Delaying the heartbreak

2011-09-20 00:00

IF Thabo Mbeki has an HIV/Aids legacy to haunt him then Nelson Mandela must lie awake wondering whether the reconciliation he bequeathed to his nation turned out as he had hoped it would.

It was surely a great idea at the time. A nation divided needed glue to hold it together. The Rainbow Nation project sounded like an inspired idea. Unfortunately, it has had unintended consequences.

The oppressors now genuinely think their right to defend their oppressive machinery has the same moral equivalence as the oppressed resisting them. Mandela’s project, it turns out, means to some that the bloodletting in our country was no more than a bar brawl that nobody knows or cares how it started.

That is why the likes of AfriForum’s Kallie Kriel think they are making sense when they say they are equally against the singing of Dubul’ibhunu as they are against some people being called kaffirs.

They must feel inspired by a judgment that went beyond what those who sought to stop Julius Malema from singing the song had asked for. Judge Colin Lamont has brought about a situation where the rites and rituals of the struggle against white oppression and racism are reduced to dances of mad men and women intoxicated by substances that not even they can explain. That is why the learned judge speaks of infusing a “new morality” to make sense of current-day South Africa.

As it turns out, there are sections of our population that mistook Mandela’s olive branch for a fig leaf — there to hide their nakedness — about which they had just discovered. They behave like a partner in a marriage who goes for counselling just because he or she wants to enjoy whatever perks there might still be in it rather than to improve the hurting union.

Lamont has allowed the movement to perpetuate an ahistorical account of how we came to be where we are some undeserved legal credence. What he could not give was the moral right to stop us remembering our struggle as we choose.

Speaking of matters ahistorical, the governing party makes an equally ahistorical claim by limiting the court judgment to an attack on ANC traditions. The judgment is an affront on the collective black experience of apartheid South Africa.

There can be no denying that the ANC led the struggle for freedom, but the judgment seeks to delegitimise the ANC’s struggle as much as it does those of all other political formations that waged a struggle that sought to meet the oppressor’s bullets with freedom-seeking ammunition. It is an attack on civilians too unsophisticated to grasp the ins and outs of political ideology, but who fully understood and responded to the human spirit’s desire to be free from bondage and spat in their slavemaster’s drink while smiling foolishly and murmuring ill wishes for their overlord.

Miriam Makeba’s song that unambiguously promises the oppressors will be shot with “imbhayimbhayi”, the Azanian People’s Liberation Army’s “one settler, one bullet” chant and the Black Consciousness Movement’s dirge that those who killed Azanians must also die fall squarely within the ambit that AfriForum and Lamont implicitly say represent an “old morality”.

They are not ANC traditions, but are as worthy of protection from AfriForum and Lamont’s audacious attempts to have some group write the history of the oppressed and of the liberated.

It may be a small matter but if you have to argue for preservation of history then you yourself must be seen to respect the past and not want to airbrush out the contributions of those who marched to a different chant from your own.

Reconciliation cannot and should not happen at the cost of distorting and decontextualising history. It should happen with honest reflection by all parties concerned as to their contribution to the malaise. If it doesn’t, it merely postpones the inevitable heartbreak and feelings of having lived a lie, as the ANC and collective black South Africa are finding out to their chagrin.

• Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is executive editor of the City Press.

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