Analysis

Protect the foundations of Science from the perils of Neo-liberal Falsehood

By Clive W. Kronenberg (Ph.D.)

Covid-19 landed on South African shores and brought fear, death and turmoil in its wake, as it did across much of the world, and on a scale never encountered before, at least not in living memory. But fortunately for the human race, this affliction brings not only unendurable hardship, pain and sorrow.

This corona virus compels all of us to stop in our tracks, and take full stock of our existing, mostly seriously frightful and disturbing socio-economic realities on the ground. Its dire presence, implications, and, outcomes thus far, cannot but raise mindfulness of the prevailing adversities and miseries of the marginalised masses, particularly over the course of the last quarter century or so, as in the case of South Africa. Even if you were more prone or comfortable to look the other way, this cannot be avoided, no matter how hard you try. This is unheard of in modern history, where not ideology or politics, but a deadly virus reveals in stark fashion the consequences as well as underlying dogmas and creeds of a thoroughly failed socio-economic system. And cheap politicking has nothing to do with it.

A more rational, critical perspective crudely, yet compellingly indicates that, this pandemic, in quite convincing mode, uncovers the utter bankruptcy of the neo-liberal free market capitalist economy. Only now, this insolvency is boldly and dramatically outlined, like a vastly gigantic terrifying fresco, for all to behold.

But, and as we know only too well, protagonists of capitalism are hardly in the business of changing course. Rather, they typically would fight tooth and nail to preserve the status quo, a trend that has led to a number of regime changes and even open warfare over the course of the twentieth century and well into the next.

So how, then, would they embark on defending the indefensible, one may ask? How would the neo-liberal capitalist stratum approach the present situation? Whereas the lamentations of civil society generally would be discounted or ignored in the past, how does one overlook or snub data and remedies coming from the scientific sector itself?

Fully impregnated with the neo-liberal temperament, the City of Cape Town’s absolute neglect of ordinary citizens over many years is there for all to grasp today. Take a walk to Phillipi, Kalksteenfontein, Khayelitsha, Blikkiesdorp, or Samora Machel township. There are, of course, many more forgotten, belligerent shanty towns dotting the fringes of the city. We need have no argument on this matter, except that the same could be levelled at the ruling ANC, not so.

Utterly underdeveloped and neglected living locations can be found in all provinces of South Africa. So where do we stand on the ruling South African regime, insofar as underdevelopment and neglect are not purely the offerings of the historically-privileged neo-liberal cabal?

There is, first of all, a notable difference between the politics, overall, of the DA and the ANC. While the DA is inclined to throw in its lot with the western, neo-liberal, chauvinistic flavour of capitalism, the ANC maintains good relations with Russia, to a lesser degree, but principally China, while driving its own, mainly nationalistic brand of capitalism.

The ‘neo-liberal’ aspect is therefore not as pronounced in ANC policy. But this, assuredly, does not leave it off the mark. There are, however, a few points we cannot leave out of the discussion, not in the current, devastating context of covid-19. The ANC is and remains currently the ruling party of South Africa. It is the political organisation best equipped to mobilise all required resources, authorities and specialists to deal with the pandemic. The ANC’s roots and lengthy involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle bring it closer to the masses, the far easier target and therefore main casualty of the plague.

The DA is wholly detached from the masses, let alone their demands, needs and requirements. While the ANC certainly has lost its revolutionary credentials soon after the dawn of democracy in 1994 and in following years and decades, President Cyril Rhamaphosa has emphasised, repeatedly, on various national platforms, the important role of science in his Command Council’s response to covid-19. It is this particular position that must to be supported and protected, by all citizens, at this present juncture in time.

The important role of China, a close trading partner, but also a key covid-19 advisor, in light of its own horrid experiences and considerable responses and undertakings to date, cannot be stressed enough. Added to this, the SA President has highlighted, frequently again, the ANC’s commitment to the World Health Organisation, which, in turn, has commended the country for adhering to basic scientific advice and prescriptions.

A comparative look instantly indicates that, where countries deviated from or ignored such recommendations, the consequences were swift, severe, and often deadly. The US is perhaps the best case in point.

All things considered, there is no other existing political formation to save millions of people from more adversity and misfortune at this present moment in time. While the ANC’s response policy – in terms of covid-19 – must be maintained, safeguarded and followed, at all costs, because our lives quite literally depend on it, its actual strategies, primarily in terms of dealing with social hardship now wholly exacerbated by the actual presence and ongoing spread of the plague, have been catastrophic, in many though not all respects.

Promises of monetary relief, food relief, places of safety, water supplies, protective equipment, and more, could often not be met, leaving thousands if not millions beyond despair. For the very first time, perhaps, since taking power, the ANC is compelled to deal directly with some of South Africa’s most protruding and authentic challenges.

Homelessness, hunger, destitution, ill health, lack of water provision and basic infrastructure, and more, all at the same time demand immediate reaction, and in the shortest period of time. But rather than cower in humiliation, for their dishonourable abandonment of the masses over the course of some twenty-five years, many ANC officials have valiantly stepped up to the challenge, in their drastic and frantic attempts to mobilise and protect the people, and bring relief.

Such processes are ongoing, with reports indicating successes and failures here and there, but mostly continuing pleas and complaints from far too many. Perhaps the most redeeming feature for the South African nation, one that has had quite a decisive impact on the government’s overall response program, is the South African Minister of Health, who has earned esteem not only on W.H.O. platforms but among many ordinary citizens too. Minister Zweli Mkhize’s honest, direct, well-informed and scientifically-credible approach to the pandemic is clear from his regular talks on various social, public and national platforms to citizens.

Deserving special mention too, are the ANC’s considered safety instructions and preconditions to businesses and places of work. It remains to be seen if those who clamoured so hard for the opening of the economy will adhere to these. Already there are desperate cries coming the mining sector, and beyond. But overall though, in terms of managing, controlling and where possible, slowing down, if not decisively halting the blitzkrieg on the nation’s health and well-being, the ANC is ‘the best’ we have at the moment.

Despite its imperfections, the ANC’s commitment to science is the most important and most pertinent consideration for the whole of South Africa right now. Not only should we hold it fully accountable, on this specific matter, but given the current onslaught from the entire neo-liberal fold, the ANC’s position must be supported, protected and advanced.

Standing both at the vanguard and right in the midst of the battle against covid-19, the ANC, more than any other party, is only too aware of the many depravities of capitalism. And it is none other than capitalist greed – the ultimate driver of capitalism – that brought it nearly to its knees. Getting to the bottom of this abusive, shameful, destructive and treacherous penchant, seemingly knows no end. Ask Judge Zondo.

However, as can quite clearly be seen in present times, the ruling party’s overall standpoint, in terms of covid-19, by no means enjoys the support of all sectors of South African society. Leading this malicious dissent has been, quite naturally, the Democratic Alliance & co, the ANC’s conventional cynics and critics.

The DA, however, has come out, not so much criticising the ANC for its usual ‘incompetence’ and ‘ineptness’. Not at all. The DA has launched, very much like Donald Trump has done, a full blown assault on those seeking to uphold even the most rudimentary codes and principles of science. It has no other course or choice. Accordingly, soon after the ANC revealed its loyalty to science, the DA set out to mobilise its most powerful resources and associates.

In this now collective (neo-liberal) counterattack, some very specific tactics and ploys stand out most noticeably. They constitute the blueprint, so to speak, for what may possibly turn out to be capitalism’s last and final stand.

  • Launch an attack on the ruling ANC and its Command Council, the more relentless the better, where ever possible, and by a variety of the most powerful of voices, including from the scientific field itself. Here the DA has been particularly careful not to resort to ‘scientific claims’ without the backing of ‘science’ itself. In this instance we see how even the unsuspecting ‘scientist’ can be cajoled into spewing inaccuracies, imprecisions and vagueness, all for maintaining the (economic) status quo.

The recent debacle arising from the views and standpoints of the South African Medical Council leadership is a good case in point. But note that, in order for this message to gain public traction, which it failed to muster, in the end, the neo-liberal media focused almost exclusively on such detractors’ very impressive academic credentials, perhaps of the finest ever circulated in the public domain.

Here the Daily Maverick has led the pack, without saying much if anything, about the actual disrespectful and debatable assertions levelled at the ANC. But as we soon discovered, it’s not what you say that’s deemed important. One’s right to utter even all sorts of nonsense carries ultimate weight in neo-liberal quarters.

The many enormous responsibilities in terms of keeping millions of people healthy and safe, seem of little concern to the neo-liberal fold, including those ‘supporting scholars’ who, far too comfortably, i.e., with typical neo-liberal short-sightedness and disregard, joined in the frenzy on the basis of “academic freedom” and “free speech”, if we look at the situation with just a little more complexity and honesty.

This episode only set the scene for swift court action to continue the offensive, no matter the sheer irrationality and hazards of such a procedure. And so it became inescapable for a sitting supreme court judge to cast aspersions on what ultimately boils down to the very essence of what the W.H.O. continues to pronounce and predict and advise to all nations on earth today. Right at this present moment, the ‘legal onslaught’ continues inexorably.

  • Confuse, bewilder, intimidate, and if necessary, spin falsehoods. This approach is especially rampant in its “policy” on the reopening of schools. The issue of ‘schooling’ in the Western Cape, as much as elsewhere, is by far no longer purely an ‘educational matter’. But here the Western Cape Educational Department (WECD) merely followed in the customs and dictates of its grand masters, locally and abroad. The WCED, accordingly, has been fanatical if not quite ruthless in its drive to get learners back into class, primarily to free parents to return to work, in order to get the wheels of the free-market economy grinding back into operation.

Likewise here, the DA set out to fool and bewilder the people, parents more particular, on the basis, again, of certain ‘scientific claims’. Here the WCED turned to the ‘findings’ suitably prepared, edited and arranged by certain Stellenbosch scholars.

In this respect a certain Dr N. Spaul stands out quite noticeably. This academic exposed his hand and true intensions when he publicly announced his support for the WCED MEC. And this alone, says more than enough.

However, taken out of its broader, noxious context, “extremely, extremely, extremely, unlikely” (the exact words expressed ad nauseam on eNCA and SAfm) takes on exceedingly perilous dimensions. For one, what is its real value and meaning when it is directed at a country with close on 60 million citizens? Just think about it.

The W.H.O.’s position, conversely, is far more realistic and honest, when it states, in very broad terms, that covid-19 can affect the health of children (after the first death of a (Chinese) youth was recorded in February). These DA functionaries furthermore typically omit to mention the actual calamities that so customarily ensue when children, school children particularly, do in fact contract the virus, as so often have happened on school grounds and school buses, albeit in other parts of the world, like New Zealand and Australia, for instance.

Credible reports and accounts from around the globe are readily available in this regard. Type in ‘children’ and ‘covid-19’ in google’s search engine and even before the passing of just One Second, trillions of results are generated. (So, let us also do our own homework on this very crucial matter).

And neither do these ‘concerned advocates’ consider the severe and scandalous infrastructural backlog that exists for years already across the broader, public education domain, the Western Cape included. The names or just number of schools still deprived of basic water provision predictably are not worthy of contemplation in such continuous, predominantly white clamourings. Yet water is and remains undeniably key to fighting the spread of the pandemic. But, says the WCED, children must get back to school, the sooner, the better.

Further, nearly every single voice clamouring for the reopening of schools comes from the historically-privileged community, often highlighting how well they, themselves, have responded to the demands and dangers posed by covid-19. Well done to them, but what an absurdity. It’s like the privileged boasting about their privilege. Insensitivity and selfishness, incidentally, are key ingredients of neo-liberal capitalism.

Stories now abound of parents being pressured and bullied, particularly those who refuse to send their children back to school. It furthermore has come to light that parents must sign indemnity forms when their children return to school. Why? What has happened to “extremely, extremely, extremely unlikely”? You f-ing moegoes.

I, too, have children in the family who will not ever remain silent on this matter. Most worrisome – current newspaper reports indicate, and, merely corroborate, how a return to schools – even with protective measures in place – is a short-sighted and highly precarious measure. In other words, our focus should therefore not remain fixed on making schools safe, for teaching and learning to continue, because, quite frankly, this seemingly is just not possible, not in light of what recently transpired right around the world, and more particularly, in our very own SA. All of our energies should be devoted, in the very first instance, to keeping children and teachers safe.

  • In dealing especially with the ordinary people of Cape Town, the DA’s response, quite frankly, has been more than just criminal. Its seeming inability “to do the right thing”, somehow only shows up its deeply congenital racist nature. When covid-19 landed in the Western Cape it seemed to have caught the DA government almost totally off guard. This is most strange, but also says quite a lot. Let’s never forget that the DA has always held the principle of capacity in high regard – even if this meant that ‘white’ and ‘men’ will dominate its workforce.

Things like capacity, aptitude, capability, competence, good credentials (including a matric + lengthy experience), professionalism remain very close to its frosty bosom. They feature quite perceptibly in its now long-established condemnation of the ruling ANC. The ANC is not only full of skelms (crooks), but also consumed by incompetence, has been the DA’s parliamentary mantra ever since “state capture” became part of our lexicon.

So when it came to mobilising especially Cape Town’s thousands of already abandoned and wretched people, the whole of South Africa waited, and waited, and waited for real and true COMPETENCE to kick into high gear. What we soon learnt, however, was – don’t wait for it.

This unpardonable response seems to be part of a much broader, historically-racist custom, if we look at some basic facts. When we consider the DA’s treatment of Cape Town’s homeless people from early lock-down right up to this present moment in time, and how various oversight bodies – like the Doctors-withoutborders, Amnesty International but also the South African Human Rights Commission – have reacted to such response measures, then we may begin to understand the broader connotations of what so commonly goes by the name of racism. Word is just out from – not the Institute for Race Relations, yet another flimsy, and ineffectual neoliberal mouth-piece – but from middle class Cape Town high school students, no less, deploring and condemning the abuse they’ve been subjected to whilst in attendance at school. This custom, they claim, classroom peers, teachers and school managements repeatedly either supported, overtly or tacitly, or just turned a blind eye to, if in fact there’s any difference here.

These courageous youths deserve our support and praise for doing the right thing, for in this part of the world bigotry is not illusory but very real. I know this only too well. Far too often it remains concealed, because quislings and backstabbers and pseudo struggle intellectuals are rather plentiful down here too. So these students must exercise extreme caution.

There simply is no way the DA, the IRR or its compliant WCED, which assuredly now will launch some or other ‘investigation’, could ever begin to resolve this discreditable impasse. These are the very bodies imbued, so it appears, with an in-bred penchant for this humanly-destructive syndrome. Simply put, neither the racist nor his house-nig**r can resolve the issue of racism. Their direct involvement can only make matters worse. All of this and more strongly illustrate the interconnectedness of racism, and capitalism, at least in the Western Cape of South Africa, the uppermost seat of neo-liberal thinking arguably across the continent.

Quite prominently, the DA is perpetuating that all-too familiar brutal viciousness, as shown in its inhumane treatment (forced encampment) of Cape Town’s homeless people and callous eviction of despairing shack dwellers, i.e., at a time when fears of covid-19 ran extremely high across all frontiers. On another level, it could be argued that the current, incessant harking to this or that court, typically because of some or other hair-splitting matter, is a time-wasting, destructive sideshow, largely aimed at both demeaning the ruling party and subverting its response strategies.

The ruling party has thus far professed to stand on the side of science, which only keeps on showing up the many catastrophes and inadequacies of the neo-liberal free market economy, the DA’s most cherished ideological bedrock. Because the DA cannot really and truly argue with science – Trump’s idiotic rantings must have played a part – it has no option but to set its sights and claws on individuals and groups who argue on the basis of science. As the main actor in this brewing scene, the ANC is its natural and direct target. The ANC, furthermore, must be discredited, unsettled, and thoroughly thrown off course. Hell, just how many court cases are in the pipe-line right now? This slanderous assault is not purely a last-ditched, frantic attempt to save neo-liberal capitalism from near certain ruin and doom. It is also and at the same time a crude manifestation of an entrenched racist-colonialist ideology, now set into motion, almost without restraint.

In conclusion: since the very protection of life is humankind’s most important, most relevant, and most pertinent concern, throughout history AND at this very point in time, it stands to reason that broad alliances – on the full basis of credible science – are inevitable and necessary, on all social, intellectual and political levels. Protect the foundations of Science from the perils of Neo-liberal Falsehood.

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The above is a DRAFT PAPER SUBMISSION FOR POSSIBLE DISCUSSION.  LET US ALL UNITE & PROTECT THE FOUNDATIONS OF SCIENCE FROM THE PERILS OF NEO-LIBERAL FALSEHOOD – June 2020 – by Clive W. Kronenberg (Ph.D.) Lead-coordinator: South-South Educational Research & Knowledge Interchange Initiative (Africa/The Caribbean/Latin America) [NRF-accredited & transdisciplinary research scholar, holder of the 2015 contribution to the Cuban university award & lead co-ordinator of the S-S research collaboration & knowledge interchange initiative, the author is currently based at UWC’s centre for the performing arts. He currently celebrates twenty years of dedicated, internationally-awarded research, which informs and supports key arguments and ideas raised here.]

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