The de­mon is not dead

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­

Writ­ing in 1911, a year be­fore the for­ma­tion of the ANC, Pix­ley ka Isaka Seme called for Africans to put their dif­fer­ences aside and forge a na­tive union. He wrote: “The de­mon of racial­ism, the aber­ra­tions of the Xosa-Fingo feud, the an­i­mos­ity that ex­ists be­tween the Zu­lus and the Ton­gaas, be­tween the Ba­su­tos and ev­ery other na­tive must be buried and for­got­ten; it has shed among us suf­fi­cient blood! We are one peo­ple. These di­vi­sions, these jeal­ousies, are the cause of all our woes and of all our back­ward­ness and ig­no­rance to­day.”

Over the next few decades, much work went into elim­i­nat­ing cul­tural dif­fer­ences. The ANC ma­tured in lead­er­ship and changed hands be­tween dif­fer­ent cul­tural groups, with hardly any­one car­ing about what lan­guage peo­ple at the top spoke. What mat­tered was the qual­ity and cal­i­bre of those who rose. It was only dur­ing the ex­ile years that trib­al­ism be­gan to rear its ugly head, with peo­ple group­ing them­selves along cul­tural lines.

But even then, it had more to do with ge­o­graphic ori­gin and lan­guage fa­mil­iar­ity than cul­tural iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. Such ten­den­cies were, how­ever, quickly crushed by an ANC lead­er­ship that was con­scious of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s role as the glue hold­ing the South African strug­gle to­gether.

In the in­ter­nal re­sis­tance, trib­al­ism was frowned upon even more. Hav­ing ren­dered the Ban­tus­tan sys­tem null and void, the lead­er­ship was proac­tive in forg­ing a sense that the demo­cratic move­ment was as broad and na­tional in char­ac­ter as pos­si­ble.

To the ar­ro­gant South African mind, trib­al­ism and cul­tural con­flict be­longed else­where. Such back­ward ten­den­cies would never take root here, we be­lieved.

Un­til Vuwani, that is. The ten­sions be­tween Venda and Tsonga speak­ers were ap­par­ent in Vuwani, Lim­popo, and came as a shock.

It should not have. Just like race, the man­age­ment of cul­tural dif­fer­ences is one of the things we pa­pered over dur­ing our jour­ney to nor­malcy. Be­cause we had a united front against apartheid, we thought things would hap­pen nat­u­rally. But we should have de­tected the signs of dan­ger long ago.

When the nine prov­inces were created and the imag­i­nary bor­ders of the Ban­tus­tans were re­moved, cul­tural sen­ti­ments be­gan to emerge. In Lim­popo, in par­tic­u­lar, there was wran­gling over the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, even though it should have been ob­vi­ous to all that the most func­tional lo­ca­tion was what used to be called Pi­eters­burg. When the ad­min­is­tra­tion was be­ing set up, there were fights about which cul­tural group was dom­i­nat­ing top po­si­tions.

Those who oc­cu­pied these po­si­tions would then be ac­cused of load­ing their staff with peo­ple from their own cul­tural group. The al­lo­ca­tion of bud­gets and the pat­tern of in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment be­came a hot potato. This fight­ing even per­me­ated the struc­tures of the ANC, where vot­ing of­ten hap­pened along cul­tural lines.

Lim­popo was not the only place that ex­pe­ri­enced this. It was just that the prob­lem was ac­cen­tu­ated by the fact that the prov­ince was a merger be­tween sev­eral Ban­tus­tans. In other prov­inces, such as Mpumalanga, which had smaller but equally fraught merg­ers, the fight­ing oc­curred on a lesser scale. At the na­tional level, there were also whis­pers about how min­is­ters favoured hir­ing their own kin.

The prob­lem started to es­ca­late in the mid-2000s when some Ja­cob Zuma sup­port­ers re­sorted to cul­tural mo­bil­i­sa­tion to drum up sup­port for their man. This flew in the face of broad na­tional sup­port for him among those who were un­happy with Thabo Mbeki. Tak­ing a cue from the “100% Zulu” T-shirts worn by Zuma sup­port­ers, mem­bers of other cul­tural groups be­gan gen­er­at­ing their own “100%” para­pher­na­lia. Flags of the erst­while Ban­tus­tans were dis­played with pride on wind­screens and boots of cars. Clearly, South Africa was go­ing back­wards.

With the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, we should have been pre­pared for the scenes that played out in Vuwani. Many of us will ask where the po­lit­i­cal in­tel­li­gence of the coun­try’s big­gest po­lit­i­cal party was dur­ing the build-up to the cul­tural con­flict. We will ask why the coun­try’s in­tel­li­gence ser­vices did not pick up that some­thing of this scale was brew­ing. We will ask why ward coun­cil­lors and the much-vaunted con­stituency of­fices of po­lit­i­cal par­ties didn’t see it com­ing.

But it will be too easy to point fin­gers. Vuwani is the col­lec­tive fail­ure of a na­tion in de­nial about the prob­lems we har­bour. We would rather boast about our di­ver­sity than do some­thing to fos­ter and en­trench it.

Rather than pin blame on the peo­ple who should have picked up and pre-empted the con­fla­gra­tion, South Africans should see it as a sign that all is not hunky-dory in the good re­pub­lic; that, in some quar­ters, se­ri­ous prej­u­dices ex­ist and need to be dealt with. The next out­break may not be in some ru­ral town, far from where it can af­fect our se­cu­rity and liveli­hood, it could hap­pen in our metropoles, where the ef­fect will be massive and play out in front of the world’s eyes. The de­mon is not dead.

Racists, like other big­ots, mat­ter be­cause they do not ex­ist in a vac­uum; they live among us

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