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
27 June 2007

The scary political logic of declonisation

Ivor Chipkin gave a very interesting talk about his book Do South Africans Exist? Nationalism, Democracy and the Identity of “the People” at the Cape Town Book Fair last week that might be quite relevant as the ANCs´Policy Conference starts.

Focusing on a remark by Christine Quanta that Nadine Gordimer is so irritating because ¨she has always seemed so smug in her role as observer, interpreter and final arbiter of our struggle¨, he argues there is a political logic behind many transitions from colonialism that is not easy to endorse¨.

Money quote:
Firstly, the “we” whose anti-colonial struggle is “ours” is nothing less than people itself. Secondly, this “we”, the people, is authentic only when it is either in or sanctioned by the nationalist movement. What has happened here is that the political space has come to be conflated with the space of the movement. Hence the ambivalent relationship of the nationalist movement to the democratic process.

To the extent that the movement wins a democratic election, the results then merely confirm what the movement already assumes: that it is the authentic voice of the people. In the same way, democracy is valued to the extent that it is possible to pursue “the people’s” agenda through its mechanisms and institutions.

When uncertainty enters the political scene, things look different. What does one make of a political opposition if “the people”, “our people”, are always by definition unified in and around the nationalist organisation? Whom does it represent – if not “reactionary” forces (former colonisers, foreign interests, ultra-leftists). Moreover, if the nationalist movement is by definition the people’s own, then electoral loss can mean only one thing: sabotage by the enemies of the people.

In which case one pursues “the people’s” agenda by other means (“states of emergency” and so on). Is this not the brutal logic at play in Zimbabwe today? If so, then it is time to ask: Is not the condition of democracy today the weakening of nationalist organisations in the body politic?

This strikes me as a very interesting point and serves as a counterweight for the argument put forward by Ronald Suresh Roberts that those who get nervous about the ANC´s commitment to democracy are really just channeling the worst kind of racism and anti-nativism.

Not all the leaders of the ANC embraces this logic, but surely this logic is evident in our political culture and is amply demonstrated by remarks such as those of Jacob Zuma that the ANC will rule until Jesus comes.

There clearly are ANC leaders who beleive only the ANC could possibly lead South Africa. They see the ANC as having an almost mystical destiny to lead us and can also tell the poor to shut up because whatever the ANC is doing is in the interest of the country. They call for unity – which often means the unity only of the movement itself. That is why the break up of the tripartite alliance will be a huge thing and will ultimately be good for South Africa.

Once a break-up occurs and South African politics becomes more ¨normal¨, it will be more difficult for the racism liberals that Suresh Roberts hates so much to make noises about the anti-democratic tendencies of the ANC (and implicitly, black people).

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