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  • On disagreeing with my critics
  • John Saul (bio)

For the session where my own talk, included above, was featured at the University of Johannesburg (in August 2015), the organisers had invited two old stalwarts of the ANC, Albie Sachs, author, activist and, until recently, a judge on South Africa’s Constitutional Court, and Ben Turok, also a South African author, activist and, since liberation, a vocal ANC MP (although recently retired from this post) in parliament, to be discussants.

In Johannesburg

As it happens I know both of them well from exile days, Ben during the period (the 1960s) when he was a Tanzanian government land surveyor1 and I was a lecturer at the university in Dar es Salaam and Albie from the period when (during the 1980s) we were both teaching at the University of Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, Mozambique.

Let me say something more to further set the recent scene in Jo’burg, however. For, as is well known, both Albie and Ben are long-serving and loyal members of the ANC while I, for my part, was presenting the paper at UJ [the University of Johannesburg] sharply critical of what I took to be the ANC’s slavish adherence to the line of global neo-liberalism since the fall of apartheid; the ANC’s easy countenancing of a growing economic disparity between the few rich (albeit of increasingly diverse racial backgrounds) and vast numbers of poor in SA; and the way that, as both a movement and a party, the ANC had consistently undermined any attempts at genuine, relatively autonomous, and democratic political practices from below, even before 1994 but, markedly, after coming to power in that year as well.

Of course, I wasn’t too surprised that both Albie and Ben were themselves critical of my paper – although they were so in their own quite different [End Page 76] styles. More importantly, however, both commented in ways that I felt largely dodged my main line of argument. Albie, on the one hand, politely chose to hark back to a rather romantic evocation of the ANC’s role in the liberation struggle itself while also sticking pretty firmly to the rehearsing of important, albeit often quite formal, constitutional achievements, rather than exploring, as my paper has invited him to do, the apparent weaknesses and elite-serving nature of the government’s overall political and economic policies. I should also add here that, while he has been unable to submit a follow-up text thinking through the substance of the UJ event, I thank him for his engagement in the seminar.

Meanwhile Ben, though quick to attack me personally (and rather caustically so), also primarily harked back to the highly principled political practices of the Tambos and Kotanes during the glory days of struggle. Indeed, when I called Ben’s bluff in the subsequent round of discussion on the economic dimensions of the ANC practices once in power he actually seemed to agree with much of the detail of what I had said, stating that he himself had recently retired from his parliamentary seat (although not from his ANC membership) for many of the same reasons.

Not surprisingly, a further focus of discussion rose out of another general comment of mine in response to Albie and Ben’s comments. I suggested that they were primarily speaking with voices from the past ... looking at things going forward from the old days of apartheid and measuring achievements solely in terms of the overcoming of racial inequities. While, I said, I could not disagree that this kind of progress was indeed real, I felt it appropriate to note that if they were, in addition, to view earlier practices and choices in light of the way things has actually turned out – beginning with the dismal situation of the present in terms of the vast class differences that continue to grow and with the extreme ‘poverty gap’ within the country as the chief point of reference – they would be forced to ask much more searching questions of the past. Then, I suggested, they would find themselves forced into articulating in a much less comfortable kind of analysis!

The reaction of the large...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1726-1368
Print ISSN
0258-7696
Pages
pp. 76-86
Launched on MUSE
2016-02-19
Open Access
No
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