The suffering of black people under colonialism and apartheid architects is well documented. Racism – subliminal and overt – is a big problem around the world. South Africa is a hot spot.
Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, a proudly racist public figure, regularly reminds us that the road to building a nonracial South Africa envisaged in the Constitution will be long and tortuous.
For a very long time, being black automatically conferred upon a large part of humanity the default dishonour of being subhuman. A number of racist experiments were carried out in Africa.
And for all the pain, according to Zille’s racist wisdom, Africans should be grateful. So, when Africans look back to how Cecil John Rhodes instituted a system stripping black workers naked and whipping them, they should be grateful that “not all was bad” after all.
When the colonial and apartheid governments stole land from indigenous people, killed and maimed them, there was an element of goodwill, we must understand.
When Africans and other nationalities around the world learn that their impoverishment can be traced back to the global slave trade that converted human beings into property that can be traded, they must always keep in mind that “not all was bad” about the system.
The descendants of the victims of Namibian genocide should understand that “not all was bad” when German General Lothar von Trotha ordered: “Shoot any Herero, with or without a rifle, with or without cattle.”
For centuries, a whole body of literature was developed and peddled by racists to “prove” deeply-held white prejudices that black people were inherently inferior. They advocated, as Zille does in the twenty-first century, that colonialism was good for the subjugated.
In the words of former President Thabo Mbeki, “those whose minds have been corrupted by the disease of racism, accuse us, the black people of South Africa as being, by virtue of our Africanness and skin colour, lazy, liars, foul-smelling, diseased, corrupt, violent, amoral, sexually depraved, animalistic, savage – and rapist.”
Zille, who has also been corrupted by the disease of racism, has become the proponent of twenty-first century racism. Clearly, injecting Botox into the brain is dangerous.
The struggles against colonialism and apartheid were meant to reclaim the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings. People like Zille remind us that the struggle is far from over.
Steve Biko and his generation of thoughtful leaders countered racism by inculcating self-pride among black people. Having been subjugated over centuries black people needed to reject the imposed inferiority complex. There was no better place to start than the rehabilitation of the black person’s conscience. This was the first step to liberation.
As an identity, blackness or being African has a significant political meaning beyond race. In a politically civilised post-94 South Africa, black means triumph of the struggle against colonialism and apartheid. It means the restoration of pride of the previously dehumanised. It means black excellence has to be acknowledged and be accorded its rightful place because excellence is what it is regardless of race.
Black people who understand their historic duty to repair the damage inflicted upon them by years of colonialism and apartheid will do everything they can to fight the persistent claim made by colonial enthusiasts like Zille.
This calls for high-level consciousness and the need to jealously guard the meaning of blackness in the context of historic deprivation and the duty to construct a humane world.
It is with this in mind that black people must never use blackness, black people’s culture and their languages to justify crude mediocrity. Black people who invoke blackness, culture and language to advocate or defend incompetence should know that they are working for colonial enthusiasts like Zille.
Verwoerd probably smiles wryly in his grave when he sees fake liberals like Zille peddle racist theories while black people undermine their own struggle.
The uncouth attempt by Lumka Oliphant, the spokesperson of Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, to explain the social grant scandal in an African language on 702, an English language radio station, was part of the perpetuation of black inferiority.
Although she is entitled to speak in a language of her choice, one finds it offensive that she invoked this right of speaking an African language only when she had to defend the rot at the South African Social Security Agency and the blatant constitutional violation.
More so when one considers the fact that the majority of the beneficiaries of the social grants are black and the idea of an expanded equitable grant system, an important mitigating factor against crushing poverty, was conceived by a government led by blacks to restore the dignity of black people.
That such a noble system has been put on trial by people like Oliphant who have suddenly discovered the urge to be advocates of African languages is scandalous.
African culture must never be used to dress up corruption. It must not be invoked to justify mediocre, illegality and lack of accountability.
Why hasn’t Oliphant offered English radio stations interviews in an African language when she didn’t have to defend illegality and incompetence of her boss? What makes it acceptable to seek to defend corruption “ngeSintu”?
Oliphant is not alone in undermining the unfinished struggles of black people. Many people who get caught doing the wrong thing invoke blackness to either justify wrongdoing or avoid taking responsibility. Even the black people who have been fronted by foreigners to capture the democratic South African state invoke black people’s interests to advance nefarious intentions. This undermines the struggle against racism.
It’s about time black people defended their real interests. Regardless of the language they speak, incompetent people like Oliphant and Dlamini do not represent black people. And whatever it is they represent, it’s certainly not black.
As for Zille, it’s about time progressive white people took her on. Unless they agree with her and they are nostalgic about the romantic colonial and apartheid past.
Ultimately, all South Africans of all racial backgrounds have a responsibility to build a nonracial society, heal the divisions of the past and restore the dignity of the dispossessed. The Constitution demands nothing less.
The Democratic Alliance, which styles itself as a constitutionalist party, has an opportunity to demonstrate that it is committed to this constitutional vision.
It must fire Zille.
– Mpumelelo Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria.
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