An­gry kids add to my grey hair

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@ city­press. co. za

Afew weeks ago, the Nel­son Man­dela Cen­tre for Mem­ory hosted a dis­cus­sion on the great man’s legacy. Billed as an in­ter­gen­er­a­tional talk, the panel con­sisted of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the grey­ing gen­er­a­tion and two who fit­ted into the Rhodes Must Fall par­a­digm.

It got quite heated at times, with the younger mem­bers of the panel, as well as young peo­ple in the au­di­ence, speak­ing strongly about the un­fin­ished busi­ness of the revo­lu­tion.

There was even a strong sen­ti­ment that Man­dela and those who ne­go­ti­ated the set­tle­ment that brought about democ­racy had “sold out” by com­pro­mis­ing too much with white power.

The anger was pal­pa­ble, with one of the pan­el­lists re­port­ing that there were some in the stu­dents’ move­ment who were speak­ing about how “we should have had a civil war” in­stead of a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment.

As one of the grey­ing ones in the room, it was both an ex­cit­ing and a dis­turb­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It was ex­cit­ing to see a con­sci­en­tised youth who cared about the coun­try and were pre­pared to be ac­tivists.

Af­ter for­mer min­ing mag­nate Brett Keb­ble and his fa­ther, Roger, pol­luted the ANC Youth League and turned it into a cor­rupt, ma­te­ri­al­is­tic out­fit, it is re­fresh­ing to see the re­vival of a purer ac­tivist cul­ture among young peo­ple.

But the anger was dis­turb­ing. As this lowly news­pa­per­man ru­mi­nated over Scot­tish wa­ters later that evening, the thought on my mind was: “But why so much anger? Did we not do the anger thing on their be­half back in the day? Surely the strug­gles they are fight­ing in a demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion run by a le­git­i­mate or­der should have much less emo­tion and more con­struc­tive dis­course?”

But clearly some­thing has not hap­pened. There is in­deed a lot of un­fin­ished busi­ness. From the racially tinged strug­gles to bat­tles over ac­cess and vi­o­lent clashes be­tween stu­dent or­gan­i­sa­tions, there is a clear sense that this na­tion has not moved as far for­ward as we de­luded our­selves into think­ing we had.

The fact that, in 2015, we have a premier in­sti­tu­tion of higher learn­ing that can be a haven for peo­ple with openly racist views and is pre­pared and able to be a ci­tadel of Afrikaner power is ex­pla­na­tion enough for why this anger vol­cano is sim­mer­ing.

And the phe­nom­e­non of the black vicechan­cel­lor of a lead­ing in­sti­tu­tion (Wits Univer­sity’s Adam Habib) be­ing an­grily ac­cused of racism by black stu­dents and lec­tur­ers demon­strates how far we have re­gressed from the days when black was de­fined in a Bikoist way.

The bloody con­fronta­tions on cam­puses are un­wel­come throw­backs to the days when po­lit­i­cal in­tol­er­ance was tol­er­ated in the name of revo­lu­tion. Back in those days, the hege­mony of the dom­i­nant po­lit­i­cal strand was seen as a nec­es­sary pre­req­ui­site for strength in the face of a re­pres­sive regime.

There could only be one le­git­i­mate rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the peo­ple, and those who tried to com­pete for that space were ir­ri­tat­ing dis­trac­tions who de­served to be swat­ted like mosquitoes.

Twenty-one years into democ­racy, there should be no place for such think­ing. A dom­i­nant stu­dent or­gan­i­sa­tion in a demo­cratic en­vi­ron­ment should have no qualms about op­er­at­ing in its tra­di­tional strongholds.

Un­leash­ing vi­o­lence in a place of learn­ing and in­tel­lec­tual ac­tiv­ity can­not be jus­ti­fied un­der any cir­cum­stances. Equally un­ac­cept­able is a leader of a par­lia­men­tary party jus­ti­fy­ing his call for sup­port­ers to re­tal­i­ate vi­o­lently when con­fronted.

The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor here is that there is anger in the land. Way too much anger. Tan­gi­ble anger.

With the econ­omy tank­ing and more peo­ple find­ing them­selves on the streets, po­lit­i­cal ten­sions ris­ing and racial po­lar­i­sa­tion deep­en­ing, the last thing the coun­try needs is an en­trench­ment of anger.

It is a known fact that be­fore rev­o­lu­tion­ary up­heavals, the fer­ment starts with an­gry stu­dents. At first it is clumsy, un­co­or­di­nated, dis­jointed, fac­tional and largely lead­er­less. As it gains mo­men­tum and energy, it be­comes a cause – and then it is un­stop­pable.

In South Africa right now, we could be see­ing the seeds of some­thing we will not like. The for­tu­nate thing is that we have seen the movie be­fore and know how it ends. We can avoid go­ing there. But for that to hap­pen, cer­tain peo­ple need to turn their gaze away from their cat­tle kraals, take a break from buf­falo auc­tions and for­get about failed pig-farm­ing ad­ven­tures.

Their ex­pe­ri­ence is all about sweet­heart deals be­tween min­ing com­pa­nies and the lo­cal inkosi

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