Avishkar Govender
Avishkar Govender

Tradespotting SA

If Renton hadn’t been a smack junkie, he might have said instead …

Choose communism, choose a skill and choose a trade. Choose a kolkhoz. Choose a flippin big factory. Choose washing your clothing with regulation soap. Choose not having cars, compact disc players, electrical tin openers or ribbed condoms. Choose DIY and wondering why none of your tools belong to you. Choose sitting on that couch, which doubles as your bed, dining table and bookshelf, watching your toenails grow, while the TV stations are censored. Choose watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing glimpses of life on the other side on CNN, stuffing your face with state standard canned goulash. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable matchbox, with nothing more than cardboard to keep the cold out. Choose having your quota of kids, and teaching them to obey. Choose paying welfare tax so that your selfish, fucked-up brats can replace you in the bread queues. Choose not being able to choose, anything. Choose your future, choose communism.

However, Renton (Ewan McGregor’s character in Danny Boyle’s 1996 film of Irvine Welsh’s book Trainspotting) was in fact a smack addict who advocated the choice of living life over the somnambulism of a heroin-induced delusion. Renton’s many political speeches in Trainspotting have gone unanalysed over the years and though it is true that Renton was a cheerleader of the New Labour government, bent as it was upon social justice, it is also true that Renton’s political speeches address key issues in the search for a cohesive and intra-cognate British identity.

None of these issues are more clearly articulated than in the issue of Scottish independence and the thorny indaba of Scottish republicanism. From the time of Trainspotting’s film release to now, great changes have taken place in respect of the four major countries which make up the UK, and while yes the First Minister of England is also the PM of the UK, unlike his counterpart First Ministers of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales; the establishment of both “provincial” parliaments together with the strengthening of “regional” and “provincial” political parties, like the Scottish National Party, have paved the way for a four sphere or tier system of national government in the UK.

We have HM the Queen, as head of state and constitutional monarch. She is immediately superior to Her Noblemen, in the House of Lords (the British House of Traditional Leaders if you will), which in turn is immediately superior to the House of Commons (the British Parliament proper), which in turn is immediately superior to the three “provincial” parliaments. These four spheres or tiers are then in turn supported by regional, county, district, city, town, borough, village, hamlet and manor or estate local authorities and councils.

Seemingly the local authorities and councils are all still associated officially with the traditional leaders of the UK. Indeed HRH the Prince of Wales is in fact the salaried Duke of Cornwall (a locality in Wales) and we have countless other examples of members of the House of Lords being traditional leaders at a local level. The UK it seems is under no pressure to divest itself of its less than 2 000-year-old system of monarchy and traditional leadership.

Repeated attempts from Oliver Cromwell to now have failed to transform the UK into an American-style democracy replete with a president sans the monarchy. Perhaps the people of the UK actually believe in monarchy or perhaps the British don’t want to be the only Western Europeans without a system of monarchy and nobility? Whatever the reason it is clear that the UK’s global success has hinged on its ability to obtain the loyal and unwavering service of a group of “upper-class twits” who act on Her Majesty’s Service for the honour and not the pay.

In all of its wars, territorial and/or ideological, the UK has had the swords of her noblemen and feudal titleholders to lead her armies into battles. Indeed it was common practice for each brigade to prescribe the cost of serving as an Officer in Her Majesty’s Service such that each of the upper-class twits were forced to pay their own way. This blind loyalty to Queen and Country is the reason why the UK was able to deploy simultaneous expeditionary, colonial and military forces throughout the world with such ruthlessness. It was the fear of the social shame of failure in London that inspired the successes in the colonies and dominions irrespective of how adverse the colonial conditions were.

Nonetheless having depended on her noblemen, for so long, it was perhaps only appropriate that the commoners in the guise of the New Labour Party and the quartet of Blair, Brown, Prescott and Straw et al came to power some time ago, to foster a period of radical progress and social justice. But no attempt was made to repeal the traditional leadership, instead New Labour was accused of taking cash for honours and of selling non-hereditary peerage to significant New Labour donors.

And so why, I ask, when it is clear that it is only communism and not socialism per se, which dictates the destruction of the monarchy and traditional leadership, are we as a country (South Africa) attempting to build communism while strengthening our traditional leadership at the same time? Is it because the idealist’s form of self-sufficient communism is the model of African and Asian societies prior to colonisation, albeit that this Afro-Asian model radiates from the traditional leadership of Africa and Asia and is in fact wholly dependent on individual initiative and free enterprise.

Our trade partners who practise Euro-Asian communism instead of Afro-Asian communism, like China, seem to have no time for traditional leaders particularly those with supposedly secessionist intent and we have seen the eradication of nobility in Eastern Europe with an almost genocide-like efficiency. So what is the basis of South Africa’s diplomatic independence in respect of its position on traditional leaders? Surely by aping the British, in giving credence to traditional leadership, are we not alienating the Chinese? Surely in giving credence to monarchy, we build our diplomacy in the Gulf Coast while destroying that same diplomacy in Venezuela?

Traditional government, when it acts in parallel to the elected democratic state, provides an extra-judicial fail-safe for the citizens to be able to limit and curtail the excesses of power so often demonstrated by the elected elite. And while yes, this traditional government must be just and must operate in terms of both the rule of law and of human rights for each and every person, it is also true that it must never become tainted by the bias of political partisanship.

It would be preferable for the National House of Traditional Leaders to join the NCOP and the National Assembly in making up the three houses of Parliament, with this co-operation being replicated in the other spheres of South African government. It would be preferable for traditional regional authorities to be defined so as to cover the whole country. It would be preferable for every tribe and clan to be recognised and represented through local, provincial and a national house(s) of traditional leaders, albeit that this means that the Afrikaners and the rest of the unrepresented minorities would thereby become autonomous African tribes.

But as to whether we can make politicians choose between being democratically elected public representatives and being traditional leaders, I am not certain. Although it is clear that both are very important jobs and as such it would be preferable if there was a standardisation of remuneration and resources, such that traditional leaders and their represented constituencies would not be disadvantaged in any way if they chose to remain above and immune to the vagaries of party political activities.

Political morality is a shifting barometer borne of expediency and obfuscation, whereas traditional and cultural morality is a millennia-old system of governance which prior to colonisation ensured that we had no mass-diseases, no starvation, no unemployment and no destitute children. While, yes, intra-African territorial wars may have been unpleasant, we did not have anything more than our sticks, stones and cowhides for weapons, which meant that the level of violence in Africa would have been lower than in Europe or Asia, prior to the colonisation of Africa.

So I’m standing on a soapbox which says that in seeking to emulate the success of the First World you will not find a single highly developed or industrialised nation whose very developedness was not initiated by a traditional leader or monarch in the first instance. I’m standing on a soapbox which says that if a person would not have become an izinduna, nkosi or prince, and if that person does not have sufficient training in the profession of politics, then on what basis are we considering that person to be our democratically elected leader?

After all, even in the UK, the poorer Labour politicians, born into working-class families without elitist trust funds at their disposal, and just the unions and the churches offering comfort and support, even these supposedly commoner politicians have university degrees because this has always been the means by which the elected politico was able to outshine the “upper-class twits” sitting in the House of Lords.

South Africa’s failure to credibly strengthen the system and status of traditional leadership and our failure to ensure ethical leadership from our elected leadership has left us adrift without any real compass, moral or otherwise. One wonders whether a new “parent of the nation” will emerge now to provide guidance and courage where hitherto we have only had hypocrisy and cowardice.