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
22 March 2007

Wanted: Biko not Mbeki

As is often the case these days, Xolela Mangcu delivers a thoughful column for Business Day. His take on President Thabo Mbeki and his missives on racism is particularly acute.

I have often wondered what gives President Thabo Mbeki special access to the experience of racism — access those of us who lived under the apartheid regime all those dark years somehow seem never to have had. Race has such a privileged space in the president’s thinking that no ordinary personal experience has any autonomy. The irony of this apparent radicalism is that black experience is always explained in terms of white experience. In this over-racialised framework, HIV/AIDS does not have any autonomy — it is white people who see black people as “germ carriers”.

In the same way, corruption does not have any autonomy — it is a figment of white people’s imagination. Crime does not have any autonomy — it is white people fixated on black people as the “swart gevaar”.

Ouch! Mangcu seems to be saying that President Mbeki needs to read a bit more of the work of Steve Biko so that he can free himself from the internalised racial oppression and can learn to be free from always having to worry about what white people think. I suspect the implied criticism at Mbeki for not having lived in South Africa also has a double importance because it is exactly a person who lived most of his life as part of a racial minority in the UK who would continue to obsess about the racism of whites.

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