Race debate is about economic and political power

2015-03-30 15:00

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The most interesting trend in the article “The decline in the relations of race” penned by Mondli Makhanya and Tim du Plessis (City Press, March 22 2015), is the reality of denialism about race.

Read Makhanya’s article: Here’s a reconciliation check list for white people

Read Du Plessis’ article: Blacks should stop thinking most whites still long for apartheid

As a starting point, both writers wrongly assume that we had good relations in this country before and after democracy.

Secondly, both assume the simple things that should have happened in the past 21 years can – and will – still happen.

Finally, their proposed solutions are amazing – but not surprising.

Makhanya is right when he says that white South Africa does not want to bridge the chasms and heal the wounds. What he misses, though, is that it was never the intention of white South Africa to do so.

Du Plessis, on the other hand, is right to assert that many Afrikaners, himself included, can and will transform to align with the values of our Constitution. He makes it clear that their remorse must come from within and not be coerced.

The can and will is in the future. Why has it not happened in the past 21 years?

But what both miss is acceptance of the reality behind the blatant refusal to change.

I no longer need a white person to understand my culture. If this did not happen in the past 21 years, I must accept that it will never happen.

Similarly, I no longer need assurance from Afrikaners that they can and will transform – they haven’t in 21 years. I should not have a reasonable expectation that they will. And if they do, it must be for their own good – not mine.

What I want to see is the real issue, which determines race relations, to be addressed: economic power.

The ability of white South Africa to perpetuate racial domination flows from economic power, not necessarily from slowness in understanding my culture or finding remorse from within.

Race in this country represents economic and political power. Race represents socioeconomic development. Race determines the quality of healthcare and education you receive. Race defines access to hotels and rental accommodation.

Unlike the institutionalised colonial and apartheid systems, race today defines the real power arrangement of a society supposedly free of these systems.

Like the Zimbabweans who waited patiently for the implementation of the Lancaster House Agreement, we have waited forever for the establishment of a democratic, nonracial, nonsexist society.

We waited because some people had to find their remorse within (they are still finding it).

Every development of necessity must have stages and phases. The 1994 stage was concerned with laying the foundation to build a nonracial society. This required the creation of a conducive environment to build meaningful relations among the people.

That foundation was solidified by our Constitution. What else was required?

The other element related to addressing, through the provision of material resources, the humiliating socioeconomic conditions that violated dignity. This would be done without making the previously advantaged poor. Again, this was done without interfering with past privilege.

In the past 21 years of our democracy, the gap has widened, the quality of life has not equalised and more resources are in the hands of the previously advantaged.

The economy remains firmly in the hands of the minority and a few co-opted blacks, some of whom are no different to colonial and apartheid beneficiaries.

Our education system remains favourable to the minority.

Our human settlements remain centuries apart.

And we are surprised when some hospitality places and residential areas discriminate against us.

It is simply because they can still do without us. Despite our numbers, our economic strength is far less than theirs. They still need us as labourers or – where necessary – for window-dressing.

Race is the vehicle for the previously advantaged to reclaim their lost political power.

As long as we remain apologetic in demanding our pound of flesh from our white counterparts, we will wait forever for their remorse to come from within.

In the meantime, the legacy of colonialism and apartheid will continue.

Racism is growing because it never went away. We may just be creating an illusion that those who want the apartheid status quo to remain will one day wake up to think of us as equals.

What Du Plessis tells us represents exactly what previous doomsayers said. The last president of apartheid South Africa, FW de Klerk, believes until today that he was a hero of our freedom.

Like Cecil John Rhodes and such representative symbols, our exploitation and the exploitation of our resources were justified.

Advocate Mannya is a legal practitioner and former education HOD in the Eastern Cape

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