Imagining the Measure of “Enough”: Opening a Debate from Below
UKZN Emeritus Professor Gerhard (Gerry) Maré recently presented the 25th Alan Paton Lecture at the Pietermaritzburg campus. In the lecture delivered on 10 May and titled: Imagining the Measure of “Enough”: Opening a Debate from Below, Maré argued for a ‘freedom charter of enough’.
Alan Paton’s and Maré’s politics took separate routes in the eighties. Maré’s was one of opposing the ethnic, and class politics of Mangosuthu Buthelezi and his supporters in Inkatha in the wider politics of the country; while Paton’s was aligned with what Buthelezi represented, in South Africa and internationally, a gradualist, capitalist approach to social change. Maré argues that liberalism is most productively approached through the “ambiguous legacy” a description which was argued for by Steven Friedman in 2014, where the value lies in that ‘care for our fellow citizens’, is so often absent from political policy.
During his lecture Maré invited the guests to join him ‘on a brief journey, one that has thrown him into yet another confrontation within this wonderful and disastrous country we live in, located in a world that humans are destroying at a phenomenal and, by most measures, unstoppable rate’. Maré’s focus is on the immediate reality of local and global inequality.
He argued that there are multiple obstacles to tackling inequality, and environmental change – they relate to the responsibilities of an inclusive citizenship. Maré stated that firstly, ‘modern capitalism is driven by production for individualised consumption, and not for human need’, and secondly, ‘our embedded ways of thinking is shaped by those in power.’ In his lecture, Maré said ‘inequality and climate change have become unexamined ways of living: inequality is there and sets desirable goals for those with power while those at the bottom live with protest against poverty and its immediate consequences’.
In conclusion, Maré argues that ‘it is only through others that we find our individuality, and it is only through others that we come to appreciate the meaning of values and the value of meaning.’ He claims that ‘our responsibility to this amazing planet is to reject the meanings that the powerful create for us’.
‘I do not have answers to the world in which I am lost – except that answers lie in facing the world in its complexity, striving towards understanding, establishing some form of moral compass, also enjoying that state of curiosity without doing harm,’ he said.
Maré taught at the University of Natal Durban and UKZN from 1984 until 2012, where he chaired Sociology, and was Director of the Centres for Industrial and Labour Studies and later of Critical Research on Race and Identity. He has published books on forced removals, ethnic political mobilisation, and race and racialism – the most recent being Declassified: moving beyond the dead end of race in South Africa. His extensive collections of documents and materials on the topics of his primary research have been lodged at the archives of the Alan Paton Centre and Struggle Archives since its founding. He is currently a fellow at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study.
Words: Nazim Gani