The African elite have lost their way

2012-10-13 13:26

Race is no doubt still part of the problem to the extent that there is a struggle between black workers and white-owned mining companies.

What is new, of course, is that the solidarity that existed between the black elite and the workers has all but disappeared.

Writing about the second period in post-colonial societies when a struggle emerges between new political elites and the workers, Frantz Fanon suggests the African elite becomes “bereft of ideas, because it lives for itself and cuts itself off from the people”.

Two stark representations of this estrangement of the black elite from the people are President Jacob’s Zuma’s R200 million-plus Nkandla upgrades, and Cyril Ramaphosa’s R18 million bid for a buffalo.

Both are senior members of a ruling party who at one point spoke on behalf of the people and the workers, but has since lost its moral compass.

Perhaps this would all be bearable if it were not accompanied by a void in the political centre. I began to outline this void in my book, The Democratic Moment.

A new cultural aesthetic has emerged in which youth activists bare their buttocks to opponents, workers brandish weapons as a form of protest and even paintings of penises are part of political discourse.

Union leaders, themselves members of the middle class, are estranged from the workers on whose behalf they traditionally used to speak.

What we are faced with, then, is the spectre of Fanon’s “un-organisable masses”.

They constitute a new public with its own text, its own language and its own cultural aesthetic.

I thought Zuma would be able to bridge the gap between this underclass and the ANC leadership under Mbeki.

I was terribly wrong.

Instead, he has spent most of his time fattening himself and his wives, and building mansions while his people live in pondokkies and have their lives snuffed out in the bellies of the mines.

But it is also about time we stopped blaming just Zuma, for he would not be doing all these things if he did not believe that members of the ANC would re-elect him so he can continue fattening himself.

The real betrayers of our struggle are the ANC members who have the power to change leadership but are held back by the illusion that they too might get a bite at the vetkoek.

The more they fatten themselves, the greater the gulf between them and the “un-organisable masses”.

The more the gulf develops, the more diminished the ANC’s sense of authority gets.

It is becoming a liberation movement whose leadership, as Fanon predicted, spends its time running away from the people.

Thus we are in a place where black politics has never been before, when there is not only an absence of leadership but also an absence of a shared language, let alone any strategic vision.

I may be a minority of one in this view, but I see no strategic vision in the labour struggles that are unfolding.

Any political and economic demands not backed up by a strategic vision may be gratifying in the short term but self-defeating in the long term.

I certainly agree that the mines are like modern-day plantations. But my concerns are of a purely strategic nature.

As Barack Obama once put it: “Power is patient, power could out wait slogans and prayers and candlelight vigils.”

And indeed power will out wait the events on the mines, and hit back, knowing full well that the workers are on their own.

In fact, power will out wait the ANC itself, knowing its leaders are preoccupied with fattening themselves, with no time for engaging the workers on the mines.

The only people organised in this whole situation are the powerful – not the ANC and not the “un-organisable masses”.

Of course, what I say will fall on deaf ears in the heat of the second period of the struggle over post-coloniality.

After all, aren’t I, as Fanon suggested, also a member of the post-colonial middle class?

Yes, but Fanon did not preclude an alliance between the middle classes and the working classes, if only the right kind of leadership could emerge.


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