In the current crisis another shark has been on people’s minds. In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak quite a few commentators compared Trump to the fictional mayor in Jaws. Steven Spielberg’s mayor refuses at first to accept that a shark is responsible for the fatal attacks – he claims the first was a boating accident. When the evidence becomes hard to refute he still declines to shut the resort. Only when another swimmer gets chewed up on 4 July does he finally accept that he needs to call in the professionals. It’s all rather Trumpian. But only one politician has actually cited the actions of the mayor from Jaws as a model of crisis management, and it isn’t Trump. Boris Johnson used to tease audiences by suggesting that ‘the real hero of Jaws was the mayor, a wonderful politician.
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This article examines the rise of gatekeeper politics within the ANC, drawing on an analysis of ANC discussion documents, key informant interviews with senior party officials, and interviews and observations from the ANC’s centenary policy conference. On the basis of this material, I identify the symptoms and consequences of gatekeeper politics, including the growth of patronage networks, crony capitalism, and bitter factional struggles within the party. Rather than resembling some uniquely “African” form of political aberration and breakdown, gatekeeper politics should be viewed within a broader spectrum of patronage politics evident elsewhere in the world, because it is intrinsically bound up with the development of capitalism. Political leaders who occupy positions of authority in the party or public service act as gatekeepers by regulating access to the resources and opportunities that they control. A volatile politics of inclusion and exclusion emerges and provokes bitter factional struggles within the ANC as rival elites compete for power. The rise of gatekeeper politics undermines both the organizational integrity of the ANC and its capacity to deliver on its electoral mandate. It can also depoliticize social injustice in post-apartheid South Africa by co-opting popular struggles over access to resources that might otherwise challenge the political status quo.BACK TO TOP