The racists are win­ning

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

In the US thriller film The Siege, New York is un­der at­tack from ter­ror­ist bomb­ings. As the sit­u­a­tion es­ca­lates and the city goes into panic mode, the mil­i­tary moves in, push­ing aside FBI- and CIA-led ef­forts to curb the at­tacks. Hard-line Ma­jor Gen­eral Dev­ereaux (Bruce Wil­lis) rounds up and locks up young Arab-Amer­i­cans en masse and ap­proves the tor­ture of key sus­pects.

An­thony Hub­bard (Den­zel Wash­ing­ton), the FBI man on the scene, is ap­palled by this, as he feels it flies in the face of Amer­i­can val­ues. The men clash vi­ciously, as they have since the mil­i­tary moved on to New York’s streets. What fol­lows is one of the most prophetic state­ments about the US’s treat­ment of ter­ror sus­pects, given that the movie was re­leased in 1998, three years be­fore 9/11 and the ad­vent of the Guan­tanamo Bay tor­ture prison.

It is a monologue by Hub­bard in re­sponse to Dev­ereaux en­cour­ag­ing the tor­ture of a sus­pect named Tariq: “Come on, Gen­eral. You’ve lost men; I’ve lost men – but you can’t do this! What if they don’t even want the sheik? Have you con­sid­ered that?

“What if what they re­ally want is for us to herd our chil­dren into sta­di­ums like we’re do­ing? And put sol­diers on the street and have Amer­i­cans look­ing over their shoul­ders? Bend the law, shred the Con­sti­tu­tion just a lit­tle bit? Be­cause if we tor­ture him, Gen­eral ... we do that and ev­ery­thing we have fought, and bled, and died for is over. And they’ve won. They’ve al­ready won!”

It is a monologue we South Africans should keep in mind as we bat­tle the racist ter­ror that is tram­pling on our quest to forge a com­mon na­tion­hood. We have noted in re­cent times, par­tic­u­larly in the past fort­night, how those who are out­raged by racism have been al­low­ing themselves to be dragged to the lev­els of those they con­demn. What we can glean from the racism dis­cus­sions is that the con­cept of non­ra­cial­ism, one of the holy grails of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle, is on death row. We can also see that South Africans would be will­ing to sac­ri­fice long-term prin­ci­ples of free speech for the im­me­di­ate gain of si­lenc­ing racists.

The dis­course on how racism should be fought has be­come coarse and un­so­phis­ti­cated – at times as crass as Penny Spar­row and Justin van Vu­uren themselves. There is a thread emerg­ing that white peo­ple are visi­tors and should be­have as such. They are be­ing told that they should only speak when asked to and should say only the things the ma­jor­ity ap­proves of.

At the risk of sound­ing like an ou top­pie from a time gone by, this is not what the African­ist, black con­scious­ness and Char­ter­ist move­ments were about. They were about the af­fir­ma­tion of the hu­man­ity and dig­nity of all. They were about the over­throw of white supremacy and its re­place­ment with a sys­tem that would seek to change so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic re­la­tions among South Africans. They were never about the diminu­tion of the role of whites in so­ci­ety.

What we are find­ing with the re­ac­tion to racism and white supremacy is un­guided anger dis­guised as ide­ol­ogy. The ob­ses­sion with white­ness is be­gin­ning to bor­der on ir­ra­tional­ity, to the ex­tent that the racists are now con­duct­ing the di­rec­tion of na­tional dis­course.

This anger is un­der­stand­able, given the largely un­changed eco­nomic re­la­tions, the stub­born­ness of many white South Africans and ris­ing lev­els of racism. The prob­lem is that the rest of so­ci­ety is al­low­ing it­self to be dragged into the cesspool by racists. The racists are win­ning.

It does not help that the or­gan­i­sa­tion that once boasted the slo­gan “ANC lives, ANC leads” is play­ing fol­lower. The gov­ern­ing party, the cen­tury-old cus­to­dian of non­ra­cial­ism, is fail­ing to rise above the noise and give di­rec­tion to so­ci­ety. As a party that com­mands the sup­port of more than 60% of the pop­u­la­tion and reaches into ev­ery cor­ner of the land, the ANC has a greater re­spon­si­bil­ity to keep the na­tion-build­ing project on track. In­stead, the party is be­hav­ing as if it is just an­other player.

The other area in which the racists are be­ing handed an easy vic­tory is in al­low­ing them to set the pa­ram­e­ters of free speech. In the wake of the pub­lic vomit of Spar­row and Van Vu­uren, we be­haved like fren­zied sharks who had just smelt blood in their cor­ner of the ocean. Sud­denly, we were de­tect­ing racism ev­ery­where. Peo­ple were guil­lotined left, right and cen­tre, in­stead of sim­ply be­ing whipped into line. It was very dis­com­fit­ing watch­ing in­sti­tu­tions set ter­ri­ble prece­dents about the na­ture of pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion.

By be­ing quick to the guil­lo­tine, we are cre­at­ing ter­ri­ble prece­dents that will soon be­gin to af­fect gen­uine pub­lic com­men­tary. It may not be long be­fore com­men­ta­tors, an­a­lysts, car­toon­ists and satirists are de­cap­i­tated for speak­ing out of turn. The democ­racy we are build­ing must be re­silient to earthquakes.

It is im­por­tant that in ev­ery­thing we do in re­ac­tion to the racists, we do not com­pro­mise the long-term qual­ity of our democ­racy. If we do, the racists will al­ready have won.

It’s taken a cou­ple of days and all my stoner acu­men and ne­go­ti­at­ing skills, along with Te­bza’s lin­guis­tic abil­i­ties, to get us ac­cess to a field of weed

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