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What happens when we define ‘the enemy’ in terms that would justify shooting them down like mad dogs in the street?
I have often felt that the terms of our political debate are too extreme – from all sides of the political spectrum.
The idea or assertion that the government, the state and the ruling party is made up of an undifferentiated herd, squealing and grunting at the trough, might be rhetorically satisfying, but it’s wrong and not designed to foster our democracy.
But a more serious problem is emerging as the a Ruling Alliance, feeling threatened and burdened, has started characterising all forms of opposition as driven by white capitalists full of nostalgia for Apartheid.
The best example I can find is contained in Blade Nzimande’s Chris Hani Memorial Lecture.
Nzimande makes explicit something that is being articulated from every part of the Ruling Alliance – and it is important not to dismiss his words as part of a “loony left” view.
Nzimande defines two enemies of freedom, democracy, national liberation and “our revolution and its objectives”. These enemies are:
- The new tendency including tenderpreneurship and the general danger of business interests within our broad movement overrunning and defeating the revolution
- The anti-majoritarian liberal tendency
The first one is clearly ‘the enemy within’ – tenderpreneurs and similar – and in this he might be supported by the DA.
But in the lead-up to the municipal election, it is the second enemy and how “it” is defined that is of interest to me.
This is the essence of it pulled out as quotes and paraphrasing from the lecture:
Firstly, the Democratic Alliance and the print media are the organised representatives of the enemy.
Thus: … there is a “liberal offensive against the majoritarian character of our democracy” that with “growing arrogance and strident nature” is “pushed by the likes of the DA” but mainly conducted by its “principal ideological platform and mouthpiece … South Africa’s mainstream print media”.
Secondly, the enemy consists largely of previous beneficiaries of Apartheid:
In fact the (anti-majoritarian) liberal agenda seeks to defend, protect and advance the interests of the white capitalist class and the petty bourgeoisie, without explicitly saying so like during the era of the racist apartheid regime; and yet in a manner not different from white minority rule, but in conditions of black majority rule!
Finally, the main strategy of this enemy is to get the state to stop supporting the poor and instead make it (the state) an instrument for making capitalists richer still.
At the heart of the liberal offensive is the objective of weakening the capacity of the state to act in the interests of the overwhelming majority of the workers and the poor … In addition such state intervention in favor of the capitalist or local ruling elites … undertake(s) further measures (like repression and destruction of the trade union movement, especially its progressive components) in order to ensure that the conditions for the reproduction of capitalist relations of production are strengthened.
Believing your own propaganda
Like all effective propaganda these characterisations by the Ruling Alliance – here expressed in the mostly pseudo-intellectual terms of Marxist Leninism – rely on packaging elements of truth with confirmations of people’s lived experience – at the same time confirming their prejudices and fears.
In this universe a Media Appeals Tribunal or the disruption of a DA rally in Mamelodi are minor acts of resistance against an evil and dangerous invader.
The lie that the DA only represents Apartheid nostalgia equals the lie that the ANC is only a platform for pillaging the state.
Both characterisations leave the protagonists stranded on their high horses beyond the frontiers, with no roads back and no options but to push forward into the night.
From one of my favourite books of all time: Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations (John Green – Cassel, 1994) with a few comments from the peanut gallery.
The first few are new here, but I then
attend append – not sure what I was thinking – to the end of the post “Some light weekend contempt” (August 21 2009) and “Some (more) light weekend contempt” (October 25 2009) – because those quotes are mostly excellent, funny and timeless and I have good reason to believe you haven’t seen them before and I hope they delight you as much as they do me.
On the lead-up to May 18
People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.
Otto von Bismarck
Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.
George Jean Nathan
In general, we elect men of the type that subscribes to only one principle – to get re-elected.
Terry M. Townshend, speech 1940
Whatever politicians, activists and manipulators propose, it is the phlegmatic, indifferent, ingrained electorate which disposes.
Don Aitkin, quoted, 1969
On why I don’t trust democracy without extremely powerful systems of accountability and recall
What seems to be generosity is often only disguised ambition – which despises small interests to gain great ones.
Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims 1665
There are hardly two Creatures of a more differing Species than the same Man, when he is pretending to a Place, and when he is in possession of it.
George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, Political, Moral and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflexions, c.1694
The higher a monkey climbs, the more you can see of his behind.
General ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell
On democracy’s ability to hide underlying power dynamics – and how it is invariably abused by the powerful
A democracy is a state which recognises the subjection of the minority to the majority, that is, an organisation for the systematic use of violence by one class against another, by one part of the population against another.
V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, 1917
Democracy is the name we give to the people each time we need them.
Robert, Marquis de Flers and Arman de Cavaillet, L’habit vert, 1912
Parliaments are the great lie of our times.
Konstantine Pobedonostsev, 1896
(Hmm, this reminds of something):
That a peasant may become king does not render the kingdom democratic.
Woodrow Wilson, 1917
On whose fault it is, anyway
Democracy is a device which ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve.
George Bernard Shaw
Democracy is a form of religion. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.
H. L. Mencken, Sententiae, 1916
On the (slightly fascist) idea that in as far as democracy allows the views of ‘the average man and women’ to be the dominant view, it is an awful system of government
Now majority rule is a precious, sacred thing worth dying for. But like other precious, sacred things …. it’s not only worth dying for; it can make you wish you were dead. Imagine if all life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza.
P. J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores, 1991
Democracy: a festival of mediocrity.
E. M. Cioran
The democratic disease which expresses its tyranny by reducing everything to the level of the herd.
Henry Miller, The Wisdom of the Heart, 1941
A man may have strong humanitarian and democratic principles, but if he happens to have been brought up as a bath-taking, shirt-changing lover of fresh air, he will have to overcome certain physical repugnances before he can bring himself to put these principles into practice.
Aldous Huxley, Jesting Pilate, 1926
An Honest politician will not be tolerated by a democracy unless he is very stupid … because only a very stupid man can honestly share the prejudices of more than half the nation.
Bertrand Russel, Presidential Address to LSE students, 1923
Some light weekend contempt
Democracy gives every man the right to be his own oppressor.
James Russel Lowell
Democracy becomes a government of bullies, tempered by editors.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1909 – 14
Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.
H.L. Mencken, 1916
An honest politician is one who when he is bought will stay bought.
Simon Cameron, 1860
It is a general error to suppose the loudest complainer for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.
Edmund Burke – 1769
A judge is a lawyer who once knew a politician.
A horrible voice, bad breath, and a vulgar manner – the characteristics of a popular politician.
Anybody that wants the presidency so much that he’ll spend two years organising and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office.
David Broder, in the Washington Post, 1973
Revolution, n. In politics, an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911
Every revolutionary ends up either by becoming an oppressor or a heretic.
Albert Camus, The Rebel, 1955
What a liberal really wants is to bring about change that will not in any way endanger his position.
Some (more) light weekend contempt
On the drift to the left in South African policy making:
When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.
- P. J. O’Rourke
On certain young leaders in South African politics:
Fame is but the breath of the people, that is often unwholesome.
- Thomas Fuller 1732
On the much revered family of North American mythology – and a metaphor for the Ruling Alliance:
Sacred family! …. The supposed home of all the virtues, where innocent children are tortured into their first falsehoods, where wills are broken by parental tyranny, and self-respect smothered by crowded, jostling egos.
- August Strindberg 1886
On love – and the current state of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance:
The voyage of love is all the sweeter for an outside stateroom and a seat at the Captain’s table.
- Henry Haskins 1940
On the global debt crisis and the Great Recession?
What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?
- Bertolt Brecht 1928
A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain.
- Robert Frost
A woman can look both moral and exciting – if she looks as if it were quite a struggle.
- Edna Ferber 1954
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.
- H.L. Mencken 1956
- The business of government becomes the business of enriching the governors … rather than the business of governing and thereby serving the electorate’s overarching interests?
- The extremely rich rewards to be gained from holding political office cause the party list process – especially in the ANC – to become one of mayhem and murder, endlessly chaotic and contested?
- All classes of South Africans whose interests are inimical to the looting of the state, political patronage, ransacking the parastatals, incompetent government and tenderpreneurial activity of all kinds (the black and white middle classes, the industrial working class and the urban poor who are dependent on service delivery as well as big and small business, which both need a functional state, stable rules and the rule of law) begin to shift their support to opposition parties, social movements and trade unions?
- In turn this puts pressure on the Ruling Alliance as Cosatu and ANC democrats start pushing against the tide.
- The ANC withdraws into governing through systems of patronage and razzmatazz populism as its class base shifts to the rural poor, unemployed urban youth, the state sector and the political/economic elite and fast-and- loose forms of international capital and organised criminals (the last two categories are experts in dealing with this kind of politics)?
I think this is the way the cookie crumbles. With the proviso that no-one knows the future – and it is always more unexpected than not – and I think the cookie crumbling in the way that I have described means:
- The Democratic Alliance continues to transform its racial profile (in electoral support as well as leadership) and strengthens its support in urban constituencies throughout the country in the May18 national municipal election.
- There is a significant showing in that election by other opposition parties and independents.
- Cosatu begins to plan for the inevitability of either ‘a coup’ within the ANC or a withdrawal from the Ruling Alliance and the establishment of a viable alternative political home.
- The backlash within the ANC after the election will be severe leading to very high levels of contestation before and during the 2012 elective centenary conference.
That’s the way I see it, although I might be wrong.
If I am right, the next few months is the last chance for the ANC to be saved from the future its current leaders are securing for it.
A rescue job will have to reject the Nkandla style patronage networks as well as the ANC YL style technocratic tenderpreneurialism and those who back it. That doesn’t leave much political room for a challenge or much of an internal constituency in which to nestle it – other than on the left.
Just thought I would mention that in passing … I am now so busy with paid work (hurrah!) that “in passing” is the only time I will have for a while.
Remember the ANC’s online leather jacket sale; those amazing garments seemingly designed for a camp 1970’s version of a black Star Wars?
And the Stabproof Protektorvest (TM) that some enterprising person tried to flog to 2010 World Cup visitors to South Africa who needed to withstand the blows they could expect to be rained upon them by the hordes of ‘machete wielding tribesmen’ the UK gutter press was warning about?
Well, what do you make of how Julius Malema and his delegation arrived at court yesterday to defend against the charge that singing Dubula iBhunu constitutes hate speech?
… and in case you can’t see the accessories properly, here is another one:
So what do the Nazi party, the AWB and the ANC Youth League actually have in common?
Certainly a sense of camp elegance and style; dark flowing fabric and the gleam of steel and silver, cut through with the clean heroic red.
And the instinctive understanding of the marketing value of a bit of curling-lip arrogance, creaking leather and a hint of sex and violence on the side.
And perhaps a few other tendencies and traits that will reveal themselves over time.
(The sources of those pics were as follows: the accessory close up was: http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/article1016881.ece/Jujus-guards-cause-chaos and the one of Malema surrounded by his elegant guards came, I think, from http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/who-is-malema-at-war-with-1.1056002.Please visit those sites.)
For a brief time in the late 1980’s I had occasion to spend some time with Chris Hani, then Chief of Staff of the ANC’s uMkhonto we Sizwe and Secretary General of the South African Communist Party.
I was working for the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (IDASA) and a meeting between the ANC’s military and the South African Defence Force seemed like a natural extension and deepening of the work IDASA had done in putting the white establishment in contact with the ANC.
I met Chris several times in Lusaka where we prepared the agenda – and then, obviously, at the conference and several times afterwards.
He was an interesting guy – serious, charming and slightly too ready to tell me the story of how he travelled, through the underground, into danger, with Pliny, Virgil and Shakespeare in his knapsack … I’m not perfectly sure of the actual authors and titles of the classics he carried, but the point was that he mentioned, more than once, that he did so.
I was already aware in those days of the depth of murderous gangsterism that had enveloped Joe Modise’s leadership of MK – a trend and tendency he took with him into Mandela’s first cabinet and helped set the ANC’s elite on the course for the destination it has reached.
Chris was the great hope for cleaning up Modise’s mess and he was also seen as an antidote to Thabo Mbeki’s technocratic shuttle-diplomacy.
I became aware while organising the conference that some ANC strategists were using the opportunity to show Chris Hani was just as charming and able to talk to whites as Mbeki.
I asked him, in my naivety, about the rumours that he and Mbeki were competitors. He convincingly, to my ears, pooh-poohed the idea saying that he and Thabo were like a tag team, each with his own strengths, but united in the identical goal – and further, he claimed, they were good friends as well.
I had no special intelligence to validate (or otherwise) this claim. Perhaps they were. Perhaps they would have been the A-Team of the post Mandela administration, balancing each other’s faults, playing to each other’s strengths. I know it’s unlikely, but it is difficult not to dream of how things might have been.
As it happened Chris was almost disturbingly charming and persuasive at the conference.
We only managed to get ex-SADF and Bantustan leaders as well as a whole lot of shady and not so shady military and arms dealer types on the domestic delegation.
I have reason to suspect that I might have brought the running dogs of the global arms trade along with that delegation and I often shudder at the thought that I might have played a role in helping the global arms corporations bury their deadly wasp eggs deep into the ANC, later to hatch and gorge themselves just carefully enough so that the host stays alive … but I comfort myself with the fact that Joe Modise had long since sold his and the ANC’s soul to the worst and most rapacious branch of global capitalism.
I remember watching Chris holding forth late one night; he stood behind two seated and coyly smiling white men with thick rugby players necks – there is a reason stereotypes are stereotypes! Chris had a hand on each of their shoulders and he was rubbing them as he spoke with languid and swelling rhythms, about the future of non-racialism and shared patriotism that awaited us.
The big white guys were in love; it gleamed out of their teary eyes and Chris had his head back and eyes closed like he was conducting an exorcism.
I don’t know if Chris Hani would have made a difference if he had lived.
Only a precious few have managed to resist the seemingly irresistible pull towards corruption and greed. You watch all of your friends and comrades become part of that system (the same system that laid its eggs in the ANC that would later hatch into the Arms Scandal and worse), the memory of the ideals that drove you become vague … everyone else is doing it, what is the point in me hanging on while they are all busy with the business of securing themselves for life?
It was Tokyo Sexwale who wept beside Chris Hani’s body on 10th April 1993 outside the house in Boksburg. There was something about Chris that reminds me of Tokyo Sexwale (who I do not know personally but seems to exude a similar charisma that makes one think of a suspiciously charming pirate).
Reading Mandy Wiener’s Killing Kebble over the weekend and getting the insight provided by Fikile Mbalula flattening a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue in Kebble’s home … Mbalula and his ANC Youth League comrades treating the servants with extreme arrogance, trashing the house like spoiled children … it is difficult not to be filled with a sense of loss and longing.
9 18 (oops) years old when I sat with Chris Hani in Lusaka planning how best to drive wedges into Apartheid’s army and win any potential enemies to our side.
I don’t know for sure what he would have thought of this thrust to catapult the “new generation” of leadership into power in 2012 – including, horrifyingly, Fikile Mbalula for Secretary General.
But I suspect he would have drawn the line here. The ANC is not yet in the hands of Mbalula and his cronies – who are so reminiscent of Joe Modise, only slightly more refined.
There have always been heroes in the liberation movement who fought the tendency towards cronyism and rent-seeking abuse. I thought Chris Hani was in the process of becoming one of those when I worked with him in the late 80’s.
Like James Dean and Jesus Christ, Chris Hani’s virtues are frozen as an historical artefact.
There is a part of me that is relieved he will never be tried and found wanting.
(Note: my friend the fabulous artist Isabel Thompson helped organise that conference and my fellow Bruce Springsteen fan and mentor to so many of us Gavin Evans took the pics and posted them on facebook which is where I found them.)
The rules are that a caller shouts out particular categories of people or people who have undergone a particular experience. When you are called you must leave the dance floor immediately.
There is no hidden political message – apart from the last line … and the silly part of myself that wishes they would all get off the stage – it was just an excuse to use the composite picture I just made and because I thought the poem might charm and delight some of you.
The quotes in the beginning are placed by Ondaatje himself in the original poem:
Elimination Dance (an intermission) by Michael Ondaatje
‘Nothing I’d read prepared me for a body this unfair’
‘Toll we be roten, kan we not rypen’
Those who are allergic to the sea
Those who have resisted depravity
Men who shave off beards in stages, pausing to take photographs
American rock stars who wear Toronto Maple Leaf hockey sweaters
Those who (while visiting a foreign country) have lost the end of a Q-tip in their ear and have been unable to explain their problem
Gentlemen who have placed a microphone beside a naked woman’s stomach after lunch and later, after slowing down the sound considerably, have sold these noises on the open market as whale songs
All actors and poets who spit into the first row while they perform
Men who fear to use an electric lawn-mower feeling they could drowse off and be dragged by it into a swimming pool
Any dinner guest who has consumed the host’s missing contact lens along with the dessert
Any person who has had the following dream. You are in a subway station of a major city. At the far end you see a coffee machine. You put in two coins. The Holy Grail drops down. Then blood pours into the chalice.
Any person who has lost a urine sample in the mail
All those belle-lettrists who feel that should have been ‘an urine sample’
Anyone who has had to step into an elevator with all of the Irish Rovers
Those who have filled in a bilingual and confidential pig survey from Statistics Canada. (Une enquệte sur les porcs, strictement confidentielle)
Those who have written to the age old brotherhood of Rosicrucians for a free copy of their book ‘The Mastery of Life’ in order to release the inner consciousness and to experience (in the privacy of the home) momentary flights of consciousness
Those who have accidentally stapled themselves
Anyone who has been penetrated by a mountie
Any university professor who has danced with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Jean Genet
Those who have unintentionally locked themselves within a sleeping bag at a camping goods store
Any woman whose i.u.d. has set off an alarm system at the airport
Those who, after a swim, find the sensation of water dribbling out of their ears erotic
Men who have never touched a whippet
Women who gave up the accordian because of pinched breasts
Those who have pissed out of the back of moving trucks
Those who have woken to find the wet footprints of a peacock across their kitchen floor
Anyone whose knees have been ruined as a result of performing sexual acts in elevators
Those who have so much as contemplated the possibility of creeping up to one’s enemy with two Bic lighters, pressing simultaneously the butane switches— one into each nostril— and so gassing him to death
Literary critics who have swum the Hellespont
Anyone who has been hired as a ‘professional beater’ and frightened grouse in the direction of the Queen Mother
Any lover who has gone into a flower shop on Valentine’s Day and asked for clitoris when he meant clematis
Those who have come across their own telephone numbers underneath terse insults or compliments in the washroom of the Bay Street Bus Terminal
Those who have used the following techniques of seduction:
-small talk at a falconry convention
-entering a spa town disguised as Ford Madox Ford
-making erotic rotations of the pelvis, backstage, during the storm scene of King Lear
-underlining suggestive phrases in the prefaces of Joseph Conrad
Anyone who has testified as a character witness for a dog in a court of law
Any writer who has been photographed for the jacket of a book in one of the following poses: sitting in the back of a 1956 Dodge with two roosters; in a tuxedo with the Sydney Opera House in the distance; studying the vanishing point on a jar of Dutch Cleanser; against a gravestone with dramatic back lighting; with a false nose on; in the vicinity of Macchu Pichu; or sitting in a study and looking intensely at one’s own book
The person who borrowed my Martin Beck thriller, read it in a sauna which melted the glue off the spine so the pages drifted to the floor, stapled them together and returned the book, thinking I wouldn’t notice
Any person who has burst into tears at the Liquor Control Board
Anyone with pain