Zakes Mda: It’s not over yet

2014-02-09 14:00

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SA is not a post-race meritocracy and colour-blindness is a dangerous myth, writes Zakes Mda

The perception among some South Africans, both black and white, is that the demise of apartheid and the advent of democracy automatically levelled the playing fields and, therefore, we should no longer look at our world with race-coloured glasses and, indeed, we should not even recognise the existence of the “racial” categories established by the social-engineering experts of the past.

But I believe that colour-blindness is a myth. It is a faux-liberal position because, while asserting that it does not judge human beings by the colour of their skin, it legitimises the current arrangements where race is a central factor in determining the life chances of most South Africans.

We are not a post-racial meritocracy. Do not be deceived by the fact that racial hierarchies have changed in the government and the parastatals.

It is a small restricted group of blacks who have benefited from their blackness through party loyalty. They amass everything among themselves as a self-selecting aristocracy and the rest, the ordinary black people, continue to wallow in poverty.

Racial inequality continues even though, admittedly, we do see the return of the white poverty that the apartheid government had almost eradicated through their strong Afrikaner affirmative action practices.

The ruling black elite has failed to dismantle racial barriers and the two nations that Thabo Mbeki spoke about are still a reality.

You only have to look at the state of education in the Eastern Cape to understand this. With the most appalling conditions, what chances in life will those black kids have to compete with kids of the black elite and whites operating in the previously all-white world?

For me, the dangers of the pretence of colour-blindness go much further than the accessing of resources. The notion that South Africa is a melting pot assumes that we must all be absorbed into the dominant culture and melt into it. That would be reinforcing soul-destroying hegemony.

I like the fact that our motto is “unity in diversity”. We love and honour our various identities (be they about sex, gender, ethnicity, national origin, clan, race, etc) while celebrating our common identity as South Africans.

Mda is an award-winning novelist, playwright and poet. His latest novel is The Sculptors of Mapungubwe

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