Plus ca change plus ca meme chose: Between American and South African politics

I have been an avid watcher of American and South African politics since my first year in the university in 1963 and I had thought the promise for the world was the possibility of change in the two countries’ politics which I thought would usher in revolutionary changes in race relations for good in global politics. Recent events in the two countries have raised doubts in my mind about the course of events in global politics.

Why I thought the two countries offered humanity the opportunity for change either peacefully or otherwise was because I saw similarities in the politics of the countries and the roles of race and the ability of man to rise above the racial demons that seem to dog mankind in the 20th century the most wicked of which climaxed in the Nazi holocaust against the Jews in Europe. The differences between the two countries are of course stark. America is a new country settled by Europeans and Africans after virtually wiping out the indigenous native tribes. The country was built on racial injustice against the natives and the forced labour of African slaves and the skill and genius of the white man. It is a vast country which had the chance and opportunity of satisfying the greed and cupidity of man if some balance could be forged between the acquisitive urge of man and man’s basic humanity of fairness.

I thought with the right political leadership, this was possible. On the other hand, South Africa is both a white settler country in an old continent inhabited by hardy and tough black people who could not be easily wiped off the map. It presented humanity a fait accompli of a country built on the abundance of black native labour and black land expropriated by settler whites whose genius has brought some development without a sense of sharing and fairness.

How the two emergent countries were to resolve the contradictions in their countries presented mankind challenges which some of us have watched in the last 60 or so years with interest. Of course, South Africa does not have the resources and power of the United States but it however provides a paradigm, albeit on a smaller scale, on the possible resolution of a difficult human problem.

In the 1960s, both countries presented a sharp racial divide which at that time seems to be an unbridgeable racial chasm. The South African situation did not present mankind simple political solution but a dire problem which only violence could resolve. The Americans between 1860 and 1865 had fought a civil war causes among which were how a so-called free society should not be a slave holding country. The victory of the North against the South did not resolve the problem because the problem continued in a most wicked form of political and physical segregation of the blacks who were herded to undeveloped parts of the South and when they migrated to the north, the urban ghettos replaced the slave plantations. But in spite of this, and with the right leadership, there were glimmers of hope for change. Violence is as American as apple pie is, so some violence was expected along the way for social and political changes in America.

The emergence of the new African Congress and particularly the Umkotho we Siswe – “The Spear of the Nation” led by such young people like Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela marked the turning point of politics of liberation in South Africa from agitational demonstration to armed struggle illustrating the aphorism that when peaceful change is made impossible, revolutionary struggle becomes inevitable. This is the evidence of history.

The 1960s in America and South Africa witnessed revolutionary confrontations between the forces of change and maintaining the status quo. The age was also the age of African independence and liberation agitation and these had impact on the politics of the people out of the power loop in the two countries. The blacks in the USA wanted enfranchisement and economic opportunities. In South Africa, they wanted the same thing and equality with the settlers which means ultimately, transfer of power to the majority black peoples. The whites in America were not faced with this choice whereas this was the choice faced by the settler regime in South Africa and it was a matter of fight to finish, surrender and or perish. Therefore their resistance was bloody and blatant.

They even became, in the 1970s, a nuclear weapons state ready to bring Armageddon on not only South Africa but on the entire continent. They were aided in their acquisition of this lethal armament by right wing forces in America, Europe and Israel. There was no room for accommodation whereas in the United States, it was found possible to enfranchise the blacks and blunt whatever revolutionary fervour that was driving political agitation and agenda in the country. The result of this in the United States was the election of several black mayors and a few Congress men and women and a sprinkling of one or two senators but hardly any governor. This change certainly blunted the raging urban riots of the 1960s.

The pressure of young black revolutionary movements and the civil rights movement led by Dr Martin Luther King  culminated in the civil Rights Bill of 1965 which despite its limitations has given black Americans a window of opportunity to be politically equal even if still economically deprived and dependent. No one can deny that progress has been made. The election of Barack Obama is a recognition of the black progress but which unfortunately has raised the banners of reaction, retrogressions and political and social segregation and violence in thought and deed manifested by Donald Trump and his MAGA movement.  The America of President Barack Obama now appears so distant in the past and the hope for a peaceful balance of races a forlorn hope.

Events in South Africa moved rapidly from the country’s precipitously crashing down of the decades before the 1990s to a period which witnessed the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. From prison to the presidential palace, remains an epic story of what is possible as epitomised by the Mandela story in South Africa. The coming to power of the African National Congress and the installation of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994 remains one of the great landmarks in the history of African decolonisation and political change and transfer of power from an entrenched powerful minority to a majority that is economically and technologically unprepared for power. South Africa has therefore struggled on gingerly with the black majority incapacitated by the vagaries of economic reforms that have left the real power in the hands of the white minority thus creating a tale of two societies in one country bifurcated by race in which the haves and have nots have virtually remained the same as it was under the apartheid regime. The radicalism of the African National Congress has not translated into jobs, housing, land and economic empowerment of the black majority in South Africa. The recent loss of power by the  ANC and  its forming a coalition government with the Democratic Alliance, the Inkatha Freedom Party of Buthelezi and other holdouts of the apartheid era, throws us back to where the country was decades ago and it is an acceptance of the fact that the black majority needs the white minority to make progress.

There may be nothing wrong with accepting this reality but it certainly gives room for thought that despite the sloganeering of the ANC, nothing really has changed and the blacks remain at the bottom of the ladder in South Africa.

America and South Africa remain racially as divided as they have always been. South Africa from the evidence of the last election in which the most powerful national group, the Zulus voted for tribal Zulu parties, Jacob Zuma’s Umkotho We Siswe and Inkatha Freedom Party of the Zulu tribalism Buthelezi, is moving towards tribal politics which remains the bane of African politics and the cause for African underdevelopment which was why the settlers were able to divide and rule the country for centuries. Incredibly, America of Donald Trump is moving in the same direction of political tribalism in which many of his supporters are even denying that America is a democracy.

Some argue that they have never been a democracy. This may be true but I have never heard this said by high ranking politicians before. If they are not a democracy then what is America then? Without shame, some say America is a republic others say it is a constitutional republic. Some Republicans including Donald Trump openly say if they lose the 2024 elections, there will be a civil war in the United States because they will not accept their loss. In a situation where the Republican Party is the party of the privileged whites and loudly announcing that America is “white country”, we seem to be back to pre-civil war America of a tale of two cities in the Dickensian terminology. We are all going to hell and we are all going to heaven!

Nothing really has changed in America and South Africa, one country manifesting dictatorship of the racial majority while the other showing control and influence of an economically dominant minority.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

This post was originally published on this site