BBC BLOGS - Andrew Harding on Africa
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Spit, sushi, and the battle for South Africa's future

Andrew Harding | 11:46 UK time, Thursday, 28 October 2010

A refreshing blast of contempt from South Africa's Zwelinzima Vavi, who has just lashed out at members of the country's "predatory elite" for "spitting in the faces of the poor" while guzzling "sushi... served from the bodies of half naked ladies."

Vavi's comments - which directly target wealthy relatives of both President Zuma and Nelson Mandela - remind me of another famous outburst in Kenya, but the big difference, of course, is that this time the speaker is a local, and an insider.

Vavi is secretary general of South Africa's trade union federation, Cosatu, and increasingly the most vocal counterweight to what one might call the ANC's "bling brigade," epitomised by Youth League leader, Julius Malema, who sees no reason to be ashamed of his rapidly acquired business empire.

"Why sweat," asks Vavi, "when political connections and greasing the hand of those in political office can make you an instant billionaire? We are rewarding laziness, greed and corruption and discouraging hard work, honesty and integrity."

The big question for South Africa - I'm not sure I can think of a bigger one right now - is which approach will hold more sway? Vavi's call for an end to the "rampage" of capitalism, or Malema's more seductive, "aspirational" model.

There's a wonderful description of a similar, but less loaded, struggle in Ben Okri's masterpiece, The Famished Road, where he writes about "the party of the rich" battling against "the party of the poor."

It's hard to argue with Vavi's analysis of what ails South Africa. But is his message blunted by his own position, as head of a union movement that may have secured above-inflation pay rises and perks for its members, but which sometimes seems out of step with the frustrations of the country's vast underclass of jobless, angry youths?


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