[Marxism] Debate on South Africa

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 29 12:53:10 MDT 2004

June-July 2004

DEBATES FROM TWO SOURCES: Mail and Guardian, and e-debate 


Ferial Haffajee (Editor, Mail and Guardian): FH

Ebrahim Hassen (Senior Researcher, National Labour and Economic 
Development Institute): EH

Ben Turok (African National Congress Member of Parliament): BT

Mike Muller (Director-General, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry): MM

Stephen Gelb (Director, the Edge Institute and Visiting Professor, 
University of the Witwatersrand): SG

Patrick Bond: PB


Mail and Guardian
11 June 2004

Fact, fiction and the new left:

In trying to make South Africa a node on the map of anti-globalisation 
resistance, the new social movements may be trying to fit a square peg 
into a round hole

FH: As somebody who believes in the importance of social movements and 
the radical intellectuals who support them,

PB: A classical start. Some of my best friends are . The problem, as 
noted below in Haffajee's articles, is that her earlier work did indeed 
demonstrate these beliefs and sympathies.

FH: I must admit to be tiring quite quickly of their habit of magnifying 
their import, impact and size - on the basis of predictable arguments 
and sketchy research.

PB: The most logical rejoinder is that practically any promotion of the 
new social movements represents magnification, given the miserable job 
South Africa's mainstream press - including the M&G -- does in covering 
the movements and investigating the issues they rally around. 
Ironically, as documented below, Haffajee's own record of covering the 
movements and issues was, until earlier this year, commendable - but was 
basically an exception that proves the rule, because most of her best 
articles were for foreign periodicals and wire services such as 
InterPress Service, New Internationalist or the GreenLeft Weekly. 
Repetition and simplification are, in this context, vital to the 
movements' discourses, particularly given the vast broadcasting capacity 
the state and big business enjoy. Charged with exaggerating their 
impact, it is fair for these movements to claim that access to free 
water/electricity (where these might exist in partial form) and to 
anti-retroviral medicines, for example, have come only through social 
movement activism, advocacy and often militant protest and civil 
disobedience. (Haffajee's coauthored 2003 article, below, is at least 
one reflection of that impact.) As for the "predictable" character of 
the independent left's arguments against neoliberalism and class 
apartheid, so too was campaigning analysis against racial apartheid 
increasingly consistent over time. As to "sketchy" research, it is 
Haffajee who lacks rigour -- but the reader may judge this for 
her/himself based on what follows.

FH: The accounts of social movements in general and of South African 
politics in particular, from Naomi Klein and Arundhati Roy, from Patrick 
Bond and Dale McKinley among others, exhibit a sameness that falls short 
of the rigour that the times demand. Their various writings have come to 
sound like a set piece. This is how it goes. Ten years on, the 
revolution's been sold down the river. The African National Congress is 
a neo-liberal shadow of its former self - it has implemented a 
Thatcherite economic policy and left its comrades out to dry as it has 
supplicated before a wealthy coterie of elites. Usually, the research 
then cuts to a quote from Finance Minister Trevor Manuel or Nelson 
Mandela declaring that "Gear is non-negotiable". No reference is made to 
Manuel's subsequent statements that the Growth Employment and 
Redistribution (Gear) strategy was a "necessary but not a sufficient" 
condition for growth and poverty eradication or to the more expansive 
economic path the country is now on.

PB: Was Gear "necessary"? Before making such a concession to 
neoliberalism, Haffajee should consider the UNDP SA Human Development 
Report's recent critique of Gear's underlying premises: "The economic 
and social policy approach of the new government was formulated under 
strong pressure from the corporate sector and its global partners, and 
was based on several contentious premises: a) South Africa has a high 
economic growth potential; b) integration into the benign global economy 
will enhance economic growth; c) a high economic growth will unlock the 
labour-absorption capacity of the economy; d) the benefits of a high 
economic growth rate will 'trickle down' to the poor; e) the 
restructuring of the economy should be entrusted to market-led economic 
growth. With the benefit of hindsight, we have good reason to reject all 
five of these premises. All five are either false, or do not apply under 
South African circumstances. All five have their roots in the naive 
optimism of the managerial elite of the corporate sector and its global 
partners about the benefits of the free market. All five are propagated 
by the corporate sector and its global partners in order to protect 
their vested interests, enhance their position of power and privilege, 
and promote their sectional and short-term financial interests. All five 
premises incorrectly regard economic growth, neo-liberalism, and 
globalisation as the panacea for South Africa's social crisis. Those 
responsible for these premises and the government's approach were highly 
unrealistic." As a result, for Haffajee to claim that Gear was 
"necessary" is incorrect, and represents apologetics last seen from the 
M&G during the reign of pro-Gear editor Howard Barrell.

full: http://www.marxmail.org/SouthAfrica.htm


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