Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On free speech, today.

This time around, I agree with Jonathan Jansen's column. Not fully, but I would go along with the basic thrust of his argument: there is not enough deep debate on public issues today in South Africa.

I am however surprised at the generalisations in Jansen's collumn, given the fact that he rants the 'lack of' deep intellectual discourse at universities. He makes another point of interest,

'’n Universiteit, anders as ’n kerk, moet ’n plek wees waar idees aangebied, uitgeruil, verdedig en uitgedaag kan word. ’n Kampus moet ’n veilige ruimte skep waar mededingende ideologieĆ« aangehoor kan word.'  ( a University, unlike a church, must be a place where ideas are presented, defended and challenged. a Campus must create a safe space where competing ideologies are heard/aired)

For him a church is (by definition) a space where we let go of our intellectual abilities and simply accept everything, 'in faith', whilst a university is a space, where there is suppose to be a freeflow of ideas. At another speech, after listening to Jansen, I wondered that perhaps his glaring ignorance on what is happening inside some churches and amongst some church people, apart from his own evangelical fundamentalist group, is sad. On the other hand, at least he, as a leading academic and principal at a university, is suppose to know that the contestation of ideologies even at a university, takes place in a particular socio-historical context and political context. By its nature, despite modernist myths of the objective, rational scientist, it is heated and emotional. The current shift in the academic landscape is contested; it is a struggle and Jansen is part of that struggle.

However, he has a point if he argues that part of the current strategy within the elite classes, dominating institutions like the academia ( and the church), is to silence dissent and that this silencing strategy has to be faced head on. I agree that, the dearth of intellectual debate opens up space for demagogues to run amok. We will only have ourselves to blame, where facism reigns supreme.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Reconciliation on a knife's edge.

I agree that reconciliation and nation-building is on a knife's edge. However, I don't agree that its because of the brutal killing of Eugene Terre'Blance nor the antics of some ANC youth league functionaries. My view is that the recent obsession with these personalities, conveniently obscure our perspective to see where the real epicentre is with regards to the tenuous reconciliation in South Africa. Its not primarily, in the relations between white and black.

Let me concede first and then proceed to my actual point. These figures do raise the emotions. They are (were ?) orators of note. They are controversal, offensive and often vile. For a section of our population, a small section, they do articulate their aspirations. Not for others (like me!) and we would often express our revulsion. Yet, we need to remember that they remain part of our South African human landscape, warts and all. I do agree therefore, with Tinyiko Maluleke, the president of the South African Council of Churches, that we should condemn threats of violence, as well as brutal killings of fellow human beings, for what ever reason. We simply cannot descend into political fanaticism and mayhem. If anything, the actions related to these personalities, should remind us of who we are not.

Back to my point: Reconciliation, as we've experienced it in the South African context, in the 1990s, was appropriate for its time, but we need a new social contract. The 'negotiated settlement', as preliminary as it was, did help to stop the low-intensity civil war raging in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Let's remember that there was a real guerilla-war raging. It was fought amongst others, in Northern-Namibia, Mozambique and Angola, but also in our township streets. The SADF and the MK and perhaps APLA, fought each other some argue, through conventional warfare, or a brutal armed struggle. Many died. We simply cannot go back to that time. It was appropriate therefore, given the context, to negotiate a settlement that facilitated the transition of political power and stem the tide of violence. It's was not only Nelson Mandela, OR Tambo, Joe Slovo and Chris Hani, who played a key role, but also level-headed negotiators like Cyril Ramaphosa, Roelf Meyer, Leon Wessels, but also Constance Viljoen (who were able to transformed a conglomerate of bitter, rightwing parties and movements into the VryheidsFront). In this context, parliament, the public service and  public instiutions were transformed or replaced with new ones. We can speak of the de-racialisation of politics.

Let me jump to today. Today, embarrassed we discover the frightening increase in the income-gap between the rich and the poor. Whilst the majority of the poor remains black, we also see a growing number of white people in desperate poverty, in shacks and on the streets. Whilst the majority of the wealthy remains white, we also see a small, but growing percentage of black millionaires and billionaires. We can talk about the signs of the de-racialisation of the economy. Yet, the system reproducing these glaring inequalities remained the same. Economic emancipation in the main, means today a small elite who, at the expence of the poor, are fleecing the public treasury. This, is where the fault line lies. This is where reconciliation of the 90s, are under duress, for some empty. I would argue that this explains the growth in disillusionment, desperation and anger. This explains the fact that a boy of 15 years, a child, are not in school, but working for a wage on a farm.

The recent revival of an old struggle song, the rhetoric on nationalisation and the sudden infatuation with Mugabe's 'shining successes' should should not fool us. It's got nothing to do with the the sharing of resources or the struggle for justice and equality. Rather, its an attempt to delay the attention away from the deep tensions that are surfacing. These tensions are felt in the Alliance, where Gucci capitalists crudely display their opulence and wealth  in the face of just demands of the poor. And its here that I agree with Nico Botha's analysis, which I think takes the debate beyond the old-styled race analysis. Indeed, a new debate on reconciliation is needed.