Developing a just society in post apartheid South Africa was always going to be a challenge in massive social transition. Petty apartheid rules could be easily dismantled, but transiting from resistance to government for the ANC, reversing the huge inequalities of apartheid, bringing opportunity in education, economic enterprise, and challenging old prejudices remains a huge call. Nadine Gordimer captures this well.
Leadership is central to her thesis – the ANC generation of elder statesmen Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu and others brought dignity, gravitas and grace to the role and to South African society. The intellectual Mbeki quoted Yeats, failed to address AIDS, and became irrelevant. Gordimer repeatedly lambasts the current President Zuma as a political thug with his ‘machine gun’ rally song and his supporters who will ‘kill for Zuma’, who has avoided answering rape, fraud and corruption charges, who spends lavishly on his victory celebrations and personal life.
Social sin then continues unabated, simply transferred between protagonists. Now a black feudal elite indulges conspicuous consumption. South Africa is the world’s most unequal society. Cape Town is the world’s murder capital. Gordimer’s captivating hypothesis is that where forced separation continues, even in the example she cites of gender separation at an all boys school, fascism rules OK.
Tribalism overcomes reason and justice. Jabu’s father, Elias Siphiwe Gumede, a solid KwaZulu school headmaster and church elder, who during the Struggle supported her right to equal education and opportunity, now sides prejudicially with Zuma. Violence is endemic as in the violence against Jake, Wethu, and the millions of displaced Zimbabweans. Unemployment, sub-subsistence wages, shanty housing, inadequate education, prevail. The comrades of the Struggle against the apartheid regime retain their principles, but are relegated to the Suburb. Was it all a lost cause?