Raymond Suttner, Response to comments on my article in the Mail and Guardian of 27 September 2013

I recently published an article analysing the degeneration of the ANC led tripartite alliance. I have written such critiques periodically since the time of the Zuma rape trial.  It is likely that, as before, there will be a crude response, suggesting that I am an armchair revolutionary or counterrevolutionary and some mixture of truth and distortion of what I have said.  There is unlikely to be engagement with what I have actually written.  There are also costs that can be exacted as a result of such interventions.

When I got involved in the struggle I knew that its outcome or the way it unfolded could not be guaranteed. I also knew of other struggles where what many had hoped would eventuate never did.   I did what I could as part of that struggle and entrusted my hopes and energy in the ANC led alliance. I do not regret any of these efforts.

In retrospect many of us who focused our attention on the struggle paid insufficient attention or did not have the time to also look at post apartheid SA.  We did not understand the opportunities this would open not only for freedom but also for enrichment and patronage.

We also paid insufficient attention to the legacies of violence in this country and the failure to adequately embed within the consciousness of all a culture of peaceful resolution of disputes.  While I admired the role of MK in the struggle, I always understood this to be in a context of military conflict.  Zuma’s ‘signature tune’  umshini wam  (bring me my machine gun!) is only one example of the perpetuation of militaristic discourse that creates an environment that is conducive to violence (in this case also phallic imagery). The perpetuation of militarism in the present was not what was intended when the ANC reluctantly resorted to arms after opportunities for peaceful struggle were closed.  It is important that we build a culture were peace is celebrated, as the Freedom Charter suggests, when it declares ‘There Shall be Peace and Friendship!’

When I wrote this article it was not intended as an intervention in next year’s election contest.  I believe that one of the important lessons of our times is that we need to see the electoral terrain as only one, albeit a crucial space, where politics can be played out. We need to recover the role of popular politics, where we all are actors not only every five years but in self-empowering activities of a range of kinds, sometimes in relation to state institutions, sometimes independently. This is what many of us understood to be the trajectory that would follow elections.

What I have also come to realise is that it is urgent to understand the way in which the present has unfolded in a manner that illustrates unfinished business in relation to patriarchy. The Zuma period is marked by violent masculinities, which need to be related to the inadequate steps taken to deal with gender equality.  Most violence is committed by men against women and other men, through the state or in public and private life.

But the problem of patriarchy is obviously found beyond the question of violence in the public terrain.  This is seen in the womanising by men of power, the reconfiguration of the National Liberation Movement alliance in a way that raises the status of chiefs, who are in general advancing a notion of custom and culture that is inimical to the rights of women and also LBGTI people.  The alliance has also raised the profile of charismatic churches like Rhema, who are without any history in the anti-apartheid struggle and are known for patriarchal positions manifested towards both women and those practising non-heterosexual sexualities.

We need to think how we can address these issues beyond the way I am now doing, through analysis of the balance of forces.  One of the reasons why patriarchy is untrammelled in gender based violence and heterosexism is that there is not a strong organised lobby on questions of women’s rights and also freedom of sexual orientation.  While racism of various kinds is supported by powerful forces and likely to be prosecuted, policing of patriarchal violence against women or LBGTI people is ineffectual if not hostile to the complainants.  We need to rebuild the feminist movement that was fairly strong in the 1980s and we also need to build a movement supporting the constitutional right to freedom of sexual orientation. In reality, these are integrally related campaigns, in that while patriarchy oppresses women it also polices heterosexuality.  Patriarchy decrees compulsory heterosexuality and punishes non-compliance. Insofar as prevailing violence is, as indicated primarily masculine, the battle against patriarchy is also part of the battle for peaceful coexistence of all South Africans.


There are a range of issues around which many people, who may not have the same views on socialism or some other theory or generalised social system, will agree on related to our constitutional rights.  We need to find a way of combining our strengths and areas of commonality and that does not meant that everyone in the ANC would oppose this. There are I imagine many people in the alliance who are concerned with the undermining of the constitution, but remain loyal members of their organisations.  We need therefore to build unity on those issues and try to broaden the range of that unity as far as possible.  Those issues, around which unity is built, may be much wider than we can see now and we must be open to input from a range of people as some combination of forces is built


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