South Africa in the Wee Hours

It’s 4 AM here in Cape Town, and it’s raining like hell. I have to gather my scattered belongings for the flight to Johannesburg. Thus far the Brand South Africa journey has been rewarding, if unconventional. We’ve met a number of government officials, and I had the great pleasure of attending a press conference held by the Ministry of Public Enterprises, easily the highlight of my time so far. The political culture here is fascinating — and surprising. The effort to reconcile deep inequalities has been, to this imperfect and casual observer, insanely successful, considering the obstacles. Dani Rodrik has written a fair about South Africa’s growth trajectory, and why the country’s macroeconomic rigor hasn’t been rewarded with more FDI and economic growth. But it’s worth noting that the post-apartheid government has thoroughly kicked the ass of the apartheid government in this regard, and a real economic takeoff is easy to imagine, provided the crime problem is addressed very aggressively.

Re: the trip: it has reinforced lots of invidious stereotypes. There is a hilarious degree of clustering, with cliques forming more or less on national lines. Brassy American women sticking together, etc. As a jingoistic American, I’m a little sad to report that the Americans tend toward an un-Reihan showy earnestness, but that’s life. I find the Indians particularly awesome: two in particular are really witty and subversive and self-effacing. This raises interesting questions: am I more of a Diaspora personality than I realized. My mother says yes. One of the Chinese journalists has the most fascinating — and convincing — political worldviews I’ve encountered. I was heavily influenced by Prasenjit Duara’s critique of the nation-state, and this guy seems to have come up with it on his own. His whole thing is about how China is essentially France in the 18th century, in the midst of a centralizing project bent on obliterating regional and ethnolinguistic distinctions. Really, really interesting.

So now I must scramble. Keep it real, comrades.