No such thing as a ‘bad time’ to pursue justice

2015-03-29 15:00

Whenever something becomes the “burning issue”, there is invariably the argument that another more pressing issue could be looked at with the same effort and fervour. “Why can’t we march against corruption like the Brazilians? Why aren’t we marching about crime? What about Nkandla?”

So when the matter of racial transformation became a national talking point under #RhodesMustFall, the obligatory “but what about (insert other issue)” was raised. This is a supreme form of derailing, which takes the focus away from the matter at hand. It is a subtle but effective form of silencing.

This question often functions on the flimsy premise of a hierarchy of issues. The idea that first we must do A before we do B is nonsense, and often the need to deal with A before B comes from people operating outside of the experience of the current issue.

Two decades after the end of apartheid, we are scrambling to address patriarchy and homophobia, issues that are considered to be lesser to the matter of race, when in fact they are part of the same fight.

Cecil John Rhodes, or the broader concern of transformation and institutional racism, has always mattered. You would have to be wilfully ignorant or very privileged to think it only started to matter two weeks ago.

It still matters so much because the generation before the one currently sleeping in Bremner Building at the University of Cape Town, for varying reasons, couldn’t get it done.

So, in addition to a whole host of other old and new challenges, young people must now also deal with Rhodes.

There is no correct order, because all oppressed groups deserve to have all their rights addressed at the same time. Young people bear the brunt of many of the issues thought to be less important, and which have become urgent. There is no luxury of being able to pause the matter of institutional racism to address corruption, because oppressed groups do not get to pause their experiences of oppression.

Soon, this movement will also have to address how transformation discourse is actually a conversation about replacing white patriarchy with black patriarchy – because this, too, will catch us out in due course.

It takes a great lack of self-reflection on the part of the previous generation to have been unable to solve their own problems, create new ones and then complain about the manner in which the people who’ve now been left to deal with their legacy of failure engage with those issues.

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