Stop the pretence

2011-09-13 00:00

ORGANISATIONS dealing with people fighting substance dependence have been saying it for the longest time: being able to admit you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

In South Africa, we are a people in denial, yet we hope to be cured. We pretend that reports of racism are isolated episodes rather than a recurrence of a problem we want to wish away. That is why news of television and radio personality Darren Scott calling a colleague a kaffir has all our knickers in a collective knot.

We can't even get ourselves to write "kaffir" in full instead of hiding behind the innocuous "k-word" as though it means something else.

The sooner we acknowledge that South Africa is a racist country and black people are the victims of this racism, the better we might be prepared to deal with this scourge.

Some blame must be placed at the door of the governing party.

The powers that be have neglected the need to tell the historical perpetrators of racism that their time is up. They have downplayed the need by the black majority to feel that they will be defended from all forms of the racism that characterised the pre-1994 dispensation.

We entertain with great gusto the debate about whether black people are capable of being racist when the bigger issue is not the isolated pockets of black racism but the institutional damage of white bigotry.

That blacks can be racist is as true as the fact that there are men abused by the women in their lives. But it removes the glare from those who warrant it the most: the everyday more probable perpetrators — men in the case of gender violence and whites with regards to racism.

Black civil society and intelligentsia have also let victims of racism down. It is increasingly a mark of a sophisticated black person to join the chorus of those who see complaints of racism as a throwback to 1977. Black people are told to move on as if the racists have ceased to be racist.

Neo-racist formations, on the other hand, are increasingly feeling emboldened. They have made an effort to find intellectual grounding for their prejudice. Trade union movement Solidarity had the temerity to mourn publicly that the number of white men in managerial positions is shrinking.

All this while it was shown that a mere 16,9% of employees in the top levels and 35,9% of senior management employees are black even though they make up 73,6% of staff. And that it would take 127 years to make the numbers reflect the demographics of our country.

When black people attempt to form organisations that speak to the black experience they are shot down as living in the past, sometimes by other black people who think themselves enlightened and progressive.

It has become a shameful confession to be black and stand for the aspirations of black people.

The Native Club started by former president Thabo Mbeki was ridiculed and shouted down before it had done anything of worth. The same fate befell the Forum of Black Journalists. The newly formed Black Business Council can rest assured that it will be next.

The only exclusively black formations that seem tolerable to the establishment that cannot countenance black unity are those that perpetuate meaningless concepts such as being 100% Zulu or being "a proud Mopedi" or such-like primitive concepts.

Yesterday marked 34 years since Steve Biko died a lonely and brutal death at the hands of agents and defenders of white racism.

In memory of this great icon of black pride and human dignity, we can either choose to purge racism from every nook and cranny of South African life or continue the delusion that being 100% of one or another tribe makes a difference in restoring the dignity of black people as a group.

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