Time for blacks to set pace of debate

2011-03-12 12:15

Like most sensible people, I was angry and flabbergasted that Afrikanerbond chairperson Piet Vorster thought himself qualified to lecture the president of Africa’s oldest liberation movement – when he called on President Jacob Zuma to speak out against racism.

Granted, the party has lost some of its gloss over the years because of internal squabbles and its dispensing of patronage. But it is still the ANC, and its history of fighting for a non-racial and non-sexist society cannot be watered down just because there are some individuals in the party who do not have the noblest intentions.

Once my anger had subsided, I wondered why it was that Vorster could even think of making such a call.

My conclusion is the unfortunate truth that black civil society and its thought leaders have largely abdicated their duties of setting the pace and agenda of social debate.

It is because of this indifference that the likes of Vorster are increasingly feeling emboldened to think that they can say what should be in the public domain.

For the record, by black I mean all those who didn’t have a meaningful vote until April 27 1994.

Surely one black labour lawyer should have raised the very valid points that are now left to Solidarity to point out? It appears patently obvious that if you apply the national demographics to regions without taking into account the peculiar demographic circumstances of that region, you will be left with an untenable situation.

What held the tongues and pens of black people?

Listening to the likes of Solidarity, you could be forgiven for thinking that South African boardrooms were spilling over with black people and women, leaving no space at all for white males.

Going by AfriForum, you would be convinced that white South Africans are living in conditions like those of the Great Depression when the truth is that they are collectively wealthier than they ever were under apartheid.

But until black thought leaders and civil society movements remove their self-imposed gag, Solidarity and the rest of the neo-racists like the Afrikanerbond will think they have views worth entertaining.

It cannot be that Solidarity and related formations will win almost every case they take to the equality or labour courts while the so-called progressive forces chant 1987 slogans instead of employing rigour and legal scholarship.

Many of us refrain from talking about the looting of the state or parastatals, somehow hoping that our silence will make it go away. We then get irritated when right-wingers point out what we know in our hearts to be true.

Black people have reduced themselves to vocalising strong opinions when talking about Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs. For everything else, “the leadership will pronounce”.

Many of us would rather be thought of as airheads than be called boring, hence our willingness to disengage from important topics.

In our desire to be with the “in crowd”, some smart people not only agree with rank idiocy but they aid, abet and defend it. We have become the “ayoba nation”.

Black people must remember that they are responsible for whatever direction South Africa takes going forward.

They have it in their very hands, whether we inculcate a tradition of critical engagement with the political mandarins or allow those who hanker for a sorry past to dictate terms.

We owe it to both those who fought for our freedom and those who hold it in trust, to think out loud and not wait for a Piet Vorster to tell us what should matter.

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