subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now
ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI
ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI

By a confluence of things that could not have been designed for better effect, ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula succeeded spectacularly last week in advertising the governing party’s increasingly baffling search for meaning.

I had just posted to X a sobering line from Daily Friend colleague Jonathan Katzenellenbogen’s piece of last Wednesday when a neighbouring item caught my eye.

It has earned some attention since, but in case you didn’t see it, the post announced Mbalula’s imminent departure as leader of an ANC delegation “to the forum of supporters of the struggle against modern practices of neocolonialism — for the freedom of nations [in] Moscow, Russia”.

The dissonance in the juxtaposition of “freedom of nations” and the venue was evidently not embarrassing for him. 

From other reporting it emerged that the rationale of this “struggle” is, chiefly, that pushy former colonial powers are “exercising the right of the powerful by other means”.

These included “a system of abusive relationships and ethnocide based, among other things, on credit dependence, illegal sanctions that bypass the UN security council, and the imposition of destructive cultural, religious and educational attitudes instead of traditional values”. 

On the last, it’s amusing that states whose conduct places them on the authoritarian spectrum feel as threatened by some of the admittedly rather loony excesses of wokery as the trembling right does in the West, and probably for much the same reason; an intrinsic distrust of and resistance to letting people choose for themselves how they want to live.

It’s perfectly true, of course, that this choosing, this liberty — the benefits of which most of us take for granted — is not quite as simple, or even as innocent, as it may often seem.

For one thing, it cannot be guaranteed in the absence of a willingness to unsettle complacent unanimity precisely by raising whatever questions may be necessary to test — for argument’s sake — uncomplicated assumptions of paramountcy that might well pervade the head space or the group chats of Western capitals.

But it’s just worthless drivel if all it amounts to — on either side — is slogans and ideological fetishism.

In his foreword to Claire Bisseker’s book, On The Brink: South Africa’s Political and Fiscal Cliff-hanger, scholar and retired judge Dennis Davis wrote of the historical challenge “to move beyond populist slogans and instead debate how to grow the economy significantly, that is to the 4% to 5% GDP growth rates as promised in the National Development Plan — an achievement that would simultaneously provide a truly meaningful economic stake for all 50-million South Africans”.

That was six years ago. On the data, we are now further away from the goal, and it’s certain that wasting time on a “struggle against modern practices of neocolonialism” will only take us further away.

Which is why the line I posted on X from Katzenellenbogen’s piece was especially poignant: “In a long economic crisis,” he observed, “there really is no bottom, as people do find ways to continue, albeit still in hardship. It is not a future that people want for themselves, but governments push their people into this, through failure to change over many years.”

You can try concocting a post-liberation success story — as Cyril Ramaphosa did in his ambling fable at the opening of parliament, and as party sycophants have done in the debate since — but it cannot obscure the unfolding catastrophe, or its origins in the “failure to change over many years”.

In contrast, free, dynamic and successful states will perhaps always seem undeservedly powerful — but mainly to those who stubbornly resist emulating them.

• Morris is head of media at the SA Institute of Race Relations.

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.