Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Picketing Piketty?

A South African Colleague's Response to my Question: Is this activism useful/workable?

I was initially taken aback by the RMF (RhodesMustFall) protest at the planned Piketty lecture. The reason was that I could never imagine that a left-leaning anti-establishment thinker like him would be a problem to the protesting students. When the disruptions happened I was momentarily lost but after I'd listened to what the students were saying, I  completely understood what the real issues were.

The student's main gripe was not Piketty and his views per se, in fact they welcome his views (r>g). What they are against is the hypocrisy of the elite UCT community, led by Trevor Manuel, now the advisor to the Rothschild International Group, to sit and pretend to listen to Piketty as if Piketty's views are divorced from reality. 
Piketty is condemning inequality caused by social structures that are propagated by the elite in society to the further disenfranchisement of the poor. Why do they then pretentiously sit there and clap to Piketty's lectures while the lived realities of poor UCT workers are being ignored? What the students are saying to UCT is that they are tired of the hypocrisy. 

The best way to embrace Piketty is not to sit and be entertained, we already know his work, to implement his recommendations to stop the widening inequality in SA is what needs to happen. It's a radical stance, I know, but one that that is moral and just. 

Some UCT workers earn R1000 a month while Max Price earns R150000 a month. What is a university for if it's not to show leadership, to lead by example for society to see. Of course we can't deny that hijacking the Piketty slot was ambush politics but it worked. The idea was that Piketty, in any case, was going to speak at the Nelson Mandela Foundation Memorial Lecture and at Wits University later on, so SA was still going to hear him. 

Therefore disrupting him at UCT was actually a smart idea to promote the plight of the poor worker. 
I think Piketty himself would be proud in the end that his theory is translating to reality, that is a better tribute than pretentious listening and endless lectures to people who are actually rejecting his ideas (with a smile and pretentious standing ovations).

The student protests are uncomfortable, they upset most people's sensibilities but I think one day we'd thank them. Max Price is dragging his feet to rename Jameson Hall, an undertaking he made after removing Rhode's statue. For us to sit and lament inequality in a hall that pays tribute to a man who hated poor blacks is the real irony that should make us all cringe. Not the protests for a living wage for voiceless workers.
That's how I have come to understand the Piketty saga at UCT last week.


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