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Work In Progress
Southern African Research Service, Johannesburg
1977 - 1994
The context in which the first issue of Work In Progress appeared was one in which the embryonic trade union movement had not yet emerged as a major actor on the scene. In September 1977 popular political resistance to apartheid seemed to be waning, although the impetus that 16 June 1976 had given to the African National Congress was soon to manifest itself in the 'armed propaganda' associated with guerilla and sabotage activities of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The impetus for the publication came from a group of University of Witwatersrand post-graduate students who believed that modes of analysis and information contained within the university community had to be shared with a wider audience. South Africa was an increasingly complex society, and new developments and dynamics demanded informed debate, analysis and response. While explicitly intellectual in approach, WIP did not set out to be academic, or 'university-based'. It aimed at 'stimulating and provoking responses in a national debate on contemporary South Africa'. When WIP first appeared the labour movement was splintered, small, and struggling to establish itself. Yet from an early stage, WIP raised the questions of class leadership, reflecting its consistent and coherent concern with the class nature of organisations and issues. The earlier issues of WIP tended to raise organisational questions as issues in themselves, relecting the low level of organisational development of the time. From the beginning of 1983, however, as political and community organisations began developing, the issues became more focused and grounded in practical issues. At the beginning of 1985, WIP became one of the first South African-based publications to present current ANC views and developments. These articles were explicitly not propagandist in nature, but represented an attempt to provide information and perspective on an important organisational influence in South African politics of which South Africans were kept ignorant because of censorship, security legislation, curbs on the media and the like. WIP consistently refused to ignore political tendencies and organisations weaker or less well-supported than organisations which occupied centre stage. This reflected a commitment to democracy, open debate and freedom of speech as important cornerstones of progressive politics. WIP's consistency in raising issues about the centralisation and changing nature of state power, changing relationships between and within classes, the impact of monopoly economic dominance on the state, and the relationship between the working class and national-democratic struggle, was a major contribution in establishing what was happening in the changing relations between capital and the state and how to understand a period of 'change' after years of apparent immobility by the ruling National Party. While WIP was by no means the only publication to encourage these debates, its openness to the elaboration of positions which members of the editorial collective did not necessarily agree with was one hall-mark of the publication. Apart from successfully challenging a number of bannings, it was able to make limited inroads into Publications Act committees declaring material undesirable for obviously trivial or untenable reasons. Despite restrictions on what it could publish, WIP's concern with progressive politics and trade unionism, strategies for change, and the organisational and class actors who promoted or impeded the transformation of apartheid society remained constant; it serves as an outstanding example of the necessity for an independent and vibrant press, free of constraints, for the maintenance of a democratic society. A supplement entitled Reconstruct was published with Work in Progress with effect from the January/February 1992 issue and New Era was incorporated with effect from July/August 1992. In July 1994 Work in Progress was incorporated into Southern Africa Report.
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