REVIEW: Mvelase Peppetta
For me, politics is more than just mere politics. It can be as much a piece of entertainment as good a movie. At various points in my life, I’ve found myself deeply invested in politics as strange as following the merry-go-round of Japanese Prime-Ministers to small district races in the US.
South African politics, however, are slightly less entertaining.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, our politicians rank right up there with their international counterparts in having hidden agendas, murky pasts, and the ability to stab a former colleague in the back at the turn of a dime. What hampers my ability to enjoy the gamesmanship of South African politics is that South African political skulduggery is something that has consequences on my life and being the person I am, can make me rather emotional.
As such, beyond following what’s happening in the news, I try not to get too enmeshed in South African politics which often means steering clear of books on South African politics.
However, with Xolela Mangcu’s The Arrogance of Power – South Africa’s Leadership Meltdown I thought that it just being a collection of his columns from the past 16 years, it wouldn’t be too distressing.
But, in Mangcu’s own words the reasoning for this collection is because of a “sense of shame about the direction we (South Africa) have taken in the past 20 years.”
I fully agree that in the past 20 years South African politicians have failed us. For me, Mangcu’s decision to publish The Arrogance of Power because of that immediately placed me on guard. It in no way, detracted from how much I enjoyed the collection, just altered the frame in which I viewed it. In saying that he put it out because of a sense of shame, I knew that there was a narrative arc he was building in the columns he chose to include, and those he chose to exclude. It’s not necessarily a negative thing, just something readers should keep in mind.
What I found most fascinating in this collection was reading up on the early-Mbeki years.
I knew the facts of that period, but Mangcu’s collection – as it does throughout – gave a jolt to the memory of what that time was actually like. We now know what an unmitigated disaster Mbeki’s presidency ultimately was for South Africa. But through Mangcu’s columns from that time you remember how hopeful he, and South Africans in general, were at the start of his presidency.
By presenting you with Mangcu’s, generally mainstream, analysis written from the times that became political watersheds for South Africa, the reader is transported back to that time.
That, more than being a narrative driven by a sense of shame, is where Mangcu’s collection is strongest.
It not only reminds of where we’ve been, but also dredges up all the feelings from that time. As I see it, if South Africa is ever to get itself on the correct path again, being aware of both the facts of a particular time and also the emotions from that time, will be key.