The F-word: We need a common South Africanness

2012-09-22 13:14

In the 1980s, the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo) had an anti-crime campaign called “Asispni ekasi, asikhawathi udarkie”.

Loosely translated, it urged criminals not to conduct their business in the townships because it would hurt fellow blacks.

Azapo did not discourage crime; it urged criminals to target different prey.

An acquaintance I knew to be criminally inclined was unimpressed with Azapo.

To him “all money was green” regardless of the colour of the owner of the asset.

This individual thought himself more evolved than Azapo and indeed the country’s apartheid state because he did not discriminate against his victims on the basis of their colour.

If you possessed what he thought was useful, you qualified as a potential victim. It was not personal. It certainly was not political.

He later died in circumstances involving a car chase, police and exchanges of gunfire.

I was reminded of this as I read that millionaire businessman and ANC heavyweight Cyril Ramaphosa had apologised for making a bid for an R18 million buffalo.

Ramaphosa told SAfm’s Xolani Gwala that he had been blindsighted when he made the bid.

He added that his comrades had brought to his attention that his bid was an importune display in the face of pervasive poverty.

My tsotsi acquaintance and now Ramaphosa tell a story of the burden of blackness in what is supposed to be a
nonracial society.

The two scenarios at opposite ends of the class divide and legality suggest that black individuals must carry added baggage when going on with their business.

It is an obligation not shared by other members of our Rainbow Nation.

Why should we have a different moral standard for blacks and for other South Africans?

Is it not telling that we remember that Ramaphosa lost the bid, but it does not seem to matter who eventually won the rights to call that buffalo their own?

The point here is that we need a national culture. We have to develop a common South Africanness.

If opulence and criminality are to be decried, then this should apply regardless of the colour of the opulent individual or the victim.

We fail the nonracial project when we assume that certain things are the responsibility of certain categories of people, or that certain behavioural patterns are only applicable to certain groupings.

I am under no illusion that it will be easy to build a national culture.

I am also not indifferent to the reality that the material conditions that whites and blacks have been subjected to over the many years of institutionalised racism means that they tend to see the world differently.

Still, we need to define as a nation what we make of virtues and vices such as excellence, hard work, prudence, crass materialism and sloth.

We must continuously strive for what we have in common, if only to break the walls that have made us think that blacks and whites are totally different species.

As flippant as it may sound, a “National Braai Day” is a positive contribution to this common South Africanness and beats the whinging about how “they” have taken over.

Our historical differences notwithstanding, we can achieve more as South Africans than as black or white South Africans.

We can defeat crime, grow the economy and make politicians accountable.

An economy that serves some and not others is economic freedom for none.

If what we demand from Ramaphosa is a display of social solidarity, then let it be a national project rather than an obligation for some and not for others.

If we have no other incentive for this, let it be because the criminals and the politicians already think of us as means to their ends and could not care a Zim dollar about our colour.

The same goes for crime. If we condone it because “others” are victims, we are only feeding the monster that will sooner or later devour us all.

»Follow me on Twitter @fikelelo

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