South Africa and the Colonial Unconscious

By Mkhosana Mathobela Bingweni

Once again South Africa is politically and economically on the boil with high voltage calls for the impeachment of President Jacob Zuma. He is accused of most corruptly and tyrannically reshuffling his cabinet and firing revered finance minimiser Pravin Jamnadas Gordhan.

Jacob Zuma is widely understood to be trying to open the South African economy for exploitation by his alleged friends, the influential Gupta brothers.

Zuma is not without supporters, his camp argues that Gordhan has become a puppet of white monopoly capitalists and has been trying by all means necessary to derail radical economic transformation.

As a result, rating agencies have downgraded South Africa to economic “junk status,” a rating that is not so good news for Africa’s leading polity and economy.

Much like Trevor Manuel before, Pravin Gordhan has, in some circles, been portrayed as a genius of economic affairs, an irreplaceable economic asset for the country.

While Jacob Zuma wields and uses state power, that is politics proper, Pravin Gordhan holds economic influence.

The political and the economic are in a clash in present South Africa, a kind of political and economic Armageddon is up.

The vicious jostling is between the godlike invisible but powerful market forces and political gamesmanship, and Jacob Zuma has over time proven to be a real technician of power who conceals true Machiavellianism behind a peasant giggle, even the very Vice-President of South Africa, Zuma’s number two, Cyril Ramaphosa did not imagine that Zuma would dare sack Gordhan, but he did it.

The Political Unconscious

Sometime in 2013 an artist, Brett Murray drew a picture of a naked Jacob Zuma with his private parts exposed to dangle.

A respected political scientist, Peter Hudson detected the colonial unconscious in the way Murray and his supporters relished the shaming of a black president and disrespect for a presidential body and image.

Hudson, drawing from psychoanalysts such as Frantz Fanon, Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan observed that apartheid and colonialism were deploying invisible but forceful forms of resistance to black rule and the entire national democratic revolution in the Republic.

After the decolonisation (not liberation) of the Republic, apartheid, colonialism and their most potent weapon, racism, assume and deploy symbolic but toxic forms of attack on the black controlled state.

Brett Murray’s racist attack on Zuma, Hudson understood, was intelligently and most probably unconsciously disguised as artistic expression, a form of communication that is protected under freedom of expression in the Bill of Rights.

In a strong way, in that obscure article that did not receive much attention at the time, Peter Hudson stuck the finger of his mind on one of Africa’s biggest political and economic challenges; how colonialism as system is able to operate in African countries behind different guises after decolonisation.

Upon decolonisation, colonialism, in the specific case of South Africa apartheid, retreats to symbolic but deadly forms and continues to operate and to control hearts and minds of populations.

In my view, both Jacob Zuma and Pravin Gordhan have become effective tools of coloniality at the expense of the nation, they are both serving and protecting elite economic and political forces that are not in the interest of the ordinary South African bread eater and water drinker.

One group claims to be protecting the constitution and fighting corruption, another positions itself as preventing capitalist control of the state and pretends to radical economic transformation.

Both groups claim democracy and development as ideals. Just as the psychoanalysts have insisted it is the unconscious and the invisible that holds more power, what is being witnessed in the visible political realm are tiny tips of the proverbial iceberg.

Nation State or State Nation

Like all other modern countries, South Africa is supposed to be a nation state that is a nation of peoples that are ruled by institutions through an elected government.

On paper, constitutionally that is, South Africa is a nation state and a Republic. In reality there is a strong state that is desperately trying to build a nation behind it but is failing.

This strong state is besieged by invisible but powerful forces called the market forces that hold the power to lower the currency and punish the economy, and even squeeze the nation with poverty and pain.

There is also an elusive object called investor confidence, something that has such a bad temper which it loses at the slightest provocation.   

These invisible forces with all their power are not elected. The State Nation in South Africa and the rest of Africa is at the mercy of these cruel forces that have established themselves as gods and leaders of countries must answer to them or face doom.

Pravin Gordhan has become a face of these forces in South Africa while Jacob Zuma personifies the strong but vulnerable state, the polity.

Pravin holds the oxygen while Zuma controls the organs of the body, in a way. For the nation to prosper, the forces that Pravin represents and those that Zuma stands for should be working in harmony and in rhyme.

If democracy entails governance of the people by the people through a working state, right now South Africa is not a democracy but a tyranny of the state and a dictatorship of the market forces.

The mass of the people, the nation has no power and is paying the price for a clash between the state and the market.

The polity and the economy continue to be hostage to invisible private but powerful forces. Democracy has been reduced to a myth and a fiction in the state nation.

The Colonial Unconscious in South Africa The Gupta family that is associated with President Jacob Zuma is a very rich investor family in South Africa, but it is not the richest.

South Africa has some of the richest families in the world, white Randlords whose genealogy is traceable to the first colonialist to arrive in the land.

Powerful Jewish families that own some of the biggest mines, farms and properties in Africa are domiciled in South Africa and control the economy.

The Guptas are very minute players, so low are they in the big food chain, they are only so topical because they are black in the apartheid scale of things.

The so-called market forces are just euphemisms for big people and big interests that are behind economic climates and financial moods in the world.

The spectacular fight between Jacob Zuma and Pravin Gordhan is an intra-elite political and economic struggle that does not put the food on any peasant table in South Africa.

Behind the illusion of the nation state and the fiction of decolonisation, economic apartheid is in full rage in South Africa and the rest of the continent, it is a powerful colonial unconscious that benefits real people who are too powerful even to be mentioned in the media, they even own the media in South Africa through proxies and fronts some of whom are in government.

The  political power of Africans in Africa is a big myth, a curtain that conceals the true forces and the real people that rule Africa.

So much African energy and African time and money are spent on constitutions and democratic processes that do not deliver anything but the illusion of power to the African masses.

– Mkhosana Mathobela Bingweni is a senior researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

April 2017
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