The Amandla collective brings our readers the tragic news of the passing of Jamie Claassen. Jamie was a founding member of the Amandla Project and Editorial Collective and was dedicated to the struggle for a democratic socialist alternative.
Jamie was a person of gentle determination but steadfast in his revolutionary beliefs. He made his mark in a way that left a deep imprint on all who knew him as a caring person and a man of extreme integrity and humility. During the last few days of his battle with cancer Jamie wanted to hear about others the problems of society and the poor rather than talk about his pain.
That is the person he was. He is already missed, not just by his wife Bronwyn and daughter Lauren but also by all of us who were close to him.
Jamie was born in 1965 and spent his formative years in Great Brak River. He moved to Cape Town to complete his schooling at Livingstone High. He attended UCT medical school and graduated in 1989. After the completion of his medical training he spent most of his career working in community and public health structures. At the time of his death Jamie was the Director of Mitchells Plain / Klipfontein Sub-Structure of the Provincial Department of Health.
During the eighties, Health workers, both professional and non-professional, were forming a united front to oppose the reactionary forces within the established medical, dental and nursing organisations, which continued to support the apartheid government. James was an active member of the Health Workers Society, whose aims included the promotion of health, and the provision of support to communities in their struggle for better health. The Health Workers Union in which James participated in 1985 was the first union in SA that catered for the needs of all health workers.
He was active with HWS in establishing a progressive primary health care project in the informal KTC settlement where community health workers were trained, and clinics were organized in a facility which served the needs of the community. He was active in the student, youth and political movements that resisted the attempts of late apartheid to reform the system. In the early nineties he was one of the founding members of the Workers Organisation for Socialist Action and worked with a range of comrades producing publications like Free Azania, Solidarity and Workers Voice, writing and illegally distributing pamphlets agitating for strikes, stay-aways and mass protests. In other words, Jamie was a 1980s activist with all that it implies.
After 1994, realising that socialists faced new fundamental challenges given the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of globalisation and the advent of the ANC to power under a non-racial democratic constitution, Jamie along with others started on a journey to rebuild a socialist politics rooted in the experiences of everyday life of the masses of people that remained socially disenfranchised and dispossessed under post-apartheid capitalism.
Together they initiated in 1996 the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) and in 2006 Jamie and a core of other comrades committed to transcendent left politics founded the magazine Amandla!. Amandla! was initiated at a time when there was growing opposition inside and outside of the Tripartite Alliance to the elite-building politics of Mbeki and Trevor Manuel.
The advent of the global economic crisis of 2008 and the removal of Mbeki as President of the country inspired a number of activists to come together and initiate a process of political regroupment that culminated in the formation last year of the Democratic Left Front. Jamie was integral to this construction of a new left politics.
Jamie was an anti-racist who stood implacably for non-racialism. He rejected the concept of race as a scientific or biological category. For Jamie there was one race only and that was the human race. At the root of Jamie’s politics was the belief that emancipation would be the result of the actions of ordinary people in their everyday struggles: Jamie cringed at the deep schisms between the rich and the poor. Hence, Jamie never saw 1994 and the achievement of democracy as the end of the struggle. His lifelong mission was to overcome inequality and injustice. Jamie had special politics he was able to work with people from all walks of life and build links and bridges across political divides. He respected the views and contributions of others. In this way he was special. But he was special in so many other ways as a loving husband, caring father and as a beautiful human being.