Guest Column

Blacks won't recover their blackness with political power alone

2019-07-22 10:00
Jacob Zuma at the Pietermaritzburg high court on Thursday.

Jacob Zuma at the Pietermaritzburg high court on Thursday. (AP)

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Songezo Zibi's column essentially is a contribution to the commentary about state capture rather than blacks reclaiming their blackness. He went about chewing something that was not in his mouth, writes Leeto Thale.

Much fanfare erupted after the recent column written by the former editor of Business day Songezo Zibi. The piece calls on black people to "recover their blackness" which apparently was "butchered during the Zuma years".

Zibi undermines the point he wants to make by basing it on a myth known as the destructive "Zuma years" which we ought to disabuse ourselves from as promptly as possible.

From the time that Mandela came to Jacob Zuma’s rescue with gifts of millions of rands, to the collective responsibility posture that the ANC adopted to shield him from being answerable to alleged wrongdoing, Zuma was not a rogue figure. This is the "collectivism" which Zibi opts to ignore and instead decides to target ordinary black folk.

The implicit attempt by Zibi to exonerate Cyril Ramaphosa from this rot is palpable. The little said about the qualifications of the new dawn Eskom board to deal with the crisis it faces today the better. Outrage at people not being qualified to do their jobs as Zibi’s illustrates depends on the weather, it changes willy-nilly. The generally corrupt reciprocal relationship between the ANC and big business, as well as state contracts which ANC cadres and its investment arms have had easy access to over the years, cannot reasonably be confined to the mythical "Zuma years".

The point that Zibi endeavours to make about how the struggles of black people are being scapegoated by corrupt politicians is valid. However his use of the Zondo commission as a launching pad for his analysis propels his argument elsewhere since it is premature to speak authoritatively on the value of the evidence so far presented at the commission.

There is no doubt that political expediency has made the fight against racism in South Africa cumbersome. The failure of the government to implement very simple programs has been blamed on apartheid. There are black people who are accused of being in the pockets of "white monopoly capital" when they stand in the way of corrupt politicians. When raising this point Zibi simultaneously clumps it together with what he describes as the collective indifference of black people to the victimisation of other black people particularly in state institutions. He paraphrases this as a perversion of principle which he speculates has its roots in the damage that apartheid did to black people.

Irrational closing of ranks?

Zibi uses this observation to build a hypothesis about the rationality of black people. The contention arising from his postulation is that there is an irrational closing of ranks by black people which has developed into a natural instinct. The conclusion he draws is that this irrationality enables the corruption committed by other black people because it buys into the idea that white monopoly capital is targeting the proponents of radical economic transformation.

Zibi entertains the point that the concerns raised by white people against corruption committed by black people are thus irrationally dismissed by black people. To consolidate this point he quotes Cornel West who has opined on how black incompetence is at times overlooked by black people simply because they are black. We ought to be reminded too that West insisted that, "you can’t talk about race without wrestling with the legacy of white supremacy".

What this means is that until you undo this legacy the solutions you put forward for your problems as a racially unequal nation will be self-defeating. One obviously does not know where Zibi has been living even during those Zuma years. It is black people who have raised their voices in large numbers against the reported corruption around Zuma. It is black people who questioned why radical economic transformation was suddenly a buzz phrase when the ANC has had all the years to transform South Africa. It is black people who took to the streets and protested.

It is black students who marched to the union buildings to demand free education which had been promised by the ANC. If anything epitomises indifference by black people against other black people it is the broken promises made by the black government after the Marikana massacre. We are seven years deep since the massacre happened and Ramaphosa has failed to meet the people of Marikana to explain his role to them in it despite him promising to do so.

Ironically, the Marikana massacre happened during what Zibi describes as the Zuma years. The notion of black collective indifference negates the gallant efforts of black people who have had no option but to protect each other. From the time that the United Democratic Front UDF demonised Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and the manner she was shafted aside when she was vying to be the vice president of the ANC, the support she received from the black people never waned. Who would forget the horrific end to Andries Tatane’s life and the continuing solidarity of forgotten communities like the one he represented.

How many of us have bothered to find out if justice has been dispensed as far as his murder by the police is concerned?

The denigrating evictions of shack dwellers throughout South Africa continue unabated. Our country is home to farm labourers who are destitute despite the entitlement they have to security of tenure on farms they have lived on for years. These downtrodden black people support one another.

Zibi guilty of what he claims is wrong

Zibi talks about perpetuating dangerous stereotypes yet he is guilty of the same thing by fabricating the notion of the indifference of black people towards each other. A classicist analysis that is warm to the woes of black professionals which he apparently represents. Undoubtedly they matter and so too their stories. But that cannot be the basis to mount a hyperbolic proposition which inadvertently discredits the black lives that are noticeably invisible to him. Much as his piece popularises the notion of "what-about-ism" it does not make all of us blind.  

What is what-about-ism? A tactic that is now increasingly being used to silence opposing views. Among the ardent disciple of this "woke" philosophy is one commentator Eusebius McKaiser of 702 and other prominent opinion makers. The phrase is catching on. How it works is that if one disputes a point by making comparisons with similar scenarios where different action was taken, then that person is deflecting attention away from themselves or the issue at hand. Surprisingly the same evangelists do the same when it suits them.

To ask about what is going to happen to whosoever has committed the same crime as you and yet not punished in the same way that you are being punished is perfectly understandable. Provided that one does not expect to be condoned for their actions and that they are prepared to deal with the consequences of their deeds. If we are to jump onto the "woke" "whataboutism" bandwagon as Zibi implores us to do, we are denying ourselves memory that is much likely to bring us the understanding that we need to reconfigure South Africa if indeed we are serious about transforming our racially unequal country.

What is apparent with the proponents of the notion of "whataboutism" is that they hardly ever make meaningful contributions to how economic redress could be achieved in South Africa to reflect racial demographics. Unless if we believe that the reason that this has not happened is because of our indifference as black people to the corruption committed by other black people.

Expecting a monster to give birth to a sheep

What the rainbow nation project has done unfortunately is to give credence to the idea that racial equality will be achieved through social cohesion. The unfortunate idea of expecting a monster to give birth to a sheep. If Zuma was as bad as Zibi wants us to believe during his years, then how come are the bulk of state contracts some of which date back to apartheid times are still in white or foreign hands? Notwithstanding the evergreen contracts that hardly receive any criticism at all from our news outlets. These are far more foregrounding anomalies which are connected to the erosion of "blackness" which Zibi brushed aside in favour of his hypothesis that paints a picture of black people being indifferent to the corruption committed by other black people. 

Zibi’s column essentially is a contribution to the commentary about state capture rather than blacks reclaiming their blackness. He went about chewing something that was not in his mouth.

Blacks will not be able to recover their blackness with political power alone. The mistake that the liberation movement made was the decision to separate political power from economic power which apparently was to be attained later. Any reclamation of blackness without this is simply a futile exercise, infused with jargon that will take us nowhere.

The excitement of prominent newsmakers at Zibi’s article, particularly the response of white people generally and the longstanding gas lighting that black people have been indoctrinated into is regrettable. There is nothing wrong with introspection but not without the honesty which Zibi has asked for, but failed to deliver on himself.  

- Thale is a South African writer currently residing in London.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    state capture  |  race relations  |  race


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