Monday, November 8, 2010

Political Dealings

Image: Zero Mostel as Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

There are a lot of things that are very similar between American and South African culture, but one thing that is distinctly different is politics. It’s always a challenge to understand what’s going on in politics in my own country, much less in other parts of the world, but I’m always eager to learn more about South African government and politics, and as such was excited when Kathy and Cornelius invited us to a meeting of the Unity Movement, a political movement they’re involved with. They have their issues with the movement, believing that they’re not moving anywhere, and will never get anything done unless they drastically change their approach. I’m not entirely sure about the principles upheld by this group, or what makes them different, but they are a bit socialist, and are against government corruption, inequality, and so on. When we arrived they told us that we were going to start off with a movie on slavery, so I quickly steeled myself for intense documentary of human trafficking, or History Channel special on the slave trade, or something heavy like that. Instead, when he put in the DVD it broke out in loud, cheesy music. We were watching A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a musical. Not at all what I was expecting. It does have to do with slavery – it follows a slave, Pseudolus, as he works out a wild plot to buy his freedom, and involves various people enslaved in different ways – in marriage, prostitution, and under the eyes of strict parents, as well as traditional enslavement. It was funny, though somewhat raunchy and terribly irreverent.

After the movie finished we had a long discussion about the themes it held and how they can apply to the members of the group, as students and professionals living, gaining an education, and working in South Africa. I was actually really impressed with the heavy themes and connections they made from this ridiculous movie, extracting very serious ideas about gender, enslavement and inequality from the most obscure scenes. The main idea of the discussion ended up being about how they as non-white South Africans face a kind of enslavement through the limitations that government, culture and even their own perceptions and psychological limitations have placed upon them. The conversation ranged from the definition of freedom within a democratic society and the question of whether personal freedoms have to be sacrificed for the good of the whole, to specific issues like the low quality of public education and health care, the ever-present issues of government corruption, and the need for bank reform. One of the men talked about how even though Apartheid had ended things had not necessarily improved – huge problems still exist within the government and people still don’t have equal opportunities, but the sense of community is lost. During Apartheid people came together in their protest against the government, unified and driven, but today they have become complacent, and simply accept government inadequacies rather than rising up against them. What I wanted through all of this was to hear the solutions, which is the same issue that Kathy and Cornelius have voiced about this group. Anyone can name off the problems that exist within government, and there are always plenty to choose from, but it doesn’t do you any good unless you have solutions to those problems, or alternatives that would lessen these problems in the future. And once you have those solutions and alternatives, you need to get them outside of your own group and into the public eye, so that you have the possibility of actually creating change.

After the discussion we moved into the other room and split up into separate tables, the official meeting over, though the conversations all around were still coming off of the same vein. I ended up talking to Cornelius and another man about American politics, describing the major differences between Democrats and Republicans but explaining that, in the end, we’re always in essentially the same place. It was a long night filled with a lot of heavy discussion – we had arrived at 7:30 and didn’t leave until midnight. I really enjoyed it though; I always like to talk politics.

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