Like Biko's, their souls do not rest

2018-09-16 06:03
Strike leader Mgcineni Noki, also known as the man in the green blanket, rallies mine workers at Marikana ahead of their encounter with police in August 2012. PHOTO: Leon Sadiki

Strike leader Mgcineni Noki, also known as the man in the green blanket, rallies mine workers at Marikana ahead of their encounter with police in August 2012. PHOTO: Leon Sadiki

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Although life in the US for indigenous, black and other people of colour is generally one still steeped in white supremacy and racist violence unparalleled in the world, South Africa follows close behind and persists as an African image of the same ideology with its own persistent, pathological anti-African racism.

The US, as a European settler-colonial state like South Africa, is also imperialist. It possesses five times the population of South Africa and dictates a policy of racism and capitalism locally and globally, which forces especially nations of colour to adhere to its imperialist line and influences nations across the globe, including South Africa.

The ironies of a free, democratic and “colour-blind” South African society today are all too numerous for the scope of this article, but a few salient points need to be highlighted, especially as people pause for the commemoration of the 41st anniversary of the assassination of Steve Biko, which comes soon after the sixth anniversary of the Marikana massacre.

Firstly, although South Africa has a black majority population that is overwhelming indigenous and African, it is still unabashedly and persistently anti-African in its economic, political, social, cultural and educational character.

The glaring irony of South Africa being an African country and one of the three largest economies on the continent is reflected in the visible absence of African-owned businesses, small and large, in all major metropolitan cities. The consequence is that the average person spending money in South Africa does not spend her or his money supporting African businesses and communities. Instead most business, commercial and financial transactions in South Africa still benefit white capital and, subsequently, the white community.

Biko’s instructive critique in the 1960s and 1970s echoed resentment of what he described as the “totality of white power” in virtually every sphere. Today, while black people are heavily reflected within government administrative circles, the realms of economy and finance demonstrate hegemonic structural white control and unmitigated dominance.

This abnormal norm recalls the early colonial ideology that insisted that Africans were inhuman and “uncivilised” – in terms of “civilisation” as defined by European aristocratic society – and thus deserving of enslavement and control by Europeans.

South Africa’s white-controlled economy and the notable absence of black-owned businesses on the major streets of Gauteng, Cape Town, eThekwini, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein and elsewhere reinforce this sense of imposed ideology of African inhumanity. Black people are thus still expected in an African-led country to serve the needs of white people, compounded especially in the case of African women, who are still compelled, due to economic impoverishment and marginalisation, to work as maids and cooks for a paltry R20 an hour (a horrific wage when R14 is equivalent to $1 today) for white households and some middle-class black households in most situations.

Biko was exhausted with the politics of black reaction, where black people were constantly engaged in a futile and frivolous battle to prove their humanity to white people, particularly on a continent where black people birthed mathematics (geometry began with the measuring of the floodwaters of the Nile river), astronomy (Sudan today), and ecological and environmental balance (the San, Khoi, Dogon and Maasai, among other ethnic groups). Biko was adamant that this internalisation of inferiority and “uncivilisation” by black people and the constant attempt to satisfy the criteria of white humanity was a meaningless and pointless exercise because no sanity and sense would satisfy the principles of an insane and nonsensical system – European colonisation and conquest of African and indigenous peoples’ lands. He thus taught black self-pride and dignity, urging black people to be comfortable with themselves, and with indigenous black cultural norms and standards as consonant with global humanity.

The second major irony is the current status of the country’s top leadership. It reminds us, as Biko painstakingly did, that black people can assume oppressor roles too, and painful ones at that. President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers and of Cosatu, is the one who advocated the use of lethal force against the mine workers who were fighting for their rights in Marikana in August 2012. Ramaphosa served as a non-executive member of the board of Lonmin, a then British-owned company that owned the Marikana platinum mine while his company, Shanduka, owned minority shares in Lonmin.

Regardless of what Ramaphosa says in his defence and even after being exonerated by the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, the fact of the matter is that Ramaphosa insisted that the police resort to “concomitant action” against what he described as “plainly dastardly criminals” while the mine workers’ protest raged on.

He was referring to the mine workers whose blood and sweat – spilt while they dig out platinum, gold, coal, diamonds and other precious minerals – provides the basis of the large South African capitalist economy.

But are we surprised at the result of the Farlam commission given the controlling nature of capitalist politics in South Africa and the world?

Revenue from mining is what made South Africa’s capitalist economy the biggest in Africa decades ago, and it ultimately provides high dollar-rand salaries to chief executives as well as all elitist and upper middle-class segments of South African society, except the black working and unemployed classes.

What a shame, what a moral abomination, that the leader of a nation, and a former trade unionist at that, is willing to turn his back on his fellow trade unionists because of lucrative profits from a foreign-owned mining conglomerate with which he has close financial ties, to the extent of drawing on violent means to suppress worker protest for economic justice.

Crimes were committed by the one holding the highest office in the land and yet, like in so many other places, these crimes are overlooked and swept under the carpet, exonerated and followed by apologies while impoverished mine workers and their families still suffer deprivation and humiliation as they rub their noses in the dust.

No justice, no peace.

It is very clear from the post-apartheid South African narrative since the 1990s that global capital – principally white with some subsidiary Asian role – is firmly in control of South Africa’s economy and financial structures, all of which have direct bearing on the political, social, educational and cultural life in the country.

Biko’s spirit is restless 41 years after he died, as are those of the 34 mine workers whose blood was spilt in Marikana more than six years ago. The spirits are crying out for earthly justice, yearning for a resting place in a truly decolonised and liberated South Africa, Africa and world, where the perverse and persistent trampling of African humanity is permanently abolished and buried forever.

- Kunnie is an activist researcher, professor and author, most recently of The Cost of Globalisation: Dangers to the Earth and Its People


Following Biko’s black pride ideology, what have we done to promote black economic justice?

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