Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Magical realism lives on in tales of the election

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22 Apr 2014 | Tony Leon  | Original Publication:  BDlive

Shrugging off Nkandla and … often indifferent delivery … the voters apparently intend to keep faith with the ANC, writes Tony Leon

APPROPRIATELY in the week when both the Jewish Passover and Easter have been celebrated, we have been much preoccupied with miracles and wonder.

Passover concerns the miracle of the Jewish exodus from bondage in Egypt and, aside from inflicting 10 plagues on their oppressors, the Lord miraculously parted the Red Sea to make good their escape. In the New Testament, we have the record of the agony of the crucifixion on Good Friday and then the miracle of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. These beliefs have sustained the Judeo-Christian faiths for thousands of years. Looking at the hundreds of thousands who gathered in Moria, alongside a gaggle of politicians, on Sunday, they remain alive for millions of South Africans today.

Appropriately, perhaps, between these two festivals came the announcement of the death of Colombian novelist and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Regarded as one of the giants of 20th-century literature, he popularised, in his exquisite writings, the genre of "magical realism". As critic Jonathan Kandell notes, this was the form in which the miraculous and the real converge. Garcia Marquez’s cast list ranged from vicious dictators to revolutionary romantics and, of course, star-crossed lovers.

Less miraculous than any of the above is the latest opinion poll from global market researcher Ipsos, published in the Sunday Times at the weekend. Or perhaps, in its detail that the African National Congress (ANC) is on course to another overwhelming victory in a fortnight. There is a touch of wonder in those numbers. Shrugging off Nkandla and the mushroom clouds of corruption and often indifferent delivery engulfing the state and its officials, the voters apparently intend to keep faith with the ANC.

Garcia Marquez does provide some clues for this political levitation. This dialogue in his novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, has some local application: "You can’t eat hope," the woman said. "You can’t eat it, but it sustains you," the colonel replied.

And although his first major novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, established Garcia Marquez’s reputation, he said that his best work was The Autumn of the Patriarch. There is, in its story line, something of local resonance as well. Set in a mythical Latin American state, it describes a dictator who has ruled for so long that no-one can remember what life was like before him. In between failed attempts to block Democratic Alliance advertisements, the state broadcaster provides a vivid celluloid reminder every night now of just what life was like during the long oppression of apartheid. Doubtless the celebrations on April 27 will be a further warning of what ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa cautioned last November: "If you don’t vote, the Boers will come back."

Cut from the cloth of one of Garcia Marquez’s romantic revolutionaries, Ronnie Kasrils also re-entered the lists, stage left as it were, last week. He managed to extend his cabinet shelf-life a decade ago by playing the safe role of the ANC’s in-house Jewish anti-Zionist. Now, in what the decrepit, indeed ageing, ANC Youth League (its interim president is apparently north of 40) has declared a "blasphemy", Kasrils has become, in the holy week, an apostate. He called for either an anti-ANC vote or a spoilt paper to register dissatisfaction with the party to which he has dedicated most of his adult life.

Will it make any significant difference? There will be some vote loss and some opposition gain in the next poll but, despite the tectonic plates that might be shifting below the feet of the ANC, on the surface it would appear as though there is a remarkable continuity in the ecology of the electorate and the fortunes of the ruling party.

Why? Back to Garcia Marquez: he was also a soccer fanatic and even wrote a short story about the beautiful game, The Sworn In. While South Africans might be unfamiliar with the Latin American teams, over here Manchester United has, as befits its global following, a huge local following. It also happens that this year, under the more pedestrian management of David Moyes, it is enduring one of its worst seasons. Of course, the fans would rather the winning Alex Ferguson was still at the helm, but when the Red Devils play at Old Trafford and elsewhere, the supporters still root for Manchester United and do not don Liverpool jerseys. Some might be disaffected and apathetic, but the power is with the team and the brand. Not forever, perhaps, but for a while to come. Our political results also follow the team, rather than its leadership, apparently.

Throw in the fact that one-third of all South Africans in work are employed by the government at various levels and the further statistic provided by the South African Institute of Race Relations that the state is the biggest single source of income for almost a third of all households in South Africa. Prosaic explanations, not magical realism, could just explain the next election result.

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