Raymond Suttner: Living in depoliticised times

We are living in depoliticised times.

When people defend the president of the ANC and the country, Jacob Zuma it is not ideological but relates to patronage links. I challenge anyone to demonstrate a single political idea or ideological position or set of beliefs that can be identified with Zuma. The defence of Zuma is not ‘party loyalty’ but defence of an individual who, for the moment, is in the chain of patronage through which some benefit or seek to benefit. Forget about ideology –no one cares about whether NDR exists or is passe’ or means this or that, or whether the Freedom Charter has any relevance today or has a changed meaning. When they defend Zuma it is not because of ANC policies, strategies and tactics but because of links that benefit and for the moment need to be kept in place, as far as the beneficiaries are concerned.

Now this depoliticisation has real effects in terms of the understandings that people have of SA reality. One is the way we see one another. The black consciousness movement introduced the term black to mean all those who had been called non-whites –Africans, Coloureds and Indians. It was a significant statement that being black would not mean relegation to the Other who was not white, but a quality that could be proudly affirmed but also as a way of linking all oppressed people.

One of the results of depoliticisation is that these gains are being lost. The reports of a problem in a Roodepoort school with Coloured community members rejecting an African person as Principal of a school refer to the African as a ‘black’ and eNCA perpetuates that so that 24 hours a day for as long as that story is broadcast, the notion of black meaning all formerly non-whites is lost.

There are a range of other slippages as with the disappearance of the term chairperson. Now many newspapers did not like this term and insisted on chairman as their house style. Now one does not have to use chairperson and one can simply say chair, but the ANC from early on –after 1994- dropped this for Chairman and that usage has reasserted itself. Its significance lies in the notion that to be a chair you ought to be a man or one is expected to be a man. That is simply happening through default in a climate where debate is very limited.

Without saying anything small and big things are just being lost through default. We need to be alive to these and other issues and make them questions for debate

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