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On the 'One settler, one bullet' incident at UCT

2018-11-15 06:00
PHOTO: Gallo images/ Getty images

PHOTO: Gallo images/ Getty images

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The Mlandu incident at UCT perhaps reveals to us whose libidinal economy matters in this country; whose feelings of pain and pleasure matter, writes Mcebo Dlamini.

Dambudzo Marechera in his seminal text titled The House of Hunger teaches us to never be silent where there is provocation, even the slightest provocation. He says this because for a long time black people have had no outlets to voice their pain, anger and anguish. 

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Colonialism required black people to be silent even when they were brutally violated. For years, perhaps centuries, we have been made to believe that violence upon our bodies, souls and minds is the normal state of affairs. That we should endure it because if we speak out we will be banished, arrested and even killed. 

Indeed, many of them died for speaking for freedom and against oppression. Among them were Steve Biko, Chris Hani and many other freedom fighters whose names never made it to the headlines. This silencing of black people's expression of pain still remains policed almost three decades after the democratic dispensation. Although this is the case there are those who heeded the Marecherian call, those who refuse to be silenced. Masixole Mlandu, an activist from the University of Cape Town (UCT), is one of these subversives. 

Mlandu recently announced the completion of his Honours Independent Research where he argued that South Africa is a "settler colonial society, built and maintained through conquest". In the acknowledgments page he concluded with the revolutionary slogan of APLA: "One settler, one bullet." 

The ruckus began when the vice chancellor of UCT congratulated Mlandu on the submission of his Honours paper. 

As one would have expected from white people, comments criticising Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng started pouring in and eventually UCT issued a statement where both she and the university distances itself from the language used. The statement further states that the language does not advance the vision of an inclusive university. 

I give this brief backdrop so that I contextualise my argument that, in South Africa, the feelings of white people matter more than the brutal reality of black people.  

The Mlandu incident is not the first of its nature. When Julius Malema sang "Dubul' Ibhunu" he was taken to court and charged with inciting violence. What I am trying to demonstrate here is that there are always consequences when the sensibilities of white people are affected. This is to say, if white people feel the slightest provocation there will always be consequences. The Mlandu incident has been all over the news and media platforms but the only narrative peddled is that he is racist and that he is a threat to inclusiveness and democracy. 

Not many have bothered to ask why a young student in 2018 would write such a statement on his Honours research paper. No one bothered to ask why a song like "Dubul'Ibhunu" is still relevant in South Africa many years after the so-called dawn of democracy. 

The answer to these questions will reveal something about the reality of South Africa. It could possibly reveal that there has not been any change in the hierarchies that existed during colonialism, apartheid and post-apartheid. 

The Mlandu incident perhaps, if read closely, reveals to us whose libidinal economy matters in this country; whose feelings of pain and pleasure matter. It is surely that of white people if a mere statement can cause so much outrage that an entire university distances itself from it. 

What is shocking though is that we have never seen the same outrage from the white community when black people die in the townships, when they live inhumane lives in the squatter camps while white people enjoy hectares of land. 

It is this privilege and power that white people are enjoying that make them think that they are superior to black people and therefore their desires and feelings should become a priority. It is us who have to undo this, it is the voices like those of Mlandu that must multiply such that we can also claim our rightful place in our country of birth. 

It would not be a farfetched assumption to think that the decision by the vice chancellor to distance herself from the thesis was coerced by the university. It is also a known fact that the decision-making body at UCT is mostly white. 

What does this mean then for black leaders who find themselves in such arrangements? Does it not mean that they are vulnerable to being proxies of white people, who decide what they should or should not say, when and how? 

This possibility means that black people who are in positions of power and are a minority must be cautious of dancing to the tune of whiteness. They should at all times stand for the truth and what they believe in. There is no use having and advocating for black leaders to be in positions of influence if they are not going to be able to defend our views as blacks and stand by them unapologetically. 

The Mlandu incident is a gesture of what is the reality of our country. There are certain things that cannot be said and there are certain people who cannot be offended without consequences. This is mainly a result of the tilted power dynamics of our country. 

"One settler, one bullet" in its metaphorical state is a call to all black people to continue to struggle for true freedom, for the freedom that we once dreamt we would have. 

- Dlamini is a former Wits SRC leader and student activist. He writes in his personal capacity.

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:    university of cape town  |  white privilege  |  race
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