||Wolpe Lectures 2004
|Review of Zackie Achmat’s Wolpe Memorial Lecture Ten Years of South Africa’s Democratic Constitution
Review of Giovanni Arrighi’s Lecture, “The Rough Road to Empire”
Ten Years of Democracy: From Racial to Class Apartheid
An Incomplete Freedom
Review of Mark Gevisser’s “Are We Living the Dream Deferred?”
From Liberation to reconstruction: Theory and practice in the life of Harold Wolpe
Review: Sexuality as the theatre for post-apartheid political battles?
Wolpe Review: Building and Sustaining....a Women's Movement in the Zimbabwean Crisis
The Fires of Memory: A review of Tariq Ali's Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture
The Global Justice Movement 5 years after Seattle
Review of Zackie Achmat’s Wolpe Memorial Lecture Ten Years of South Africa’s Democratic Constitution
by Annie Devenish and Mandisa Mbali
Zackie Achmat (centre) with Fazel Khan (left) and Mandla Majola (right)
Zackie Achmat, the leader of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), spoke at the Centre for Civil Society’s first Harold Wolpe Memorial lecture for 2004. Achmat is famous for his passionate advocacy for wider access to HIV treatment in South Africa and globally. In 2003, the American Society of Friends nominated both TAC and Achmat for the Nobel Peace Prize. More recently, TAC scored a major political victory when the South African Cabinet acceded to one of the social movements’ key demands and instructed the Ministry of Health to develop a Comprehensive National HIV and AIDS, Prevention, Treatment and Care Plan.
Strategic use of South Africa’s Constitutional provision for the right to access to health care has always been key to TAC’s campaigns. As South Africa moves towards celebrating ten years of a constitutional democracy, it was apt that such a high-profile civil society leader discussed the use of the constitution as a tactic to engage with the government on development issues. Achmat’s rich and engaging talk raised important critique from the audience on the limitations of the Constitution at a tool for civil society to advance socio-economic justice. While we have great admiration for TAC’s success in using the Constitution to advance the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS to access HIV treatment, we question whether this strategy will be automatically replicable for other social movements advancing socio-economic rights. In this review, the authors summarise Achmat’s talk, the interesting critiques from the floor and offer our own critical analysis of the lecture and discussion which followed it.
Achmat on the immediate future of the TAC
Before moving on to discuss the broader potential of using South Africa’s Constitution for civil society campaigns based on socio-economic rights, he briefly discussed progress with TAC’s campaign for wider treatment access. Achmat is one of the most prominent HIV/AIDS activists living openly with HIV. He began his talk by speaking about his own daily struggle living with HIV and both the benefits and difficulties of being on combination antiretroviral drug therapy (HIV treatment). For many years Achmat took the courageous step of refusing to start HIV treatment until the government made such treatment available to all South Africans living with HIV. His health deteriorated over time and eventually there was a unanimous resolution at TAC’s 2003 National Congress urging Achmat to begin HIV treatment, so that he could continue to provide leadership in the campaign for all South Africans living with HIV to have access to HIV treatment. He said that HIV treatment has changed his life enabling him to be more physically, intellectually and socially active. However, he recently had to change his drug cocktail due to side effects he experienced.
He then moved from discussing his personal experience of the benefits of HIV treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS to discussing the movement he heads for all people living with HIV/AIDS to have access to HIV treatment. He urged the public to participate in TAC’s activities and support the organisation. While the government had developed a roll-out plan, the plan had yet to be implemented in all provinces except the Western Cape. The main sticking point at present is that government has not expedited the drug procurement process. According to Achmat, TAC intends to keep pressure on the government to implement this plan with utmost urgency.
Achmat on how civil society can strategically use the Constitution
Achmat’s talk then broadened to explore the way in which civil society, in general, can take new and old struggles for human rights forward in the post-apartheid period using the Constitution. TAC most famously and successfully used the Constitution in its groundbreaking case against the government for the expansion of the use of Nevirapine to prevent mother to child transmission (PMTCT). It is obvious that this experience has informed Achmat’s optimism on the Constitution’s potential as a to realise key socio-economic rights.
Ten years ago South Africa became a constitutional democracy, which recognised all its citizens as being equal before the law. Achmat argued that the end of apartheid delivered a deathblow to racism around the world and that its effects will be felt for years to come. However, he also argued that institutional and individual racism continue, even in post-apartheid South Africa. For him this was most clearly evident in public services as it is still the case that most people who use impoverished public services are Africans, Coloureds and Indians.
The improvement of public services in terms of accessibility and quality was of key importance to Achmat’s vision of public services over the next ten years of South African democracy. Firstly, his vision included the creation of a decent unified public health service. He emphasised disparities between the public and private sectors of the health system and how private health care was increasingly becoming unaffordable for many South Africans. Secondly, he argued that South Africa needs a decent social security system including a Basic Income Grant (BIG).
The authors of this review note that the BIG campaign fits with TAC’s vision of a social democracy where the rights of the weakest in society such as the poor and unwell are defended by the Constitution. Social grants research has shown that receiving grants is often the only factor which prevents a poor household from falling into total destitution.
The lecturer then moved on to discuss other aspects of his future vision for South African democracy including: a safe and reliable public transport system; a skilled labour force; the provision of quality education; economic development; safe streets and communities and the opening of borders to allow for free movement of people and capital.
He then outlined different court cases where elements of this vision have been contested and put at stake. Unfortunately, for Achmat, not enough civil society organisations had used to courts to their full potential to realise human rights and those who have used the courts have not always been as successful as TAC.
For Achmat, there was no contradiction between being a loyal ANC member and, simultaneously, being critical of some of the government’s policies. He said that he believed that the ANC was the most important contemporary political institution in South Africa because it embodied the aspirations of the poor and has played a critical role in the country’s liberation. On the other hand, he also criticised the African National Congress (ANC) government for having failed to take the Constitution seriously in several important instances. He also emphasised that there was a disjuncture between the Constitution, which guarantees human rights, including socio-economic rights, and a government bureaucracy which was still inadequately geared towards delivery.
He also noted two disturbing trends in the political culture of the ANC: it had both Stalinist and patriarchal tendencies. The Stalinist tendency was best characterised by prominent South African Communist Party figure Jeremy Cronin as having dumped Marxism but kept Stalinism. He felt there was a need for more internal democracy within the ANC in that it needed to engage more with criticism. Achmat also noted a patriarchal culture of deference to old men in the party. The true test of loyalty within the ANC needed to be the ability to tolerate internal and external criticism: ANC members should not be made to feel disloyal if they criticised the party or the government’s policies and practices.
He saw the need for a new generation of activists armed with comprehensive knowledge of both global and local issues and a range of disciplines relevant to contemporary social justice activism such as the law, politics and science. Ultimately, Achmat’s vision was to realise a human rights culture in our society through democratising old institutions and forcing the government to take the Constitution seriously through using the legal space that was open to citizens and civil society organisations in our new democracy. He argued that only if the organisations of the poor and working class mobilised around the Constitution, could socio-economic justice be realised.
Critical questions and comments from the floor
During question time a number of animated and pertinent questions came from the floor. Two interrelated questions raised somewhat valid left-wing critiques of Achmat’s arguments for the need progressive organisations to have engaged in partnership with the government through critical support for the ANC.
Firstly, Xolani Shange, a graduate philosophy student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, accused Achmat of having had illusions that the ANC could be transformed into a genuinely democratic institution of the poor and working class. For Shange, in reality the party was anti-working class and in favour of enriching a few through policies such as black economic empowerment. Shange argued that the liberal, democratic Constitution which Achmat saw as an instrument for the emancipation of the poor and working class was in reality built within a capitalist paradigm and that the legal system of which the Constitution is an integral part favoured the middle class and the wealthy.
Secondly, Ashwin Desai, an honorary research fellow at the Centre for Civil Society and a lecturer at the Workers’ College in Durban, raised a similar critique of Achmat’s argument for constructive but critical engagement with the ANC. Desai said that other social movements such those opposed to cost-recovery-related water cut-offs in Durban had on occasion used the courts and not received judgements that favoured the rights of the poor and marginalized. Whereas Achmat felt that with the right political and legal strategies social movements could successfully use the courts in the way TAC had in the past, Desai contended that Achmat had not taken into account how socio-economic and political inequality could undermine the supposed objectivity and fairness of the South African justice system. Desai felt the Constitutional Court was only as good as the men and women who sat on its bench and that these individuals could be biased and their appointments could be shaped by powerful institutions in society such as the ANC government.
Achmat’s rebuttal of critical comments from the floor
Achmat responded by saying that he had illusions of the Constitution but then in the past he had also had illusions of the liberation movement’s Freedom Charter, which had been partially realised in post-apartheid democratic South Africa. Moreover, he thought that elements of the Freedom Charter had been realised in the country’s post-apartheid Constitution and this meant that socio-economic and political justice in South Africa could be advanced in ways which were impossible under apartheid. TAC had shown that the law can be used strategically by civil society for progressive purposes but without social mobilisation the law was useless to address the real material suffering of ordinary people. He emphasised that the cheap sloganeering characteristic of ‘old ideologies’ was ineffective in combating local and global inequalities. What was needed was a new generation of progressive activists prepared to engage beyond these slogans finding practical and innovative ways to transform marginalized people’s lives.
He contrasted Shange’s arguments that the capitalist system must be abolished to realise any kind of socio-economic justice for the poor with TAC’s strategy which is to use all peaceful strategies at its disposal to save lives. For Achmat, when lives are at stake, immediate results through social mobilisation using the law are often more effective and practical than waiting for a nebulous ‘revolution’ to occur before pushing for such results on concrete issues such as HIV treatment access. He concluded the lecture by arguing that a moral consensus was needed for change in order for civil society organisations to form alliances to fight political and socio-economic injustices.
Our critiques of Achmat’s talk
The authors were very impressed by Achmat’s talk, however, we agreed with some of the sentiments expressed from the floor. For instance, Achmat use of the Congress of South African Trade Unions’ (COSATU) anti-privatisation strike as an example of how cheap sloganeering of old ideologies merely alienates the general public sets up a false dichotomy between privatisation and the improvement of public services, when in reality they are related issues. Privatisation and related cost-recovery policies often undermine public services by raising the cost of service provision and thereby deny the poor access to public services on the basis of their inability of pay for such services.
Indeed, Achmat’s own arguments in the body of his lecture showed how the private sector of the health system leads to inequality in health care provision: a small minority of fee paying wealthy patients spend as much on health as the state spends on health care provision of the majority of the poor. This means that while a wealthy few access private ‘first world’ health care, the vast majority of South Africa’s poor only have access to a vastly overburdened and under-funded public health system.
Moreover, although Achmat argued that civil society should strategically use the legal space opened up to them in the post-apartheid South African Constitution, he did not take into account the significant barriers preventing ordinary people from effectively accessing and using the Constitutional Court. Firstly, the poor are often not even fully aware of their rights and how they can seek assistance when they are violated. Secondly, such court action is expensive, as it requires the assistance of highly specialised legal counsel.
Social mobilisation of the law, as suggested in Achmat’s lecture and in TAC’s political and legal strategies, will only become be actualised if a broader range of civil society organisations are able overcome these practical barriers to legal action using the Constitution. The lecture and the discussion it provoked provided fascinating insights into the challenges of using the law as a tool of activism for realisation of socio-economic and political rights. It remains to be seen whether TAC’s successes in human rights based activism using the Constitution can be replicated by other new social movements.
Achmat’s inspiring and engaging lecture, which raised such important and fruitful critique raised important questions about what it will take to make the Constitution a living document which protects to rights of the rights of all South Africans. TAC’s legal and political successes provide a powerful example to other social movements of the potential, strategic uses of our Constitution. The challenge remains of how to create the conditions to replicate TAC’s success in using the Constitution to advance socio-economic justice in other critical areas, as South Africa moves into its second decade of democracy.
The authors of this review write in their personal capacity.
Annie Devenish is a researcher at the School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Mandisa Mbali is the Research Co-ordinator at the Enhancing Care Initiative KwaZulu-Natal Plus at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Review of Giovanni Arrighi’s Lecture, “The Rough Road to Empire”
Giovanni Arrighi (left) & Bill Freund
The well-attended second lecture in the Wolpe Public Lecture Series for 2004 was delivered by Italian sociologist Giovanni Arrighi, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Global Studies in Culture, Power and History at Johns Hopkins University.
It is unfortunate that some audience members’ expectations with respect to the content of the lecture were not met. This dissatisfaction seems to have arisen primarily as a result of confusion over the topic of the lecture. Advertised as “Capitalism and World (Dis-)Order”, the lecture attracted a large number of individuals associated with grass-roots social organisations and campaigns, such as the Anti-Privatisation Forum and the Treatment Action Campaign. Justifiably, many audience members appeared to expect Arrighi to provide a critique of the developmental outcomes of capitalism that could be applied to current South African socio-economic circumstances.
Instead, however, Arrighi titled his lecture “The Rough Road to Empire”, and focused on the crisis of US hegemony, by analysing the economic and political motivations for recent US military action, and the role that international finance plays in US decision-making. The lecture thus provided an engaging account of the global constraints and consequences of the superpower’s pursuit of its national interests. Arrighi described the US imperial project that materialised in the wake of September 11, which ultimately resulted in the US unilaterally waging war on Iraq. He argued that this project has backfired, and that the seemingly unchallengeable power of the US is now being challenged.
Arrighi first described how the ideology of globalisation, referring to the doctrine that countries have no choice but to liberalise trade and enter into generalised international competition, is waning in the US. Arrighi hypothesised that this is because, under George W. Bush, the US has been losing rather than winning this generalised competition. According to the speaker, the US’s trade deficit and the current account deficit on the balance of trade is evidence of this. Since the early 1980s, the US has developed a huge and escalating deficit on its current account, such that to balance it now requires a capital influx of $1.5 billion per day. In order to avoid massive structural adjustment and downsizing, the US economy thus requires immense injections of capital from the rest of the world. This leaves the US fundamentally vulnerable to its foreign creditors, which are primarily East Asian countries, and in particular Japan and China.
While Japan depends on the US to act as a market for its products and for military protection, the US also relies on borrowing from Japan to keep its interest rates low. More recently, China is also becoming a major US creditor and a key supplier of cheap commodities. It is for these reasons, Arrighi posits, that despite lax US fiscal and monetary policies, it has not recently experienced rising inflation as it did in the 1970s. It is partly in order to reduce this dependence on its East Asian creditors, Arrighi argues, that the US engaged in the war in Iraq.
Arrighi argued convincingly that the invasion of Iraq made no sense in terms of the war on terrorism. Rather, it was the first step in a project whereby wars would pay for themselves, inspired by the ‘Project for the New American Century’, developed by a faction within the Bush administration. This doctrine maintains that the US should use its military power to reverse the trend toward the weakening of its economic power. Under this project, oil revenues would be used to finance both the war itself and the post-war reconstruction, and the US would establish a base in the Middle East to use for further wars, eventually creating a network of friendly regimes. In this way, the US would ultimately be able to seize control of key energy resources to counter the increasing control of East Asian states over the liquid capital feeding the US expansion.
However, Arrighi contends that the US made a major miscalculation: although able to display the military and technological power to destroy, the US occupying force continues to show limited power to rule and govern on the ground. This second ability requires a legitimacy that cannot be obtained by force alone.
As a result of this political failure, a major turnaround of US policy took place in November 2003, when the US began asking other nations for resources, involving the previously excluded United Nations, and began the process of establishing a formal Iraqi sovereign much earlier than planned. As a result of such international assistance, the US would thus not be able to retain control of political developments on the ground, or use its occupation of Iraq as a base for further activities in Iran, Syria and other Middle East states.
Arrghi mentioned other constraints that the US also faced: rather than the war being self-funding, it required $87 billion from Congress, in addition to the initial $65 billion granted before the war. In contrast to the earlier Gulf War, which was financed mostly by Germany, Japan and the Saudis, the US received almost no international financial aid in Iraq, thus instead creating conditions for the further expansion of economic power in East Asia. In addition, although the global anti-war movement was unable to stop the war, it shaped a social atmosphere in western and northern countries that governments could not support the US project without facing domestic political consequences.
Arrighi described this situation using Ranajit Guha’s notion of ‘dominance without hegemony’. Rather than the power of the dominant group being greater because it is perceived to coincide with the direction of general interest, dominance without hegemony describes a situation where the dominant group is leading society in a direction that is perceived to be detrimental. Therefore despite the US’s position as the most powerful state, its power to move the world in the direction of its own interests is less than perceived, and declining further. It is not clear whether it is possible for the US to escape this situation.
During the subsequent discussion, in response to a criticism of how he presented the US’s lack of control over its deficit, Arrighi conceded that the US was not merely at the mercy of East Asian capital. Rather, it had actively competed for capital in the global economy as the deficit became permanent and escalating in the 1980s, and had initiated the massive inflow of capital. He thus sees the deficit partly as the cause of US dependence on East Asia, and partly as its effect. Both Japan and China are thus taking advantage of the US’s path-dependence on consuming more than it produces.
The same audience member commented that in order to reduce its dependence on East Asia the US could simply default on its loans, as other economies have done in the past. Arrighi noted that recent major devaluations of the dollar with respect to other currencies are a form of slow default on US loans. However, there is a limit to the extent that the US can do this and continue to receive capital inflows.
Finally, Arrighi was criticised for not relating his analysis to the South African context and not providing any sense of how the poor and marginalized can make their voices heard within this global economic system. This question partly reflected prior expectations about the subject of the lecture based on the advertised topic. It appeared to be expected that Arrighi would identify strategies that countries, organisations and individuals could use to counteract the tendency of global capitalism to polarise human welfare. Instead, he had used a more systemic approach to identify how global economic processes affect the dominant power’s motivation and ability to use its military power to achieve political and economic aims. Nevertheless, the lecture provided fascinating insight into these processes, from the point of view of a foreign academic who is now based in that dominant power. I do not feel that it is necessary for every lecture in the Wolpe Series to relate directly to South African political and social issues. Indeed, as Arrighi acknowledged, it would be difficult for him to comment informatively on such issues after spending only four days in the country. Rather than focus entirely on domestic socio-economic issues, this lecture in the Wolpe Series therefore provided members of civil society with the opportunity to engage in intellectual debate at a global level.
Note: Giovanni Arrighi’s paper “Rough Road to Empire” (2004) can be read in full in the online library of the CCS website http://www.ukzn.ac.za/ccs
Ten Years of Democracy: From Racial to Class Apartheid
Free South Africa turns 10 years old on 11 May 2004, the anniversary of the inauguration of Nelson Mandela. Yet looking back, it is abundantly clear that the society suffered the replacement of racial apartheid with what can be accurately considered to be class apartheid: systemic underdevelopment and segregation of the oppressed majority, through structured economic, political, environmental, legal, medical and cultural practices largely organised or codified by Pretoria politicians and bureaucrats. Patriarchy and racism remained largely intact in many areas of daily life, even if a small elite of women and black people were incorporated into state management and the accumulation of capital. Although slightly more expansive fiscal policies were adopted after 2000, Pretoria’s neoliberal orientation has never been in doubt. There are many areas where evidence of class apartheid is irrefutable, not only locally but in South Africa’s relations to its neighbors and the wider world. But where there is oppression, so too does resistance inexorably emerge.
What happened, and how did the revolution so celebrated from 1976 through the early 1990s become so easily distorted into caricature, once formal state power was transferred in 1994? To answer requires backtracking to the point at which South African capitalism entered an economic crisis in the 1970s, subsequent to which white elites finally agreed to share power so as to facilitate a new round of capital accumulation and dampen the class and community struggles that were making life unprofitable and uncomfortable. Fortunately for them, during the early 1990s, a small corps of oppositional politicians emerged to hijack the country’s mass popular movements -- the African National Congress (ANC), the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), many of the NGOs, civic associations, women’s and student/youth groups, and even church-based liberation organisations -- so as to gain formal access to power, even if that meant implementing policies and projects from 1994-99 that were hostile to the majority. With a few telling (and somewhat partial) exceptions where social struggles arose around AIDS treatment and municipal water, those policies did not materially change from 1999-2004, in spite of their ongoing failure to deliver the goods.
None can deny that the ANC government’s neoliberal philosophy conformed to a ‘corporatist’ (i.e., elite-pacting) practice which demobilised and disillusioned the base, as witnessed in both decreasing electoral turnouts and the decay of the mass organisations’ branch structures, at the same time that the objective socio-economic conditions of the majority worsened considerably. These are indisputable realities of the immediate post-apartheid era. There have been only a few hackneyed efforts in print to defend the post-apartheid record, mainly by labeling critics ‘ultraleft’ or making extravagant claims about delivery successes, although some scholars have claimed that more nuance is needed. These defensive postures are considered below, following a summary of key socio-economic trends.
By and large, I think the independent left’s analysis stands up well. To be sure, no overarching theory has yet emerged from the literature dealing with class apartheid. But these studies are nevertheless quite consistent, based as they are largely upon class analysis. They take seriously the process of capitalist ‘uneven development’, and fearlessly criticise the ‘commodification of everything’ that is so explicit within the neoliberal project. Gender, racial/ethnic, environmental and cultural critiques often closely parallel and complement the writings of the independent left, especially in rare cases where authors like Neville Alexander brilliantly interrelate their analyses of political economy and culture/society.
Meanwhile, most centrist commentators praise the ANC government. Notwithstanding reservations about AIDS, Zimbabwe, crime and an allegedly inflexible labour market, they cheer Mbeki and his colleagues for managing the economy conservatively, avoiding populist temptations, and assuring that organised labour is co-opted into some (not all) policy processes and theatrical-style ‘stakeholder summits’.
Of course, it is impossible for even sycophants to completely disguise the harsh reality of South Africa’s post-apartheid decline. On the one hand, the contradictions are so severe that the following confession emerged from the government’s Ten-Year Review: ‘The advances made in the First Decade by far supersede the weaknesses. Yet, if all indicators were to continue along the same trajectory, especially in respect of the dynamic of economic inclusion and exclusion, we could soon reach a point where the negatives start to overwhelm the positives.’ The big question is whether ‘soon’ is in the future, or whether from the outset of liberation, economic exclusion – class apartheid – decisively attacked the living standards of poor and working-class South Africans.
On the other hand, though, in the heated pre-election weeks of 2004, the ANC – especially ministers like Alec Erwin who should have known better – went overboard with self-congratulatory rhetoric, and were joined by an intellectual/professional strata whose arguments require unpacking. The contradictions are most extreme in sites of struggle such as privatisation and HIV/AIDS. The government’s ‘globalisation’ excuse falls apart in light of the profoundly status quo strategies deployed within Pretoria’s own international reform programme. Finally, the terrain of domestic progressive politics remains fraught with contradiction: the capacities of a future party-political opposition from the left will depend largely upon the way the progressive social movements handle both their own decommodification and deglobalisation strategies, as well as relations with pro-government elements of civil society.
Talking is Walking: A Critical Review of Patrick Bond’s Wolpe Lecture
by Kerry Chance and Mandisa Mbali
To a packed auditorium, Patrick Bond opened his Wolpe lecture on 22 April with an enlarged projection of a striking image from George W. Bush’s recent visit to South Africa: Mbeki walking down a red carpet, shoulder-to-shoulder with the American President. Above the photo of these cheerfully be-suited presidents, Bond had written, “Talk Left, Walk Right.” For Bond, this image offers insight into how we might critically reflect on ten years of South African democracy, and in particular the often-contradictory relationship between the South African government and corporate globalization.
The first section of this review is dedicated to an analytical synopsis of Bond’s talk. In the latter sections, drawing from the question-and-answer session, we will argue that, while at times inspiring and politically potent, the talk still left us considering what had been absent, flattened or forgotten in Bond’s picture of democracy’s tenth anniversary in South Africa. Specifically, by drawing out some of the problems with Bond’s walking/talking binary, and by taking “talk” seriously, we attempt to open his critique of neoliberalism and corporate globalization to a few socio-historical nuances.
Bond Remembering Ten Years of Neoliberalism
Using news articles and photographs, Zapiro cartoons and the ANC’s own website, Bond argued that over the last ten years, the South African government has pursued a neoliberal agenda to the advantage of big corporations and to the detriment of its poorest people. Yes, the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer, but Bond warned, the neoliberal agenda hides its corporate allegiances in various ways.
Firstly, he suggested that, while the period of race-based apartheid has come to an end in South Africa, global class-based apartheid insidiously continues, transcending both local and national boundaries. In 1994, South Africans celebrated the official demise of the National Party government and its race-based apartheid state. Today in 2004, however, South African activists cannot hope for ending class-apartheid by toppling one particular state government or institution. 90s-style South African resistance, for example, is just not enough to take down the World Bank. This is because networks of power operating in this new global class system are too diffuse: they are located in multinationals like BP, international institutions like the IMF, and transnational alliances like NATO. But, with the image of George W not far from our minds, we must not forget that American and European countries are simultaneously the strongest power brokers, and the greatest beneficiaries, of global class apartheid.
Secondly, Bond pointed out that the South African government, much like its Western counterparts, uses the rhetoric of democracy and human rights to mask the fact that it consistently makes policy decisions, which extend the reach of this new form of apartheid. So, for example, while the ANC claims on its website to prioritize people’s right to water, in actual practice, the ANC has privatized and introduced aggressive cost recovery into water provision, making it ever more difficult for poor people to access that right. The ANC “talks left, while walking right.”
However, Bond’s analysis of this global system leaves much room for optimism, particularly for what he calls “the new social movements.” Another world is possible, he argues, if not inevitable. In his talk, he cited data and numerous economic studies, which at bottom showed neoliberalism as a slowly dying ideological breed. For Bond, corporate globalization is not only unsustainable and morally condemnable, but is also economically unstable.
Perhaps this is where Bond’s talk, and his recently published book, will be such an asset to “new social movements” and their activists in the field. Bond, throughout his talk, de-bunked the ANC’s claims to have delivered on post-apartheid promises by taking hold of the authority of what could otherwise be described as an unassailable and esoteric language of economic structures and capital.
When the ANC claims, therefore, that jobs have increased at such-and-such a percentage over such-and-such period of time, it may at first appear that the mystical authority of the numbers themselves are impenetrable, stand alone, and are best challenged by other, equally authoritative economic conclusions. Even though it may be true that the ANC’s calculations could be simply refuted in everyday, ‘un-caluculatable’ experience, it might also be said that one of the most effective academic defenses against the authority of neoliberal economic language is another kind of economic language.
In this case, fortunately for activists, and perhaps unfortunately for the ANC, Bond has just the politico-economic savvy needed for the job. Placing the ANC or World Bank’s self-congratulatory numbers side-by-side with his own more critical macro-economic findings, Bond is able to match blow-by-blow any of the mystifying weight or authority neoliberal economists attempt to throw around.
To offer an example, and an exemplary move by Bond, the ANC’s website announced that 1.6 million net new ‘jobs’ were created between 1995 and 2002. Through his own careful research, Bond points out that in reality these ‘jobs’ include tending subsistence backyard vegetable plots, or selling coat hangers at traffic lights. In other words, the ANC’s numbers are wrong. In fact, Bond continues, many of the ANC’s newly created ‘jobs’ pay between R1 and R200 per month. This is hardly a living wage, and these can hardly be called ‘jobs.’
At the Wolpe talk, Bond’s point about job creation so captured the audience that many people were sent into gasps and murmurs. Rightly so, because macro-economic and structural-based critiques of neoliberalism can be a powerful tool, especially when borrowed, reformulated, and used against the very people who are misleading South Africans in the first place: the neoliberals.
Not to Forget the 2004 Elections
While the question-and-answer session of the Wolpe lecture could have been more critical, it nonetheless pointed to an undeniable lacuna in Bond’s work. As one audience member said, “I saw that people in the townships were celebrating [the ANC’s victory].” He continued, “I believe the ANC dismally failed [in this election]. We are dissatisfied.” These two statements suggest a central paradox that leaves us begging the following question: if South Africans are, as Bond and the audience member suggested, “dissatisfied” and living with the reality of worsening economic conditions caused by a neoliberalist ANC, then why did the ANC win the national elections with an overwhelming and “celebrated” 70% majority? Even bearing in mind that many poor South Africans did not vote (McKinley, 2004), a substantial number voted ANC (1) Are these poor South Africans guilty of “talking left,” and voting right?
Before we get to Bond’s attempt at answering this question at the talk, we would like to suggest that this paradox points to the fact that macro-economic and material realities only offer a partial and problematic picture of South Africa today. In the main, we do not disagree with Bond’s critique of neoliberalism and the ways the ANC is complicit in reproducing these macro-systems of power at a local level. However, Bond gave inadequate acknowledgement to the fact that while structural and material analyses are needed and politically useful, most people do not live or see their lives through economic structures and material capital alone. As much as South Africans should be aware of the ways the ANC’s neoliberal economic policies impact their everyday lives, their experience, understanding, and relationship to that knowledge cannot be reduced to bare material facts and figures. Perhaps, economists such as Bond might contend, “This is not my project. Leave that level of analysis to the sociologists, anthropologists and historians.” Fair enough, but we would further argue that without socio-historical specificity in the picture, the limits of orthodox economic-based readings of resistance in South Africa become apparent insomuch as these readings do not take into account the many ways that plausibly explain why some people choose to vote ANC, or opt to not engage with social movements. In other words, resistance is not necessarily the logical or inevitable outcome of living under a neoliberal economy. Some people are neither invested nor willing to wait for a global ground swell of resistance to counter neoliberalism.
The paradox of the election results gives clear voice to this concern, and moreover, glaringly points out that the idea of “the poor getting poorer under the ANC” has more historical and socio-cultural nuances than can be simply explained away through the language of economics. This is especially true if Bond wishes to speak directly about South Africa and seeks to push an approach to resistance in the country. As we will outline further, there are serious consequences in flatting local socio-cultural and historical context into a type of economic frame, wherein both are seen as superstructure to the base of global capital. Convincingly demonstrating and declaring “the ANC is neoliberal!”, we would argue, is not enough, and certainly not enough when critically reflecting on ‘ten years of democracy’ nor when positing a local plan of resistance to corporate globalization.
When challenged with the trouble the ANC’s election victory might pose to his conclusions, Bond turned to Zimbabwe, arguing that people need time, post-independence or post-apartheid, to restructure their consciousness outside a nationalist understanding of politics. Eventually, he suggested, South Africans will come to realize that nationalism will only serve to keep poor people under the power of the ruling governments, and only a globally united poor will have the potential to overthrow the system of global class-apartheid. While local activists unquestionably stand to gain ground by tapping into larger international movements, it is problematic to reduce South African’s relationship to the ruling party as merely ‘false consciousness,’ in a classic Marxist sense. Furthermore, to suggest a monolithic, teleological march of neoliberal history, or indeed an activist history, actually threatens to undermine the agency activists have within that history, both locally and internationally. Teleological fantasies, not only undermine the agency of activists, but also the very many people who do not consider themselves activists at all but who are still, of course, social actors.
The fact of the matter is, despite what global material flows allow us to declare, South Africans’ and activists’ relationship to the ANC is often fraught with contradiction and ambivalence, which is even evidenced in the comments made above by Bond’s audience members. What Bond’s talk did not reflect, and which problematizes such classic Marxist readings of the inevitability of radical consciousness, is the contradiction and ambivalence in the practical ways people experience the post-apartheid world. Some people are desperately saving up money to send a child to a model C school, which was previously not allowed. Others may have undergone water disconnections, and yet some of the same people may see themselves as benefiting from social grants, which were previously unavailable. Some feel alienated from mainstream political parties, and yet do not deny being able to vote as a very real and recent gain.
When considering these contradictions and ambivalences, it becomes clear that it is one thing to be critical of the ANC’s neoliberalism, which we are, and another to posit an overarching conclusion that everyone has lost out post-1994. We do not wish to enter any kind of empirical debate about the poor getting poorer. From Bond’s empirical work, and the work of other critical economists, this is undoubtedly the case. Our point is that people do not experience average macro-economic figures; they live in real places and face real issues.
In this light, we ask Bond and other critical economists of his stripe to remember these ambivalences and contradictions in everyday experience within a socio-historical context – not to become historians, sociologists, or anthropologists, but simply not to forget. Similarly, we ask both Bond’s adherents and opponents not to remember that his argument about “the poor getting poorer” is framed within the specific terms of macro-economics, and should not necessarily be taken as a truism about the everyday lives of all poor South Africans in all situations. So rather here, we argue for a consideration of the many socio-historical ways different people experience post-apartheid, and challenge the romantic idea of global uprising, yet agree with Bond that a neoliberalist ANC is a dangerous one. To address this danger, and to contribute to Bond’s work in a productive way, we will offer a few broader socio-historical comments about the recent elections, in an effort to extrapolate some of the problems with his ideas about inevitability and the walking/talking binary he sets out in the Wolpe.
“A Better Life for All”
In expanding Bond’s picture, and thinking about the paradox of the recent elections, we are reminded that the lived experience of worsening economic conditions for many under the ANC cannot be separated from the image of the ANC as the party of the liberation and South African democracy. This historically sedimented, though problematic, story of the party, often declares the ANC to be the party of the anti-apartheid movement. Many South Africans and people all over the world, however critical they may be, continue to imagine the ANC as the party of African majority, as the united force of the anti-apartheid movement, or as a socialist people’s party fighting for a “better life for all.” The ANC, after all, is still seen by many as Madiba’s party, no matter how far “right” the ANC “walks.” This narrative, and people’s invocation of it, has different consequences for different people. Political and social space is fluid and contestable, as is the idea of the ANC as the party of liberation. Some people, like activist Trevor Ngwane, have withdrawn their support for the ANC. Yet many continue to support the party, and, in some cases, that support very powerfully intersects with the image of the ANC as the party of liberation.
This hallowed image of the ANC as the “liberation movement party” is what the ruling party of today wants South Africans to believe, as Bond might rightly respond, the ANC trades on this idea. Indeed, to use Bond’s terminology, it “talks left” about its liberatory past and present democratic ideals. We would not disagree with Bond that the ANC has to some extent or another co-opted a particular story of the liberation to suit its own purposes, has used its struggle identity in attempts to censure the media and to legitimate its relationships to multinational corporations. However, Bond somewhat underestimates the power of talking left, as if it happens in ahistorical isolation, and seems to want us to believe material reality can reveal the “True ANC,” the ANC as simply modern-day oppressors replacing an earlier oppressive regime.
As far as the Wolpe talk is concerned, Bond’s critique rests on the idea that to undermine the complexities of that history of insincere leftist talk, all one has to do is materially and structurally demonstrate the right-wing “walk” of the ANC – show the people, show the world, and show the ANC. The problem is that the “talk” should not be taken simply as smoke-and-mirrors, nor as something that fits into an easy binary in opposition to the so-called “walk.” The talk is not so effortlessly extractable. In many ways, the talk is inseparable from the walk. “Talk,” which more accurately in this context we will refer to as discourse (Foucault, 1977a, Foucault, 1977b), (2) demands consideration beyond global flows of material power, and beyond the idea that it is a secondary consequence of neoliberalism. The ANC’s discourse then could be seen not only in the form of unfulfilled economic promises but also in the ways it works through people and through a struggle history inscribed on the very bodies and memories of South Africans. In other words, “talking” is a form of power that can be felt as very ‘real,’ one that is caught up with capital and material structures but not necessarily dependent upon them. This is not some trendy Foucauldian reading, indeed as several self-proclaimed Marxist theorists have noted, talking, or discourse, plays a key role in informing both resistance and compliance to state and international power (Gramsci, 1991, Lumsden and Loftus, 1991, Thompson, 1966). (3)
In this sense, it seems Bond may underestimate the power and even the possible danger of talking left, and in doing so reduces the ANC and South African people to acting through a walking/talking split. To push an earlier example a bit farther, as we have said, there is a recognizable feeling toward the ANC, seen in media representations, academic publications, and even in contests within new social movements, which Bond’s walking/talking binary necessarily leaves out of the fold. As we also have already said, Bond’s work neither answers to the paradox of the election results nor this feeling toward the ANC as imagined bearers of South Africa’s struggle history. Now, to make a larger point about ‘who’ Bond leaves out of his walking/talking picture and ‘how’ he leaves them out, let us turn to an example from the 2004 election day.
Televised “Talk” of Struggle History
On 14 April, in what could be considered a crass move by SABC’s “10 Years” programming, films and reports on struggle stories beamed out all across the nation’s televisions. One such covered story was of an elderly woman in Northern KZN. With deep-cut scars on her hands and face, she spoke to the nation, recounting her story of IFP supporters attacking her in her home, and killing her son who had been an ANC sympathizer during the 80s. A story well familiar in this province by IFP, ANC, UDF, and party-unaligned people alike.
Now, no one would argue that her story tells the whole truth about this province or country’s history, and we all should question the SABC’s cynical decision to show almost exclusively sympathetic ANC stories of the struggle on election day and before. Still, what is interesting about this particular story is also that today this woman is an ANC supporter, and she will be until she dies. As Bond’s work so convincingly demonstrates, as a poor, black, rural woman she has the least to gain, on a macro-economic level, from the ANC’s neoliberal agenda. Maybe global flows of material capital are of concern to her, maybe not. The bottom line is that her relationship to the party is much more complicated than that, as she truly carries with her the scars of the fight for democracy in this country, even if she was not herself actively fighting. For her, as evidenced in this interview, voting ANC without threat to her or her family’s life has intense meaning to her past and present that cannot be undone or stripped away by macro-economic structural analyses. So how does Bond’ work speak to this woman’s story? Is she guilty of false-consciousness, of not walking truly left? More importantly, how does Bond’s picture of activism and new social movements engage with her history, and with her possibly ambivalent relationship to the ANC?
This woman is not alone in her story. What her memories of the recent past suggests is that on some level Bond’s analysis does account or allow for the people who either did or do create histories of their lives where they see themselves as having made sacrifices for democracy in this country, even as much as those peoples’ ideas of democracy may be in contest with each other. What is possible, if we do try to break apart the walking/talking binary, is that we can see and consider the ways that people themselves are ambivalent, conflicted about the meaning of ten years of democracy, and the ANC’s relationship to it.
Whether to the advantage of the ANC or not, for the elderly woman in story above, the ANC’s democratic and rights-based discourse is not necessarily a lie for her, not necessarily an impotent form of talk that leads her to believe that the ANC is her party and the party of democracy. Even so, as far as we can tell about her story, we also do not see any call for declaring that she is walking or talking ‘right’ by supporting and voting ANC. For all we know, she is on the streets each weekend demanding that her water be reconnected. Rather, it is her personal history, her scars, the history of the province, and her family’s story that makes her identify, makes her believe in the ANC. She is not simply “walking” or “talking” one coherent political line, and we would suggest that too much consideration of macro-economic structures and movements of global capital might allow us to forget that. Moreover, we contend that forgetting, or placing people or parties into binary models, is not a productive approach to building a global or local resistance to corporate globalization or neoliberalism.
A Card-Carrying ANC Member “Walking” Among Us
Let us take another example, for we know little about the public life and story of the woman above. Let us take a public figure, a new social movements ‘insider.’ Zackie Achmat, spokesperson for the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), has attained a level of international superstardom in activist and political circles. In leading a successful campaign for HIV/AIDS treatment access, Achmat has directly addressed the local material realities of poor South Africans as well as the global power of governments and multinationals who contribute to the deaths of poor people. Despite the numerous ways the ANC has participated in blocking treatment access, Achmat to this day often notes that he is a card-carrying ANC member, who will continue to support and vote for the ruling party through thick and thin. As an activist in the organization during the struggle, Achmat feels that he played a small role in the ANC’s ascent to power. He thus feels both a sense of ownership and belonging toward the party.
TAC and Achmat keep careful watch of the ANC’s “talk,” they take it seriously and often “talk” acts as a catalyst for the organization’s political action. He calls for civil disobedience against the state when he feels that ANC is too closely protecting multinational interests, and then again, he calls for friendly negotiations when he feels TAC has something to gain from the ANC, its resources, and its power. For him, the ANC “walking right” and his awareness of that fact does not mean he will recede from supporting the party.
We would question Achmat’s ANC card-carrying status, as we feel that a critical position of the party should take shape not only in civil society but through voting and in other arenas as well. Still, this case illustrates how Bond underestimates the complexities of “talk.” The emergence of more people who acknowledge that the ANC is “walking right,” join ‘new social movements,’ and organize resistance against the state and multinationals, does not necessarily translate into a recession of ANC power. Even so, from our perspective, that does not mean that Achmat and TAC’s contribution to ‘new social movements’ is null and void, and while we may challenge Achmat about supporting the ANC, we also would not dismiss his personal political projects as walking or talking in clearly rightist directions.
Yet, in thinking about Achmat’s story and how it is refracted through an idea of democracy’s tenth year, we would like to raise a question for future consideration of whether civil society or voting can pose a serious democratic opposition in contemporary South Africa. When the ANC came to power, the party called for a strong civil society sector to both assist in service delivery and act as a necessary check-and-balance to the government and corporate sectors. By extension, activists such as Achmat see building a strong and critical civil society as the chosen means of democratic opposition, rather than challenging the party in power at the polls (Devenish and Mbali, 2004).(4)
Just Add Struggle History and Stir
Nevertheless, we do not wish to dwell on struggle histories. That is not our point, and we are not arguing for any simple quick-fix or add-on to Bond’s critique of neoliberalism. Struggle history is just one of many possible examples. What we ask is that a critical economic story of the poor getting poorer be opened to an acknowledgement of the contradictory ways people resist and experience material realities, and hopefully in doing so, move away from an idea of the inevitability of resistance. It takes work and agency to build and sustain social movements. There is also agency in choosing to support the ANC or choosing not to participate in any political party of social movement.
Most importantly, we ask that Bond give attention to the people that make up his idea of radical participatory democracy. The people who make up such a democratic framework should not be described or addressed as a mass body of comrades, undifferentiated, coherent. These people should not be simply seen as either “true leftists,” who walk and talk left, or as sell-outs, ANC hacks, or neoliberal apologists. Activists involved in new social movements, to their credit, are seriously divided, in part, along lines of geography, class, race, religion and gender (Desai, 2001).(5) There is no absence of contest between the players in new social movements. And the discourse that surrounds these contests warrants attention, as it shapes and informs what activists are doing on the ground.
Take, for example, the anti-Iraq war demonstrations in Durban during 2003. A large and wildly diverse group came together under a common banner here, calling for socio-economic and political justice, and an end to American and British aggression against Iraq. Even as demonstrators acted as a seemingly united front, women were asked, or rather, instructed to march behind men. Though we do not ask for any apologies to be made for those responsible for this disgraceful display of gender discrimination, we also recognize that, in this example, the historical and cultural locatedness of the participants, and the gendered discourse invoked at the demonstrations, demands reflection. As this example suggests, we cannot assume, in a romantic revolutionary sense, that ‘the masses’ will seemingly shut down for a day other parts of their identities such as race, class, or gender for a simultaneous uprising against the Iraq war or against global capitalism.
What it meant to be a part of a globally connected anti-war movement held very different practical and discursive meanings to the participants, and without a concerted effort to recognize that fact, one would be guilty of glossing over or sidelining such problems. To a certain extent, therefore, we would like to see these contests within ‘new social movements’ be carefully considered on a socio-historical and discursive level, as these contests not only point to the weaknesses within these movements, but also allow the democratic space for critical debate (Gibson, 2001). (6) Anything else, we feel, would be dogmatic.
Remembering “Radical Participatory Democracy”
The questions and examples that we have highlighted are all to say that we feel a critique of neoliberalism must be opened up to the ‘realness’ of discourse, not as smoke and mirrors, but as something to be taken seriously, something that shapes peoples’ understandings of their lives, and their relationship to resisting or consenting to the state. As we have argued, discourse is not something that can be explained away by macro-economic ideas of the relationship between superstructure and base. The ways that various discourses are invoked in specific contexts can likewise not be seen as purely “Left” or purely “Right,” just as party allegiances or declared resistance to the state cannot be reduced to leftist or rightist positioning.
Without this nuanced, socio-historical approach, we would be encouraging both a monolithic idea of the ANC, and an in-or-out mode of thinking about new social movements. We would be encouraging a kind of witch-hunt that sought to ensure all legitimate participants in new social movements were “Talking Left” and “Walking Left.” At the current juncture, a radical project of resistance that seeks broader influence needs to acknowledge and address the fact that a significant proportion of poor people still invest their hopes in the ANC. That does not mean such a radical project should privilege a comfortable relationship with the ANC over an openly hostile one.
Rather, while opening a critique of neoliberalism to the possibilities of discursive reflection and socio-historical locatedness, we are allowing and accounting for contests over meaning within these movements and the multiplicity of voices engaged in that contest. We are arguing for the left to escape simple Manichaeism and open up to self-reflexive debate. As for our part in that contest, we would finally ask: is this not what “radical participatory democracy” looks like?
Notes and References
Kerry Chance is a Visiting Researcher at the Centre for Civil Society.
Mandisa Mbali is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Civil Society.
(1) See Dale McKinley, “A Disillusioned Democracy: South African Elections Ten Years On,” 2004. Available in the Centre for Civil Society’s online library at ccs.ukzn.ac.za
(2) As Michel Foucault has noted the workings of modern disciplinary power – whether in the form of the prison, hospital, or state – relies upon discourse, as does resistance and compliance to state power. For a more expansive theoretical discussion of the term discourse, see Michel Foucault. Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison. Transl. A Sheridan, Ed. R Laing Tavistock: Penguin, 1977. Also see, Michel Foucault. The History of Sexuality Vol I. An Introduction, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977
(3) One does not even need to solely rely on Foucauldian readings to understand the complex and nuanced relationship between power and knowledge to be clear on the importance of rhetoric in shaping political allegiances. For instance, Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, when analyzing why fascism had so much popular support in Italy in the early twentieth century, argued that the Italian ruling class exercised an ideological stranglehold, or hegemony, over the masses though the Catholic Church, the media, and even civil society itself. See, Antonio Gramsci. Prison Note Books. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. For how Gramsci’s work might be used in a socio-historically nuanced critique of neoliberalism, see: Fiona Lumsden and Alex Loftus. “Inanda’s struggle for water: Through pipes and tunnels: Exploring state-civil society relations in a post-apartheid informal settlement” Available at www.ukzn.ac.za/ccs In a similar vein, social historians have shown the ways political culture is interwoven with popular culture and within the histories of the working class. See, E P Thompson. The Making of the English Working Classes. London: Vintage, 1966.
(4) See, Annie Devenish and Mandisa Mbali. A review of Zackie Achmat’s Wolpe Memorial Lecture Ten Years of South Africa’s Democratic Constitution. Available at www.ukzn.ac.za/ccs
(5) A sensitive portrayal of how these factors shape social movements is Ashwin Desai’s account of everyday words and actions of poor people involved in such movements in Durban’s townships. He also addresses how people, in their local struggles and resistance, wrestle with increasing poverty under the ANC, and the idea of the ANC as the party of liberation. See, Ashwin Desai. We Are the Poors. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001.
An Incomplete Freedom
I've rather enjoyed telling my mum (and everybody else who will listen) that I am to deliver the Harold Wolpe lecture tonight. It's got rather a nice tone to it - quite erudite, I thought, not one I know in my cut and thrust world of deadlines, chasing scoops, editing pages – all that is the business of putting newspapers to bed.
But as the date's grown closer, I've gotten a little bit nervous at this lecture business. It's quite forbidding, actually, so I'd prefer to consider it a chat.
Thank-you to the Centre for Civil Society for inviting me - your think-tank has quickly earned itself a place as a true THINK tank. Many don't deserve the title.
Would that I could stand here with the 10 year media dream delivered and speak to you of an institution wholly transformed. Of an institution rooted where you are - in the community, reflecting your daily struggles. One that understood unemployment as more than just an economic slogan - that investigated its causes and its fall-out. Of an institution that held to account those in power and empowered those that were not.
Would that I could stand here and tell you about thousand flowers blooming. About a public broadcaster that we all felt we owned - here you could go and learn the community broadcasting skills that would enable you to take your struggles out, out beyond the confines of a few streets, a couple of extensions. Would that I could, or you could, show me examples of street newspapers stuck up on corners that you could savour over a morning break coffee.
But I can't tell you such a story ten years into our freedom. Like all of the country, nothing has turned out quite as planned. Freedom rarely turns out so - and the truth is good for the media as much as it is for your lives.
But neither do I come to talk with you and beat my chest to tell a tale of woe and of hopelessness. It is instead my understanding of a journey to an incomplete freedom that I hope to share.
Let's start by declaring that it is a better world and that goes for ten years of media freedom too.
I began my working life as a journalist just as apartheid breathed its last and the state tightened its grip before loosening it. I remember poring over the state of emergency regulations to work out what could be said and what not; what could be reported to keep my young newspaper [then the Weekly Mail where I worked as a cadet] just above the parapet of a constrained legality while trying to sate a deep thirst for truth and perspective.
It was hell, as was trying to get any information from surly and recalcitrant authorities who make Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad feel like a paragon of open communication.
The Mail&Guardian some thirteen years ago was only a little more cash-strapped than it is today. So it ran on the steam of us young trainees who were sent every day to cover marches in what were then the hot-spots. We were regularly chased and “moered” (hit with sjamboks) with the marchers - the authorities had no sense of the role and rights of a free press.
It is a different world today. There is nothing we can't write and little media regulation to speak of. Whether we write all we can write is a matter for later, but media freedom I would argue is well and truly entrenched.
There is more information than any of us know what to do with and a degree of transparency that we've not yet managed to exploit properly. That said, we need to avoid getting comfortable in freedom and plump with the assumption that it will always be there.
There is much still to be fought for. Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act provides that journalists can be subpoenaed to give information to the police to assist in prosecution - it has a chilling effect on media freedom.
As have the criminal defamation laws. In my first week as editor, I received a law-suit from the ANC suing reporters Sam Sole and Stefaans Brummer, myself and the company for four million rand. I can tell you, it has a very chilling effect on me, but luckily the newspaper's ballsier than its editor.
In the subsequent months, I've learnt to roll with the millions. Law-suits are now up to R 23-million, the stakes raised by a corrupt [former] provincial minister who has sued for R18-million. He got caught when a local businessman who happened to win a multimillion rand tender from his department transferred money into his bank account, gave him a house and car.
Such suits can cripple a small newspaper and my feeling is that politicians are becoming litigous precisely as a way of trying to erode our freedom.
Two weeks ago, the M&G was in court defending itself by a case brought by the former housing minister Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele. If the claim was not for R2.5-million, I might giggle at how inane the suit is. Every year the newspaper publishes a report-card of the Cabinet. One year, it failed the good minister ordering her to take a ride on the gravy train because there was a whole saga about her friend getting a huge housing contract without literally, laying hands on a brick or going on a building site.
At issue is this: how far can we as the media go in our criticism of those in power. The minister argued that we cannot go very far - that her right to dignity trumps our right to freedom of expression. With South Africa's history, the right to dignity is fundamental - but so, I would argue, is the inculcation of a culture of robust criticism. I hope we win, otherwise I'm worried everyone's going to get A's on the report-card. And the watch-dog would have lost its teeth.
But the biggest threat to our freedom comes from within - it is not a popular thing to say, but an unpalatable truth we often ignore. Consider this: of all the complaints made to the Press Ombudsman, over seventy percent are simple acts of inaccuracy.
We get the basics wrong all the time.
The media's credibility lies only in its adherence to the code of ethics and accuracy is number one. We are failing and flailing about. Last year was our annus horribilis - several instances of plagiarism, of what the Sunday Times columnist David Bullard called “word burglary”, surfaced.
The Hefer Commission was founded on the foibles of journalists who forgot their ethics - the off the record briefing stays off the record. We act independently, not as the lap-dogs of some faction in power.
What are the roots of such failings? Individual responsibility is of course one. But there are other problems that are institutional.
The past 10 years has also witnessed an unprecedented under-resourcing and under-investment in journalism. Ownership at the major groups changed hands just as advertising revenues began to decline. The bean-counters took over - there are exceptions as there always are - but the bottom line became paramount.
Synergies were the order of the day as individual titles were robbed of their individuality, their journalists compacted into content provider newsrooms that serve an entire group. That’s why I could get onto a flight in Johannesburg with a newspaper and get off in Durban to read exactly the same news in your titles.
Most training budgets were cut just as a new generation of journalists hit the newsrooms. What is regarded as news has quickly become closely welded to what is news for the living standard measure (LSM) you are targeting. Every newspaper now identifies itself by the LSM it attracts, shaping a news agenda round the foibles and fancies of its LSM. It's not really working because newspaper circulation is only stable or inching up.
I hope we get some mould-breakers in this era who will say damn the LSM, let's just do journalism that changes the world for if it's not about that, then what it is about?
In a country where the largest circulation newspaper reaches just 3.5-million people, the possibilities of print changing the world are quite, quite limited. In such an atmosphere, it is the broadcasters who are king. With limited time, let's look only at the SABC and see how it has fared.
The verdict can only be not that great and while it is a broadcaster far removed from its propagandist era symbolised by former news report Cliff Saunders its road has not been a smooth one.
Every two years since the early Nineties, a new news boss has taken over because the SABC is such contested terrain. It's never been allowed to test its mettle as a proper public broadcaster in a developing country - where are the unionists on its board; and the civil society representatives; I'd like to see, for example, an Ashwin Desai on its board - a maverick who will make it serve its many publics.
But who is on the board? Eddie Funde chairs it – he is little-known in broadcasting, but he does sit on the ruling party’s election committee.
There is Christine Qunta, a demigod of a new bourgeoisie and Cecil Msomi whose company counts the ANC as a client and a man who is not well-known in the slim pickings that is South Africa's journalistic community.
There is a lot of work to do to bolster and make for whom this media freedom we often take for granted. The SABC is, in my opinion, on a sorry path and as the public we must set it straight.
We need to use our freedom and test it - use the open information laws, seek out the whistle-blowers, watch the cancer of corruption. Moreover we need to embed among the poor and to write their lives, not about their lives, but document their lives.
Too often, our accounts of media freedom amount to a head-count - so many blacks, so many women, a blind sub-editor is an equity dream. It has to be more than that in this the second decade of freedom.
May I turn now as I wind up to civil society's relations with the media and tell you a story. As a lefty, somewhat lapsed but certainly in the camp, I hang out with activists.
To my great dismay, I was recently called a sell-out because the Mail&Guardian refused to brand as repression the detention of Landless Peoples Movement activists. I hate what happened to the activists, but I refuse to play it as one long tale of repression from Abu Ghraib to Protea South.
The label was also used because the newspaper covers the ANC with some attention - and because we carried a cover story titled How the ANC won the election a week before the election was won.
As an editor with a penchant for social movements and the intellectuals who support them, I must admit to be tiring quite quickly of rhetoric and of labels, of easy victories and magnified import [of occasion, impact and size of this new left], of predictable arguments and sketchy research that often emanates from the sector.
It is with my heart in my mouth that I stand and say that the accounts I have read of social movements in general and of South African politics in particular from Naomi Klein to Arundhati Roy, from Patrick Bond to Dale McKinley and other radical intellectuals exhibit a sameness that falls short of the rigours that the times demand.
Their various writings come to sound like a set-piece. This is how it goes.
Ten years on, the revolution's been sold down the river. The ANC is a neoliberal shadow of its former self – it has implemented a Thatcherite economic policy and left its comrades out to dry as it has supplicated before a wealthy coterie of elites.
Usually, the research then cuts to a quote from finance minister Trevor Manuel or the former president Nelson Mandela declaring that Gear is non-negotiable.
No reference is made to Manuel’s subsequent statements that the Growth Employment and Redistribution Strategy (Gear) was a “necessary but not a sufficient” condition for growth and poverty eradication or to the more expansive path the country is now on. This, despite the fact that the old left organised in the Congress of SA Trade Unions and the Peoples Budget have said so numerous times. These are organisations and individuals of the left who know how to claim a victory when they see one – the same is not true among those of the new left.
But back to the narrative. It then usually goes on to an account of how much better things were under apartheid. Just look, say the writers, even Stats SA says so.
They haul out the Stats SA “Earning and Spending” report of 2003 and quote from its findings that South Africans were generally poorer in income terms in 2000 than they were in 1995. That fact is devastating, but it must be matched with other Stats SA research which reveals that the havoc wrought by unemployment and its associated drop in incomes was somewhat assuaged by R53-billion pumped into poor communities in the form of housing, electricity and water. In other words, while asset poverty declined while income poverty increased. To use one without the other is selective research at its most disingenuous. It’s as bad when the Presidency only uses the positive and dismisses the income report, but that’s another story.
The narratives then usually make use of research gleaned from a quick visit to the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee or to Chatsworth (the epicentres of civic social movements) where invariably you will find somebody who says the ANC has made things worse. This is, usually, in response to the very leading question: “are things worse now than they were under apartheid?” The research takes very little account of the impact of globalisation where tariffs have come down and jobs been lost; of the fact that an apartheid era welfare and housing pie had to be cut much thinner in 1994 and so the welfare payments of many poor people did come down.
Inevitable comparisons are made on how much the movements campaigns looks like the anti-apartheid struggle, on the same songs being sung, on the reconnections of electricity and campaign being a latter-day defiance campaign.
The conclusion is usually this: that another revolution is imminent here - just as it is in the United States, in India, in Europe - another world is possible. Viva and Amandla! Trevor Ngwane [the leader of the Soweto Electricity Crisis Campaign] will free us all; Patrick Bond for finance minister and Dennis Brutus will be our arts minister - this time, the people shall govern......for real.
I bought into this narrative for a while because it is so sexy and I penned quite a few articles that followed exactly the same narratives. I do not pen the narrative because it is too easy a way out of our interminable interregnum - because it doesn't require grappling with the difficulties of transition; with the nuts and bolts of local government finance; with the technicalities and policies required extending a water connection and keeping it running.
And it is because I spend hours pouring over the Budget and recognise that public expenditure is actually not the problem anymore. We are beyond the tight Gear belt and now the debate is about a skilled and committed civil service that can deliver; about whether we need the provinces and whether they hinder or help a better life; about the growing social distance between the government and the governed.
If we have learnt anything from the past 10 years it’s probably that struggle as tough and soul-sapping, as brutal and as violent as it was, was probably easier to do than freedom.
To adopt the narrative means to be in perpetual state of struggle, of war, to oppose and not to propose. It makes, frankly, for rather boring reading. This is not to say that community struggle is not necessary - it must always be an integral part of democratic life. Already Ngwane and his comrades have made an impact, forcing Eskom to write off the accumulated electricity debts of poor Gauteng communities. In Durban, the Concerned Citizens Forum is expanding the narrow notions of citizenship and service beyond the managerialist strait-jacket of “the culture of non-payment”, of “cost-containment”. But the debate must be more honest if it is to be even more effective.
For me, Arundhati Roy provided answers to a world gone crazy in 2001 when her algebra of infinite justice added it all up. She became my god of big things, a writer who’s every utterance I would squeeze into the newspaper tossing aside lesser scribes like John Pilger and George Monbiot.
I’m not so sure that she’s got things quite right on South Africa, though. Here’s what Roy wrote about South Africa:
South Africans say that the only miracle they know of is how quickly the rainbow has been privatised, sectioned off and auctioned to the highest bidders. Within two years of taking office in 1994, the African National Congress genuflected with hardly a caveat to the Market God. In its rush to replace Argentina as neo-liberalism's poster boy, it has instituted a massive programme of privatisation and structural adjustment....
Really? Ask the market's and the massive flood of privatisation has in fact been a trickle. Yes, a third of Telkom's been listed, but the important ones like Eskom and Transnet are still wholly state-owned.
“Structural adjustment” - sure, that's what Gear was, but I've yet to hear a left economist argue coherently about what we were to do with the inherited debt that the high-living, free-spending Nats bequeathed to us. And don't say, “we should have reneged on it” because most of the debt is owed to my mother and your father - it is pension fund debt.
Another hero is Naomi Klein who made me wear Woolies with her searing indictment of consumer culture and the sweatshops they engender. “No Logo” is a great work but I am less impressed with her impressions of my country.
Here's Klein doing SA. There's a huge amount of struggle going on in this country. There are movements exploding. They are resisting privatisation of water and electricity, resisting eviction, and demanding land reform. They are reacting against all the broken promises of the ANC.
“This is a security state. It spends three times as much on private security as it does on affordable housing - just to keep the rich from the poor. This level of inequality is dangerous.
Security state? More like melodrama if you ask me. There is a view among social movements and the intelligentsia linked to it that SA has undergone a massive exercise in water and electricity privatisation.
It is plain wrong, yet is repeated over and over again - - as if repeating it often enough will make it true. Only four of 288 municipalities and relatively small ones at that have contracted out the management of water. It may be and probably is four too many, but it is hardly the large scale sell-off touted in the media. As for electricity - none, none, of it has been privatised.
There's another statistic quoted again and again by left intellectuals and it is the David McDonald and John Pape study which found that 10-million people had had their electricity cut off and 10-million more had their water pipes staunched. The study's been withdrawn by the Human Sciences Research Council because its methodology is faulty.
The HSRC's Mark Orkin had this to say: The HSRC has clarified that the figure is an extrapolation by an independent, external researcher in an HSRC survey of three months duration, and considerably over-estimates the phenomenon. However, the extent and consequences of these disconnections by local authorities remains a serious matter of concern.
Other research shows that 133 000 households had their water disconnected - it's 133 000 too many, but, the gap between 10 million cut-offs and 400 000 (extrapolated at three people per household – the size of household determined in the Census 2001) is enormous.
In the media, we often joke that we don't let the facts get in the way of a good story - and the same goes for the new left it seems. Though Orkin's disclaimer came out in June last year, I've seen McDonald and Pape's figures used again and again and again without qualification or limitation noted.
If indeed it is the case that the research over-states the problem, then the challenges and the lobbies lie elsewhere. It is for bigger local government budgets, for sharper municipal managers with hearts, for policies that bar disconnections, for socio-economic rights cases in the Constitutional Court.
The answers are not as simple or as complex as is often suggested. They are not simply about an anti-privatisation campaign; and not as complex as staging another revolution.
The international anti-globalisation movement has been an exciting development – a response to those who declare that there is no other alternative is their clarion call that another world is possible. But social movements are so keen to make South Africa a node on the global map of anti-globalisation resistance, that often it seems they try to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Of course we should be vigilant of national intelligence’s interest in the social movement; of course we should expose the arrest and harsh treatment of activists aligned to the Landless Peoples Movement but is it fair to compare it with Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison where torture was widespread.
Is it really honest to compare the arrest of 87 activists outside the Johannesburg mayor's house with the killing and arrests in Genoa in 2002?
And, finally, to brand Cosatu a US-style corporatist trade union as Bond did in a recent paper and as many activists of the new left do, is beyond the pale. If President Mbeki and his lieutenants use of the “ultra-left “label infuriated so many of us, then why is labelling OK when it comes from within the left?
Where is the humility in this? Surely 1.8-million workers who pay their subs every month would recognise a US-style corporatist trade union when they see one? Surely, it is worth finding out why the compradorist ANC still attracts a rump of black working class support. There is some evidence of an apathy setting in, but to disaggregate the figures is to see where it is setting in - among the traditional middle classes, not the very poor.
I was dismayed recently to be called a “sell-out” because I lived long ago enough to know the opportunism, the dangers and the self-concern of true sell-outs, but also because it was as if a preordained left is the only one that counts. All else and you are a sell-out.
The movements are an exciting political form which can be very powerful as the Treatment Action Campaign has shown, but it must also be acknowledged that they are a nascent bloc.
The movements speak a more relevant truth to power than to any formal political parties, but there must also be truth about the disempowered and the processes of disempowerment. There are many truths and many layers of complexity in building something new. There have never been easy answers as there are never easy victories.
* This is an edited version of the Harry Wolpe lecture Ferial Haffajee delivered at the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on May 27victories.
A shift in Gear: A review of Ferial Haffajee’s lecture on the state of the media ten years into democracy
Ferial Haffajee, editor of the Mail and Guardian, spoke on ‘The state of the media ten years into democracy’ at the fourth lecture in the Harold Wolpe memorial lecture series, hosted by the Centre for Civil Society and the School of Development Studies. It seemed appropriate that the May lecture should deal with the subject of the media, given that the month began with the Culture, Communication and Media Studies third Political Economy of the Media Seminar, which had made use of the same Howard College venue.
Haffajee began her career as a reporter at the Weekly Mail during the early nineties (‘just as apartheid breathed its last and the state tightened its grip before loosening it’). She spent the early years of the democratic transition as a producer at the SABC, where she specialised in economic reporting and current affairs. She returned briefly to the Mail and Guardian as a media editor and senior writer, before moving into a senior editorial position at the Financial Mail in 1999, where she wrote about the Presidency, labour and trade relations. Four years later she rejoined the Mail and Guardian, where she moved up the ranks into the position of Editor-in-chief in February of this year.
Broadly speaking, Haffejee’s talk (which she admitted from the outset would be regarded as ‘controversial’) reflected on the economic realities of post-apartheid transformation in a globalised world from her experience as a leftist journalist and as an editor (‘with a penchant for social movements’), a reality that has seen idealism replaced by pragmatism. Her story, she said, is one of ‘incomplete freedom, since although ‘it is a better world’, ‘nothing has turned out quite as planned’.
The transformation of the South African media
Media freedom, enshrined as it in the Constitution, is now well established in South Africa. The industry is greatly transformed in terms of ownership that supports Black Economic Empowerment. Access to information has increased dramatically, owing to privatisation of ownership, the ‘opening up of the airwaves’, and the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) that promotes accountability from public and private bodies. However, Haffejee warns us not to be too comfortable in this freedom, for ‘there is much still to fight for’. In particular, the criminal defamation laws and Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act are a serious impediment to the fearless investigative reporting that is necessary to ensure transparency and accountability, and ultimately ensure control of the abuse of power. Section 205, inherited from apartheid-era legislation, can be used by law enforcement officials to force journalists to disclose their source of information or face prosecution. This conflicts with freedom of expression and inhibits the free flow of information as it compromises the neutrality of the journalist and could put the safety of both the source and the journalist at risk. To reveal a source goes against journalism ethics, as they are understood worldwide. Attempts by South African editors to have this law repealed have been unsuccessful. In 1996, the Constitutional Court decided that Section 205 did not conflict with freedom of expression as outlined in the Bill of Rights, nor was it inconsistent with the notions of equality, privacy and freedom of speech. More recently, the Hefer Commission brought Section 205 into the spotlight and although most would question Ranjeni Munsamy’s credibility and ethics as a journalist, her being called to the stand exposed the stumbling block in South Africa’s media freedom.
Another threat to media freedom in Africa as a whole are the ‘defamation’ laws meant to protect a person’s dignity that are used to deter journalists from criticising those in officialdom. Although internationally there are moves to decriminalise defamation, with both the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights expressing concern at the “abuse of legal provisions on criminal libel”, “almost every African government has used defamation and insult laws in ways that violate guarantees of free expression and access to information laid down in both national constitutions and international treaties” www.article19.org. Haffajee mentioned the lawsuits brought against the Mail and Guardian by government ministers exposed for corrupt dealings who now claim for millions in damages. Although the law generally “recognises that the importance of making known to the public certain kinds of information outweighs the damage it may cause to particular individuals”, the financial costs for a small newspaper such as the Mail and Guardian could be crippling (Barker, 1998: 278).
However, the greatest threat to media freedom, ‘unpalatable’ as it may be, comes from within, in the form of inaccurate reporting and plagiarism. The highly publicized dismissal of Darryl Bristow-Bovey and Cynthia Vongai, together with the revelations surrounding the Hefer Commission, made 2003 an ‘annus horribilus’ for the South African media industry. Plagiarism and inaccurate reporting (‘of all the threats made to the Press Ombudsman, over seventy percent are simple acts of inaccuracy’) undermine the credibility of the profession, which rests on the notion of truthfulness. Journalists are ethically required to test the accuracy of their sources and avoid inadvertent error. Haffajee claimed the roots of such inaccuracies are found not only at the individual level but also at the level of the institution.
Ownership changes and commercial restructuring have occurred at the same time as adspend has decreased, resulting in newspaper synergies (where ‘newspapers become like sausage machines’), an under-resourcing in journalism, and a general focus on ‘the bottom line’. Editorial staff now have to consider the LSM (Living Standard Measure) group that their paper targets when making editorial decisions. Jane Duncan, from the Freedom of Expression Institute, referred to the ‘multi-schilling’ now expected of editorial staff working in centralised newsrooms, that in fact leads to ‘dumbed down’ reporting and ‘deskilling’ (Duncan, 2001: 32). Similar problems were noted by the Media Monitoring Project back in1996, which found that the journalism industry was understaffed and under trained, leading to an unacceptably high rate of judgment and error (Sparks, 1996). Problems of inaccuracy, plagiarism, distorted reporting and the protection of sources are surfacing worldwide: the New York Times and the BBC have both had to face their own scandals in the recent past. According to Anton Harber: “This pattern is the outcome of a grand, global marketplace battle between the forces of cheap, entertainment-focused media and those still trying to defend the castles of solid, information and news-based journalism” (2004; www.hsf.org.za
However, Haffajee acknowledges that in a country with one of the lowest amount of newspaper titles relative to population size, where ‘the largest circulation newspaper reaches just 3.5 million’, the role of broadcasting is perhaps of greater significance. Though it should be acknowledged that the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has undergone a major transition from state to public broadcaster, and was one of the first to implement an affirmative action programme (‘[it is far removed from the days of] Haas Das se Nuuskas’), there is growing concern over the SABC’s impartiality, given the close ties between top management and the ANC-led government. Haffajee questioned the SABC’s choice of board members, asking ‘where are the unionists…and civil society representatives [on its board]?’.
The problem with the left
The potentially controversial part of Haffajee’s position was her admission (made ‘with [her] heart in [her] mouth’) that she was tiring of the anti-globalisation, anti-privatisation, anti-ANC rhetoric as promulgated by figures such as Naomi Klein, Arundhati Roy, Patrick Bond and Dale McKinley. For Haffajee, ‘the radical intellectuals of the left exhibit a sameness that falls short of the rigours that our freedom demands’. Haffajee proceeded to give a tongue-in-cheek summary of the rhetoric favoured by these intellectuals: it tends to criticise the ANC for its neoliberal (‘non-negotiable’) macroeconomic policies and its contribution to the formation of an ANC elite, suggesting that things were better under apartheid by using (inaccurate) statistics. Although she admitted to at first buying into this ‘sexy’ narrative, it was Patrick Bond’s suggestion that only another revolution would make electricity more affordable that ultimately turned her off (so to speak). This together with the sheer inaccuracy of some of the statements made about the privatisation of basic services and the tendency of these intellectuals to ‘oppose but not propose’. She sets the record straight: only four out of 288 municipalities have contracted out the management of water and electricity remains the reserve of the state-owned Eskom. Thus, ‘the massive flood of privatisation has in fact been a trickle’.
Although Haffajee maintains she is ‘not an apologist for the ANC’ (she claimed during discussion time that she’d give them a ‘D’ on a report card rating their post-apartheid achievements), she is critical of the labelling and misinformed arguments emanating from the principled left. ‘Surely’, she asks, ‘it is worth finding out why the compradorist ANC still attracts a rump of black working class support?’. Indeed, although the government's policies (GEAR in particular) can be criticised for falling short of economic growth and job creation targets, the fact remains that the ANC has a strong support base. Perhaps this is owing to the achievements they’ve made since coming into power in 1994. The mass-electrification drive of the Reconstruction and Development Programme has connected hundreds of thousands to the national grid: 83 percent of households now have electricity (as opposed to 58 percent in 1994) and 63 percent of rural households are now connected (as opposed to 17 percent in 1994). In terms of water access, 75 percent now have clean water at home (compared to 68 percent) and 39 percent or rural homes have water (up from 17 percent) (Haupt, 2003).
So what does Haffajee propose? In terms of activism, the media should focus on the following key issues: social movements, unemployment and the provision of free services, such as electricity, water and education. The media should rather embed in local communities, form relationships with intelligentsia and civil society, do better research and show ‘some introspection in activism’. In all, ‘we need to use our freedom and test it – use the open information laws, seek out the whistle-blowers, watch the cancer of corruption…’.
Freedom and the limits of the environment
A key struggle at the grassroots level in South Africa is access to water and electricity, the basics necessary for socio-economic development. The social movement most vociferously supported by Klein, Roy and others is that which opposes the privatisation of these services, and any attempts to charge the poor for access to them. The high-profile clash between the government-backed electricity provider Eskom and the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee over the disconnection of thousands of households who were in arrears with their electricity payments provides an example of community activism against the corporatisation of services symptomatic of the ‘economic apartheid’ (Klein, 2001).
However, given the very real environmental challenges facing the planet as a whole, arguments for free electricity as a basic human right beg that the concept of freedom be problematised. Since the planet’s resources are finite, the limits to certain ‘freedoms’ are an inescapable reality. The global political economy is affecting the planet and the consumerist lifestyle that supports capitalism comes at a hefty price to the environment. The burning of fossil fuels, used in the creation of 81 percent of electricity generation in Africa, contributes greatly to global warming (Jaff, 2003). Unsurprisingly, South Africa is the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases on the continent (Kim, 2003). Governments are now under pressure to reduce their emission of greenhouse gases. South Africa, for instance, has signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and acceded to the Kyoto Protocol (Kim, 2003). A mitigation study undertaken in 2000 as part of UNFCCC requirements found the greatest mitigation potential to lie with the electricity sector: CO2 emissions could possibly be reduced by 1 320 million tons during 2001-2025 through using alternative forms of energy production (Kim, 2003).
Although the ANC government specifically named solar technology as one which should be used to help electrify the country in its Reconstruction and Development Programme, and the Central Energy Fund (CEF) now includes a solar power unit in the form of Renewable Energy for South Africa (REFSA), not enough has been done to make full use of solar energy as an electricity resource. Since solar energy does not rely on the Eskom grid, it encourages self-reliance and a form of self-upliftment. In addition, solar energy projects are labour intensive, providing more job opportunities than the burning of fossil fuels in electricity plants does.
Eskom has responded to this need to be more environmentally responsible. The Solar Home System (SHS) project run by Eskom-Shell Solar Home Systems aims to provide 50 000 households with solar systems to replace the candles, paraffin and car batteries currently used for lighting, cooking and television sets. It is estimated that the use of solar power over paraffin will reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 230 kilograms annually (Kim, 2003). Private companies have also begun to implement projects that are attracting the attention of the government. The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), for instance, is an American-funded global initiative to provide rural communities with non-grid electric solar energy using solar PV (photovoltaic) technology. Their project in KwaZulu-Natal is maintained by young Zulu women technicians trained specifically for the job. SELF estimate that by 2010, the increased demand for solar energy will have created approximately 70 000 new jobs. Although solar energy is not the only form of renewable energy worth considering in the South African context, it does provide the most immediate and least-cost solution to the government’s promise to provide free electricity.
A member of the audience took the opportunity to remind Haffajee and the rest of the audience that it is incorrect and optimistic to suggest that the rhetoric of the left, as articulated by Klein, Bond, Roy and the like, has become the dominant view on South Africa’s economic transformation. She maintained that those critical of the ANC’s neoliberal economics could be counted on one finger, while the majority of voices are supportive. Indeed, the mainstream media tends to show support for the government’s economic reforms and Haffajee did acknowledge the general support for the ANC government. Her lecture was aimed at a particular audience from a particular perspective. Her more nuanced take on the political economy of the media is perhaps a result of her new role as editor of an independent market-driven newspaper which makes her more aware of ‘the bottom line’. Although Haffajee calls for more ties between academia and the press, she is searching for practical and productive ways to contribute to the development of South African society. Since Haffajee is tiring of the empty rhetoric of the leftist social movements that receive the most attention, perhaps she should look to the environmental social movements for developmental solutions. It is on the issue of the environment that the intelligentsia need to make the conceptual leap that takes them beyond the level of human relations to the larger planetary picture. The media have a role to play in educating the public about the benefits of renewable energy, taking the stigma out of environmentally-friendly development options and showing how they can create self-reliance at the individual and community level. This is the social movement that needs our undivided attention since it applies to all of us, regardless of geography, culture, or class.
Deidre Donnelly (MA) is an editorial and research assistant at Culture, Communication and Media Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Barker, G. (1998) ‘Media law’. In A. S. De Beer, Mass media towards the millennium. Pretoria: van Schaik.
Duncan, J. (2001) ‘Talk left, act right: What constitutes transformation in Southern African media?’. In K.G. Tomaselli and H. Dunn (Eds.), Media, democracy and renewal in Southern Africa. Colorado Springs: International Academic Publishers.
Harber, A. (2004) ‘Media lured by down-market whirlpool’. Focus 33, March 2004. Available from the Helen Suzman Foundation website,
Haupt, P. (2003) Chapter 13. In South Africa – More good news. Johannesburg: The Good News.
Jaff, N.B. (2003) ‘Energy sector privatisation in Africa: Perspectives for rural electrification’. ESI Africa, Issue 3. Steenburg: Spintelligent.
Kim, J.A. (2003) ‘Sustainable Development and the CDM: A South African Case Study’. Available at www.tyndall.ac.uk
Klein, N. (2001) ‘Economic apartheid and resistance in South Africa’. Available at www.nologo.org
Sparks, A. (1996) Institute for the Advancement of Journalism. Submission to Comtask. Annexure 15. Johannesburg: Comtask.
Van Niekerk, P. & Ludman, B. (1999) The Mail and Guardian A-Z of South African politics 1999: The essential handbook. South Africa: Penguin.
Review of Mark Gevisser’s “Are We Living the Dream Deferred?”
by Jean Kudla
Much audience interest was displayed in the animated discussion time following Mark Gevisser’s lecture on a reflection on ten years of democracy in South Africa, the 5th in the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s 2004 Wolpe Lecture series. Gevisser provided a fascinating insight into the conundrum that is Thabo Mbeki, tackling the issue of Mbeki from the perspective of the personal man, not the president.
Mark Gevisser is a highly respected journalist, and is currently in the process of investigating and writing Thabo Mbeki’s biography. He has also been involved in the writing and development of television productions such as Constitution Hill and SABC2’s Zero Tolerance.
In opening his lecture, Gevisser described South Africa’s current state as being in “transition: going somewhere, suspended between two places”, and explained that his aim was establish the effect of this in terms of the national psyche as well as the political psychology of Thabo Mbeki specifically. His analysis moved from a quote from Giovanni Arrigi which described South Africa as being in an “interminable interregnum”.
In trying to delve into the national psyche, Gevisser explained that South Africa’s belief that it is in transition, suggests that there is a destination, a ‘pot of Gold’ and the end of the transition rainbow. There is a tangible belief in the national discourse that this dream could come true, that indeed it must. While this belief and hope gives great motivation and inspiration to this fragile country, the same belief puts great pressure on citizens, miracle-makers and wizards alike, to make the dream a reality. There is a seeking of the redemption of the hopes thrown up struggle and promised during the negotiated settlement, and this, said Gevisser, places ‘Psychic Distress’ on a population plagued by the ‘National Discourse of Redemption’. This is the dark side of the South Africa’s transition from Apartheid to democracy. This is the Janis face of the miracle nation: a nation filled with hope and optimism, but under great pressure to transfer that optimism into progress and results.
From this great pressure to perform a miracle come two reactions. The first is depression. Gevisser described an interview with the ANC’s Nkosasana Zuma and recalled the great disappointment in Zuma’s voice as he said they were ‘more depressed than ever, realizing how impossible it is to make [their] dreams come true.’ The flip side of this depression, says Gevisser, is the nations’ mania. This is evident in the over-the-top mania expressed by the in reaction to events such as the successful Soccer World Cup bid. The country ‘goes a little bezerk’ when it seems like the country’s dream may actually come true.
Gevissier argued that the only way to cope with the depression caused by the manic search for the elusive miracle is to carry on reproducing the miracle and to carry on being the world’s wonder nation, continually striving to create events for national euphoria such as the Soccer World Cup bid. The ‘slow churning mud of [conventional] development is depressing; South Africa is looking for a miracle.”
However, Gevisser stressed that the “Psychic Distress” resulting from the pressure of the South African Miracle is not restricted to the general public. Indeed, South Africa’s foremost citizen, Thabo Mbeki, is not exempt from this pressure. Gevisser refersed to Mbkei’s 1998 Two Nations Speech. Mbeki quoted from Hughes’s “Montage of a dream deferred”. Hughes’s conclusion is slightly different from Mbeki’s interpretation. Mbeki answers the question within the poem. “What happens to a dream deferred? It explodes” says Mbeki. He paraphrases the poem in terms of the black people awaiting liberation. Why, asked Gevisser, did Mbeki turn Hughes line of “Does it explode” into “It explodes”? Did he deliberately mis-quote, and if not, why did he remember the line as a statement and not a question? Gevisser suggested that his own experience of living the dream deferred, or South Africa’s transition, makes him believe that it will explode.
In an interview with Mbeki, Mbeki talks of his childhood and family, saying he grew up ‘at a sort of distance from that kind of thing. Cut off from it. We were sort of disconnected. You see it, you live, but you are not it.’ This sense of detachment from his family and history was exacerbated by international exile. So much of Mbeki’s life was sacrificed for the liberation ideal, and now he is here and free, in the role for which he was groomed since childhood. Now that liberation has arrived, Mbeki needs to present the promised miracle to an expectant people, and Gevisser believes that Mbeki lives in fear that the dream deferred for too long will lead to it exploding in his face.
Up against the wall of the heartless global economy, confronted with the HIV plague and with people walking in fear of a recession, there is little time to think about achieving the miracle. The immediacy of other, more pressing, issues, leaves South Africa in an interminable transition period, and can but take its toll on the country’s leadership.
Gevisser asks if there is a “madness visited upon this continent’s leaders”? He explained this question by saying that there is gap between the Utopian revolution and the dis-utopia of the transition era”. After liberation, an anti-climax and a ‘reality-check’ takes hold. Mbeki’s mandate once in power was not, Gevisser argued, like the mandate of political leaders in 1st world countries. Mbeki is not charge simply with the task of raising or lowering taxes, he is charged with the salvation of his people. As Gevisser remarked, who wouldn’t have sleepless nights? Indeed.
Gevisser also explored the Mbeki HIV debacle, giving possible personal reasons for Mbeki’s curious stance on the issue. Gevisser suggested that South Africa’s victory over the large multi-national drug companies gives Mbeki the vessel he needs to place his dissatisfaction with the Western imperialist powers. They have become a kind of scapegoat for Mbeki, who needs, according to Gevisser, to feel like the prophet in the wilderness. He feels a need to be proved right in the long run. Gevisser believes that the HIV/AIDS debacle is the manifestation of the confusion and frustration of the dream deferred, and Mbeki’s desire to pull another miracle out of the hat.
Indeed in the shadow of “Mandela Exceptionalism” South Africa really was the world’s favourite fairytale. However, “along comes Mbeki and holds up a different mirror that the one Mandela showed, not the miracle nation, but a troublesome country, grim with poverty, grubby with politics.’
At this point Gevisser concluded by returning to the more general topic of the dream deferred. He explained that he feels that the only way out of this “interminable interregnum’ is to view the road itself toward the dream as the destination. We are always on the move from one thing to another, and the trick is to live for the process rather than the end-point. As Gevisser concluded “We are living the dream already, we are already home.”
This brought to a close the lecture presented by Gevisser. The animated discussion following the lecture proved that the topic was one of great public interest and had sparked great debate in even the small group gathered that evening. I would, however, say that the presentation was a little disjointed. From the title, Are We Living the Dream Deferred?, one expected more general appraisal of South Africa’s position. While the connection between the national psyche’s distress and the personal distress of the Mbeki was very interesting I wondered if the topics were a little mismatched. Such a limited examination of Mbeki from a personal level left this reviewer a little unsatisfied and I would have said that the lecture would have been more effective had it been limited to either the national psyche or that of Mbeki’s, seeing as the limited time-frame did not allow for an effective examination of both.
However, despite this criticism, the lecture had a very good response from the floor. There was clear interest in the notion of Mbeki as man, as this was obviously not the usual manner in which the population views him. This Wolpe lecture was definitely well-received, giving a topical and alternative account of the state of South Africa – and its president.
From Liberation to reconstruction: Theory and practice in the life of Harold Wolpe
A year after Harold Wolpe’s death in 1996, the newly established Wolpe Trust convened in his honor an international conference on “The Political Economy of Social Change in South Africa.” It took place at the University of Western Cape where Wolpe had worked for the previous 5 years. Staged three years after the inauguration of the Government of National Unity, it brought ministers, members of parliament, party leaders, activists together with engaged intellectuals from universities and non-governmental organizations. Former comrades, who had taken very different trajectories after apartheid, were reknotted in an exciting confrontation. Intellectuals from the universities and NGOs flexed their critical muscles, suggesting the betrayal of the ANC’s original program, only to be harangued by the political leadership for not appreciating the rapid and progressive transformation of South Africa. The drama of the New South Africa was played out in this academic setting.
View the rest of the lecture in PDF format
Review: Sexuality as the theatre for post-apartheid political battles?
A critical review of Deborah Posel’s Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture The politics of sexuality in post-apartheid South Africa
by Mandisa Mbali
Sexuality is the main theatre of post-apartheid political and cultural battles. Or so Deborah Posel tried to convince us at the Wolpe Memorial Lecture on the 29th August in Durban. Her arguments on why the politics of sexuality have become so heated were eloquently phrased, but her media-based methodology could not sustain many of the claims she tried to make. Moreover, in her use of Foucault’s theories around the history of sexuality, she tried to reduce the politicisation of sexuality to discourse. She thus, overlooked the complex interplay between discourse and material factors in shaping the politicisation of sexuality.
For instance, the inherent methodological flaws of the research discussed were evident when she asserted that the media increasingly equates blackness with freedom and sexiness, but did not show how ordinary people interpret these representations, which is key to understanding how they are used in the operation of modern power. Similarly, she focussed on discourse to the exclusion of looking at its complex interplay with material factors like poverty. The talk also didn’t seriously engage with the ways in which the politicisation of sexuality is gendered. Moreover, Posel neglected to mention the role of medicine in the politicisation of sexuality.
Sex as the ‘hot’ political issue in post-apartheid South Africa
The lecture began with an eloquent introduction by the chair Vasu Reddy reflecting on how sex has become politicised in the context of South Africa’s AIDS epidemic through its increasing link to pain and suffering and sexual and moral panics. Similarly, he argued that the emergence of new social movements dealing with sexuality such as the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) had raised questions of whether there can be dialogue between activism and academia, between the practice and theory of aiming the influence the politics of sexuality. Unlike most Wolpe chairs who largely offer a perfunctory summary of the speaker’s CV, it was refreshing to hear a decent but concise introduction to some of the key issues the main speech addressed.
Following Reddy’s introduction Posel launched into her talk by mentioning that it was part of a series of papers she had written on the politicisation of sexuality in South Africa. The central question her talk aimed to address is why sex had become such a ‘hot’ issue in post-apartheid politics.
Posel argued that in the late 1980s and early 1990s few South African academics could have predicted that sexuality would become the stage for post-apartheid political and cultural battles. There were several more interesting changes taking place, which were trying to address the damage caused by decades of apartheid social engineering. Whites were no longer guaranteed employment, there were questions of a new distribution of resources. There were also questions around how to build a new non-racial democracy. In this period of interregnum it seemed to academics such as Posel that the major post-apartheid contests would be over poverty and inequality, race and social services.
For Posel, these predictions were proven false as the major post-apartheid political debates have been over AIDS, sexual violence and child abuse. As she highlighted, AIDS has brought the ruling African National Congress (ANC) close to internal rupture, led to open conflict between provincial and national government and the Constitutional Court and has catalysed the creation of TAC, which is in her view the strongest post-apartheid social movement. Similarly, the ‘baby rape’ scandals have ignited public debates about abusive male sexuality and the need for a moral regeneration in post-apartheid South Africa.
The speaker framed her problematisation in terms of Michel Foucault’s notion that there is always a politics of sexuality which operates through multiple sites of power. On the other hand, she argued that the politicisation of sexuality only happens intermittently through public sphere discussion at specific historical moments. For Posel, such episodes in continuous public discourse on sexuality become a revealing lens through which to read the wider politics of change in South Africa. Positioning herself as a Foucauldian, Posel explicitly stated that she is interested in how sex is put into discourse.
Is the media the only public? The pitfalls of a media-based reading of post-apartheid sexuality
Posel based her analysis of the politicisation of the representation of sexuality in public discourse on a study of the media. In terms of this, she argued that in post-apartheid South Africa there are no longer stars covering nipples in topless pictures, or the intricate censorship and policing of interracial and same sex relationships. She asked the audience to remember that apartheid legislation policed sex as essentially private. The apartheid regime’s aim was to maintain white supremacy through keeping the white body pure and black fertility under control. Sexual deviancy was associated with the political radicalism of white communists.
She went on to argue that there has been a post-apartheid explosion of sexual imagery and debates in the media. For her, this explosion is evidenced in annual gay pride events in Cape Town and Johannesburg, condom demonstrations which take place in schools, and Pfizer’s radio and television campaigns advertising its blockbuster anti-impotence drug Viagra. Posel identified three discursive nodes or patterns in the representation of sex in South Africa: one clustered around the rise of a new black elite; a second focussed around the acceleration of the AIDS epidemic and a third focussed on the strategies and power of ‘Non-Governmental Organisations’ (NGOs) such as TAC.
Posel limited herself to a discussing public conversations in the media directed to the nation such as loveLife. This meant that her talk was a media studies-based analysis of how representations of sexuality have changed since the apartheid era. However, as Bernard Dubbeld (a PhD student at the University of Chicago) argued in question time, more publics than the media come into play when analysing changes in public discourse around sexuality.
The politicisation of the public representation of sexuality cannot be reduced to an analysis of media such as loveLife or radio adverts on Viagra. For instance, court records and proceedings and government policy documents also contribute to public debate on sexuality. Most importantly, as I shall argue later on in this review, the power of public discourse depends on how it resonates with ordinary people’s cultural and socio-economic contexts and their understandings of the world.
Freedom is ‘sexy’, but what if you’re unemployed?
Posel argued that there has been an eroticisation of liberation focussed around the imagery of the new black elite. Globally, sex sells and South Africans are increasingly exposed to global popular culture and commercial imagery. Sexy representations of cars and cell phones mirror a new urge to consume, new political imperatives and cultural aspirations. She argued that there has been a demobilisation of political movements and a celebration of newfound political freedom through sex. For Posel, blackness is now equated with being free and sexy in the new South Africa. Magazines aimed at the youth market offer frank advice on how to perform oral sex and to style yourself as hip and upwardly mobile you have to know how to make yourself seem sexy.
However, the weakness of Posel’s methodology was exposed once more, as she did not analyse how these images generated by capital are received or resonate with ordinary people’s life worlds: that is whether people actually buy into the idea that black freedom is consumption of ‘sexy’ things. While the corporate media may show cool, consumerist images equating black sexiness with wealth, these images would have a different set of meanings for a middle-class black person and for a poor black person. Posel did not analyse what it means to be black, poor and unemployed and see unattainable sexualised images of wealth and unbridled consumerism. Or for that matter, what it means for a young woman to read advice on how to perform oral sex on your boyfriend when the relationship is so unequal you can’t even ask him to use a condom.
To use Posel’s own terminology, surely the everyday politics of sexuality contribute to specific moments in the politicisation of sexuality, such as the formation of TAC. In turn, the everyday politics of sexuality are shaped by discursively and materially constructed social categories such as gender, race and class.
In terms of this, it is interesting to compare Posel’s talk to Patrick Bond’s recent Wolpe lecture. As I have argued with Kerry Chance in a previous review Bond’s lecture implied that resistance is a rational, necessary, inevitable outcome of the negative effects of the ANC’s adoption of neoliberalism on the poor in South Africa. In other words Bond developed an overly materialistic analysis of what shapes people’s political allegiances.(1) But Posel’s analysis of post-apartheid society attempts to reduce all political and social realities to discourse at the exclusion of material realities and can, therefore, be considered as the theoretical opposite of Bond’s excessive materialism. However, both share the same methodological flaws, which enable such theoretically over-simplified views of South African society and politics: by this I mean that neither use ethnographic or historical research methods to analyse politics or society. And, as Chance and I recently argued, what is needed is nuanced analyses of South African society and politics, based on such methods, which take both discourse and material realities seriously.
Putting gender back into analyses of post-apartheid sexuality
Despite the fact that Posel glossed over the ways in which baby rape scandals have opened up debates about pathologies in South African male sexuality she did not fully open up her discussion of the public representation of sexuality to a gendered analysis.
For instance, Zimbabwean feminist activist Everjoice Win said in the subsequent Wolpe lecture that if a woman is raped in Southern Africa, she is often asked by neighbours, family and friends, what she was wearing, doing, what time it was where she was. It is commonly assumed that women somehow invite or deserve rape. Stranger and acquaintance rape are often interpreted as being ‘dirty sex’ and rape survivors as being ‘dirty women’.(2) Marital rape is even less likely to be interpreted as rape but as the enforcement of ‘wifely duties’.(3) In fact, what would be legally defined as rape may not even be seen as rape by many men and women. ‘Freedom’ is less sexy for women who are rape survivors battling against these gendered stigmas and it would be interesting to hear more in-depth analyses of how rape survivors would interpret the glossy, consumerist images of sexuality. Ultimately, Posel did not enter into an analysis of how public discussions of rape or consumerist depictions of sexuality can objectify and oppress women and contribute to the ‘politicisation of sexuality’.
Medicine in the construction of sexual menace
For the speaker, AIDS ‘incubated’ during apartheid and only erupted post-1994. Posel argued that talking about sex did not come easy to Mandela and Mbeki equated AIDS with poverty. NGOs like loveLIFE brought the subject into the open and urged young people to “Talk About Sex”. LoveLIFE fused the iconography of popular culture with notions of responsible selfhood, self esteem and made safer sex a Foucauldian “technique of the self”. Posel went on to argue that AIDS has made sex discursively ‘contaminated’ by a virus and a healthy sense of self has been put at risk by HIV. In turn, the self has become fragile and threatened and sex is at the core of the crisis.
All of this is true, however, as I argued in question time, TAC’s campaign has revolved more around the politics of medicine than the politicisation of sexuality. By this I mean that TAC’s campaign, focussed as it has been on access to HIV treatment, has hinged on what constitutes medical knowledge, and on defining the appropriate roles for the state and capital in medicine. TAC has also shown how policies around medical interventions are a human rights issue. As a fan of Foucault’s medical historical work, it disappointed me that Posel did not discuss the role of medicine in the politicisation of post-apartheid sexuality, especially as it relates to the body. As the last few years of TAC’s campaign have clearly shown, what it means to have an HIV positive body is determined by medicine and whether or not the citizen owning that body can access treatment depends on what role the state and multinational corporations play in medicine.
Sexuality equals post-apartheid politics: An overstatement?
Posel concluded the lecture by arguing that there is a new visibility and vigour of sexual imagery and that sexual identity is being drawn in new ways. She somewhat overstated her case by saying that public arguments about sex are simultaneously arguments about the rest of society. For Posel, sex is the stage on which the drama of post-apartheid South Africa has been played out.
However, as Mike Morris of Development Studies at University of KZN argued, Posel may have overplayed her argumentative hand in pushing the role of discourse too far. As Morris argued, ‘discourse’ may not grasp the full reality and complexity of the political transition in South Africa. He went on to argue that sex may be more in the open but that does not make it more politicised. All politics cannot be reducible to the politics of sexuality. It was certainly thought-provoking of Posel to argue that sex is a major area of debate in post-apartheid South Africa, but a serious over-statement to argue that it is the stage for all post-apartheid debates.
What Posel characterises as the ‘old’ 1980s and early 1990s concerns still occupy plenty of space in public, post-apartheid political debate. For instance, TAC has not been the only social movement vocally fighting for socio-economic justice, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, the former Concerned Citizens Forum and now the eThekweni Social Forum, the Anti-Eviction Campaign, the Landless People’s Movement, the Socialist Student’s Movement and Jubilee have all fought campaigns on less ‘sexy’ materially-based issues such as: privatisation and aggressive cost recovery of water and electricity; eviction of poor people from their homes for non-payment; the commodification of education; and demands for an acceleration of land reform and for multinationals to pay reparations to victims of apartheid.
Foucauldian and post-structural analysis have a role to play in helping to unpack the representation of sexuality. However, Posel’s analysis of the politicisation of sexuality in public discourse was divorced from serious analyses of class, race and gender and how society and culture produce these categories. This is because its fundamental flaw was that it ventured little deeper than a careful reading of popular media. If this critique seems unfair, perhaps I can draw the reader’s attention to recent ethnographic and historical work that has done all this when analysing public discussions about representations of sexuality. For instance, Mark Hunter has demonstrated how unemployment and gendered socio-economic inequality have shaped sexual relationships and changed masculinities in post-apartheid South Africa.(4) Another example is Fiona Scorgie’s work on the revival of virginity testing and the creation of new organisations publicly practising and promoting it in South Africa.(5) Peter Delius and Clive Glaser have also looked deeply at changes in sexual socialisation in South Africa in the twentieth century. (6)
When compared to this wealth of recent rich multi-layered historical-ethnographic research on sexuality in South Africa, Posel’s media analysis-based talk with its post-modern pyro-technics falls obviously short. Ultimately, the fundamental flaw at the heart of Posel’s talk was that its sweeping claims about the politics of sexuality’s representation could not be defended on the basis of her use of media studies methodology. Similarly, she did not show how the ‘man or woman on the street’ reads these representations, which closely relates to the question of what makes them powerful. In the same vein, she analysed the role of discourse while excluding material realities, when in reality the politicisation of sexuality involves a complicated interplay of the two. Also, the politicisation of sexuality is gendered in ways which Posel did not discuss in any length. Finally, the role of medicine in the politicisation of sexuality was also ignored despite its key role in the formation of TAC and in general in much public discourse around AIDS. In the final analysis, Posel’s Wolpe lecture was an eloquently phrased talk, but because of its methodology could not hold up its claims. Just like the loveLife billboards it was mostly trendy surface.
Notes and References
Mandisa Mbali is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
(1) Kerry Chance and Mandisa Mbali, Talking is Walking: A Critical Review of Patrick Bond’s Wolpe Lecture. Centre for Civil Society (Wolpe Review), (2004). Available at .
(2) This observation by Win is backed up by research conducted by Soul City which showed that many African men and women think that women place themselves at risk of being raped if they dress or behave provocatively, hang out alone in public places, or ‘act like whites. In other words, many South African believe that rape survivors are ‘dirty women’ who somehow ‘ask for it’. For a summary of this research see: “Men rape to punish women”, Independent on Saturday, February 7th 2003. Available at the Independent Online’s website’s archive www.iol.co.za
(3) This is in turn a significant factor in the gendered vulnerability of women to HIV infection. A study recently published in the Lancet showed a strong correlation between women being in abusive and controlling relationships and being infected with HIV. See: K L Dunkle, R K Jewkes, H C Brown, G E Gray, J A McIntyre and S D Harlow, “Gender-based violence, relationship power, and risk of HIV infection in women attending antenatal clinics in South Africa”, Lancet, 363, 9419, May 1 2004.
(4) Mark Hunter “’The materiality of everyday sex’: Thinking beyond prostitution”, African Studies, 61, 1 (2002). Hunter also recently analysed representation of love in post-apartheid South African media but nested this interpretation in ethnographic and historical readings of changes in the sexuality of Zulu-speaking men and women in the twentieth century. See: Mark Hunter “All you need is love? The courting gift in 20th century KwaZulu-Natal” Paper presented at the History/African Studies Seminar, March 17th 2004. Available at www.history.und.ac.za/Research/archive.asp
(5) Fiona Scorgie, “Viriginity Testing and the politics of Sexual Responsibility: Implications for AIDS Intervention.” African Studies, 61 (1), (2002). It’s also interesting to note that one of the key promoters of the practice is a well-known public figure who presents a regular show on Ukhozi FM, which has a millions of isiZulu-speaking listerners in South Africa.
(6) Peter Delius and Clive Glaser, “Sexual Socialisation in South Africa: A Historical Perspective”, African Studies, 61,1, (2002)
Wolpe Review: Building and Sustaining....a Women's Movement in the Zimbabwean Crisis
by Mavuso Dingani
Everjoice Win (EJ), comes from a land of stolen elections, repressive media laws, truncheon welding ‘green bombers’, spiralling inflation and petrol shortages. A land where a very dubiously ‘elected’ government makes war on the majority of its population. A blinding darkness has descended on a nation once bright with hope. Many would argue that specific “women’s struggles” should take a back seat whilst the broader fight for democracy becomes the overarching rallying point for Zimbabwean civil society? Not so, said EJ when she presented a speech at the Harold Wolpe Memorial lecture series on the 26th of August. It’s not a surprising view to hear from Zimbabwe’s leading feminist, a seasoned activist and columnist.
I first came across her name in the early 90’s when she was a columnist for The Parade, an independent Zimbabwean monthly magazine. I was then attending a Catholic boys boarding school. We were starved both of girls and dissenting views and living under a tyrannical prefect system that, in the age old tradition of divide and rule, encouraged a few learners to oppress the rest. Win’s articles attacking our traditional patriarchal social order were an inspiration. I could see, in my immature way, the inseparable bond between a political system that simultaneously discouraged political opposition while encouraging conservative “a-woman-should-know-her-place” kind of preaching.
EJ began her lecture, “Building and Sustaining… A Women’s movement in the Zimbabwean Crisis”, by posing questionsabout unity and diversity in women’s organisations as they endeavour to grapple with the challenges of operating under a dictatorship in a highly polarised nation. She asked if coalitions are possible, and, if so, if sustainable cohesions could be maintained in a highly polarised political environment. If coalitions of women’s organisations across opposing camps were possible, would this not mean a sacrifice of cherished values on the altar of a narrow feminist agenda, she questioned. These questions, she seemed to imply, are at the heart of the women’s movement’s dilemma as it tries to anchor its hard-worn victories in the murky waters of a turbulent political environment. It’s about what stance they should take toward an opposition that understandably wants to monopolise anti-government discourse for unity’s sake or how to deal with a vicious and paranoid government, which dismisses all criticism as part of a British conspiracy.
These difficult questions were familiar for the many exiles in the audience any but they also had some resonance for many in the audience battling a determined neo-liberal onslaught on the home front. To bridge the gap EJ chose to give a brief, but telling, history of Zimbabwe’s post-independence political developments, which she divided into three stages. She showed how women’s battles, their setbacks and achievements, strategies and tactics, also unfolded within these stages.
The first stage, she said, was from 1981-1988. This was a period when the euphoria of independence pervaded all facets of society. I would think that even the most die-hard Rhodie was relieved at that time, at least to see the end of call-ups that came with the war’s conclusion. It was a time of dancing masses, needing no spur, ready to trudge down independence’s road which they knew was not paved with gold, but believed was leading to some not so distant egalitarian horizon. She said that it was a time when government socialist rhetoric and action dominated the ideological discourse. Many “progressive” (I quote her) laws were legislated e.g. the Legal Age of Majority Act that allowed women for the first time to vote, enter into contractual agreements, open a bank account and have an ID document. She gave an example of her grandmother who was so happy that she now had an ID, and said she felt officially recognised as an individual person for the first time in her life. Parliament changed inheritance laws so daughters would have equal claims on deceased estates as sons. Feminist civil society was in its infancy then. In the early 80s, groups of women got together and formed many organisations including The Women’s Action Group (WAG) and the Women in Law Development Coalition. However, government confined their role to assisting it in developmental initiatives. EJ said that there was a kind of tacit agreement that deviations from the main line would not be tolerated.
EJ almost falls into that familiar trap that ensnares many commentators who claim that 80s Zimbabwe was a land of unprecedented growth, a liberal society under an articulate, brilliant leader. Some have even ventured to call it a “once Switzerland of Africa” (Meldrum, Third Degree). This stinks of a strategically revised histories which seek to reinforce the depravity of the current situation by romanticising the early years. These commentators forget that it was also a place of bread shortages and petrol queues, rampaging Zanu PF Youth Brigade gangs, and front-page pictures of the destroyed houses of opposition sympathisers (Herald, during 1985 elections). My parents always kept party cards in the house - just in case.
However, much to my relief, EJ did balances her initially over rosy picture by reminding us that this was the period of the Gukurahundi, when some 20 000 people were massacred under the guise of suppressing a rebellion in the South of the country. Then there was “Operation Clean Up” which resulted in thousands of females being arrested for walking in Harare’s streets after dark during the Non-Aligned Movement Summit of 1986. The assumption by the authorities was that a ‘decent woman’ should be home by that time. Hundreds of nurses, who naturally work at odd times, while walking home after knocking off at night were caught in the net. But of course even if the women were of the world’s oldest profession the operation was still morally unjustified. EJ described it as a flagrant attack on human rights and an outrageous disregard of guaranteed freedom of movement and association that it is the duty of the state to protect. On hindsight, these events show the early genesis of the regime’s disregard for the rule of law and its willingness to make a mockery of it own constitution when it suits its own purposes.
EJ identified the second period as 1988-1994. In this time the state sought to define itself independently of any outside influence, contrary to the Lancaster House Agreement where Britain oversaw the whole process. So a unified parliament voted for constitutional amendments that gave Mugabe overwhelming executive power after the Unity Accord the previous year. Nkomo and Mugabe had decided to bury the hatchet so all could ‘concentrate on Zimbabwe’s development’, or so we all believed. However, EJ did not mention the implications of the loss of oppositional politics when the only two parties in parliament merged. In retrospect its clear that this elite pact marked the initial stages of the undemocratic tradition of co-opting the elite representatives of dissent in an enlarged and increasingly predatory ruling elite.
At this period, an interesting development in the women’s movement was its maturing stance, evidenced by the growing belligerence towards government attitudes that still oppressed women. It opposed soft-gloved treatment of gender violence and the marginalisation of women with regards to land allocations (yes, there was a land redistribution programme then, half-hearted though it was, prior to 2000).
A major development at this period was the implementation of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) under pressure from the Breton Wood institutions. Government at that time abandoned its socialist rhetoric for the more fashionable neo-liberal clichés. An analysis of the ESAP’ s impact on the gains of women’s struggle in the earlier era would have been interesting, particularly I think, for many in the audience battling evictions, water cut-offs, and HIV/AIDS which has resulted in single parent households all of which are linked to South Africa’s structural adjustment programme..
Some in the audience wanted to know how the structural adjustment programme had effected on women. EJ was questioned by an activist from the Socialist Students’ Movement about how class affects the leadership, vision, and goals of women’s organisations in a highly class-stratified country like Zimbabwe, where the majority of women live in rural areas. A similar question was posed about the links between socialist struggles and feminism. EJ’s answers were inadequate, I think, partly because for some odd reason she saw the questions as an attack on her work. You could almost hear a slight quiver in her voice as she as attacked the poor man for dragging class into a basically sexist world. All women are in constant fear of rape whether rich or poor, she said. But it is a fact that a poor woman lives in a more violent neighbourhood, EJ; a rich woman, insulated by high-razor-wired-electric-fenced suburban walls, is at less risk of attack. It was a pity that the issue of class made her so defensive. This is a key issue for all social movements and it is simply not the case that the interests of rich and poor women are always the same.
The last stage in Zimbabwe’s post-colonial history identified by EJ, 1994-2004, touches the present-day crisis. After giving a perhaps a little too long although very interesting historical analysis of the previous period the sometimes raggedy and unclear jigsaw pieces of the origins of the Crisis fall perfectly into place. We see first the beginnings of a militant labour movement shown by the unsuccessful 1995 general strike, the stayaways of 1998, and finally the culmination of all this trade union led opposition in the birth of the labour-based MDC in 1999.
However EJ was clearly ill at ease with the period of the formation of the MDC and initially decided to leave this crucial episode till the very last. It seemed that she was taking great care to not be mistaken as an MDC supporter. It seemed that she does not have a high regard for many in the MDC. Indeed she went out of her way to attack the opposition whilst not being as severe with the ruling party. She later told me that the one hope out of the current crisis was to go back to the “Zanu PF of the old”. But she forget that even in her own telling of Zimbabwean history the ‘old ZANU PF’ is the same party that endorsed the massacres in the 80s.
In the last point of her speech, she said that the women’s movement in Zimbabwe also battles internal racism. I had no idea that they were white women’s organisations in Zimbabwe. I would not even think that the white population is still significant enough to even warrant expending energy battling domestic racism. But, we were told that white racism does exist within the Zimbabwean women’s movement.
The time given to the last stage was inadequate and a lot of useful information was omitted. For example, EJ didn’t address the real beginning of the current crisis - the closure of the independent newspapers - or how society has responded to laws that seek to protect women from all forms of oppression. She did not touch on the how ‘tradition’ remains at the core of much lived experience of discrimination of women in Zimbabwean society.
EJ was asked about how ordinary woman are coping in the Zimbabwe crisis. Her answer was brilliant. She said that the suffering is in many layers, and the battle in many fronts. She then gave an example of a young woman she had recently spoken to who was raped by seven “green bombers”, then found out that she was HIV positive, her husband decided to leave her because of the rape (he said he could not continue to live with a wife who had had sex with seven people). The crisis bears down on women on many fronts she said.
It was a disappointment to hear that they are no theoretical foundation for the struggle she has waged all this years. She said so when she was asked about the theoretical discourse on how to be a feminist and an African at the same time. I know its in vogue for activists to claim that no ideology drives their movement, it’s from the “heart”, they would rather say. But she could have at least given us the current theories from other thinkers in this field. Maybe she does not know them.
It was a good lecture though, apart from a few omissions. In fact, it’s one of the most exciting Harold Wolpe Memorial Lectures I have attended this year. EJ’s casual attitude and the simplicity of her speech was a welcome change from the academic waffle that we are sometimes forced to swallow. Her speech was easy to follow and her confidence was remarkable. A gem, I would say.
The Fires of Memory: A review of Tariq Ali's Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture
by Amanda Alexander
What does it take to resist an empire? It’s the kind of question that usually requires shrinking, re-phrasing before even the spunkiest militants among us can offer speculation. Yet in his Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, Tariq Ali tackled the question in all its magnitude. He is well-positioned to do so; an activist, writer and filmmaker, Ali’s most recent books, The Clash of Fundamentalisms and Bush in Babylon: The Recolonisation of Iraq, could be considered the textual battle cries of the contemporary anti-war movement. Still, though his talk hinted at a useful methodology for building global resistance, his prescriptions – for a resistance full of roles for nations, but requiring less of individuals and social movements – often suffered from problems of scale.
Ali opened by describing imperialism as walking on two legs: one economic, bludgeoning countries with neo-liberal policies that benefit only the imperialists, and the other militaristic. Little surprise, then, that the most informative source on the American Empire should be one of its own generals. Ali cited decorated US General Smedley Butler who declared war “a racket” and, in a 1933 speech, confessed to being a “gangster for capitalism”. Ali asserted that those who have worked for the empire in Venezuela in the past have similarly profited, as oil revenue that was promised for education and healthcare instead lined the pockets of elites. And it is memories of profiteering in the midst of widespread poverty that has given rise to the popular support of President Hugo Chavez’s resistance to US strong-arming. Ali fired off examples of neo-liberal privatisations, oil-mongering, farcical elections and CIA-deposed leadership from Venezuela, Chile, Palestine, Haiti. “This is imperialism”, he declared, “but countries can resist”.
Much of the lecture focused on the modern exemplar of imperialism and resistance: the occupation of Iraq. On this, Ali offered little new in the way of information or argument, but he spoke with a candor utterly foreign to the registers of mainstream media. He spoke of the scene of Saddam Hussein’s statue being toppled – by Iraqis hired for the job. While the US filmed 100 people in a tight shot and beamed back images of a large crowd, Arab networks filmed the entire square, relatively empty and devoid of any throngs of revelers. Describing the Gulf States as “Imperial Petrol Stations”, Ali reiterated that the occupation is about gaining control over – not simply access to (as the US has always had in the past, even when sanctions were in place) – the riches of Iraqi oil. And so a virulent resistance has shown us month after month that it is impossible to “liberate” Iraq against the will of its people. Yes, Saddam Hussein was not popular, Ali argued, but Iraqis have every reason to hate the Americans and the British even more. Why? Because Iraqis have what Ali considers the most essential spark for resistance: historical memory. Their uncles and fathers resisted British imperialism. In every household, the stories of resistance are passed on in oral histories. An older generation points out street corners to their loved ones, declaring that “in 1925, the fighting went on there too”.
The fires of historical memory
Walter Benjamin observed that it is the memories of enslaved ancestors, not dreams of liberated grandchildren, which push women and men to revolt.1 The majority of the world’s people carry these memories, whether they grew up in occupied Iraq, Soweto, Mexico or Alabama. As Ali pointed out, memories not only of enslavement but, perhaps more importantly, of resistance saturate the last hundred years. Every month of the 20th century saw resistance against empires, primarily the British Empire.
And yet for many, these memories are coloured by defeat. The world over, revolutionaries of the 20th century discovered that they could not control their leadership once they had tasted victory. Socialist and social democratic projects were corrupted from within and without; a new layer of elites profited mightily from the spoils of struggle, while life remained largely unchanged for the majority of their people. And today, with the proliferation of ‘self-imposed’ neoliberalism, those political elites seem more distant than ever. Somehow, Ali reminded us, 15 million people marched in every city in the world and in the United States against the occupation of Iraq – and this militant public opinion was totally ignored by those in power.
Ali argued that political consciousness grows through memory – “not by more people reading books, but through people’s everyday life experiences”. And a past of defeat or of stifled revolt will conscientise fastest of all, as evidenced by the on-going anti-imperial struggles in Haiti. After Haiti fought and won its independence from France, the former colonial power forced the free black state to pay reparations for the loss of slave labor. Between 1825 and 1947, Haiti paid France some 19 million francs. A strong historical memory of slavery, colonial rule, and poverty compelled President Aristide to demand repayment on behalf of the Haitian people; similar memories won his plea the support of African countries. (In the end, French President Chirac flatly refused, and offered only the promise of punishment should such requests continue).
Moving beyond the common assumption that one’s situation is entirely unique is thus integral to building resistance on a global scale. Fortunately for those who would resist, Terry Eagleton points out that this is an assumption more commonly held by the rich and powerful. (When you’re down-and-out or destitute, it’s harder to mistake the world as catering to your whims and needs or those of others experiencing grinding poverty.)2 Elites, on the other hand, tend to get it wrong, their historical memories skewed by their blinding stake in the present. Tariq Ali described the selective memory of many ANC politicians who declare, “We’ve made sacrifices, why shouldn’t we benefit?”. When challenged about the suffering of the majority of black South Africans and asked who will reward them, the response is all too often: “Why don’t the poor help themselves?”, to which Ali countered rhetorically, “Will you let them?”. Ali observed that elites, such as those living in the gated communities of Sandton, have positioned themselves so as to be of this country, but not in it.
As Ali writes in Bush in Babylon, “Empires sometimes forget who they are crusading against and why, but the occupied rarely suffer such confusions”.3 Reminiscences of resistance are alive in South Africa, Brazil, Haiti, Venezuela, India – what it will take to build a global resistance, in part, is the right analogies to confirm what they share.
Reasoning by analogy
Ali recalled spotting a bumper sticker on the streets of New York that read, “Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam”. As heartening as it was to see this sticker, Ali quickly clarified for his Durban audience that this is not Vietnam. Vietnamese soldiers were helped by the Soviet Union; they received arms and missiles, the whole third world aided them. But today the Iraqis are fighting alone, with rifles. The analogy does not hold – it is based upon an ignorance of what is really going on in Iraqi streets, of how this resistance is being waged.
In order to weave historical memories into a global resistance, analogies must be drawn between seemingly disparate situations. Throughout his lecture, Ali drew analogies – some of which were successful, some not. Analogies can be dangerous, they can reveal one’s own arrogance or narcissism; too often one side of the analogy is subjugated as a mere crutch to make the other side appear universal. Ali rattled off examples of US imperialism and of successful attempts by national leaders and parties to resist (though in many cases, such as in Brazil, where President Lula is fiercely criticized for cutting welfare funding and continuing to service World Bank and IMF loans, these have been short-lived flashes). He cited these situations as hope that other countries similarly experiencing the effects of imperialism could do the same. Though Ali was able to spot a brittle analogy in the case of Iraq and Vietnam, he opened himself up for criticism for analogies that ultimately did not hold, such as his comparison of Israeli-Palestinean negotiations to those between the ANC and the National party in the early 1990s.
Citing the analogous effects of imperialism across their borders, Ali spoke eloquently of the ability of countries to unite and defy. What was missing was a clear view on the role of individuals and social movements; the country-level analogies lacked this depth. In a seminar delivered to the Centre for Civil Society and the School of Development Studies the previous afternoon on ‘Globalisation and its Discontents’, Ali stressed the need to think of genuine global (not just local) alternatives. When criticized from the floor for his lack of focus on local politics and his discussion of a third party in the US that might challenge the Democrats and Republicans as a seemingly viable possibility, Ali responded: “Small, local resistance won’t dent the system. We attach importance to it because it is the only alternative in many parts of the world. But it does help us to understand how difficult it is to have lasting change”. He maintained that people cannot change the world – except, perhaps in their own heads and imaginations – without taking power. Anything less “doesn’t change anything real”.
Given the response of those in the room, there is a gulf between what they and Ali consider “real”. Ali offered suggestions for how “real” change might come about. If South Africa, Brazil, India and others were to unite, sanctions would become increasingly irrelevant. Ali encouraged his audience not to be depressed at the ostensibly complete dominance of the American Empire. He cited the precariousness of the US economy, and observed that China could easily wake up and present an enormous challenge. But the proportions were off for those in the room.
The problems of reasoning by analogy were evident in the question and answer periods of the lecture and seminar. For some, Ali had made the world seem more mysterious rather than less. Ali was criticised for using “conspiratorial language” (referring to ‘neoliberals’ and ‘the World Bank and IMF’) rather than theorizing the present situation, such as Manuel Castells has attempted to do with his work on ‘the Information Age’. Ali argued that he was not speaking of a conspiracy at all, that these are real organisations, real people and their actions. “This is the phase of capitalism after all its opponents have been defeated”, Ali stated. “This is not an out-of-control capitalist process; it is controlled by the US”.
And yet, if Ali finished his presentations, rich with examples from across the world, and his characterization of imperialism still seemed conspiratorial and distant for many, it could reveal a weakness in his analogies. In order to connect historical memories into a network of resistance, we need powerful and substantive analogies. More than just a description of each country’s relationship to the empire, we need to make horizontal connections between the historical memories of individuals. We also need to respect the limits of theory and the near limitless capacities of empathy; in other words, we must acknowledge where the analogy ends and where the matchless experiences of individuals begin.
Resisting through analogy
In her response to Tariq Ali’s lecture, Johannesburg-based anti-privatisation activist Virginia Setshedi lamented that a march to protest the Iraqi occupation could draw lots of people in Johannesburg, but a march against electricity cut-offs in local townships could draw only a relative few. The underlying issues of imperialism have not been adequately connected, analogies are not being drawn with the requisite depth of understanding about local situations. Who can blame a woman in Orange Farm who is skeptical whether her situation is analogous to that of a woman in the DRC or Brazil? More likely than not, her problems have been magically diagnosed as “imperialism” without anyone listening to her describe her symptoms. It is not that the similarities do not exist, it is how they are being drawn.
Definitions of neo-liberalism, and even more so of imperialism, differ drastically across historical memories. For Bernard Fanout of the Third World Forum, speaking at the 2004 Africa Social Forum, “Neoliberalism means the total questioning of the aspirations of national liberation movements.” In the historical memories of many African activists – particularly those in South Africa, the last country on the continent to de-colonise – neoliberalism is an affront to the gains of specific and recent national struggles. We must build on these, our own understandings, in order to resist an enemy that walks on many legs.
“The Iraqi resistance, whether the world realises it, is fighting for everyone today”, Ali stated near the end of his lecture. A man, himself a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, asked during the questioning period that South Africans support the struggle in the DRC, where over 3.5 million people have died since 1999. He stated that struggles and resistances across Africa must be supported. And yet – given the state of the analogies that are being drawn to foster global resistance and solidarities today – despite the fact that the Congolese carry with them some of the most blood-drenched historical memories, could it be said that they are fighting for everyone too? That is, would everyone claim them? Global resistance and trans-national solidarities are already plagued by such power imbalances that it is all-too-easy to predict which sides of global, country-level analogies will be subjugated, and which analogies will not be drawn at all.4
In responding to a question from a representative of the Socialist Students’ Movement, Ali argued that, since world capitalism won’t be overthrown tomorrow, we need concrete thoughts to improve the lives of working people here and now. He suggested that we must challenge, regulate and control capitalism. We must tax the rich. And yet these solutions still seemed very distant from what people could do here and now. When asked “what good all of this is for people back home in the rural areas”, Ali responded that their situations would be greatly improved if more money were devoted to literacy programmes. This is true but not, perhaps, the ‘here and now’ solutions or examples that many had hoped for.
There are applicable analogies to be drawn of individuals and social movements changing power in very “real” ways. In Tanzania, female activists are resisting imperialism by transforming the patriarchal hue of national politics. They meet with each female politician upon assuming office. From the very beginning of her term – and often beforehand, during her campaigning – women activists attempt to become these politicians’ primary network and base. These activists are creating alternative forms of protection, and women in high office can draw their power not from the prevailing system of patriarchal control, but from those who understand power’s underbelly. Female politicians are thus in a far stronger position to push for legislation on such issues as literacy, education and employment (the types of social programmes that never fail to ruffle imperialist feathers). Whether or not they change the balance of international power, the undertakings of these activists will likely change the realities of generations of Tanzanian women.
In building global resistance to an empire, stories of what others face and how they resist must be given weight by linking them to local memories and experiences. New ways of telling stories of resistance, of describing imperialism, of characterizing capitalism could make an immense difference to the nature of solidarities and resistances that are forged. Though we may indeed be living though “the era of capitalism after which all its opponents have been defeated”, if it were only phrased another way, individuals may listen and respond with their own memories of what that defeat has felt like, and why it gives them reason to resist.
Arundhati Roy admits that the story of the Narmada dam project had been told before.5 The destruction had been recorded, but the story came alive – and spurred people to action – because of the way she told it. She listened to people’s memories and wrote them out as a history which would remind the powerful of their responsibilities, and remind communities of their own power. Records and memories are not the same. Recording is the business of party secretaries and the media, but we make memories and house them in our flesh. Analogies of the impacts of imperialism are critical, but in order to strengthen resistance they must be drawn at the level of individual memories and respect the peculiar pain in each community that will ultimately become its spark
(1) In Terry Eagleton, After Theory, London: Allen Lane (2003) 180.
(3) Tariq Ali, Bush in Babylon, London: Verso (2003) 2.
(4) For more on this point, specifically in the South African context, see Richard Pithouse, Towards a True Humanity: Critical questions about radical internationalist solidarities in a world where the rights and resources for deterritorialization are reserved for capital, the U.S. military, the rich and their servants and double-agents, WeWrite, vol. 2 no. 1 (Jan 2005) www.wewrite.org.
(5) David Barsamian, The Chequebook & the Cruise Missile: Conversation with Arundhati Roy, London: Perennial (2004).
|| Tribute to Harold Wolpe plus links to selected seminar programmes