Eyewitness: The best-laid plans…

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…for a plural society

South Africa – in which widespread violence, looting, killings and general mayhem recently broke out – can be seen as the paradigmatic “plural society” – of which we’re one. What lessons, if any, can we glean from their experience? While 76 per cent of the country are “Black”, they’re divided into several ethnic groups with different cultures and languages. In the 55-million populace are the Zulu – of “Shaka Zulu” fame; the Xhosa – Nelson Mandela’s tribe; the Bapedi; the Tswana; the South Ndebele; Basotho; Venda; Tsinga and Swazi. “Black” was the label slapped on them all by the colonial and then the Apartheid state between 1948 and 1994. But the divisions remain deeply rooted.

In addition to them are the Whites and Coloureds who clock in at just under 10 per cent each and then Indians, most arriving as Indentured Servants like in Guyana and some other wealthy recent arrivals. Now if that’s not a PLURAL society, then what is? We, after all, are only the land of SIX peoples!! But can we assume that their divisions might be a bit deeper than ours just because for 46 years the Apartheid State officially defined the groups as different and actually segregated them – forcibly in many instances – into communities where there could be no mixing or mingling? Our segregation after the 1960s after all wasn’t officially enforced.

Anyhow, as the walls of communism fell up in Europe by 1990 so was the apartheid wall crumbling when Mandela was released in 1990. A lot of efforts – reminiscent of what we have been experiencing since 1992 here – were put into place to ensure South Africa segued into a peaceful, democratic state following democracy in elections in 1994.

Constitutional change? Did that!! In fact, the South African constitution was deemed a template for constitutional engineering in plural societies the world over. All the “innovations” that are now being touted by Constitutional Columbuses here can be found in that document! Truth and Reconciliation Commission? South Africa gave legitimacy to that mechanism under the venerable Bishop Tutu! Government of National Unity? Did that for one term! Decentralisation? South Africa is a unitary state with national, provincial and local governments!

But yet they exploded? What gives? Was it just the reaction of the supporters of Jacob Zuma to his imprisonment for contempt-of-court conviction following corruption investigations? Or was that just a trigger for deeper structural contradictions coming out of their plural nature? Well, it does look like it was a combination of both factors. Yes…Zuma’s Zulu supporters did start the rampage. But it was then continued by Blacks of all ethnicities and classes!

Sadly for a Guyanese prognosis, the key variable was irresponsible leaders who placed their ambitions over national needs.

…for social cohesion

One of the most puzzling aspects of the Granger Presidency was the gap between the “social cohesion” he introduced as “the defining” policy in his Administration and the actions unleashed directly by him. Now the “social cohesion” move made sense – politically and otherwise. After all, in Guyana’s ethnically-fractured polity – in which he’d secured office through a coalition designed to bring in votes across the divide, “social cohesion” was vital for securing another term of office.

So did Granger think that mere nice-sounding platitudes would secure “social cohesion” in our Plural Society? And here your Eyewitness thought he’d sat at the feet of Burnham and imbibed some socialist ideological orientation! Men are moved because of their MATERIAL conditions!! So why in God’s name would he fire 7000 mostly Indian sugar workers? Hadn’t he expended much political capital (40% of the Cabinet!) to poach some? Did he really believe the said workers would see the “big picture” on sugar?
Who doan hear, does feel!!

…of Burnham
Rodney said he would’ve compared Burnham’s megalomania with Hitler, but for the former’s Lilliputian pond – in which he revelled in being the big fish.
So his 28-year rule had to be scaled for Hitler’s 1000-year Reich!!