Racist, chauvinistic and divisive

2011-02-05 08:59

By the time I had finished reading Sentletse Diakanyo’s diatribe (City Press, January 30 2011) against Saliem ­Fakir’s earlier article on the controversial topic of “African” identity, the need to enter this debate ­became irresistible. The biggest irony of this exchange is that it is his reply to Fakir that is an “emotional ­outburst” and full of “nonsensical arguments”.

It is abundantly clear that Diakanyo has not seriously studied the subject of race. He merely – and dangerously – dabbles in it. It is bereft of any scientific treatment and analysis.

The ruling African National Congress has itself messed up the question of race or putatively the “National Question” long before it was unbanned. It is from the Congress tradition that we got the “Four-Nation Thesis”, which is the flawed foundation of his reply.

The fact that parts of current legislation repeat that divisive and unscientific nonsense by drawing a ­racialised distinction between Africans, coloureds and Indians perpetuates the utterly false “Four-Nation Thesis” and in no way whatsoever validates it.

But it is more for practical purposes that the legislation makes these distinctions, not in order for bigoted chauvinists to seek a rationalising refuge.

While Diakanyo asserts that the “deeper meaning of the term ‘African’ refers to racial identity and goes beyond the sentimentality of the ­geographical location of others of different races who appropriate the description for themselves”, he thinks this muddled thinking is self-explanatory, but it begs definition and tells us nothing about the “deeper meaning” he offers us.

Besides, coloureds, for example, are not and have never been a “race” or a “nation”. Scientifically, he should be cautious about defining others as “races” or “nations”.

These issues are far more complex than he imagines. I see someone who in fact has been severely indoctrinated by both racist apartheid thinking and the worst forms of Africanist chauvinism.

It is the worst form of chauvinistic arrogance imaginable to accuse fellow South Africans of falsely appropriating an African identity that supposedly exclusively belongs to some chosen people.

This is in fact jingoism at its crudest and is downright reactionary.

Besides, this recent revival of a chauvinistic Africanist identity in the narrowest terms happens at a time when it is the supposedly “real” Africans who are today suffering the most devastating social crisis probably ever in South Africa.

Why be so possessive and ­pompous about an identity when daily ruinous social injustices tear apart the dignity of the majority of “African” people?

He also seems to invest ­African identity with some magical, mystical and even divine properties. How does that identity help the many millions of “genuine” ­Africans languishing today in the doldrums of poverty?

Diakanyo’s reply is both terribly conservative and exclusionary. It is backward within the context of building a non-racial South Africa.

To exclude other South Africans from the normative definition of “African” could arguably be seen not only as a dangerously narrow ­African nationalism, but as a form of racist exclusion of “others”, whose origins, ironically, lie in the divisive and racist designs of apartheid.

Racist, chauvinistic and divisive categories are a poisonous throwback to the apartheid past.

We need to grow a South African nationalism that decisively breaks with racist chauvinism.

Overall, this approach is fundamentally at odds with both the letter and spirit of the South ­African Constitution.

» Harvey is the authorised political biographer of deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe

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