Listening to a false prophet

2011-08-09 00:00

IN 1856 in what is today the Eastern Cape, a teenage prophet called Nongqawuse prophesied that the spirits had, in a vision, told her that her people should destroy their crops and kill their cattle.

In return, the ancestors would push the British oppressors back into the sea and the Xhosa people would not only regain all their livestock but would have healthier breeds than before. The community believed her and did as she had said.

The Xhosa people were not unique in believing what today will be seen as an absurd suggestion that would see Nongqawuse being ridiculed.

Nongqawuse’s prophecy proved to be unfounded. The people perished and the oppression continued for 140 more years.

Many oppressed peoples have, from time to time, had these millennialist movements and prophets who promised to rid them of the oppressive foreigner among them — often with fatal consequences.

There are many theories for why the people believed Nongqawuse. One of these is that they had had enough of the foreign oppressors and were willing to do anything to get them off their backs.

South Africa is going through another Nongqawuse moment, with Julius Malema as this generation’s false prophet.

He personifies our deep wounds from oppression and our pathological hatred for icons of white supremacy. Now we are willing to destroy what is dear to us today in exchange for his promise of a better tomorrow.

He is deified by some and turned into a cult-like figure who can do no wrong. As with that unfortunate Eastern Cape community, we are happy to suspend our common sense and have allowed our hatred for the oppressor to devour us rather than those we claim to hate.

That is why there are far too many young and not-so-young bright minds willing to defend and adopt openly nonsensical positions just because this will set them on a different course to the former oppressors. It is truly sad.

We are being asked to choose between the present and historical wrongs of white racism, and the contemporary black kleptocracy — as if they are mutually exclusive projects.

We are being asked to excuse black people who pillage the state coffers for the mere reason that they are not the first people to do this and, more ludicrously, because “they look like us”.

Some of the country’s best minds are on overdrive diverting attention from the issue at hand. They are allowing themselves to come across as idiots.

Floyd Shivambu may be foul-mouthed, but he is no fool. Yet, in his fury he conveniently confused the Ruperts — Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the ill-fated News of the World newspaper with Anton Rupert, the mogul behind the Rembrandt Group.

For the Youth League, it was enough that a Rupert had disgraced the media.

There can be no debate that there is a need for economic justice to tally with the political freedom born in 1994. But this discussion cannot be held at the expense of everything else.

We cannot allow ourselves to be politically blackmailed by those who say that if we disagree with them or if we expose their hypocrisy, then we are in favour of marginalising the majority.

There is no doubt that white racism in South Africa still runs deep. Black people keep having to prove themselves to a perpetually sceptical world and what they acquire — be it wealth, selection to a rugby team or high office in a corporate entity — is assumed by those who think they know better not to have been on merit.

The message to the media is also very clear. We have to reflect black people in all their glory, not only through the prism of those who expect no better of them. We cannot argue with the customer.

But history has taught us that uncontrolled fury leads people to self-destruct. That is why we have to gather our wits so as not to repeat the folly of self-styled prophets and their quick-fix solutions.

If we don’t learn from history, we too shall perish and the oppressors will continue to rule for generations to come.

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

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