Steven Friedman's review of 'Bonds of Justice: The Struggle for Oukasi' (K. Forrest)

Read the full review in The Conversation lessons from a township that resisted apartheid


Can people on the wrong end of power change the world by working together? Or are the moments when the powerless take control of their own lives doomed to be snuffed out?

The question is raised by Kally Forrest’s book Bonds of Justice: The Struggle for Oukasie. It is another in the Hidden Voices series which aims to recover and preserve writings on society which would otherwise fall through publishers’ nets. The book is short and highly readable, and so is accessible to a non-academic audience. It has been some years in the making – it uses information gathered in 2011 and 2012. But the story it tells raises topical issues.


Forrest details the fight, in the last years of apartheid, of the people of Oukasie, a township near Brits in North West Province, against an attempt to force them to move to Lethlabile, 25 km from Brits, primarily because their presence offended white residents. While it was common under apartheid for black people to be removed to areas where they would be out of sight to whites, it was uncommon for those who faced this threat to resist it successfully. Oukasie did manage to defeat the attempted removal.


It organised to do this despite a sustained campaign by the apartheid authorities. This included the murder of anti-removal leaders and members of their family, but its chief strategy was to divide residents. So, resistance could only succeed if the resisters were organised and united. While thousands were induced to move, enough stayed to force the authorities to abandon the removal and agree that Oukasie be developed.


Unusual circumstances made Oukasie an ideal site for strong grassroots organisation in which people remain united because they share in decisions.



The resistance

Brits was the site of strong worker organisation, largely the work of Young Christian Workers (YCW), founded by Roman Catholic priests as a vehicle for European workers to change exploitative conditions through organised efforts. YCW, which in Brits was open to non-Christians, stressed democratic grassroots organisation based on careful strategy summed up in its motto – “See, judge, act” – which encouraged members to reflect on what they saw before deciding what to do about it.


Young Christian Workers was political, since it challenged the effect of economic power on its members. But it was wary of the political movements which, it believed, wanted workers to act in ways which advanced the movements’ interests but not their own. It was able to maintain this stance because, in contrast to much of the rest of the country, the political organisations were not active in Oukasie. READ MORE

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