The return of the nouveau comtsotsis

2011-08-13 10:04

The emergence of a juvenile delinquency crisis within a context of social deprivation and stunted black economic emancipation serves as an acute migraine for a political leadership seemingly bereft of courage or ideas on how to deal with the enfant terrible in our midst.

Crime, unemployment, slow economic growth and the closely related issue of corruption provide a litmus test for our tender democracy (pun intended).

Rather than deal with corruption decisively, and for reasons best known to them, our political leaders seem to be cowed into paralysis.

But black communities, including the religious leaders of the volatile 1980s, have demonstrated that no public scourge or deviant behaviour is beyond defeat.

Lest we forget, the liberation struggle was almost hijacked in the 1980s by the emergence of the much-hated “comtsotsis” (comrade tsotsis), who instilled fear in the black communities.

Disrespectful of adults and anti-establishment, these diversionary elements were nothing but a coalescence of young thugs pretending to be struggle comrades.

Fearless and often high on narcotics, comtsotsis would jack-roll (kidnap young black girls and rape them), steal or hijack cars and demand protection money (read, donations) from black businesses.

All this in the name of the struggle.

Despite the ANC’s then vacillation on comtsotsis, religious and some political leaders – especially in the Black Consciousness Movement – never recoiled from dealing with these thugs and they successfully dislodged them.

Azapo in particular coined a popular phrase “asi khawati u-darkie (we are not anti-black)!” with the aim of dislocating comtsotsis.

In doing so, together with the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, they also helped reposition the liberation struggle away from the unstable and immoral trajectory comtsotsis were directing it.

The current combination of the coercive force of conspicuous consumption, unadulterated corruption and seemingly impotent political leadership emboldens the nouveau comtsotsis.

Drawing on their seemingly omnipotent political connectivity, they badger society and entrepreneurship with reckless abandon.

Whereas the 1980s version of comtsotsis enmeshed themselves within the toyi-toying masses, contemporary comtsotsis traverse the ZAR nightclub, the Kruger Park and airport lounges flaunting their questionable private-bank status while masquerading as champions of the poor.

They instil fear in public officials, threatening them with redeployment if they don’t succumb to their demands.

They command blind loyalty among those too eager to please them and even make donations for their insatiable appetite for the finer things in life at the expense of socioeconomic imperatives.

These contemporary comtsotsis also try to instil fear in anyone who dares question their apparent revolutionary contradictions and, through their media proxies à la Eric Miyeni who ostensibly yearns for infamy, resort to vituperative conduct only political poets can muster.

And here’s what American poet, novelist and memoirist Marie Sarton had to say about poets: “The poet must be free to love or hate as the spirit moves him ... ?he must, above all, never worry about his effect on other people. Power requires that the inner person never be unmasked. [But] poets have to go naked. So it is better that we stay private people; a naked public person would be rather ridiculous.”

But to locate these poets only in the kindergarten will be simplifying a complex and dangerous phenomenon where a few politically connected individuals seem to misdirect our youth with impunity.

It is particularly disappointing that some of them, who once espoused the teachings of Steve Biko, seem to be cheerleaders-in-chief for our enfant terrible.

To them I say “ni nga khawati ama-entrepreneur aseLimpopo (don’t marginalise Limpopo entrepreneurs)”.

While we should not be distracted from the important national socioeconomic discourse, I am, however, tempted to ask Miyeni if he even knows how to throw a petrol bomb, let alone make one, before he invokes the dreaded necklace against those who speak out for the voiceless.

Through his infamous Sowetan piece, Miyeni clearly demonstrated that rather than a job, what he needed most was to think.

» Khaas is an entrepreneur and president of the SA SMME Forum, a public benefit organisation that advances the interests of small businesses

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