The repressed, any Freudian will tell you, cannot be contained indefinitely. It will always return. And if its first murmurings in jokes and slips of the tongue are not heeded it will be distorted and return, with increasing vehemence, as a symptom, a symptom that may come to constitute a threat, even a crisis.
It’s difficult to think of a country that wasn’t founded with blood and iron. If countries have a collective unconscious, ours is hardly the only one that is likely to be rent with the repressed memory of primordial crimes. But the distance between, say, the glamour of Paris and the Caribbean genocide and African slavery that provided the material base for much of that allure is a lot further away in space and time than the relentless violence, dispossession and exploitation on which our society and its towns and cities were founded.
And the lived reality of race and enduring racism makes the standard ideological move of pathologising the dispossessed a little more difficult here than in some other countries. Of course the state does a lot of work in this regard, and there is a massive civil society and academic effort too.
The innumerable attempts to cast our society as just and the oppressed as inadequate or perverse and in need of the sort of remedial attention that’s unlikely, in practice, to do more than to perform and legitimate inequality have their successes. But we can all see, viscerally, that while there has been a degree of both deracialisation and expansion of the zone of privilege, most people remain locked out in spaces that were designed, by a racist system, for black people. And most of the people who remain locked out are people whose families were made poor and kept poor by racism.
The fact that a considerable amount of the state’s development energies have, incredibly, gone into expanding the sort of spaces that apartheid built for black people while reducing the quality and size of the houses built has not resolved the problem. Racialised inequality is being actively reinscribed into the material structure of our cities.
The 1994 deal was struck for various reasons and legitimated in various ways. There were certainly some people who said that property rights and the free market were sacrosanct because they just are sacrosanct. But it was more commonly argued that they were necessary to keep the goose that laid the golden egg happy. In other words, if black people wanted to stop being poor the important thing was that they should keep whites happy. And it wasn’t just whites in South Africa. There were all those investors and tourists too.
Whites got to keep their wealth and much of their power and to feel very noble about being part of a political miracle. They could go to Paris and look anyone on the Champs-Élysées in the eye. There was no direct confrontation with either racism or inequality. And all these years on, despite all the very cool things about South Africa, like, say, Loyiso Gola reading the news or Bakkies Botha moering an Australian, a lot of people are very far from having enough access to the golden egg to be able to live with even the most basic dignity.
For a lot of people the deal is rotten. And for many of those people patience will not be a virtue. In fact patience will be downright dangerous to the point where we can say, without exaggeration, that it could get them killed. This is not the language of hubris. It’s a cold fact that millions of people live in life threatening conditions.
In the rosy dawn of our democracy the police didn’t have to do much repression. In the first five years the work was largely ideological. But since around 1999, perhaps beginning with the struggle of the Anti-Eviction Campaign in Mandela Park in Khayelitsha, there’s been an extraordinary amount of popular protest in South Africa and repression has steadily become a matter for the police as well as all the mythmakers.
But despite the beatings, the stirring exploits on the sports field, the relentless attempts to persuade people that they must become mobile micro-businesses and all the memorialisation of The Struggle, the repressed returns. But although it always returns it’s not always able to come into the national consciousness as a rational force. Poor people are systemically excluded from our polity – from the media, from civil society and from party politics – and the repressed, even when it expresses itself with perfect lucidity is not generally recognised as having a rational expression.
The inability of middle class society to hear the speech of the poor as speech, rather than as a moan of animal pain or frenzied threatening rage, is a common phenomenon. A lot of books have been written about this in the democracies of the West. But here it takes on the added burden of race. The poor are often treated, by the rainbow middle class, in ways distinctly analogous to how all black people were treated under apartheid.
But the fact that our elite publics have generally been unwilling to grant equal access to the poor does not mean that the discontent of the poor has been ignored. Since popular protest began to explode into Zwelinzima Vavi’s ring of fire from around 2004, state repression has been stepped up, party structures have often become a means of social control, sometimes armed, and a startling array of forces and projects have sough to capture some of this popular dissent by appropriating its language.
In recent years and months Jacob Zuma, Helen Zille and the international NGOs paid to simulate a pliant appearance of popular power have all been appropriating bits and pieces of the language that have developed in these struggles. The last election was all about elites contesting for the right to represent the poor. Julius Malema is certainly not the first person amongst our various elites to try to capture the representation of popular dissent. In fact he’s a little late in the game. But while all the others appropriate only the parts of the language of popular struggle that can be deployed in a manner that turns it into a demand for the perfection of the current system Malema is speaking to demands that cannot be realised within the current system. And as the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said “Words wreak havoc when they find a name for what had been lived namelessly.”
The havoc that Malema is wreaking is not because he has a political genius for articulating the aspirations of the masses. And it’s not because there are not perfectly articulate grassroots activists all over the country. It’s because amidst all his buffoonery he is giving a name to a truth that has up until this moment been largely repressed in most of our interlocking elite publics. That truth is that our celebrated deal has failed most of us. The goose that has been so assiduously protected is still laying, but those golden eggs haven’t been shared out.
Now that someone with a considerable degree of political power is giving a name to this reality and trying, albeit for the narrow interests of a predatory political class, to politicise it the game of pretending that we inhabit an unfolding miracle, a miracle for all, is up. Something has to give.
The time when business could be conducted as usual has passed. The fact that this now has to be recognised is a good thing. But what gives has not yet been determined and there are real risks that the new deal, which is now inevitable, will take the form of the degeneration rather than the deepening of our democracy.
The more or less infinite permutations of the possibilities with regard to the details of a new deal can be broadly grouped into two tendencies that, juxtaposed, produce a single question. Will we ensure that democracy effectively confronts poverty or will we allow a predatory elite to manipulate the implacable and urgent moral claims of poverty to confront democracy?
The Emperor Has No Clothes
Another excellent and fearless analysis from Richard Pithouse. Personally, I've taken a lot of heat in recent months for saying that SA's much-vaunted democracy isn't working, so I'm pleased to see someone of Pithouse's calibre is also saying that "our celebrated deal has failed most of us" - because it has. The sooner we acknowledge that the emperor has no clothes, the sooner we can figure out what to do about it.
"Will we ensure that democracy effectively confronts poverty or will we allow a predatory elite to manipulate the implacable and urgent moral claims of poverty to confront democracy?"
Who are your "we"?
The results of the 2011 Local Government Elections confirmed that by far the majority of the voting public or "poor" are quite content and satisfied with the work of what you call the "predatory" elite.
Moreover, the presidency of the ANC-YL is also serving the racist objectives of the National Democratic Revolution as well as the communist inspired and out-dated Freedom Charter with so much gusto and accuracy that they were also re-elected for another term by their constituency namely the politicized "jobless and poor youth" and future leaders of the country. The ANC regards the peaceful political settlement as well as the Constitution, 1996 as redundant and are destined to undo both at their earliest convenience.
They are the ones that want to unilaterally re-shape our mutual destiny and the terms for the survival of the marginalized minorities and not the other way round.
This clearly do not represents any "new deal" but is merely a new impetus to the redundant communist policies contained in the existing Kliptown Declaration or Freedom Charter of 1955 which rightfully should not have any place in the post-minority colonial and apartheid-rule SA and especially not in the equal opportunity multi-party constitutional democracy that we agreed to build from 1994 onward.
I sincerely hope that the white liberal fraternity in the country under the leadership of the DA and some academics do not regard themselves to be the sole representatives of all the minorities in the country and therefore superior enough and in a position to negotiate any “new deal” on our behalf with the SACP/ANC without or prior to proper and wide consultation and multi-party consensus.
New Suspects - Powerful Kings and People with Banal Rights
"....but if the drivers of our development model are "profit taking" and the systems relied upon are "businesslike," then fixing unequal growth will not happen."
Unequal growth - By that I suppose you mean the so-called rich get richer and the so-called poor get poorer.
This is revolutionary and communist speak that will not solve the poverty problem and are clearly designed to amplify it at the cost of the productive part of society and therefore will in the long run only compound all our existing problems, including the lack of social cohesion, durable reconciliation and successful nation building and peaceful co-existence in a should be rapidly developing African country.
And you must get your priorities right - we must address amongst others poverty and not so-called unequal growth!
But let us go a small step further.
Who actually are these truly rich and unproductive people in SA that enjoy extraordinary or banal rights and special immunities that should be marked and pointed as part of the problem and should transform to become part of the solutions that we are looking for?
The NDR that you clearly are serving illegally targets ordinary white and productive workers, farmers and their children, mining and other productive enterprises as well as national and international investors that do not enjoy special rights or special immunities.
Simultaneously the NDR and the SACP?ANC protects powerful kings and other traditional leaders that enjoy special immunities and banal rights and their people that unproductively occupies millions of hectares of the best arable land in the country that have perfected tax-avoidance/tax-evasion, low quality subsistence farming and the non-payment for services such as health care and education for their children as an acceptable way of living whilst complaining bitterly to the world about their mostly self-inflicted poverty.
In my view these people and the NDR are the real problem.
No solution will work if the ANC do not start by closing the borders properly and legally enforce proper family planning similar to about everyone that is successful all over the world are already doing voluntarily.
We are already over-utilising amongst other our water resources due to the irresponsible overpopulation by some of the communities that complain about their self-inflicted poverty that are seriously and unacceptably jeopardising our already shaky mutual future.
Furthermore, do away with the system of communally owned land and the banal rights and special immunities of those powerful kings and communities that do not make the land work for them successfully and for once in your life leave the productive white minority that do not enjoy special rights and have been doing successful family planning for many decades alone please.
To the contrary, our right to work has already been illegally and seriously compromised for eternity without any sunset clause.
Many white males and their children are forever doomed to hunger and poverty due to AA, BEE, ANC and SACP cadre deployment, ugly nepotism and even uglier cronyism because we are forever barred from re-entering the labour market by racist labour legislation.
For what should be understandable reasons many of us that are deliberately deprived by the ANC regime from our dignity that are coldheartedly treating us as criminals and the enemy of the country of our birth are already very bitter to say the least.
How do you propose to address our growing poverty if you in fact do plan to do anything about it?
I wish that the ANC will realise rather sooner than later that they can lead us all to prosperity or they can serve the racist objectives of the NDR and that both these conflicting options are not open to them.
Whoa TheDrake - some pretty intense rhetoric there!
Has it occurred to you that the repressed people of this country may just be voting for the ANC because, despite its very evident failings, they feel it's the only party/movement that will ultimately ensure greater social-economic equality and inclusion? Neo-liberal policies certainly aren't going to achieve that - and the country's poor people understand that better than most. They also know that part of the reason they remain excluded from a more equal dispensation is because so many concessions were made to the neo-liberal agenda during the consultative process between 1994 and 1996.
On the other side of the coin, I do believe the point Pithouse is trying to make is that the democracy project in SA, as it stands, has basically failed - partly because predatory elites have been enabled by the concessions that were made at CODESA.
The challenge, I believe, is for an active citizenry to start pressurising the state for a new consultative process that will address some of the very real flaws in our system of government, and which will allow for the development a new, more direct form of democracy.
We have a people problem - not a constitutional problem
“Has it occurred to you that the repressed people of this country may just be voting for the ANC because, despite its very evident failings, they feel it's the only party/movement that will ultimately ensure greater social-economic equality and inclusion?”
I am very sorry if I in fact left the wrong impression.
I did not intend to mention or address the various reasons why the ANC is very successful at the ballot box and moreover why the demagogues in the SACP?ANC alliance is regularly re-elected into leadership positions and are ever growing in popularity.
I merely stated it as a fact.
The reasons are another debate.
“I do believe the point Pithouse is trying to make is that the democracy project in SA, as it stands, has basically failed - partly because predatory elites have been enabled by the concessions that were made at CODESA.”
What “CODESA concessions” are you referring to?
The ANC already indicated during private meetings with amongst others international mining interests prior to the IDASA arranged meeting between the ANC leadership in exile and some useful South-African idiots in Dakar that they intend to respect property rights.
I am trying to figure out whether you are in fact repudiating the ANC leadership that at the time claimed that the negotiations and constitutional writing processes were resounding victories for the ANC?
Do you believe that the basic liberal values and principles that somehow found their way into the Constitution, 1996 are actually in some or all cases foreign to the ANC?
The criminal and corrupt part of the ruling elite was nevertheless duly elected into power and they would have abused any system.
In other words they regard themselves as the law and that is why the rule of law and the Constitution, 1996 as is are not acceptable to many of them anymore.
Their deceit is unacceptable and cumbersome.
The Constitution, 1996 and the concept of a multi-party open opportunity constitutional democracy with a formal bill of rights have not failed us - it is human beings in the form of the duly elected political leadership and unprofessional and inept civil servants that are failing the country.
Minister Manual amongst others pointed out that there is no shortage of funds to do what need to be done – the real problem is a lack of capacity.
…”new consultative process that will address some of the very real flaws in our system of government.”
You are again generalising and vague.
What real flaws?
Nobody in his right mind will give anybody a blank cheque to negotiate amendments of the Constitution, 1996 on their behalf.
By the way, I am not saying that the Constitution, 1996 is perfect.
“Neo-liberal policies certainly aren't going to achieve that - and the country's poor people understand that better than most.”
The majority of poor people of the country are mostly the least educated amongst us.
How would they know what is “neo-liberal policies”
In any event, if the so-called Washing Consensus and the resultant sound macro-economic policies that suit our purposes as a developmental state and huge future investments by the international community cannot do the trick for them and for us, nothing will.