Joe Kitchen
Joe Kitchen

The African Renaissance for Dummies

I’m probably going to make a fool of myself publishing this column, as it is about the economy, and I know very little about the economy. Until very recently, for instance, I was still under the impression that the Eurozone was a trance state one reaches during deep meditation. Apparently, it’s not that at all, it’s a place on the map (a backward conglomeration of destitute countries somewhere north of Mpumalanga, to be more precise). I was also under the impression the real value of money was still tied to the gold standard. Apparently, it’s not. Apparently, even paper money and coins are on the way out, and most of our money simply exist as digits on a computer screen. Which is quite frightening, because it means that if there’s a world-wide power failure, or if all our computers and the whole Internet get wiped out by one of these new super-viruses, there goes the economy. We’ll be back to trading brightly coloured stones and herds of cattle, and the whole world will be instantly reduced to one gigantic Burning man festival, which would all be very well if you’re into tie-dye T-shirts, but what about the rest of us who had gotten used to queuing in Woolworths with our MySchool cards?

Something accidentally came up in my last Thought Leader entry that I’ve been meaning to explore further. I mentioned in my previous column that, to me, there is very little difference between the red of Cosatu’s T-shirts and the red of the Coca-Cola logo. To my mind, both the old-fashioned leftism/Marxism/socialism/Communism etc. embraced by so many prominent leaders of the Tri-partite Alliance and the monopolism/decadence/globalisation etc. of Big Business are equally frightening. Why are we being forced to choose between the fascism of the pseudo-revolutionary sloganists of Numsa and the ANCYL or the dictatorship of the hypocritical neo-imperialists of the First World? I can understand why the comrades are sceptical about liberalism and all its baggage – I also prefer strong black coffee to Earl Gray tea any day – but why do so many of them still embrace ideas that were popular in Red China and Cuba years ago, ideas that never worked, ideas that, wherever folk persisted in them, reduced entire countries and communities to poverty and neglect almost as bad as the Eurozone?

The Berlin wall fell years ago, and communism was universally discredited. Likewise, the so-called free West is now approaching the end of their free ride, and unless they accept drastic new responsibilities and change the way they view themselves and their relationship to the planet and everyone else on it, the entire bloated gigantic edifice of capitalism, as a system and a way of life, may very well come crashing down on us with a devastating racket of plastic containers, billboards, fossil fuels and gooey soft drinks. It’s a frightening prospect, but the day that happens I hope it will be live on TV, as it will certainly be something spectacular to behold!

BUT when that happens, what will remain? Is it not time to plan ahead for such a day? Is it not time for the citizens of this beautiful country to replace our respective obsessions with Capitalism and Communism with a simple commitment to Realism? Isn’t it high time set aside our traditional left/right battle-lines and start finding common ground as black and white Africans? I know this sounds like just so much airy-fairy “let’s-get-along” claptrap, and I know stuff like this have been said before, but this time I mean this in real practical terms, not just in the vague terms of the so-called rainbow nation or peace and love or any of that retro-hippie-I-love-Tutu shit.

When I heard about how informal traders are being harassed by Metro police in Gauteng, I really got hot under the collar. Street trading, correct me if I’m wrong, is a form of capitalism that is very African. It has been around for ages (see next paragraph). I haven’t been to Africa myself except for a short spell in a Namibian jail and two dreadful hours on an airport runway in Kinshasa, but according to my colleague Johan Badenhorst, who loves travelling through Africa, this kind of informal free market is fashionable all over the continent. There are restaurants and markets everywhere, not the glitzy kind of franchises we have in our malls, but pretty efficient and more personalised. Why are people who trade in this way being made victims in South Africa? Why, for that matter, do Somalian shopkeepers get torched and killed? Surely shops are good things to have around, especially when you run out of milk? These guys may not have a licence from Walmart or Game or any of the big retail outlets familiar to Westerners, but they work hard, they compete fairly, and they are the living embodiment of the principle of free enterprise in action.

When I was at school, we were taught that, before the white man arrived on these shores, nothing much was happening in the African continent. South Africa, in particular, was as desolate as that last Nando’s ad suggested (the one that got banned from TV), with just a few Khoisans running around in loin clothes made from dead kwagga’s. It was with some degree of surprise that I happened to glance at my kids’ new history text books, and made the incredible discovery that Africa, before the arrival the white man, had a vibrant economy. For the first time, I learned about the lost cultures such as that of Greater Zimbabwe, and their trade with India, and all the thriving activities, the trading of goods and ideas that had been going on here before the arrival of modernity. For the first time, it dawned on me what havoc the white men caused in this continent when they blasted the indigenous population with their white religions and philosophies, redrawing border-lines at will and carrying people away as slaves. Of course, the arrival of the white men also brought some benefits – penicillin, yo-yo’s, shortwave radio’s and Panado, to name the most important ones – but I have a strong feeling that, all in all, both the extreme left-wing extremism of the Tri-Partite Alliance and the hysterical superiority complex of the modern ‘white’ mindset tend to blind us to our true potential, and are keeping us locked in old ways of thinking. And so, alas, attitudes tend to harden, the blaming game continues, and precious opportunities are lost forever.

If Africa is the true home of the real free market as encapsulated in the informal sector, isn’t it time we leave behind our old ideological comfort zones and look at things the way they really are? If Western-style capitalism is failing, why cling to it? If old-fashioned Communism doesn’t work, why can’t we ditch all this talk of “revolution” and work with what we have instead of tearing down all the existing infrastructures in the name of Karl Marx? The choice is ours; either South Africa will become the symbol of the failure of Africa as a whole, or, by coming to grips with our true collective African identity, we can become the true home of the brave in the new world order that awaits us after the collapse of Europe and America approximately (within the next two weeks at the rate they are going now, if you don’t believe me, look at how those soccer hooligans carried on in Warsaw).

Let’s take a good look at our national flag. It’s a great design, isn’t it? It doesn’t contain the colour orange, and there’s no Union Jack in site, not even a tiny one! The green, gold and black of the liberation struggle is placed in juxtaposition against the red, blue and white of my own biological forefathers in France (a little country in the Eurozone). These colours are not hostile to one another, they are complementary. Place yellow and blue alongside each other. They don’t clash, they enhance each other. The contrast between red and green make both the red and the green appear brighter than they would have been if they had been al one. I am convinced that white and black can form an attractive pattern instead of clashing. Any artists will tell you that using complementary colours is a sure way of making an artwork stand out more clearly. Opposites attract, that is the natural law.

We need new thinkers, new visionaries, new entrepreneurs and new writers and artists. We need new Bikos and new Voltaires, new Brett Murrays and new Ayanda Mabulus, new Churchills and new Ghandis and new Boesaks and new Madibas, new Richard Bransons and new Daymond Johns, new Arthur Mafokates and new Steve Hofmeyrs. We need to combine the best qualities of all the cultures of this country, all the best elements of our separate past and our shared future, and blend it into a new true rainbow nation idiom. Not the pie-in-the-sky rainbow nation of the liberals and the Struggle idealists, but one that actually works.

We are Africans. We are not stupid (well, apart from me). Let’s organise our own Renaissance. Let’s bring back the spirit of entrepreneurship we had ages before Stalin killed all those people and the Americans discovered McDonalds.

VIVA THE REAL FREE MARKET!

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