The UKZN Griot. Of Democracy and Losing
Keyan G Tomaselli*
South Africa becomes more Monty Pythonesque every day. When the Springboks recently lost to Japan, the sports scribes complained about the faulty game plan and player fatigue. But the politicians’ characteristic riposte was to demand the selection of more Black players. The zany logic seems to be, if we are going to lose, then we might as well lose ‘democratically’, i.e., via racially representative sides selected by a political committee that knows nothing about sport. Bafana Bafana’s dismal record has revealed that racial equity is not needed to lose consistently. We lose because we have become a loser nation. Losing, pretending failure, is now part of our post-apartheid victimological DNA.
In the 1990s we were a winning nation. We won democracy, we won the hearts of the world, we won the Rugby World Cup, and we won (with a bit of hanky panky) the 2010 Soccer World Cup bid, even as Bafana failed. We won our dignity, restored freedom of speech, and debated comprehensive visions and missions. This was a heady time. We were all involved, and worked for the ‘dream of democracy’, non-racialism and inclusion.
The post-liberation state generated Africa’s leading economy. We have a welfare system bar none for an emerging economy, and an economy that has re-built itself from negative growth and infrastructural decay. Despite chronic under-funding of universities, we have five in the top 500 in the world and millions of students who want education.
Yet the prevailing myth is that ‘nothing has changed’.
Let’s not forget what we have achieved since 1994. The gains in economic growth,significantly increased graduate throughput and undergraduate massification were effected through hard, visionary work, not endless demands for instrumentalist racial substitution as the key principle for cosmetic transformation that forgets deeper humanistic issues.
To transform rugby SARU started with intergenerational development at school level, not with scorecards so beloved by politicians. Success has to be earned – just as was liberation that took over a century to effect. Having liberated ourselves, now we imprison ourselves in short-term thinking and opportunistic discourses of entitlement – we want but we don’t want to work for what we think liberation owes us. We destroy what we build and rebuild what has been destroyed – all in the name of transformation.
Once wealth is destroyed there is nothing left. While I have no truck with overpaid captains of industry, I was struck when the managing director of a supermarket chain was asked in a press interview what would he do if given R5 000. His response was instructive, ‘I’d invest it’. Here is a billionaire who will invest this paltry sum because he understands the value of money, and how savings and investment are the bases of personal and national wealth creation. Those who do not have wealth often want to spend (or destroy) what they do have.
The similarities with apartheid become more evident every day. As one of my hashtag savvy correspondents observes, ‘My perception is that a “born-free” generation has spawned a faction of Black students whose extreme racial views baffle former Black activists who fought for non-racialism’. The #transformation activists claim the former ‘liberal’ institutions are racist and that they remain uncomfortable and marginalised on campus due to ‘structural’ or ‘institutionalised’ racism or a ‘Eurocentric’ outlook and curriculum.
The (exclusively Black) student experience at the Universities of Venda, Limpopo, Zululand, Walter Sisulu where the curriculum often remains Eurocentric, doesn’t attract a # because of their staff profile. At the former institutions, students are predominantly middle class, while at the rural campuses they are mainly lumpenprolateriat. Is it any wonder, then, that the eminent French critical scholar, Manuel Castells, remarking on ‘transformation’, wryly observed that ‘transformation’ is a word that South Africans use when they stop thinking and start making social conversation over a glass of wine. Are the whiners the wine drinkers - characters in a Monty Python satire?
Does transformation hinge on claiming that a pre-given White racist institutional culture exists and that Blacks must necessarily hail themselves as perpetual victims?
In which case, ‘transformation’ can never be completed. Has Verwoerd been proven right and Paolo Freire wrong? God forbid.
· Keyan G Tomaselli is a Wits graduate, a UKZN Professor Emeritus, and works at the University of Johannesburg. He can be transformed at Keyant@uj.ac.zaDisclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the author’s own.