Dear Professor Nussbaum,
This morning I downloaded a lecture that you gave at the British Academy in which you refer to the discredited model of development pursued by South Africa in the twentieth century, implying that this country only invested in technical and engineering skills. On the contrary, at that time far more funds were spent on the arts, culture, classical music, theatre, opera and so on than today. Even African languages were promoted whereas today only English prevails.
But I suppose democracy in itself or head counts at the polling booth is a higher value than civilisation itself, as you seem to imply that we should study the humanities in order to advance democracy.
A few years ago I wrote a novel in my language, Afrikaans, which is set in the Paris metro. One of the themes is South Africa as a stereotype. When you refer in your lecture to “the brutal apartheid regime” that built so many schools and hospitals and made this country into the biggest economy on the African continent, you are of course merely repeating that stereotype, Manichean or binary in distinguishing so easily between right and wrong.
It may be that apartheid was brutal, even though 900 people were killed in direct state action in forty years, paling into insignificance besides the many catastrophes of the African continent: Rwanda, the four million killed in the Congo, mass rapes of women, organised famine in Mengistu’s Ethiopia, and so on. During the Angolan war against the Marxist movement known as the MPLA, assisted by Cuba, Russia and East Germany, just over 1 000 of our young conscripts died in 20 years of fighting. Today, under so-called democracy, that many people are murdered every week or two, including innocent children and toddlers such as the recent case of the little girl Willemien Potgieter. The two-year old Willemien was picked up by her hair by a young black man and shot in the head, her corpse carried afterwards to her mother who was also executed while praying to God on her knees. So our former war was far less “brutal” than our present and horrible peace.
Our newspapers are full of these massacres and atrocities that are a daily occurrence, yet we are considered a free and “democratic” country, no longer “brutal”. The real brutality and fear that we experience, cowering behind the walls of our gated communities, are seen to be harmless side-effects of social change and multiculturalism.
Or do you perhaps have an opinion on the brutality of our current South African democracy too? And what would it be?
Dr. Dan Roodt