SOCIAL SOLIDARITY IS DEAD
Our leaders pay lip service to Marxism, parading in designer rhetoric and enjoying the fruits of capital, while the most needy and vulnerable in our society are nowhere near the centre of power
As we limp through this period in our country’s history, we are reminded daily of how the needs and interests of the poorest of the poor, the working class, women, children, the aged, young people, people who are differently abled, refugees, gay people, people suffering from mental illnesses, the unemployed, black, coloured, Indian, and poor white – to mention but the most obviously marginalised and alienated – are nowhere near the centre of society or government.
From mine workers whose bodies remain buried or are shot down in cold blood, to social grant beneficiaries who live without knowing if their grants will come. From small and micro businesses that eke out an existence, to those cast away from medical care to die. From those hacked to death for speaking another language and daring to open a business, to those raped to “correct” their sexual identities and behaviour.
These people, and many more, stand alone in a society in which social solidarity seems to have been killed off and where government is mostly interested in anything but their problems.
This is not to say that everyone in government or in business is bad or corrupt, but enough are greedy and corrupt for it to be a phenomenon that is systemic. We are constantly reminded by critics from all corners that the interests of the governing party, those who run the country and those in business are essentially bourgeois.
A shop steward at a political education school once gave an analysis of the transition from apartheid to democracy as being one from apartheid capitalism to shosholoza capitalism. He explained that, for him as a worker, almost everything had stayed the same – wages, working conditions, the cost of living and service delivery. All but three things:
The first was that he was no longer racially abused by his bosses. In fact, they had joined the ANC, so they called him “comrade”.
The second was that new management speak had replaced the language of baaskap so that he was no longer “a lazy k***ir”, but now his “productivity” was not what the company expected.
Lastly, instead of being allowed to stay home and rest on Saturdays and watch soccer on TV, he was forced to do “team building” with his bosses, which meant going to watch soccer together at a stadium and singing Shosholoza.
This dry but humorous tale describes the reality for many. Whether we measure unemployment, land ownership, inequality, enterprise ownership, occupation of management and executive positions for most black, coloured and Indian people – as apartheid classified them – for most women and for almost all marginalised people, little has changed in 23 years.
This does not mean that huge progress has not been made in terms of delivering essential services and catering for the basic needs of people. But if we are to pat ourselves on the back for finally giving potable water and electricity where there was none, and for giving people food and shelter, we have missed the point of our revolution completely.
We fought to create a nonracist, nonsexist, peaceful, unified and prosperous country. It is plain to see that we have moved only one step in the right direction on a journey of 1 000 miles.
Yet in our national discourse, we talk as if we have made great strides as a country. Some even talk about the need to end transformation and empowerment. This is bad enough. Then there is the cold, callous indifference of those in power, both political and economic, and their willingness to use spin, euphemisms and downright lies to try to distract us from their failings, shortcomings, dishonesty and, in some cases, their thieving.
Let us not forget that, while we have watched the Nkandla, Gupta and social grant disgraces by government, we have seen the continued exploitation, collusion, anticompetitive behaviour, fraud and abuse by the private sector. Our media are not perfect – they do not focus as intensely as they should on the crime and corruption of those in business – but that should not let those of us who belong to political organisations use this as an excuse for what some in government are doing.
If the media is captured by white monopoly capital, the social-media apologists for cronyism, corruption and state capture are in the claws of the criminal state complex.
BECOMING PART OF THE BOURGEOISIE
Some have posited an analysis that everyone in power has become part of the bourgeoisie – that they are all so rich, they have taken on the same interests as the Ruperts, the Oppenheimers, the Wiesers, the Motsepes and the other superwealthy among our compatriots.
If there are those who work in government, or even in the private sector, and think so, well, shame on them. But it is doubtful that even those with a basic education do not understand that this system cannot hold. It is coming apart, yet we are constantly distracted from the real issues and challenges by the need to defend those who steal; those who lie; those who fake their concerns for the majority of South Africans; and those who are lazy, incompetent and useless. While this happens, the rich get richer.
The social compact between those in economic power and those in political power operates most efficiently. It allows the talk of empowerment, job creation, service delivery, transformation and socialisation while delivering next to nothing of the sort. This compact allows mining as usual, farming as usual, domestic work as usual. “Usual” being just like it was under apartheid – without the words ‘k***ir’ and ‘Hottentot’. These are now replaced with the words ‘makwerekwere’, ‘moffie’ and ‘imperialist agent’.
WHO IS TO ACCOUNT?
Is it the distraction that causes us to falter? For, while we are wasting time with commissions of enquiry into the SABC, we are not holding a commission of enquiry into poverty and its causes. While we are holding those to account for stealing from the municipality, we are not holding those to account who steal from the workers.
While we are fighting among ourselves for positions that will place us in closer proximity to government’s coffers and thus to the private ones as well, our energy is not focused on how we get economic and social redress for colonialism, apartheid and capitalism.
Those who should lead us in this regard are content to tell us that there are fiscal constraints, that the global economy stops us from growing as fast as we should, and that the negotiated settlement means we can’t change the fundamentals of our society. Shame on them for telling us what we can’t do. Their job is to tell us what we must do to achieve the vision set out in our Constitution. Their job is to build the organisations that will make that objective possible.
Instead, our unions and all of our organisations, with few exceptions, lie in ruins. At the same time, the already weak state we inherited from the apartheid regime teeters on a few sturdy pillars that are, as of now, under constant attack by reactionary forces.
WHO ARE WE?
Does this make us all bourgeois? Not at all. But it makes us complicit with the bourgeoisie, no matter how much we quote Karl Marx and blame enemy agents or white monopoly capital.
Revolutionaries are supposed to inspire hope, mobilise for change and act as examples of the future society we seek to build. No, we are not all bourgeois. In fact, we are not all working class either. We are many things, but I suspect it’s the petite bourgeoisie, who are intent on mimicking the big one, that will be the death of us all.
For it is they who sing Shosholoza loudest of all to distract us while grabbing everything they can as the country slides into a ratings downgrade and further social downgrades, and as our government hurtles towards complete failure. After that comes a failed state. Will we all sing Shosholoza then?
Dexter is a member of the ANC