Defend Truth


We are not alone: The whole world’s a mess right now


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Our parochial views about our country will lead to our collective depression. But it is time we took a more global perspective, and realise that there are crises everywhere.

Reading Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons For The 21st Century, I was struck with his analogy about the three stories – he rightfully informs us that there had been three dominant stories throughout our recent history that have guided us in part. The story of fascism, communism and liberalism.

Fascism, he concludes, was defeated during World War II, in 1945, while communism collapsed with the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. Which then left humanity with the one remaining story and the triumphalism of liberalism. However, since the 2008 global financial crisis whereby national governments had to literally bail out corporations and banks, much like a communist-style intervention, it spelled a perpetual crisis for liberalism as well. Hence, there remains no story at this point in our history. No fascism, no communism and arguably, no liberalism too. Which creates what, globally – disillusionment?

The perpetual disillusionment of South Africans with regards to the economy and the slow pace with which President Cyril Ramaphosa is attempting to fix it is often devoid of such international considerations. The sharp fall of most major countries’ stock exchanges over the last few days is further testament to this deepening crisis in the world.

Coronavirus, oil price fluctuations and a healthy dose of panic globally are all factors towards such difficulties. It was Lord Peter Hain who recently lamented that South Africa should steer clear of having such parochial views about their situation both politically and economically because of the rightwing nationalist governments popping up everywhere – in the USA with Trump, the UK with Boris and Brexit, Brazil, Turkey, India, Ukraine and so many more. We are actually in a much better position, having avoided a continuation of the Zuma years of destructive practices and are now busy rebuilding the integrity of most of our institutions – Parliament, the judiciary and all Chapter Nine institutions as well. Not to mention SARS, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks, our police and our intelligence services.

Yes, the economy is technically experiencing its second recession in only two years, but the truth is, our economy hasn’t really recovered since the global financial crisis of 2008. I am the first to agree with my good friend Duma Gqubule when he says that much more can be done as emergency intervention measures to mitigate the financial crisis and economic stagnation being experienced in SA. The Reserve Bank can do more in terms of stimulating the economy, the central government can take a bold decision to make available a substantial stimulus, as we have observed from the South Korean government. And last but not least, the private sector could also come to the party with regards to local capital infrastructure investments and, by so doing, create much-needed jobs.

As for our political landscape, some state that, taking our political developments and party-political matters into account, it seems inevitable that in the end the ANC is likely to split and Ramaphosa’s faction will coalesce with the liberal Democratic Alliance, while the ANC nationalists align themselves with the EFF. I think we are still far from such an eventuality, but it is good to know that our democracy is well on its way to maturity. The big question though is, which way will organised labour lean, the liberal project or the nationalist one? It does make for very interesting times.

Yes, the political situation in Mzansi does look bleak, what with all our main political parties undergoing some kind of identity crisis. It’s not only the ANC which is experiencing infighting, it’s the DA and the EFF as well. Matters of immigration and its concomitant challenges are also affecting Europe and the Americas very negatively. Consider for a moment, as Harari states, that a deal exists around immigration which consists of three terms. Term one states that all countries must allow immigrants access to their country. Two, that such immigrants must to a large extent assimilate the norms and cultural practices of such countries, and three, that once such assimilation has occurred, such countries must allow equal citizenship to these immigrants. In other words, they become us.

Needless to say, there is a plethora of pro and con arguments for these three terms, but I won’t get into that right now. I merely want to demonstrate the complexity of such immigration matters.

And finally, electricity supply and blackouts are not only a South African phenomenon. Many First World countries regularly experience load shedding and rolling blackouts, so to think that we are so very useless when it comes to this issue as well also does not take cognisance of all these international challenges.

I am not trying to say two wrongs make a right, merely that we must really desperately try not to be so parochial in our outlook. We are not so unique and special as we pretend at times. I know that when we feel so helpless it leads to self-doubt and that is the direct road to depression. Depression is understood as feelings of severe despondency and dejection. It negatively affects how one feels, the way one thinks and how one acts. It causes sadness and/or loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. Let’s not allow our parochial views to set us on such a road.

We are but a microcosm of what the world also experiences. Let’s remember that. DM


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