Race & the colour of money

Posted on July 28, 2019

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(First published in City Press, July 28,2019)

There is nothing new under the sun. It’s an expression dating back more than 2 000 years to the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. Perhaps we should bear it in mind while so many people continue to speak of the exceptionalism of South Africa.

In the first place, corruption and state capture have been a reality for as long as there have ben unequal societies with wealth to steal and states to capture. And it is no different in our modern, supposedly enlightened, times where workers bear the brunt of the pain that serfs and slaves did before them.

This applies around the world, with degrees of difficulty and suffering for growing numbers of working people of every language, complexion and background. Yet not many people seem to be aware of this reality and the history behind it.

South Africans are not unique in this regard. However, a large section of South African society seems to have taken on board, as a form of gospel, the very recent propaganda promoted by the discredited and now collapsed Bell Pottinger public relations company.

The myth they peddled was that the poverty, inequality, exploitation and oppression evident around us is all the fault of “White Monopoly Capital”. This WMC is blamed for all the ills in South Africa’s apparently exceptional society.

But we are clearly not exceptional. Poverty, exploitation, homelessness, unemployment and other examples of suffering are global phenomena; they afflict increasing numbers of working people in even the centres of the proclaimed “developed world”.

And parts of this world — Britain and the United States in particular — are seen by a very vocal group of domestic bigots, flying the WMC banner, as the centre of a colour conscious capitalist conspiracy. In doing so, they reveal that they are not only ignorant of history, but are also, perhaps wilfully, blind to reality.

This year, in London alone, for example, nearly 9 000 homeless people, on average, will sleep on the streets each night. Food banks, soup kitchens and other outlets established to feed the hungry have also mushroomed in Europe in the past ten years, as well as in the United States.

In other words, there is an unfolding global crisis which has given rise (as such crises tend to do) to greater suffering among the poor majority. It also signals the arrival of all manner of charlatans, preying on the fears and insecurity of millions of people.

Populist demagogues, using the rhetoric of the Left or the Right, rally support on the basis of language, ethnic, religious and other differences, often in the name of some spurious “national culture”. And they promise a better life for their followers under such vague slogans as Radical Economic Transformation or Make America Great Again.

Such slogans merely translate as: put us in charge and you — our followers — will benefit. All this usually boils down to is the promise of patronage; of jobs, council and parliamentary seats and ministries, of tenders, tax rebates and handouts to cronies, with the majority, as always, left out.

Which is why such demagogues invariably create scapegoat groups — often defined by ethnicity or skin colour — to blame for the failures of a system that benefits them. In this way they divide the worker majority while allowing, invariably, the same tiny minority to prosper.

Yet all of this has nothing to do with language, culture, religion or ethnicity. These are merely concepts used and abused in order to divide the exploited majority. In the final analysis, the only colour capital cares about is the colour of money.