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.

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