An in­jus­tice to Ruth First

CityPress - - Voices - Ghaleb Cachalia voices@ city­press. co. za

Iwent to the Ruth First lec­ture at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand on Mon­day and was con­cerned, af­ter lis­ten­ing to the speak­ers and con­tri­bu­tions from the floor, about the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of the con­tent when viewed against Ruth First’s her­itage.

I knew Ruth when I was a child and as a stu­dent in the UK. I dined at her home in Lon­don. I wit­nessed the views of a strong woman who was com­mit­ted to jus­tice and non­ra­cial­ism in South Africa, and who brooked no non­sense from her hus­band, Joe Slovo, about his rosy par­ti­san view of the Soviet Union at the time.

She had lit­tle time for po­lit­i­cal correctness – ask any­one who knew her. She spent years in the wilder­ness, sol­dier­ing on against el­e­ments in the strug­gle that cham­pi­oned racial ex­clu­sive­ness – a po­si­tion adopted by the speak­ers.

Their dis­missal of in­ter­ra­cial friend­ships and con­sign­ing whites, en masse, to ir­rel­e­vance is at odds with Ruth’s non­ra­cial­ism.

The mes­sage from one of the speak­ers that “we must be pre­pared to alien­ate whites … and to be un­con­cerned if they leave and seek their for­tunes else­where” struck me as at odds with the Ruth I knew and read as­sid­u­ously. It also raised my hack­les, as did the crude racial in­sults and in­vec­tive from a con­trib­u­tor in the au­di­ence.

What was as­tound­ing about the lec­ture was the ar­ro­gance, the in­her­ent racism and the to­tal ab­sence of any anal­y­sis that went be­yond facile and re­ac­tive con­structs. Class was not even re­ferred to and nei­ther was the idea that in the cru­cible of com­mon class strug­gle, friend­ships and bonds could be built to form the foun­da­tion for a just so­ci­ety. I’ve seen that hap­pen.

No cre­dence was given to the no­tion that the flawed com­plex­i­ties of the rain­bow na­tion pro­vided a work­ing model to en­gage, test, con­front and hone in the quest for a bet­ter polity and or­gan­ised so­ci­ety. That a blood bath was averted in the de­liv­er­ance of our democ­racy, that the likes of Ruth First and Chris Hani paid with their lives for it, was al­most taken for granted by the speak­ers and per­form­ers.

They de­liver a shal­low in­tel­lec­tual ve­neer to con­structs that ig­nore and dis­tort as­pects of our past in a cathar­tic dis­play of in­tro­spec­tive vic­tim­hood aimed at the de­liv­er­ance of a dose of dig­nity. It was as mis­placed and as in­tel­lec­tu­ally de­bil­i­tat­ing as it is un­in­formed.

Per­haps the speak­ers needed to move be­yond trash­ing what they call Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion 1.0 and im­merse them­selves in a study of Class 101.

Is it not time to ques­tion whether the black elite and the poor black ma­jor­ity are equally vic­timised by racism, and that all whites (in­clud­ing poor and work­ing class whites) equally ben­e­fit from racism. The im­per­a­tive would be for all who are in­vested in our coun­try to build and bond in com­mon strug­gle against in­jus­tice in all its guises – race and class. That would be the cor­rect way to hon­our Ruth.

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