Obedient blacks don’t make history

2011-04-09 13:09

What do former President Thabo Mbeki, Judge John Hlophe and Jimmy Manyi have in common?

Other than being black men more likely to be seen in a suit and a tie, they are probably some of the men to have received some worst attention in post-apartheid South Africa.

Make no mistake, all three men are far from perfect and that they have made errors of judgment, some more egregious than others.

But I cannot help but notice that most of their problems have coincided with their articulation of either a pro-Africanist stance or speaking out against white racism.

They offended the sensibilities of those who deny that race remains a factor in South Africa.

Mbeki, for example was the affable scholar who wore tweeds and smoked a pipe.

To the group that would later persecute him, he was the preferable dove to the warlike Chris Hani. It helped that he learnt his economics in the United Kingdom.

Then he said stuff like South Africa was a country of two nations “one of these nations is white, relatively prosperous, regardless of gender or geographic dispersal.

It has ready access to a developed economic, physical, educational, communication and other infrastructure.

“The second and larger nation of South Africa is black and poor, with the worst affected being women in the rural areas, the black rural population in general and the disabled.

This nation lives under conditions of a grossly underdeveloped economic, physical, educational, communication and other infrastructure.”

With those words, Mbeki “destroyed” whatever public relations currency he had until that point.

He was not the first and certainly not the last of black people who would learn that being pro-black in South Africa could be costly.

Other black people with strong opinions about their country that go against the mainstream have had to live with being called ANC lackeys or wanting jobs or tenders from the state.

Judge Hlophe, one of the youngest people to be appointed head of a provincial bench, was rightfully hailed as a legal scholar par excellence.

Then he said something about the Western Cape legal fraternity being racist. He has never known peace since. To be fair, he has played into the hands of those aggravated by his observations.

It is ethically difficult to defend the reality of his son getting a bursary from a law firm from which he regularly sourced an acting judge or his giving a law firm from which he received a retainer, permission to sue a fellow judge.

But through all this, not even his most bitter adversaries have questioned his intellectual standing and his judgments.

If you went on the basis of what we in the media write, you would think Hlophe was sourced from the streets and made a judge in the most perverse form of affirmative action.

When food company Tiger Brands was fingered for its role in fixing the price of bread, radio talk-show lines went beserk with excitement that a company for which Manyi spoke, had effectively robbed the poor by unfairly raising the price of a staple.

Manyi had previously raised the uncomfortable issue of corporate boardrooms not being properly representative of the South African population. Because of this, he had become the devil reincarnate.

As with the other two, Manyi has been his detractors’ greatest aide.

His tendency to say the wrong things and the wrong time has almost fooled many of us into forgetting the main reason he became what we are now supposed to be a villain in the eyes of reasonable people.

Still, there is something to be admired for individuals who make public stance on public issues, especially when this goes against popular or comfortable notions.

Feminist laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s observation that “well behaved women rarely make history” holds true for obedient black people.

The South African discourse will remain unchanged until they opt out of politeness and the tendency of behaving like an oppressed minority.

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