Chained to a divided past

2015-04-13 15:00

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Four City Press readers weigh in on the?war of statues and what it means

Blacks need to lose their inferiority complex

Nomfundo Mbeki

For a long time, my views about racism were moderate. It didn’t affect me much. The white people who acted unpleasantly towards me, I could tell, did so for reasons that were not related to my race. Most white people treated me fine.

It was only when I had an epiphany and realised my experience was in isolation that I began to seriously analyse the demon that is racism.

Within the South African context, as everybody knows, racism became institutionalised with the introduction of apartheid. It was an effective tool, not only in subjugating black people, but in enforcing the diabolical notion of white supremacy.

If apartheid had been an ideology one could choose to accept or reject solely on the basis of preference, its results would have been limited, but it was a system that penetrated every part of life for South Africans.

Even the religious right was complicit in enforcing it. The moment you put morality and religion into the idea of white supremacy, it entrenches it deeper than it would normally go, because it is now “divine”.

I suppose everyone is vulnerable to the feeling of wanting to feel superior. Without it, they would feel “ordinary”. It’s an evil yet effective strategy, manipulating psychology. Adolf Hitler used it in Germany against the Jews and others have also used this method. The real harm, however, is when those who are meant to be the victims start to believe in the lies of this psychology. The men feel emasculated and act out as a result, and the women feel a need to ingratiate themselves with the oppressor.

I used to think the basis of racism was ignorance – about other races’ cultures, ways of doing things, etc. My limited understanding was that ignorance fuelled speculation, which prevented understanding. But that is not necessarily the case because we now live in an integrated society. Black and white people live alongside one another, leaving very little room for speculation – and yet racism persists.

It persists because white people are reluctant to let go of their long-held beliefs of white supremacy. It gives them the upper hand to maintain those beliefs and, as long as black people don’t interrogate and reject the inferiority complex that is so endemic among them, white people have no reason to forgo their racist notions of white supremacy.

Think about it. Black people have political power in South Africa. They may not as yet have full economic power, but the process is in motion. I don’t want to go into all the areas in which transformation is slowly but surely taking place, but as much as our society still needs further transformation, black people have the upper hand.

I am not trying to see the world through rose-tinted glasses, but simply trying to say that as long as black people don’t begin to see the world differently and shed their inferiority complex, their self-imposed shackles will forever remain intact.

You teach people how to treat you.

You don’t just tolerate any notion of white supremacy; you make a spectacle of it so that it acts as a deterrent to those who perpetuate it. The message is clear. Racism must be treated in a serious light until those who continuously carry it out are discouraged from doing so.

You do this until it sticks.

For as long as we handle racism with kid gloves or defer dealing with it, it will continue to plague our society and undermine our democracy.

We need to make a determined decision to deal with it now, decisively, or watch it gain impetus and become a force that is beyond our collective ability to contain.

Mbeki is CEO of the Cinga Uhlume Group. She is not related to the former president

The youth is waking up to making history

Kanelo Pitso

South Africa’s youth find themselves conflicted by a history of oppression, racism and violence, and a future many view with pessimism and fear – with no leaders to capture their imagination or give them hope for any future of economic and social prosperity.

South African unemployment sits at 24.3%, with youth unemployment at more than 50%. Of the young people who begin primary school, 47% drop out before matric, only 30.6% attend university and fewer than 20% of those leave with a degree.

The youth has come to understand that 1994 did not destroy the structures of apartheid, but rather integrated everyone into them. And so a social, conscious and economic revolution is necessary if we are to achieve the equal opportunity society many South Africans speak of.

Many, if not most, of the youth seem to be resigned to an existence of everyday survival and struggle, with few having the opportunity to experience a higher standard of living. But recent events have shown the power the youth has collectively.

The students’ representative council of Wits University recently began to raise funds to help students eligible for financial aid, but who couldn’t pay their registration costs. More than R1?million has been raised so far.

Protests and sit-ins at the University of Cape Town over the statue of Cecil John Rhodes show we have young people not only attempting to remove a statue – a symbol of black oppression and exploitation – but who are beginning to raise the uncomfortable racial discussions ignored since emancipation in 1994.

Groups of students have committed themselves to transforming their curriculums to include more African authors and scholars, as well as have their universities employ more African lecturers. There are also discussions at Rhodes University over the appropriateness of its name.

Young people are beginning to take the initiative and drive the change they desire. They are looking within themselves to create the country they want. And if South Africa is to succeed and achieve the development goals government speaks of, young people need to take the initiative, become entrepreneurs, get politically active and participate in activities that put their issues at the forefront.

A true paradigm shift will be their challenge.

Robert F Kennedy said: “Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation.”

Pitso is a postgraduate student at Wits University

Cecil John Rhodes’ statue has been vilified in SA

Rhodes has fallen. Arise Biko et al

Mpho Tlalampe Mabala

When things go wrong between my partner and I, or when love changes to hatred, I resort to what I’m good at: burning her photographs or tearing them into tiny pieces, chewing and spitting them out, and then deleting any electronic photos.

I do this to forget her. But I’ve realised it is my memory that betrays me. I find myself rattling off her phone numbers like I rattle off Psalm 23, which I committed to memory 23 years ago.

Removing Cecil John Rhodes’ statue may help correct historical injustices, but it cannot be as effective as creating new memories we can be proud of as blacks.

I’m talking about changing Rhodes University to Steve Biko or BantuBonke University, as Mak Manaka suggested. I’m talking about eradicating the psychological whiteness that continues to engulf black people in various institutions. This can be achieved by giving black intellectuals a chance to head faculties, expanding the teaching of African languages and instilling a sense of “swag” in our languages.

Zimbabweans are blaming Rhodes’ grave for the lack of rain. After removing his statue, they want to remove his grave too. But we can’t chalk up racism in our institutions to an immobile statue. It goes deeper. Our past – in all its ugliness – will always remain our past. But we can create beauty in the present to overshadow it.

We cannot define ourselves without mentioning what “was, is and will be”. We are a composite of all three of those.

Yes, Rhodes must fall. But it should not end there. Statues to Steve Biko and others must be erected, and new memories must be created.

Mabala is an assistant researcher at the University of Limpopo

The US has accepted that of Jefferson Davis

Guilty liberals focus on tearing down symbols

Philip Machanick

In the US, there is a memorial to confederate president Jefferson Davis, which was erected after his death – despite his role as the losing leader in a civil war that cost more than half a million lives. He stood for slavery, yet the statue at his grave stands because it is part of history.

Why this sudden surge of interest in symbols and eradicating those that have no practical effect today? It’s because the equality project in South Africa has stalled at equalising privilege.

This is causing frustration and those who have achieved this narrow equality are attacking symbols of past privilege as a cover for their complicity in the failure to achieve broader equality.

I have no problem with the argument that black people are entitled to live the good life because no one complains that white people do.

The problem I have is that equality tackled top-down has not gone very far. Our society remains one of the most unequal on the planet. The trickle-down economics of former US president Ronald Reagan have increased inequality, which we have always had in excess.

Instead of finding better ways of tackling this inequality, we are mired in a new inequality where the beneficiaries of apartheid are joined by an elite who benefit from unequal access to the post-apartheid state.

In the apartheid era, guilty liberals would flagellate themselves to no practical effect. Today’s focus on tearing down symbols is much the same thing – those attacking the symbols have become guilty liberals.

Liberal guilt in the apartheid era did not do much for change, but was a comfort to those powerless to effect change or too scared to try. We need to face the failures of the equality project squarely.

Cadre deployment and tenderpreneurs feed into a national me-first mind-set where grabbing the most for yourself is the first priority, rather than caring about getting the job done.

The government preaches back to basics. How about a fundamental rethink? We will not break out of entrenched inequality by doing more of the same. I challenge everyone who wants real change to join this debate: what can we do to put new life into the equality project?

To get things started, here are a few ideas.

We can break the me-first attitude through projects that foster cooperation. We can form cooperatives to stimulate our local economy.

We can work together to clean up our local streets. We can club together to help a school be more effective. We can make a contribution to a scholarship to make higher education more accessible.

These are just a few ideas. If we all work on ways to build a more cooperative society and pitch in to change for the better, the monument we build will not be made of stone or metal – it will be a successful society where everyone has a fair chance.

As an academic at Rhodes University, I do not care what the institution is called. What I care about is that we have students from 50 countries, yet far too few from our own townships and rural poor.

If changing the name is part of a process that makes it more accessible, great.

If it is a vacuous nod to a populist expression of liberal guilt, why bother?

Machanick is an associate professor of computer science at Rhodes University

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