Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cape Town Globalist on the stands


Fans of quality student journalism need look no further than Volume 3, Issue 2 of The Cape Town Globalist, a glossy current affairs publication available for free on UCT campus and online.

This edition covers the period October 2008 to April 2009. Now you might be thinking that is a trifle long for a magazine, but make no mistake, this is no usual varsity rag. There is a strong focus on feature writing, or 'narrative non-fiction' in the Globalist with writers spending many weeks and months researching and fine-tuning their work. The result: a daring and fluently written series of articles that go beyond the usual diet of daily news fodder.

Tatenda Goredema and Anine Kriegler examine contrarian views among SA students towards Barack Obama, the US Democratic Presidential nominee
in 'Obama is a faint hope for Africa'. The writers look at Obama's position on foreign policy and the financial crisis and what his racial identity means for the continent of his origin.
Obama does make some promising noises about providing eligible African countries with greater access to the US market. He has suggested extending the product list covered by the African Growth and Opportunity Act, for example. He has also promised to double foreign assistance spending, although this was before the recent financial services crisis sent the US and world markets reeling.

It is less likely now than ever that even a strongly Democrat Congress would approve sending billions of dollars to Africa when major shifts in fiscal policy are clearly required at home. Strangely, the candidates’ development policy proposals seem of little concern to the African and pro-African press that so reveres Obama.

Another noteworthy piece, which I commented on at length, is 'Requim for radicalism' by Sarah Ball. The writer raises concerns over the decline of student radicalism at UCT and juxtaposes this with profiles of several activist and youth groups who are attempting to shake up campus politics.

Given the tumult in South Africa at the moment, I would hardly say that there is a lack of interest in politics among young people. If anything, interest is on the increase. But that is different to there being coherent organisational channels with which to take up one's grievances and create change in one's environment. This was something sorely lacking during my time at UCT and apart from the sterile combination of the ANCYL and DASO, there was little on offer in terms of meaningful political participation.

In this, I agree with the spirit of Ball's piece in its attempt to articulate a new agenda for SA youth. However, I have a few reservations about the chosen groups. A case in point is the section on the Young Communist League:

Speaking in a hush usually reserved for secrets of the most serious variety, Ben Cronin of the Young Communist League shared his optimism for South African youth politics. Confident that the “temporary victory” of neo-liberal politics in the 1990s has come to an end, he says a new space for fringe politics has opened up.

In his mind, fringe movements such as the Young Communist League can only function once the dominant centre has firmly established its position in the political system. In the case of South Africa, the 1990s were unquestionably a teething period for the ANC, who, for this reason, faced little active opposition and answered to minimal dissent from outside parties and organisation. As this period has come to an end and a space for criticism has opened up, opposition parties are able to become increasingly vocal about their differing viewpoints.

To Cronin’s mind, the world is slowly coming to terms with what he sees as the disastrous effects of capitalism. The economic and societal pressures placed on the average global citizen are awakening them to the fact that the current global hegemony is forcing them into an unsustainable lifestyle. The example of Cuba is a source of inspiration, a reminder that the Socialist ideal is not as far removed from the realm of possibility as is commonly believed. Guevara T-shirts and Palestinian scarves are more signs of the youth’s internalisation of radical political ideals than they first seem.

Referring specifically to the above passage, I responded:

The Young Communists aren’t the fringe grouping they make themselves out to be. Although not exercising the same weight as their counterparts at the ANC Youth League, their proximity to the ruling party gives them a high degree of influence (as the orchestrated regicide against Mbeki clearly shows).

I am not convinced by the revolutionary sloganeering as it ignores the incredible power that the alliance wields. The thought that the tripartite alliance was somehow kidnapped by a neo-liberal conspiracy denies the agency available to the movement to make decisions about how best to govern.

In addition, I’m not sure that Cuba is an appropriate model for the type of society we are trying to create in South Africa. In Cuba there is some kind of nominal equality of income and healthcare for all, but media is controlled and freedom of expression, movement and association are severely limited. The Young Communists are really advocating a big interfering state which, given our history, we should be skeptical of.

What we really need are strong institutions to check the excesses of power. Regardless of what policy direction we intend to take, it is the rule of law, accountable leadership and a respectful, non-violent democratic discourse which are far more important to cultivate. Combine these with a vocal and organised civil society movement then we can start to build the type of South Africa we deserve, and not the one that the SACP wants to impose on us.

The Globalist team consists entirely of undergraduates and is headed by Murray Hunter, former editor of Varisty newspaper. Well done to Murray and the team on a fine publication!

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