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There were several times last week when I felt admiration for the protesting students, including those who crashed through the gates of parliament and, quite bravely in many cases, stood up to the SAPS’s counter attack, stun grenades and all.
I admit to some brief, irresponsible, trickster elation – Loki let loose upon the world – good for them … ha ha, let it all burn … that will show the fat bastards inside the building.
I didn’t lose my sense of judgement to the degree that I never felt sorry for some of the SAPS members who were woefully unprepared and overwhelmed, just as I felt disgusted with others for the unnecessary violence against the initially peaceful, if somewhat over-boisterous, students.
But by the time the Sunday papers rolled out I was becoming slightly nauseated by the ridiculously laudatory and pompous language being used to describe the protesting student of the #FeesMustFall and #shutdown campaigns.
I am not giving examples because these were mostly hyperbolic aberrations from commentators and journalists I otherwise admire (read City Press, the Sunday Independent or the Sunday Times of the 25th of October 2015 and the point will clearly and quickly be made). In general the pitch and tenor was thus:
… which is Eugène Delacroix ‘s “Liberty leading the People”, 1830 – the French Revolution before it ate its children.
Well, this week the #FeesMustFall movement is also eating its children – although it’s a much smaller snack than the French feast after 1830.
However the students have banked the partial victory of the 0% fee increase for 2016. And can there be anyone in the SA news-consuming-public who has not considered the many accounts of black students shaving their nutritional intake so they can send part of their National Student Financial Aid money back to their parents and siblings?
This is what I wrote in a client note earlier this week:
Student protests – expect splits, fragmentation, radicalisation, isolation, ill-discipline and loss of momentum – but they kept it together long enough to change the game.
The student protests against fee increases have begun to wind down and fragment after the sometimes violent clashes at the Union Buildings on Friday where President Zuma acceded, in a closed meeting with student leaders, to the 0%-increase-for-2016 demand.
In parliament Minister of Higher Education (and General Secretary of the SACP) Blade Nzimande had a torrid time defending his handling of the protests and explaining where the money for a 0% increase would come from. His main proposal was: “My view is that the government must have the political will to tax the rich and wealthy to fund higher education” – quoted in Business Day 28/10/2015.
The student revolt has deepened the opposition to government in general and increased disillusionment with party politics amongst students throughout the country. On balance the ANC has probably lost more ground than it was losing in this constituency anyway. However, the ruling party retains a variety of youth allies that operate on the campuses (including several SRCs, the ANC Youth League, the South African Students Congress – SASCO – and the Young Communists League – YCL.)
There will be fiscal implications that we will be exploring in the next few weeks as we examine the problem of funding for education generally and higher education in particular.
Zuma’s government must feel beset from all sides but the more focussed political attack is on the South African Communist Party – coming from within the ANC. Prior to its special national congress in July the SACP let it be put out that it wasn’t quite as gung-ho about Zuma’s increasingly corrupt and incompetent presidency than it appeared from its slavish defence of the man from Nkandla for the last 6 years. This in turn has led to Zuma’s most ardent (and patronage driven) supporters in the ANC Youth League (and the so called premier league) to escalate an attack on the SACP and its leadership. The student revolt against fee increases was a opportunity welcomed by these groups to join an attack on Nzimande.
It is still too early to predict with high levels of confidence a final collapse of the ruling alliance but the possibility is probably higher than it has been since 1994. An exit of the SACP (and probably Cosatu) from their formal ‘governing alliance’ status with the ANC might lead to ‘financial market positive’ changes in industrial and labour policy, but as likely might remove some of the constraints on corruption the SACP and Cosatu have brought to government and the alliance.
Okay, enough of all of that.
What I really wanted to say was that while watching the student and police confrontations my thoughts went back to the many protests and clashes my ‘comrades’ and I had with with the police and army in the 1980’s.
On the ‘white’ campuses it was largely just teargas and beatings with shamboks or quirts – although I remember the panic and fear as much as I do the elation.
In the townships it was a different matter – shotguns, R5 rifles and necklacing – excitement, yes; but also horror and terror.
I was explaining some of the differences between then and now to a close family member who is a student at a ‘previously white’ campus.
As I spoke I gradually came to realise something – funny at first, but then embarrassing. I was starting to sound remarkably like the Four Yorkshiremen.
The 1980’s was not worse than Marikana; and I am forced to remind myself that this, too, hovered over those students last week as the possible consequences of their actions.
So to lighten it slightly and to own up to my own pomposity, I sent that family member a copy of the famous Monty Python piece.
Four Yorkshiremen Sketch
Four well-dressed men sitting together at a vacation resort.
Michael Palin: Ahh.. Very passable, this, very passable.
Graham Chapman: Nothing like a good glass of Chateau de Chassilier wine, ay Gessiah?
Terry Gilliam: You’re right there Obediah.
Eric Idle: Who’d a thought thirty years ago we’d all be sittin’ here drinking Chateau de Chassilier wine?
MP: Aye. In them days, we’d a’ been glad to have the price of a cup o’ tea.
GC: A cup ‘ COLD tea.
EI: Without milk or sugar.
TG: OR tea!
MP: In a filthy, cracked cup.
EI: We never used to have a cup. We used to have to drink out of a rolled up newspaper.
GC: The best WE could manage was to suck on a piece of damp cloth.
TG: But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.
MP: Aye. BECAUSE we were poor. My old Dad used to say to me, “Money doesn’t buy you happiness.”
EI: ‘E was right. I was happier then and I had NOTHIN’. We used to live in this tiny old house, with greaaaaat big holes in the roof.
GC: House? You were lucky to have a HOUSE! We used to live in one room, all hundred and twenty-six of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of FALLING!
TG: You were lucky to have a ROOM! *We* used to have to live in a corridor!
MP: Ohhhh we used to DREAM of livin’ in a corridor! Woulda’ been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woken up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House!? Hmph.
EI: Well when I say “house” it was only a hole in the ground covered by a piece of tarpolin, but it was a house to US.
GC: We were evicted from *our* hole in the ground; we had to go and live in a lake!
TG: You were lucky to have a LAKE! There were a hundred and sixty of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.
MP: Cardboard box?
MP: You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six o’clock in the morning, clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for fourteen hours a day week in-week out. When we got home, out Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!
GC: Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at three o’clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of hot gravel, go to work at the mill every day for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would beat us around the head and neck with a broken bottle, if we were LUCKY!
TG: Well we had it tough. We used to have to get up out of the shoebox at twelve o’clock at night, and LICK the road clean with our tongues. We had half a handful of freezing cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at the mill for fourpence every six years, and when we got home, our Dad would slice us in two with a bread knife.
EI: Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, (pause for laughter), eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing “Hallelujah.”
MP: But you try and tell the young people today that… and they won’t believe ya’.
ALL: Nope, nope..
To those who noticed, apologies I disappeared without so much as a by-your-leave or hint of explanation.
Two pressures and one anxiety drove my precipitous descent into silence.
The first was increasing time constraints that led me to be largely republishing here bespoke material a few weeks after those who had paid for it had seen it. And it was, as a result, quite stodgy and formal – and constrained by myriad compliance regulations that govern what can and can’t be passed off as ‘research’ in the financial markets.
The second was the legitimate concern that almost universal cost cutting would cause some of those who pay for my research or writing to do the calculation and conclude: “ah, what the hell, lets wait two weeks and then we can get it for free anyway.”
The third issue is a more generalised anxiety I have with social media, celebrity and this golden age of narcissism. Who cares, or more strongly: who should care, about the passing fancies and non-peer reviewed musings about SA politics from someone you might not even have met and whose credentials are not obvious? The easy ‘unsubscribe’ button has helped me put this worry behind me.
I think it was Samuel Johnson who said: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money” and aside from private letters, shopping lists and work that adds value to our literary inheritance, l agree with him.
I am unlikely to be adding to our ‘literary inheritance’ any time soon, however I do intend to start writing, mostly about SA politics, here again, even if it is occasionally.
The need to market my wares is one reason I am happy to acknowledge – and I hope Johnson would approve.
But there are other reasons that are slightly more difficult to explain. I think it was Michael Ondaatje who wrote in one of his poems something along the lines: ‘I never know what I love till I write it out’. (I promise to find this quote and this poem).
Well, I never know what I know until I write it out. Or even stronger: I never understand what is happening until I can write an explanation that is not full of lies or incoherence. Many posts, especially if they are rushed and poorly edited, will contain ‘lies’ – I mean the kind I am not aware I am telling. But the joy and terror of writing here is lies expose themselves to me, and to anyone else who cares to see them, as soon as I hit the ‘publish’ button.
Finally, of course, it’s important for citizens and those who care about the country to discuss politics. It’s either everyone’s business or it’s the business of those who have stolen it and practice it in secret.
Issues of the day
Unsurprisingly I am right now consumed with the NGC, the SCA ruling on the Public Protector’s powers, the Premier League, the titanic battle in the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, succession, the shifting fortunes of the SACP, the potential of opposition parties, the 2016 municipal election, the collapse of our resources sector and the awful oncoming wave of lay-offs, the chaos in organised labour, the hard swings in the ANC’s foreign policy … and the possible impacts of any and all of these matters on economic development and economic policy in the future.
I will publish something that strikes me as particularly interesting here in the next … week (I almost said ‘weekend’, but ‘under-promise and over-deliver’ is the new trite management mantra to which I hope to subscribe soon).
(The SCA ruling link is to Pierre De Vos’ Constitutionally Speaking, obviously.)