SA, move past white vs black

2017-11-12 06:04
The Black Monday protesters in Cape Town pray during the protest against farm murders on Monday. (Aletta Harrison, News24)

The Black Monday protesters in Cape Town pray during the protest against farm murders on Monday. (Aletta Harrison, News24)

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Now that the dust has settled after the #BlackMonday protests, revisiting and reflecting, specifically on the attitude of the black elite, is necessary.

In Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela revealed something many would find astonishing. When the ANC won an almost two-thirds majority in the 1994 poll, he was worried. When FW de Klerk congratulated him and conceded defeat, he became more worried.

He wrote: "Some in the ANC were disappointed that we did not cross the two-thirds threshold, but I was not one of them. In fact, I was relieved…"

What worried Mandela were the racial voting patterns throughout the country. The majority of Africans voted for the ANC. The majority of whites voted for the National Party, with strong support from coloureds and Indians. But his worry was not just about the writing of the new Constitution that was to follow – he had his eyes on what "a true government of national unity" should look like based on what we always claimed was a demand of the Freedom Charter, a government of the people.

But, looking at the results, he feared that this would be seen as an ANC government that was ready to produce what he termed "an ANC constitution, not a South African Constitution".

We must think of all the debates at the Convention for a Democratic SA and the compromises reached, and then those results.

Mandela concluded: "From the moment the results were in and it was apparent that the ANC was to form the government, I saw my mission as one of preaching reconciliation, of binding the wounds of the country, of engendering trust and confidence. I knew that many people, particularly the minorities – whites, coloureds and Indians – would be feeling anxious about the future, and I wanted them to feel secure. I reminded people again and again that the liberation struggle was not a battle against any one group or colour, but a fight against a system of repression. At every opportunity, I said all South Africans must now unite and join hands and say we are one country, one nation, one people, marching together into the future."

Heal the wounds of the past 

Where are we today? Shouldn’t this be the way we approach our problems. In my book Unmasked, Why the ANC Failed to Govern, I identify six impediments that must be dealt with to build the new South African nation. One of those is racism.

Firstly, I expect the black elite to help the nation to heal the wounds of the past instead of fanning divisions. Secondly, we must stop championing the role of victimhood in all facets of life. Instead, we must lead the way on how to build the South Africa we all want to live in.

The debates after the #BlackMonday marches exposed some of the hypocrisy associated with elite thinking. Most of the anger – carried through social media, was directed at the old South African flag and not at what brought those Afrikaners to the streets in the first place.

Journalist and former Financial Mail editor Barney Mthombothi said: "It's as if, of all the problems confronting this nation – the crime, corruption, looting – a piece of cloth posed the biggest threat." 

What was worse was that the wrath was directed at all Afrikaners and, in some cases, at all whites, which perpetuated our stereotypical way of arguing that inadvertently nullifies the progress we have made as a nation.

The events of #BlackMonday were not brought about by racism per se, although others may argue otherwise, but by the murder of white farmers, notwithstanding some perceptions held by some within the Afrikaner minority group that they are the only targets of this crime.

Soul searching and determination

It is not my intention to debate the correctness or wrongness of those perceptions. But some of these perceptions are held not only by the minority groups, but also by blacks as the majority group. These still dominate the thinking in our society.

What concerns me is the absence of practical ways of dealing with post-apartheid problems, including racism. In this regard, Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa advised that “South Africans must, in the interest of debate, distinguish between pre-1994 statutory racism, which was legally enforced from the cradle to the grave, from residual post-1994 racism”.

It requires a lot of soul searching and determination from both blacks and whites to learn from our past. Many of our social ills need us all to forge a common understanding of the causes of our problems and what needs to be done about them.

Steve Biko proclaimed that, in interracial group relationships, "whites are superior, blacks inferior. So as a prelude whites must be made to realise that they are only human, not superior. Same with blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also human, not inferior."

But to eliminate "superiority" and "inferiority" – racism and discrimination – socioeconomic factors have to be tackled and structural inequalities eradicated. Black people had hoped that the ANC-led government's policy of "affirmative action" had the potential to make a difference to their lives. There have been limited results.

Because the black elite occupies a great part of the social-media space, what a few Afrikaners did on #BlackMonday easily provokes ill feelings towards whites in general.

As William Gumede writes: "Some blacks tend to overcompensate for white racist attitudes: over-asserting their 'blackness', seeing the world only in black and white, not in between or as a mosaic of different colours."

If our immediate world is defined through black and white, blacks (as the dominant social group) will tend to take and occupy every space for themselves and, in so doing, bring back racism in reverse. Some blacks deny this because they presume that only whites can be racist. As I say in my book, this logic is racist in itself.

We could have easily engaged with the #BlackMonday demonstrators without turning it into a black versus white issue. Attitudes of racism have also not disappeared because interracial relations have not changed for many in our society. Sometimes cultural differences and preferences are raised as justification for discrimination – in this case, both ways – by blacks and whites.

We must also consider the fact that people feel threatened by lawlessness and disorder. In most cases, minorities are more sensitive to it. These are worldly traits. At the same time, there are still too many incidents of blacks being killed by their white employers for petty crimes or misdemeanours.

The country is burning not because the Afrikaner has taken to the streets; it is burning because the ANC government has not fulfilled many of its promises, among them to unite all of South Africa’s people.

Without a conscious effort to do away with racism, we are doomed to fail in our other endeavours. Nonracialism should be how we argue our positions.

Like Mandela put it in 1962: "The ANC further believed that all people, irrespective of the national groups to which they may belong, and irrespective of the colour of their skin, all people whose home is South Africa and who believe in the principles of democracy and of equality of men, should be treated as Africans…"

In 1985, Oliver Tambo said: "We are making the point here again that power in South Africa must be held by the people of South Africa as a whole, not by a white minority and not even by a black majority, but by a majority of the people of South Africa as a whole. Such a government will be legitimate; it will derive its mandate and authority from the people."

Mbatha is author of Unmasked: Why the ANC failed to govern


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Read more on:    black monday  |  anc  |  racism

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