drawing_protestorsPresented at an ILRIG Public Forum

The central issue of South African politics seems to be that poverty and inequality are growing after 17 years of government by an ANC that claims addressing these are its top priorities. Various attempts are currently underway to build movements of poor people capable of actions to lessen and end poverty and inequality, or at least of forcing the state to take such actions. It is hard. People are depressed to be fighting a struggle they thought they had won. The lack of resources and organisers make movement building an exhausting responsibility carried by a tiny group of activists. Yet the main challenges are political; five issues confront these activists, and the approaches they develop to them will largely determine the liberatory potential of the movements they manage to build. These issues are 1. Racism 2. The political system 3. Forms of protest and organisation, 4. Sexism and 5. Alienation.


On the Quality of South Africa's Democracy

timthumbNow that the dust has settled on the 2011 local government elections and the frenzied one-upmanship of the leading political parties has momentarily calmed down, its time to take a long hard look at the results of the South African people’s most recent exercise in democracy.

Much has been made of the gains that the Democratic Alliance (DA) made on the African National Congress (ANC), but the ANC still won the election and continues to govern all the major cities except for Cape Town.

The latest salvo in the debate on local government elections is President Jacob Zuma’s announcement, during his budget vote in the National Assembly on 14 June 2011, that government is exploring the idea of a single election for national, provincial and local government. This idea has of course raised the displeasure of opposition parties who hold more sway at the local level and perceive the recent shift in voting patterns as evidence of a vote of no confidence in the ANC.

Read more: On the Quality of South Africa's Democracy

Andries Tatane: Murdered by the ruling classes

ficksburg_protest__2060900bOn the 13th April, people in South Africa were stunned. On the evening news the sight of six police force members brutally beating a man, Andries Tatane, to death was aired. The images of the police smashing his body with batons and repeatedly firing rubber bullets into his chest struck a cord; people were simply shocked and appalled. Literally hundreds of articles followed in the press, politicians of all stripes also hopped on the bandwagon and said they lamented his death; and most called for the police to receive appropriate training to deal with ‘crowd control’ – after all, elections are a month away.

Read more: Andries Tatane: Murdered by the ruling classes

The Silence of the Lambs: What Has Happened to the 'Developmental State'?

I have vivid memories of Budget Day as a child. Everyone in the house, particularly noisy children, had to be quiet when the radio broadcasted the budget speech (there was of course no TV then). Maybe it was because my parents were schoolteachers and the matters of teachers’ salaries and tax rates in the budget were crucial to their livelihoods. But they were not alone in this regard. In the build-up, every newspaper and every radio station would alert readers and listeners to the forthcoming budget. Newspapers, not the so-called “business media” of which there were also almost nothing, would devote “special editions” to the budget and at least a pull-out section with diagrams and summaries.

At high school there would inevitably be an assignment during budget -- maybe a comprehension test in English or a begripstoets in Afrikaans. But, remember that this was under apartheid. We were not regarded as citizens having any say in government or the budget. Still, even though we had no democracy, the budget gave us a sense of what the state would do with regard to public services and what it would cost us in the form of taxes. And, our teachers regarded it as vital to our education that we were aware of what would impact on our lives in the future.  

Read more: The Silence of the Lambs: What Has Happened to the 'Developmental State'?

Reaping the Whirlwind

Over the last few weeks in South Africa, community protests and land occupations have once again erupted. People are simply infuriated at continuously being ignored and treated as subhuman by the state and the elite, and for this reason they have been taking to the streets. While barricades have literally been spreading from township to township, politicians of every sway – from the DA to the ANC - have been condemning these protests. Along with thinly veiled threats, politicians have also branded the people involved as criminals. Not to be outdone, a number of business and conservative church leaders have formed a 25 person council to work with the government to end the protests through embarking on a ‘moral regeneration’ campaign. The fact that the elite have branded the protestors as evil and in need of moral regeneration should come as no surprise. This is because the elite have a deep-seated contempt for the vast majority of people. In fact, they have been waging an ideological, economic and physical war on the majority of people for years through neo-liberalism. Indeed, the only reason why the elite are now so upset by the community protests and land occupations is because they have realised that they are now beginning to reap the whirlwind of this war. 

Read more: Reaping the Whirlwind

South Africa and the New World Order

South Africans are inclined to moan about so much…the fact that things don’t seem to function, the corruption, the crude avarice of the new elite, the poor performance of Bafana Bafana, the crime. Add to this Julius Malema, Jacob Zuma's polygamy and the scandal of the mismanagement of our parastatals and you have a picture that evokes images of imminent collapse for the chattering classes.

From the side of the largely white middle class, there is a deep sense of, "We told you so: blacks can't really run this country!" And almost in response there is a kind of knee-jerk defensiveness from the black middle classes and from patriotic whites, calling on the whiners to leave the country and, in the case of the World Cup, on all patriotic South Africans to rally to the cause to prove that we really are capable of running an excellent World Cup.

Underlying the perceptions of both the racist whites and the defensive blacks is the same set of assumptions. We have much to prove to the world in showing that we really are "world class."  We often hear middle class suburbia moaning that the behaviour of some of our politicians is making us the laughing stock of the world; that tourists will be aghast at this or that aspect of South African life; that our behaviour will drive foreign investors away; and so on and so forth.

Read more: South Africa and the New World Order

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