Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Richard Pithouse, "South Africa: Freedom not yet," Pambazuka News, April 29, 2010.

‘Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of a party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all.’

– Rosa Luxemburg, Berlin, 1920

The assumption that political freedom begins and ends with the right to vote runs a real risk of overlooking escalating grassroots repression, the general conflation of the party and the state and the damage that is done to society by the wholly incorrect assumption that the economic realm is separate from the political realm and governed only by technical considerations.

  The general turn towards social conservatism with its sexism, homophobia, ethnic chauvinism and xenophobia are a serious assault on hard won principles that affirm, at least in principle, the equality and sanctity of every person.

Of course it is true that millions of people continue to have to make their lives in the most appalling material circumstances. And it is also true that, by some accounts, we are now the most unequal country in the world. It is outrageous that so many children are being put to bed on empty stomachs in leaking shacks at constant risk of fire and violent eviction. The excesses of private and state power compound that outrage. Gated communities for the rich continue to take the best land while the political elites find it impossible to provide toilets to the poor but can easily mobilise the political will to throw up new stadiums.

But the so obviously bitter realities of economic oppression should not blind us to the fact that political freedom was never completely realised in post-apartheid South Africa. The genuine flowering of political freedom enjoyed by the middle classes and elites after apartheid was never fully extended to the poor. Everyone has been free to vote but there are many communities across the country where there has never been freedom to organise independently of the ANC. There are communities where open opposition to the ANC puts one at the risk of expulsion from the community and there are communities were taking a position against the ANC puts one at real risk of violence.

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