Wednesday, 1 July 2009

A high heel in the right place can change the world...

An interesting piece on the legacy of the Stonewall Riots by Johann Hari .

What annoys me is this line, about Jacob Zuma , the current South African president (incidentally, you'll note Zuma is bald - I've got Withnail and I on in the background here and, at the exact point when I set up the link to Zuma's picture, Danny the Dealer was holding forth on the uptightness of bald men): 'Jacob Zuma...brags about beating up gay men in his youth.'

I have to say here: I hate Jacob Zuma. He has been accused of corruption. He has been charged with rape. Now, out of his own liar's mouth, he boasts of the fact that, if a gay man stood in front of him, he would 'knock him out' ( I suppose we have to credit Zuma with this, that unlike many other homophobes, he doesn't suggest that this putative homosexual would be behind him...). The man is a thug. A smug, grinning political operator who knows he's positioned himself to be irremovable, no matter how vile his conduct or opinions. How does he get away with this?

Because South Africa is essentially a one-party state. The ANC went, in the blink of an eye, from being a Marxist revolutionary party to being handmaidens for capital in seconds flat, like New Labour on crystal meth. Like New Labour, they're obsessed only with power. As Zuma proves, the 'revolutionary' party he heads doesn't even dislike the Afrikaaners - the people who oppressed South Africa in the first place.

I don't propose to go into a detailed account of the ANC's failure in South Africa here. For that, I would point the reader in the direction of John Pilger's excellent book, Freedom Next Time , which contains a fine essay on the ease with which the ANC has adapted itself to the country's predominantly white cultural elite.

I celebrated when Mandela was released from prison. But his successors, first Thabo Mbeki and now the vile Zuma have been an insult to Mandela and the global struggle to release him: not least because their policies have been disproportionately harsh to the country's black population. Did Mbeki feel that rich whites, eminently able to afford the AIDS medication the country's government denied a wider public, would not take the medicine he decried as a poisonous western conspiracy from which he had to protect his fellow indigenous South Africans? Does Zuma believe that it is white homosexuals who will be most inconvenienced by his homophobic attitudes? I doubt it. And even if they did believe it, it would make no difference - it's the AIDS victims and gay people (and I do not mean to conflate those groups) in the townships who will suffer from this cynical populism.

The problem of South Africa is that it is not yet a true democracy. Because of the country's shameful prior government, there is as yet no credible opposition to the ANC. There is some hope, in groups like the Democratic Alliance and the Congress of the People , but at present the ANC are unstoppable, and the country's politics have inevitably been corrupted by this untrammelled power. Perhaps, in the end, someone like Zuma coming along is a good thing: with any luck his behaviour will revolt enough of the electorate that another party could take power, and South Africa could experience truly democratic politics, in all its compromise and inefficiency and shambling freedom, for the first time in its existence. It would, inevitably, be a disappointment, but it would at least be a start.

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