An injustice to Ruth First
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.