It’s going to be a long talk to freedom

2011-04-23 10:56

Just possibly, faced with the spectacle of the trial in the Equality Court between the ­Afrikaner cultural rights organisation AfriForum and the ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, our founding president Nelson Mandela might tell us to grow up.

The trial suggests that we, as black and white South Africans, inhabit the same space but we may as well live on separate planets. At court this week there was little in common and lots that suggested a lingering apartheid or apartness.

“The reason we are here is that we don’t understand each other. We have not made enough ­effort to understand each other,” said ANC ­secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.

AfriForum, its lawyers and cultural experts are a telling symbol of the failure to replace the distortions of apartheid history with a democratic ­account of how constitutional South Africa came to be.

And neither have they, as leaders, ensured that a new generation of white South Africans understands the sins of the fathers, if the nauseating moral equivalence at court is anything to go by.

And so it came to pass that Malema turned ­tutor in the witness box as he, with varying ­degrees of patience, took his inquisitors on a ­historical tour not only through the meaning of Dubul’ ibhunu, but also through the history of struggle and of political culture.

You’d take it for granted that most South ­Africans would know, for example, that “Boer” did not translate into “farmer”, but was a term used to describe a system and its oppressors; that most South Africans would accept that apartheid was an abomination, a violation of international human rights.

But the trial has shown us how much we don’t know about each other.

AfriForum and its hangers-on have shown themselves to be an ahistorical crew, interested not in nation-building, but only in posturing and minority rights protection.

And you can see Madiba raising an eyebrow at Malema’s shenanigans.

The young man with an eye for classy watches and a taste for fine whisky turned the trial into a political spectacle with the big-screen TV outside court and those bodyguards.

He used the trial, to great effect, to build up his flagging profile ahead of the youth league’s presidential election in June.

You’d swear that we had time-travelled back to the 80s, when court was a symbol of “the system” and not part of the democratic armoury.

The only giveaway was the obvious prosperity of the Young Lions, who grew wealthy on freedom.
What would Mandela do?

What should we do?

The trial shows how far the road to nationhood still is. It has opened an important dialogue on race, history and non-racialism.

We can either do what we do so well – talk right past each other – or we can do what Mandela did and actually learn to talk to each other.

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