Guest Column

The systems of oppression we cannot ignore

2019-01-29 11:44
It’s been found that poverty is most severe among female Africans living in rural areas in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces. PHOTO: afp

It’s been found that poverty is most severe among female Africans living in rural areas in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces. PHOTO: afp

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Because of our separation from our roots we have lost our languages; we do not remember our cultures and traditions, writes Mcebo Dlamini.

Most of us we come across words like capitalism, racism, colonialism, imperialism when we get exposed to certain spaces which is usually much later in our lives. 

For example, growing up I could not understand why my mother had to leave me everyday and come back at night only to leave me the following morning again. I did not understand why I hardly saw my father and when I did, why it would only be for a short while. 

I did not have a language or vocabulary to articulate what was happening but I knew that I did not like it. It was only later on in life that I developed a language to speak about these systems of oppression even though they had long started to affect my life. 

READ: On decolonisation - We are black first before we become students

These systems of oppression are always already happening to us regardless of whether we can pronounce imperialism or whether we can spell patriarchy. They are not just abstract terms that only exist in textbooks but they affect our political and even the most personal aspects of our lives regardless of where we are or what we know. These systems of oppression have affected our political and personal interactions.

It is not by accident but by design that a lot of our family structures are broken as black people. We sometimes blame ourselves and of course sometimes we are at fault but the defunct family structures are a direct result of migrant labour which is a product of colonialism and capitalism. 

Migrant labour played a fundamental part in shaping South Africa's past and present and has left indelible marks in our society. With colonisation blacks were forced to work in the mining areas far from their homes. This was because the colonisers who were now in control of the land imposed heavy taxation in cash.

Men were forced to leave their homes and this had a huge impact on African societies. Women were forced to remain behind and stay with the children. Men would return during the holidays frustrated and overworked and become violent as a way to reaffirm their masculinity. Other men would die and never return.

This might sound simplistic but this is how South Africa became a fatherless nation and this is how the South African family structure began to disintegrate. 

This still continues even today. It is because of colonialism qua migrant labour that blacks are crammed in townships. It is because of migrant labour that we see flocks of people during Easter and December holidays going to their homelands and die in car accidents.

It is still migrant labour that in January you see students queuing outside universities from remote areas around the country. Yes, it is because of colonialism that we have become displaced and dislocated in a country we call our own. 

The implications of this are dire. Because of our separation from our roots we have lost our languages; we do not remember our cultures and traditions. We have lost ourselves and how do we forge a future if we do not know who we are? It is difficult. 

Because we have no knowledge of ourselves we have relied on the ways of the coloniser to define who we are. They have become the standard of what is good and what is bad. They determine what success is and what failure is. They design and destroy our desires and lives at whim.

So, as a result we spend most of our lives trying to emulate white people. We begin to shun our ways and embrace those of the white folk. We call ancestors demons and we take our children to schools with white people because that's the measure of good education.

We stop cultivating and speaking our languages, English becomes the measure of intelligence. We move from where our people are and stay where the whites stay and that becomes the measure of success. We forget that we are black and that true freedom will not come through assimilation and integration. 

That is why despite all the efforts by government to unite us through concepts like the rainbow nation we still have racism on the daily. The ghost of colonialism continues to haunt us, to disrupt our very being and existence. 

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

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