In 2016, affiliated to the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, I volunteered to be an international monitor for the student protests at the University of Cape Town and Cape Peninsula University of Technology. I specifically chose to monitor these protests because it impeded private security, hired to curtail the student protesters, from acting with impunity.
University Vice Chancellors such as Max Price and Adam Habib used the logic that employing private security instead of bringing in the police or military was a better option because the brutal reminder of our relatively recent apartheid past for these former student protesters of the 1970s and 1980s meant that they were not perpetuating historical injustices. It seems strange then that these former lefties were the same people taking decisions to bring what French philosophers/psychoanalysts Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari called “killing machines” on to campuses — products of the neoliberal military-industrial complex.
Read more in Daily Maverick: #FeesMustFall: UJ’s continuing use of violent private security – a dangerous move in dangerous times
With many deep breaths, I spoke to some of the men hired to “safeguard”’ our campuses about their backgrounds. Many said they had served in the former apartheid defence force and were on contract in the Middle East in countries such as Iraq (see here).
Most of them were hired to protect multinational interests. Some had served as former child soldiers in guerrilla warfare on our continent.
And, all of them were men I would rather not bump into in a dark alleyway at any given time of the day. They were scary. Ideology was not their moral compass. Money was their driver.
In retrospect, what opportunities are there for former soldiers?
Think about our MK veterans and their struggle to find work in a sinking economy. The problem with using violence as a deterrent for peaceful r/evolution is that violence breeds its very own logic of the narcissism of coloniality (an empathy-evacuated control of the natives); violence functions to serve the ma/sters until the ma/sters get displaced by the pigs at the trough.
Think about military coups the world over, for example, Chile in 1973, and the ways the military quelled democratic processes and how military authority once installed is almost impossible to force out; that is because violence has its own economy.
On the other hand, think conscientious objectors and how they are forcing governments to rethink peace.
This brings us to our currently terrifying narcissist, Vladimir Putin.
We all know the adage: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But, not even Putin has absolute power these days because the time of the dictator has passed (remember falling statues such as Saddam Hussein and a smoking hole hiding Muammar Gaddafi — this is not to sidestep the US involvement in unjustified wars).
However, what happened in Russia in the past days is a grim reminder that our world is changing and that we are no longer buying wholesale into the idea of the banality of evil (as popularised by Hannah Arendt). Instead, we have been versed, or so I would like to believe, by the youth on social media, showing us that the climate crisis is urgent. Their strong desire for survival, with extinction looming like a ticking bombing edging us towards Doomsday, heralds a new political climate of consensus over consumption.
Under these conditions, the world, post-pandemic lockdown blues, requires a needed pause and a shift in consciousness because the time for narcissists is rapidly ending. Our new tool is conversation; “use your words”, the popular playground mantra chanted by caregivers to stop biting and fighting, is a lingua franca requiring us to learn to engage in lifeworlds of permaculture and “vintage” (another fancy name for used clothes).
The consumerism of yesteryear is being replaced with banners of roses, tie-dyed T-shirts and happenings with Pussy Riot and young black activists saying, “Your time, old [white] man is over.”
In this moment of reflection, there is no time for toxic masculinity and, I think, the Yevgeny Prigozhins of this world have figured out that the “dog eat dog” mentality and money from gunrunners is not the way out, albeit the arms race continues unimpeded by the climate crisis.
We cannot keep going on as if this is all normal.
We are in a much more urgent crisis and only the investments from the youth can save us now with their gender non-binary queer love, and their words of decolonisation and climate justice and listening to the Earth. Only they possess the world-view for the future because, as Frantz Fanon reminds us, “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.”
Perhaps, it is our time to step aside and let them take the political rei[g]ns with demands for more peace, love and justice. Maybe the youth can help us prevent this shitshow from blowing us up to pieces. DM
To read all about Daily Maverick’s recent The Gathering: Earth Edition, click here.