Thabiso Bhengu: Bush obituaries reflect on his glory, despite the evil he wrought
The media is praising George Bush senior for being a decisive leader. He suddenly was a good president who epitomised the values of democracy. This is a deliberate attempt at continuing the psychological warfare that the man represented.
I am sitting in a hotel room and if I open my curtain wide enough, I can see the ocean wailing as if it is protesting against the heatwave. This part of town is very quiet despite being next to the Cape Town Convention Centre. The Cullinan Hotel is named after Sir Thomas Cullinan who was a diamond magnate. Sir Thomas built his wealth through exploiting black workers. He, however, died a hero. He has a Methodist church in Tembisa named after him, where black people go every Sunday to pray for the better life he denied them. He also has a famous diamond named after him. His name is reserved for luxurious things. He made it that way.
My phone vibrated twice to alert me of the trending international headline that George HW Bush died at the age of 94. I quickly opened my phone in disbelief because there is a saying that evil men live longer.
“George Bush can’t be dead, it surely is a prank.” I smiled and poured myself a hot cup of tea.
Names are poignant because “bush” is the sound that sickles make when you cut branches and trees. George Bush operated like a sickle.
I quickly log on to Twitter to discover that there are sad people mourning his passing. I also witnessed a resistance to this by black queers and feminist thinkers such as Shailja Patel, George Johnson and many others.
The media is praising George Bush for being a decisive leader. He suddenly was a good president who epitomised the values of democracy. The US mainstream media decided a long time ago, before the imminent day, that this is how they will remember the man who caused destruction of the lives of subalterns for profit gains? The media, through this attempt at revising history, gaslit the entire world. The troops and drones he sent to oil-rich countries for the growth of the US economy were not enough. This is also a deliberate attempt at continuing the psychological warfare that the man represented.
George knew that he was going to die a hero like Cullinan, men like him are afforded a cleansing after murderous activities. The media choosing to position Bush as a noble man is a political agenda to justify more violence that the US will continue to sanction in the world.
George Bush is going to have statues and buildings named after him. Trump could also, with great ease, release a money note with his face on it. This is despite the public wars and disagreements that the two families have had. George Bush, in his final days, wished that Trump could attend his funeral. Bush, in this way, gets to die as a good guy who was willing to make peace with the presiding “devil” of the time; he therefore must really have been an angel.
Donald Trump’s gratuitous violence, therefore, serves to sanitise presidents before him, despite the effects of their devastating policies on the world. However, like all rich men and perhaps human beings in general, Trump is concerned about how he is going to be remembered as a good guy despite his actions revealing the contrary?
This contradiction is possible because capital allows history to tell a different story. He is very aware of the fact that before his tenure ends, he needs to figure out a few things that will keep the people with institutional memory content for him to be remembered like Bush.
He needs to make decisions that will delight the elites and the structures that they preside over. He is a white businessman; a deal like this to him is always available if he chooses to toe the line. This was impossible for Winnie Mandela, and thus black feminists had to rise across the globe to contest the narrative that she was a “witch” as Sisonke Msimang writes in her new book, The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela. Winnie Mandela, who was far more progressive than Bush, gets to be remembered as a complicated figure while he dies as the man of the people.
Msimang argues that the “the vilification of Winnie is tied up in the canonisation of Nelson”. This is because whenever we choose to cleanse men in history or enlarge their spirits, we cast a shadow over the light of the people that questioned and opposed them.
In the obituary of Bush, the bad guys are the millions of civilians who found themselves in the battlefield for resources and African Americans who stood against his terror. DM
Thabiso Bhengu is the head of content at Black Stripe Foundation and is mainly responsible for putting together the debating show, The Big Debate. He is an Isangoma and has written for major South African newspapers exploring sexuality, gender and literature.