/ 19 March 2024

White liberalism and the appalling alternatives to the ANC

Anc Solidarity With The People Of Palestine In South Africa
The double standards on Palestine and Ukraine have left white liberalism morally bankrupt in the eyes of many black South Africans, but the emerging alternatives to the ANC are often appalling. (Photo by Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Crude, radical double standards are driving a wedge between white liberalism and much of the rest of society. The stark contrast in how the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Israel’s destruction of Gaza have been treated by many white liberal commentators is obvious and blatant.

At the height of South Africa’s state capture crisis there was a sense that, on the issue of corruption at least, white liberalism and the rest of society shared some common interest. That sense of common interest is now in tatters because white liberalism has shown just how white it is.

While white liberalism is even willing to sanction the kinds of extreme suffering that we are witnessing in Gaza, there are also forms of grotesque right-wing nationalism in the formerly colonised countries. We see this in Western backed states such as Saudi Arabia and India, as well as in South Africa. 

Jacob Zuma’s new uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party, a collection of opportunists, criminals and right-wing ethnic nationalists, and including clowns such as Visvin Reddy and Des van Rooyen, is pushing an extreme right-wing social agenda. Zuma wants to legalise parental violence against children, staggeringly and send unwed young mothers to Robben Island. Even the US’s Donald Trump and India’s  Narendra Modi would baulk at this kind of extreme right-wing politics. 

With the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) pushing a strongly xenophobic line, the key challengers to the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal are both dabbling in far right-wing politics, although, of course, Zuma mixes his far right views on social issues with a kleptocratic form of radical nationalism.

The double standards on Palestine and Ukraine have left white liberalism morally bankrupt in the eyes of many black South Africans, but the emerging alternatives to the ANC are often appalling. 

How do we recover principled politics? How do we recover a politics that would accord the same value to a life in Ukraine and Gaza and avoid the grotesque xenophobia and sexism of parties like the IFP and MK? How do we recover a sense of hope in electoral politics when the ANC welcomes the state capture brigade back into its ranks, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) aligns itself with the kleptocratic politics of Zuma et al and the Democratic Alliance (DA) aligns itself with the West?

There does not seem to be an easy answer. If there is some hope in the current configuration of electoral politics it may lie in the fact that there are a handful of decent people in the mix. International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor condemned both Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the genocide being perpetrated in Gaza. 

She is undeniably a woman of principle and courage. There are also smaller players who are decent people, such as Songezo Zibi of Rise Mzansi. People like Pandor and Zibi do not have the power to reorientate our politics but they are at least voices of reason, and in the quagmire of our politics that does count for something.

Ultimately we need a profound reorientation of our politics. It would have to, at a minimum, be founded on three key principles. For a start the idea that kleptocrats, whether in MK, the EFF or the ANC are in any way progressive or radical needs to be decisively dealt with. Corruption is theft from the people and people who are corrupt and try to spin it as radical are enemies of the people. This needs to be asserted as an inviolable principle. 

Second, we must reject the idea pushed by the DA and a growing network of media and NGO projects that South Africa needs to become a vassal state of the West with the same moral clarity. No matter how relentlessly the increasingly arrogant voices of white liberalism repeat their mantra about the West being the home of democracy and freedom, we cannot forget what the West has done to Iraq, Libya and Palestine, as well as Bolivia, Venezuela and so many other countries.

Third, we must insist that the social crisis caused by mass unemployment, collapsing institutions, cynical politicians and a brutal and corrupt police force is dealt with through policies designed to support vulnerable people and not a turn towards xenophobia, ethnic politics or the gross sexism of Zuma’s plan to send young unmarried mothers to Robben Island.

These three principles are in no way radical but they could form the basis for a recovery of decent politics. We can at least begin to insist on them in the public sphere, support politicians and other organisations that can support them and do all that we can to hold the line against those who arrogantly embrace the crimes of the West, cynically spin kleptocracy as radical politics and scapegoat migrants and women for our social problems.

We have been better, much better, in the past and we can be much better in the future. But right now we need to navigate the political swamp of the present with moral clarity.

Dr Imraan Buccus is a political analyst.