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(en) anarkismo.net: ZACF Reply to the Misrepresentation of the ZACF by American Journalists and on the Schmidt Affair - II.(2/2) - Detailed contents
Mon, 22 Feb 2016 11:44:14 +0200
The Detailed CONTENTS: ---- **SECTION 1: THE ZACF, AN AFRICAN REVOLUTIONARY CLASS-STRUGGLE
ANARCHIST / SYNDICALIST FORMATION ---- *1A. ZACF: Politics, Record and the Black Working
Class Revolution ---- *1B. Locating ZACF in Southern Africa's Radical “Humanism” and
Revolutionary Non-Racialism ---- *1C. Online Resources on the ZACF ---- **SECTION 2:
ANARKISMO & ZACF POSITIONS ON THE MICHAEL SCHMIDT ISSUE SO FAR ---- *2A. Overview of the
2015 Controversy over Michael Schmidt ---- *2B. How Anarkismo and ZACF Intervened at the
Start of the Michael Schmidt Controversy ---- *2C. A Proposed Anarchist/ Syndicalist
Commission into the Charges against Schmidt in 2016 ---- *2D. FACT: ZACF Questioned
Schmidt When Similar Allegations were made from 2011 Onwards ---- *2E. FACT: ZACF has Not
Yet Taken a Position For or Against Schmidt in 2015/ 2016
**SECTION 3: GRAVE CONCERNS WITH REID ROSS & STEPHENS' ACCOUNT OF ZACF
*3A. A Summary of Reid Ross & Stephens’ Inaccurate Claims about ZACF
*3B. FACT: The ZACF Never Considered any Proposal for “Segregation,” Argued Instead for a
Black Working Class Focus, in 2003
*3C. FACT: The ZACF Never “Purged” Township Groups or Members
*3D. FACT: ZACF Mass Work in Motsoaledi, Soweto as Against Reid Ross & Stephens'
Disrespect for Comrade Nyalungu and PMCP/ BAG
*3E. FACT: ZACF Spending and ZACF Democracy
*3F. FACT: The 2007 ZACF Congress Aimed to Rebuild the ZACF Presence in the Black Working
*3G. FACT: The ZACF (and Schmidt) Rejected Schmidt's “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …”
Document in 2008
*3H. FACT: The Revolutionary Politics of “Black Flame”
*3I. FACT: Dispelling the Myth of a ZACF Debate on the “Recruitment of People of Colour”
and of ZACF Becoming “Increasingly Open”
*3J. FACT: Claims that Schmidt Allegedly Voted FF+ were Never Ignored
*3K. FACT: Dispelling the Myth of a ZACF Debate on the “Inclusion of Feminism,” 2009-2010
*3L. FACT: Dispelling the Myth of a Debate on Working with “Collectives with Ideological
**SECTION 4: METHODOLOGY: SOME REASONS FOR THE PROBLEMS IN REID ROSS & STEPHENS' ZACF RESEARCH
*4A. Extraordinarily Narrow Data Collection, which Silenced ZACF, African and Black Anarchists
*4B. A Selective Use of Evidence and Leading the Witness
*4C. The Need to Distinguish Direct Witness Testimony, Second-hand Information and Opinion
*4D. Research Problems with Excessively Using Anonymous Sources
*4E. Fact-Checking Controlled by the Authors
*4F. Was Such Extensive Anonymity Really Required?
*4G. Time Constraints Do Not Explain the Mistakes
*4H. The Lack of a Proper Editorial or Peer-Review Process
**SECTION 5: THEORETICAL FRAMING: SOME REASONS FOR THE PROBLEMS IN REID ROSS & STEPHENS'
*5A. Authoritarian Nationalism and Colonial Reason: The Roots of Anti-Left Arguments
*5B. The Unknown Country: Reading South Africa off the USA and Western Europe
**SECTION 6: POLITICAL ISSUES IN THE AFFAIR - AND HOW A BETTER ANARCHISM IS POSSIBLE
*6A. For a Constructive Debate, Against Sectarianism
*6B. The Importance of Consistent Principles: The Double Standards of Personal Security in
the Schmidt Affair
*6C. The AK Press Connection: Also Guilty
*6D. The North/ South Dynamics of the Schmidt Affair
**SECTION 1: THE ZACF, AN AFRICAN REVOLUTIONARY CLASS-STRUGGLE ANARCHIST / SYNDICALIST
*1A. ZACF: Politics, Record and the Black Working Class Revolution
The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF, or “Zabalaza”) is a small anarchist /
syndicalist organisation in South Africa, dating back to 2003. It has a long history of
militant work and publication, a majority black and working class composition, and
connections in neighbouring countries. It was formed on May Day 2003 by independent
collectives involved in student, anti-privatisation and township struggles. In line with
its founding documents, the ZACF Constitution and Position Papers, the ZACF opposes all
forms of oppression, including racial domination, national oppression, imperialism, the
oppression of women and immigrants, and capitalism and the state (
ZACF analyses South African capitalism as based on the exploitation of cheap black labour,
a system that was entrenched by the apartheid National Party (NP) from 1948, but deeply
rooted in prior processes of British imperial conquest and monopoly capitalism.
While describing the democratic breakthrough of 1994 as a “massive victory” against white
supremacy, the ZACF insists that only a massive redistribution of land, power and wealth
can end the apartheid legacy and ongoing cheap labour system. This requires ongoing
struggle, with the black working class (including the poor and unemployed) identified as
“the agent of revolutionary change” and true “national liberation”– and the defeat of
black and white elites, and of the state (
http://zabalaza.net/2010/11/28/fighting-and-defeating-racism-zacf/). This would include a
campaign of land, mine, office and factory occupations, collectivisation and self-management.
(Note that “black” in South African political, legal and ZACF discourse includes all
people of colour historically oppressed by apartheid and colonialism in South Africa:
Asians, “Coloureds” and black Africans).
The ZACF has no interest in organising South Africa’s historically white suburbs, its aim
being the building of a black anarchist cadre based in the workplace and in the townships.
We do not fight to change the colour of exploiters, but to end all exploitation and
domination. The genuine liberation of the mass of people is impossible within the
framework of capitalism and the state, with their inherent inequalities, crisis, war,
distorted development and central role in generating national, racial, imperial and other
forms of oppression. This certainly does not mean that such oppression can be reduced to
the effects of capitalism and the state, but it does mean that such oppression can only be
fully overcome through their abolition.
We do not aim at a “patriotic capitalism,” or a new capitalist growth path, but at
breaking the mechanisms of discrimination, humiliation and oppression that keep working
and poor people on bended knees before bosses and politicians through struggle. All
reforms won from below, that improve conditions and empower “ordinary” people, are valuable.
But revolution requires using immediate struggles to build the organised capacity and
popular radicalism, and united and internationalist working class (broadly understood, not
just manual workers or the employed) and poor and peasantry essential to revolution. This
is partly why ZACF opposes the formation of “separate” organisations and structures based
on gender, race, nationality and other lines
(http://zabalaza.net/2010/10/28/separate-organisations-zacf/) – although we defend
people’s right to do so. We call on our white class brothers and sisters to participate in
the revolution, but on the basis of the anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist
line that alone allows principled working class unity.
The ZACF is not an end in itself, or a brand, but simply a means for serious comrades to
work together in a focused way, with a clear strategy and programme. Of course it has made
mistakes, and of course it has had its successes and setbacks. A truly revolutionary
movement does not work by being all-knowing, but by testing its ideas and methods in
struggle – and by learning from its mistakes and correcting its work.
That being said, ZACF has achieved many good things, operating in a collective way, in
promoting anarchism and syndicalism and the revolutionary struggle in South Africa. The
ZACF has a history of continuous publication, propaganda, education work, and involvement
with unions and social movements in the industrial province of Gauteng (and previously,
also in greater Durban and Swaziland), and a black working class focus, that stands out.
This is not to denigrate other efforts, since we welcome all anarchist and left
initiatives, but simply to place the ZACF in context and set the record straight.
ZACF has published hundreds of pamphlets through the Zabalaza Books project, papers like
“Zabalaza” journal, “Zabalaza News,” “Black Alert,” and “Vuka Motsoaledi.” Its members
have been active in unions, neighbourhood and student activism, and in popular and worker
education, and have played a role not just in South Africa, but in Swaziland and Zimbabwe
as well. ZACF was linked through its Bikisha Media Collective (BMC) to the
Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), a black working class coalition formed in 2000, and
affiliated and played a role in the Coalition Against Xenophobia (CAX) formed in 2008, and
then the Democratic Left Front, formed in 2011; it helped found the Motsoaledi Concerned
Residents (MCR) in 2005, an APF-affiliated community movement in a Soweto squatter camp;
ZACF members have helped run at least two working class libraries and centres; and it has
undertaken serious solidarity work with communities, unions and individuals under attack
or in jail, and campaigns for its own arrested or repressed members. ZACF members and
supporters have also played an important part in the recovery of working class and popular
history, and in union and social movement education in South Africa.
(Please note here that “supporter” in ZACF terms refers to a formally affiliated
“supporter,” a category that exists in the ZACF constitution to cover candidate members,
members on leave and sympathisers who are unable to fully participate in ZACF work).
*1B. Locating ZACF in Southern Africa’s Radical “Humanism” and Revolutionary Non-Racialism
Colonialism, segregation and white minority rule in southern Africa have been met by a
range of responses by oppressed peoples and classes.
ZACF locates itself in the mainstream radical and revolutionary traditions of radical
“humanism” and revolutionary non-racialism, as championed by the majority of progressive
black-led anti-colonial and anti-apartheid nationalists across our region, as well as the
This insists that the fight against national/ racial oppression and narrow-minded bigotry
must be met with “broad humanism,” that seeks to overcome, through genuine material and
political equality, the barriers of race, ethnic group and religion (Walter Sisulu,
July-September 1959, “Congress and the Africanists,” in “Africa South”).
The main dividing line is between those who fight for social justice and radical change,
and those who fight to preserve an inegalitarian and brutal society that oppresses the
majority. This is located in the understanding that there “are no racist peoples, no
colonialist peoples,” but a common struggle “against the colonialists and imperialists who
have no country, a struggle against the exploiters who have no race” (Samora Machel, 1973,
“Women’s Liberation is Essential for Revolution,” in Ben Turok, ed., “Revolutionary
Thought in the Twentieth Century,” IFAA, Johannesburg, p. 166).
So, anyone who genuinely fights the system of exploitation and colonialism is an ally,
regardless of personal background. Rather than reproduce divisions, created by the system,
through separate organisations, or adopt a reverse-chauvinism, or a system the aim is to
build a powerful bloc, or progressive camp, of opposition that fights for, and also
prefigures, a new, just, united society.
The ZACF’s revolutionary anarchism and syndicalism is part of this revolutionary
“humanism” and radical non-racialism, a project that the southern African left has, at its
best, always championed and pioneered. People are united on political, rather than, racial
grounds, but the politics is radical.
Given how some conservative groups have attempted to appropriate “non-racialism,” we must
stress that we are not talking here about a so-called colour-blindness that ignores
racial/ national oppression, or a multi-racialism that gives minorities a veto entrenching
Instead: the approach we are talking about means that social evils like national / racial
oppression can only be ended by radical, egalitarian change in the social system, and
anyone willing to fight these evils, and to fight for these changes, should be welcomed to
the struggle, regardless of colour. At the same time, this humanism and revolutionary
non-racialism is only possible on the basis of a clear programme of abolishing and
uprooting decades, centuries of vicious national/ racial oppression, not just its material
legacies, but all the complexes of superiority and inferiority created by centuries of
colonialism and racism ( http://zabalaza.net/2010/11/28/fighting-and-defeating-racism-zacf/).
And, of course, our vision of what this radical, egalitarian change must involve, as shown
in the last section, is far more radical and thorough-going than that of even the best
nationalists. Further, we do not see the basic feature of the opposition bloc, or
progressive camp, we fight for, in terms of a multi-class “national-democratic” alliance,
but in terms of a revolutionary front of the popular classes, against all forms of oppression.
So, while we are part of a larger tradition here, we are a very distinctive part. Indeed,
we recognise that it was the revolutionary anarchists and syndicalists of the 1900s -1920s
who pioneered the revolutionary humanism and radical non-racialism line in our country –
giants like Bernard Sigamoney, Andrew Dunbar, and T.W. Thibedi – and who insisted in
papers like the “International” and revolutionary syndicalist unions like the Industrial
Workers of Africa, that the removal of all “tyrant” racist laws and oppression was the
“essential step towards the Emancipation of the Working-class in South Africa” (“The
International,” 7 December 1917, “No Labour Movement without the Black Proletariat”).
*1C. Resources on the ZACF
More than one thousand documents, articles, photos and statements by, or about, or
published by, ZACF, and documenting some of its activities, can be found online at
www.zabalaza.net, at www.zabalazabooks.net, at the Southern African Anarchist and
Syndicalist History Archive (SAASHA) at www.saasha.net and on Facebook at
https://www.facebook.com/zabalazanews/ (there are also numerous interviews with and
articles on the ZACF, online elsewhere). ZACF is in contact with thousands of people
through its sites, email, phone, workshops, public events, email lists and publications.
**SECTION 2: ANARKISMO & ZACF POSITIONS ON THE MICHAEL SCHMIDT ISSUE SO FAR
*2A. Overview of the 2015 Controversy over Michael Schmidt
From September-December 2015, the America-based AK Press and the American journalists
Alexander Reid Ross and Joshua Stephens publicly denounced Schmidt. The accusations they
have made are very serious: that Schmidt was secretly affiliated with the radical fascist
right, a white supremacist and an infiltrator in the anarchist movement, from around 2002.
Schmidt is shown to have maintained an active profile in the far-right through
pseudonymous online profiles at several sites, set out to organise far-right groups, and
infiltrated and subverted anarchists – notably the ZACF – including through published
AK Press made the first public announcement of the affair in a statement of 25 September
2015 . These claims were cited by AK Press as grounds to withdraw from publication two
books on anarchism authored or co-authored by Schmidt that they had previously published,
and to cancel some upcoming works (see
https://www.facebook.com/AKPress/posts/10156164515845249 also at
hereafter called  and listed at the end).
The AK Press statement did not provide evidence, but promised that evidence would be
provided by two journalists and stated that AK Press had “helped” these journalists
“investigate further” the matter and “received and compiled” evidence . This was then
followed by five articles (called “chapters”) by Reid Ross and Stephens, and three further
pieces by Reid Ross alone, running from October into February 2016.
Schmidt has replied at length in two statements, one to the initial AK Press announcement,
and one to the five Reid Ross and Stephens articles. The substance of his defence is that
the allegations were at odds with his long record including writings, as a left-wing
union, community and civil rights activist and his social and personal life, and
anarchist-communist commitments. He admitted having fake online personas at far-right
sites, and posting offensive statements through these. But he claimed he did so as an
anarchist infiltrating the right undercover rather than the other way around, to monitor
this sector and do research for media and books (
hereafter called  and listed at the end).
Schmidt argues that the distinction between his online hidden activities and his actual
views and practices has been removed by his critics through misquotations and quotes out
of context, guilt-by-association and amalgamation techniques, and falsehoods.
His critics respond that no sharp distinction can be drawn, that he has not addressed all
of the evidence, that he is dishonest, and that his claims to have only been undertaking
research are not accurate (
– after this called  and listed at the end, and
after this called  and listed at the end).
*2B. How Anarkismo and ZACF Intervened at the Start of the Michael Schmidt Controversy
The Anarkismo network responded to the AK Press statement within a week, with a
widely-circulated statement issued on 29 September 2015 ( www.anarkismo.net/article/28576).
ZACF, as part of the Anarkismo network, endorses the official positions and statements of
that network. It was party to the widely-circulated Anarkismo statement on the Schmidt
affair, and in this sense, stated its opening position three months ago. Anarkismo
represents quite a substantial body of anarchist opinion, with currently over a dozen
affiliated groups in Africa, Australia, Europe, Latin America and North America, plus
close contacts in Asia, and with most affiliates, historically, from the Global South.
The Anarkismo statement expressed, first, serious concerns with the way that AK Press had
“…. the way in which AK Press has dealt with the matter is irresponsible and prejudicial,
judging and condemning Michael Schmidt without presenting any evidence, and without
allowing him the right to defend himself, or to respond to the article before making the
public announcement of 25 September 2015.”
That said, Anarkismo did not take a position for or against Schmidt. Rather, it appealed
for rational debate and caution in what was obviously going to be a major controversy:
“Before we can make any pronouncements on the matter, however, we need to carefully
examine both the AK Press evidence, the article by Alexander Reid Ross, as well as Michael
Schmidt’s response to the evidence and article. As a network Anarkismo has not taken
sides, and will not accuse the accuser or the accused before there is more information and
all the evidence has been presented.”
Recognising the seriousness of the claims, Anarkismo insisted on a fair process, rather
than a presumption of guilt at the outset. And note that, in requesting “evidence”
Anarkismo was not necessarily requesting articles – but a release of the already-existing
primary materials, such as those shown to and in the possession of AK Press , would
To try and offset the possibility that the charges against Schmidt be used to smear
others, Anarkismo also insisted that AK Press:
“… unconditionally and explicitly state, also with immediate effect, that its allegations
refer to Michael Schmidt alone, and not to any publishers, co-authors, editors, left
organisations or currents with which Michael Schmidt may have been associated.”
Had AK Press (or the journalists Reid Ross and Stephens) taken this simple and responsible
step, the online debates surrounding the Schmidt affair would likely not have taken the
often vicious and unproductive form that they have subsequently assumed, and ZACF, for
example, would not have been dragged so deeply into the affair.
Further, also in order to try and facilitate an open, evidence-based discussion and
debate, Anarkismo added:
“We urge AK Press to publish Michael Schmidt’s official responses on its newswires and
sites, as we believe that he has the right to defend himself.”
This is not, obviously, an endorsement of either side, but simply a question of principle:
the right to answer accusations directly.
It must be noted here that Anarkismo’s appeals were ignored by AK Press. Every article by
Reid Ross and Stephens was published on AK Press’s Facebook page, going straight into the
newsfeed of everyone following that page, while the Anarkismo statement (and Schmidt’s
statements) only appeared on that page when people posted them as comments or notes – and
went largely unseen.
The articles by Reid Ross and Stephens, developing the charges against Schmidt, finally
appeared from October 2015 into February 2016. Their eight papers also ignored the
*2C. A Proposed Anarchist/ Syndicalist Commission into the Charges against Schmidt in 2016
As part of the Anarkismo network, ZACF adheres to the Anarkismo position that “Before we
can make any pronouncements on the matter,” we need to examine all evidence and articles,
and that Anarkismo will not take sides, or “accuse the accuser or the accused” before this
is done ( http://www.anarkismo.net/article/28576).
And, as ZACF, we have concluded that the matter cannot be resolved through another round
of online articles or by social media debates. So much information and analysis has been
produced that it is very difficult for individuals, organisations and networks to
methodically process and properly evaluate all arguments made by both sides. Online
debates have been marked by venom and sectarianism, with people vaguely critical of AK
Press’ / Reid Ross and Stephens’ claims or methodology regularly accused of being fascists
or racists, or apologists for such politics etc., and sectarians have used the accusations
against Schmidt to attack the whole anarcho-syndicalist, revolutionary syndicalist and
anarchist-communist mainstream of anarchism.
The ZACF therefore welcomes the Anarkismo proposal for a broad and international and
inclusive anarchist and syndicalist commission of enquiry into the Schmidt affair (
http://anarkismo.net/article/29047). This would be initiated by, but not controlled by,
Anarkismo, and its composition would also not be determined by either the accusers or the
It is our view that this is the best way forward on the matter, and it is our view that
the commission should provide a ruling on the basis of access to all materials, including
primary materials (e.g. interview transcripts, documents attributed to Schmidt, full
access to Schmidt’s pseudonymous online user accounts), from all parties, accusers (we
include the sources used by Reid Ross and Stephens) and accused, as relevant to the case,
all materials and all interviews to be date-stamped, clearly identified and complete.
The commission should be able to ask questions of all parties involved in the affair. Thus
we also urge the “anonymous” sources cited by Reid Ross and Stephens to come forward to
the commission (not the public) and clarify their positions, and their relation to the
events they describe.
This will allow an evaluation of both the allegations against Michael Schmidt, and
Schmidt’s defence. It will enable space for the clarification of each position, as well as
to address apparent inconsistencies and gaps in the arguments of both sides (both against
Schmidt and for Schmidt) at the current stage. Hopefully these issues in the arguments of
both accusers and accused can be easily explained. It will allow the chronology of events
to be clarified, and further evidence to be secured where necessary.
*2D. FACT: ZACF Questioned Schmidt When Similar Allegations were made from 2011 Onwards
Since it has been stated by Reid Ross and Stephens that ZACF had “double standards”
regarding Schmidt  and also implied that ZACF was aware of, but ignored, allegations
and evidence against Schmidt similar to that now being presented by Reid Ross and
Stephens, it is important to set the record straight.
As indicated, Schmidt left the ZACF with a letter dated 12 March, 2010, having already
stepped down to “supporter” status in an email of 25 May 2009 citing work pressures,
personal problems and being “burned out.” He was in the aftermath of a divorce, facing
financial and job issues, ill and evidently deeply unhappy. Later he would undergo
counselling for various issues.
In 2011, ZACF was made aware that Schmidt was maintaining at least one active online
profile, under pseudonym, in the far-right internet scene – it was also reported to us
that he had been seen wearing a World War 2 German, possibly Nazi, cap. There was also a
claim that Schmidt may have voted for the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), the main Afrikaner
nationalist political party, in 2009.
By this time ZACF had very little contact with Schmidt, as opposed to when he was an
active ZACF member, and subsequent contact has also been sporadic.
But obviously the charges were all taken extremely seriously. Even though Schmidt had left
the ZACF, the ZACF confronted Schmidt on the charges in 2011. His explanation was the same
as that he would later make in reply to the 2015 allegations. He stated that he had been
doing infiltration from the mid-2000s during the treason trial against the racist white
“Boeremag” cells. He denied wearing any specifically right-wing regalia, but stated he
sometimes wore military items and surplus, including a black tank commander’s cap (which
he stated was not an SS/ Nazi cap). It must be stated that ZACF members never actually saw
Schmidt wearing any Nazi/ SS/ tank commander’s cap. He has never admitted to voting FF+ to
ZACF. (Note: we will return to the FF+ issue in Section 3J).
As Schmidt was no longer a member, he was not subject to any sort of collective
responsibility or organisational discipline, and there was little more we could do.
And since Schmidt had a long record as a left-wing union, community and civil rights
activist and radical, in South Africa and elsewhere, his numerous articles and books, and
his social and personal life, comrades were inclined to accept his defence.
There is no evidence that Schmidt pursued a sustained rightist agenda in the ZACF (also
see Section 3). The work we saw when he was a member conformed to fairly standard
anarchist and syndicalist positions. The only exception was his 2008 “Politico-Cultural
Dynamics of the South African Anarchist Movement” document – but he soon formally
So, ZACF did question him closely in 2011, but in the end, we took him at face value, were
shaped by our own experience of him, and gave him the benefit of the doubt.
In hindsight, perhaps this was a mistake; perhaps a deeper investigation was warranted,
but given the evidence we had to hand, which was largely second hand testimony, and given
Schmidt’s record and given his status as a long-standing comrade, we were inclined to
When similar allegations resurfaced over the next few years (sometimes with additional
elements), ZACF again acted, questioning Schmidt several more times. He argued the same
basic defence on each occasion. Of course repeated allegations about Schmidt were
worrying, which is exactly why he was questioned again, and why the matter was discussed
internally on each occasion. Although we had many internal debates around the issue, we
did not raise the allegations to other anarchist-linked projects with which he was
associated, because we had accepted his claims and credibility.
Particularly, we debated whether or not we should inform other anarchist projects to which
Schmidt was associated, namely the Institute for Anarchist Theory and History (IATH) and
Anarkismo, about concerns raised that Schmidt was associated with the radical right. In
the end we decided not to, since we had accepted his explanations for those of his online
personas we were aware of pending more information, and since we were aware of the
inevitable and irreparable damage that allegations of this nature would do, regardless of
their accuracy. In hindsight, this was perhaps a mistake and we apologise to IATH and
Anarkismo, anyone else who might feel aggrieved, if we erred in bringing to their
attention the concerns and accusations around Schmidt sooner, such that they could make an
informed decision as to how to relate to him.
The ZACF did not report these investigations online or publicly, because we do not report
our internal decisions or investigations online, nor do we publish dossiers on current and
former members. The ZACF also did not issue any public statements on these investigations
partly because we do not believe that such issues can be usefully addressed through the
online debates and storms that invariably follow. What seems to be fostered, instead, by a
public practice of this sort is a climate of flaming that hampers movement building. And
since we accepted his explanations, it would not have made sense for us to issue warnings
of some sort about him either.
Many people have passed through our ranks, as well as through our projects. It is not
reasonable to monitor them all. And we are surely no more obliged to author and issue
public exposes on them in subsequent years than, for example, the AK Press collective is
required to issue public statements on its own ex-members. And we do not consider
ourselves beholden to an imagined online “anarchist” community that does not exist.
But even if public reporting on former members was essential and valuable, and if there
was something to report, it would be impractical. There is no anarchist correspondence
committee, no annual summit, no shared media or platforms – indeed, not even a common
anarchist or syndicalist public sphere, and certainly not a global one. The
Western-dominated world of “anarchism” on Facebook is part of the problem here, not the
solution. We hold ourselves accountable to our principles and politics and allies, and we
do not place our energies on an imagined anarchist community, online or elsewhere.
The fact is also that ZACF had (and has) other more pressing projects, and cannot invest
its limited resources in running detailed investigations into former members and supporters.
Our focus is work in the black working class, not on anarchists and ex-anarchists, or the
left more generally (see Section 3L). If Schmidt had still been a member or a supporter,
when the claims were made, the charges against him would have assumed top priority. But a
major investigation into Schmidt, over months, well after he left our ranks, would have
been strange. It would not serve a clear purpose to our actual militant work, and every
day spent on it would have been a day lost for actual, important militancy – as has been
the case with developing this statement.
To avoid misunderstanding: if ZACF is approached by journalists, researchers or comrades
seeking comment on, or information on, an important issue, we always try to make ourselves
available. So, we do not issue public reports, but we happily enter into a constructive
engagement with the public, including the press.
ZACF does not believe that the discussion on social media platforms has been productive,
and should you wish to engage us, please contact us directly (at the details provided above).
It must be clearly noted at this stage:
1. Schmidt’s online activities, as above described and as admitted by Schmidt, were not
endorsed, commissioned or authorised by the ZACF. The ZACF finds much of what he wrote
through his online personas vile and disgusting: we are totally appalled and confused by
what we agree are racist and often fascist positions that underpin his Stormfront and
“strandwolf” blog posts; we are really struggling to come to terms both with the
accusations and the responses he has given – although we retain open minds. Those of us
that worked with him struggle to reconcile this with the person we knew and worked with;
2. We cannot comment on the methods and ethics of undercover journalism: we lack the
3. If it is the case that Schmidt was involved in undercover investigative work, we
believe he should have informed us and his sometime co-author, Lucien van der Walt, of
this from the start. It is unacceptable that the ZACF should first have heard, from third
parties around 2011, of some of these online activities;
4. We distance ourselves completely, from each and every right-wing, offensive statement
Schmidt made through any online personas or groups or sites or boards, including under any
and all names, regardless of the explanations given for such statements or activities;
5. We find it unacceptable to read, in Schmidt’s two 2015 statements , his admission
that he was not completely forthright or comprehensive about all elements of his online
activities when confronted by the ZACF;
6. We feel absolutely betrayed by Schmidt’s now-admitted failure  to inform ZACF that
he knew the identity of a National Intelligence Agency (NIA) spy moving in left circles
that overlapped with ours;
7. The ZACF, as stated, did not endorse (or ignore, or put a positive spin on) a
problematic 2008 document by Schmidt entitled “Politico-Cultural Dynamics of the South
African Anarchist Movement,” but on the contrary, formally repudiated it (as did Schmidt
that same year);
8. If the accusations are proven true, ZACF will take all appropriate steps. Proven
accusations would indicate activities and views completely at odds with the positions and
practice and social composition of the ZACF, the class-struggle, anti-racist and
anti-oppression anarchist and syndicalist traditions ZACF champions, and manifest
dishonesty on the part of Schmidt. ZACF would have been the primary victim of Schmidt’s
9. If Schmidt is proven guilty, he must bear the consequences of his actions. Conversely,
if the opposite is true, his accusers must bear the consequences of their actions. We do
suspect, however, that reality is likely to be far messier.
*2E. FACT: ZACF has Not Yet Taken a Position For or Against Schmidt in 2015/ 2016
Note that we do not, in this statement, discuss whether Schmidt is indeed guilty of any or
all of the charges made in the 2015 articles and claims by AK Press, Reid Ross and Stephens.
Historically we have accepted Schmidt’s explanation, but we recognise that an extensive
case has now been made against Schmidt, and that new evidence has emerged. This new
material and debate merits careful reflection and evaluation. The same is true for the
counter-case made by Schmidt.
We believe there are problems with some of the statements made by both the accusers of
Schmidt against Schmidt himself, but also in Schmidt’s responses to these accusations.
For example (this list is not comprehensive), Reid Ross and Stephens have raised important
issues that Schmidt needs to address more fully: these include (this is not a
comprehensive list) allegations about tattoos and right-wing accessories (including an
inconsistency in his explanation with regards to his knowledge of the right-wing
significance of these), that he voted for the right wing Freedom Front Plus in 2009, and
the extent to which his claimed undercover research on the white right has in fact led to
And Schmidt has raised some issues that Reid Ross and Stephens need to address more fully:
these include (this is not a comprehensive list) allegations of invented quotes and facts,
character assassination, unethical journalism, and selective use of evidence.
These may all be open to innocent explanations: we keep an open mind on all sides. But for
now there are some holes in both cases.
We will make a detailed submission to the proposed commission, raising our concerns about
both sides’ positions, claims and evidence. We will also make available additional
materials and answer questions.
We do not assume in advance that the affair will boil down to a simple matter of choosing
either the side of AK Press, Reid Ross and Stephens, or of Schmidt, or the simple either/
or choice between two possibilities – either the AK Press/ Reid Ross and Stephens
narrative, or the Schmidt counter-narrative –around which it has been constructed.
There may be other ways of understanding the events, and the data, besides those presented
by either AK Press, Reid Ross and Stephens, or by Schmidt.
Last, ZACF will be guided by the findings and recommendations of the proposed commission,
and will address all the allegations against Schmidt, and his defence, in a separate
statement at the conclusion of the commission's investigations.
**SECTION 3: GRAVE CONCERNS WITH REID ROSS & STEPHENS’ ACCOUNT OF ZACF
This being said, the ZACF believes that this stance does not prevent us from defending our
organisation and our political tradition.
We wish to reaffirm that we have no personal issues with either Reid Ross or Stephens, or
objections to being critiqued.
We appreciate an email to ZACF by Reid Ross stating, “You have only my deepest respect for
carrying on your incredible work” and he was “deeply sorry” if the articles created
“trouble” for ZACF. He also stated, “It was always my intention to remove both your
collective and Lucien [van der Walt] from the investigation in such a way that would
prevent a kind of ‘witch hunt’ effect” (email to ZACF, 27 December 2015). We also note he
describes our work as “incredible” and “strong” (27 December 2015).
We appreciate this apology and the sentiment that comes with it. We also acknowledge that
the consequences we have suffered may have been unintentional. But we cannot forget that
this email comes in the aftermath of the articles. If the intention was to avoid a “witch
hunt” then it’s essential to get facts right, to avoid inaccurate claims, to get in
contact with ZACF for its side of the story prior to publication, and to draw very clear
distinctions between the parties, not just in an email sent after the fact, but publicly
and explicitly, including in the structure of the articles.
The fact of the matter is that Reid Ross and Stephens’ articles continually make very
specific and damaging allegations about the history and politics of the ZACF, in pursuit
of the case against Schmidt. ZACF is presented in the worst possible light throughout the
2000s, and more positive comments on the ZACF from 2010 onwards are framed as a break with
a period when ZACF was subverted by an allegedly fascist and racist Schmidt.
Given that, as we shall show below, these claims are altogether false, this indicates a
serious lack of respect for preserving the reputation and work of an African and
majority-black anarchist/ syndicalist and revolutionary group, including the dignity and
reputation of its black members and former members, by two white Americans, backed by an
American publishing company.
Our critique of the articles centres on process and outcomes, not personalities, and we
have to defend the truth.
The next aim of this statement is to clarify the record of the ZACF, including Schmidt’s
role in ZACF, and ZACF’s relations to Schmidt. ZACF completely rejects the claims made
against and about ZACF by Reid Ross and Stephens. These claims are at odds with easily
verified facts, and distort and misrepresent the history and politics of the ZACF.
Note that we will not be commenting on the quality and scope of Reid Ross and Stephens’
overall research on and case against Schmidt himself. Our focus is on the record of ZACF,
and the methodology and framing used, with Schmidt noted only where directly relevant.
In what follows, we will provide commentary on:
1. Reid Ross and Stephens' demonstrably inaccurate claims about ZACF history and politics;
2. How this inaccurate account arises from the use of a very narrow data set; from a
failure to make use of numerous other materials, including well over a thousand other
documents, all online; a failure to contact the ZACF at any stage before publication,
either for information or as the subject of critical reportage; a tendency to ignore
contradictory evidence and to ask leading questions; and an excessive and at times
misleading use of anonymous sources;
2. How this approach effectively silenced ZACF, including its black working class cadres,
in stories about them, including what we perceive to be a disregard for a black ex-ZACF
member's dignity and reputation;
3. How these problems were compounded by the articles never being subject to editorial
oversight or peer-review, or any “ombudsman” / formal complaints investigation process;
4. How Reid Ross and Stephens' claimed use of an "independent journalist" as a
fact-checker as a substitute for these normal publication checks and processes failed to
address serious errors of fact and raises more questions than it answers;
4. How further problems arose from serious errors of fact and analysis regarding South
African history, political economy and working class politics, taking positions congruent
with settler and nationalist historiographies, anti-left positions associated with the
South African state and ultra-nationalists, and a generally Eurocentric approach,
including reading anarchist and radical right history and politics off US and West
5. How Reid Ross and Stephens, as well as AK Press, acted without due regard for the
safety of ZACF members and supporters, above all black, in the often violently intolerant
contexts ZACF operates, in marked contrast to the space given to AK Press to avoid
reputational damage and a stated concern with ensuring white and other article “sources”
anonymity and safety.
*3A. A Summary of Reid Ross & Stephens’ Inaccurate Claims about ZACF
Although the focus of the Reid Ross and Stephens’ articles is, obviously, on Michael
Schmidt, the ZACF makes repeated appearances in their account. There are several obvious
reasons for this inclusion: Reid Ross and Stephens posit that Schmidt was a fascist and
racist activist from around 2002, and Schmidt was involved in the ZACF from 2003 to 2009;
and if Schmidt was (as they claim) involved in promoting some fascist or radical right
agenda in the anarchist movement, his activities in ZACF would obviously be of great interest.
Obviously ZACF was not the focus of the articles, but its inclusion was not trivial or
irrelevant, and our objections to those claims should be taken seriously, not viewed as
arising from some sort of irrationality or stupidity .
A series of very damaging (and we show, misleading), very specific and explicit
allegations were made about ZACF.We will not entertain attempts to trivialise this serious
situation, by claiming it is unimportant, or that we are emotional or irrational.
What exactly do Reid Ross and Stephens say about ZACF?
Firstly, they claim that Schmidt had sought to steer the ZACF towards some sort of “white
nationalism,” and that he did so with increasing success. They claim that he proposed ZACF
be racially segregated into “ideologically and structurally separate collectives” at its
2003 founding congress; that he secured the closure of township-based ZACF anarchist
“action groups” by or during 2005; that he subsequently secured the “purging” of remaining
black members; that he used the December 2007 ZACF relaunch to recreate ZACF as a
“white-national” ideological group; and that he finally exposed his agenda by presenting,
one “sunny day” in July 2008, a controversial document called “Politico-Cultural Dynamics
of the South African Anarchist Movement” [
– after this called  and listed at the end). Schmidt had, by this stage, they claim,
“whittled” ZACF down from a formation too broad even “to have a membership roster,” to a
group of six members and three supporters, all white and presumably committed to a
Secondly, Reid Ross and Stephens make a number of very specific comments and claims about
ZACF, which present the ZACF as, at worst, under the control of Schmidt – or, at best,
turning a blind eye to Schmidt’s supposed “white-national” project. They imply the ZACF
failed to respond to Schmidt’s “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …” document . They dismiss a
major ZACF project in the Elias Motsoaledi squatter camp in Soweto in the 2000s – a social
centre, library, community garden and residents’ organisation – as a fake project
controlled by “white members” of ZACF like Schmidt .
They also claim there were “double standards” in the “organizational culture Schmidt had
helped create at the ZACF,” which meant that, according to “a source,” “Schmidt received
no official criticism about voting” in 2009 (supposedly) for the Freedom Front Plus (FF+),
the main Afrikaner nationalist political party, “but a female member of the ZACF was
disciplined around the same time for wanting to join a feminist reading group” . They
also claim that the “feminist reading group” issue led to a “lengthy debate” sometime in
2009 or 2010 over whether ZACF members could join “collectives with ideological
differences,” and over the “inclusion of feminism and the recruitment of people of colour”
after this called  and listed at the end).
And finally, they suggest that ZACF “grew increasingly open to people of colour after
Schmidt’s departure” in 2009, and has “since continued its transition from Schmidt’s era
to a far-more inclusive group” . To make this last claim, they have to suggest that
Schmidt, having effectively captured ZACF by the start of 2008, somehow subsequently
started “losing authority over the ZACF” soon afterwards.
Let us deal with these one by one. These claims are false! They are contradicted by the facts!
*3B. FACT: The ZACF Never Considered any Proposal for “Segregation,” Argued instead for a
Black Working Class Focus, in 2003
Reid Ross and Stephens note, correctly, that there is a claim in Schmidt’s 2008
“Politico-Cultural Dynamics …” text, that “during the drafting of the ZACF Constitution,”
he made an “attempt” to have “(white) rearward collectives and (black) frontline collectives.”
But we can find no evidence to confirm that any such proposal was made during processes
that led to the formation of ZACF, including the discussions of the Constitution.
ZACF has an archive of the [struggle-sa] email list of the time, a key space where
proposals were made and ideas circulated, as well as one of the means through which draft
proposals were circulated. But we can’t find anything that argues for any such thing, as
claimed in the “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …” text. We have other emails from the time, as
well as a file of printed materials and draft constitutions, and there is also no sign of
the supposed attempt at or proposal for segregation. ZACF also has in its possession very
extensive video footage of the founding Congress, and this also does not show Schmidt or
anyone else making any such a proposal.
So, there is no independent evidence from the time that Schmidt or anyone else ever made
any such proposal. If Schmidt’s “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …” made this claim, it got the
facts wrong. Repeatedly citing Schmidt’s 2008 “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …” will not
change the facts, and it flies in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary.
The founding Congress, attended by a substantial number of black and white comrades,
adopted a slew of detailed, clear Position Papers (
http://zabalaza.net/organise/theoretical-positions-of-the-zacf/). These consistently
argued for the maximum unity and internationalism of the oppressed working class, poor and
peasants, as the best means to defeat divisions and national, racial, gender and other
oppressions and make a revolutionary breakthrough into a new society.
The 2003 constitution of the ZACF is in line with these views. Although some amendments
were made in 2007, 2008 and 2013, the substance of the 2003 constitution remains in place.
It stresses common class struggle and revolution by the multi-national, multi-racial
popular classes (http://zabalaza.net/organise/constitution-of-the-zacf/). ZACF identified
(and has always identified) the black working class as the engine of the southern African
The ZACF was founded by a number of pre-existing anarchist groups, and had a substantial
black membership from the start. The groups included the Bikisha Media Collective (BMC)
historically based in Johannesburg and Soweto, the ABC-SA, the Black Action Group (BAG)
from Motsoaledi squatter camp in Soweto, the Shesha Action Group (SAG) from Dlamini in
Soweto, and the Zabalaza Action Group (ZAG) and Zabalaza Books, both based in Durban /
eThekwini, including uMlazi township.
BMC had been involved in publishing, workshops, protests, student activism, and in a
democratically-run resource centre and venue, along with other progressives, called the
Workers’ Library and Museum, in inner city Johannesburg. In 2000, it became part of the
larger Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) coalition. Zabalaza Books was and is a publishing
project for leaflets, posters and pamphlets. ABC-SA did prisoner support and
The “action groups” did a range of activities. BAG initiated what became called the
“Phambili Motsoaledi Community Project” (PMCP), which involved building a social centre
with a book and tool-lending library, meeting area (and short-lived crèche) and a nearby
community food garden, and production of the ZACF-linked local anarchist newsletter “Vuka
Motsoaledi.” SAG ran a study group, and some of its members were active in the Soweto
Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC) campaign to (illegally) reconnect electricity to
households’ cut-off for non-payment. Its attempts to start a community vegetable garden
along the lines of PMCP were thwarted by the local ANC councillor. ZAG was involved in an
effort to organise security guards into a “workers council” and involved in fights against
evictions. “Zabalaza” journal had meanwhile been established a bit earlier by BMC and
This is why the ZACF was initially called the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist FEDERATION, as
it federated the pre-existing collectives, with the intention that each would remain
active. The trick was to find a way to get these often quite different projects working
together, beyond simply sharing a common political platform. However, it was always agreed
that the “action groups” would be the priority “frontline” of struggle, and that the aim
was to build a substantial anarchist presence in the townships and in what was then the
main site of black working class struggle to which the anarchists had access: the rapidly
growing “new social movements” (a term referring to post-apartheid protest movements,
mainly fighting around urban services).
There were some ideas thrown around that BMC or ABC might provide support services for the
“frontline” “action groups” but this never meant a racial or class division of labour nor
of knowledge-production nor power.
BMC had black key members, was itself directly involved in direct “frontline” work through
the APF in townships (and before that, in battles against outsourcing). “Action groups”
like BAG and ZAG wrote and published quite extensively.
Ideas, insights and innovations flowed in all directions in the ZACF, not from one set of
collectives to another. For example, ZAG comrades and Zabalaza Books played a key role in
the establishment of “Zabalaza” journal, and the BAG’s PMCP model was viewed by the rest
of the ZACF of the time as “the” model of militant township work, with SAG trying to
The only support that BMC or Zabalaza Books could provide was some technical assistance
with printing and distributing materials to their sister collectives, and skills sharing
in these aspects. ABC did some basic anti-repression work, so its support was a given: it
would help comrades, of any collective, who were in trouble with the authorities for
They could not control funds, that is for certain. The basic protocol set up from the
start of ZACF was that spending was to be democratically controlled by the ZACF as a
whole, not by any member collectives or individuals: everyone who could pay, paid into the
pool, and the organisation decided where the money would go (see Section 3E). No
individual or collective could use control of finances to sabotage other projects, or
threaten to withhold funds to impose its will.
The ZACF was a formal organisation, its members and supporters bound by the ZACF’s
Position Papers, Constitution, common perspectives and shared strategy, and dues-payments.
Within this framework, the actual actions and tactics of ZACF collectives were, it was
agreed at ZACF’s founding, to be decided through democratic discussion, at Congresses as
well as at other collective forums. Local groups were to take initiatives, and the “action
groups” to drive the ZACF.
And any part of the core documents or rules could, likewise, be changed, if a democratic
procedure was followed. Debate within ZACF was encouraged, although it was intended that
comrades adopt common positions in public.
Reid Ross and Stephens’ discussion of the 2003 ZACF founding is a bit of a red herring: it
claims that there was a “relative silence that followed the defeat” of the 2003 “proposal”
for segregation that “raises critical questions.”
But this is not correct. The proposal did not exist, so it was not defeated and there was
no “relative silence” over it either.
*3C. FACT: The ZACF Never “Purged” Township Groups or Members
Reid Ross and Stephens are equally incorrect in their account of developments in ZACF from
2003 to 2007. They insist, as noted above, that there was a push to close down township
groups, followed by a “purging” of remaining black members, driven by Schmidt, who they
claim “whittled down” ZACF by pushing out black members.
This is completely false!
Only one person was ever formally asked to leave the ZACF in the 2000s, and this was a
white student. Schmidt did not close down the “action groups” BAG, SAG and ZAG. He was not
even part of ZACF in 2006, when much of this was supposedly happening, having resigned
from active duty and attending meetings in January (Schmidt email to [zabfed] list, 4
January 2006). (He would rejoin ZACF sometime later, as a member, then drop to supporter
in 2009, then leave entirely in early 2010).
The decline of some early ZACF collectives was the product of a range of factors, but not
of ZACF activities, nor of any sinister subversion of the ZACF.
ZACF was formed within a massive upsurge of struggle locally and internationally,
including the rise of South Africa’s “new social movements.” The APF (to which BMC and
then ZACF via BMC were initially affiliated) was formed in 2000 as a coalition of a number
of these movements in Gauteng province, like the SECC. The Landless People’s Movement
(LPM) was launched in 2001, as an effort to unite rural people and urban shack-dwellers.
The Social Movements Indaba (SMI) was formed in 2002 as an effort at a countrywide body,
linking APF to similar formations in other provinces.
(This was the milieu and these were the struggles through which contact was first made
between many of the collectives that came together as ZACF in 2003).
But by 2005 the wave was receding, with a widespread decline in political activity, fewer
spaces to organise in, less number of people interested in radical ideas or in joining
organisations, and fewer victories from struggles. The LPM, for example, was well on its
way to becoming a mainly urban-based squatter camp movement, active in a few cities only.
Also, as always happens, some comrades grew tired, disillusioned or burned out, and moved
By the end of 2005, ZACF was certainly smaller than in 2003, and entered, that year, into
a difficult period that would last years. But this decline, and these difficulties, were
closely tied to the general decline in levels of struggle and mobilisation happening at
A range of ZACF collectives withered away, not just the “action groups.” By 2005, the BMC
was effectively defunct as a distinct group and some of its members had drifted away from
ZACF as well. ABC-SA closed down the same year, as the key people involved got drawn into
other ZACF activities.
The situation of the “action groups” was uneven.
The BAG continued to have an active presence, running the social centre and community food
garden, issuing “Vuka Motsoaledi,” and, in launching in 2005, the Motsoaledi Concerned
Residents (MCR) neighbourhood movement, which then affiliated to APF
SAG was always fragile, and its efforts to form a project along the lines of the PMCP
initiated by BAG were not a success. Meanwhile, its key militant was won over to a Marxist
group involved in the SECC, and SAG did not long survive his departure.
ZAG fell apart when two key members left. One of the two dropped out of politics
altogether. The other relocated from Durban when he got married, but he stayed in ZACF and
kept Zabalaza Books, which had started in Durban, going. The end of the ZAG effectively
meant the end of the ZACF in Durban.
BAG numbers also declined and the BAG-initiated MCR of 2005 was “captured” by a rival
political faction – partly because BAG did not have the strength to defeat this coup.
The loss of key figures in BAG, SAG and ZAG – and the collapse of SAG and ZAG – was a
source of great distress to ZACF, viewed by ZACF members and supporters as disasters. This
is exactly why many efforts were made to reverse the situation.
Happily, although ZACF was shrinking in South Africa and becoming a mainly-Gauteng-based
formation, it was expanding in interesting ways, albeit on a small scale, in neighbouring
The BAG recruited two comrades from Swaziland, who often stayed in Motsoaledi, and these
later formed a small, short-lived ZACF section in Swaziland. The ZACF’s Swaziland section
did some underground work, despite intense repression, and was falsely accused by the
Swazi press of a bombing campaign (“Times of Swaziland,” 15 January 2006; and ZACF letter
to “Times of Swaziland,” sent 18 January 2006).
Another encouraging development in 2005 was the establishment of contacts with a group in
Zimbabwe, the distribution of material into that country, solidarity, recruitment to ZACF,
and a connection that continues to the present.
But these were not enough to offset the losses suffered, and did not remove ongoing
challenges and difficulties.
Most ZACF members were unemployed, or relied on short-term low-paid jobs. Our unemployed
South African and Swazi comrades struggled to get by: there is no unemployment grant in
South Africa’s much-vaunted post-apartheid state welfare system, nor any in Swaziland, and
our comrades were often jobless.
Various personal pressures were also felt by comrades, white as well as black, and these
stresses were compounded by the pressures of the ambitious programme of ZACF work falling
onto the shrinking number of ZACF militants.
And there were very few new recruits.
Some work fell away, despite efforts: for example, work in the APF, a core ZACF activity
in its early years, withered.
And the disappointments demoralised people, and personal frictions and mistrust grew, as
they often do in such situations.
Last, although we have stressed the problems created by objective conditions, it would be
remiss of ZACF not to also note some of the weaknesses in political practice and theory
that bedevilled the formation in its early years. The ZACF programme was ambitious, but
also quite vague in terms of timelines, clear objectives, and trade-offs. This often led
to ZACF work centring on attending as many marches and meetings, and doing as much
solidarity work and propaganda, as possible – without setting measurable targets, and
without much strategic planning. At the same time, too little time was put into reflection
and debates, or into careful recruitment and internal education and cadre development.
This neglect also meant that members and supporters, both white and black, had different
understandings on some key issues – and these were concealed by the focus on doing as much
as possible, rather than doing a few strategic things very well.
In closing, it is just not accurate to claim (as do Reid Ross and Stephens) that Schmidt
had somehow engineered the situation of decline in the “action groups” and other areas, as
some sort of effort to close activities or “purge” people. He did not have the power to do
so, and there were, in any cases, no people “purged.” A very complicated situation is
caricatured by arguments that read ZACF history onto some sort of alleged plot by Schmidt.
*3D. FACT: ZACF Mass Work in Motsoaledi, Soweto as Against Reid Ross & Stephens'
Disrespect for Comrade Nyalungu and Dismissal of PMCP/ BAG
During October 2015, Reid Ross contacted black ex-ZACF founder member comrade Mzamani
Philip Nyalungu to ask about “white supremacy” in the ZACF.
Comrade Nyalungu is a seasoned black African working class militant, a founder member of
the ZACF and MCR, the moving force in the BAG and PMCP, and was involved in the APF- and
SECC-led struggles of the early 2000s. He organised in the Motsoaledi shack settlement in
Soweto, where he and his family then lived. He co-ran the red-and-black painted building
ZACF constructed as a social centre, operating classes and workshops and providing a space
for local students to do homework, wrote most of the copy in the ZACF-linked local
newsletter “Vuka Motsoaledi,” co-organised and participated in protests, and worked in the
The online archive www.saasha.net has a substantial amount on and by the BAG, PMCP, ZACF
material and comrade Nyalungu in Motsoaledi, including photos, copies of “Vuka
Motsoaledi,” other writings by comrade Nyalungu, the MCR’s launch leaflet (complete with
materials by comrade Nyalungu can be found at zabalaza.net, including an article in the
latest ZACF journal, “Zabalaza” (#14, August 2015) (
Despite personal and family challenges, comrade Nyalungu was and is a working class
fighter. Before moving to anarchism, Comrade Nyalungu had been involved in a Marxist
group, earning the nickname “Karl Marx.” Before then, in high school, he spoke out against
corporal punishment, sexism and stigma towards people with HIV/AIDS, and was expelled
without finishing his studies. His family placed him under severe pressure due to his
regular unemployment and militant work.
He was arrested several times for his political work as an anarchist, and also suffered
various threats and intimidation. For example, he was arrested with another comrade on 3
September 2005, after picketing at voter registration under a “No Registration! No Vote!”
slogan, and holding a mass meeting against elections in Soweto. They were released the
next day after the local people protested, in their numbers, by halting registration –
surely an indication of his credibility in the community as an anarchist cadre.
On 2 November 2015, comrade Nyalungu sent a long written reply to Reid Ross, and a revised
and expanded version soon afterwards. The statement included intensely personal glances
into the comrade’s life and struggles, as well as important testimony on the ZACF of the
time including Schmidt. In the same letters Comrade Nyalungu reflected candidly on ZACF
and individual failings at the time, and suggested it was important “to honestly reflect
in writing perhaps” and “even make some suggestions on how to ensure “the same problems
did not arise again.”
Comrade Nyalungu (letter of 3 November 2015) stated he met soon-to-be ZACF anarchists,
including Schmidt, during the 2002 meetings against the World Summit on Sustainable
Development then being held in Johannesburg. Other ZACF comrades “helped financially which
kept our activities and us lively” in the PMCP, and tried to “help me to become
financially independent and out of poverty,” including with aid for fees to complete high
school and then, later, to register for a law degree at the University of the
Witwatersrand. He also stated specifically that:
“There was nothing like ‘white supremacist’ tendency that I can say I witnessed from
comrade MS [Schmidt] or L… I regard the moments when comrade MS was annoyed by me as
normal and anyone would have responded the same or worse … In my experiences these
comrades were always there when I needed their support. I remember one day coming from
May-Day rally in Swaziland … I got arrested at the boarder gate on the Swaziland side. I
had political materials enough to have me assassinated by the regime agents … I made a
very quick call to comrade MS and within few minutes comrade L [Lucien van der Walt]
called the Swazi border where I was detained. He warned them he's my lawyer and asked them
to let me go immediately. That was a priceless call because it saved my life from the jaws
of the beast.”
He also stated that he was aware that certain people in South Africa (including one now
cited as a key witness in the Reid Ross and Stephens articles) had an on ongoing “vendetta
against comrade MS and L” and made allegations that were “revolting”: “I blame myself for
not making a scene on a spot.”
Comrade Nyalungu closed with a statement that while he had some conflicts with certain
former ZACF comrades (black and white, but not Schmidt), “I would like to thank all ZACF
and fellow comrades who honestly challenged and are honestly challenging the status quo
which is ruthlessly prejudiced to the poor and oppressed.”
None of this testimony was quoted in the articles, including in the three pieces that
appeared after it was sent, and it was not acknowledged in any “errata” sections either.
Not enough was done to ensure that Comrade Nyalungu was properly informed that a series of
articles about Schmidt (and ZACF) were being published at the time (Nyalungu, email of 30
November 2015). He heard about the articles weeks later from a friend.
Nor was comrade Nyalungu informed that Reid Ross spent a fair amount of a subsequent
article  undermining his reputation with some demonstrably inaccurate and unfair claims
that we feel amount to character assassination. This means also, unfortunately, that the
comrade, the subject of critical reportage, was not contacted before publication for
comment, or offered a proper right-of-reply.
The article by Reid Ross presented BAG/ PMCP as “composed largely of one man”, “a young
black South African named Philip” who was “interested in cultivating urban gardens,” his
“main project … a community garden,” which he wanted to turn into a “social centre.” He
was, Reid Ross claims, “used” as the “face of anarchism” by whites, paid to “keep the
garden up” and somehow made “dependent on ZACF” . When this “had become an
encumbrance,” funding was cut by the “white members.”
The facts just do not fit this story. The presentation of comrade Nyalungu as someone
“used” by ZACF for a time and later dropped as an “encumbrance” presents the comrade as a
passive dupe, and completely disregards his long track record as an activist in the
Marxist then the anarchist movement, and in the “new social movements.” The presentation
of his work as basically that of someone hired to “keep the garden up” misrepresents his
character, commitment and politics, involving militant work in both South Africa and
Swaziland, arrests, prolific anarchist writing, organising work, and his role in founding
and shaping the ZACF, in which he was a leading figure.
No recognition is granted that the PMCP model was fundamentally invented by Nyalungu, and
involved rather more than “cultivating urban gardens.” The reduction of the PMCP to a
garden, and of comrade Nyalungu to a gardener hired by ZACF for publicity, ignores the
larger core PMCP project: building, through a social centre, community vegetable garden,
township newsletter, meetings, mobilisation and the MCR, a hoped-for bastion of working
class counter-power and anarchist influence in Soweto and the APF.
It is no wonder that comrade Nyalungu’s PMCP initiative, and the work of BAG, was viewed
by the ZACF of the time as “the” model of militant township work. And, as our comrade
stated to Reid Ross, there are many important lessons to learn from the short-comings of
the PCMP and ZACF, for future work. The issue is not whether BAG/ PMCP/ ZACF were perfect
– nothing is, making it the duty of real revolutionaries to learn from past mistakes – but
to present an accurate picture.
Reid Ross’ discussion of comrade Nyalungu and of his work, is deeply problematic, with the
comrade the only person in the seven Reid Ross and Stephens’ articles, besides Schmidt,
who is criticised by name.
This can be construed as racist: Reid Ross and Stephens may have grounds to treat Schmidt
harshly, but why treat a black working class comrade in this manner, effectively calling
him a stooge and a dupe?
Similarly, comrade Nyalungu’s statements on the ZACF that he helped build were not cited.
And while the voice of a black ZACF ex-member was left out, Reid Ross and Stephens
repeatedly cited, without qualification or criticism, the claims about ZACF by two white
ex-ZACF members as self-evidently true (these being Schmidt’s statements about ZACF
history in his 2008 “Politico-Cultural Dynamics of the South African Anarchist Movement,”
and the testimony of a person who was in ZACF 2007-2009 – see Section 4).
This dismissal of black testimony, too, can be construed as racist.
And the notion that black left-wing militants are dupes or sell-outs to whites is deeply
problematic, tied into a racialised anti-left discourse rooted in colonialism, but today
associated with the South African state and ultra-nationalists (Section 5A).
*3E. FACT: ZACF Spending and ZACF Democracy
As noted in the last section, Reid Ross and Stephens present the ZACF as having dubious
financial practices that enforce racial hierarchies.
These are very serious charges, and the record needs to be set straight. ZACF does not
raise funds from donors and it is not an NGO: it is a membership-based organisation,
funded by dues. ZACF funds are slight; its main resource is the work of its militants; it
has no employees or staff or offices.
All employed ZACF members are obliged to pay dues into ZACF, with unemployed members
encouraged to donate what they can, regular dues being unlikely. The use of the monies
collected this way is democratically decided upon. No one is permitted to withhold dues on
the grounds of disagreement with a democratic ZACF decision or to use their contribution
as a lever to impose their views. Failure for working members to pay dues is, instead,
grounds for suspension from ZACF.
ZACF money is spent on ZACF projects, and ZACF projects are democratically agreed upon.
ZACF spends on printing, venues, transport, food, media and related expenses arising from
its projects. Where possible ZACF invests in physical resources linked to its work: this
is why ZACF provided building materials and paint, tools, books, shelving and TV/ DVD to
the PMCP initiative in the 2000s, just as ZACF later purchased a photocopier for its
ZACF is well aware that many of its low-income or unemployed members and supporters cannot
always bear the financial burdens of militant work. This is why ZACF has assisted with
transport, airtime, travel, food and related costs incurred in ZACF-mandated work.
At one stage in the mid-2000s ZACF experimented with having a full-time “organiser” post,
the organiser to receive a stipend to enable full-time militant work, but this was
controversial and closed. Comrade Nyalungu did important political work for ZACF before
being appointed to the short-lived ZACF “organiser” post, and he remained politically
active in a range of areas after the post was abolished.
(An “organiser” post was later re-introduced in ZACF around 2012, but this was not a
position that received a stipend and it had a different mandate).
But there is no system of financial incentives for carrying out mandates and militant
work, regardless of whether the work is carried out well or badly. Rather, ZACF comrades
collectively decide on projects, and on the funds and mandates that follow. ZACF comrades
report back on mandates in ZACF meetings, taking direction, approval or criticism, from
Admittedly, some comrades who earn more income sometimes, in a personal capacity, help
comrades who earn less when dire personal situations arise. And, given South Africa’s
colonial and apartheid history, the better-off comrades tend to be white. Such basic human
solidarity is not limited to ZACF’s own members or supporters. For instance, in 2014, ZACF
people raised travel funds so that former steelworkers could get medical reports allowing
them to access occupational compensation, and in 2015, ZACF members donated food to
students involved in sleep-in protests.
This is basic human solidarity, not a nefarious exercise in political manipulation. Should
some comrades not eat?
Comrade Nyalungu was not made “dependent on ZACF,” as Reid Ross claims . Like so many
young black men in post-apartheid South Africa, the comrade was poor, often out-of-work,
trapped in the township ghetto. In a country where unemployment crosses the 30% mark,
where no social grant provides for the jobless, and where (in 2012) more than half of
workers only earned around $350 monthly, life is no joke.
This is not a world where people can spend hours on social media in coffee shops: the
basic struggle in places like Motsoaledi remains around basic electricity, water and
sanitation infrastructure and housing. Laptops, smart-phones and uncapped internet are a
world away. It is a world of grinding poverty and dust, part of the horrific legacy of
apartheid-capitalism that shapes South Africa, trapping millions upon millions of black
people. This is one reason why a major ZACF expense has always been transport, so that
comrades could travel to meetings and actions: many simply cannot afford mini-bus taxi and
Individual ZACF comrades sometimes assisted comrade Nyalungu. As comrade Nyalungu noted in
his letter to Reid Ross, individual ZACF comrades helped pay for his studies so that he
could access better-paid work and be less reliant on family and friends (letter of 3
It is also important to stress here that this assistance continued even after comrade
Nyalungu left ZACF in the course of 2006 (see below), and registered for a degree at the
University of the Witwatersrand in 2007. “I wouldn’t have been able to get a university
entry” without the donations made by “comrade MS,” “JA” and others (Nyalungu, letter of 3
So solidarity was never linked to him doing this action, or that action, for ZACF – it was
solidarity, meant to assist a comrade and a friend.
*3F. FACT: The 2007 ZACF Congress Aimed to Rebuild the ZACF Presence in the Black Working
As indicated, ZACF was struggling in 2005. There were various efforts made to resolve
these internal problems, and reverse the decline, including several special “stratcons”
(strategy conferences) in 2005, and a discussion at the ZACF Congress. Efforts to tighten
up the system of mandates and membership, to roll out “Red and Black Forum” (RBF)
workshops in conjunction with township organisations, and to publish new materials.
However, 2006 and 2007 saw ongoing problems – and, again, these were not unique to ZACF
but common to many formations including the “new social movements.”
Comrade Nyalungu resigned from ZACF during 2006 – he was never expelled or “purged”  –
and started full-time university study in 2007. It is important to note this did not
completely end the ZACF role in Motsoaledi or with comrade Nyalungu. The comrade remained
on the ZACF e-mail list of the time (e.g. Nyalungu email to [zabfed] list, 31 March 2007),
sent articles (e.g. Nyalungu email of 30 August 2007), requested a ZACF workshop in
Motsoaledi in August 2007, and tried to launch a new community structure in Motsoaledi the
month after: ZACF minutes: 14 August 2007, 8 September 2007. Comrade van der Walt resigned
in 2007, but had withdrawn from active ZACF work in 2006.
The Swazi ZACF comrades like “MK” had previously spent a good deal of their time in South
Africa, participating in BAG and PMCP, but started to spend most of their time in
Swaziland in this period. Although the Swazi comrades were active in that country, work
was difficult in its repressive political environment, and coordination between the South
African and Swazi ZACF sections became very cumbersome.
The PMCP and BAG declined and fell apart. This was not because funding was cut by the
“white members” of ZACF as Reid Ross asserts , but because three key activists were now
no longer involved, as indicated in the previous two paragraphs. The key resource of a
formation like ZACF is, after all, not money, but the time and energy of its militants.
After lengthy discussions, it was decided that it no longer made sense to run the ZACF
around the original collectives and projects, many obviously defunct. Earlier efforts in
restructuring in 2005 and 2006 to deal with the issues were judged inadequate. The ZACF’s
1-2 December 2007 Congress formally dissolved the ZACF as the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist
FEDERATION and immediately reconstituted the ZACF as the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist
FRONT. This was based on individual membership and on task teams/ working groups on
specific issues, rather than the old system of collectives (Congress Minutes, 1 and 2
December ZACF meetings, 2007).
The ABC-SA (which had recently been re-established), was hived off: it “would no longer be
a ZACF collective,” but “existing ABC members” from ZACF “would maintain membership of
both” (Congress Minutes, 1 and 2 December ZACF meetings, 2007). It was hoped this would
revive the ABC-SA and draw new people in.
It was also decided to separate the Swazi and South African ZACF sections. The two-country
structure covering both South Africa and Swaziland did not work efficiently. The second
day of Congress was occupied by plans for the now-autonomous Swaziland anarchist group,
with comrade “MK” present as mandated Swazi delegate. The new Swazi anarchist group would
“set its own agenda” yet remain in close contact with ZACF, which would provide “what
materials you require” including propaganda.
Reid Ross and Stephens get this mixed up. They cite Schmidt as stating the 2007 Congress
moved ZACF from being a “bi-national” to a “national” group, but assume this meant a shift
from a black-white “bi-national” group to a white-only “national” group .
But ZACF was only ever “bi-national” in the sense that it briefly had sections in two
different countries/ nation states, South Africa and Swaziland. ZACF only became
“national” at the end of 2007 in the sense that it was hived off from the Swazi anarchist
group and based in South Africa.
So, Reid Ross and Stephens’ claim that the 2007 ZACF congress involved Schmidt
“re-founding the group as a “white ‘national’ organization’ in 2007”  is inaccurate.
And rather than the Congress taking place against the backdrop of a general “purging” or
“whittling away” of members, ZACF had black members in 2007, including at the 2007
Congress meetings, and retained some links in Motsoaledi. Certainly the 2007 Congress was
not a manoeuvre by Schmidt for a “white-national” project. The decision to restructure
ZACF was made by all members, including black and Swazi comrades, with absent comrades
polled in advance.
Not one single change was made to the basic political line or project of ZACF at the 2007
ZACF Congress. The aim of the 2005 “stratcons” and of the 2007 ZACF Congress was not to
fundamentally change the nature of the ZACF or its project, or its core position. The aim
was to rebuild, to revive, and to strengthen the ZACF and its presence and its ability to
carry out the black working class-centred revolutionary project on which ZACF was founded.
So, the general picture of ZACF in the first half of 2008 was one of some improvement. New
black members and supporters were soon attracted, some quickly becoming leading figures, a
student group was formed, and while the PMCP / BAG were sadly defunct, the ZACF was active
in a range of other structures (ZACF Activity Report December 2007 to August 2008; ZACF
Minutes: 9 February 2008, 1 March 2008, 17 May 2008).
The first half of 2008 saw ZACF:
1. Attend the APF congress as invited “observers,” affiliation via BMC having effectively
lapsed; speak at the “One Struggle Seminar” in Johannesburg that linked struggles around
people, animals and environment; attend a meeting of the Coalition Against Water
Privatisation (CAWP), ZACF having a standing invitation; a member of the ZACF's Gender
Working Group also attended the “Building a Progressive LGBTI Movement in South Africa”
conference at the invitation of the Lesbian & Gay Equality Project;
2. Hold three Red and Black Forums, one in Protea South, Soweto (at the LPM's invitation),
one in Meadowlands, Soweto (at the Soweto Concerned Residents' invitation), and one at the
University of the Witwatersrand, partly in order to “focus on certain comrades, who showed
an affinity for libertarian ideas, and try to draw them closer to us … with an eye to
possibly recruiting them into the ZACF”;
3. Launch an Alexander Berkman Study Circle on anarchism in Soweto, based among LPM, APF
and other activists;
4. Participate in a major APF march against electricity price increases;
5. Join the SMI march against the anti-foreigner pogroms that swept South Africa in May,
issuing the statement "Against Chauvinism, Against Nationalism"; attend APF-convened
meetings to organise responses to the attacks; help launch and affiliat to the new
Coalition Against Xenophobia (CAX); get involved with the Anti-Chauvinist Network, along
with people from the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI); ZACF members also helped paint
anti-xenophobia murals and put up posters, with other activists, and worked for a while
with the “Active Resistance” initiative, members of which also ran a “Food not Bombs” project;
6. Publish “Zabalaza” #8 (backdated to December 2007), and the first two issues of the new
“Zabalaza News” (a short paper “distributed primarily at demonstrations and amongst social
movements activists”); and start production of a ZACF Political Education module series.
However, by any measure the improvements for ZACF were quite limited. And early 2008 saw
massive and unprecedented levels of violent riots against people identified as
“foreigners” (mainly Africans from other countries), displacing many thousands. These
awful events not only disrupted the “new social movements” but demoralised many militants
countrywide. The apparent involvement of an APF affiliate organisation in attacks,
captured on video, was a particularly bitter pill to swallow.
None of the work of ZACF in this time, however, is in the least compatible with the Reid
Ross and Stephens’ claim that the end of 2007 saw Schmidt “re-founding the group [ZACF] as
a “white ‘national’ organization’” . ZACF work at this time remained primarily in the
black townships of Gauteng, not exactly where a racist “white-national” group would work.
Indeed, Schmidt was involved in many of the above activities, an incompatibility between
Reid Ross and Stephens and the record.
(It should be noted that Reid Ross cites an “anonymous witness” who claims the ABC-SA
“never did anything” in the 2008 battle against xenophobia . According to the 2008 ABC
report to the ZACF congress, ABC-SA was not very active, on any issues, in 2008 (ABC
Report to ZACF Congress 2008, 13 December 2008, p. 2). However, ZACF participated directly
and very actively in CAX and related activities, and sometimes still used the ABC-SA name
when doing prisoner, anti-repression and anti-chauvinist work and networking).
*3G. FACT: The ZACF (and Schmidt) Rejected Schmidt's "Politico-Cultural Dynamics …"
Document in 2008
In July 2008, Schmidt circulated a controversial document titled “Politico-Cultural
Dynamics of the South African Anarchist Movement.” It must be stated at the outset that
the document was not a ZACF document, but issued by Schmidt in his personal capacity.
It must also be stated that the document was seen from the start as highly problematic.
This was for three main reasons. Firstly, although it set out to explain the collapse of
the “action groups,” it had formulations that were viewed – at best – as “bordering on
racism” (ZACF Congress Minutes, 13-14 December 2008). Secondly, the text seemed to
advocate a fragmentation of the anarchist movement into racially separate groups. And
third, its interpretation and statements about ZACF history, part of its larger analysis
of the problems in ZACF, were flawed.
Unfortunately, Reid Ross and Stephens’ account of the important events surrounding
“Politico-Cultural Dynamics …”  is not very reliable and misrepresents the ZACF
response to the document.
According to Reid Ross and Stephens, Schmidt was, at the time, “internal secretary” of
ZACF when he circulated the text . There was, however, no such post in ZACF. They
suggest he held a ZACF meeting to discuss the text in July 2008. However, we cannot find
any record of said meeting. They state that the ZACF had, at the time, six members plus
three supporters. In fact, it had eight members, plus three formally affiliated
“supporters” (ZACF Activity Report December 2007-August 2008). They suggest that the ZACF
had evolved, by this time, from an organisation too broad “to have a membership roster” to
a much narrower one. ZACF was always a formal organisation, with members bound to the
ZACF’s Position Papers, Constitution, perspectives and strategy, and dues-payments, and
certainly had a “membership roster”.
In terms of how the ZACF handled Schmidt's circulation of "Politico-Cultural Dynamics …"
Reid Ross and Stephens claim, citing an unnamed former ZACF member, that ZACF people did
their best to ignore the document .
But this story is simply untrue. It leaves out the facts that people strongly disagreed
with the document, and that at the December 2008 ZACF congress, attended by black and
white comrades, as well as a Swazi delegate, “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …” was discussed
at some length (Congress Minutes, 13-14 December 2008: 4-5).
The document was flatly rejected there, Schmidt apologised for its racist formulations,
and ZACF reaffirmed its focus on the black working class, and opposition to segregated or
“separate” organisations as well as to white and black nationalism.
Of course comrades were deeply concerned at the document’s content! But this did not mean
people ignored it.
Reid Ross and Stephens cite their ex-ZACF member as stating that ZACF people were
“shocked” by “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …” . But this actually contradicts their own
analysis of the early ZACF. If there was, as alleged, a long record of Schmidt proposing
segregation, driving out black members, and so on, no one would have been shocked.
People were “shocked” because the document was so at odds with what people had seen
Schmidt, so far, writing, arguing and doing in ZACF – as we stated above, his work that we
saw conformed to fairly standard anarchist and syndicalist positions.
But concerns were allayed when Schmidt repudiated “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …” at the
Congress, where the matter was thrashed out openly.
Reid Ross and Stephens’ account of the ZACF, as noted above, suggests that ZACF had been
systematically subverted by Schmidt by this stage. We have already shown that their claims
in this regard are simply false.
The developments around “Politico-Cultural Dynamics…” reinforce this critique: if Schmidt
had indeed subverted ZACF politics, closed the township “action groups,” purged black
members  and secured “authority over the ZACF” , why did ZACF have black members and
supporters in 2008, ongoing relations with Swaziland, and why did both black and white
members reject “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …”?
It also needs to be stressed that “Politico-Cultural Dynamics…” had no impact on ZACF
political work. From July, when it was issued, until Congress in December 2008, the
pattern of ZACF work remained unchanged (ABC Report to ZACF Congress 2008, 13 December
2008; ZACF Activity Report December 2007 to August 2008; ZACF Minutes: 2 August 2008, 28
September 2008, 5 December 2008).
In this period ZACF:
1. Attended the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) general strike against
price hikes; attended the Soweto Pride LGBTI march; co-organised CAX actions at the
Lindela immigrant deportation centre in Gauteng; and attended the Lesbian and Gay Equality
Project picket against an openly homophobic columnist at the "Daily Sun";
2. Distributed copies of "Zabalaza" in Uganda and Zambia; collected personal donations to
assist Swazi anarchist comrade "MK," still closely linked to ZACF, and in dire straits
after eluding the police; and built links with a Zimbabwean group;
3. Issued numerous statements: with the "Landless Peoples Movement" and shack-dwellers'
movement "Abahlali baseMjondolo" against repression of Brazil's MST; under the banner of
the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC-SA) against the arrest of US activist Joaquin Cienfuegos in
Los Angeles; and its own statements on "Passive Voting or Active Boycott: The True
Question of Elections," of "Support for APF and Kliptown Residents" protests, on the
"COSATU Strike, Electricity Crisis and Food and Fuel Prices," and the hate-murder of black
lesbian Daisy Dube;
4. Assisted independent union GIWUSA's shopstewards with media skills development to
launch a union newsletter; participated in APF debates on elections and in the Freedom of
Expression Network (FXI); raised money via the ABC-SA for two jailed Cape Flats housing
activists; convened a short-lived radical Anti-Chauvinist Network and was involved in
5. Started a student group at the University of the Witwatersrand;
6. Coordinated the ongoing ZACF-initiated Alexander Berkman Study Circle in Soweto;
7. Worked on "Zabalaza" # 9, "Zabalaza News" #3 and ZACF Political Education Module # 6.
None of this is surely compatible with Reid Ross and Stephens’ allegations that ZACF was
subverted by an allegedly fascist or racist Schmidt. (Schmidt was, indeed, involved in
many of the above activities).
*3H. FACT: The Revolutionary Politics of “Black Flame”
Reid Ross and Stephens’ claim Schmidt was “in the midst of working” on the book “Black
Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism” at the time he
issued “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …” .
This is also incorrect. The book was taken over in 2005 by Lucien van der Walt, and he is
its primary author. The manuscript produced by van der Walt went to AK Press in January
2006, van der Walt undertook all revisions that followed, and the PDF proofs came from AK
Press in November 2007. That publication was delayed into 2009 does not change the fact
that “Black Flame” was already finalised, and that it had been out of Schmidt’s hands for
almost four years by the time he presented “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …”
It must be stated that any implication that “Black Flame” shares positions with
“Politico-Cultural Dynamics …” is spurious.
Reid Ross and Stephens state that the book asserts the “primacy of class struggle and
workers’ movements” in a revolutionary, global anarchist struggle .
But if this is so, then they must admit “Black Flame” is completely at odds with the
politics of nationalism, the radical white right or racism. And it spends a great deal of
ink developing a truly global, non-Eurocentric history of anarchism and syndicalism,
including a discussion of how the historic anarchist and syndicalist movement opposed
imperialism and racism, and played a role in struggles for national liberation and racial
equality, with a massive imprint in the Global South and among people of colour.
One clear implication in the Reid Ross and Stephens articles that, because “Black Flame”
is critical of labour aristocracy theories (including a variant, American-centred
“privilege” theories), it somehow shows a rightist influence , is deeply misleading.
Most historic anarchists and syndicalists, including people of colour, and in both the
Global North and the Global South, have argued that systems of national, racial and
imperial oppression harm all members of the popular classes, not just those directly
oppressed (“Black Flame,” pp. 59-60, 298-305, 313-314).
The argument is simply that any partial and short-term benefits were undermined by the
larger effects of such systems on the larger working class, peasantry and poor, by
dividing it, by promoting cheap labour and intra-class hatreds, by redirecting resources
into war and repression from welfare and constructive activity. There would be a
differential in the treatment of those facing these special oppressions, and those not.
But the differential continually undermined the conditions of those in better conditions,
and the wider the divisions and inequality within the popular classes, the wider the
differential in wealth and power between the exploiting ruling classes and the popular
classes as a whole – including between the ruling classes and the best-off sections of the
So this is not an argument for a narrow economism or for a working class movement that
reproduces, within itself, national, racial, imperial or other inequities as Reid Ross and
Stephens suggest (
– after this called  and listed at the end).
It is an argument for a systematic specific fight against all forms of oppression, from a
class perspective, to create equality and unity within the popular classes, and to fight
oppression across the whole society.
Such arguments have been a mainstay of large sectors of Marxist, anarchist and syndicalist
and socialist thought, globally.
“Black Flame” shows, for example, that this argument was made by leading Mexican and South
African anarchists and syndicalists of colour, citing, for example, such revolutionaries
as Práxedis Guerrero of the anarchist Mexican Liberal Party, and comrades of the
International Socialist League / Industrial Workers of Africa like T.W. Thibedi.
These claims were not unique to anarchism. For example, Harry Haywood, arguably the most
important twentieth-century black American communist, the son of slaves, active in the
Communist Party in the deep South in the 1930s and later in the “new communist movement,”
argued that white racism against blacks led, not to “privilege” and prosperity for working
and peasant whites, but to these whites’ “most outrageous poverty and misery” (H. Haywood,
1948, “Negro Liberation,” International Publishers: New York, pp. 66-67).
The solution for these left currents was unity around a programme to fight for equal
rights and the abolition of racial, national and other forms of oppression, as part of a
larger class-based struggle for revolution, a principled unity.
Obviously then it cannot be argued that radical critics of “privilege” / labour
aristocracy theories are whites seeking to preserve privileges. Since people of colour
have been central among these radical critics, and since certain whites are amongst the
loudest champions of “privilege” theories, the theories also cannot be mapped onto races.
People of different races can be found on both sides of the debate over such theories. And
any suggestion that critics of “privilege” / labour aristocracy are rightists is
indefensible, unless it is to be claimed that Guerrero, Thibedi and Harry Haywood were
As we are showing, (besides above, also see below) there is no evidence that — if Schmidt
did engage in a radical rightist project, as alleged by Reid Ross and Stephens — the ZACF
was subverted. And there is no evidence that he subverted “Black Flame” either.
While “Black Flame” is not a ZACF book, and has like any books, various flaws, we remain
of the view that it is a key and classic text of modern anarchism and syndicalism, and of
great value. It is a Global South-centred text that, for the first time, places people of
colour, the Global South and struggles against imperialism and racism at the very centre
of the history, canon and movements of historic anarchism and syndicalism.
We are well aware that its link to Schmidt may irredeemably tarnish it in the eyes of
some, but we would like to suggest that people wait until the commission for a final
resolution of the Schmidt affair.
And we would also like to suggest that “Black Flame” has an intrinsic value.
No-one disregards Mikhail Bakunin’s works because his one-time ally Johann Philip Becker
later became a close ally of Karl Marx, Peter Kropotkin’s works because in 1916 he
supported Allied victory in the First World War, Errico Malatesta’s works because his ally
Andrea Costa later became a founder of the Socialist Party, or dismisses the Italian
socialist tradition because one-time leader Benito Mussolini subsequently pioneered fascism.
No-one should disregard “Black Flame” on the basis of a controversy – which, we stress, is
still-unresolved – around Schmidt almost 10 years after the basic book was done –
especially given that comrade van der Walt was the book’s primary author.
*3I. FACT: Dispelling the Myth of a ZACF Debate on the “Recruitment of People of Colour”
and of ZACF Becoming “Increasingly Open”
According to Reid Ross and Stephens, there was a “lengthy debate” in ZACF sometime in 2009
or 2010 over “the recruitment of people of colour” . Having posited that Schmidt had
effectively made the ZACF into a racially segregated group, they also suggest that ZACF
“grew increasingly open to people of colour after Schmidt’s departure” in 2010, and a
“transition from Schmidt’s era to a far-more inclusive group” .
These claims are also false!
As shown above at some length, there was never any stage where the ZACF adopted fascist,
racist or segregationist positions or practices. This is an awful slander, and it has no
facts to back it up.
There was never a break in the basic political line of the ZACF, never a so-called
“Schmidt era” where the ZACF changed its historic positions, never a period when the ZACF
was closed to people of colour, only later to become “increasingly open.” The black
working class focus and the project of building a black working class anarchist cadre has
always remained in place. The “recruitment of people of colour” was a central task, and it
continued without end from 2003 to the present. There is no correlation between Schmidt’s
presence or absence in ZACF and any such alleged shifts.
And this is also why there is no record whatsoever of any “lengthy debate” in ZACF over
“the recruitment of people of colour.”
The simple fact of the matter is that the decline of overall ZACF numbers, and the end of
the “action groups” and the PMCP were always viewed by ZACF as disasters – and it is
completely impossible to understand ZACF politics, ZACF debates, ZACF responses and ZACF
activities unless the basic ZACF focus on a revolution for social and national freedom,
centred on the black working class is understood as well.
*3J. FACT: Claims that Schmidt Allegedly Voted FF+ Were Never Ignored
Reid Ross and Stephens claim that Schmidt had definitely voted FF+ in the 2009 general
elections, that he received no official criticism from ZACF for doing so, and that the
organisational culture he “had helped create at the ZACF” had “double standards” for
The FF+ is a small Afrikaner nationalist party and its origins lie in the Afrikaner
nationalist right. The FF+ runs in South African elections, winning a few seats. The
African National Congress, or ANC, the party of Nelson Mandela, has won every single state
election from 1994, and controls the Cabinet. The FF+ was invited to join the ANC’s
2009-2014 South African Cabinet, with FF+ leader Pieter Mulder made a Deputy Minister. The
22 April 2009 national elections had seen ANC, now led by Jacob Zuma, win almost 66% of
the vote, partly because of massive support by the ANC-allied Congress of South African
Trade Unions (COSATU), and the South African Communist Party (SACP).
ZACF has no faith in capitalist democracy, and has consistently called for a boycott of
state elections. It publicly called for “active abstention” from the 2009 elections,
meaning a boycott coupled with demonstrations and agitation
Some ZACF people were also involved in a larger anti-election campaign at the time called
But shortly after the 22 April 2009 elections, several ZACF members and supporters saw a
voting ink mark on Schmidt’s hand.
Schmidt should have been questioned as soon as the mark was seen. Had he voted? Or had he
spoiled his ballot? Why? If he voted, who had he voted for? People were shocked, and there
were discussions about what to do, but before action was taken, Schmidt stepped down to
“supporter” status citing work pressures, personal problems and being “burned out”
(Schmidt, email of 25 May 2009).
Obviously ZACF erred in not acting quickly and decisively on the matter. We made a mistake.
Although supporter status meant Schmidt was no longer involved in meetings and decisions,
he was, like other supporters, kept on the then-ZACF e-mail list [ZabFront].
In August 2009, the question of Schmidt’s voting ink mark was raised directly on the
[ZabFront] e-mail list, in two emails on 24 August 2009.
Schmidt did not responded to our questions.
ZACF made another mistake: it let the issue slide.
By the time Schmidt left ZACF in early 2010 (resignation message, 12 March 2010), the
issue was unresolved.
Schmidt, in a 2015 reply to Reid Ross and Stephens , has now admitted voting several
times in South African elections. This comes as a surprise to ZACF, as it was not aware of
a general pattern of Schmidt voting; a pattern which went against the political line of
However, what needs to be clear is that ZACF had no idea in 2009 as to whether Schmidt had
spoilt his ballot, or actually voted, and no idea who he voted, if he voted. The
discussions about Schmidt voting in 2009 were concerned with the fact that he had
registered to vote, and had either spoiled his ballot or voted, which was at odds with
what ZACF was then arguing. There is no record in our extensive archive of minutes and of
[ZabFront] emails of Schmidt being accused of voting FF+.
If Schmidt did inform anyone in ZACF that he voted FF+ at the time when action could have
been taken (that is, before he left ZACF, since ZACF can hardly discipline outsiders), it
was the duty of that person to raise the matter in ZACF. But none of the records that we
have from the time show the FF+ allegation charge ever being made in a ZACF forum, by any
ZACF member or supporter. Not one of the ZACF members or supporters from the time that we
checked with reports having even the faintest idea at the time that, if he had voted in
2009, it would have been for FF+.
ZACF could not act against Schmidt for voting FF+ if a charge was not made, and in the
absence of evidence or testimony to back up such a claim.
Schmidt has, to the best of our knowledge, never admitted to ZACF members or supporters
that he ever voted FF+. His recent statement is that he voted for socialist and radical
black nationalist parties, but never ANC .
The ZACF can certainly be criticised for not taking more decisive action against Schmidt
for participating in the 2009 election, and for treating him leniently because of his long
track record and stature in the organisation and movement. We acknowledge that we made
But it cannot be fairly criticised for failing to discipline Schmidt for allegedly voting
FF+, when no such charge was laid and as ZACF was unaware of the allegation at the time.
From 2011, when Schmidt was no longer a member or supporter of ZACF, claims that he had
rightist links started to be made, and, over time, these started to include the claim he
voted FF+ in 2009 (see Section 2D). By this stage, of course, he could hardly be subject
to processes of organisational discipline and review.
Which is why ZACF opted for confronting him directly instead, several times (Section 2D).
And throughout, he has never admitted voting FF+.
*3K. FACT: Dispelling the Myth of a ZACF debate on the “Inclusion of Feminism,” 2009-2010
2009 saw another tough year for ZACF. Debates are the life-blood of an organisation, but
the debates in 2009 revealed a deeper schism.
A senior member of the ZACF (not Schmidt) had begun to consistently act in ways that were
at odds with some standard ZACF positions. As the half-hearted response to Schmidt’s
voting mark in 2009 had shown, ZACF was often quite lax and not just to Schmidt, and it
remained plagued by the problems seen years earlier (see Section 3C): involvement in an
endless round of actions and publishing, without clear timelines, objectives and strategic
planning, too little reflection and discussion, sloppy recruitment, with real differences
on key issues bubbling under the surface.
From 2009, there was a push by one grouping in the organisation to end this situation, by
getting the ZACF to adopt a clear programme of action, and concrete targets and timelines,
better internal education and clearer recruitment procedures. This sector also wanted to
try to surface, and address, some of the deeper divisions on key issues that were being
A second grouping generally supported the historic ZACF approach, which we have criticised
above, and argued for, effectively, doing the same as in the past – but doing it better.
Another grouping openly stated its disagreement with basic ZACF Position Papers and
positions, consistently sought to push the ZACF to revise its basic positions, and to
bring in other political traditions.
All of this absorbed a good deal of energy, but it was surely helpful in trying to resolve
some of the deeper weaknesses of ZACF. And it should be stressed that while personal
conflicts did take place, the issues at stake were fundamentally political, going to basic
questions of ZACF strategy and operation.
We do not want to rehash old debates for their own sake or to get tied into the conflicts
of that difficult time, or into defence of each and every point or event in those debates.
Doubtless mistakes were made, and we can learn from them. As we believe we have.
But it is essential to mention this context, in order to correct the misleading account
that Reid Ross and Stephens provide of this period. As shown in Section 3I, for instance,
there was never any debate over the “recruitment of people of colour,” as this was always
seen as essential. The formation of a black working class-centred anarchist movement being
a founding principle that shapes all ZACF work.
Reid Ross and Stephens also claim there was a debate in ZACF over the “inclusion of
feminism,” also claiming “a female member of the ZACF was disciplined” around 2009 or 2010
“for wanting to join a feminist reading group” .
What happened was something very different.
A ZACF member (not Schmidt) set out to found (not “join”) a woman-only group, the
activities of which were to have included some reading of a range of feminist texts,
painting murals etc. The ZACF person who formed the group was the moving force in the
drive to revise the ZACF Position Papers.
The group was created without a mandate, without consulting the organisation or having a
collective discussion, and despite the organisation having consistently opposed separate
structures, whether on gender, race of other lines.
Implicitly at issue here was whether individual members could simply ignore the
democratically agreed positions reflected in the ZACF Constitution, Position Papers,
Congresses and minutes. At least until existing positions were changed, in a democratic
way, they remained in force.
So, it was only in this sense that the “feminist reading group” issue became a key issue
in a basic struggle over the direction of ZACF at the time.
It must be stressed that the issue was never over the “inclusion of feminism”, that this
was not, in terms of materials discussed and points made, even a debate about feminism,
and that there was no attempt to remove anyone from the organisation over issues of feminism.
These interpretations are misleading. The issues were what type of feminism, and how best
to win feminist demands.
ZACF had always supported the “inclusion of feminism,” and took a feminist position at its
founding ( http://zabnew.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/fighting-for-womens-freedom-zacf/). What
it argued for was that the fight for women’s freedom had to be located in the larger,
class-based struggle against all forms of oppression, including against capitalism, with
an agenda of revolution, and for a common class-based struggle as opposed to organisations
separated on lines like gender, race or nationality.
Analytically, this raised the question of how different forms of oppression were connected
in the larger social formation. ZACF documents argued that forms of oppression were
intertwined, that oppression by empire, gender and race did not necessarily begin with
capitalism and the modern state, but that they were absolutely central to these forms of
oppression being produced and reproduced in the modern era. This meant, for example, that
women’s oppression did not arise from a timeless and distinct system of patriarchy that
was sometimes allied with a distinct system of capitalism. Instead, women’s oppression was
closely linked to the rise of class society, changed over time in part due to the
evolution of class and state systems, was closely linked to the provision of cheap and
free productive and reproductive labour – and benefited ruling class women while, in many
ways, harming working class men.
While it is true ZACF did not always engage in specifically feminist work at every stage
of its history, by 2008, as shown above, it had a Gender Working Group – formed, in part,
to address this – and was participating in various activities around gender and LGBTI issues.
The debate was, it must be stressed, never even framed as one over the “inclusion of
feminism”: e-mails, ZACF records and proceedings all framed the issue as the “separate
organisations debate”; should ZACF reverse its historic position, and accept, in some
situations, “separate” organisations?
ZACF Position Papers and ZACF politics, as indicated, always favoured common struggle.
That is why a “compilation of the main in-depth submissions on the separate organisations
debate - for incorporation into the internal bulletin” was produced, and circulated on the
ZACF’s then-email list [ZabFront] on 19 April 2010.
So, the issue was whether ZACF should change its position on “separate” organisations, not
the “inclusion of feminism.”
In order to dispel any possible assumptions about the dynamics at play in the debate: the
debate was not one between feminist women and anti-feminist men. Every other woman member
and supporter in ZACF involved in the debate opposed the woman-only and heavily white
“reading group” that had been established. Besides the group’s founder, everyone who
expressed some sympathy with the action, was a male comrade.
Everyone involved in the debate was for feminism – but only a few, all men besides the
person who formed the group, were for the reading group.
So the issue of support for the reading group (a minority position) needs to be clearly
distinguished from the issue of support for feminism (the common ground of both sides).
The issue of feminism and the issue of “separate” organisations need to be clearly
distinguished: the same objections raised about this “separate” organisation would have
been raised about any other “separate” organisation.
But the issue of “separate” organisations raised larger issues about overall ZACF theory,
and the formation of the “feminist reading group” raised larger issues about ZACF practice.
For example, it revealed deeper, existing differences in understanding of basic issues
amongst members and supporters. It also raised clearly the issue of the ZACF’s tendency at
the time to operate without clear timelines, objectives and strategic planning, to jump
from project to project, and to ignore inevitable trade-offs.
In this specific case, the grouping pushing for a clearer ZACF programme of action was
inclined to the view that since ZACF time and resources were limited, choices had to be
made. And that the “feminist reading group,” which was seemingly very middle class, white
and suburban, would inevitably mean removing time and resources from core ZACF work in
black working class communities and struggles. That it was one thing for a ZACF militant
to work within or with, an already-existing black, working class feminist or similar
group, to promote anarchism in that group, and quite another to initiate a “separate”
group in another social constituency, at the cost of core ZACF work.
Although the two groupings might seem, from this account, to have been at complete odds,
there were consistent efforts to try and resolve the issues amicably and constructively,
and build on the insights that had been generated in the debates.
Heated exchanges in early 2009, for example, were followed by meetings intended to effect
reconciliation and solicit apologies. ZACF put in place a process to allow people to make
inputs and propose revisions to the Position Papers, and the person who initiated the
“feminist reading group” was requested to revise the women’s oppression Position Paper. In
effect, she was asked to propose changes to the ZACF’s basic positions. This is not a sign
of debate being suppressed: on the contrary, she was empowered to effectively overhaul
ZACF positions, including on “separate organisations,” and to present these changes for
consideration to the organisation.
The “separate organisations” debate dragged on into 2010, but the revision of the women’s
oppression Position Paper did not take place, the person who demanded changes never
providing a clear outline of what she rejected, and her “feminist reading group” continued
despite the fact that there was a serious discussion in ZACF as to whether this was in
line with ZACF positions, focus and strategy, and over the lack of a democratic collective
decision or mandate on the issue.
The member, a senior figure in the organisation and an office-bearer, was strongly
criticised at a meeting on 17 April 2010 (not “disciplined”) for failing to revise the
Position Papers (a year later), or work democratically by imposing the reading group on
everyone else – not because of any opposition to feminism. She then walked out of the
meeting and resigned by email the same day.
She was not asked to leave, and every effort was made in 2009 and 2010 to prevent any
splits or resignations.
She is the white, European, ex-ZACF member that Reid Ross and Stephens keep citing in
their account of ZACF history, and is the person who provided access to internal e-mails
from the ZACF to the journalists. She was involved in ZACF from the end of 2006, formally
enrolled as a member at the end of 2007, and resigned in early 2010.
It was not the departure of this member, or of Schmidt, that led to a new era in ZACF
work. ZACF theory and perspectives never changed, the black working class orientation of
ZACF never changed.
Change was at the level of strategy and tactics, that is, the application of the theory
and perspectives and orientation of ZACF to concrete conditions. Essentially, the sector
pushing for a clear programme of action, and concrete targets and timelines, better
internal education and clearer recruitment procedures, won out – and ZACF developed and
implemented measures addressing all of these points.
This, nothing else, was what the transition in ZACF, dubbed (by some) ZACF 2.0, at this
*3L. FACT: Dispelling the Myth of a Debate on Working with “Collectives with Ideological
As noted, Reid Ross and Stephens have claimed ZACF in 2009 / 2010 had a “lengthy debate”
over whether ZACF members and supporters could join “collectives with ideological
This is not accurate. ZACF did not and does not focus on working with anarchists or even
the left more generally. Its focus is on working with and in the actually-existing black
working class and its actually-existing organisations, movements and struggles.
ZACF does not aim at the general unity of self-identified anarchists of different
tendencies, and it does not aim at forming broad left coalitions.
ZACF does not aim at being a class-struggle anarchist current in a self-identified
“anarchist” or “left” milieu, but rather at building a class-struggle anarchist current
rooted in the popular classes. This work will sometimes involve cooperation with other
radicals, which we welcome. But such cooperation is always subordinate to the goal of
building a popular anarchist movement embedded in working class and peasant movements, in
ghettoes, in townships, in labour movements including unions, and in the oppressed
nationalities including in national liberation struggles.
Unity among self-described anarchists and leftists is not an end in itself, and is only
valuable to the extent that it achieves this goal.
The question is not to unite the radicals, or win them over, but to go to the masses.
In concrete terms, this means ZACF has always argued for working with, and in, groups with
which it has substantial “ideological differences.” For example, while openly expressing
its criticisms of many elements of formations like, for example, the APF, DLF, CAX,
COSATU, GIWUSA, and LPM, the ZACF has chosen to work with, and within these bodies. This
is also why, when the ZACF launched MCR through BAG/ PMCP, it deliberately set it up as a
non-partisan group, rather than as a pure anarchist formation.
For example, rather than stand aside and remain marginal, ZACF has always aimed to work to
win influence for anarchism – not the ZACF as such, but anarchism – within the existing
movements of the working class and poor
(http://zabnew.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/trade-unions-and-revolution-zacf/). For example,
ZACF does not aim to build new, pure syndicalist unions, but at work with and within
existing unions and workers’ organisations
ZACF members are not just expected, but actually obliged, by ZACF rules and strategy to be
involved in working class organisations with which ZACF has “ideological differences.”
ZACF is not sectarian, and will work with any progressive formation active in the black
working class movement.
In closing, ZACF has never debated whether ZACF members and supporters could or should
join “collectives with ideological differences.” The issue debated has been which other
formations to prioritise and when.
**SECTION 4: METHODOLOGY: SOME REASONS FOR THE PROBLEMS IN REID ROSS & STEPHENS’ ZACF RESEARCH
When ZACF comrades became aware of the Reid Ross and Stephens’ articles, we looked forward
to them with interest. Never, however, did ZACF imagine that it would be made so central
to the story – or that it would be misrepresented so thoroughly. An opportunity for an
interesting and valuable reflection on ZACF and on the anarchist movement in South Africa
was, regrettably, lost.
We suggest that the basic reasons for the poor account of the ZACF lie in two areas: the
first is a flawed research methodology (which we will discuss in this section), and the
second is a problematic theoretical approach (which we will discuss in the next section).
Also note that we are here looking at the process of research around ZACF, with Schmidt
noted only where directly relevant – not about any other research into Schmidt himself.
*4A. Extraordinarily Narrow Data Collection, which Silenced ZACF, African and Black Anarchists
The only cited materials used in the Reid Ross and Stephens’ account of the ZACF are: one
document, this being Schmidt’s 2008 “Politico-Cultural Dynamics of the South African
Anarchist Movement”; the testimony of an ex-ZACF member, who is readily identified from
ZACF records as involved in ZACF from the end of 2006, formally enrolled as a member at
the end of 2007, and resigned in early 2010; and the opinions of outsiders who could have
very little direct knowledge of ZACF (as opposed to opinions, or information heard from
This is not really an adequate basis to make large, sweeping and damaging claims about
ZACF covering almost 10 years, about ZACF from its initiation in 2003 into 2010, claims
that have been an important part of the Reid Ross and Stephens’ articles. The few sources
used are – as we have shown – manifestly inadequate to substantiate the claims that have
been made about ZACF.
TWO WHITE EX-MEMBERS
At the same time, there is a certain credulity towards these sources: what has been
skipped is a process of cross-checking claims against other readily available materials
(see below). For example, the source of information for the account of ZACF into 2007 is
Schmidt’s 2008 “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …” The ex-member cited could not possibly have
testified directly of events before the end of 2006, or about events from early 2010: this
person could only cover slightly over three out of the 13 years of ZACF history.
It does not make sense, given Reid Ross and Stephens’ own framework that they make
uncritical use of “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …” as a basic source on ZACF history.
The two journalists routinely present Schmidt as dishonest  , which means he could
also have been dishonest in his analysis of ZACF history in “Politico-Cultural Dynamics”.
And given that they spend a lot of time trying to shake his claims on a wide range of
issues, by checking these against other sources   , it is unclear why the same
sceptical approach should not have been applied in this instance.
But this did not happen, which leads Schmidt’s 2008 version of ZACF history to be taken as
literally true, without considering the possibility that he might have got facts wrong, or
remembered things incorrectly, or even been dishonest or re-interpreted the past to
bolster a present position.
Because, leaving aside the major political problems with this document, it has another
serious problem: as shown in detail in Section 3B, and elsewhere, it has errors of fact in
its history of ZACF.
And even if the testimony of the ex-member was absolutely reliable – and, as we have shown
above at some length, the version or rendition of that testimony presented by Reid Ross
and Stephens, has some problems (see Sections 3I-3L) – it would still have needed to be
cross-checked against other data like other direct testimony and written sources.
Besides the one ex-member, no other testimony on Schmidt or on ZACF history and politics
is cited from the dozens of other people who have been in ZACF ranks – with the exception
of Schmidt himself, who Reid Ross and Stephens view as dishonest  – and none from
anyone who has served the full 13 years in ZACF.
What outsiders might have heard, or claim to have heard, or might think about ZACF,
certainly cannot be taken as self-evidently true.
Reid Ross and Stephens failed to cite a single ZACF document, public or internal, in their
accounts: Schmidt’s “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …” was not a ZACF document. Discussing
numerous articles by Schmidt is irrelevant to this issue: to understand almost 10 years of
ZACF, more needs to be done than to use one document and the testimony of one ex-member.
Reid Ross and Stephens made no discernible use of the vast repositories of materials on or
by ZACF on Zabalaza’s website www.zabalaza.net, at Zabalaza Books www.zabalazabooks.net,
the Southern African Anarchist and Syndicalist History Archive (SAASHA) at www.saasha.net,
and elsewhere, including photos and texts, or the numerous articles about or interviews
with ZACF which are online elsewhere.
It is evident that Reid Ross and Stephens had access to internal ZACF materials, as
opposed to materials publicly available. Access to these internal materials was provided
by the ex-ZACF member upon whose testimony Reid Ross and Stephens relied so heavily, the
same member who walked out of ZACF in early 2010 after being criticised for failure to
implement mandates and acting undemocratically.
For example, their first article  is illustrated with a screen capture of part of the
front page of Schmidt’s “Politico- Cultural Dynamics of the South African Anarchist
Movement.” Although this was not a ZACF document, it is clear from the screen capture that
they are working from a copy sourced from a (now defunct) internal ZACF email list of the
time called [zabfed]. The [zabfed] list was used to circulate ZACF minutes and reports, as
well as provide a space for other discussions. It was followed by a second list called
[ZabFront], which is where Schmidt’s “parting letter” to the ZACF (12 March, 2010) was
circulated. This letter is also cited by Reid Ross and Stephens . But there is no
evidence that [zabfed] and [ZabFront] were mined for the research on ZACF history and
One reason could be that Reid Ross and Stephens had full access to, but chose not to cite
other internal materials from the [zabfed] and [ZabFront] lists.
Reid Ross and Stephens might have considered what they already had adequate, which, given
that they used very few sources indeed, to make very sweeping claims, indicates a lack of
diligence in their research. Because, as we have shown, the account of ZACF history and
politics provided is deeply flawed. The sources used are manifestly inadequate to the task.
Or they might have chosen to overlook materials that contradicted some of their core
arguments, or complicated their overall narrative. This too, would be deeply problematic.
Genuine research is based on engaging all the available evidence, and not just that which
confirms the views of the researcher, and it is important to deal with, rather than
ignore, evidence that challenges these views. Then serious questions have to be asked
about balance and accuracy.
Or they might have had access to additional internal materials from [zabfed] and
[ZabFront] but withheld them out of consideration and respect for ZACF security or protocols.
But then this principle should have been applied consistently: if it was unacceptable to
breach security and important to respect boundaries, then it was, by the same measure,
unacceptable to report on internal ZACF matters from verbal testimony, or to cite any
emails from [zabfed] and [ZabFront]. (This point is about the principle and should not be
misconstrued as suggesting Schmidt’s “Politico-Cultural Dynamics…” had official standing
or approval, it did not).
Or alternatively: the source providing Reid Ross and Stephens with internal ZACF materials
did not have more materials available, having only kept these out of all the materials
generated by ZACF during that person’s period of membership. If so, then more use of other
sources would have compensated for the gaps.
Or that source had, but deliberately withheld, additional materials.
If such withholding was done out of consideration for ZACF, then it would not have been
appropriate to provide any verbal reports or any internal emails.
If such withholding was based on the argument that only materials relevant to Schmidt
should be provided, then this does not explain why materials critical to the Schmidt
issue, like the 2007 and 2008 ZACF Congress minutes, emails from 2009 on [ZabFront]
raising the issue of Schmidt voting, or materials actually showing ZACF debating race etc.
were not provided.
The other option that is left is that only selected materials were provided, in order to
present the ZACF in the worst possible light by suggesting Schmidt subverted it and so on.
But that is a manipulation and suppression of evidence, which Reid Ross and Stephens
should have been able to identify and correct.
Reid Ross and Stephens also never contacted ZACF during the research. It was only after
the last of seven pieces appeared, that ZACF was reached by Reid Ross.
ZACF would have been more than willing to provide access to internal and public materials,
and answer questions. As indicated, ZACF has taken a position of keeping an open mind on
the Schmidt issues, and wants to get the Schmidt matter resolved.
ZACF can easily be contacted in a range of ways: through its website www.zabalaza.net,
where our e-mail address is provided and where there is also a contact form that hundreds
have used; through our Facebook site Zabalaza News www.facebook.com/zabalazanews; our
magazines and leaflets include contact e-mail, Facebook and phone numbers, and these are
available online and in social media. ZACF can also be reached through Anarkismo.net. ZACF
is in contact with thousands of people.
In short, it is difficult to view the failure to contact ZACF before publication as a
merely technical matter.
It should be noted here that Reid Ross finally got in touch with ZACF on 27 December 2015,
more than three months after the first article appeared, and a few weeks after the last
one. He stated that he had used an incorrect email address, for which he apologised.
We appreciate the contact, and the explanation.
But we cannot feel quite satisfied. No matter how we read the somewhat contradictory
timelines of events provided by AK Press  , Reid Ross was in contact with that
publishing company no later than June 2015, and Stephens had spent “over a year of looking
into Schmidt” by the time he contacted it. Reid Ross and Stephens also state “the
investigation had been underway since early 2014, more than a year before Schmidt’s former
publisher [AK Press] had any inkling of it” .
It seems very unlikely that successful contact could not be made with ZACF during this
entire period, almost two years, given our online footprint. And we are certain some of
the people Reid Ross and Stephens cite in their work on Schmidt and on ZACF could easily
have provided our contact details, if a quick Google search did not turn up results. Reid
Ross has written in recent months to Anarkismo sister organisations of ZACF: any of these
could have put him in touch with us.
Although a defunct email address could have been obtained from old publications or
statements, we have no idea why Reid Ross would not have obtained the correct one more
easily: we have been using email@example.com since 22 December 2011, over four years now,
and it is easily found online.
And contact after the fact is irrelevant to the research process – it does not affect the
substance of the negative and specific allegations against ZACF that Reid Ross and
Stephens have already made publicly.
Rather, the failure to contact ZACF is open to two alternative explanations.
There could be hostility to the ZACF, on the assumption for example that ZACF was
“covering up” for Schmidt. But this would be an unfounded and prejudiced position,
indicating basic hostility to ZACF from the start.
Or it could simply be the result of the already demonstrated failure to research the ZACF
properly. One single visit to the ZACF’s website would have shown the correct e-mail as
well as the ZACF contact form. Was the site visited even once?
The account of ZACF that has been provided by Reid Ross and Stephens does not,
regrettably, show much in terms of making an effort to contact ZACF or consideration for
an accurate view, the reputation of the organisation, or the dignity of people associated
with ZACF like comrade Nyalungu.
One immediate effect of constructing a story of ZACF history and politics without making
use of easily available ZACF sources or engaging ZACF, is to get the basic facts of ZACF
history and politics wrong.
Another effect is that Reid Ross and Stephens did not seek the views of ZACF, the subject
of critical reportage prior to publication.
And a further effect is that key African and black anarchist voices have been silenced in
Reid Ross and Stephens’ account, and with that ZACF has been side-lined in the story of
ZACF, and disempowered.
And in doing so, they create a deeply misleading picture of ZACF that, bluntly, damages
the credibility and hampers the political work of the ZACF – one of the most active
anarchist and syndicalist formations, not just in southern Africa but on our continent as
The approach is condescending and patronising. The ZACF is a key topic of the
conversation, but not included in the conversation. The main anarchist and syndicalist
group in South Africa focused completely on work amongst the black working class, active
for well over a decade, a group that has a long record of work and of arrests becomes an
Was this truly necessary?
*4B. A Selective Use of Evidence and Leading the Witness
The failure to use other extensive ZACF resources, or to contact ZACF, and the reliance on
the opinions of people outside the ZACF to tell the story of the ZACF, also reinforces the
impression that Reid Ross and Stephens only wanted to hear and publish information that
fitted their claims. For example, as shown in Section 3D, none of comrade Nyalungu’s views
about ZACF were ever quoted in any of the eight articles e.g. his statements that ZACF
“honestly challenged … the status quo,” that there was “nothing like ‘white supremacist’
tendency” in ZACF etc. Instead, the work of the comrade was rubbished as part of a general
rubbishing of ZACF.
The same impression arises from private messages that Reid Ross sent in the course of his
research. A message sent by Reid Ross to one comrade, formerly of ZACF and now organising
amongst farmworkers, requested information on Schmidt (Facebook message from Reid Ross, 22
But Reid Ross added, significantly:
“From several interviews I’ve conducted of people on the South African left, as well as
the SA anarchist movement, it seems as though people kind of knew about a lot of
controversial opinions held not only by Schmidt, but also by members of the ZACF.”
Since this exact same message described Schmidt as a “white supremacist” with “racist
ideas,” (it does not cite any other “controversial opinions”), Reid Ross’ message
effectively said that other “members of the ZACF” were “white supremacist” with “racist
So, rather than ask the comrade whether she agreed with these claims, Reid Ross framed the
interview as filling in the “final details.”
This sort of leading the witness in an interview is frowned upon in research, because it
tends to give the researcher only data that confirms their pre-existing views, rather than
presenting open questions.
And the framing used here also slandered ZACF in the guise of undertaking research. Unless
damaging claims can be independently validated, they are slanderous: what some people
think they “kind of knew” is not serious evidence for such claims and it is inappropriate
to cite it without any qualifiers.
This sort of approach, not grappling with the full spectrum of evidence, and showing a
confirmation bias, is deeply problematic.
It is clear, Reid Ross and Stephens presented ZACF in a negative light, not just in their
final publications, but in the course of developing those publications
*4C. The Need to Distinguish Direct Witness Testimony, Second-hand Information and Opinion
One of the frustrating elements of the Reid Ross and Stephens series is that no clear
distinction is drawn between the direct testimonies of witnesses, or second-hand
information or speculations, and that sources of data are often not clear.
In the discussion of ZACF, these are continually mixed together, despite the major and
significant differences in the reliability of these types of material. What someone saw is
obviously more reliable than what someone heard through a grapevine, or an opinion that
has no clear factual basis.
As an example, the disparaging discussion of the BAG/ PMCP/ ZACF work in Motsoaledi and
comrade Nyalungu  does not cite any witness or source for the claims made, yet the
claims are presented as authoritative.
But a close look shows the claims could not come from direct testimony: comrade Nyalungu
did not make these statements in his emails to Reid Ross; the ex-ZACF member Reid Ross and
Stephens keep citing arrived in ZACF around the time the project started going into
decline, towards the end of 2006 and early 2007, and was not part of it; an extensive set
of checks indicate none of our other comrades and ex-comrades involved in this work made
such claims to the two Americans. The claims are also completely at odds with materials at
www.saasha.net. The only person actually cited is an anonymous source who made some
general comments about the “white left,”  but not about PMCP.
So, the account of BAG/ PMCP/ ZACF Motsoaledi work by Reid Ross and Stephens is not
actually based on first-hand testimony or documentary evidence, and must therefore either
be second-hand (and therefore unreliable) or based on speculation.
(And, again, is it not striking that comrade Nyalungu was not actually cited as a source
on the project he was so central to?)
The point is that not all sources are equal. Second-hand information is often flawed,
incomplete and garbled, which is why it must be carefully cross-checked. Until verified,
it must be treated with great scepticism, given the malleability of oral testimony, and
well-established human propensities to exaggeration, folklore and urban legend, rumour and
gossip, including regrettably malicious whispers.
Speculation without facts is useless as a source of evidence. What some people supposedly
“kind of knew” (Facebook message from Reid Ross, 22 October 2015) is not fact, unless
backed up with solid evidence. Otherwise the claims are second-hand, with the problems
that involves, or baseless speculation. Even if all of these people’s views were
completely consistent with each other, it would not prove their accuracy, or expertise,
but only their agreement.
And this is why the basic weight of verbal evidence must come from key informants with
direct expertise and experience on the issue being examined – and why verbal testimony
must be cross-checked against other testimonies, as well as against sources like
documents. Documents because the problems with witnesses and memory are well-established.
But in Reid Ross and Stephens’ account of ZACF, testimony by people with direct knowledge
of the ZACF could not have been cross-checked against other testimony, since only one such
source seems to have been used, and could not have been cross-checked against documents,
since they get so much so wrong.
*4D. Research Problems with Excessively Using Anonymous Sources
A notable feature of the Reid Ross and Stephens’ series is that almost every single person
cited is kept anonymous – although the use of anonymity has, as we shall show, some
This includes everyone cited on ZACF, including the one ex-ZACF member quoted.
We understand that sources are sometimes kept nameless or given fake names (pseudonyms) in
journalistic and academic publications. We also understand that granting anonymity may
sometimes be essential: without it, some crucial information would otherwise not be made
available. In both cases, the key consideration is to ensure that sources do not suffer
harm as a result of the research, this being one of a number of standard ethical
guidelines in the media and in science.
Whether anonymity should sometimes be granted is not at issue.
What is at issue are two other matters: the methodological problems that arise when using
anonymous sources, and how to avoid these; and the question of when anonymity is appropriate.
The use of anonymous sources has some serious, inherent problems, and this is why
anonymity is normally used only as a last resort.
It is very difficult for a reader to assess the credibility of anonymous sources,
especially where (as in the Reid Ross and Stephens pieces) it is almost never stated what
relation and what expertise the people cited actually have with ZACF.
It does not help to describe people vaguely as sources, interviewees, or as members,
“veterans” or activists of the left or the anarchist movement. Obviously, these people are
sources and interviewees, but this does not establish the status and validity of their
It is not clear whether they have first-hand information, or are repeating claims from
others that they might not be able to themselves substantiate, or whether the statements
presented fall into the category of rumour and speculation and whispers. It is not clear
whether the articles are dealing with a set of reliable key informants, a network of
friends and associates, members of a particular current, their race, social background and
activist record etc.
To speak of people as part of the left does not help much. As we discuss below, the larger
South African left involves millions of people, of which the “anarchist movement” is a
very small part (much of which involves ZACF). South Africa has massive levels of social
unrest, protest and strikes, so identifying someone as an activist is about as specific as
identifying someone as a worker or a student. And none of this deals with the basic
question of the credibility of the claims made, and the type of information that is being
An additional problem with the extensive use of anonymity, when coupled to vague
descriptions and the absence of pseudonyms, is that it becomes impossible to know how many
people were interviewed, and how many were eventually, actually cited. Is it 5? 15? 50?
100? It is impossible to say, although we can with some confidence, based on what appears
in the articles and our own checks, say that it is almost certain that only one person
interviewed on ZACF itself had any direct knowledge of ZACF, and then only for a
relatively brief period.
Extensive anonymity lends itself to another problem: having the same source appear several
times under different descriptions can easily, even if inadvertently, create the
impression that several different sources are being cited when the same person appears in
For example, the ex-ZACF member cited by Reid Ross and Stephens appears in several
different guises in the articles, easily misread as different people: as a “person at the
meeting” in 2008 where Schmidt allegedly presented “Politico-Cultural Dynamics …,” as one
of two “documentarians” who claim to have uncovered Schmidt’s online activities around
2011, as someone “disciplined” by ZACF; and as the source for the claims about ZACF
debates on feminism, race and work with other groups (see , ).
This gives the impression of at least three different people being cited, including two
from ZACF, when this is not the case.
*4E. Fact-Checking Controlled by the Authors
Anonymous sources are also less credible because they can make statements without
consequence or due care (for example, slanders), and because they cannot be contacted by
other researchers (to have the claims cross-checked).
In short, they cannot be independently verified.
This also means that use of anonymous sources makes it impossible, at this stage, for
anyone to evaluate their credibility and expertise on, for instance, ZACF history and
politics. Were the persons cited in any position to actually make definitive statements
about ZACF? This is all opaque in the articles. Effectively, Reid Ross and Stephens have
the final word, and it is on their authority that the reliability of sources interviewed
must be accepted.
The interview texts with the essential date stamps are not available. The names of the
people interviewed are not provided, their ability to comment directly on the issues not
explained or established. So, no-one else can check or do a peer-review of the evidence,
or check how it was used and interpreted, whether contradictory data was left out and so on.
This is inappropriate, given the seriousness of the allegations made against ZACF. It
makes it essential that the two journalists fact-checked claims by sources as thoroughly
as possible. But since a wide range of sources relevant to the ZACF story were not used,
and since the ZACF presented is so demonstrably inaccurate, it is difficult not to
conclude that this responsibility was not fulfilled. Reid Ross has recently addressed the
credibility of the anonymous sources by stating that the “witnesses were cross-checked by
an independent journalist with an impeccable reputation” .
But this raises more questions than it answers.
Very few of the sources cited are actually described as “witnesses,” so it is unclear
whether this means that all cited statements and information provided in testimony were
cross-checked. If the term “witnesses” refers to all people cited, then it is used in a
very loose sense, and the basic problem with not distinguishing types of testimony arises
again. If the term “witnesses” means only those who can provide first-hand testimony were
cross-checked, then many cited statements were almost certainly not cross-checked.
It is not clear what is meant by “cross-checking.” If it means establishing a consistency
between testimonies then this does not, as we have shown, suffice to show that the claims
made were accurate – only that some people agreed with each other on some things. If they
all agreed that the world was flat, it would not make it so, only show that they had a
If “cross-checking” means fact-checking, then it is important to demonstrate that the
journalist had expertise on ZACF and used other ZACF materials to check claims made. Since
Reid Ross and Stephens had very few facts to hand about ZACF to supply, it would be up to
the journalist to check witness claims against other data on ZACF
Certainly the fact-checker never contacted ZACF in this regard, and there is no
explanation of how the fact-checking took place, or what, exactly, was checked.
It is not really clear in what sense the journalist was independent in any case: the
journalist could not have been independent of the Reid Ross and Stephens articles, since
cross-checking and fact-checking actively shape the articles. If the journalist was
independent in the sense of being freelance, then the independence is irrelevant.
What really needs to be established is whether the journalist was independent of the
parties and organisations that appear in the articles, that is, of the sources as well as
of Schmidt and of ZACF. If that journalist had relations with any of these three
categories, they were embedded in the events described, not an independent outsider. Given
that the fact-checker is also left unnamed, it is not even clear whether the fact-checker
was not himself or herself also a source of information used in the story.
And given that Reid Ross and Stephens’ accounts of ZACF are filled with egregious errors,
ZACF expresses some scepticism about the efficacy and scope of this checking process.
*4F. Was Such Extensive Anonymity Really Required?
The extensive use of anonymity creates then many problems, which brings us back to the
question of why it was used so extensively.
Anonymity is appropriate when it is the only way to access data, or when a source faces a
credible threat. Reid Ross notes this, defending the extensive use of anonymity by
suggesting that anonymous sources are routinely used in articles, as when high-placed
officials speak on condition of anonymity . Obviously such sources face negative
consequences for their jobs, and sometimes legally, if exposed. Likewise, vulnerable
groups in South Africa, such as outsourced workers, are normally granted anonymity in
interviews to shield them from retaliation by capitalists and the state. In both cases the
point is to avoid harm to informants as a result of research.
Applying this logic, Reid Ross suggests that he and Stephens used anonymity to ensure
sources’ “personal security” .
We understand the logic of the argument: if Schmidt was, as Reid Ross and Stephens claim,
a radical right-wing cadre, then certainly there were serious potential dangers to people
who exposed him publicly.
But this argument just does not apply to a range of cases where anonymity is used by the
Why would a statement by a “South African leftist” on “the larger irrelevance of the South
African left,” including the ZACF , require anonymity?
Why should testimony on ZACF debates about a feminist reading group require anonymity?
Why should the fact-checker, described as “an independent journalist with an impeccable
reputation” , require anonymity?
And if personal security was the issue, why was comrade Nyalungu – undoubtedly in a far
more vulnerable social position by race and class than many of the sources cited – not
granted anonymity, or ZACF warned of a potentially deadly security threat from an
infiltrator? There does not seem to be much concern for the personal security of ZACF
members and supporters, especially black comrades. A black ex-ZACF member was named, and
his long-time area of residence identified, yet a white ex-ZACF member from Europe was
kept nameless, despite not having lived in South Africa for years.
*4G. Time Constraints Do Not Explain the Mistakes
AK Press, Reid Ross and Stephens suggest that some of the weaknesses in their claims arose
from time pressures.
AK Press is cited in the fifth of the Reid Ross and Stephens articles  as admitting
that the formulation of the allegations against Schmidt in the initial AK Press statement
 was flawed. The explanation provided is this was “as an overly-concise shorthand in a
moment where time felt of the essence” .
Reid Ross, in a subsequent piece, also explains away errors in the articles with Stephens
as “due to the time constraints and pressures of putting the piece out early” . Time
pressure is also used to explain why, although the “article” was supposedly “actually in
the acceptance process of a radical, peer-reviewed publication with a prestigious
editorial board,” it never went through peer-review or basic editorial controls but was
self-published at medium.com , a site where anyone can sign up and publish.
But this is not convincing, at least as applied to the charges made against ZACF. As
indicated earlier, depending on which AK Press timeline of events we use (the two versions
do not match), AK Press heard from Reid Ross at the very latest in June 2015. If he had
solid evidence to hand at that stage, it must have been collected earlier, at the very
least in May. AK Press also states Stephens had spent “over a year of looking into
Schmidt” by the time he contacted AK Press in 2015 , which means at least as far back
as June 2014 . And Reid Ross and Stephens state “the investigation had been underway
since early 2014, more than a year before Schmidt’s former publisher had any inkling of
That is a lot of time, more than enough time to check facts and arguments.
Flaws in Reid Ross and Stephens’s account of ZACF were not imposed by time constraints.
They chose when to contact AK Press, and they could publish whenever they chose at
medium.com. The deadlines were self-imposed. There is no deadline at medium.com.
*4H. The Lack of a Proper Editorial or Peer-Review Process
A proper editorial process of some sort, whether peer-review or the more standard
editorial process of a newspaper or periodical, is routine in formal and reputable
publications, whether popular or academic.
It exists simply as an important quality control measure, and as a means of ensuring
responsible and accurate reporting, most especially when the subject of reportage faces
damaging claims, as has ZACF.
Having a proper review and fact-checking process is ideally not something to be skipped to
get a story out or to be avoided to “get the piece out early” .
It is essential to quality journalism and research, and we as ZACF believe that
publication on a reputable platform would have ensured far more rigour than has been
Reid Ross and Stephens’ articles have all been self-published online, and then spread
through social media. This means that there was no system in place – from a magazine,
paper or journal – that enforced basic editorial controls, fact-checking or peer review,
and adequate right-of-reply.
**SECTION 5: THEORETICAL FRAMING: SOME REASONS FOR THE PROBLEMS IN REID ROSS & STEPHENS’
This section shows that at least some of the problems in Reid Ross and Stephens’ accounts
of the ZACF and of the BAG/ PMCP/ ZACF project are linked to the theoretical positions
that are deployed. This section does not debate the larger political and theoretical
positions of the two men, but provides, instead, an indication of how an uncritical
embrace of an anti-left discourse propagated by the South African state and by
ultra-nationalists, a weak understating of South Africa that shares the basic assumptions
of South African settler and nationalist historiographies, and a Eurocentric approach to
the analysis of South Africa, anarchism and the radical right, are central to their
accounts, and to the problems with those accounts.
The fight against fascism and the radical right in general must be supported by all
However, the ZACF is of the belief that these cannot be fought from a position based on
anti-left, ultra-nationalist assumptions or a position that promotes problematic racial
Note that we are using the term “Eurocentric,” not as a label to discredit critics, but in
the specific sense of an approach that interprets the world in terms of Western
experiences, generalising these universally, with no account of the specificities and
impact of other contexts. These others are ignored, or are forced into a West-centred
narrative – rather than the West viewed as a province in a global story, not its centre
and exemplar. The standard pre-“Black Flame” narrative of a global anarchist and
syndicalist history that rests almost completely on North Atlantic cases studies and
thinkers is an example of such an approach, leaving out most of anarchist and syndicalist
history. The point is not to dismiss Western contributions, or set up a neat and absolute
distinctions between regions – these have never existed – but to have a genuinely global view.
*5A. Authoritarian Nationalism and Colonial Reason: The Roots of Anti-Left Arguments
In several places, Reid Ross and Stephens comment on the politics of the South African
left. The discussion of comrade Nyalungu, the BAG and PMCP, and of their relation to the
ZACF, claims that ZACF work in Motsoaledi, Soweto, was basically a project controlled by
white members and white money . They not only present this as an “exhibition of what
the ZACF did wrong,” but go on to cite a nameless “independent activist” and “seasoned
veteran” who claimed that this followed a formula of “white dominated” organisation using
a “Black comrade” and being controlled by “white folks’ funds”. This is part, they
suggest, of “exploiting opportunities to gain prestige,” with “members of colour” having
no real say.
From there Reid Ross and Stephens lambast the South African left more generally, using as
the starting point a claim by another unnamed source, a “local … South African leftist,”
about “the larger irrelevance of the South African left,” including ZACF. This includes
“the non-role of the ‘left’ … especially the white left” in the “mass student protests” of
late 2015 .
ZACF has dealt thoroughly with the complete misrepresentation of the work at Motsoaledi,
and of the unacceptable representation of comrade Nyalungu’s work, in an earlier section,
and on the dubious research upon which this was based. We will not be repeating this here.
What is striking and does bear note is the way in which ZACF is not being criticised for
being small, but for being part of a larger left, and in which that larger left is
presented as white, or white-controlled, as well as irrelevant. And that this is then
linked straight into a claim that these points “dialed in on a broader vulnerability
across the international left” in terms of poor racial politics and a lack of influence .
But these larger claims – the white-dominated and “irrelevant” left, and the South African
left as essentially typical of the “international left” in being weak – take us into the
territory of larger theoretical framings that are profoundly problematic. These ideas are
closely associated with the South African state and with ultra-nationalist currents, and
rooted in arguments from the colonial era.
Let’s start with the issue of the supposedly white-dominated and “irrelevant” left.
The fact is that South Africa has a massive working class-based left, almost entirely
black in composition: whites and other racial minorities participate in tiny, almost
insignificant numbers. This left is historically dominated by Marxism-Leninism, including
by the South African Communist Party (SACP), a space and influence contested by the much
smaller “Trotskyist” and anarchist currents.
It did not suffer the same crisis of confidence in the 1990s as many similar traditions in
the West, and, although the working class movements, including unions, to which it is
linked have suffered severe reverses in the last two decades, they are far from defeated.
Reid Ross and Stephens keep alluding to a substantial “anarchist movement” in South Africa
Regrettably this is not the case. The sad fact is that the local anarchist movement is
very small. When Reid Ross and Stephens keep speaking about the South African anarchist
movement, and quoting non-ZACF anarchists against ZACF, the impression might easily be
created, even if inadvertently, that ZACF is a minor, even controversial, part of a much
This would be a mistake. ZACF is a very large part of this very small movement, with a
history of continuous work in the black working class, in South Africa (and previously in
Swaziland) that has few peers in the South African anarchist movement.
And rather than the South African left being marked by “irrelevance,” the largest single
organisation in the “mass student protests” of 2015 was the South African Students
Congress (SASCO). SASCO, identified with Marxism-Leninism, is the largest student movement
in Africa and forms the core of the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) with the ANC Youth
League and the Young Communist League (YCL) (http://www.sasco.org.za/). The two-million
strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) split over the last two years: both
COSATU and the breakaway 400,000-strong National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa
(NUMSA) identify as Marxist-Leninist workers’ movements (see http://www.cosatu.org.za/ and
Union dissidents like expelled COSATU general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi explain South
Africa (and COSATU’s) fractures on the basis of “class relationships” and “colonial
capitalism,” with “socialism the only holistic and viable solution to the national, gender
and class questions in South Africa and the world” (Vavi, 2015, foreword to Vishwas Satgar
and Roger Southall, eds, “COSATU in Crisis,” KMMR/ FES, pp. xv-xvi).
The populist and nationalist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party
(http://effighters.org.za/), the radical Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA,
http://mype.co.za/new/the-socialist-party-of-azania-sopa/35477/2014/04), the independent
Workers and Socialist Party (WASP, http://workerssocialistparty.co.za/) and other, smaller
but important groups, too many to list here, all accept Marxism as a major reference point.
While COSATU is allied to both the ANC and the still-significant South African Communist
Party (SACP), NUMSA has started a process to form a Movement for Socialism and a United
Front and is expected to participate in the launch of a new labour federation later this
year. The United Front, a coalition of over 300 organisations, mainly township-based and
linked to NUMSA, also aims at socialism based on working class struggle
(https://unitedfrontsa.wordpress.com/declaration/) – as did the preceding APF and DLF
coalitions. And key groups linked to the United Front, like the Unemployed People’s
Movement (UPM), identify themselves with a black working class socialism.
The debate on the South African revolutionary left has never been over whether the
national / racial liberation of blacks was paramount, but rather, how this articulates
with class struggle and anti-capitalism: the dominant Marxist-Leninist tradition has, for
example, argued for “national-democratic” revolution as a “stage” towards socialism, the
Trotskyists for various applications of the “permanent revolution” thesis. The anarchism /
syndicalism of ZACF calls for working class struggle, unity and revolution as essential
means to address the legacies of national oppression, racism and colonialism (see
None of this discussion is to endorse any of these groups, or to get into debates about
what the “real” Marxist or socialist tradition “really” is, who is “really” a socialist,
to debate whether these currents have revolutionary potential or are right, have been
corrupted, have the right line on nationalism, or how class struggle anarchists should
relate to large reformist as well as revolutionary but statist formations, including
political parties etc.
The point is that arguments that set the left, including the anarchists, up as marginal
are obviously inaccurate. And obviously these claims cannot explain the deep love that
hundreds of thousands, millions, have for left ideas or the scores of black martyrs the
left has produced, such as SACP general-secretary Chris Hani. Elias Motsoaledi, namesake
of Motsoaledi squatter camp, for instance, was a trade unionist and SACP member sentenced
to life imprisonment on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela.
There may or may not be a history of “white domination” in Western left movements. We
cannot comment on this. But in a country like South Africa, with a small white population,
mostly very conservative, there is no scope for white control of the left.
But these arguments are not just inaccurate: they are closely allied to a discourse with a
long and dubious history, which paints the left as alien to blacks, and thus as white or
white-controlled, and, in some versions, as run by Jews, also Indians and foreigners.
Claims that the left is white, or alien, are deeply problematic, no matter who makes them.
Given the scale and power of South Africa’s overwhelmingly black left, these sorts of
claims are misleading. They require the peculiar claim that, despite a century of black
left activism, dating back at least to the anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists of
the 1910s, the left is not “really” African or shaped by blacks.
But such claims have a long history, dating back to early 1900s claims that radicalism was
introduced by East European Jews, then claims that it was sponsored by German gold, later
updated to include Russian gold, CIA gold and “white money.” Although originating in the
British colonial period (Britain ruled most of southern Africa by 1900, and South Africa
as a unitary state was created by a 1909 Act of the British parliament), these arguments
were taken up by the NP-led apartheid government from 1948. The NP insisted that black
rebellions were master-minded by white Communists (and Jews) like the SACP’s Joe Slovo, as
part of a plot by the Soviet Union in the Cold War. With Slovo presented as a KGB colonel
running the ANC, with Mandela and others his flunkeys, the fight to defend apartheid was
then presented as a battle against “Communism.” With “communist” defined very loosely, not
only was the SACP banned, but so were a wide range of radical positions and radicals,
including many class-struggle anarchist texts.
Elements of the post-apartheid ANC-led government have continued such claims, despite the
ANC’s formal alliance with COSATU and the SACP. In this variant, the ANC-led Tripartite
Alliance is the sole custodian of revolution.
All views critical of Alliance positions, whether left or right, are lumped together as an
objectively counter-revolutionary force, driven by and funded by racist whites,
imperialist forces, the CIA, the “dark forces” and “enemy agents.” This line of reasoning
is obvious in many public statements (e.g. Moleketi and J. Jele, 2002, “Two Strategies of
the National Liberation Movement in the Struggle for the Victory of the National
Democratic Revolution,” discussion document, ANC). It is also shown in leaked documents
where ANC leaders claim left wing black opposition movements are run by white “big
business people,” “pro DA whites and racist people” (e.g.
http://abahlali.org/files/UPM.pdf), the “DA” being the Democratic Alliance, a conservative
white-led opposition party.
Since Alliance politics boil down to uncritical loyalty to the ANC, critics of the ANC,
including left critics, are lumped in with forces like the DA. In effect, the radical left
(including anarchists active in the black working class) are presented as alien forces, a
“white left” that is part of the “white right.”
The basic line is the same as the old NP’s – ordinary black people are basically content
but are being misled by malevolent outsiders – and retains the old Cold War logic, except
that the SACP leadership is now on the side of the angels, and the CIA, not the KGB, is
the driver of regime change plots.
This rhetoric and its associated conspiracy theory has a long history of use as a means to
attack black working class autonomy and dissent. In the 2000s, it led directly to deep
National Intelligence Agency (NIA) penetration of the “new social movements,” with close
attention paid to foreign whites. As direct results, James Kilgore, a former Symbionese
Liberation Army militant living undercover in South Africa as “John Pape” was deported and
sent to jail in the USA, American-born Maoist land activist Anne Eveleth was arrested and
tortured and narrowly avoided deportation, efforts were made to spy on an APF media
officer through girlfriends, and, recently, a Swedish-born WASP activist was deported
after being blamed by ANC leaders for mass strikes on the mines. A white ZACF member has
been publicly accused by local ANC leaders of “teaching our people to burn tires” and
working for regime change on behalf of imperialist powers.
Let us stress here that these actions are not the core of the repressive process at work.
What is involved is a larger pattern of seeking to disrupt and discredit formations like
the APF and WASP, ongoing campaigns to paint the UPM and shack-dwellers’ movement Abahlali
baseMjondolo as controlled by sinister whites, and the insistence by co-opted COSATU and
SACP leaders, as well as their proxies in sections of the Progressive Youth Alliance and
COSATU affiliates, that rebel, dissident and intransigent unions are agents of “imperialism.”
Such arguments take on something of a life of their own. Just as part of the ANC has taken
over the NP’s anti-left theory, rival nationalist groups and certain strands of identity
politics have used similar arguments against the ANC itself, as well as against the left
more generally – including usage by a sector of the student movement.
For example, the ANC worked closely with the (illegal) SACP from the early 1950s, leading
an ultra-nationalist dissident faction of “Africanists” to claim that the ANC was being
controlled by whites and Indians and that the 1955 Freedom Charter was a document of
“white supremacy.” This group split away in 1959 as the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), and
spent much of its time presenting the SACP as anti-black. They were criticised by
left-wing ANC leaders at the time as expressing an “African racialism” in place of the
“broad humanism” of the ANC (and SACP) (Walter Sisulu, July-September 1959, “Congress and
the Africanists,” in “Africa South”).
The core problem with all of these arguments, in all their incarnations, is not that they
are factually incorrect, that they have sharp “racialist” and xenophobic edges. The core
problem is that they have profoundly authoritarian nationalist implications, historically
exploited by both white-based NP and black-based ANC and PAC nationalists: once it is
argued that certain views are inauthentic and alien, they can be dismissed, viewed as
treachery, and repressed at will.
Obviously this is completely incompatible with rational debate and an ethic of dealing
with differences and frank debate in an atmosphere of solidarity, and a libertarian
approach that views debate as valuable in itself. (It is also incompatible with the ethos
of revolutionary humanism and radical non-racialism championed by the best of the left and
Ultimately these anti-left, nationalist arguments are a strange fruit grown from the tree
of colonial reason. They rest, ultimately, on the profoundly racist notion that ordinary
black people in South Africa are unable to make their own choices, whose role in, for
example, the APF or UPM is that of hustlers or the dupes or tools of sinister
conspiracies. This is the real rationale for claims that “they” must be protected, even
form themselves, by a paternal state machinery.
This reasoning draws deeply on a colonial geography of reason, where thought and action
are the province of white people, with ordinary black people relegated to subjects who are
protected from their own limitations and from the nefarious plots of outsiders. If under
colonialism, this supposed protection was to be doled out by the empire, under
nationalism, it is doled out by the nationalist state in its various incarnations.
In this way, colonial reason intersects with nationalist authoritarianism, Cold War
thinking and certain strands of identity politics.
No one familiar with South Africa’s history would be surprised to learn that there is deep
mistrust between the races, that arguments that pose conflicts in racial terms have deep
resonance, or that claims about “white control” find a ready audience. Such politics will
continue until the question of ongoing national/ racial oppression is decisively answered
with a radical social and economic change.
But this does not mean the sorts of arguments outlined here are correct, or that they
should be promoted. Regrettably, Reid Ross and Stephens drift far into these murky waters
in their analysis of the ZACF. This is shown by their analysis of the BAG/ PMCP / ZACF
work in Motsoaledi, which repeats every core theme of long-standing South African
anti-left discourse. It is shown when they quote and apply, with approval, an anti-left
discourse that deserves to be met with due scepticism, based on a clear understanding of
its lineage, implications and place in state policy – and by an appreciation of the depth
and importance of the left in shaping South African struggles and movements.
*5B. The Unknown Country: Reading South Africa off the USA and Western Europe
Regrettably, Reid Ross and Stephens’ analysis of South Africa tends to read Southern
developments off the very different experiences of the advanced capitalist countries of
This is shown by important factual errors regarding basic features of South African
politics and political economy, and an ongoing series of spurious comparisons between
South Africa and the USA.
The point here is not to claim that there are not larger global patterns and histories
that affect all countries, to deny some important similarities and connections between the
Global North and the Global South, or to ignore the existence of overlaps, or elide
massive variations in the Global South.
It is that national and racial and class questions play out in very distinctive ways in
deeply divided but semi-industrial post-colonial societies like South Africa, and that
South Africa has unique features as well. These specificities have to be taken seriously
to avoid serious misunderstandings.
As far as we know, neither Reid Ross nor Stephens have ever visited South Africa, nor met
key players in their story, such as Schmidt or Nyalungu.
Doing research at such a distance requires a great deal of care in understanding the
context, in order to avoid mistakes.
Unfortunately, Reid Ross and Stephens’ account has many inaccuracies that leap out at
South African readers. Some are trivial, like the description of sunny July days in
Johannesburg. These are not unknown, but July is the heart of the bitter Highveld winter;
it is not summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Reid Ross and Stephens discuss, at length,
the meaning of a reference to “red soil,” seemingly unaware that most southern African and
South African soil is red clay (
after this called  and listed at the end).
Reid Ross and Stephens present Afrikaans as the imposed language of white “slave-owners,”
when history shows it was developed by the underclasses of slaves and servants, Asian,
African and white, in the pre-industrial Cape Colony: its first written work was the Koran
in the 1830s. Wealthy “slave-owners” spoke Dutch or English, not Afrikaans. They conflate
the three million-plus white “Boer” / Afrikaner ethnicity comprising around 60% of whites,
with white farmers in general, who comprised a small capitalist land-owning elite of
60,000, many English, by the end of apartheid. The positions of Afrikaner nationalists are
misunderstood: they do not argue for an independent “white” state, but for an independent
“volkstaat” (national-state) for white Afrikaners only, not whites in general.
Reid Ross and Stephens speak of the South African Defence Force (SADF) as a “paramilitary
Afrikaner Volksfront group” that joined the Afrikaner Weerstand Beweging (AWB) “in 1994 to
violently disrupt the vote that dissolved the segregated Bantustan of Bophuthatswana” .
The SADF was, in fact, the official military of the South African state, dating back to
the mid-1910s as the Union Defence Force, not to 1993 when the right-wing Afrikaner
nationalist Volksfront coalition was formed. (And the AWB was not a movement of “poor
white extremists” as Reid Ross and Stephens suggest, but a cross-class formation
controlled by white commercial farmers and marginal white petty bourgeois).
There was also never a “vote that dissolved ... Bophuthatswana.” A massive popular rising
broke against homeland dictator Kgosi (chief or king) Lucas Mangope, who in 1994 still
refused to legalise the ANC, COSATU, PAC and SACP. Mangope was allied to the Afrikaner
Volksfront through the Concerned South Africans Group (COSAG), which linked right-wing
whites to right-wing blacks in the last years of apartheid. Other homeland rulers involved
in COSAG included Zulu nationalist Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, head of the Inkatha Freedom
Party (IFP) and Brigadier Oupa Gqoza, military ruler of the Ciskei. Despite COSAG aid,
Mangope was toppled and the homeland participated in the 1994 general elections under the
auspices of the SADF. .
This larger picture is missed, with Reid Ross and Stephens continually reducing the
radical right in South Africa to the radical white right.
This might make sense for the USA or Western Europe, but, as COSAG showed, South Africa
had a very different situation. This leads them to be surprised that AWB leader Eugene
Terre’Blanche admired King Shaka Zulu . But this is not so surprising given that
hard-line Afrikaner nationalists and Zulu nationalists were formally allied through COSAG,
and developed an (abortive) plan for the simultaneous secession of an Afrikaner
“volkstaat” and reconstituted Zulu kingdom on the eve of the 1994 elections. The
complexities of right-wing nationalism in South Africa also get lost in this way, with for
example a collapsing together of very different, often mutually hostile, groups like the
AWB and FF+. But unless this basic terrain is understood, the ANC inviting the Zulu
nationalist IFP to join the 1994 Cabinet, and then the Afrikaner nationalist FF+ to join
the 2009 Cabinet, cannot make much sense.
Because Reid Ross and Stephens keep reading South Africa’s complex right-wing reality off
Western experiences, their discussion of the South African white right assumes a somewhat
The white right is not, for the most part, discussed on the basis of its own views.
Not a quote is provided from any white right party or formation in South Africa.
Reid Ross and Stephens instead provide long discussions of currents like “third position”
fascism and so-called national-anarchism and European and American rightists like Benoit,
Dugin, Evola, Raspail and Southgate, with the figure of the skinhead in the background
(see e.g. ,  ), none of which have any traction in South Africa’s white right.
There is no reference to any serious work on or use of local expertise on the country’s
history of fascism and right-wing nationalism.
Without exception, the experts on the radical right cited by Reid Ross and Stephens are
Westerners, none with an expertise on the South African situation. But their analyses,
grounded in the very different European and North American contexts, are assumed to
provide obviously accurate guides to South Africa.
The homelands / Bantustans are completely misunderstood by Reid Ross and Stephens: they
are presented as “the equivalent of ‘Indian Reservations,’” part of a pattern in their
analysis of reading South Africa off the USA.
The reality is the homelands were semi-autonomous states run by African kings and chiefs
working hand-in-glove with white apartheid officials, governing an indigenous majority, to
provide the pools of cheap migrant labour upon which much of South African mining and
industry rested. The roots of this system lay in Britain’s “indirect rule” policies,
pioneered in the Indian Raj and then exported to the African colonies.
But South Africa’s capitalist revolution, starting in the 1870s, destruction of an
independent peasantry, and rise of South Africa as a regional imperial power, gave South
African society a qualitatively different character to most African colonies. With this,
the homeland system developed differently to indirect rule elsewhere: it was not simply a
means of governance, but one of the core means of providing cheap and super-exploited
African labour power, the basis of the racialised cheap labour system (the “colonial
wage”) that still underpins the country's political economy.
We also note that Reid Ross and Stephens’ analysis of South Africa presents the country’s
history and social structure, and our people’s history, in terms of a story of competing
races and nations. This is a story where class and capitalism effectively vanish, and
locates their analysis, not in the radical left historiography, where capitalism,
political economy and South African imperialism are central, but in the traditions of
South African settler and nationalist historiography, where everything is reduced to a
timeless race struggle.
*5D: A Eurocentric History of Anarchism and Syndicalism
Reid Ross and Stephens also indicate the same Western perspective when they speak of
“shifts” over “some two-decades” to a more inclusive anarchist project that addresses
issues like racism, colonialism and women’s oppression. The “shifts” in the “some
two-decades” are explicitly presented as a break with the movement’s supposed narrow,
“traditional preoccupations” with capitalism and the state , and are rooted in
non-anarchist sources like “post-structural theory” and “leftist solidarity” movements.
And maybe this is indeed true of the USA. We do not know.
But as a bigger chronology and history of anarchism, it really only makes sense if the
history of anarchism in most of the world, and most of anarchist history before the 1990s,
is written off with developments in the West, probably only in some sectors of its
anarchist movement, taken as the basis of a universal history.
The issue is that historic anarchism and syndicalism, worldwide, opposed imperialism,
colonialism, racism, women’s and other forms of oppression, and that these struggles have
been part of the movement’s history from the start in the 1860s. For example, Peruvian
anarchists were working with indigenous movements a century ago, and syndicalist militants
were organising women – often also indigenous – in Bolivia, while the first black trade
union in South Africa was the revolutionary syndicalist Industrial Workers of Africa, on a
platform of smashing national/ racial oppression and capitalism through One Big Union.
This is exactly why recent developments in the USA or the West should not be taken as the
basis for a universal story of anarchism and syndicalism.
**SECTION 6: POLITICAL ISSUES IN THE AFFAIR – AND HOW A BETTER ANARCHISM IS POSSIBLE
We do not object to debate, or to criticism or self-reflection. Nor do we object to the
anarchist and syndicalist movement having open and frank discussions. We do not call for a
unity based on ignoring differences or on silence. We welcome these as an essential part
of an effective political practice. And in this sense we welcome discussions around race
and national liberation and the drawing of lessons from important experiences, as opposed
the common tendency in the anarchist and syndicalist movement of uncritically celebrating
past glories, without examining past failures.
*6A: For a Constructive Debate, Against Sectarianism
At the same time, however, ZACF objects to controversies based on spurious claims (we are
not implying the claims against Schmidt are necessarily spurious), labelling,
sectarianism, personal attacks, and innuendo, and a lack of sensitivity to power dynamics.
By “labelling” we mean the substitution of names, often undefined but generally negative,
as a way of dismissing others, without engaging the substance of their positions. This
includes the use of identity-based labelling, whether on the basis of class, race or other
criteria, rather than dealing with the points (e.g. dismissing arguments as “petty
bourgeois,” “Western,” “black,” etc.). It includes the use of jargon-based labels (e.g.
“ultra-left,” “Stalinist,” “reformist” etc.) to discredit others, regardless of whether
what is argued has any demonstrable link to such approaches.
This is incompatible with rational debate and an ethic of dealing with differences and
frank debate in an atmosphere of solidarity, and placing value on debate itself. (Note
that a rejection of a politics of labelling should not be misread as a rejection of
attention to political and moral communication and should take place across divisions, the
effects of context and power relations on arguments etc.).
By “sectarianism,” we mean a political practice based on denouncing politically close
currents, groups and people as enemies, rather than dealing with differences and frank
debate in an atmosphere of solidarity. Sectarianism includes the use of terms like
“sectarian” and “dogmatic” as labels, when sectarian or dogmatic behaviour has not
actually been shown.
Sectarianism and labelling have been clearly on display in numerous, venomous online
postings that have used the Schmidt affair to attack ZACF, “Black Flame,” Anarkismo,
Lucien van der Walt and the political traditions and approach with which we are aligned.
The issue is not one of closing down debate, or effacing difference in the hope of a vague
synthesis of currents, but of productive and rational debate – with the debate itself
central to determining what forms of agreement and cooperation are useful. Debate and
cooperation are not ends in themselves, but methods to achieve goals: it is methods and
goals and analysis that need to be debated.
The aim is to use the power of civil, reasoned and evidence-based argument and logic to
deepen understanding and break new ground.
*6B: The Importance of Consistent Principles: The Double Standards of Personal Security in
the Schmidt Affair
Debates and analysis also needs to be informed by clear ethical values, and these need to
be consistently applied.
We do not believe that such consistency has been shown so far in the Schmidt affair.
For example, Reid Ross and Stephens insist that Schmidt was an undercover fascist or
racist working in structures like ZACF, so potentially dangerous that witnesses had to be
kept anonymous in their articles.
But if so, then the first and most important priority was to alert ZACF to the danger,
allowing it to act to ensure the security of ZACF comrades – black comrades above all. If
the allegations were true, then ZACF security was compromised, and there was a very real
possibility of serious and dangerous backlash by Schmidt or associates. Whatever may be
the case elsewhere, radical white rightists in South Africa have a long history of
violence and murder.
But such concern for security and the priority of African and black security in this
situation was never shown. Not only did Reid Ross and Stephens fail to contact ZACF during
their research, but they failed to warn ZACF of an infiltration of which they, themselves,
were completely convinced existed. ZACF first heard of the “infiltrator” charges against
Schmidt through the AK Press statement, and the Reid Ross and Stephens pieces that followed.
And no account was taken of the often violently intolerant contexts in which ZACF
operates, and the way in which their own claims – untrue, but nonetheless printed and
widely circulated – place our comrades at risk, and hamper our work.
Although the claims are completely baseless, they provide ready ammunition that our
political enemies and the state can and do use against ZACF comrades. In positing a
connection between ZACF and the white far right, ZACF comrades, especially black working
class comrades, could face not just very real threats of violence, but problems in daily
But ZACF was not contacted in advance, even to allow it to prepare for political fall-out.
ZACF does not operate in a world where the worst that can happen is a nasty comment on
social media. Political intolerance, often violent, is a well-established feature of South
African life, and it is easy to see how Reid Ross and Stephens’ allegation against ZACF
provide fuel to enemies’ fires. Not a large organisation, the ZACF works under difficult
circumstances. Arrests of its members in South Africa and Swaziland in the past are on
record and instances of intimidation have affected its work repeatedly.
It was not just essential to contact ZACF to get facts correct, and to allow a
right-of-reply, but also to consider the deep damage done to ZACF – and, with ZACF the
main anarchist formation active in black working class circles in South Africa, to African
anarchism more generally.
A story matters, but an attitude of publish-and-be-damned is not a suitable one for a
And even worse, according to the 25 September 2015 AK Press statement, the company was
alerted months earlier, when “rumours” about Schmidt were confirmed when Reid Ross
“provided us with actual evidence” . Reid Ross and Stephens’ fifth article quotes a
manager at AK Press stating they got the “bad news” from Reid Ross in June 2015, followed
shortly by Stephens .
What this allowed, the manager continued, was for AK Press to do a “public cutting of
ties” with Schmidt even before the articles were published , thus safeguarding its
brand and reputation.
In other words, AK Press’ public relations were effectively taken more seriously than ZACF
public relations and, even more seriously, the security of actual ZACF comrades.
And finally, the simple fact of the matter is that publishing images of leaked material
from our e-mail lists does compromise our security.
*6C: The AK Press Connection: Also Guilty
In spite of the denial that AK Press “commissioned” Reid Ross and Stephens in part five
, the AK Press statement is crystal-clear, regarding Reid Ross, that it “helped him
investigate further,” placed him in touch with Stephens, and as a result “received and
compiled what we consider to be incontrovertible evidence” . In justifying its cutting
of ties with Schmidt AK Press made it clear that Reid Ross’ then-forthcoming article
“presents all the details in a more comprehensive manner” .
With Reid Ross contracted to publish a book through AK Press in 2016 (this book is
advertised at the end of every chapter), it is unlikely he would produce a story that
would cause reputational damage to his publisher, by contradicting the public AK Press
statement that denounced Schmidt.
And no claim of distance between AK Press, and Reid Ross and Stephens, can be taken
seriously when it is noted that every single one of the Reid Ross and Stephens’ chapters
was reposted on the main AK Press Facebook newsfeed. This gave it mass exposure and
endorsement: medium.com, where the articles first appear, is an obscure self-publishing
platform but AK Press has a massive social media presence as a major node in radical
networks. And both AK Press and Reid Ross have assiduously trawled the Comments on the
posts, defending the line.
By contrast, the statement on the affair by Anarkismo, which certainly represents far more
people and countries than the tiny and disproportionally powerful “AK Press collective,”
was never carried, nor even acknowledged. Anarkismo’s efforts to democratise the AK Press
space – by asking that AK Press take responsibility for inflaming the Schmidt affair, for
the way it handled matters, to qualify its claims, and to carry both sides of the story
(www.anarkismo.net/article/28576) – were completely ignored.
*6D: The North/ South Dynamics of the Schmidt Affair
We have indicated in the previous section that Reid Ross and Stephens’ research on ZACF
and on South Africa has not engaged in a careful analysis of the history and politics of
the left, nationalism and fascism in post-colonial settings like ours. Rather there is a
recurrent Eurocentrism expressed in a failure to get facts correct, to understand the
politics and political economy of our country and how this shapes the national/ racial
question, a continual tendency to read local realities off of USA and European examples,
and a tendency to generalise off Western, especially US, experiences to make sweeping
claims about the state of the left and the history and politics of anarchism.
But there is another element of this North/ South dynamic at play in the whole Schmidt affair.
Precisely because countries like the USA dominate media, knowledge production and
publication globally, even obscure writers in the Global North have a louder voice than
almost any in the Global South. This, too, plays out in this saga.
Simply put, Reid Ross and Stephens and AK Press can propagate their views on a global
scale, as compared to the ZACF or its militants and ex-militants like comrade Nyalungu.
AK Press, run by a tiny “collective,” can disdain to hear the voices of Anarkismo, and it
can unilaterally cancel books like “Black Flame,” which – whatever their problems with
Schmidt – was primarily written by another person, without even bothering to send that
person an email raising the issues, or considering a way forward.
Every article by Reid Ross and Stephens, no matter how problematic, has been pumped out
through AK Press’ media apparatus.
AK Press, Reid Ross and Stephens can really say what they like about ZACF and black
working class activists like comrade Nyalungu without any real possibility of our having
access to any formal dispute resolution mechanism, any sort of “ombudsman” / formal
complaints investigation process or legal redress, given their location behind the walls
of the dollar and the American legal system.
All we can really do is appeal to their sense of right with a clear and firmly worded
statement like this one.
There are, in other words, serious North/ South power imbalances at play, and this whole
affair exposes them. While our detractors can spend many days patrolling social media
sites to defend and amplify their positions, we, ourselves, exist in a world where most
ZACF members and supporters do not even have direct access to basic computer facilities
and the internet, some not even having regular access to running water and electricity.
And this, too, reinforces the silencing of our views, and our exclusion from the
conversation, in which we are a central topic. And to make matters worse, there is the
unedifying spectacle of the African ZACF with its long history of militant work, and
sacrifice, being given advice in the Reid Ross and Stephens articles on the need to take
race and “the deleterious effects of institutionalized power disparities” seriously .
It’s not an issue of whether Americans can or should write as they wish. It is that ZACF
and others who are actually directly affected by the Schmidt affair are marginalised in
*6E. Conclusion: A Better Anarchism is Possible
As revolutionaries committed to a radically democratic, self-managed, and egalitarian
future, and a universal human community based upon justice and freedom, we need to act now
in ways that prefigure the future that we want.
We think, then, that some basic actions might be in order to help make the anarchist and
syndicalist movement more like the prefigurative, solidaristic and internationalist
movement we would like to see change the world.
There are some concrete proposals that we would like to make, as follows:
1. The promotion of a culture of rational debate and fair process, not a punitive culture
of labelling, sectarianism, personal attacks, and innuendo, and a lack of sensitivity to
2. Acceptance of an ethical code that is consistent with our values, and that takes into
account issues like North/ South power dynamics. This includes a code of conduct for
anarchist or anarchist-identified writers and journalists;
3. Being responsible when making criticisms, by getting the facts right, operating in a
constructive and substantiated manner, and allowing right-of-reply;
4. The need to develop measures to keep small collectives controlling massive resources –
including publishers like AK Press – accountable to the movements they claim to serve, as
opposed to such groups being able to unilaterally impose sanctions on others;
5. Building a more inclusive anarchist press: not a mechanical representation of groups,
nor a movement dominated by the doctrines and graduates of US universities, nor one
centred on the elites of the Global South, but one in which voices from working class and
peasant movements, from ghettoes, from townships, from the Global South, are heard more
than sub-cultural groups and sectarian posturing.
The anarchist and syndicalist movement needs to take a long, hard look at itself. The
sectarianism, labelling and venom that this affair has revealed, the paranoia about
infiltration, the willingness to believe the worst, the power relations that allow two
American journalists to act with impunity with a powerful media campaign against a
substantial African revolutionary organisation with real roots in a black working class,
needs to change.
The real criteria for a successful mass anarchism and syndicalism are not whether some
anarchists attend some protests, not whether anarchists build a large but isolated
anarchist ghetto, not whether some protests used democratic methods of decision-making,
not how heated our rhetoric can become, or how bitter our sectarianism on bulletin boards.
Even promoting democratic decision-making in larger movements is not a satisfactory
criterion for success: democracy is not unique to anarchists, and unless people are won
over to anarchist ideas, democratic processes will simply lead to the democratic selection
of non-anarchists positions.
The real criteria, the only ones that really matter in evaluating anarchist success or
failure, are simply these: does anarchism secure a mass base in the popular classes, in
the oppressed nationalities and marginalised groups, in the labour movements, in the big
struggles of our time – a sustained presence that builds the basis for a revolutionary
popular or counter power, against the system. This requires strategy, focus, and sacrifice
– based on careful discussions.
Because unless anarchism finds its road to the masses, it is a failure, impotent, and
pointless. It may entertain and entrance. It may provide a home for the anarchists.
But it will never change the world. It can only change the world when it goes to the
masses, shares their hopes and struggles, and merges with them.
THE ZACF AND RELATED GROUPS:
Southern African Anarchist and Syndicalist History Archive (SAASHA): www.saasha.net
Zabalaza Books: www.zabalazabooks.net
Zabalaza News: https://www.facebook.com/zabalazanews/
DOCUMENTS IN THE SCHMIDT AFFAIR
 AK Press statement: https://www.facebook.com/AKPress/posts/10156164515845249 and
 Michael Schmidt statements: https://www.facebook.com/AKPress/posts/10156169461510249
 A. Reid Ross and J. Stephens, "chapter" 1:
 A. Reid Ross and J. Stephens, "chapter" 2:
 A. Reid Ross and J. Stephens, "chapter" 3:
 A. Reid Ross and J. Stephens, "chapter" 4:
 A. Reid Ross and J. Stephens, "chapter" 5:
 A. Reid Ross 1st reply to 2nd Schmidt reply
 A. Reid Ross 2nd reply to 2nd Schmidt reply
 A. Reid Ross 3rd statement after the articles
Related Link: http://zabalaza.net
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