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
15 August 2010

Pallo Jordan on racism, “transformation” and the DA

From the Sunday Times:

Mondli Makhanya’s opinion piece “Good work DA – now it’s time to get over your complexion complex” (August 1) reminded me of an incident during the 1980’s when a friend at the Zambian Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) told me of a revealing encounter with power.

The ZBC was planning to air a series, Shoah, the Holocaust of European Jewry. The then West German embassy mounted a demarche to persuade the ZBC not to broadcast the series, he confided.

The other German state, East Germany, had raised no objections to the series, he noted.

West Germany, like many of its citizens, preferred that the Holocaust not be discussed, and hoped people would stop referring to it. Prominent persons, including a former Chancellor – Kurt Georg Kiesinger – in that country were implicated with the Nazis and leading German corporations had benefited from their criminal policies.

A relatively poor, developing country, Zambia thought it wiser to bend before the wind. The series did not air.

The reticence of the DA and the majority of their constituency about race is very similar to the considerations that persuaded West Germany to pressure ZBC not to air Shoah.

West Germany has at least accepted responsibility for the results of the Holocaust, unlike our DA politicians, who like the magistrate who presided at the inquest into Biko’s murder, pretend no one was responsible for a century of blatantly discriminatory and oppressive policies.

Even a skim read of the plethora of laws, ordinances and regulations passed by national governments, provincial governments and municipalities in which not a single African (with the possible exception of the Cape Province prior to 1963) had a voice, tells that story. Prior to the ’80s virtually all the white political parties were committed to those arrangements. If South African politics is racialised, it is because of white minority governments.

I do not question the good intentions of many in the DA. But the reason why the party cannot lose its “complexion complex” is its own experience. Some seven years ago, when the DA ran a black candidate in a safe DA seat in Gauteng – and as a newsman Makhanya should be aware of this – the white voters deserted it for the Freedom Front.

Is it not time that our media began to interrogate DA claims a bit more rigorously?

In the parliament with an 87% black population, the main opposition party’s benches suggest almost the direct opposite.

The DA’s James Selfe, speaking to the media before the DA conference, reportedly said “… many key proposals are on issues that have not been the concerns of traditional DA branches …” In other words, the issues that matter to the overwhelming majority of the electorate, have not been the DA’s concerns. The DA’s complexion is a function of its concerns, not the colour of its leadership corps.

Racial oppression was not just a system of domination; it served certain vested interests. The racially skewed access to all economic assets, the domination of the professions and executive positions in business by white males; all were intended outcomes. The privileged position whites enjoy in South Africa today is not the result of greater diligence. It is the effect of explicitly discriminatory policies.

Not surprisingly, like other privileged groups, whites in South Africa want to preserve their ill-gotten gains.

Stiff resistance to meaningful change was mounted on a number of fronts virtually from April 28 1994.

When the DA used the “fight back” slogan in 1999 it was an open secret who was being exhorted to “fight back” and against whom the “fight” would be waged. White voters left the NNP in droves precisely because they construed that slogan in explicitly racial terms.

The issues the DA has “fought back” on tell the same story. The one big city it governs, Cape Town, is like an apartheid museum. Excessive white wealth on the one hand – visitors compare our Atlantic seaboard to the French Riviera – and grinding black poverty, visible from the moment you arrive at Cape Town international airport, at the other extreme.

Perhaps if he lived in an African township in DA-controlled Cape Town, Makhanya would be less impressed with the DA’s record in government.

Stripped of the humbug of “an opportunity society” the thrust of DA policies is to preserve the outcomes produced by apartheid. Rhetoric has blinded Makhanya to that party’s objective: to carry the inequalities of colonialism and apartheid into the future.

And, let us face it, meaningful change necessarily entails replacing white faces with black ones in the centres of political and economic power. Pretending otherwise is either dishonest or mischievous.

Casting one’s eyes back over the last century, one cannot miss the fact that all the white parties that misgoverned this country before 1994 were Afrikaner-led. Even the original Progressive Party, which evolved into the PFP and then the DA, elected an Afrikaner – Jan Steytler as leader in 1959.

Ironically, 1994 emancipated white politics from Afrikaner domination. Electing a Jew as DA leader was unthinkable before 1994.

Such Afrikaner ethnic domination compares unfavourably with the ethnic diversity of African-led parties, with the possible exception of the IFP. The ethnicised IFP has been reduced to a regional party. A similar fate awaits the DA, unless it ditches its anti-transformation policies. Patricia de Lille’s myopia has led the ID into the same trap.

The African majority do not judge political players solely on race. Joe Slovo was the most popular ANC leader after Mandela and Tambo. ANC conferences, with an overwhelming majority of African delegates, have repeatedly elected racially diverse NECs, often with coloured, Indian and white comrades leading the list. We know from their own admissions, that DA leaders have to gerrymander their elective conferences to get blacks elected.

The arrival of democracy has created the space to make race irrelevant to South African politics. But its salience will only disappear when the outcomes produced by racial domination no longer determine the life opportunities and prospects of most South Africans.

Expanding the floor of opportunity for precisely the blacks is transformative. Calling that “racism in reverse” is conspiring to perpetuate racial inequality.

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