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
24 May 2008

Xenophobic violence: why we (still) need ANC?

Maybe we (still) need the ANC – especially those of us in the chattering classes and more especially those whining whites who think the ANC is destroying the country. The reason for this, I think, is that the ANC is for the moment the only party with a chance of keeping our fragile and fractured society together.

There has been much discussion on this Blog and elsewhere about the xenophobic violence and why it has spread so quickly to many parts of South Africa. The denialists within government have predictably blamed a ¨third force¨ and others wonder whether it is because foreigners have been allowed into South Africa too easily or whether those foreigners work too hard and therefore take the jobs of South Africans with a lower work ethic.

I am not sure there is one definitive answer to the question. What I am sure of is that it shows very clearly that we are not a very healthy society. The vast disparities between rich and poor, the history of racial oppression, the fracturing of family life through the migrant labour system and the homelands policies of the apartheid government have all contributed to the present fractured state of our nation.

I suspect many poor people see the wealth around them and compare that with their own lives and then they look for someone to blame. The problem is in South Africa there are so many people to ¨blame¨: foreigners, yes, but who is next? Homosexuals? Xhosas? Vendas? Whites? Woman?

This is why the spreading of the violence is so scary. It reminds us that where the social dislocation is so profound, the society is inherently unstable and it will only take one charismatic politician to whip up the sentiments of the dispossessed against the ¨enemy¨of choice.

That is why I wonder whether we are not – despite all their faults – lucky to have a party like the ANC in power. Although some of Jacob Zuma´s supporters have been seen wearing ¨100% Zulu Boy¨ T-shirts at times, on the whole the ANC is very much against tribalism and the scapegoating of minority groups. Even white South Africans who can easily be scapegoated are seldom vilified as a group.

Thabo Mbeki has often ranted against the racism of many white South Africans and while he has sometimes done this in a dishonest manner to try and hide his parties own shortcomings (remember the ¨fishers of corrupt men¨statement about those who dared suggest the arms deal was not Kosher), but he has never vilified white people and has never whipped up emotions against white people in a way that would allow the dispossed to think it would be right to attack whites and destroy their homes.

The same goes for whipping up feelings against gay men and lesbians (which was one of the first groups Mugabe turned against after he lost the referendum in 2000).

The problem is at present there is no other political party with the auro and the mythical liberation credentials of the ANC who are strong or credible enough to keep all the anger in check.

So if I was a white, middle class South African with property and a job (oh yes, I am actually one) I would have thanked my lucky stars for the ANC.

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