Mcebo Dlamini: Seeing through the Global Citizen facade

Strategic interventions from individuals and institutions in our society are important but the government must be cautious of outsourcing its responsibilities, writes Mcebo Dlamini.

Many have had different takes on the Global Citizen initiative and its potential impact on South African politics. Many supported and attended the philanthropic initiative which had as its goal "to eradicate poverty, fight inequality and create a united South Africa". 

The concert which had many international acts such as Beyonce, Jay Z and Pharrell Williams was punctuated by speeches by various influential figures such as Oprah, the Mandelas and even President Cyril Ramaphosa.

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What seemed to be the motif of the speeches was the need to preserve Mandela's legacy of a united South Africa and the creation of a land reform program that will benefit both black farmers and their communities and white farmers and their communities.

Various corporations pledged financial support amounting to billions of dollars. For unsuspecting and uncritical masses this might seem like a noble cause but a closer look reveals that it might not be what it presents itself to be. Philanthropy in many instances is used by capitalists who exploit the people and extract resources from countries then give back less than a fraction of what they take in order to give the impression of humanity. They do this to conceal their greed and sometimes to evade taxes. 

Philanthropic initiatives like Global Citizen appear well meaning but often there is an ulterior motive behind them. In the speeches given during the concert there was emphasis on the need to create a land redistribution program that will benefit both blacks and whites. This happened just as there are heated debates in the country around the expropriation of land without compensation. What became clear to me during the concert was that the land expropriation without compensation narrative is prone to be captured by individual capitalists who will now have the power to determine the terms and conditions of how it is carried out.

How can they not do this when they have donated billions towards the program? Thomas Sankara has already taught us that those who feed you always have the power to control you. 

The problems that South Africa faces are structural and they cannot be solved through donations. The rainbow nation hogwash that Global Citizen is attempting to forge will not be successful because regardless of the donations that are made the conditions that make poverty and inequality possible are still intact. 

A united South Africa will only be possible through redistribution of land (land expropriation without compensation) and an incorporation of all black people in the economy (nationalisation of mines and all strategic sectors of the economy).

Failure to do this will bear no fruits because the very same companies that have pledged donations exploit the people and subject them to lives of poverty and squalor. 

How is it logical to expect these companies to be genuinely invested in solving the problems that they create? In fact, the survival of these companies that donated billions of dollars is dependent on the exploitation of black labour for super profits. 

Strategic interventions from individuals and institutions in our society are important but the government must be cautious of outsourcing its responsibilities to individuals. The government has the responsibility of adopting and implementing policies that will address the concerns of the people on a structural level.

Our people should never at any point be reduced to charity cases. Charity in its nature is unsustainable and creates dependent citizens. Our people are poverty stricken not because they are incapable of helping themselves but because the current socio-economic setup of our country does not offer opportunities and in certain circumstance makes it impossible for the poor to escape the web of poverty.

What we saw in the concert is potentially dangerous because it gives room for arrogant people with money to assume the role of government outside of government. Should this not be curbed we run the risk of having an elite group of unelected individuals deciding the country's fate. Such should not be allowed. 

Culture can sometimes work for the people and at times works against the people. It has a dual role of either pacifying the people or agitating them. We can either dance into oblivion or into consciousness. It is this malleable character of culture that makes it an important and powerful instrument.

Global Citizen understands this and that is why they brought popular international figures of black culture to perform while they peddled their rainbow nation propaganda. An unsuspecting and uncritical youth saw these performances as just entertainment but that was not the case. The acts had a specific role to play and it was to lull the masses while instilling in them certain ideas. 

The national question in this country is the land question. Any attempt to unite the country without addressing the skewed land ownership patterns will neither be successful nor sustainable. 

Capitalist interventions will not solve the problems that our country faces. Capitalism is the problem. Our government has to assume its role of serving the people and address the problems in a structured manner. South Africans must also be critical and not be gullible. This means that we need to see things for what they are. Interventions will only be helpful once the government has put sustainable policies in place to eradicate poverty and fight inequality.

- Dlamini is a former Wits SRC leader and student activist. He writes in his personal capacity.

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