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?

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