The Race to Replace the Public Protector with Exceptionalism!

2016-07-16 11:57

Parliament has until the end of August to find a suitable candidate to take over the reins, from Advocate (Adv.) Thuli Madonsela, as the Public Protector. This past week a shortlist of candidates were narrowed down to 14 from the original list of 64. Former head of the Asset Forfeiture Asset and current prosecutor Willie Hofmeyer, ex-deputy Public Protector Mamiki Goodman (Nee Shai) and her deputy Kevin Malunga are the front runners to succeed Madonsela.

The least divisive figure in the post Mandela era in South Africa has been the outgoing Public Protector, Adv. Thuli Madonsela. Even those that are proponents of the government would point to her ANC membership, as confirmation of the ruling party doing right things. Those rooting from the opposition desks would be eager to label her, a champion for justice.

I once came across her leaving FNB Hatfield branch in Tshwane. I was star struck on the occasion, that instead of requesting to take a selfie with her, I asked for a hug instead. She obliged me and the moment was truly memorable. Retrospectively, though apart from us and her two security personnel, the event is lost in history and I would not be soliciting Facebook likes from the event.

There is an urgency that she applied to her work and to the office of the Public Protector that history forever will acknowledge her of. In history, we are either the central drivers or we are relegated to the margins as objects of destiny. When those entrusted with responsibility, especially black leaders view themselves as central in their own history, the expectation is that they will view themselves as agents, actors, and participants rather than as marginal on the periphery of political or economic experience.

From margin to the center

A friend this week asked me, “What is supposed to be a natural response from black people when they watch TV series such as Roots that put them in the periphery of history?"

When we reflect on the past of black people and all we can reference is how marginal or how victimised they were in the narrative of the development of humanity, how should this generation and future ones react?

The answer is that black people need to move from margins of history to the center. Space and time as the Bible would confirm happen to all humanity. Black people’s relationship with history will develop and knowledge will increase when a sense of urgency is developed on how this central role is appreciated. If we can develop a consciousness, claim space as agents of progressive change, then we can change our condition and change the world.

Thus requires adding to our everyday responsibilities, continuous thinking around:

  • What is collective interest of the previously marginalised?
  • What is our view of the world, and is there a better view?
  • How central are we to our history, not someone else’s?
  • How do I impact my generation, people and broader society?

Now, why is this not black exceptionalism?

My friend who watched Roots, believes, like most people, that we need more exceptional black people to correct history. Effectively he is saying, there exists a single and one-dimensional manifestation of blackness. A black person that does not conform to this imposed sole image of blackness is somehow an exception to the rule and thus we need more black people who are less black.

We now have a false dichotomy, that says black people who are educated, smart, articulate, calm, and basically every other positive adjective you can think of are unusual or rarities among the general black population. This denies us the individuality and the full spectrum of humanity that is so readily offered to other population groups. When we speak or act, our words and actions are often interpreted to say something about the entire black population, either by conforming to the dominant stereotypes about black people or by diverging from them.

Adv. Madonsela is not a black exception!

Let’s assume for a few minutes that Adv. Madonsela lived in a single race state (a country of just black people only) would she enact the responsibilities of her office any differently?  In other words, what natural responses would occur in her relationships, attitudes toward the environment, and her office? If the answer is that she would have still remained the central agent of history and she would have acted in the collective good of that society, then her actions confirms her individuality and not exception.

We need individuals capable of viewing ideas, concepts, events, personalities, and political and economic processes from a standpoint of black people as subjects and not as objects. We need to make history and not continuously fall victim to it. Particularly we need escape stereotypes that have ensnared us to a single definition of what it means to be black.

Be Inspired SA!

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