Should black people continue giving tips to white waiters and waitresses?

2016-05-16 11:08

The present age of being ‘WOKE’ or ‘LIT’ defines an activation of activism and consciousness amongst a particular group in our society – the youth that has for the longest time been mislabeled as being ‘born free’. Gaining its birth in institutions of higher learning, this present age of activism and consciousness has elevated a need for the decolonisation of South Africa (centering Higher Education as the site of struggle) beyond the 1994 pact. The rainbow nation idea has been cast to the periphery and deemed a myth, opening up space for frank conversations on brazen, subliminal and unspoken traces of colonialism, racism and discrimination in our society.

A recent incident that happened in Obz Café involving two decolonisation activists has created a wave of discussion. Wandile Dlamini decided that time for tips (a voluntary form of showing satisfaction or dissatisfaction for services rendered) after a filling meal was over. Or perhaps it was a refusal to tip just on that particular evening. The incident was brought to the public view (according to some) by the second activist, Ntokozo Qwabe (who endorsed the sentiments of Dlamini, even though he was inclined to tipping). Wandile Dlamini, instead of putting a figure to the tip, astonished the waitress with the words “WE WILL GIVE TIP WHEN YOU RETURN THE LAND”.

Delighted by what had transpired, Qwabe took to Facebook to announce that “LOL wow unable to stop smiling because something so black‚ wonderful & LIT just happened!” and this was because Dlamini’s statement had shaken the white waitress to bursting “into typical white tears (like why are you crying when all we’ve done is make a kind request? lol!)”. The colleagues of the white waitress (we are told they were also white) ‘caught feelings’ and were infuriated by the act which was of ‘political nature’. When a white colleague approached the duo, they went on to “ask him why they are catching feelings when we haven’t even started (like the part where we take up arms hasn’t even come & y'all are already out here drowning us in your white tears? Really white people? Wow.)”.

Qwabe further exposited their interaction with the white male colleague:

“We start drawing him to the political nature of the act & why we couldn’t be bothered that they decided to catch feelings from the note. We tell him it’s great that business as usual has stopped & the pressing issue of land is now on the agenda in that space — seeing the country was celebrating ‘Freedom Day’ yesterday.”

So far, if you follow the text and choice of emotive expression it is embroiled in an almost mocking and touting laughter directed at white people but also in one form a laughter that confuses the seriousness or lack thereof at which the writer takes his activism. It introduces a dimension of doubt for deep commitment to the cause of decolonisation. Are actions carried out to provoke (the almost predictable) response from white people so that we could go on a social media rampage or furore? Or are actions deliberately chosen to truly disturb and disrupt spaces of privilege? At best the action not to tip created a discomfort and induced anger, but it certainly did not disrupt white privilege. If anything, judging from the money raised for the waitress – Ashleigh Schultz – by the public, white privilege was organised, emboldened and in the process co-opted black people who were outraged by the action of Dlamini supported by Qwabe.

In this article I am not interested at the public reaction following the act. Partly because it is almost predictable how the public, especially white people, would respond to such action. If we live in a country that needs decolonisation, then it means we are admitting to the hegemonic existence of white privilege and its ill-gotten socioeconomic supremacy in society. We are also admitting that white people are mostly going to rally (extensively) behind one of their own if they find them as being victimised. So the reaction to the act of Wandile Dlamini is almost and always expected.

However, if decolonisation is to be a reality, its proponents need to work out a viable programme of action. Sporadic actions on their own are not enough. Decolonisation is going to be won through collective action that mobilises the South African society (of all shades) to be part of the process. Franz Fanon in one of the definitions for decolonisation writes that “decolonisation is the veritable creation of new man [human beings]”. One would imagine that, in a settler colony like ours, the creation of new human beings includes all people who live in South Africa – both the offspring of oppressors and the offspring currently experiencing variations of oppression. If agitators for decolonisation accept our constitutional democratic order, then they must know that they can never – at any stage – take up arms against white people without the state reacting in protection of white people (due to their status of being citizens that must be protected by the state).

In the present age of being ‘woke’ or ‘lit’ there has been a worrying emergence of celebritydom – a self-propelled need by some people to be anointed as more activist than others. There is great inclination to individuality masquerading as catalytic action. Even when there are movements – be it Rhodes Must Fall or Fees Must Fall – the ugly head of personality cults finds its way to life. Sure, poster boys and girls of revolutions are found everywhere in the world – but more often than not such people do not self-anoint themselves as such and work (deliberately) towards ascendance to that status. The status usually becomes testament to their contribution.

Our analysis of the South African society insofar as violence, past legacies and prejudices that are embedded, takes the form of structural analysis. Perhaps one wants to suggest that the decolonisation project must concern and centre itself on disrupting and dealing with the individuals and sites that ferment the structural violence currently experienced by black people. Even if all black people served by white people were to refuse to give a tip, this act would barely disfigure whiteness and white privilege. However, if we refused to drink wine that is not produced by black people, we would significantly dent the site (parts of Western Cape) and individuals that perpetuate structural violence against black people.

Whilst all white people benefit from white privilege in one form or the other, there are levels. If as black people we direct our activism en masse to the fringes of white society, you can bet we will be in struggle mode for the entire existence of humankind. If we are not as yet questioning the constitutional democracy logic that guides South Africa, it means that our solutions must be within the constitutional imperatives. If black people go around celebrating victory over actions that touch the fringes of white societies, we are destined for failure in the decolonisation project. The discourse on race, land and dispossession is well spread across the country. We now need to formulate a programme of action beyond just wanting to be seen talking about issues.

Land is important because it is beneath and above it that any country’s riches are found. But also more important is to understand the place of politics in our society as we pursue this project. Qwabe, in an interview with the Daily Vox, went on to detail his lack of confidence in the political party system. The non-partisan approach to social movements is important to rally societies on areas of commonalities. However, the ultimate victory for black people in South Africa will come the day they install a government (through the political process) that has the will, vision and vigour to decolonise this country. It is government that is entrusted with the marshalling of public resources and delivering public goods. The attainment of social justice and decolonisation of our country fundamentally rests within the government domain. Those praying for the status quo to remain will avail great funding for non-partisan movements – a trap that decolonisation activists must avoid. The programme of action for decolonisation must carry with it a disruptive agenda for the prevailing political arrangements of the day.

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