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