credit. And they are taxed so heavily that they rarely have any surplus cash to invest."

A great deal of what Africa's political elites and states consume is however not produced locally but rather imported. This does not create a significant market for African producers but instead acts as a major drain on national savings that would therwise have gone into productive investment in Africa. This is the secret to Africa's growing impoverishment, despite its large private sector. The more the African political elites consolidate their power, the more they strengthen their hold over the state, the more the peasants are likely to become poorer, and the more the African economies are likely to regress or, at best, mark time.

The most graphic illustrations of this iron law of African underdevelopment is the role the oil industry plays in Africa. Oil revenues make it possible for the political elite to literally become detached from the local population and economy and, therefore, to live in an oasis. When this happens there is therefore no need for the political elite and the state it controls to invest in mass education, health care, housing and transportation infrastructure that the population at large needs. Everything thus goes into a state of decay, except of course for the welfare of the political elite and the repressive machinery of the state. Nigeria provides a good example of this phenomenon. The number of Nigerians living below the poverty line increased from 19-million in 1970 to 90-million in 2000. This was accompanied by a massive rise in inequality. In 1970 the top 2% of the population earned the same income as the bottom 17% but by 2000, the income of the top 2% was equal to that of the bottom 55%.”

Karl Marx Haunts Africa by Moeletsi Mbeki, published by africanexecutive.comMichael MacGarry

REFERENCES –

 
  Karl Heinrich Marx
1818 - 1883
 
 
 

Film still from: Fitzcarraldo
Directed by Werner Herzog, 1982

 

 
 
 

Two Soviet An-26 pilots, Capt. Mollaeb Kola (in the centre) and Lt. Ivan Chernitsky (in the truck), captured by the UNITA in 1980

 
 
  Member of MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), a predominantly Marxist freedom movement.  
   
  Film still from: Lord of the Flies
Directed by Harry Hook, 1990
 
   
  Members of the South African Defense Force ‘32’ Battalion in Omuthiya, northern Namibia (then South West Africa), 1981  
Michael MacGarry, contemporary African art, African art, contemporary art, Africa, sculpture