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Forward to the past: South Africa is back in 1985

17 July 2018

When I hear the rhetoric of South Africa political leaders and the commentariat on the media, I sometimes think I’m stuck in a time warp. There was that film Back to the future. set in 1985, and going forward to 2015, but now we seem to be going back to 1985.

Suddenly racism is back in fashion. Whites, we are told, are being genocided. or are all living on land that they themselves have stolen, depending on who you listen to. The Zulus hate the Indians and the Indians disrespect the coloureds. There are narratives of white privilege and white victimhood, both of which stress the importance of whiteness. The Rainbow Nation, we are told, is a white lie built on black pain.

Is this revival of racism real, or is it just me and my own idiosyncratic perception?

No, it isn’t just me. My erstwhile colleague Tinyiko Maluleke seems to be having similar thoughts when he writes Time to put Nelson Mandela where he belongs | IOL News:

Our leaders seem to have forgotten how to speak of and to us as a nation. It is one thing for our leaders to speak truthfully and honestly about economic and political disparities.

It is quite another thing, when leaders conceal their lack of a unifying vision of South Africans as a people, by pandering to sectional, provincial and tribal interests.

Every time a South African leader invokes the phrase “our people”, we look at one another with bewilderment, wondering which particular people he or she is talking about.

We have come to know instinctively and to take for granted, that today few leaders if any use the phrase “our people” to refer to all South Africans.

I recall the early 1990s when in the negotiations leading to our first free democratic elections the ANC adamantly rejected the “group rights” concept that the National Party wanted. Now the ANC appear to have swallowed the poisoned racist bait put out by the NP. Truly did Paolo Freire say that the oppressed internalise the image of the oppressor, and in the end become just like the oppressor.

As a dog returns to its vomit, so South Africans are returning to racism and are reviving the “group rights” and groupthink rhetoric of apartheid. And it is the current leaders of the ANC who are leading the lemming charge. Not that the leaders of other parties are any better, but it is the ANC leaders who ought to know better, because it was their predecessors who strongly resisted the “group rights” concept and insisted on a democratic non-racial South Africa.

My mind goes back to 1983, when there was a white referendum for the tricameral parliament. A National Party canvasser called on me to persuade me to vote for it, and spent the whole afternoon arguing for it. After about 2-3 hours it finally sank in that I did not accept the concept of “group rights”. and that I thought that we should forget the groups and that whites, coloureds, Indians — Assembians, Representatives and Delegates — should vote together for a single parliament, and that the blacks, who had been left out of his splendid tricameral vision, should also vote for the same parliament.

“But that hasn’t worked anywhere,” he protested.

“Yes, it has,” I said, “just look west.”

He did not understand what I was talking about, but having given him all the clues he needed to work it out, after another half hour of arguing I had to spell out the answer for him. If you look west from Pretoria you will see B-O-T-S-W-A-N-A, where it had been working for 20 years. Botswana did not have a house of Assembly for the Bamangwato, a House or Representatives for the Bakwena, and a House of Dellegates for the Basarwa, as far as I knew,. But my canvasser’s mind was unable to think out of the apartheid “group rights” box that his Christian National Education had locked it into.

And now I wonder why everyone seems to be trying to crawl back into that box.

The people who resisted that, who got us out of that box at Codesa, were people like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo.

And now the neo-racists are calling Nelson Mandela a sell-out!

Those who call Nelson Mandela a sell-out are the real sell-outs, because they are trying to sell us the long-discarded old puke of Malan, Strijdom, Verwoerd, Vorster and Botha.

And while a couple of years ago I thought the #colourblind slogan a bit naive and simplistic, I’m beginning to have a change of heart about that, and to think we probably need another dose of colour-blindness to cure us of the neoracist twaddle being peddled on the media (yes, eNCA is beginning to channel the SABC of the 1970s) and by politicians.

So please read Tinyiko Maluleke’s full the link above. And let’s try to watch that we don’t get sucked into using racist rhetoric, which is rapidly being normalised again.

I keep thinking of what an English friend once said at the height of apartheid — when South Africa has solved the problem of the black and the white it will only be beginning to face the real problem — the haves and the have-nots.

I suspect that the neoracist rhetoric is a smokescreen to hide the real problem of the haves and the have nots.

Viva the Rainbow Nation! Viva!


3 Comments leave one →
  1. jimoharries permalink
    18 July 2018 6:44 pm

    Thanks Steve. This time I do struggle to agree with you though. (I speak as someone who has lived in Africa, but is not very familiar with the South African scene.) To be colour-blind, it seems to me, is to be racist. This is because, by determinedly ignoring cultural traits that are correlated with racial identities, one perpetuates them.
    Australians have done work on anti-racism, see for example the work of Emma Kowal (e.g. her book trapped in the gap), and Yin Paradies.
    See also Breidlid, Education, Indigenous Knowledges and Development in the Global South. Breidlid points to the gross injustice involved in forcing an educational system based on a Western epistemology onto the rest of the world.
    So what’s the answer? I think we need to come back to the Bible. I think it’s got something to do with love, and sacrifice.

    • 19 July 2018 3:59 am

      I don’t know if you followed the link to my article on being colour blind. I don’t advocate the kind of thing you are talking about, or the ignoring or obliterating of cultural differences, but rather to enjoy them.

      Apartheid saw cultural differences as sacrosanct, and that barriers must be erected to preserve them and stop them influencing each other. In 1994 we spoke of “many cultures, one nation”. Cultures are not all the same, but they can influence each other for good or ill.

      But the neoracism, like the old racism, elevates skin colour to the most important characteristic of a person. It denounces people like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King as sell-outs because the neoracists, like the old racists, want little children to be judged by the colour of their skin rather than by the content of their character.

      If we are to go back to the Bible then I think the best interpretation of the Bible in the circumstances is the Message to the People of South Africa, published 50 years ago next month.

  2. 19 July 2018 8:46 am

    Reblogged this on Zien in Zwolle and commented:
    Madibe 100 … and whereto from here?

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