Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
28 September 2008

Maybe there are other reasons for criticising Mbeki

Lizeka Mda, writing in City Press today, is not happy that Thabo Mbeki was fired. And what do you do when you are so angry because the ANC kicked out your beloved President? Well, blame white people, of course. That way you do not have to deal with the real issues, such as whether Mbeki was a good President or whether the ANC infighting have displayed all the hallmarks of vicious truimphalism.

In doing this, Mda makes scurrilous personal allegations against Judge Chris Nicholson without providing a iota of proof, thus undermining respect for the judiciary.:

Someone in the legal profession who used to work with Judge Chris Nicholson has one positive thing to say about the learned judge: he speaks flawless Zulu. Unfortunately, this makes Nicholson one of those who think that just because they can speak an African language, they know Africans more than they know themselves. According to this lawyer, the only people he remembers that Nicholson held in worse contempt than Africans generally were educated Africans.

If I was Nicholson I would sue City Press and Mda for publishing such a statement. It really is deeply irresponsible to attack a judge personally and to allege that he is the worst kind of racist. Attack his decision by all means, analyse the judgment and tear it to shreds, but please do not take out your frustration with this kind of race bating. Then Mda continues:

But going back to some white people’s relationship with Mbeki, there must be thousands of them who cracked open some champagne at the weekend. (Note: “Some” white people. If the cap fits, wear it. Otherwise don’t get your hackles up about generalisations.)

This white person is on firm ground when dealing with Africans who are farmworkers or domestic workers. Now, let the African stay on in school beyond Standard Five and this white person is all at sea. These are the people who were very happy for almost 30 years to call Nelson Mandela a terrorist who deserved to die in jail.

When he became president, however, the very same whites suddenly became his best friends. They got so close to him that there was no room in Mandela’s life for the black masses that had paid for the new South Africa. Mbeki smashed this cosy little set-up to smithereens. He not only was comfortable in his own skin, he had confidence in others like himself and gave them positions of responsibility in government, much to the chagrin of the all-knowing ones.

I have no doubt that there are some white people in South Africa who conform to the stereotype painted by Mda above. But is this really the reason why so many people (white and black) have been critical of Mbeki? I would guess just as many people have been happy to see the back of Mbeki because of his disasterous questioning of the link between HIV and Aids and his support for a health minister who told South Africans that garlic, beetroot and olive oil may be just as effective in combatting the progression of HIV than antiretroviral drugs – thus encouraging hundreds of thousands of mostly poor black people to make decisions about their health that would kill them.

Maybe some people are critical of Mbeki because he was not very good at admitting mistakes and facing reality. Who can forget the interview with the SABC last year when he said there was no problem with crime in South Africa and that it was not as if anyone would be attacked when they walked down the street outside the SABC. Only for a soapie star to be attacked outside the SABC the next week.

Maybe some people have criticised Mbeki because he has sometimes acted in a way that did not appear confident and confortabale in his own skin, but paranoid and aloof. No, he has never met anyone who had died of Aids. No, crime is a figment of the white mind. No, there are no divisions in the ANC. No, he wants to have a third term.

In as much as Mbeki’s education was his undoing, I would argue that the most influential critics and backstabbers have come from the Jacob Zuma camp inside the ANC. A class analysis might have helped Mda to acknowledge that the envy and anger at Mbeki among Mr Zuma’s supporters was at least partly based on his erudition and education.

Blaming only some white people (although goodness me, some of them need to be blamed) and their racism for the demise of Mbeki makes for an easy and comforting analysis. But it is lazy and dangerous and, well, wrong. President Mbeki was kicked out by his own party dominated by black South Africans. Blaming white racism for this will not change this painful fact.

It is sad that so many South Africans cannot confront reality and have to fall back on racial narratives to explain things they do not like and are upset about. It shows a world view still shackled to a colonialist mindset in which Africans do not have real agency and only white people have power and influence. Maybe Mda should read some Steve Biko again. It might just help to free her mind.

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