Wednesday, 12 October 2011

What is the Cut Off Date for Inequality?

by Mandisi Majavu, SACSIS and The Daily News

Recently, Tokyo Sexwale, the Human Settlements Minister, announced that free housing for the poor has to have a “cut off date.” He argued that it is unsustainable to provide free housing to the poor “for a long time.” This is a far cry from the Freedom Charter’s spirit, which champions the principle that “All people shall have the right to live where they choose, to be decently housed and to bring up their families in comfort and security.”

The post-apartheid state has become what Fanon warned against - a postcolonial government that governs with total disregard for the new social relations that black people of this country fought for. When black people came out in huge numbers to vote in 1994, they did so because they wanted to do away with white supremacist institutions; they wanted to change history. They wanted social revolution, not social evolution. That is what we were promised when we came out to vote in 1994. What we are living through at the moment is a ‘fragile travesty’ of what we fought for. Post-apartheid South Africa is going through a social evolution of the worst kind.

White privilege is still very much intact; and it self-perpetuates itself in different guises with plausible deniability. That is the logic of whiteness after all. Apart from the fact that whiteness is predictable, it is oppressive, and quite frankly boring. I use the term whiteness to refer to the system that allows whites to occupy most of the top positions in South African institutions, i.e., universities and private companies.
Economically, the post-apartheid government is powerless. And, in reality, big capital rules. That is partly why companies such as Anglo American Corporation, Old Mutual and South African Breweries were allowed to list on the London Stock Exchange. Moeletsi Mbeki recently pointed out, “This is proving to be one of the largest removal of capital gains, with the dividends being paid into another stock exchange.” So what is our government going to do about that?

We can reasonably assume that there is no “cut off date” for the South African companies that have their primary listing on the London Stock Exchange. Yet we constantly hear that there ought to be “cut off dates” for reforms like affirmative action and free housing.

When post-apartheid social movements point out that many black people in this country live in poverty and therefore there ought to be a cut off date on that too, the government sends out its goon squads to beat people into silence. There have been instances where these half-crazed, functionally illiterate goon squads have actually killed people. The case of Andries Tatane comes to mind. Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban have intimate knowledge of how far these goon squads are prepared to go when in action.

Other government critics that cannot be dealt with through the use of violence are dismissed as being too dull to understand the intricate logic of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). Apart from the reforms based social evolution that is currently taking place, the NDR has yet to disrupt the workings of fundamental historical forces.

Frantz Fanon wrote that postcolonial revolutions ought to give birth to new men and women. Are we to believe that BEE types such as Tokyo Sexwale, the founder of Mvelaphanda Holdings, are the embodiment of the new man Fanon was talking about? There is nothing new about BEE types or tenderpreneurs for that matter. White capital, BEE types and tenderpreneurs are all members of the same family. They play similar social roles; they exist to unashamedly exploit decent and honest working people, and to abuse society’s resources to serve their goals, which can be reduced to simply making maximum profit.

Many black people fought against these social roles during the apartheid regime, and they are still resisting them today. This is what post-apartheid social movements are partly fighting against. However, we are told that there is a ‘born free generation’ that supposedly has different aspirations. It is not clear how this born free generation has different aspirations when they are also expected to fill in social roles in institutions that require them to interact in old ways, albeit slightly different. As Al Sharpton said of the U.S., “We’ve gotten to an era where people are much more subtle and more manicured. Jim Crow is now James Crow, Jr, Esquire.”

What further complicates the issue in South Africa is that the people who are politically in charge are black people. Social movements such as Abahlali baseMjondolo point out, however, that the roots of social problems in South Africa are oppressive social institutions, and not individuals. They argue that it is ‘better to destroy’ the set of institutions that compels social actors to oversee an oppressive system. “Nothing good can be done on a rotten terrain,” according to Abahlali.

The other interesting point about the post-apartheid South African society is that it is a society that has different societal institutions that are pulling in different directions. For instance, the ANC views itself as a revolutionary movement that is engaged in the NDR project while, on the other hand, it is implementing neoliberal policies that are hurting the poor. Consequently, a large number of black people are unemployed, and many people live in poverty. The ANC Youth League is calling for nationalizations of economic institutions. The communist party and trade unions are in bed with the government. The white party, the Democratic Alliance, exists to preserve white privilege. And we supposedly also live in a non-sexist society where, ironically, violence against women is a national sport.

Also, as it has been said before, South Africa is a country with two economies: one developed and the other under-developed. Through social movements, people from the latter economy are organizing themselves to fight for a just and equitable society. It is starting to dawn on people that the NDR has reached its “sell by” date. It is possible that this is the thinking behind what the media refers to as municipal revolts.