Angry kids add to my grey hair
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