Thursday, July 15, 2004

The beaten generation 

Being an occasionally homesick expat, I subscribe to the Telegraph’s daily email news bulletin. This contains links to the obituaries, which frequently catalogue the quiet deaths of some of World War 2’s heroes. These are men who led peaceful lives until they were thrown into the horrors of a war. After acts of, in many cases, incredible bravery, they went back to those peaceful lives. My generation, thank God, was never forced into that position, which leaves me wondering “what if?”. Would I have been able to do those things? Thankfully I’ll never know. It also leaves me with a concern that the people who have direct memories of such horrors are dying off, which makes it more likely that we will find ourselves in that situation again at some point. Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

South Africa has a more recent dramatic past , with the bulk of the protagonists on both sides of the struggle against apartheid still alive. Incidentally, apartheid is pronounced “apart-eight”, not “apart-hide” for people who care about such things. The old giants of the ANC are also dying off: Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki; Mandela is still hard at it, thank God. The old bears of the National Party are also disappearing, as are their values, and anybody who remembers voting for them. The disappearance of the Nats and their attitudes is undoubtedly a good thing: people growing up into an integrated South Africa will simply be denied the opportunities to absorb the prejudices of the past.

The disappearance of the ANC old guard is a bit more of a concern. These are the ones, like Mandela, who spent years thinking through the problems of taking over the country, and all that entailed. The ANC currently has no serious political opposition, so I think there is going to be a tricky stage between the end of the influence of the conservative old timers, and the advent of that credible opposition. If we can avoid slipping into the type of problems faced by the rest of Africa (institutionalised nepotism, vanishing property rights, corruption...) during that period than we’ll be OK. If not, we’re Brazil: beautiful, but ultimately fucked.

Problem number two: one of the most scenarios for a opposition for the ANC is the IFP. What you get then is a Zulu based party, and a Xhosa based one. Tribe instead of skin colour. This makes the best hope for a stable political future an alliance between the communists and the unions. Oh the irony.

Listening to: Steve Earle, Transcendental Blues

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