Fear Rulesby Brandon Edmonds / 16.04.2010
Incredibly male, is how things feel lately. Violent, moody and aggressive is how the media is framing the country. Feels like the stone cold quiet in a good western – that intake of breath a town takes before shooting commences. This is what free-flowing wild talk does, as Goebbels banked on, as Fox News perpetuates, as the Daily Mail knows, as the current Youth League executive assumes, it turns up the heat of a media cycle and makes society seem threatening, divided and about to blow. Rhetoric, like loose talk of “race war” and scurrilous struggle songs ripped out of context, puts us all in the hurt locker of imagined fears. Ideological fantasy makes us antsy. How real is it?
Apprehension and dismay are not exactly good for business – and with the World Cup approaching, we would have to conclude that the apocalyptic mood behind all the wild talk is organic, since nobody but the basest Afro-pessimists, the default World Cup naysayers, benefits. It is not engineered. It isn’t a plot. There are genuine wells of social disquiet. South African society really is adrift. Is the narrative of togetherness fraying? Does the founding “myth” of non-racial harmony finally have the transparency of dragon fly wings – can we all, thanks to the lies and loathing, the graft and greed, see through it?
Dirty Harry’s gloss-take on that mid-90s blip of seeming transitional unity, the shallow commonality of stadium diversity, Invictus, a Victorian poem no less, reveals the hollowness now cast by hindsight perfectly. We now know where that goodwill was heading.
To Ministers berating genuine protesters during a Sharpeville rally! To a ruling party securing a World Bank loan to burn more coal – a deal said to flood its own coffers with billions of dollars. To batshit Aids policy, murderous xenophobia and an arms deal tracking kaka in great thick smears across the carpets of power. Knowing what we now know qualifies hagiography. We want answers not fawning. Freeman’s Mandela is a liberal saint, a deific new age aphorist, warmly dispensing hushed homilies, as if smashing rocks on an island for 27 years is the key to enlightenment. He isn’t the man we know. The one who really did affirm us. Throw your guns in the sea and walk with me. Freeman may get the voice right, but he doesn’t get the Voice right. The film’s slick emptiness returns us to the lack of genuine engagement and transformation at the time. (Is there anything more uselessly evanescent than a rainbow?) We live the consequences of that missed opportunity presently.
Deepening inequality since “liberation” – crippling unemployment – the bite of global recession – the lack of genuine mass social advancement – spells trouble. Plain and simple. Ours is the most unequal society in the world. Surpassing Brazil in this while being governed by a supposedly progressive ruling party. The sordid rural slaying of a paroled God-fearing fascist is nothing, a blip, in relation to the dismaying governmental turn rightwards. Many expected, and loyally struggled for, socialism; instead we got the eternal deferral of the 2-stage theory of national democratic revolution – which stokes the appetite of the middle class while drip-feeding the masses. History will be far more inclined to dwell on that grievous strategic error, the bourgeois fallacy of the ANC, than whatever else passes for news lately.
How does the “new South Africa” (and really that “new” feels increasingly about as valid and vital as a Christmas tree still crowding the lounge in June) operate?
Technocratic neo-liberal book balancing pleases international capital, everyone’s face lights up in Bonn and Rome and Helsinki when Trevor Manuel walks in. While the “developmental” State at home, building houses, issuing grants (up to around 13 million citizens by now), morphs daily into a top-down parasitic entity, secreting patronage to insiders, and managing the poor at the door with the vulgar arriviste arrogance, indifference and disdain of the newly wealthy.
As Frantz Fanon, the great ethical scold of post-liberation breakdown, memorably has it: “national consciousness, instead of being the all-embracing crystallization of the innermost hopes of the whole people, instead of being the immediate and most obvious result of the mobilization of the people, will be an empty shell, a crude and fragile travesty of what it might have been.” Go, Frantz!
What might have been?
Nobody knows. But entertaining utopian alternatives re-charges our social optimism. Rouses rationality. We may even see past the Tri-partite alliance, the ruling party, past the limitations of representative democracy, with its limited access, to different formats of power and control. To new ways of assigning value and reward. To re-negotiate combinations of ownership and participation, more socially and environmentally sound. What might yet be?
There’s a new Tiger Woods commercial for a ubiquitous running shoe company that somewhat captures the downbeat, soul-searching “national consciousness” we seem to be passing through. Woods, before being unmasked as a philandering “sexter” with an amped up libido, re-made golf in his own image. Everyone wants to hit further now and approach with caution-defying flair. He is the richest living athlete. His race is really marginal to who he is. If anyone seems post-racial its Woods. In a lot of ways, he’s, even with the adultery, which, really, is his business, and his alone, a kind of best-case projection of non-racial possibility. A global phenomenon. Invited everywhere, lauded, heralded, supported and paid. The ‘new South Africa’ once had a similar currency globally. We represented a ‘negotiated settlement’. We talked our way home. This moved and inspired people everywhere. We meant an alternative to violence. We came to occupy the place marked “democratic success story” in the world’s imaginary. It was a very powerful moral position. We even had a guy in place at the time who was more than up to the challenge of embodying that spirit. Then, like Woods, the mask fell away. Now listen to Wood’s dead father’s voice. He’s talking as much to us as his son. He’s looking for answers. That Tiger can so easily stand in for everyone, no matter his race, is moving proof in these divisive times, of the emotive power of non-racialism.
Watch it below (thanks to Hannes below).