Celebrate our stars, not scars

2012-07-28 10:22

Sandile Memela says Xolela Mangcu and Songezo Zibi should stop ruminating on how apartheid held blacks back, but rather on what’s propelled them on

The legacy of colonialism and apartheid refuses to fade because some leading black politicians, commentators, personalities and other prominent figures promote, protect and perpetuate its impact.

Apartheid is so deeply embedded in the public attitudes and utterances of some leading black people that they would lose their balance, meaning and relevance if they were to eradicate it from
their minds.

Far too many successful black men, in particular, and women choose to hold on to the heritage of colonialism and apartheid instead of focusing on the gains of the past 18 years of democracy and freedom.

I was sadly reminded of this obsession with the apartheid past and unwilling to get away from the rear-view mirror of the black experience when reading Songezo Zibi’s "Being coherent on cohesion" and Xolela Mangcu’s Our invisible lineage is gone” (City Press, July 22).

Indeed, there was more emphasis on what apartheid has done and the quality of leadership of the past than how it has not only been defeated but substituted with a new society that promotes and demands a new style of leadership that comes from the grass roots.

To paraphrase Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile, who laments the prevailing self-defeating attitude among blacks, we have to stop giving good reasons things cannot be done so that we can carry on with the job of making this society what we want it to be.

It is time that black people woke up to smell freedom and democracy.

Yes, blacks must assume self-responsibility and thus move away from perpetuating a victim mentality that reduces them to human robots who cannot leave the apartheid baggage where it belongs, in the past.

Let us accept that apartheid is a failed system and a dead thing of the past, and belongs to the dustbin of history.

Yet every time an intelligent and articulate black person goes on and on about apartheid, their views and sentiments are considered accurate and legitimate by many fellow blacks who do not want to leave apartheid baggage behind.

Perhaps it is time black people were told by fellow black people to forget using apartheid or its legacy as an excuse and begin to assume responsibility for everything that happens in their lives.

Blacks are not passive robots who have no freedom of choice.

When you listen or read carefully to the discourse of prominent and leading black people, one is hard-pressed to find voices that – despite their class, education and income, for instance – match their success without making reference to or justifying it against apartheid.

Thus, blacks are not only short-changing themselves by seeing themselves through the prism of apartheid, but continue to undermine and sabotage their own achievements.

This tendency to judge everything against apartheid is not only distracting blacks from the gains of the past 22 years since the release of Nelson Mandela, but erodes their significant role and achievement in giving Africa and the world a more human face.

For instance, the much-vaunted sleeping black economic giant has long awakened and wields so much power that if blacks refused to offer patronage to companies that refuse to transform or contribute to meaningful social change, they would collapse.

Black buying power is the backbone of many companies. But blacks neither see nor appreciate this, except to continue to complain about being subjected to ill-treatment and discrimination à la apartheid.

Also, there is much talk about poor education and corruption, but no one is interested in blacks who are obtaining distinctions in dilapidated schools or government officials who do not undermine good governance.

Most of the time the talk is about how good Bantu Education was and how apartheid apparatchiks stole but did not forget to invest in infrastructure.

If blacks were to pause to ponder the number of black people who are in the media, hospitality industry, sports, constitutional courts, universities and working as leaders and managers in major companies and government departments, they would appreciate the progress made.

The gap between the rich and poor may have widened, but the racial economic gap between black and white has shrunk when we consider the number of blacks co-opted into the middle class.

There are an increasing number of blacks who have the same things that were previously considered a birth right only for whites.

So we have to ask why blacks continue to make a big deal about apartheid and its legacy when they run a government whose very mandate is to reverse everything colonialism and apartheid caused.

They have the political power to direct the country in a way that serves their interests.

We cannot agree with black people who think our political leaders lack the will to transform this country into the African paradise it is destined to be.

Without being an apologist for apartheid and blaming everything on racism and economic inequality, we can admit that putting apartheid uppermost in black awareness and first on the agenda is not creating much-needed new thinking.

There are many great advances that blacks have made in the past two decades to modernise themselves.

We must stop exaggerating the importance or impact of apartheid.

In fact, there is no reason for blacks to promote a victim mentality because they have made great strides not only to overcome apartheid but to be global leaders in how to create a socially cohesive society.

The charge that blacks must move on and stop blaming apartheid for everything is not new, but of course eyebrows will be raised when this comes from the black community itself.

In this light, it is very important to make an important distinction.

Much as no one can deny or dispute the legacy of apartheid, putting too much focus and attention on the legacy of apartheid is, largely, a waste of time and energy.

It is high time that we approach the post-apartheid condition as half-full instead of half-empty.

Unfortunately, more often than not, many of our politicians and commentators simply cannot think out of the box to make black people realise their achievement and celebrate their successes.

If we are to get to the Promised Land for which so many have sacrificed, it is time that we changed our thinking and attitude to be agents of a society we want to live in: nonracial, equal and just.

This society will be born the day we forget about making apartheid a priority item in our national discourse.

» Memela is chief director for social cohesion in the department of arts and culture

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