The right fight

2011-03-11 00:00

I nearly fell off my chair when I read that Afrikanerbond chairperson Pieter Vorster had urged President Jacob Zuma to speak out against racism. Vorster, of course, limited his request to the president speaking out on Jimmy Manyi rather than on racism in general.

The Afrikanerbond, as we remember, is the reformed body that once called itself the Broederbond. It was the secret society that was the brains trust behind one of the most detailed and institutionalised white-supremacist orders in the world.

Its complaints were, therefore, ironic. It was like the devil being alarmed at the levels of debauchery in the world.

Racism did not just appear from nowhere. Vorster forebears spent a lot of time and money perfecting it and making it into a science. They sought theological and pseudo-scientific justifications and relied on eugenics for their criminal intentions. Now today they feel themselves qualified to lecture us on racism.

I hope that Zuma indulges Vorster and speaks out against racism. It is the elephant in the room and it is going nowhere quickly.

I do hope that, unlike some of Vorster's ilk have done in the past, they do not walk out when Zuma speaks out about the most prevalent form of racism in South Africa, which is racism against black people. I hope that they do not accuse him of playing the race card as some did when former president Thabo Mbeki spoke of the two nations that made South Africa.

Agri SA last year decided to walk out of a summit during which the treatment of farm labourers was being discussed. AfriForum has decided that there will be no discussion on whether rugby is transformed enough otherwise it will take its business to other banks.

And now Vorster wants us to talk about racism. Where has he been? We have never stopped talking about it. He and people like him were just not listening.

Vorster should have just asked Zuma to discipline Manyi instead of suddenly trying to appear concerned about racism in South Africa. We cannot be fooled by the Broederbond under any new name. Vorster's request is an example of the many times when people claim to want to be led when they actually want their prejudices confirmed by someone higher up than themselves.

The entrenched view in South Africa is that anyone who speaks about racism is a relic from the past with a huge chip on his or her shoulder. That is, unless they speak about the issue on the terms of those who are suddenly interested in what they otherwise dismiss as "playing the race card".

But Vorster's was not the only curious reversal of roles.

The ANC played the role that is generally played by the Vorsters of this world.

It decided that talking about Manyi's racism was having a chip on the shoulder. It said because the racism had happened a year ago it was therefore irrelevant.

By the ANC's logic, we should make peace with all other racists if their racism was in the past. We could stretch this to include Hendrik Verwoerd himself and other apartheid collaborators like Bantustan leaders.

Why should we remove the pictures of mayors from the past, even if they were racist, if racism of the past is now declared null and void?

So the ANC, if it is to be consistent, will return the portraits of the mayors to the town and city halls, and restore the statues it has torn down. All this in the name of these men (they are mostly men, unfortunately) who committed the crimes of bigotry in the past.

But I hope that JZ will address racism.I know I am being far too hopeful. Some might even say I am being naive. They may even say that I do not fully acknowledge the effects of white racism.

Let us say for current purposes that I don't understand the full effects of white racism. What I do know is that the fight against racism will not be won unless we fight it because it is the right fight to fight, not because it happens to affect us on that day. The same for our responses to racism.

Racism by one of our own must be treated in the same way as if perpetrated by a foe. That is the only way that we will have a credible voice when we speak out against it and of other ills in our society.

Alternatively, we could defer to how politicians do things. We could behave like both the ANC and the new converts to talking about race, and choose when racism is a topic that is worth discussing and punishing.

If all else fails, you could join and lead a political party or movement. There, it seems, being inconsistent is not a shortcoming. In fact, inconsistency and a terrible memory might prove to be real assets that could take you far in your chosen vocation.

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