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Israel has long been compared to apartheid SA, and Gaza is now being referred to as the world’s largest “open-air prison”. The next logical step is to compare Hamas’ geopolitics to that of the ANC. 

Gaza’s horrific youth unemployment statistics are interchangeable with those of only one country that is not recognised as a failed state — SA. Of the black South Africans who have left school in the past several years, nearly three out of four who want to be employed are not. Economic forecasts indicate that this is set to worsen still further. Gazan youths are similarly “imprisoned”.

It is grossly unjust that so many in both jurisdictions turn 30 without having been employed. While everyone should want both groups to have access to up-ramps, such sentiments overlook seemingly separate, yet dangerously meshed, agendas.

In healthy economies approaching 30 without having been employed is sufficiently rare to be rectifiable. As counterparts in countries with exceptionally high youth unemployment are, almost invariably, condemned to lifelong immiseration, they become susceptible to being radicalised in ways that suit repression-inclined governments. 

Meanwhile, in many affluent democracies the ultraprogressives prominent among university and media elites aid Hamas and the ANC by nurturing antagonistic “white-privilege” narratives. Solutions-focused discussions are gagged by such indoctrination, while disparate interests among groups are depicted within oppressor-versus-oppressed framing. But what stoked the “culture wars”, and how do they spur destitution and real wars?

The first Cold War’s conclusion seemed to settle that era’s core ideological disputes, particularly about economics. But it is not as if Marxists-Leninists quickly became fervent capitalists. Nearly concurrently, the internet emerged and soon forced news reporting to compete more directly with entertainment choices. Whereas business publication customers continued to prioritise accuracy and objectivity, revenue pressures led to many mainstream media houses catering to increasingly partisan audiences.

Prioritise judging

As journalism became more factionalised, universities advanced Marxist constructions about conflict and oppression while swapping identity politics for Marx’s emphasis on class. Postcolonial studies unpacked pro-Western biases, leading to a prioritising of diversity, inclusion and equity over studying what “dead white men” had written or accomplished.

Widespread prodding of students and media audiences to prioritise judging was widely accepted, as judging is far easier than seeking knowledge or understanding. This also benefited media outlets, as tantalising consumers with judging options induces ongoing cravings.

People gravitated towards left-leaning or right-leaning news sources, which encourage judging outsiders in ways that validate their partisan beliefs. Thus, as the Cold War era debates gave way to identity politics, facts and fixing were degraded. 

The current progressive knowledge merchants, especially university and media elites, have grabbed much power through routinely shaping issues while frequently stifling debate. Their unnecessarily divisive lauding of underachieving groups, for their enduring past and present forms of oppression, halts cohesion and solutions.

Hamas’ savage attacks on Israeli civilians showcased how dismissive many elites can be towards fundamentals. Whereas average people instinctively understand deterrence as a means of self-defence, the way many intellectuals ignore its importance exemplifies how framing issues in an oppressor-versus-oppressed context fosters mental obstructions.

Mutually assured destruction has deterred the use of nuclear weapons for many decades. A similar logic was expected to deter Hamas from launching a broad attack against Israel. For such deterrence to be effective, the threat of severe reprisals must be assured. Counterarguments that prioritise protecting civilians, whether Palestinians, Israelis or both, are credible; those that instinctively blame Israelis because they are more affluent or Jewish, are not.

Easily appreciated

Media and academic elites depicting reprisals purely as vengeance, not part of deterrence, reflects how progressive intellectuals favour judging over understanding. Progress in troubled lands requires much understanding and humility to advance workable compromises — which will invariably include serious flaws.

While deterrence is a concept easily appreciated by, say, a typical construction worker, it is seemingly incomprehensible for professors of diversity, inclusion and equity studies. Such professors tend to be no more solution focused than SA’s governing party. The stock-in-trade of both groups is making value judgments.

National leaders who oppose the West’s embrace of leaders being held accountable to citizens, and a rules-based global order, don’t offer a compelling alternative. Authoritarian regimes in Russia, China and Iran seek regional, if not global, hegemony while denying their citizens basic freedoms and rights. The national leaders who support them want to avoid being held accountable while ruling in perpetuity — or “until Jesus returns”. 

The Brics bloc and Global South are loosely defined alignments about nebulous notions of multipolarity. Dominated by China, with Russia and Iran doing much of the dirty work, their leaders are united by a zest for authoritarianism. As this offers little appeal to the billions of people who aren’t ruling elites, they promote multipolarity while seeking to market themselves as patrons of peoples sidelined by Western powers. 

Thus, the plight of Palestinians is valuable to Hamas and the Iranian regime, and poverty can increase the otherwise modest geopolitical clout of African leaders, particularly to China’s and Russia’s anti-Western rulers. Yet 21st century upliftment is dominated by adding value within supply chains serving Western countries with bountiful spending power and tight labour markets.

Identity politics

The two regions most in need of reducing overreliance on commodity exporting and needing to tackle youth unemployment are Africa and the Middle East. Some countries in both regions have been transitioning accordingly. This has recently included expanding commercial and diplomatic relations with the most economically advanced country in these adjacent regions, Israel.

Instead, patronage-focused governing parties such as Hamas and the ANC aggressively exploit identity politics through policies and practices that entrench obscene levels of youth unemployment — scars that will endure for generations.

The ANC admires Hamas’ ability to maintain control without having had elections since 2006. Among the reasons the ANC can’t expect to be nationally competitive in 2029 is that it seems likely to lose Gauteng and perhaps KwaZulu-Natal next year, while remaining uncompetitive in the Western Cape. Its support base could be as economically fraught and isolated as Gaza’s. 

The only way the ANC provoking enormous youth unemployment while aligning with anti-Western powers makes sense is if its leaders plan to subvert legitimate elections in 2029. Yet that path keeps getting dicier.

By stoking a new Cold War autocratic leaders sap employment possibilities in societies as diverse as Russia, Iran and China. While nowhere are youthful ambitions being devastated more thoroughly than in Gaza, SA is a strong contender for second place.

• Hagedorn is an independent strategy adviser.

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