On 22 September 22, a group of self-described "queer black and coloured artists and activists" calling themselves the Queer Radical Activist Feminist Collective occupied a mansion in Camps Bay. This they broadly termed was an attempt to address a wide range of issues varying from a lack of safe housing for victims of domestic violence, to safe spaces for people within the LGBTQIA+ community, to how many people cannot afford to pay rent, to how many have very little hope of ever owning a house.
These are legitimate issues.
In South Africa, there is a terrifying amount of domestic violence and a profound lack of safe housing for victims. In a country where the deliberate rape of lesbian women and gay men in order to "correct" them is prevalent, only the most calloused and lacking in empathy can deride anyone who calls for safe spaces for vulnerable people.
However important it is to recognise and indeed empathize with the issues the activists raise, it is also important to understand what belief system animates how they choose to frame these issues, and who or what they see as causing these issues. Understanding this is very telling.
In the words of the activists themselves on their various individual social media accounts and also most notably on the Coloured Mentality Facebook page it is clear who and what is seen as the problem:
"We are queer, black and coloured activists united from the working and middle class to occupy Camp's Bay Mansion and reject the profiteering of our natural resources by global elites in a corrupt and broken system of inequality," they explain on their social media accounts.
Under The #Weseeyou hashtag on twitter they go on to say:
"We're a collective of queer black South Africans. We are currently occupying a mansion in Camps Bay, one of the most expensive suburbs on the continent & reclaiming the space as a place of refuge. We stand in solidarity with the occupation movement globally #weseeyou #takeupspace"
This echoes many sentiments in South African political discourse and even from around the world. It is drawn from the wellspring of anti-market capitalism, tinged with the old calling card of the politics of envy.
The buzzwords are many, including "white monopoly capital", "the one percent", and "the global elites" (a staple of Trump supporters). They are mixed up with notions of white people and, in some cases, immigrants being the enemies of the ordinary working class people trying to get by. In South Africa, it is the "Stellenbosch mafia" led by Johann Rupert. In America, you often hear about George Soros or some other coastal elite (there is that word again) trying to stiff the little man. Depending on the context of the country, some leaders promise to cut the throat of whiteness, while others promise to drain the swamp and build walls to keep the troublemakers out.
What is glossed over is that many of the problems cited by the Camps Bay occupiers can be traced back to different iterations of the government.
It was the apartheid government which dispossessed people of land and destroyed any substantive notion of a free and fair property market, it is the government which has bungled the land reform project, it is the government which sets high barriers of entry into the labour market for low skilled young people leaving them unemployed and with very little chance of gaining skills and advancing in life, it is the government which has under-resourced the police service, and it is the government, despite recommendations from committed domestic violence activists, which failed to approve budgets for safe housing for domestic violence victims and create procedures between the departments of health, social development and the police.
The problem for activists is that they drink from the same wellspring as the government and ultimately, and I would argue unjustly, what ends up on trial is the free market, private enterprise, private property owners, and people who have accumulated wealth. Just as the success of spaza owners in townships has caused a rise in xenophobic rhetoric and a drive from the government to limit both business opportunities and job opportunities for foreign nationals, so whatever and whomever is successful in the economy is considered to be doing something wrong, must be oppressing or cheating or exploiting. It just never occurs to either the activists or the government that they are drinking from the wrong wellspring.
They are blind to the fact that the free market, private property rights, a deregulated labour market ARE what lead to growth and prosperity, and are the tools with which to fix social issues.
Different groups of activists are in on the heist of productive and value creating sectors of society through regulation, crushing taxes and diverting money to unproductive and fanciful projects when their problem is that they do not like their situation in life.
If they ever criticise the government, it is because of this rather than to put the government on trial for the profound injustice and misery its policy and actions cause.This article was first published on City Press on 15 October 2020