‘There is nothing new under the sun.” This is an expression dating back more than 2 000 years to the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. Perhaps we should bear it in mind while so many people continue to speak of the exceptionalism of South Africa.
In the first place, corruption and state capture have been a reality for as long as there have been unequal societies with wealth to steal and states to capture. And it is no different in our modern, supposedly enlightened times, when workers bear the brunt of the pain that serfs and slaves did before them.
This applies around the world, with degrees of difficulty and suffering for growing numbers of working people of every language, complexion and background. Yet not many people seem to be aware of this reality and the history behind it.
South Africans are not unique in this regard. However, a large section of South African society seems to have taken on board, as a form of gospel, the recent propaganda promoted by the discredited and now collapsed Bell Pottinger public relations company.
The myth it peddled was that the poverty, inequality, exploitation and oppression evident around us was all the fault of “white monopoly capital”.
This white monopoly capital is blamed for all the ills in South Africa’s apparently exceptional society.
But we are clearly not exceptional. Poverty, exploitation, homelessness, unemployment and other examples of suffering are global phenomena; they afflict increasing numbers of working people even in the centres of the proclaimed “developed world”.
And parts of this world – the UK and the US in particular – are seen by a vocal group of domestic bigots flying the white monopoly capital banner as the centre of a colour-conscious capitalist conspiracy.
In doing so, they reveal that they are not only ignorant of history, but are also, perhaps wilfully, blind to reality.
This year, in London alone, for example, about 9 000 homeless people sleep on the streets each night. Food banks, soup kitchens and other outlets established to feed the hungry have mushroomed in Europe and the US over the past 10 years.
In other words, there is an unfolding global crisis that has given rise (as such crises tend to do) to greater suffering among the poor majority. It also signals the arrival of all manner of charlatans who prey on the fears and insecurities of millions of people.
Populist demagogues, using the rhetoric of the left or the right, rally support on the basis of language and ethnic and religious differences, often in the name of some spurious “national culture”. And they promise a better life for their followers under such vague slogans as “radical economic transformation” and “make America great again”.
Such slogans merely translate as: put us in charge and you – our followers – will benefit.
All this usually boils down to is the promise of patronage; of jobs, council and parliamentary seats, and positions in government departments, of tenders, tax rebates and hand-outs to cronies. The majority, as always, is left out.
Which is why such demagogues invariably create scapegoat groups – often defined by ethnicity or skin colour – to blame for the failures of a system that benefits them. In this way, they divide the worker majority while invariably allowing the same minority to prosper.
Yet all of this has nothing to do with language, culture, religion or ethnicity. These are merely concepts used and abused to divide the exploited majority. In the final analysis, the only colour capital cares about is the colour of money.
Bell will return in October