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Lethal Weapon Meets Orwell in South Africa

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 "Almost immediately after coming to power in 1994, the ANC abandoned its plans to gradually modernize the country and assemble a black middle class. Instead, they just kind of turned over the economy to Wall Street and foreign financiers. Under Mandela, they even borrowed money the country didn't need just to get on Wall Street's good side. Not to mention that in their zeal to assure international bondholders that the country respects property rights, the ANC bulldozes the shanties of black squatters just like their predecessors."  


"I had no idea," the executive says, tugging a forelock of his hair.


"The ANC has built more than a million new homes since 1994 but they are of shoddy quality and the cost of living has skyrocketed. The state-owned utilities, which the government plans to sell, are ruthless about enforcing water and electricity shutoffs for customers who can't afford to pay their bills. Even though they were faced with widespread boycotts in a concerted effort to make South Africa ungovernable, the apartheid government seldom resorted to utility shutoffs for fear that it might spark the fire next time. They black nouveau riche in South Africa apparently has no such fear, and in fact, are just as ostentatious about their wealth as our own plutocrats here in the U.S., flaunting luxury cars and homes to their impoverished neighbors The party is even trying to push through a government secrets bill to criminalize reportage on the ANC's dirty dealings with corporate bosses."


"Why in God's name haven't South Africans returned to the streets the way they did during apartheid?"


"Well, in fact, they have," the writer replies. "Even before the miners' strike, there has been, on average, roughly one demonstration or labor stoppage per day somewhere in the country for nearly a decade. Neighborhoods and townships have organized to restore electricity when it is cut off or to return families to homes they've been evicted from. And African intellectuals find maddening that South Africa's government has endorsed what they see as U.S. imperialism. For instance, South Africa, which has a seat on the U.N. Security Council, approved the Obama Administration's plans for military action against the Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi Libya, who was tremendously popular across the continent for his support of pan-Africanism."


"Oh, God, tell me you don't see this as one of those do-gooder message movies?" the producer asks wearily.  


"Yes and no," the writer says. "What we're tapping into with this movie is the most profound irony. Both the Left and Right predicted this morass; white reactionaries said it was because black liberation fighters were, all and all, no better than the white settlers; and revolutionary African icons like Steve Biko, Franz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral said it was because class, and not race, was always the motor for the workers' subjugation. Turns out both were right. "


"Un-freakin-believable," the producer says shaking his head.

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Jon Jeter is a former Washington Post's bureau chief for Southern Africa and South America and a former producer for This American Life. He is also the author of Flat Broke in the Free Market: How Globalization Fleeced Working People. He lives in (more...)
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