Faith Silandulo Dube is a social scientist that is well known to me. Part of his good work involves designing programmes concerning the distribution of drugs and other medications to people with terminal conditions in the nine provinces of the Republic of South Africa.
He also monitors and evaluates the success and or failure of these distributive initiatives. In that way he is a valued partner of the Department of Health in the Republic.
After one busy day he came to our meeting point sweating with a burdensome perplexity: “daily we give people medication packs marked, ‘drink two tablets after a meal’ and the majority of these patients do not afford what can scientifically be called a meal, it is a scandal.”
Silandulo’s dilemma and perplexity took us back to Thabo Mbeki who dropped a philosophical and scientific bombshell to the effect that the problem in Africa was not HIV/ Aids but poverty that was connected to the enduring colonial and racist legacy in the continent.
Silandulo’s perplexity and Mbeki’s dilemma have one common denominator in their meaning and that is, diseases are much more fatal on the poor than they are for the rich and the resourced.
Not just because the rich can afford private health care but that their healthy lifestyles and access to adequate clean food and water makes them durable and resistant to opportunistic diseases. Money can buy long life. Silandulo daily witnesses the futility of giving patients drugs that will not work because their bodies do not have access to nutritious food. Food security is not necessarily nutrition security; some poor people eat piles and loads of food that does not translate to a meal or to nutrition.
Mbeki observed that even if you supply ARVs, if the patients are poor, hungry and living in unhygienic conditions the disease will still devour them. The disease of all diseases then is poverty.
Another friend of mine is simply called “Personal” because his lack of English vocabulary has him starting every sentence with the word “personally.”
He has the prestigious job of being a Quality Control Manager in a big food and hospitality company that prides itself with fresh and quality food. Part of his good job is supervising the flashing of food that was not bought down the pit-latrine at the end of each working day.
This company boasts that it does not sell any food that has “slept for a night.” Quality and health standards of the company entail that all the food that remains on the shelves and warmers after each day should be disposed of in a transparent and scientific manner, with witnesses from the Health Department and Standards Association in attendance.
This daily flashing down of otherwise still fresh food happens behind the streets where many homeless and hungry people sleep and a big public hospital where terminally ill people are attended to.
Mbeki and Silandulo could easily suggest that the mass of food be donated to the poor patients to boost their chances of responding well to medication or the homeless poor that are not only patients of some diseases but poverty itself.
Staff members in the good company are not, by strict rule, supposed to pocket any of the food because, the company believes, they will begin to make sure that more and more food is left over each day so that they could take it home to their families, which would be high theft and corruption.
Once or twice I have witnessed Personal’s own fridge looking compromised and compromising in its emptiness, when his professional speciality is to throw food away. We live in a true throw away world where builders have no houses and tailors have no clothes.
All this happens in South Africa which is a country that holds the record of having the most democratic constitution in the world. My observation and also argument is that even the best forms of democracy in the world do not really care about human inequalities and social justice.
Democracy has no problem with quantities of food going down the drain when multitudes die of poverty just across the street. Corporate standards of quality and good reputation are more important than some human lives. In other words, my argument is that democracy is an apology for capitalism.
It is a perfect alibi for profit making as a religion and a fundamentalism. The heavenly life that a minority of whites and some chosen blacks enjoy in South Africa at the expense of millions of blacks is protected in the democratic constitution as the human right to private property. By the democratic constitution, some minorities live on kilometres of land while majorities squeeze their families into tin shacks.
Democracy as a political system conspires with its economic system of capitalism to make all this natural and normal. For that reason, we must democratise democracy or else decolonise democracy so that it can begin to valorise social justice.
Decolonially thinking and speaking Heaven may not really be in Heaven and hell in hell because here on earth some people live heavenly lives and others hellish existences. Might poverty be a true sin for which the poor get roasted in hell right here on earth, I ask.
Democracy without Economic Content
To many of us in the Global South democracy entails free, fair, credible and legitimate elections where we can change leaders the way we do dirty underclothes. For others it is freedom of expression, movement and association that allow us to move and speak the way we want, and Amen.
Democracy is in other words a good packet of a bill of rights. For the reason that Euro-American democracy is capitalist there is silence on fair distribution of resources as a democratic right. Manmade social inequalities are neither a crime or are they justiciable as social injustice.
The North Americans and Europeans are fond of donating big money for opening up media channels in Africa and conducting free and fair elections. They are not invested in enforcing that minerals resources, wildlife and other natural resources of the Global South should be used to totally eradicate poverty. Poverty is eradicable but that is not in the interest of democracy and capitalism.
To even think and speak or write of the possibility that poverty can be totally eradicated is considered, in respectable places, an intellectual insanity.
Yet it should be the first priority in the priorities of all religions and political schools of thought. Any form of democracy and model of development that has no economic content or redistributive agenda should be considered scandalous.
Government of the people by the people for the people is not true governance if the people are poor, hungry, diseased and excluded from the wealth of the soils below their feet.
The first crime of tyranny and dictatorship, and the first and capital form of coloniality, is the hoarding and monopolisation of wealth by a few in countries and continents. In that logic, poverty should be considered a threat to democracy and human rights, a serious crime against humanity.
The Democratic Cover Up
Democracy needs to be democratised or decolonised because its otherwise good name is used to cover up crimes and injustices of capitalism and coloniality.
Capitalism is not essentially evil, only capitalists have made it so. If mass production of goods and services can be used for the benefit of the multitudes capitalism would be a great economic system. Alain Badiou complained of “the democratic emblem” in the use of democracy as a symbol and a flag that represents essentially nothing good except the misruling and exploitation of the multitudes through all sorts of pretences.
Jacques Ranciere has also complained of the growing “hatred of democracy” in that it has been imposed on other societies by brute force and undemocratic means, and abused as an excuse to cover up for such evils as colonialism and imperialism. Paul Zeleza famously noted that “like beauty democracy lies in the eyes of the beholder.”
Even the most venal tyrants, such as Slobodan Milosevic and our very own Idi Amin in Africa, swore by the name of democracy when they did their now most infamous deeds. The names of democracy and revolution itself are being used the world over to cover up crimes of greed and theft by evil politicians in the world system with satanic senses of entitlement to other continents and countries.
As far as democracy and revolution are concerned we must vigilantly do the decolonial thing of “rethinking thinking” and “learning to unlearn in order to re-learn”. Most powerful talk about democracy and development in the world from powerful people and forces is just pure wind, a cover up for their national and personal interests.
Otherwise for now democracy might actually be the big excuse by the few to misrule the many and to eat on behalf of the multitudes.
Politicians and philosophers of liberation such as Thabo Mbeki have observed and engaged with coloniality of power and knowledge in democracies. Social scientists and consultants such as Faith Silandulo Dube have also observed the clever but also powerful way in which the daily language and practices of governmental and non-governmental work conceal violent coloniality.
Otherwise good people like my generous friend, Personal (he now and again makes tables dirty with beer), continue to be used against themselves by the system.
The poor and the diseased are not in the scheme of the things of power. Perhaps, one powerful way of democratising democracy and decolonising it too is to ensure that all talk and practice of democracy must include the eradication of poverty and social inequalities that are a disease of all diseases and a killer of all killers.
The decolonisation of the places of the Global South and liberation of the people of the same places will not be true without ensuring that people benefit from the wealth of their lands.
National and natural resources of the Global South should not be for the benefit of a few business tycoons, politicians and their foreign imperialist and colonial connections.
Governments and other organisations of the Global South should militantly defend the right of the poor multitudes to the natural resources of their countries and continents.
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena is a founding member of Africa Decolonial Research Network (Adern). He writes from Sunnyside, Pretoria: email@example.com.