Dashiki Dialogues: In search of an egalitarian guiding vision

2012-06-09 14:34

Township street corners in winter tend to take on a quasi-radical shade, as I imagine they did in the old, dark days when social cohesion among the oppressed was an easy priority.

Then street committees ran our neighbourhood blocks and petty criminality was treated like treason against the people.

Most elders even remember how the old repressive regime didn’t police a crime unless it was considered a political nuisance. But that’s another story.

I recently joined a few boys in the hood to warm my hands on the fire from a burning tyre. I was on my regular evening journey home from work.

The boys choreographed a cigarette-sharing ritual as I listened to their arguments about who’s the wealthiest politician, pregnant girls and a few conspiracies about Julius Malema’s next big hurrah.

At some point, comments about soccer and people’s obsession with the president’s “spear” were made.

Then the conversation was steered towards the national question and shared destinies.

It suddenly became apparent that we spend our days in totally different worlds.

While these boys warm their hands on a fire on the pavement, the multiracial middle and upper classes chatter. The two worlds hardly ever meet.

But those different realities are united in a singular dream – or at least it seems that way.

When Mbongeni Ngema’s Sarafina sang “freedom is coming tomorrow”, it was a shared soundtrack.

The humorous cleric Desmond Tutu called the convergence of divergent interests the “rainbow nation”.

But tomorrow seems to have arrived, and what has happened to Sarafina’s promise of “freedom”? Bread demands, spears and spectres of censorship continue to define our contemporary agenda.

It appears South Africa has failed to produce a sustainable ideology of liberation beyond dismantling the apartheid state, something activist and scholar Nigel Gibson termed a “unifying liberatory ideology”.

Call it a cure for the masses’ feelings of betrayal by the new state and ghastly heritage.

In his book Fanonian Practices in South Africa, Gibson diagnoses a degeneration of South African liberation into neoliberalism and social conservatism on one hand, and individualism and ethnic traditionalism on the other.

Hence South Africa has become more authoritarian, more partisan and more dependent on an overbearing security apparatus. So the ruling party, while claiming dominance of the mass democratic movement, has been talking left while walking right.

As a child, I imbibed robust chatter from my father’s visiting friends every Friday as they enjoyed whatever adult men drank on those evenings.

These were factory workers of the organised labour movement. They sparked my interest in documents such as the Freedom Charter and its competing perspectives.

I would later work out for myself that although it was heavily criticised for its failure to acknowledge issues of historical justice between conquerors and the conquered as course for struggle, the charter provided a guiding ideology around which progressive citizens could rally – something we seem to no longer have today.

It appears we are all busy working, all of us claiming to be guided by our Constitution. But I want to hazard a guess that the Constitution regulates only the journey; it does not fully articulate our desired destination.

From the street corner to the mall, the land calls for an honest dialogue about historic justice to produce a guiding vision to recover our utopian, egalitarian dashiki.

»?Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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