Weekend Special, 26 March 2017

(1) Identity politics is neoliberalism, as Adolph Reed once said. And it delivers like clockwork. The hip hop producer Sean Diddy Combs (he produced Biggie Smalls) opened a for profit charter school in Harlem where he was born. Because–as he said–he would rather do “something about” education than just complain about it. (And he chose to “do it” with a for-profit school that has “Capital” in its name. BTW, Diddy isn’t the only celebrity that’s in on the charter school movement. Even people like John Legend. Once you stopped chuckling, this sort of thing is further along in African countries (and elsewhere) than you think. In Liberia (they convinced the government; rapper Akon is kneedeep in this project), Uganda (where they’ve had some pushback), Kenya, and on a smaller scale in South Africa (the Spark Schools; most of the funding is private, but these initiatives are getting open support from the Democratic Alliance governed Western Cape province). Behind it are groups like Teach for All. The African outpost of the charter school movement get a lot of soft pedal coverage in publications like (obviously) The Economist. For a broad overview, we’d suggest revisiting Maria Hengeveld‘s interview with activists.

(3)  Staying with identity politics in #othercountries: “Hillary is Queen, Bae, Beyoncé—you get it. Chelsea is the prodigy—2.0, if you will.” I can’t anymore.

(4) In South Africa, a Nigerian migrant is suing the South African immigrant authorities and the police (South Africans, on balance, are notoriously xenophobic to other Africans). He was shot in the leg after they accused him of having weed on him. He was only charged 18 months later. The victim, Justin Ejimkonye, claimed he was shot because he did not want to pay a bribe. It is well past time someone did, but as Alison Tilley, a rights activist reminded me, this is not the first time someone sued the South Africans.

(5) By now everyone knows about Helen Zille’s defense of colonialism. Whites in South Africans say racist things on social media on the daily. Zille matters because she is the Premier (the equivalent of a governor of a state) of the Western Cape, one of South Africa’s nine provinces. You can read Vito Laterza’s analysis of Zille’s remarks, including how she is emblematic of a global trend by rightwingers to say feel emboldened to say aloud what they’ve been feeling all along.  Some of have come to Zille’s defense, including the usual “explanation” and “on the other hand”-ery of liberals. The most prominent, though, was Ferial Haffajee, one of the first black editors of a major South African newspaper (and now at Huffington Post South Africa), who defended Zille’s “right” to be racist and offensive. The best response to Haffajee has been UCT law professor Pierre De Vos‘s response. It is important as it challenges “liberals” and their free speech absolutism. It may come across as a bit lawyerly and long. That’s necessary. Read it.

(6) More consequential than Zille’s odious tweets about colonialism, has been how she and her party governs the Western Cape and Cape Town. Last week, the provincial government nixed a plan to build affordable housing on the edge of the city center for mostly domestic workers and gardeners serving their mostly white employers and for people being displaced by gentrification. The Cape Town City Council, run by Zille’s party (the mayor blocked me on Twitter; surprise) is no better. On Human Rights Day, March 21, it sent in “the Red Ants” (an infamous council unit) to demolish shacks rebuilt after a fire in a squatter settlement outside Hout Bay, that place recently described by Omar of the Wire (Michael K Williams when doubles as a reporter for VICE) as what happens when “Malibu and the Hamptons had a baby.” All this–I am from Cape Town–made me wonder whether this could be impetus for new solidarities in Western Cape between Africans and coloured working classes/lumpens as counter to divide-and-rule of the Democratic Alliance and the rank incompetence of the ANC as opposition? Nothing wrong with dreaming.

(7) Near Johannesburg, South Africa, a white man bullied, threatened and abused a black woman over the actions of their children in a playpen at a popular restaurant chain. By now, you’re mumbling “next” as this sort of thing is widespread in South Africa. In any case, this all happened at the Spur, a South African restaurant chain pretending to draw on Native American motifs.  Not everyone was surprised it happened there, given what that restaurant chain represents. As Busisiwe Deyi pointed out on this site in 2015: “Nothing about SPUR is Native North American except for its use of a Native American chief-like figure on its logo and Native American-esque names and themes. In truth, rather than Native American experience or culture, the imagery used by SPUR is that of the frontier US West and Southwest.” It is worth rereading that post.

(8) This (in the London Review of Books) by Adam Shatz on the “debate” around  Dana Schultz’s painting “Open Casket” painting. On whether acts of “radical sympathy, and imaginative identification, are possible across racial lines.” Also see Kara Walker’s statement on Instagram. But it seems like we’ve been here before. Finally, it is worth remembering what Walter Benn Michaels argued a while back: “the point of the critique of capitalism is to get rid of poor people, not to make sure that they’re properly represented among the elite.”

(9) More #othercountries. This is an excellent take on the recent history of trade unions in the United States through the transformation of the Service Employees Industrial Union. I’d love to see an analysis like this on say unions in South Africa, Nigeria or Egypt.

(10) Yes, this happened: “An annual African trade summit in California [in the United States; President: Donald Trump] had no African attendees this year after at least 60 people were denied visas.”

(11) VICE went and investigated extrajudicial killing in Kenya that are part and parcel of wildlife conservation. It is particularly good on knocking off Richard Leakey’s halo (from how he is perceived/covered by elites/media in the west). Worth a read.

(12) Then there are these clips of Paul Robeson and Eslanda Robeson from the film “Borderline” (1930), filmed in Switzerland. Just going to leave this here.

(12) Finally, since I am a shameless self-promoter: Go and get this new book about boycott politics that I contributed to.

Sean Jacobs

Sean Jacobs is the Founder and Editor of Africa is a Country. He is on the international affairs faculty of The New School in New York.

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