||A tragedy is being enacted in South Africa, as much a metaphor for our times as Rwanda and Yugoslavia, and, even if not so immediately searing of the spirit, it is perhaps a more revealing one. For in the teeth of high expectations arising from the successful struggle against a malignant apartheid state, a very large percentage of the population -- amongst them many of the most desperately poor in the world – are being sacrificed on the altar of the neo-liberal logic of global capitalism. Moreover, as I had occasion to remark during a recent stint spent teaching in that country, the most striking thing I personally discovered about the New South Africa is just how easy it has now become to find oneself considered to be an "ultra-leftist"!
For to talk with "opinion-leaders" or to read their public statements was to be drowned in a sea of smug: this is the way the world works; competitiveness is good; get with the program; get real. One does not know whether to laugh or cry at this kind of "realism" -- "magical market realism," as I have termed it elsewhere.(1) For there is absolutely no reason to assume that the vast majority of people in South Africa will find their lives improved by the policies that are being adopted in their name by the present ANC government. Indeed, something quite the reverse is the far more likely outcome.
Why this sad denouement? Are we mourning here the state of the world of globalization, marking soberly the wisdom of Adam Przeworski's famously bleak aphorism -- "Capitalism is irrational; socialism is unfeasible; in the real world people starve: the conclusions we have reached are not encouraging" - and accepting (albeit with less glee than some of them do) the oft-stated premise of many members of the new South African elite: TINA ("There Is No Alternative")? Or are we marking, instead, the failure of South Africa's popular movement, or even, as some would have it, a "betrayal" on the part of the ANC itself? The answer may well be that both emphases contain some truth, although just how one weights them will depend a great deal on what one believes regarding the art of the possible for nationally-based political movements and parties under present world-wide (and continental) conditions generally -- or in South Africa more specifically.
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