2003-2004 Academic Year

New African Movement Partnerships Pitzer-KwaZulu-Natal Exchange

February 6, 2004

Report on talk given February 4, 2004, by Professor Keyan Tomaselli, Professor and Chair, Culture, Communication and Media Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. The Mellon Foundation-funded faculty exchange program brought Professor Tomaselli to Pitzer College.

Professor Keyan TomaselliThis year is the 10th year of democracy in South Africa. In 1990, when  the bans on Nelson Mandela and the liberation movement were  lifted , Keyan Tomaselli and his family were in North Carolina, where he was a visiting professor. His house became a media center for the week, as everybody wanted to know more about this fellow, Mandela. This was an exciting time for the Tomasellis, indeed for South Africa and the world as a whole.

The next four years during which the negotiations toward the first democratic elections would be held were characterized by high expectations, suspicion and anxiety among the former ruling classes. For the soon-to-be-enfranchised majority, the exhilaration of the moment cannot be underestimated. There was a near 100% turnout at the polls; lines snaked for miles in the hot sun as people waited patiently and peacefully to cast their ballots. One or two elderly folks died soon after making their crosses, happy that freedom had come at last. The international media went elsewhere -- there was no violence to report on, just calm, peace and a sense of quite achievement.

The new government of national unity that took office in 1994 offered various confidence-building mechanisms; political cooperation between former enemies created a newfound governmental legitimacy and a return to political and economic stability resulted. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission offered a kind of absolution to those who identified themselves as perpetrators of oppression and to those who were their victims. A Land Court has dealt with tens of thousands of applications, and the rule of law is now taken for granted. No one is above the rule of law, not even the President. Zimbabwe-type land grabs will therefore not occur in South Africa.

Drawing on a recently published press report by Bongile Mlangeni in the Johannesburg Sunday Times, Tomaselli said the decade also saw many African "firsts": the first (South) African in space, the first black African to climb Mt. Everest and the first black air force pilot. Mlangeni's comments on the young post-apartheid generation also were related to the audience. This generation is characterized by a lack of interest in politics, cultural fusion, white youths who dance to Kwaito and speak black township slang, and blacks who live in formerly white areas, speak with middle class white English South African accents and play cricket. In black township lingo, black middle class men are now referred to a "whites." Black models now predominate in TV advertising and South African-made sitcoms and dramas are multilingual. The Zulu chant, Shosholoza, popularized for the 1995 Rugby World Cup held in South Africa, which South Africa won, unites across all sectors of South African society, while the national anthem, a Zulu hymn once banned as treasonable, is now sung in stanzas involving multiple languages, including Afrikaans and English.

South Africa's non-smoking rules are among the toughest anywhere, Mlangenmi reminds us, and for the first time after the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1903), whites can now be seen begging on street corners. Black South African xenophobia against foreign Africans is a worrying development, and high home security has been a response to rising crime. But crime has stabilized and the SA Police Service, advised by the FBI, has partially reorganized itself into special units, especially those tracking organized crime and corruption, a new development since 1990.

Moving to harder statistics, Tomaselli quoted from an analysis authored by economist Sampie Terreblanche. Three socio-economic classes have emerged since 1970s. First, a non-racial and rich middle class, of which 4 million are white and 11 million are black, whose position has improved spectacularly since 1994. Second is a relatively poor working class of 15 million who are mainly black, whose position has largely improved over the last 10 years. The third category is the mainly black underclass, about 15 million, whose socioeconomic position has deteriorated over the last 10 years. Terreblanche wondered whether the government really understood the complexities and magnitude of the problem of poverty faced by this class.

Tomaselli then sketched some of the structural difficulties affecting the government's plans for poverty alleviation: inheritance in 1994 of a totally rundown physical infrastructure; negative growth rate; massive international debt; 40% illiteracy; 38% unemployment, very slow return of international investors to South Africa; and an increase in mechanized production high-tech jobs which added to unemployment. But Tomaselli revealed that just before his departure from South Africa in early January the government announced massive increases in social spending planned with regard to AIDS treatment and public works projects. The growth of the economy since 1995 -- though slow, about 2% per annum, and efficient tax collection, which had brought in R36 billion over estimates, has now created conditions for state intervention along the lines of Roosevelt's New Deal. He pointed out that the government was proving tough on corruption, as evidenced by the Vice President being under investigation, though one member of the audience told of bribes demanded by South officials at one SA-Zimbabwe border post.

Overall, Tomaselli presented a highly positive view of a country that has pulled off something of a miracle.

Tomaselli then discussed his own university, his program (www.nu.ac.za/ccms), and its research. KwaZulu-Natal comprises 5 campuses in two cities and more than 40,000 students (www.nu.ac.za). He thanked Pitzer's Professor Masilela, who had invited him to the Colleges to plan the faculty-student exchange bringing the two institutions into a cooperative venture. He commended Masilela's own research on the history of the New African Movement, saying that this recovery of often neglected work and intellectuals and analysis of their contributions should remain a high priority even as South Africans address the extremely pressing demands of current and future reconstruction. The lesson that Tomaselli said he had learned from Masilela was not to ignore, exclude or marginalize theories and theorists/intellectuals on ideological or political grounds, but to pay one's due to historical figures who had helped build South Africa since the time of the First People, the San, who appear to have been the descendants of original wo/man. Too often, Tomaselli said, academics suppress ideas, theories and paradigms they don't like, understand or which may prove threatening to them. Masilela's inclusiveness is a lesson we should all take on board.

The KwaZulu-Province boasts some of the country's most accessible game reserves, with the "big five" (lion, elephant, rhino, giraffe and buffalo); the Drakenberg mountain range, which reaches to 11,000 feet; and stunning beaches, surf and holiday facilities. The University has an internationally known jazz center, and the province gave birth to Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Durban, concluded Tomaselli, offers pleasant weather, not unlike Southern California. Culturally, Durban is an Indian city in Africa, a Zulu city in India, and an English city Africanized. Durban is where all currents meet: surf, culture and education.