‘Will the real black people please rise?’

2008-02-08 00:00

There was a time in this country when people were proud to be called black. Black people walked tall and feared no one. They did not seek anybody’s sympathies for their condition, wretched as it was; they demanded respect from everyone.

They were a proud people and were very principled. Those people who could not be called black but who wished they were also part of the black community envied them. However, that time appears to have gone.

It now appears as if many black people are ashamed of being called black. They would rather be referred to as previously disadvantaged people or Indian people or coloureds, Africans or the marginalised. How did we allow things to deteriorate to such a level?

Today you have a black coach, appointed for the first time to coach a rugby squad, earnestly pleading with all and sundry to forget that he comes from the black community, but to just think of him as the “next coach”.

At about the same time Peter de Villiers said that, a black player in that same squad, Brian Habana, says he never knew apartheid and he was never disadvantaged. Elsewhere, we hear noises of people saying that during apartheid when white people were in charge, they were considered not white enough and now that a predominantly black government is in power, these people claim that they are considered not black enough.

How some of us wish that leading intellectuals such as the late Strini Moodley were here to conscientise us again. How many times do we have to say that in the South African context, the term “black” did not refer to a person’s skin colour? It has always been a political term. When talking about black people many have always understood that we are referring to that group of people who were discriminated against by the white minority regime because they were not white. Whites did this as a group, which is why it makes no sense for any white person today to say he or she was not involved in the subjugation of black people.

Africans, Indians and coloureds were all victims of apartheid policy and to rid themselves of this evil system, they grouped themselves into a solid block around the cause of their oppression, the blackness of their skin. This group of people chose to call themselves black, firstly, to identify themselves and, secondly, to prove that being called black was nothing to be ashamed of.

Lastly, while the term African did appear appropriate as it identified the oppressed as the indigenous people of this land, the truth is that some Africans worked actively to prop up the system of apartheid and so these people could not be identified as part of the oppressed people fighting to free themselves. The term black, therefore, was seen as the most correct one in the South African context.

Having said all of that, I have to say that I agree with former radio personality, Zandile Nzalo. It is a waste of time to continue to refer to people as black, if those same people do not consider themselves black. I for one have simply run out of patience.

Democracy allows us to call ourselves by whatever name we choose. After all, in the last 14 years, we have seen so many things taking place in this country that we would never have thought possible, all in the name of democracy.

Where in the past black people strove for solidarity, in the past few years we have seen comrades causing untold divisions within the black community. In the past few years, not only have former comrades accumulated for themselves a lot of wealth, but they have unashamedly flaunted this wealth in public. They are still doing this, against a backdrop of extreme poverty. Comrades are openly saying it is every man or woman for him or herself. How did we come to this state of affairs?

Those who have always envied black solidarity today can’t believe their eyes as they see members of the black community tearing at each other with such viciousness. It makes you want to scream out and shout out: “Will the real black people please rise?”

• Bhungani kaMzolo is a former journalist now working for the government. He writes in his personal capacity.

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