VS Naipaul has been a divisive writer and character. I have not read many of his works and I in fact know very little about him other than some of the controversies and that he lived next door to the writer Anthony Powell. However, having just read The Bend in the River, which is not without its problems, I was struck by the end of it and where South Africa stands now.
At least some of the politics of the novel bears some similarities with the politics of the EFF. What will be interesting in the next few years is to see how the issue of land restitution plays out. I think there are some policies that the EFF espouses that remain largely unclear. The big question for me is to establish just what land appropriation will mean for the country. What I hope the EFF are saying is that we need to make the land benefit the majority of the population. What I hope they don’t mean is that they want South Africa to be turned back to a backward looking agrarian culture. This will surely only lead to chaos and insurrection.
What kind of society does the EFF want? The problem with their rhetoric is that they speak to at least three disparate policies. One where the land is given back to the people and they are sent back from the cities to the countryside, the second is to attempt to create a command economy and the other is a sophisticated social democracy with a mixed economy along the lines of either Singapore or the Scandinavian countries.
If it is the last, then they would have my vote. The trouble is one just can’t be sure what the EFF actually is arguing for. And one, at times, can’t help but get the feeling that they are heading down the same road, one of cult leadership and populism, that they claim to be fighting against. What is worrying is that certain of their rhetoric could potentially set off violence of a racial, possibly even a tribal, kind and once this has begun there might very well be no stopping it. This is I think far away, but the threat is nevertheless there given the state of the current ANC.
The simple truth is we have to make South Africa a more equal society. Whether it is too late to stop the violence that may ensue is up to whether, largely speaking, white people are prepared to share and participate fairly and genuinely in the broader South African community – this we have, on most terms, never done. It is whether largely speaking white capital and white bodies and minds put their money and their efforts into education and into acknowledging financially and on simple human terms that the people who they employ live similar lives to them. Personally I am not sure whether white people have it in them. And so it maybe, rather than showing to the likes of the EFF (who with a faction of the ANC might come to power) that a mixed economy which favours equality could work, they will force the EFF to follow the path that I ultimately think neither the EFF nor white capital wants.
In Naipaul’s words near the end of The Bend in the River we want the change, that is surely coming to South Africa, not to be ‘without meaning’ and for it to be ultimately ‘bad for everybody’ sending us into a world of civil strife, even war, and into a agrarian world without education. Largely speaking white people need to engage if this is not to happen. The EFF has at least two paths it could potentially send the country down but I think it is in the white people’s hands to choose their fate. Let us hope that we direct ourselves down the one less traveled.