Words, like stones, can hurt

2011-03-05 09:13

I unreservedly agree with the strong attack Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel launched this week in an open letter against Jimmy Manyi, accusing him of racism. Manyi, while director-general of the labour department, had told Freek Robinson on his KykNet show last year that there were too many coloureds in the Western Cape and that they should spread out to other parts of the country.

A few years ago the late Blackman Ngoro, then media adviser to the former Cape Town mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo, was fired after he said that coloureds were “beggars, homeless and drunk on cheap wine” and “a bunch of drunkards”.

And just last week a columnist at the Sunday World newspaper, Kuli Roberts, among other racist remarks, said: “You will always be assured of a large family as many of these girls breed as if Allan Boesak sent them on a mission to increase the coloured race.”

While Ngoro and Manyi’s racist remarks – both in government at the time?– were clearly a frustrated expression of the repeated failure by the ANC to win a majority in both Cape Town and the wider Western Cape (where coloureds are the majority), Roberts’ remarks were among the most rabidly racist we have heard in a long time.

The central question is this: how did the editor of the Sunday World, Wally Mbhele, allow the column to be carried in the first place?

What is far more worrying at the discursive and political levels is the fact that leading black figures have been making these unambiguously racist remarks.

This shows an abominable ignorance on their part of the history of coloured people and their place in South African society.

Coloured people have not only endured the horrors of slavery like no other group of people but more than 90% of these people have been – and still are – working class and poor.

This is precisely why these racist remarks are – aside from their morally offensive nature – socially, and especially politically, very damaging.

These remarks perhaps go to show why coloured people are today probably the most alienated and demoralised group of people in this country, worsened by the devastating effects of the current social crisis.

Historically, they were always caught in a torturous limbo: between the white racist minority and the African majority, thanks to the divisive designs of racist apartheid.

Indeed, in the past they were not white enough and today not black enough. This alienation is reflected in surging rates of crime and alcohol abuse, especially in poor communities which suffer from high unemployment and attendant social miseries.

To think that we have leading figures in our society perpetuating such naked racism towards people of colour who have suffered oppression and exploitation alongside them sends shivers down my spine, utterly revolts me and says loudly and clearly that the goal of building a non-racial and anti-racist society has been seriously compromised by these developments.

» Harvey is the authorised biographer of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe

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