We are not free

2014-05-05 10:00

When I sat down to write this ­column, I intended to write about my indecision about which party to vote for on Wednesday?–?a ­sentiment I share with many of my compatriots.

This subject has eaten lunch with us, walked home with us, sat next to us in a taxi and has been a recurring third party during pillow talk ­nationwide.

But instead of being an ­irrelevant echo of a rhetoric that is already in our newspapers, I would rather write about my true feelings towards the elections.

Nelson Mandela started a party in 1994. We were all required to take off our shoes, get into a dark room, switch on the music and do the move-on dance. It worked for a while and the world danced with us. But his era has ended and the music has stopped. The lights are back on.

What are we actually voting for?

While I am proud that the ANC is a 103-year-old organisation, an achievement that is a rarity for a black institution anywhere in the world, I feel like our respectable leaders, in a difficult position, ­brokered a deal that merely gave them the baton they had always been denied. They did not start a whole new game.

The institutions that upheld apartheid didn’t change. The new government just moved in. The SABC remained where it was. The Union Buildings remained where they were.

The Parliament buildings are exactly where they were when it was ­decided that the Kinekor movie company could ­allow coloured “usher girls” into the movies just as long as they did not look at the screen that the white audiences were watching.

The revolutionary leaders of South Africa fought so that we could be included in the global political game, a noble fight and a conventional cause at the time.

We wanted a turn to prove that we too were capable of exploiting the resources of our land to fill the coffers of the powerful. We too could sign treaties with the West.

We too could run an economic, political and legal system like the big boys. We even had a messiah to calm the angry dissidents and to absolve the oppressors of guilt and sin so we could get over it and get on with business.

And indeed, business boomed, tourism flourished and we successfully managed to construct a “we are fine” narrative for ourselves and the rest of the world – a fine performance orchestrated by sporting events and music.

Growing up here was a joy, being a South African was a joy. We like to sanctimoniously rub our ­African-American status in the faces of our fellow Africans. We think we are better. I wonder why.

Black poverty and white wealth continue to be naturalised. Violence continues to be a commodity and the cause of it all, structural racism, continues unabated. We don’t talk about it in front of one another. We were never allowed to be mad about it.

Being an angry black is a burden, a burden taught by the likes of Steve Biko, Adam Small, Frantz Fanon, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), TO Molefe’s Facebook updates, the blog Africa is a Country and living on earth. You have to walk around dealing with problems that you didn’t create.

You have to walk around teaching racist people how they are being racist, making them understand how and where it’s sore when they kick you. You have to remind victims of racism how they are being victimised and how it’s not supposed to be like this.

You have to listen to John Robbie ask why violence in this country is so high. You have to bite your tongue at meetings when somebody butchers the sound of your name and laughs about it. You have to ask yourself, if white people loved Mandela so much, why didn’t they join his ANC?

You have to “do something” about Maid in Africa, a Cape Town company that makes aprons and ironing boards printed with the images of slave ships with slaves inside them. The label reads: “Hand wash in cold water or ask the maid.”

You have to watch Helen Zille campaigning and President Jacob Zuma thanking FW de Klerk for ­ending apartheid. You have to learn to tame your knowledge to live with peace. You are not free.

You love your country. You accept its history. You love all your people and want to participate in ­making it a better country to live in.

But you’re also a realist and you keep remembering the meme that is going around: “Choosing which political party to vote for is like choosing which STD you prefer.” All these political parties are selling the same juice, but you want water.

We so desperately want a new country, but we’re not willing to do the one thing that we need to do to get it, to truly change our operating system and start again from scratch.

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