Let's not mock Zuma too much

Jeremy Gordin takes issue with the derision that greeted President's remarks on Verwoerd

I note that almost everyone is mocking the president of the beloved republic, JG Zuma, for having said - thus were his utterances reported at any rate - that Hendrik "Frenchie " Verwoerd, our sweetheart of a prime minister from 1958 to 1966, is responsible for the major ball/s-up/s we are presently experiencing in the edjamacation  sector.

I note with some alarm, by the way, that Verwoerd - whom my parents used as a sort of a bogeyman when I was a child, just as English parents used Boney (Napoleon) in Jane Austen's day - was born on 8 September and was assassinated on 6 September by Dimitri Tsafendas. My alarm is engendered not by the fact that he was whacked two days before his birthday or that he was whacked precisely on my 14th birthday, but that he too is a Virgo. I tell you, friends: Virgos, and viragoes and virgins too, are a bad lot.

But I digress. One more digression about Verwoerd: at some point he lived in Parkview, near Christopher Hope's family.

Anyway, what Zuma was apparently trying to say was that there is a context - and the context, the abyss out of which education has to climb, is apartheid (once called by Verwoerd "the policy of good neighbourliness") and its policy that black people should be "educated" (ha ha) to be "hewers of wood and drawers of water" (Joshua 9:23).

Zuma was trying to say that the Verwoerdian view is the legacy away from which modern Seffrican education has to walk.

"We are not dealing with a problem of today; we are solving a problem of centuries [ago] [sic]," Zuma is reported as saying on Talk Radio 702 to Redi Tlhabi.

"What is happening today is what Verwoerd did, where the black majority was historically not given education. We are dealing with a system which put Black people back for centuries," Zuma said.

Of course what Zuma was trying to say ("please, my fellow Seffricans, don't forget the context and background of the thing we are discussing") and what he actually said were not necessarily the same.

Between his thought and his articulation often falls the shadow, as Thos Stearns Eliot might have said.

The Hayibo website wrote: "LIMPOPO. A day after Jacob Zuma blamed Hendrik Verwoerd for the Limpopo education crisis, the ANC has dispatched a crack team of zombie hunters to track down the apartheid leader. ‘If we understand the President correctly, there's a 111-year-old undead white supremacist hijacking textbooks out there,' said a spokesman."

Others, including myself, thought that, yeah, the president really ought to be checking out things a little closer to home, as it were, both in terms of time and people: not Verwoerd but Angie Motshekga and all who sail in her, including her own DG, Bobby Soobrayan, whom I notice is keeping his head below the parapet at the minute; Dickhead Masemola, the Limpopo MEC for edjamacation; and also whomever signed the dispatch notes, delivery notes, etc, and whoever was supposed to drive the delivery van. They would all seem to me to be more culpable than Verwoerd.

And, if I were the president, I'd also have a jolly good look at all those ANC types or ANC bum chums, all those politicians and advisers and consultants, such as Kader Asmal, Mary Metcalfe, and Graeme Bloch - to name but three who spring readily to mind - who speak well-enunciated English, introduced all sorts of high-falutin' codswallop into Seffrica such as calling pupils "learners" and teachers "educators," and indeed introduced crud such as "Life Orientation" - when they ought really to have stuck to reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.

But, there, I've had my little tantrum, let's move on.

Now I need at this point - in terms of what I am about to write - to offer a little context and background.

First of all, I am very fond of David Bullard (whom I sometimes call the Bullfinch), so what follows is about having some grist for my hypothesis/ analogy. It's not about being mean to Bullard. He just happens, as you will see in a moment, to have been, as it were, in the wrong place at the wrong time - a bit like the pupils in Limpopo.

Second, I am well aware that a column of the sort that Bullard writes for Politicsweb is not meant to be a scholarly or deeply-researched piece. It's meant to be, well, a column. No more, no less.

Okay, are you all sitty  comftybold  two-square on your botty ? Then I'll begin. (Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, the Small Faces and Stanley Unwin.)

Recently, at the weekend, I was researching various ways of killing one's wife. Not, you understand, because I am planning to kill my wife, though the thought has crossed my mind, but because I am toying with writing a novel about a fellow who does just that.

And I stumbled across the story of Louis Althusser, the French Marxist philosopher, who was mad as a bloody hatter and also got away with offing his wife. This of course led me to the late, great historian and scholar Tony Judt who has shown pretty much what aputz Althusser was, a badly-read one to boot.

And from there I travelled to academic Marxism, political Marxism, classical Marxism, historical materialism, social democracy, socialism, communism, Stalinism, and to the likes of Terry Eagleton (inter alia Why Marx was Right, Yale University Press, 2011), Eric Hobsbawm, George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, Isaac Deutscher - and on to Nicos Poulantzas, Ralph Miliband, Slavoj Zizek - and on and on it goes.

The point is not to offer a librarian's catalogue of Marxist writers and thinkers (I haven't even mentioned Rabbi Karl himself or Friedrich Engels or Nikolai Bukharin or Antonio Gramsci.) The point is to remind myself and you how many people with massive brains and even larger passions were involved in the Marxist enterprise.

I have also read recently - courtesy of the Mail&Grauniad - that "the revival of interest in Marxism, especially for young people, comes because it provides tools for analysing capitalism and especially capitalist crises such as the one we're in now," [Joseph] Choonara [an organiser of the five-day Marxism 2012 in London] said.

Obviously not everyone is pleased about the alleged resurgence of Marxism. The same article - written by Stuart Jeffries (M&G, 13-19 July) - quotes an English professor of democratic theory (Alan Johnson) as follows: "A worldview that was the source of immense suffering and misery and responsible for more deaths than fascism and Nazism is mounting a comeback; a new form of left-wing totalitarianism that enjoys intellectual celebrity but aspires to political power. The New communism matters not because of its intellectual merits but because it may yet influence layers of young Europeans in the context of an exhausted social democracy, austerity and a self-loathing intellectual culture ..."

Yet, notwithstanding the years of thought and effort and energy and suffering and death and what-have-you that have gone into Marxism and everything that has flown from it, on 11 July Bullard wrote off Communism as having "all the allure of tuning into the forthcoming Olympics to watch the Saudi Arabian women's beach volley ball team going for gold". 

Now then, dear readers, here are my questions: Wasn't Bullard's article a trifle glib, a smidgeon shallow? Wasn't writing off Marxism in 900 words or so just a tad facile?

Yet it was generally applauded.

In the meantime, however, Zuma's comments on edjamacation and Verwoerd, his attempts at giving things context, are mocked as a misguided and glib attempt at writing off and hiding government incompetence.

Is this fair? I'm only asking.

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