An in­sult to young South Africans

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erial Haf­fa­jee’s book ti­tle can be mis­taken for a work of lit­er­a­ture that is a philo­soph­i­cal ex­po­si­tion on how life would have evolved for black peo­ple in South Africa if white peo­ple had not tam­pered with their nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion. It can also be thought of as an an­thol­ogy of in­dige­nous sys­tems. How black peo­ple shaped life back then and how the ar­rival of white peo­ple might have dis­rupted these sys­tems and af­fected the African peo­ple’s sense of be­ing and their rel­e­ga­tion to servi­tude. Alas, the book of­fers nei­ther.

The ques­tion is prac­ti­cal and posed in the im­me­di­ate present – an unimag­in­able fan­tasy that de­fies our South African re­al­ity. White peo­ple are here to stay, thus any dis­cus­sion that dis­tracts us from deal­ing with re­al­ity as we know it may eas­ily serve as a red her­ring.

Haf­fa­jee is per­plexed by the young black South African dis­course on white supremacy, white priv­i­lege, and the al­leged ubiq­uity of white cul­ture and its abil­ity to be­come the norm in a demo­cratic South Africa. This has led her to writ­ing this book – to show the other side.

Free­dom has worked for Haf­fa­jee. She lives un­der a new es­tab­lish­ment (de­fined by black politi­cians, busi­ness­peo­ple, en­ter­tain­ers and artists) that is an­ti­thetic to the old es­tab­lish­ment de­fined by colo­nial and apartheid con­tours of re­pres­sive laws. The con­cept of “es­tab­lish­ment” is not ad­e­quately ex­plained. Does it de­fine a new gov­ern­ing polity, or a re­ordered so­cial re­al­ity al­to­gether?

The book also fails to ap­pre­ci­ate the con­tested mean­ings of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Haf­fa­jee sees this as an im­por­tant step that had to be taken. It would be in­ter­est­ing to hear her re­spond to the ques­tion: How can you rec­on­cile peo­ple who had never lived in con­cil­ia­tory terms, whose re­al­ity was al­ways an­tag­o­nis­tic?

The au­thor is an ar­dent be­liever in non­ra­cial­ism and wants

What If There Were No Whites In South Africa? by

Fe­rial Haf­fa­jee

Pan Macmil­lan

256 pages R233 at

Fto lec­ture all on what it means. The book is partly a re­sponse to young peo­ple’s as­ser­tions that there is a need to de­colonise South Africa of the om­nipres­ence of white­ness. Haf­fa­jee is try­ing to put them all in their proper lanes, in­clud­ing those harp­ing on about is­sues like in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity.

There is great in­sult meted out by Haf­fa­jee to young peo­ple. In re­sponse to Khusela San­goni-Khawe – who in a dis­cus­sion for the book says: “It’s dif­fi­cult to ad­dress it [racism] head-on be­cause you have a pro­gramme of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, na­tion-build­ing, blah blah blah.” – Haf­fa­jee writes: “Blah blah blah. This term per­fectly en­cap­su­lates how a younger gen­er­a­tion feels about the found­ing demo­cratic pact of South Africa.” It is in­sult­ing be­cause from #OpenStel­len­bosch to #RhodesMustFall to the #Black­S­tu­dentsMove­ment, stu­dents have vig­or­ously com­mu­ni­cated their di­ag­no­sis of the sta­tus quo and where the 1994 project failed. Haf­fa­jee can­not im­pose her re­al­ity on them. Th­ese stu­dents have won im­por­tant vic­to­ries on fees and #EndOutSourc­ing on many cam­puses coun­try­wide, re­order­ing the “nor­mal” (a demo­cratic South Africa that works for all) preached by the likes of Haf­fa­jee. She is right to ad­mit that her “pol­i­tics is ter­ri­bly out of step”. Her claim that black peo­ple de­sire only all-black spa­ces is false. Black peo­ple are de­mand­ing to be re­spected and ac­corded dig­nity (as an in­alien­able right) with­out beg­ging for it. Th­ese stu­dents use Pan-African­ism and black con­scious­ness as their guid­ing ide­olo­gies, and these have never re­jected the co­ex­is­tence of races.

Robert Sobukwe spoke of the “hu­man race” and Steve Biko said the great­est gift Africa could give to the world was “a more hu­mane face”.

Th­ese en­com­pass all hu­man­ity and there is no “blah blah blah” ap­proach by the stu­dents – that is of­fen­sive, much like the book is to all peo­ple who take race dis­cus­sions se­ri­ously.

When deal­ing with the mid­dle class, the au­thor uses sta­tis­tics that are por­ous. How can a per­son who earns R5 600 be in the same in­come bracket as one who earns R40 000, with both be­ing iden­ti­fied as “rel­a­tively af­flu­ent mid­dle class”? This is un­sound. Prais­ing an in­debted, as­set­de­prived, tax-laden and sav­ings-short black mid­dle class is an in­jus­tice.

Yes, black peo­ple should not play the race card to mask their in­ad­e­qua­cies, like for­mer Prasa group CEO Lucky Mon­tana. But the nar­ra­tion of peo­ple’s pain and their ev­ery­day con­fronta­tions with sub­lim­i­nal and overt racism, pa­tri­archy and cap­i­tal­ism should never be triv­i­alised.

Haf­fa­jee’s book is full of con­tra­dic­tions and lacks nu­ance in how it en­ters a field rich with pow­er­ful and rig­or­ous propo­si­tions and counter-ar­gu­ments. It seems Haf­fa­jee is un­com­fort­able that she is not defin­ing to­day’s nar­ra­tive on race in South Africa. To be heard, she must defy her own think­ing and pro­vide a counter-nar­ra­tive that does not crit­i­cally en­gage the rich re­sponses she got from the round ta­ble dis­cus­sions she hosted as “re­search” for the book. Mn­guni is a PhD in­tern re­searcher in the Mau­rice Webb Race

Re­la­tions Unit at the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Natal

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