Week 4 Response – Neoliberalism Revisited

The Thomas article is particularly complex because of its’ exposure of the social hierarchies that exist as a result of the South African apartheid regime and its’ ability to give way to overtly capitalist opportunities such at the skin-lightening cream industry founded by the Jewish-immigrant Krok brothers. In addition to Black Consciousness leaders in South Africa, this industry was indeed met by harsh backlash for its’ the racist wounds it opened up in country led by extremely racially-divisive policies. The South African “Centimillionaire” Abraham Krok passed away in 2013 and so at least, it would be interesting to explore what Rebekah Lee might say about his funeral and the supposed irony of one of South Africa’s most famous capitalists and the potential necessity of an elaborate South African ceremony for this one controversial figure.

It is important to note, and the article emphasizes this, that with Gugulethu square there are many forms of “authentic” African daily life found in the functioning of the space, proving the “plasticity of neoliberalism:” i.e. African arts and poetry under the Shoprite signs, HIV testing stations, local vendors etc. And so, it may be too premature of a judgment to dismiss this as a non-“authentic” African space that is too far-fetched to even be beneficial for South Africans. A quote from the article stating: “It is no wonder that the people of Gugulethu are profoundly suspicious of the wealthy, no matter what their skin colour”, resonated with my ideas and forced me to think beyond the colonial power dynamics of white vs. black which is usually the initial case when discussing inequalities in South Africa. I found that this was a clear connection to the disparities that exist in actuality in the African context today as there are multiple reasons for which class divides are becoming increasingly apparent, much like those mentioned in Dolan and Roll’s article. Their work centered on the idea, counter to ineffective development aid to Africa in last decade, of “eradicating poverty through profits” and the concept of “inclusive capitalism” rooted in the bottom-of-the-pyramid (BoP) model. This focus on “inclusive global development” allowed for a refreshing alternative point of discussion in terms of the potential poverty eradication in the African context and I appreciated the acknowledgement of the emergence of enterprise and entrepreneurship as a key platform for economic growth. I have noticed a kind of spirit of entrepreneurship among African youth today and while this seems to be like a possibly problematic effect of neoliberalism, I want to first as the question of choice and whether or not these youth are feeling absolutely compelled to lead such unique ambitious lifestyles in order to define themselves as financially successful in a part of the world where poverty can be a threatening thought. Similarly, if one should assume the article is written by two women, it is less of a surprise that there is a special focus on women who identify as entrepreneurs in the article but nonetheless, this is an important area of focus as many development strategies are realizing the real qualitative benefits of targeting women in developing countries as key vehicles for change. Moreover, I appreciated the mention of what I would rather refer to as the myth of corporate social responsibility in this article and they ways in which African companies are now adopting these capitalist strategies. Overall, this week’s articles allowed for much needed alternative discussions on current realities in (globalized) African cities and a necessary re-examination of neoliberalism and its’ translation into facets of present-day African life.


Neoliberalism revisited: Entrepreneurship, Consumerism, and Global Capital

Keira Gagne

This weeks readings focus on the concept of neoliberalism in African countries. The articles discussed issues of consumerism in a globalized world. These articles were interesting to read because it was interesting to learn about how capitalism can drastically impact social relations in a country.

Thomas’ article discusses the social relations between Black consumers and Jewish entrepreneurs in South Africa both during the Apartheid and afterwards. The article discusses the skin lightening venture of entrepreneurs Abraham and Solomon Krok. Thomas explores the history of skin lighteners and the changing demographic and reasons for purchasing this product. Thomas also mentions whether or not it is appropriate for businessmen who were born into a Jewish immigrant family to market to Black consumers. The Kroks’ relationships with Black consumers led them to dominate the skin lightening industry. However, Thomas discusses how the Kroks’ brand image changed once they encouraged consumers to follow dangerous directions such as using multiple lightening products.  Thomas claims that the Kroks’ are attempting to improve their reputation through providing financial support to an Apartheid museum.

Lee’s article discusses the entrepreneurs in the funeral industry who are benefiting from ongoing epidemics in South Africa.  She discusses three main issues with the funeral industry. First Lee discusses mobility. She discusses how different funeral practices causes debates regarding ensuring cultural practices are followed. The second issue Lee expresses is that African countries are becoming more westernized. The third issue is the lack of women’s involvement in funeral practices and industry. According to Lee, entrepreneurs take advantage of the epidemics in African countries.

Reflection Question

1. After reading Rebekah Lee’s article “Death on the Move: Funerals, Entrepreneurs, and the rural-urban nexus in South Africa,” is the burgeoning funeral industry in South Africa a result of the expanding global economy or the ongoing epidemics in the country such as HIV/Aids as discussed in Lee’s article? Is this a response to serious health concerns occurring in South Africa? Should there be more emphasis on treating these epidemics instead of providing more for the actual funerals?

Week 4 – Neoliberalism Revisited: Entrepreneurship, Consumerism and Global Capital

This week we are looking at the topics of entrepreneurship, consumerism and global capital and were required to read a number of different articles that looked at the commoditization of African societies and the impacts of neoliberalism.

In the required reading by Rebekah Lee, the author discusses the exploitation of death by funeral entrepreneurs in South Africa. With the increasing death rates caused by the spread of HIV/AIDS in the area, the commoditization of burial practices has become a lucrative business for some South African entrepreneurs. This article looks specifically at the role of mobility in the movement of South Africans from rural to urban areas and how this has influenced the moral and material economies of death and how they are navigated by mourning family members and communities as a whole.

The article Skin Lighteners, Black Consumers and Jewish Entrepreneurs in South Africa by Lynn Thomas tells the story of the Krok brothers and their role as entrepreneurs in Johannesburg, South Africa. The irony of this story is that the brothers used the wealth accumulated by their skin-lightening business to fund the development of an Apartheid Museum to memorialize the racialized atrocities that occurred during the South African apartheid. On a deeper level, the author discusses the role of the apartheid in the growth of consumption and economic opportunities as well as the racialized undertones that continue to influence South African societies and how for some people, such as the Krok brothers, taking advantage of these opportunities has led to the questioning of their ethical and moral grounds.

In the paper Gugulethu: Revolution for Neoliberalism in a South African Township the author looks at the impact that neoliberalism is having on the post-apartheid city of Cape Town, South Africa through the development of the new Gugulethu mall. Through this case study, the author considers the relationship between malls and revolutions by examining how the revolutionary nostalgia of the apartheid was used by urban developers to promote consumerism. However, despite the effort to promote the mall as an emblem of African pride and roots, the community did not accept it as the neoliberalized project that it was.

Lastly, the article Capital’s New Frontier by Catherine Dolan and Kate Roll, which looked at the idea of ‘inclusive’ capitalism and economic initiatives that focus on those at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) so to speak. I found this article particularly interesting in the way that it outlined how social circumstances such as female menstruation or general hygiene are commoditized by companies who promote their products as the philanthropic solutions to these problems by associating them with social issues such as the lack of attendance of girls in school or high infant mortality rates. The article continues to discuss how those at the BoP are targeted for these products and developed into ‘aspirational consumers’ or ‘market actors’ and then turned into entrepreneurs to sell the products themselves within their communities. Overall, this article largely questions how companies construct and normalize poverty as a field for business intervention by problematizing social circumstances in an effort to establish a consumer basis.

When thinking about these articles, common themes of entrepreneurship and commoditization emerged, as well as the role of local people in economic initiatives and development in Africa. I found it interesting how these articles showed evidence of the complicated reality of local-ownership and bottom-up approaches to economic development as well as how local people are taking advantage of the informal economy and questions whether the informal economy is taking advantage of them.

– M. Thwaites (110305660)

Week 4 – Neoliberalism revisited: entrepreneurship, consumerism and global capital

Breeanna Campbell – 110671150

This first article, Death ‘On the Move’, discusses the funeral ‘business’ in Africa. Funerals in these cities are very large and expensive. Not only are they shared with the close family and friends of the lost loved one, funerals are shared with the entire community. For this reason, the author discusses how funerals are becoming (or perhaps have always been) a form of entertainment. The increasing growth and cost of these funerals have created new business opportunities and a demand for this funeral business market. Are funerals for profit, with fancy coffins and expensive holiday dates?

The Gugulethu Mall article discusses the struggles between the locals, the “white locals” and the westerners. There are many critiques that argue that this space is a “white space” and not built to benefit locals. However the builders and entrepreneurs argue that it was meant to create jobs for locals and would be available for them to open shops in. These opinions have created lasting tensions between the divided communities. In this context, is entrepreneurship linked to Westernization? How can this be overcome?

I found the article on Skin Lighteners, Black Consumers and Jewish Entrepreneurs particularly interesting. To begin, I struggle to understand how victims of colonialism would want to mirror their colonizers. However with this aside, there are also deeper racist and feminist aspects to be considered. The products from the Kroks brothers were extremely popular and fit a particular knish during this period, for this, I believe they were opportunists. It is hard for me to truly criticize their actions without further knowledge regarding their intentions and they level of knowledge they possessed of their products during this time. Where they aware of the hazards and problems that would arise? Did they believe they were being ethical? After the events that followed these products, I wonder how tanning became acceptable…I am also interested to see if this backlash of consumerism and products will happen to other items in our generations… Example: cell phone use, GMOs, and grocery stores.

All three of these articles discuss consumerism and entrepreneurship in Africa and make me question who decides when trade and/or consumption is ethical?

Week 4- Blog

Week 4-Blog

Yazan Al-Thibeh 100920850

This week’s articles articulated about neoliberalism and how western ideologies are not helping in the development and growth of African cities and businesses.  The articles expresses how capitalistic companies such as coco-cola and Avon abuse Africa’s land, labour and capital, to utilize and promote the selling of goods to the world. Due to a lack of governance within the African boarders companies would be able to impulse on the abstraction of resources, including cheap labour, in order to find ways to cut costs and increase revenue. This leaves extreme polarization between those who are wealthy, the westerners, and those who are poor, the Africans. What these neoliberal companies do is move their industrial and manufacturing sections to nations that have cheap labour. Also, in the Lynn Thomas article, it mentioned that wealth in Africa grew only to people from South Africa, where majority of them are white. Lynn Thomas discusses how the Koch brothers grew their popularity and wealth since they were privileged white South Africans. Also the article discuss how the skin lighting industry is booming in African nations, since people want lighter skin. Many Africans who indulge into this product are those who practice the western ideologies of neoliberalism, and how they want to act like westerns. On page 264 the author notes how skin lighters did not start becoming popular until the 1970s, until black South Africans wanted the same skin colour as the white South Africans. In Dolan and Roll article, they express how the poor can shift and drive the economy. Where corporations market and push products to be sold to the poor demographics. Where many of the corporations are promoting the neoliberal economic concept of bottom of the pyramid economics, the idea of providing economic opportunities for the poor. However I think this model only expands the growth of the corporations in Africa merely helping those who are wealthy. Also, the article notes how large corporations like Coco-cola are in the African market to promote and expand their market share. They noted that the growth for these goods also needs an expansion and governance over waste and pollution. This makes one wonder who will govern the adverse selection and moral hazard wastes that consumers and the multinational corporations have committed.

I found the Dolan and Roll article the most fascinating, since it talked about companies like coco-cola, P&G and Avon, on how they are applying neoliberalism into African nations. On page 126, the authors note how these companies are generating jobs for the poor, however these companies promote neoliberal ideologies that hurt the economy.

Discussion Questions

How does neoliberalism shape and construct the market for the poor?

Do you think these multinational corporations should help out in human and economic development in these African nations?

Do you think there should be regulation and better governance for multinational corporations that try to abstract the resources within the nation?

Week 4: Neoliberalism Revisited

This weeks articles were on the relationship between consumerism, capitalism, and entrepreneurship and how neo-liberalism interconnects with each topic. Each article brings a different element of each topic. The article by Rebekah Lee talks about funerals in South Africa. African funerals are large scale, often expensive and are shared throughout the community. The idea is to be able to give your loved ones an expensive funeral. This symbolizes the love that you had for them. Lee is interested in migration and the impact that it has on both the dead and alive. Entrepreneurs in South Africa specially bring value from when they were young with them into the urbanized areas. Lee does a good job at using a case study to analyze the affect and impact that funerals have in South Africa. Though, she does not seem to have a direct argument or opinion on whether the funeral ceremonies were something that is positive to have in South Africa. The article was great at giving explanations but I felt it lacked a clear message.

The article on Cape Town, and the Gugulethu shopping centre was very intriguing. The author did a good job at incorporating the the history of Cape town post-apartheid and explaining how the new Neo-liberalism take on the township fit together. Similar to the readings of last week on Oxford Street, Gugulethu Square is a urbanized area dead smack in the middle of a township surrounded by match box houses, poverty, crime and death. This article took a different approach than Oxford Street: Accra, where implementing westernized shopping malls and attracting tourism was not a good thing.
The mall is said to be there to represent the struggle. Though not everything in this township is about inequalities and suffrage and that is apparent through the new ideas and practices. Though, the author seems to think that, “selling African revolution to white people with whiteness shows the multidimensional plasticity of neoliberalismization process.” I seem to agree with the author in a sense that through neo-liberalism, we are attempting to sell as Westernized view. Especially because all of the outside investments made towards the shopping square are from white powerful investment companies. Though a question that was thought of a lot throughout these three readings were,is this truly that bad? Yes, the two Jewish brothers are bringing an almost racist practice to South Africa, but could the global capital be benefiting? As mentioned in the article, The Gugulethu mall raised concerns for locals because it was supposed to provide many jobs as well as house local stores and local sellers inside the mall but instead has brought in outside vendors.
I think that bringing entrepreneurship and capitalism into South Africa, in the right context could potentially be a good thing. Starting a funeral business has brought a lot of rich to South Africa, and the mall has provided a booming urbanized area. Does consumerism, specifically in Africa countries have to always be considered a negative? Do typical imposed “Western” ideologies have to always be a negative impact?
J. Flood

Week 4- Neoliberalism Revisited … All about the $$$

Naomi Pearson

This week’s readings focused on neoliberal structures and how these economic ideologies can impact many elements of African society (broad generalization.) The article “Capital’s New Frontier: From “Unusable” Economies to Bottom-of-the-Pyramid Markets in Africa” discussed many economic ‘developments’ in Africa, brought about through neoliberal structures. The article states that new structures of power are created through the implementation and creation of new business markets or “Bottom of the Pyramid” markets, which actually restructure the poor in these areas. Neoliberalism, it argues creates an ulterior market which shoves these individuals aside into informal or alternate economies which can not compete or interfere with the global economy in ways which are considered undesirable by larger, neoliberal free-market actors. The article also includes the expected criticism of the inefficiency of aid, as well as the impacts of Structural Adjustment Programs.

Another reading from this week was “Skin Lighteners, Black Consumers and Jewish Entrepreneurs in South Africa.” There aren’t many ideologies or structures of violence other than neoliberalism which can effectively package racism —  and then sell it back to you, but apparently this this one can. The idea that racism and colonialist structures are not only external, but run so deep that they can become internalized and marketed as a beauty regime is deeply appalling. This is a racial issue, this a cultural issue, this is an economic issue, this is a class issue, but this is also a gendered issue — why were women the main ones using the cremes? Why are they still the ones using the cremes in many countries, and why are they the ones being marketed to? This is a complex social issue made more complex through its neoliberal exploitation.

Lastly, another one of the readings I found truly fascinating was “Death ‘On the Move’: Funerals, Entrepreneurs and the Rural-Urban Nexus in South Africa” which discussed the changing funeral practices in parts of South African society due to changing technology, rising costs, and other pressures. The increasing migration rates of rural populations to the cities has created changing funerary practices in South Africa, and increased the cost of burial. Though this is good if you are perhaps an undertaker or a carpenter who makes coffins, it is not ideal for the average South African who wishes to bury their loved one with dignity. It is interesting to note however, that there have been innovative changes in funeral practices, like coffin design. The fold-up suitcase coffin mentioned in the article, which is designed for life — or death — on the move, is just one example . I found this article extremely interesting, because just as people are constantly worried about rising funeral costs here in Canada, the same is happening in South Africa. I wrote last week about how it was hard to find a sense of place where I had never set foot on the continent, but here is a familiar concern over such a simple matter with which I can relate.

Week 4 Post

Week 4 Tuesday January 26, 2015


Jordan Petruska


For the Week 4 readings the first article we focused on was Lynn Thomas’ “Skin Lighteners, Black Consumers, and Jewish Entrepreneurs in South Africa.” Thomas examined the increased influence of neoliberalism and the rapid economic expansion in South Africa and compared South African society during and after the Apartheid era. Thomas pivots on the role of capitalism has played in the economic development in South Africa and the expansion of consumerism. The main focus was on Solomon and Abraham Krok, two wealthy white brothers who helped finance the establishment of the Apartheid Museum that opened in 2005. As an outsider I must say I felt quite offended as the Krok used their resources and social ties to open an establishment that highlights and remembers the terror and discontentment of South Africa’s Apartheid representing a reminder of the nation’s dark periods. It was also upsetting to learn more of the Krok brothers and how they made massive profits during the Apartheid by exploiting Black South Africans. Today the Krok brothers identified the Black South Africans as equal consumers in society that is why they wanted to help sponsor the Museum. Unfortunately, many of these Black South Africans that were once exploited continue to live a life in poverty.

In the second article Catherine Dolan and Kate Roll begin to study the new Gugulethu Mall in Capetown and how it is helping to bring neoliberalism to South Africa and a rapid boom to the development to their economy. The problem that I identified with the new constructed Mall was that it represents ‘Westernization’ to many of the locals. The Gugulethu Mall is a stapled landmark that is suppose to represent the pride of Africa mixed with its rich revolutionary history. However, local communities feel it is a maverick to the social environment since the ending of Apartheid. Even today this Mall still unofficially represents the symbolizing differences and the wide gap between the rich whites and the poor blacks of South Africa infused by Capitalism. On the other hand there is no doubt, the Mall is strengthening the Gugulethu community and I think it is great that South Africa is moving towards a neoliberal economy that can help them compete in global markets with very little interference from the West. Unfortunately many South Africans do not feel the same way as the Mall in Gugulethu is a dark reminder or a red flag that will hinder their way of life or culture from Western invasion. So that brings me to ask, how can neoliberalism and South African culture co-exist to help maintain the authenticity of their culture while boosting their economic and global status?



Week 4: Neoliberalism Revisited

Sarah Virani

The readings for this week brought a neoliberalist perspective to the changing scenes in South Africa. The idea of Bottom-of-the-Period that Dolan and Roll discuss in the article, Capital’s New Frontier: From “Unusable” Economies to Bottom-of-the-Pyramid Markets in Africa, is important when examining how neoliberalism has affected the entrepreneurship of South Africans and impacted how consumerism has changed the economic realm. The idea of market-based approaches to poverty reduction that are discussed throughout the article such as circulating items that can improve their life like solar lanterns is an important aspect in development as it increases opportunities for Africans to become entrepreneurs. It is through this approach that African are empowered to create their own business opportunities within their communities. Though the article mentions companies like Avon and Proctor and Gamble and how they are influencing capitalism on African communities, I believe that it is important to highlight both the positive and negative repercussions from the Bottom-of-the-Pyramid model.

In the article, Death ‘On the Move’: Funerals, Entrepreneurs and the Rural-Urban Nexus in South Africa, Lee discusses how migration and urbanization have altered the way in which death is experienced and how the funerals are carried out. By examining embalming and exhumation, two contemporary aspects involved in the funeral process, it allows us see how migration has created new perspectives towards the dead. Mobilization has a crucial role in the burial practices of South Africans as they can meet their emotional requirements and at the same time have a dignified funeral. Entrepreneurs within the funeral industry have an important role in the funeral process as they have opened pathways in the urban-rural nexus, allowing people to fulfill their needs even if they are on the move, which is significant when it comes to having a dignified funeral.

The South African businessmen, the Kroks, generated a large profit from selling skin lighteners to black South Africans as discussed in the article Skin Lighteners, Black Consumers and Jewish Entrepreneurs in South Africa. The growth of the skin lighteners industry can be seen in response to the Second World War and the consumer culture that followed it. The article highlights how the increase in black consumption created opportunities for mainly white businesses. The use of the product is tied to the idea that there is a connection between lighter skin to power and beauty. Having interracial parents has exposed me to two different cultures and perspectives and this article reminded me of a story my parents once told me. My father was born in Tanzania but because of diaspora he is East Indian and my mother is French-Canadian. Growing up my female cousins from my father’s side used to scrub themselves in the shower in hope to make their skin lighter because they did not like being dark and were uncomfortable with the colour of their skin. This article reminded me of this and the relation it has to the larger ideology of the connection between light skin to power and beauty.

The article, Gugulethu: revolution for neoliberalism in a South African Township highlights how changes within South African cities are driven by neoliberalism specifically Gugulethu, which is a modern mall in Cape Town. This example portrays how businesspeople and stakeholders attempt to fulfill their neoliberal ideas by building modern facilities yet still localize them. The Gugulethu center reminded me of the mall, Palma Real Shopping Village that I visited in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. The mall had many popular stores that would be familiar to us with an open concept layout. The mall attracted many tourists and upper class citizens, as the stores were quite pricey, demonstrating the multi-dimensions of the neoliberalization process. The overarching arguments that are seen throughout the articles is how neoliberaliztion is affecting the practices of African and whether this influence is one that is assisting in developing the society and empowering individuals or whether it is impeding on the traditional ways of life of Africans.

Discussion Questions

  • Were you surprised to learn that the commodification of burial rites is attributed to the influence of Western consumerism?
  • Do you think that the Bottom-of-the-Pyramid approach is beneficial? What are some drawbacks to using this approach?
  • Do you think that it was moral for the Kroks to build a museum to document the racism that occurred during apartheid when they generated their profits from selling skin lighteners?
  • Do you think that the companies that enter into Africa’s markets can have an actual impact on poverty reduction?

Week 4

The readings for this week outline consumerism and the rise of the global capital through the political lens of the development of neoliberalization in South Africa and its nearby countries. They pose controversial questions in regards to the “possible” diminishing of African values due to Western influence, such as the development of the new Gugulethu mall in Capetown from Teppo and Houssay’s article and people’s negative reactions to it. Two more debatable topics are the establishment of the Apartheid Museum from Thomas’ article and the celebration of funerals in South Africa from Lee’s article.

In the first article, the impact of neoliberalization on the spatial design and engineering of the new Gugulethu mall in Cape Town is discussed with an emphasis on the negative feedback that it receives from locals. The imagery, promotion and overall appearance of the mall is very Western, and since South Africans moved past the apartheid in 1994, local township viewed this as an misfit to the social environment. The mall is supposed to be “an object of African pride rooted in and marketed with revolutionary history”, but the differences that it creates between the rich and the poor is an indication of capitalism, which the South Africans refuse to accept. The establishment of the mall is undoubtedly profitable for the economy of Gugulethu and should not be viewed as a threat to these people’s cultures, but are we really capable of judging a group’s values without fully understanding their reasoning and fear of loss of culture? I think that the existence of the mall indicates the success that African nations can have without the influence or help of the West in moving towards a neoliberal economy to succeed in the global market with other countries. I also think that values and traditions should be kept separate from the establishment of businesses solely to improve the economy.

In the 80s, the skin-lightener trade developed as it was marketed to women as a tool to appear attractive to men. The Krok brothers funded the establishment of the Apartheid Museum, which was designed to demonstrate the struggles of people living under the racist apartheid the state faced. But the revenue that the skin-lightening businesses generated was essentially the money used to fund for the Museum, which I found very problematic, as, on one hand, it is meant to honour the struggles of a coloured minority group, while on the other hand, it is advertised as a “beauty” product that solely focuses on enhancing appearances. This can be related to Lee’s article about funerals and their significance among Africans. In South Africa, funerals are a form of entertainment for people due to the lack of activities and opportunities available to them. People do not fear death because that would mean it is the ending of one’s life, but rather in fear of dying when they are not at their ancestral home. As there are traditional burial rites and rituals exclusive to the South African culture, most people want to be buried correctly in their own land and amongst their own people to have a ‘dignified’ funeral. Revenue is therefore generated as funerals become more of a celebration rather than a time to mourn over one’s loss.

The question boils down to whether these are actual influences of the West or are they unique and national ways to support the economy of South Africa in a commercialized and interconnected economy that is rapidly growing?

Arpita Biswas: 110342830