SAR, Vol 12 No 4, September 1997
OF CRIME ... AND NEO-LIBERALISM
Michael Valpy, once the Toronto Globe and Mail 's correspondent in Africa ** has written recently in that same newspaper of his return visit to South Africa earlier this year. His central piece, granted a remarkable three full pages at the front of the "Focus" section in the Saturday edition of May 17, was an all too sensationalist presentation of the crime problem that he encountered there - not least in the conversation of middle class friends with whom, as Valpy informs us at some length, he dined. The account was bumptious, misleading even in its own terms. Thus we find, to take merely one example, the ANC as liberation movement blandly presented as being in some way as responsible for the culture of crime and violence perceived by Valpy as has been the ex-apartheid state or Chief Buthelezi's dreaded Inkatha movement!
Yet such is the saliency, as "Canada's national newspaper," of the Globe and Mail in "informed circles" that, for a week or two, everybody with whom one spoke was suddenly an expert on South Africa ... and what they knew about was Crime. Not "how much crime?" really, not even "why crime?" but rather, as if it defined some kind of almost existential essence of present-day South African society, "Crime" with, precisely , a capital "C." Crime became, in fact, the very heart of the darkness that Valpy seemed content to place at the centre of his portrait of the country.
True, Valpy did make some reference in his mega-article to the stark inequalities of wealth and social condition that are present-day South Africa's chief inheritance from its past as a grimly racist society and as an almost-parodically exploitative capitalist one. In these inequalities lie, self-evidently, the roots of the crime problem that does indeed stalk South Africa today - even if the "culture of violence" which has been carried over from that past also has a complementary role to play.
But what to do about these inequalities? Is it merely because members of the SAR editorial collective dine with different folks when we visit South Africa that discussion of such inequalities seems to be more prominent conversational fare than is the C-word fixation encountered by Valpy - and to be by far the more important issue to relay back, front and centre, to Canadian readers? Valpy's own stab at examining such socio-economic issues did appear in another of his articles of course, this time in one buried much further back in the paper and entitled "ANC performs economic balancing act" ( Globe and Mail , June 11, 1997). But in the report card format he used there, Valpy was prepared to grant the ANC a remarkably high mark, A-, for its economic policies: "The government is probably as close to economic consensus on macroeconomic policy as is possible. Not everyone likes, but most can live with it."
Can they? Valpy is aware that the economic agenda he hails so enthusiastically is a profoundly neo-liberal one, but seems content to swallow whole "the whispered acknowledgment by the South African business community that the government is on the right track." What has ruled the government in this sphere, Valpy asserts, is "pragmatism, rather than ideology" - as if the kind of faith in neo-liberalism that seemingly guides the ANC leadership were not "ideology" of the most unalloyed and unproblematized kind. ("On the global side," Valpy adds, deputy president Thabo Mbeki, "was celebrated on a recent visit to the United States - by receiving an award from Hilary Clinton - for opening the South African economy to international investment"!)
Marks for social programmes - housing, education and health care - are much lower on the Valpy report card (and, of course, there is an "E" for "law and order"). And yet not for Valpy the possibility that a very different kind of "macroeconomic policy," one based not on supply-side calculations but on the democratically-willed direction of productive activities towards the meeting of such social needs, might be far more worthy of a high mark as development strategy than the current choice. No, he's content with the promise of the "trickle-down effect" as enunciated by Mbeki (identified as "the chief architect" of ANC economic policies), a promise that, in Valpy's words, the government's "policies of running a pro-business economy, privatizing major state corporations and creating public-private partnerships to develop infrastructure megaprojects are the keys to providing the panoply of social programs South Africa desperately needs."
And yet, in point of fact, South Africa is rife with debate about the wisdom of this option, not least in those militant trade union circles (and even within the ANC itself) that have perhaps not heard about the "national consensus on macroeconomic policy" Valpy so confidently announces. In the present issue of SAR you will find the voices of authors who also can't so easily "live with" the ANC's chosen strategy. Thus South African economist Oupa Lehulere queries the neo-liberal premises he sees as driving both last year's "Growth Employment and Redistribution" (GEAR) document - the market-driven touchstone of the ANC's present macro-economic policy - and the current year's budget that GEAR spawned. In addition, Herbert Jauch and Sandra van Niekirk examine critically two concrete areas of economic policy-making - the apparent fetishization of Export Processing Zones (not merely in South Africa but in other southern African countries as well) and the equally suspect haloing of privatization in the sphere of social services delivery. Finally, the dark side of privatization is also highlighted in the account, by Steve Greenberg and Samuel Bonti-Ankomah, of a range of menacing developments on the land right across the southern African region.
There is room, to be sure, for further debate about the costs and benefits (and indeed the very feasibility) of alternatives to neo-liberal economic policies in southern Africa; it is just such a debate that we hope to promote further in future volumes of SAR . Still, unemployment rises, not shrinks, in South Africa and popular unease with ANC strategy finds expression in strikes, in a waning of popular enthusiasm and even, dare we suggest it, in a rising crime rate. In such a context we keep being drawn back to Colin Leys' contribution to an earlier number of SAR ("The World, Society and the Individual." SAR , 11 , no. 3 ). In that original article he forcefully identified the reigning "neo-liberal" consensus as being, yes, a faith principle, as being, pace Valpy, almost pure ideology and an extremely misleading and damaging one to boot.
Now, in the present issue of SAR , Leys finds himself engaged in an exchange with Jonathan Barker regarding his earlier article, the two debating usefully just where effective resistance to that neo-liberal consensus is most likely to be found. But Valpy, so often sensitive in other of his columns to some of the social and economic contradictions of neo-liberalism as evidenced here in Mike Harris' Ontario, might want to turn back directly to Leys' original piece. There he would be reminded of the perils, for South Africa but also more generally, inherent in market-driven globalization and the "subordination of social goals to the interests of private capital." Either that or he should consider - in light of his born-again enthusiasm ("A-" indeed) for the benign and "pragmatic" nature of the ANC's own neo-liberal agenda for South Africa - relocating any further reflections he might have about that country to the "Report on Business" section of Canada's national newspaper.
** On his previous sojourn in southern Africa see "The Education of Michael Valpy" and "Valpy on Valpy," SAR, 3 , no. 5 (1988).
Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 12 No 4
"Neo-Liberalism and All its Works"
Editorial: Of Crime . . . and Neo-liberalism - 1
Private Gain, Public Loss:
Service Delivery in the New South Africa - 3
by Sandra van Niekerk
Giving South Africans the GEARs: The '97 Budget - 7
by Oupa Lehulere
Regional Mirage: Southern Africa and the EPZ - 11
by Herbert Jauch
The Menace of the Market: Land and Labour in Southern Africa - 16
by Steve Greenberg and Samuel Bonti-Ankomah
Debating Globalization: Critique of Colin Leys - 20
by Jonathan Barker
Going it Alone: Opposition Politics in Zimbabwe - 24
by Sara Rich
Family Matters - 27
a review by David Galbraith
Whites Only - 30
a review by Carolyn Bassett
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