Neo Liberalism: An Enemy of Black Power in Africa?

There are quite a number of definitions of what neo liberalism really means. Since German scholar Alexander Rustow coined the term in 1938, it has had a number of different definitions through the years until now. Broadly speaking, neoliberalism incorporates policies such as the elimination of price controls, a deregulating of capital markets, privatisation, a considerable reduction in state influence and control on the economy, etc. This means that protagonists of neoliberalism will usually push an agenda where the market is free to do what it likes without any state intervention. And more often than not, neoliberalism and capitalism are inseperable. Some scholars have even suggested that neoliberalism is ‘hyper capitalism’.

In South Africa, it is interesting to note that protagonists of neoliberalism are mostly white people who, ironically enough, are generational beneficiaries of state control during Apartheid and the colonial period. It is no secret that the Apartheid government in South Africa intervened to make sure that white people prospered and black people barely even participated in the economy. There are some white owned multinationals that exist today, that were actively assisted by the Apartheid state. Yet when the democratic government introduces policies such as BEE and EE, policies necessitated by the fact that black people were deliberately prohibited from participating in the mainstream economy, the same people call it reverse racism and too much state intervention. But, is neoliberalism really the answer to the problems of Africa? Or is it just a hedge that shields white supremacy and provides a barrier to the accumulation of black power?

Many antagonists of neoliberalism prefer a socialist flavour to policies, especially in Africa where we are dealing with a mass base of people, black people and Africans, who are previously oppressed and were deliberately banned from accumulating wealth. Africans have been living a life of legislated regression and deterioration for centuries. Indeed, I am one of the antagonists of neoliberalism.

Such antagonism is met with fierce critique of any thought patterns with socialist propensity. Everyday we hear about the failures of socialist states and policies. to protagonists of neoliberalism, one failed socialist state is a failure of all socialism. Conveniently, no one mentions the failures of neo liberalism in the world.

Scholars agree that the Great Depression of the 1930s, which brought about high unemployment and extensive poverty, was as a result of economic liberalism. Intellectuals were organised in Paris in 1938 to renew liberalism. Among them were Louis Rouger, Walter Lippmann, Friedrich von Hayek, and Alexander Rustow. While they agreed on the failure of liberalism, they did not move away from it. Instead, they proposed a ‘new kind of liberalism’. Interestingly, when we analyse failed socialist states, we never propose a ‘new kind of socialism’. We rubbish socialism in its entirety.

Post World War II, Chile embarked on neoliberal reforms, led by a group of students that were exposed to Friedman, Arnold Harberger, and Hayek. These included privatisation, deregulation, and a reduction in the role of the state. The policies resulted in widened inequality, a negative impact on wages and working conditions of Chile’s working class. Germany, while embracing neoliberalism, insisted on placing humanistic and social values on par with economic prosperity. They aimed for both market economy and social justice. Protagonists of neoliberalism were outraged, calling this ‘inconsistent aims’.

David Harvey described neoliberalism as a class project designed to impose class on society through liberalism. David M Kotz informed that neoliberalism is “based on the thorough domination of labour by capital”. Sociologist Loic Wacquant argued that neoliberal policy for dealing with social instability among economically marginalised populations following the retrenchment of the social welfare state and rise of the punitive workforce, privatisation of public functions, decrease in collective working class protection via deregulation, rise of underpaid labour is the criminalisation of poverty and mass incarceration in the USA”. And that “by contrast, it is extremely lenient in dealing with those in the upper echelons of society, particularly when it comes to the economic crimes of the priviledged class”.

Neo liberalism promotes, consciously or sub consciously (I believe the former), exploitation and social injustice. It increases inequality, which, in South Africa, is racial. It promotes self over social collective.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the most influential proponent of neoliberalism for over five decades, has also admitted the failures of neoliberalism in its article titled Neoliberalism: Oversold?.  In this article, the IMF concedes that instead of delivering growth, some neoliberal policies have increased inequality.

Also, neoliberal economics have a negative distributional effect. In a country like South Africa that has a mass base of people that still have to ‘catch up’ economically, and a white and elite minority that enjoys a bulk of the wealth unjustly, the playing field will never be level if we continue to insist on the current neoliberal capitalist agenda.

Furthermore, in South Africa, where deregulation still exists to an extent, the private sector refuses to transform and transfer skills and wealth despite the albeit weak regulation system we have. I do not want to imagine the fate of the poor and working class in a completely deregulated South Africa.

Maybe it is time people rethink liberalism. Our right to self determination is at stake.

Linda Sidumo is a BCom graduate, a public servant, and chairperson of the Education Access Campaign (www.educationaccesscampaign.org). Views expressed are strictly his views and do not represent the views of any organisation or group of persons.

 

Much Ado About Land: Identity and Prosperity

“The land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it is the only thing that lasts.” – Margaret Mitchell in her 1939 book Gone With The Wind.

I will say nothing of Mitchell’s words, they speak for themselves. As I write this I am listening to three black women singing a song that is more of a statement than a song. But such is music. I came across this beautiful musical statement on social media, and it sings a statement that says, to singalong, “Basithatha phi isibind’esingaka? Sokuthath’iAfrika bayenze eyabo!”. From whence do they get such a liver? To take Africa and make it theirs! Many things bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I am a cry baby. And this song is one of those things. It not only reminds us that our Afrika is no longer ours, but also it is a call for us to muster the courage to take back what is ours, what was taken from us.

It has been 103 years since the notorious 1913 Native land Act, and 364 years since white settlers, led by Jan van Riebeeck, came to the shores of The Cape. These incidents of history are pre eminent and paramount to black poverty in South Africa, and also to the understanding of why things are as they are. The arrival of Dutch settlers in the cape was the genesis of a black genocide that was to last centuries. The first thing the Dutch settlers took from the indigenous people was their land, and then proceeded with their livestock; their identity, and then proceeded with their prosperity.

The 1913 Land Act further dispossessed Africans of their land by putting into law explicitly what had already been started by the violent and armed land invasions and frontier wars.

So, essentially, the bone of contention between the indigenous peoples and the colonial settlers was the land. That was what our revolution was all about: the land. The fights for rights to vote, franchise, and social inclusivity, etcetera, were ramifications of the fight for what was taken from us. Whites did not come here and take votes. they came, they saw the land, and it is the land that they took.

They took it because they knew that an oppressor oppresses more effectively when he separates the oppressed from their identity. The identity of the African is intrinsically linked to the land. It is in the land that the African buries their ancestor; it is in the land that the African builds iintlanti, the kraal, a place that is extremely sacred in African culture; it is from the land that we get sustenance; it is on top of the land’s surface that we build our shelter; it is land that provides sustenance for our livestock, which were also taken; and to contextualise the importance of land in modern economic terms, land is the only thing that appreciates in value, regardless and irrespective of whether it produces or not. In that light, one cannot deny the nexus between land and liberty.

They took the identity and the prosperity of the African.

Somewhere along the line, we have forgotten that our forefathers, our revolutionaries, died fighting for the return of our land. We have become overly preoccupied with the politics of franchise and voting that we have forgotten that our identity is not complete and our prosperity is perpetually halted.

There are those whites that attempt to absolve white theft of the land by suggesting that they won the land legitimately through warfare. That is a historical lie and it is ridiculous. Firstly, there was no warfare, there was genocide. Secondly, to suggest that is like saying a man who rapes a woman won the woman’s vagina legitimately through the physical violence that takes place when one person rapes another. I will not even mention the arrogance that comes with two groups of European nations, the British and the Dutch, fighting over what is not theirs in the first place.

There is another argument which suggests that the Nguni were not from what is now known as South Africa in the first place. Oh really? Then why did THEY call us the natives? Secondly, it is a matter of the internal geopolitics of Africa whether or not we originated from South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, or East Africa. It is not for any outsider to come and claim moral, political, and social authority and dispossess each and every African in sight. The only people with any authority to decide matters of African geopolitics are Africans themselves. After all, no African has ever even featured in the decisions about matters of European geopolitics.

It is both a travesty and an offensive injustice that the land in South Africa still belongs to the descendants of those who disposed our ancestors in post colonial South Africa. These descendants being a minority, we have a situation where the majority, who happen to be the indigenous people of this land, are congested in small pieces of land where they build shacks so close to one another that when one shack burns, all of them burn.

We must start to realise that the land is not only given by our fathers, but also borrowed from our children. By allowing the status quo to go on, we are stealing from our children.

Basithatha phi isibindi esingaka, sokuthatha iAfrika bayenze eyabo? Thina sisithatha phi isibindi esingaka, sokuba umhlaba wabantwana bethu?

Linda Sidumo is a BCom graduate, a public servant, and chairperson of the Education Access Campaign NPO. Views expressed are strictly his own and do not represent the views of any organisation or group of people.