City Press Debate – A shameless Obama suck-up

2013-07-07 14:00

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National interest should not supersede our duty of solidarity, writes Jon Hodgson.

Are we blinded by Obama because of “hope and change”? Are we quick to praise him because of his power?

Are we inspired because we want to be, rather than because he’s a hero?

The column by Xolela Mangcu, titled “Obama is no enemy of ours” (City Press, June 30 2013), seems a shameless statement that Mangcu’s sense of national self-interest should supersede our duty of solidarity.

Mangcu writes: “The last time I checked, we do not have a foreign policy dispute?.?.?.?We do not have prisoners in Guantanamo and face no threat of drone strikes.”

Firstly, Mangcu has not learnt Martin Niemoller’s powerful warning: “They came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the socialists/Catholics/Jews. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Secondly, Mangcu denies our shared obligation to protect universal human rights – despite noting that solidarity played a role in the struggle.

Indeed, what we call the struggle here has always been a shared, human struggle for free, flourishing lives.

As Nelson Mandela said, “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”.

Mangcu’s denial of the duty of solidarity seems intended to suck up to Obama as the “best friend” he wants for South Africa.

But at least Mangcu refers to some of the wrongs of Obama, his office and his administration.

To call them what they are, these wrongs are terrible crimes committed under Obama’s control.

They include illegal war and secretive drone assassinations abroad, limitless spying and persecution of whistle-blowers at home, and immoral incarceration and force-feeding at Guantanamo.

Obama has fought for healthcare and against discrimination.

No one expects him to be perfect, but fallibility is no excuse.

We must still distinguish right from wrong. Some claim he is a good man on balance and relegate his wrongs to footnotes.

Others say he is constrained by US politics (which he is), but avoid the great power he wields, especially abroad.

Our universities should not have hosted him – except on condition that he answer to what he has done.

What we saw at the University of Cape Town (UCT) was a rousing reception, charm from Obama, and not a word he didn’t want, as though we were receiving a royal who can do no wrong.

There comes a point, once a powerful person has been heard repeatedly, when we should protect the speaking platform itself as a site of resistance.

Mangcu’s column asserted that local protesters are simply frustrated by South Africa’s minor status. This is patronising.

UCT, my beloved alma mater, hosted Obama – but did not do so in my name. Obama is no hero, but a great speaker guilty of terrible crimes.

Speaking truth to power means telling the truth about the world’s most powerful person.

»?Hodgson served as president of UCT’s 70-year-old development NGO, Shawco Education

Xolela Mangcu may have bought the Obama magic, but some of us have not, writes Buti Manamela.

Xolela Mangcu has lost his moral ­compass (“Obama no enemy of ours”, City Press, June 30 2013).

On why the Young Communist League was misguided to protest against Obama, he writes: “True, Obama has not turned out to be the leader of the free world we wanted. But we would do well to remind ourselves that the man is the president of the US.”

He then asks, “Is it because he is a brother?” in reference to his ill-informed view that no one protested against George W Bush on his visit to our shores (one of my first protests on international issues was when Bush visited South Africa back in 2003).

According to Mangcu, since Guantanamo Bay and other concerns do not affect us directly, we must just shut up and be merry at visits by Obama. The Palestinians, Sahrawi, Afghans and Iranians are on their own while we cut ourselves the best trade and investment deal the US can offer.

Mangcu further suggests that, politically and culturally, we have been closer to the US than any other country, given our struggle against racism (but are Palestinians not fighting racism in their land?). There’s our jazz heritage, literature, fashion and sport (American football, I guess).

Let’s not forget McDonald’s, Burger King, Coca-Cola, KFC, Hollywood or MasterCard, brands the US globalised.

But this is thanks to cultural colonisation and the pursuance of a consumerist ideological culture.

Mangcu’s article is a sympathetic plea for South Africans to behave and not protest because we are embarrassing “a brother”.

How dare President Jacob Zuma even speak of our right (the spoilers) to assemble, associate and protest, instead making us ushers to roll out the red carpet and throw the bouquet for the Obamas.

But Mangcu misses critical points.

Obama’s first political rally was against apartheid and for the release of his hero, Nelson Mandela.

This solidarity action by Obama should enlighten (or remind) Mangcu that the international community joined in on the sanctions against apartheid so as to turn the tide.

We owe the oppressed world the same courtesy.

If Americans, Cubans, Palestinians, Russians, Brits and the whole world kept their silence and said, as Tracy Chapman sang in Behind The Wall, that they “can’t interfere with domestic affairs”, Mandela might still be in jail. Was it not Madiba who said “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”? President Zuma repeated the same line to Obama at the Union Buildings.

Said a sheikh at the anti-Obama protest: “For us, Mr Obama is welcome in South Africa, but the president of the US is not.”

Unlike Mangcu, we are not made excitable by the fact that Obama is black and thus the first of our kind to occupy the Oval Office, nor by his turns of phrase and mesmerising oratory.

»?Manamela is national secretary of the Young Communist League of SA

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