Volume 9, Issue 1 & 2
Talk Left Walk Right:
Patrick Bond is one of the most prolific and insightful political economists writing on Africa today. In this book he sets out the ways in which the South African government has attempted to reform the global political-economic system towards greater fairness for the developing world. The chapters cover an extensive range of topics from the World Trade Organization to reparations for slavery; the New Partnership for African Development to water privatisation. The book is written in an accessible style and illustrated with many excellent cartoons by Zapiro, who humorously reflects on the South African condition. The text also includes many useful figures on debt repayments and corporate profits amongst other indicators.
In the era of globalization the power of the nation state to formulate and steer economic and social policy is commonly thought to have deteriorated. Consequently the South African state has sought to reshape the global context through institutional reform. However, Bond concludes this is a “great scam.” Over eleven chapters and in elaborate detail he goes through the ways in which the South African government has at times undermined collective African bargaining positions at the World Trade Organzation and criticized the Iraq war, while selling arms to the U.S. and British governments. In this way he sees the state elite as having their cake and eating it too – talking left and walking right as a way to reconcile the demands of their electoral constituency with demands of the holders of global and national economic and political power. The implication from this is that the South African state elites are “corporate sell-outs” or, as Bond puts it, managers of the equivalent of a “global Bantustan.” However, while some of the South African state’s positions have been reprehensible, an alternative reading is also possible – that is that they have made a judgement on the balance of global class and state power and have concluded that an outright anti-system challenge is destined to fail. Bond talks of Thabo Mbeki’s lack of support from domestic social movements which delegitimate him, but surely it is national elections which determine this, which the ANC continues to win convincingly?
Bond details shocking statistics such as the fact that from 1995-2000 average black incomes fell 19% contributing to mass evictions and water disconnections, whereas incomes for whites rose by 15%. However, the achievements of the post-apartheid era, such as new house construction, are perhaps underplayed. The extension of the social security system is not mentioned in the book.
This book offers an informed, fast paced and passionate snapshot of
In places the argument appears contradictory, as when Bond argues that
The decommodification of basic human rights such as “lifeline” water and electricity supplies and access to anti-retrovirals that Bond advocates are eminently sensible and just. However economic growth could facilitate such expenditures, whereas ineffective economic delinking a la
Part of the global social justice movement’s problem is that it hops from place to place, meeting to meeting rather than creating alternative infrastructures of politico-economic power. Consequently Bond seems to favor a more localist turn; not overthrowing the capitalist mode of production, but the scale at which it operates. However,
This book deals with some of the most important issues facing