Mamphela Ramphele’s new “political platform,” or party-in-making, represents the latest in a series of bids for the substantial number of black voters presumed to be disillusioned with the rule of the African National Congress in South Africa. So far all bids have failed. Many black South Africans are indeed fed up with the ANC. Tens of thousands have joined often violent “service delivery protests” against ANC-run municipalities accused of corruption or neglect. Millions have stayed away from the polls. Yet, relatively few have been willing to vote for opposition parties. The last major new party to try wrest their votes, a breakaway from the ANC called COPE (Congress of the People), secured a respectable 7% at the 2009 general election, but has since descended into a shambles. The best hope for Ramphele’s outfit is that it will scoop up the black African voters poised to desert COPE, yet unwilling to vote for the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), because of its white roots and leader.
It is not easy to give an ideological label to Ramphele’s party, provisionally named Agang (“to build” in the Sepedi language). Leftists dismiss it as a capitalist party, and their stance is lent some credence by Ramphele’s recent senior positions in the World Bank and a major mining house, and by her concern to make South African economically productive, competitive and investor-friendly. At the same time she professes concern for “workers and poor people” betrayed by a “new elite,” and her policy portfolio is for now too vague to pigeonhole. Notwithstanding Marxist rhetoric emanating from in and around the ANC, there is not all that much by way of concrete economic policy to tell South Africa’s political parties apart. No significant electoral party calls for a break with capitalism; at the same time, none dare sound like rabid free marketers in a land so conscious of its gigantic inequalities. I expect Agang to meet more established electoral parties on the broad ground of the center-left.
What Ramphele stands for is similar to . . .
Read more: Democratic Development in South Africa? Mamphela Ramphele’s New Party
Was it a ‘tragedy’ or was it a ‘massacre’? Were the police, shocked by the killing of cops and security guards a few days before, entitled to feel threatened by an advancing column of panga-wielding strikers fortified with traditional medicine to immunise them from bullets? Or were the cops guilty of penning the strikers in, making an unnecessary attempt to disarm them by force, employing unconscionable firepower to block their escape and killing stragglers in cold blood? Who fired the first round of live ammunition?
What we do know is that on August 16th 34 striking miners were gunned down by police at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in South Africa’s Northwest Province, and that there was at a minimum an unforgivable failure of police crowd control.
With luck, a government-appointed judicial commission will tell us who did what to whom and in what order. In the meantime South Africans nurse their bewilderment. Theirs is a violent land in which fifty people are slain daily in ‘ordinary’ criminal murder, and strikes are often enforced with deadly brutality, but a special shame attaches to a slaughter by state forces so redolent of apartheid-era massacres.
There are layers to this story. It’s about wage grievances, but also a battle between unions. Black platinum miners have until now been organised by the National Union of Mineworkers, a member of the ANC-aligned Congress of South African Trade Unions. Critics claim that NUM, a stalwart of the anti-apartheid struggle, is now a status quo union. Comfortable as management’s recognised bargaining partner, NUM resists calls for mine nationalisation. The union increasingly represents upwardly mobile above-ground workers rather than the rock drillers who do the most arduous work. The fact that NUM negotiated a better wage deal for the former than for the latter appears to have been a spark for the unrest.
Rock drillers have it hard. Platinum companies have invested little in surrounding communities. Those of its employees who do not wish to live in hostels are given living-out allowances to find their own accommodation nearby, where they are . . .
Read more: The Marikana Strike Killings, South Africa
Tony Blair came to Johannesburg last week. He was part of the Discovery Leadership Summit, hosted by Discovery Invest, and as you might expect he was the headline act. Tony Blair on leadership: now that would be an interesting lecture, if you could afford the high fee to attend (just over a quarter of the monthly take-home pay of your average South African academic).
As it happens in South Africa’s thickly political society, Archbishop Tutu, scheduled to appear at the summit as well, pulled out dramatically and at the last minute. He was unable to share a platform, he said, with the former UK Prime Minister given his ‘morally indefensible’ invasion of Iraq. Tutu’s moral stand also had the strategic political objective of refocusing attention on a war that many in South Africa have forgotten in our parochial obsession with our tangled society.
On the day of Blair’s speech, protestors demonstrated outside the Sandton Convention Centre and grabbed headlines to the chagrin of the conference organisers (who, it must be said, remained graceful throughout). Some of those protestors hoped to make a citizen’s arrest of Blair on the grounds that he was a war criminal. They did not get close, as security was amped up. And although I sat two feet behind Blair at the taping of a BBC debate on poverty, I did not feel moved to put my hand on his shoulder as the viral email explaining how to effect a citizen’s arrest advised; see http://www.arrestblair.org/. Neither the bounty of over 500 GBP, nor the reassurance that my motives for the arrest did not matter, tempted me. I like the politics of outrage as much as the next leftist, but I prefer thoughtful debate, when all is said and done.
I agree with Tutu that Blair’s war was based on slender evidence, driven by misinformation and an almost blind obsession with “following through” on his conviction (not to mention his commitment to President Bush) that the war should proceed. I would even confess to a visceral . . .
Read more: Archbishop Tutu v. Tony Blair
As I post this, Mubarak has resigned. The military is in control. Elzbieta Matynia submitted these reflections yesterday, and now they are even more timely. She looked beyond the immediate crisis and imagined the process of successful political transformation, thinking about past experiences, specifically about Roundtables - the form invented in the late twentieth century to facilitate peaceful transitions from dictatorship to democracy. She writes in South Africa looking at Egypt, thinking about South Africa and her native Poland. She presents her position in three acts. -Jeff
Act One: The Meeting on the Square
How many of us, including the tourists to Egypt’s pyramids, were really aware that Egypt has been under a state of emergency for 30 years now? That the rights and freedoms of its citizens, guaranteed in the constitution, were indefinitely suspended, including the freedom of association, freedom of movement, and freedom of expression? (Except for family gatherings it is illegal for more than four people to gather even in private homes.) How many of us knew that censorship was legalized (no freedom of the press) and that tens of thousands have been detained without trial for defying these limitations? That people have lived in fear of the ubiquitous security forces? And that the number of political prisoners in this country of 77 million runs over 30,000…
Just a reminder to those of us who try to make sense of the developments in Egypt, including the recent Day of Rage, and the Day of Departure…
The people who gathered on Tahrir Square saw themselves for the first time as citizens, and indeed the square became their newly constituted public space. For Hannah Arendt such a coming into being of a space of appearance is a prerequisite for the formal constitution of a public realm. In this space, there is an accompanying enthusiasm and joy of discovering one’s own voice, even if interrupted by the attacks launched by undercover police and those who side with the . . .
Read more: Egypt, Squaring the Circle: A View from Poland and South Africa
The ambivalence around the WikiLeaks mission and especially its recent disclosures are understandable (see Jeff’s previous post). On the one hand, it does make us feel that we no longer have to live in a fog called the diplomatic game, that we need no longer be treated like children who for their own protection are excluded from family secrets, and that we the citizens of the world deserve not to be patronized and paternalized by our own governments, and need not concede so much discretionary power to our government officials.
On the other hand, as someone who is living at this moment in post-apartheid South Africa, and works in the archives (of which only a small part is available to the broader public), and who has studied the processes that led to the dismantling of Soviet-style autocracy in Central and Eastern Europe, an apparently widespread schadenfreude about exposing everything to everybody brings shivers. Two very different, but in both cases repressive, regimes in Poland and in South Africa, would not have ended peacefully as they did, if not for lengthy and secret conversations that laid the groundwork for the official public negotiations. Imagine that the secret meetings between Church officials, leaders of the outlawed Solidarity movement, and General Jaruzelski’s government in Poland had been exposed in 1987…….Or that the “talks about talks”, and the meetings between exiled leaders of the ANC and certain members of the ruling nationalist party, had been exposed by WikiLeaks.
Nelson Mandela in 1937
In each case, the negotiations that led to fundamental systemic change and the launching of democratic rule were preceded by an overture, made of many secret meetings. The South African overture began roughly with a meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, where most of the ANC leaders lived, and was followed by twelve clandestine gatherings in England, gradually building a fragile trust between the key enlightened Afrikaner intellectuals and ANC . . .
Read more: Privacy and Progress
Remember the South African miracle? That peacefully negotiated –for the most part — the end of the apartheid system, and the hope it conveyed to people not only in African predatory states, but in so many other parts of the world as well? Yes, dictatorship, even of the most vicious kind, could be dismantled peacefully, people could gain both rights and dignity, and plan a better future for their kids. This began almost 20 years ago.
Remember TV’s incredible bird’s-eye views of people standing in miles-long lines to vote? Remember Mandela with his awe-inspiring gravitas undiminished by TV lights, bringing a new humanity to our living rooms? Remember our admiration for the South Africans hammering out what was clearly the most progressive constitution in the world?
I am not going to tell you that this is all gone, because it is not. But even if it seems to have gotten reinvigorated, democracy here, like any new democracy, whether in Eastern Europe, Latin America, or anywhere else, is still fragile, and today it faces a major test.
Ironically there is a well-advanced effort by the ANC government to introduce a new piece of legislation that would dramatically restrict media freedom , and that — in an uncanny echo of Orwellian doublespeak — has been given the name Protection of Information Bill. The bill endows the ruling party with the power to decide what information is “unfit” for consumption by the larger public. This launch of censorship, which for many reeks of the apartheid era, is effectively designed to stop any state information that could be classified as harmful to the “national interest,” which, as both media and public know, includes potentially embarrassing information about both past and present. If one reads the proposed bill it becomes clear that there is hardly anything in South Africa that could not be defined in terms of national interest. Moreover it is up to politicians to decide what should be defined as a national secret. This legislative initiative is coupled with a newly proposed Media Appeals Tribunal “to strengthen media freedom and accountability,” which recommends draconian penalties: e.g., from 3 to 25 years . . .
Read more: In Johannesburg: The Struggle for Democracy all Over Again
I have been developing DC for the last 6 months or so, at first, mostly, just thinking about it, but more recently, intensively working on it, trying to figure out exactly what the project will be, working with Lauren Denigan, managing editor, to give the blog precise shape, and writing posts that respond to the events of the day, trying to utilize my full intellectual range, establishing a pattern of what I hope DeliberatelyConsidered.com will become.
This Tuesday, we went a step further. I introduced the project to some dear friends and colleagues at the annual opening party of the New School’s Transregional Center for Democratic Studies. The party was a pleasure, as it always is. I was especially pleased by the response to my developing blog, and the prospect that this will be the beginning of a beautiful relationship between TCDS and DC, a variation on an old theme.
TCDS and Me
The story of TCDS and my story are intimately connected. It’s an example of the politics of small things, in which I am one of the central actors. There is a long version and a short version. I’ll start the long by highlighting the short with some quick headlines, and hope that we can continue the story’s themes in this new setting.
Elzbieta Matynia (who is the TCDS director) and I each worked on the sociology of theater in Poland, meeting there. More details about this time later, for now just note that a deep friendship between Elzbieta and my wife, Naomi, and me developed and has endured, through major international and personal crises, martial law in Poland, changes in our social and political circumstances. We developed parallel careers which met at the New School. When martial law was declared in Poland in 1981, Elzbieta’s one-year scholarship to study at our university became a lifetime relationship: first as a visiting scholar, then as an adjunct instructor, now as the Director of the Transregional Center and senior member of our Department of Sociology and Committee on Liberal Studies.
The seeds of TCDS were planted when she and I met in Poland. It was firmly rooted in the . . .
Read more: DC and TCDS: Going Public by Bringing It Home