The Daily Maverick’s publication of Ismail Lagardien’s defence of the ANC exposes a long held suspicion that they are running short of people who can coherently and qualitatively defend the ANC. Lagardien’s input built itself on alarmism, baseless sensationalism and character assassination resembling tabloid intellectualism. He displayed that type of engagement which does not do the hard work of fact-finding and presenting arguments in their best and highest quality. Like tabloid papers, tabloid intellectuals are after sensationalism – “thin” inputs that present complex issues in a simplistic manner in a desperate act for populism.
His central point is that of all political parties, the ANC is the only option South Africa has. To arrive at this, Lagardien uses three points. One is that the ANC has done a great work of holding the country together from the ethnic disintegration that has characterised many post-colonial states. He argues that “the ANC’s greatest achievement is that they have managed to keep the country together for the first 20 years after the end of apartheid. In this respect, notably under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, the ANC has avoided the ethno-linguistic fractionalisation (ELF) that beset so many former colonial territories after independence.”
However, it is doubtful if this is a timely test because in terms of the national question, can we truly say South Africa is post-colonial? Ethnic cohesion in South Africa must be assessed, firstly, in light of the reality that there is a significantly large white settler (former colonisers) community which still lives in South Africa. In fact, there is no country in the world where a black government presides over a significantly large white settler community (4,5 million – 8%) as we have in South Africa. This population, however, remains largely in majority ownership and control of the economy as they did in colonial times.
Secondly, we ought to interrogate what the significance of black unity (ethnic social cohesion) is. We know that ethnic social cohesion can also serve to mask colonial patterns of ownership and control. So, what good is in celebrating that slaves are not killing each other, if their social cohesion is for the advancement of the master? It is not about the fact that there is social cohesion amongst blacks, rather, it is to what benefit is this cohesion. It should be to the benefit of decolonisation, not to mask it or put the slaves to sleep.
Already in our case the story of social cohesion must consider the fact that there has already been two episodes of mass anti-black xenophobia. Here black South Africans unleashed terrible violence against other black foreign nationals. Therefore, it might be too early to claim victory over the ethnic cohesion question; after the elimination of the African foreigner, whose next? Above all, the ethic unity must be to the advancement of the decolonisation of black lives and the renewal of human relations in general.
A deeper consideration of our situation is that the test of South Africa must deal with the idea of “reconciliation”. When we speak reconciliation we do not refer to reconciling blacks with blacks, but blacks with whites. As we all know, the state has given this project the name of non-racialism; building a country where the colour of one’s skin does not determine their social status.
One of the significant comparative cases to consider when thinking of the idea of reconciliation is Zimbabwe. Post-independence, the Zimbabwean black government also presided over a significant white settler community, and after just over 20 years since post-independence, we saw the collapse of social cohesion along racial lines. This example teaches us that the disintegration begins after 20 years or so, and it is based on the land question which, in Zimbabwe was not restored to the indigenous people. White people continued to enjoy privilege as they did under colonisation, whilst majority of black people suffered in homelessness, landlessness, living like foreigners in the country of their birth.
Thus far, the non-racial project has failed in the hands of the ANC. In fact, much of the facts suggest that South Africa is now just a big bandstand country where one black government manages the lives of blacks in the interest of the economic advancement and maintenance of the white community. We know that each day social cohesion in our country hangs on a thread because all the ANC has ever done is manage an economy that solely belongs, benefits and advances the white settler communities. The unity of black people or social cohesion amongst them is therefore arguably to the same benefit, and not for itself.
The second pillar of Lagardien’s input is that ANC is the best because “the cadres they have deployed across government, state agencies and private corporations, the nomenklatura of the ruling elite, have gained valuable experience in governance.” This is the point he relies on to also argue that anyone that takes government will be sabotaged by this bureaucratic core of the ANC which is all over the state. This is another sensational streak of Lagardien’s tabloid intellectualism intended to provoke public excitement, at the expense of accuracy.
Here, Lagardien is in fact not arguing anymore. It is actually lazy reasoning because thus far, Lagardien depends on social history and comparison to substantiate his points. Yet, this point is not based on any substance or historic example of change that occurred anywhere in the world. It is a scarecrow existing in his mind, seeking to suffocate people to dream beyond the ANC. It assumes that the ANC is itself coherent and commands monopoly over the bureaucratic core in the country. There are no numbers given or demonstrations of this happening in parts of the country where the ANC has not been in government for over 10 years in municipalities or the Western Cape Province. Lagardien is satisfied to simply assert it without supporting the claim.
It also does not follow that just because the ANC commands the entire bureaucracy of the state means it is the only viable option. This is regardless of whether this bureaucracy is kleptocratic; in essence Lagardien says we must accept an inefficient, kleptocratic and dysfunctional bureaucratic core because it is the only one that exists. For those who seek to make this country a better place to live in we will never accept this proposition. If needs be, we will build bureaucratic cores from scratch and this has happened in many countries before, not the least being ANC itself in 1994. Alternatively, we will have to transform the bureaucratic core from its corrupt ways by insisting on effectively punishing corruption and upholding the rule of law.
Finally, Lagardien then degenerates into insult and character assassination of opposition leaders to save his drowning tabloid intellectualism. He says “Malema and Shivambu have significant shortcomings. They display rather dangerous lapses in logic and coherence, and have personalities best suited for a barroom brawl, and not for leading a state as sophisticated, advanced, and as functionally integrated into the global economy as South Africa.”
On this basis, he argues, the only viable option is the ANC.
He does not base this on any ideas of the EFF Founding Manifesto or policies, or pronouncements in Parliament, just insults. Yet Lagardien wants us to believe him, take him to be sophisticated, advances and informed by a globally connected perspective. However, the only thing we deduce is an advanced and unsophisticated slanderous tabloid intellectual. Many white supremacists and reactionary intellectuals used to oppose the liberation movement’s demands for democratisation of South Africa on the basis that “blacks” will not be able to run sophisticated modern institutions. At the heart of colonial anti-black racism was precisely the idea that blacks have no capacity to manage modern civilisation, thus they must be excluded from the franchise. Above all, they would say exiles and prisoners who spent 27 years in jail could not possibly know how to manage a thing as complex as South Africa’s economy, which is so globally connected.
In anyway, if the last 20 years of ANC rule, which Lagardien says is the best, are anything to go by, we know for a fact that its policies have been inconsistent, incoherent and based on misdiagnosis of challenges that confront our people. For instance, over the years, the ANC policies on basic education have been inconsistent and incoherent leading to the exacerbation of the dysfunctional nature of the whole education system. The neoliberal macroeconomic policies of the ANC have promised quality sustainable jobs, yet they have failed to lead to industrial expansion and quality jobs. Under the ANC the economy never transformed to benefit all who participate in it and it is increasingly being rejected by global market forces because of the unpredictable nature of President Jacob Zuma. One never knows what is next with Zuma and the ANC collective has lost control of him, and what he says. After the ways in which the finance minster was changed, we can only imagine how many more similar decisions Zuma is taking whose effect we will only feel decades after he’s gone.
Of fundamental significance is that the ANC is infested with corruption. All grouping amongst them that are corrupt. Some depend on looting the state like Zuma. Others on selling their black skins to allow white monopoly capitalism to loot the country’s resources, like Cyril Ramaphosa. At all levels, it is a race to get rich quick through different forms of looting the nation. The looters promote each other, reproduce each other and anyone different gets marginalised. Then, many who are upright remain silent and thus they too are complicit in the rampant corruption that characterises the ANC at all levels.
Therefore, the starting point for rethinking change in South Africa is to look beyond the ANC. It has reached a ceiling, it cannot grow beyond where it is, both ideologically and policy wise. If colonial rule and slavery could fall, why not the ANC? If liberation movements in Nigeria, Zambia, Kenya could be voted out and we see life moving on, why not the ANC?
Lagardien suffers from a paralysing pathology many intellectuals linked to the ANC have and that is to think that the ANC is indispensable. They go around proving to themselves that nothing can happen without the ANC. Each day, instead of creatively finding solutions for what confronts the country, they preach indispensability. They rely on creating scarecrows like colonialists did when they instilled the idea that without them all will fall apart back to barbarism. Yet, they were actually at the centre of taking the country down, brick by brick.
There are no more dangerous people than Lagardien, whose work is about closing the future down and proclaiming stagnation. It is the essence of oppressive and reactionary thinking; revolutionary intellectuals agitate people to realise that it is not the end, a different future can always be imagined! The idea of freedom is precisely about the refusal to accept that our oppression is final, that we cannot think, imagine and birth a new future!
Lagardien’s logic is also responsible for the “no-retreat on corruption” attitude that informs many in the ANC. They think nothing will ever happen to them because they are indispensable. They have grown arrogant and have no respect for democracy and the people’s popular mandate because they think they will always be voted into power.
Furthermore, they are trapped in the past image of themselves; thinking they are the liberator. But daily, the ANC is bastardising the lives of black people, including unleashing mass death on black workers, as we saw in Marikana. ANC also lacks courage to challenge the white dominated economic statuesque and slaves daily to advance its interest. It is deeply entangled in corruption; they live to protects, breed, award and promote corruption.
To reimagine the socio-economic degradation of black people, this is the inevitable starting point; the #ANCMustFall! No amount of Tabloid Intellectual verbosity as seen in Lagardien’s writings will ever stop this from happening: the #ANCWillFall! We guarantee this! It is our generational mission, and with it all the colonial legacies, from statues and apartheid symbols to the racist economic power relations, will fall. DM