Wednesday 25 December 2013

A tale of two demises

It's a bit in the past now, but since the year is not finished yet, not quite too late.
So, 2013 will have seen the death of two major international political figures, one at each end of the year. Indeed, Nelson Mandela (and I doubt that many will have begrudged him that) outlived by 8 months the 7 years younger woman who had called him a terrorist, although it's actually her spokesman who added that whoever thought the ANC could lead South Africa lived "in cloud-cuckoo land".

Well, we apparently all do since, actually, the ANC has led RSA for a number of years. However, when I look up the definition of cloud-cuckoo land (a saying that Thatcher was somewhat fond of -she used it to slam the idea that the UK may join in a currency union), it is reported as "an unrealistically idealistic state where everything is perfect."

Actually, that makes it a very odd way to dismiss any suggestion to a policy you don't want to implement. If people who think you will do something are living in an unrealistically idealistic state, then it logically follows that the policy should be implemented, but that you won't do it, presumably because you're a cynical power-crazed maniac or something. It's not clear either how it could be unrealistically idealistic to suggest that RSA be led by a terrorist, but I digress.

Anyway, what seems clear is that RSA is not an impossibly idealistic state where everything is perfect. The level of inequality is shocking -it's just that it's now more economic than legal. So, was the ANC indeed totally unable to lead the country, and should we have kept the statu quo?

Well, for the latter, obviously no. But for the former, it is likely that not only could they have led the country, much of the continuing problems came because they were actually not really allowed to do so that . What happened was that the ANC had a very sensible and, importantly, popular program. The white power saw that it could not fail to change anything. But it could force the ANC to negociate. And South Africa was used as an implementation of the type of policies you associate to the Shock Doctrine (I don't believe anyone has come up with a better wording than Naomi Klein). 

And so, while the ANC got much of the symbolically important positions, the white power retained the economically critical ones, locked tremendous economics imbalances, and ensured pure-form neo-liberal institutions, such as an independent central bank (which is crazy, when actually independent, even in developed countries, as the EU is experiencing, but is utterly batshit insane in a developing one), sowing the seeds of prolonged dire inequalities -the type of which guarantee social mayhem.

Was Mandela to blame? Well, he had just been imprisoned for 28 years, it would be a bit harsh to ask him to be fully aware of all specificities of modern political economy. Besides, the ANC program was pretty much what was needed (unless, of course, you were a rich white diamond miner or something similar -in that case, you would still have come out immensely on top, but the gap with the general population would have been reduced, and we can't have that can we?). The problems came from what ANC agreed, or was forced, to change.

ANC may have been naive in identifying what you could give up and what you had to demand in a negociation. They may have underestimated their bargaining position -although we shall never know. They may not have felt that they had a real choice. In any case, to the extent that some blame could be aportioned to them, it would be of not having been able to wriggle free from a cynical foe without significant concessions. You may wish that a hostage managed to break free without a ransom, but most people would argue that most of the blame would have to lie with the hostage taker.

So maybe Thatcher's spokesman was right. People who thought that the ANC could manage to avoid all the traps set by those in power, who were very much in Thatcher's political clan (and he would have known, as a member of the club, how ruthless they could be), may have been deluded.

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