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Culture, Reality

Lying in State

by Brandon Edmonds / Illustration by Sasan / 14.11.2012

These are chaotic and unhappy thoughts on the state of the nation. Necessarily so as we are lost down the rabbit-hole as a country right now. Stuck in Hamlet temporality: out of joint after truly monstrous deeds have exposed our fragile consensual reality to be a total fucking sham. It would be obscene to finesse coherence when the bodies of the miners are still warm in the ground. Shock and dismay is what we ought to feel before we turn, in fearless solidarity, to the task of organising ways to sidestep this murderous tripartite-alliance. The mine massacre demands no less of us. We must urgently build an encompassing people’s movement free of the reactionary clutches of fake billionaire Struggle Heroes who have hijacked our democracy.

Only we can make for ourselves ‘a better life for all’ – one that honours the sacrifices of those before us and uplifts millions of young South Africans to come. We want a life that honours our skills, respects our needs and fulfils our promise. We have given up so much to be free. Not to enrich a few black insiders or reward white capital (which used the transitional ‘government of national unity’ and BEE to secure its interests and maintain exploitative profit margins up to the present).

We struggled for all of us to live decent lives free of want.

After Marikana, it is clear the fight for freedom is not over. Not by a long shot.

No more leaving it all up to our callously betraying representatives. It is time to march and agitate. To drop the façade of compliance. Ramp up struggles. Live and shop differently. Seek out opportunities to join with others to talk through alternatives. To re-think what it is we want as citizens of this country. To talk about VAT and taxes. About where public money goes? About who consent really serves? Are these corrupt bourgeois nationalists really who we want acting in our name? Have they done anything for anyone besides themselves? Fuck their December Mangaung which the ruling elite hopes will zip up the skinny jeans of consensus and enable ‘business as usual’. It is just a self-serving jamboree for our political Claudius’s, our venal ANC masters, to settle whose snout gets the pick of the trough.

Once again we South Africans live in the cold shadow of illegitimacy. As a Guardian commenter put it: “You can’t shoot your people, in the service of foreign capital, and stay a ruling party in a democracy.” As a long-time activist put it: “The history books are replete with the leadership of bourgeois democratic struggles turning to corruption and brutal dictatorships to enrich themselves. After all, ‘we didn’t struggle to be poor’”. That last quote by Smuts Ngonyama now enters the Notorious Utterance Hall of Shame, alongside BJ Vorster’s response to the slaying of Steve Biko: “Dit laat my koud.” It sums up the heart-breaking betrayal of liberation in a nutshell. Cold-blooded State murder, a veritable ‘war on the poor’, gleeful comprador capitulation to international capital and rampant government plutocracy is the worm-crawling stuffing in the rancid turkey this ruling party has become.

So far the only cultural response to Marikana is by the State that orchestrated the massacre. It has put Mandela on its currency to distract us from its own illegitimacy. Putting Mandela on its currency is tantamount to smearing blood all over that bewildered old man’s face. Not that he doesn’t deserve it. In 1964, Madiba outlined the limited horizon of his political vision: “The ANC has never advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it ever condemned capitalist society.” How fitting then that his legacy now includes an undead incarnation as cash. As founding socialist Georg Simmel puts it in “The Philosophy of Money”: “the development of money is a striving towards the ideal of a pure symbol of economic value – which is never attained.” The development of the global Mandela brand is a striving towards a pure symbol of humanist values which he never, in life, attained. He was a man locked away unjustly for a very long time and a president who sold us a dream of belonging while our assets were stripped.

Now, instead of having to go see Mao or Lenin lying in state, as the Russians and Chinese must, we can look upon our own everlasting Political Saint by simply opening our wallets. Of course, opening our wallets is the only recurring gesture the ANC’s neo-liberal policies demand from us. Pay for services. Pay for roads. Pay for electricity. Pay for jaunts and trips and that obscene Downton Abbey, Nkandla.

Opening our wallets is what this fractured, non-egalitarian version of freedom means. It is the narrow cash-based version of freedom that reigns throughout the globe. The version the World Bank and IMF peddle. The version most amenable to international financial power. The version that never stops demeaning and short-changing us. The version that kills without mercy when threatened by workers, artists, organisers and journalists. It is up to us to change the record.

Maybe illegitimacy only matters when we experience the violence that urges the accusation of illegitimacy ourselves. That’s a scary thought. It has to be. This is a scary place. Right now this State has placed you on its continuum of permissable death. Who can we get away with killing without jeopardising investment? Who can we murder with impunity? If you are employed and passive, you workout, you dine, you dawdle hours online and charge your iPod, you are safe. For now. But nothing is neutral in this country. Illegitimacy implicates everyone. Inequality squirts blood all over our faces. Our joys, orgasms, highs and lows, our choices, wants and needs, are implicated by Marikana. Intimately implicated everytime we spend our new Randelas and pretend the murders on that hill in the Platinum belt never happened. This new currency is a form of lying in state, a way both to preserve a man who means a lot to us, while lying as a State that things are normal.

Last word goes to independent community-activist, Ayanda Kota: “We are our own liberators. We must organize outside the ANC. We must face the realities of the situation courageously. Many more of us will be jailed and killed in the years to come. What they have done can never be forgotten nor forgiven.”

Aluta continua, motherfuckers.

*Illustration © Sasan.

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