Zuma makes ‘mall-marks’

Will historians looking back over President Jacob Zuma’s five years in office talk about the ”mall-marks” — rather than hallmarks — of his administration?

Last Sunday he chose Soweto’s Maponya Mall for his first presidential walkabout, and followed this by opening the Pan African Mall in Alexandra. His speeches highlighted consumerism and self-aggrandisement as benchmarks of freedom.

At Maponya Mall, Soweto’s first such centre, Zuma said: ”I came here because I wanted to see the shopping mall, because this tells a new story. Here you can walk into world-class shops and buy what you want. You don’t have to go to town, or Northgate, Southgate, Eastgate or Westgate. This is a story of our freedom.”

Presidential reigns can sometimes be characterised by a single, all-encapsulating utterance. In the case of former president Thabo Mbeki’s nurturing of a voracious strugglista bourgeoisie, it was Smuts Ngonyama’s ”I didn’t struggle to be poor.”

The early signs are that Zuma’s may be ”Let them eat franchise chicken wings — And lay-bys and debt to multinational retailers can’t be such a bad thing.”

At the Pan African Mall, Zuma and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane bleated on about job creation and the financial injection into ”ekhasi” which this integrated mall and taxi facility — the first of its kind — will bring . But comrades in the catering workers’ union Saccawu may beg to differ. They’ve been fighting a long-running battle against multinational retailers such as Shoprite Checkers — usually the anchor tenants in malls — centred on oppressive labour practices and the casualisation of labour.

In Durban, the municipality appears eager to replace the Early Morning Market in Warwick Triangle with a shopping mall. About 8 000 informal jobs, including informal traders and barrow operators, are likely to give way to chain stores. At the time of going to press the city had reneged on an agreement reached earlier in the week that all plans would be put off until further consultation with stakeholders.

On Thursday city officials notified vendors that they had to move out in two days’ time. The municipality appears keen to develop the mall with indecent haste. This may have less to do with ”urban rejuvenation” than with regulating economic flow from the informal economy into the hands of a few. Researchers estimate pavement traffic in the Warwick area at close to 400 000 people a day. And the annual turnover in the area a few years ago was close to R1-billion.

Sometimes in the ”national democratic revolution” the more things change, the more they stay the same. And the poor would prefer chicken wings to coq au vin, anyway.

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Niren Tolsi
Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist whose interests include social justice, citizen mobilisation and state violence, protest, the Constitution and Constitutional Court, football and Test cricket.

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