RAGE OF THE MID­DLE CLASS

As long as whites hold fast to un­earned priv­i­lege, so­ciopo­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity is bound to in­ten­sify,

CityPress - - Front Page - writes Chris­tine Qunta

We are a peo­ple in search of our­selves, with a frag­ile sense of self and seem­ingly un­aware of our power. So we rage eas­ily when in­sulted, but re­spond to dom­i­na­tion mostly with pas­sive­ness. The 350-year phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma in­flicted on gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion has left a gap­ing hole at the cen­tre of a na­tion that has had its cul­tural heart ripped out.

An alien cul­ture fills that void, but ac­ces­sion to it is not com­plete, cre­at­ing an un­bear­able dys­func­tion­al­ity. The void within in­di­vid­u­als and in groups is repli­cated in in­sti­tu­tions.

The wide­spread poverty in a coun­try so well en­dowed with nat­u­ral re­sources, the high lev­els of self­ha­tred, the en­demic and re­flex­ive vi­o­lence, and its use as the pre­ferred method of en­gage­ment, are all ex­pres­sions of this prob­lem.

The in­abil­ity to man­age con­flict, not only in the streets but also in an al­tered form in busi­ness and or­gan­i­sa­tions, the ha­tred of each other con­trasted with the ob­se­quious­ness to­wards whites, the in­abil­ity to build and sus­tain in­sti­tu­tions that, bar a few ex­cep­tions, is so wide­spread, and the in­abil­ity to think strate­gi­cally and long term are all hall­marks of this com­mu­nal state of dis­tress.

What we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing here in South Africa is thus a type of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der of a na­tion, one that can­not be treated be­cause it has not yet been di­ag­nosed.

Arch­bishop Khotso Wal­ter Makhulu, the then Angli­can Arch­bishop of south­ern Africa, was based in Botswana in the 1970s and 80s at the time I lived there in ex­ile. In his typ­i­cally quiet way, he did a lot of work to as­sist South African ex­iles and lib­er­a­tion move­ments.

He used to tell me that when South Africa gets its free­dom, we will have to find some way of heal­ing our peo­ple psy­cho­log­i­cally, oth­er­wise we will not be able to re­con­struct the coun­try. He was far-sighted. We were too busy fo­cus­ing on get­ting that free­dom and the phys­i­cal re­con­struc­tion that the psy­cho­log­i­cal as­pects were over­looked.

The fraught, forced and un­equal in­ter­ac­tion be­tween black and white re­sults in each group re­vert­ing to that which is com­fort­able, known. Whites sub­tly and ex­plic­itly ex­press their sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity in a myr­iad ways. Un­der­pin­ning this su­pe­ri­or­ity is a sense of en­ti­tle­ment honed by years of easy, ex­clu­sive ac­cess to un­earned ben­e­fits. In the face of this, Africans are fear­ful, sub­servient, even apolo­getic, in­ter­nal­is­ing the no­tion of the out­sider.

In a way, Africans have no al­ter­na­tive but to tol­er­ate this be­cause they need to be in those spa­ces dom­i­nated by whites in or­der to earn a liv­ing or re­ceive an ed­u­ca­tion. But their re­sent­ment at such treat­ment fes­ters be­neath the sur­face. Africans rarely treat whites as their equals, nor do they re­late to them nor­mally.

They ei­ther hate them or de­fer to them. It’s a toxic stand­off that in­creases the sense of alien­ation on both sides. Rather than cre­at­ing a way for the past to be tran­scended, the shar­ing of spa­ces in these cir­cum­stances cre­ates more bit­ter­ness. In mul­tira­cial schools and at uni­ver­si­ties, the first gen­er­a­tion of young black peo­ple who ac­cessed these spa­ces still bear the scars of such en­coun­ters.

On June 16 2015, a young man named Phum­lani Pikoli wrote a mov­ing es­say. He lauded the 1976 gen­er­a­tion but also cap­tured the feel­ing of be­ing in spa­ces where young Africans were not wanted. Born in ex­ile in 1988, re­fer­ring to the sub­urbs, he writes: “I was still an un­wel­come sight in this site of priv­i­lege. It was as­sumed that our eco­nomic po­si­tion was ill-got­ten and school teach­ers were never re­miss to re­mind us of how the ANC govern­ment were ran­sack­ing the coun­try’s wealth re­serves.”

Later in the es­say he says: “I was pissed off at my par­ents for not be­ing able to help me nav­i­gate the hos­til­ity that sur­rounded us. We were un­der siege, and what was the job of a par­ent if not to pro­tect their child? We were un­der siege at home.

“Un­der siege at school. We were silently be­ing told how to think and how to act. We didn’t have voices out­side of in­dulging ver­nac­u­lar to ex­clude and cling to this idea of sullen su­pe­ri­or­ity.”

Young Africans who did not live through apartheid and who are in their twen­ties are as an­gry as their par­ents, whose mem­o­ries of apartheid con­tinue to haunt them. In 2013, I met a young pro­fes­sional with a bright fu­ture, work­ing in a large white com­pany in Jo­han­nes­burg. Our busi­ness meet­ing ended with a din­ner, and his im­me­di­ate white se­nior asked him to drop me at my ho­tel af­ter­wards.

Dur­ing the course of the drive, I asked him how he was do­ing at the com­pany and whether he, as a ju­nior, was happy with the train­ing he was re­ceiv­ing. He said he was learn­ing and that his im­me­di­ate se­nior treated him well, but there was still racism – although not ex­plicit. He went on to ex­plain how an­gry he was that whites had come to this coun­try, stolen African land and left them poor. The poverty in his ru­ral home was all due to this his­tor­i­cal prob­lem. Of course, I knew there was anger among young peo­ple, es­pe­cially when it came to racism, but I was un­pre­pared for the depth of the feel­ings flow­ing from this quiet young man. Clearly, the is­sue of land theft has not been buried un­der the clam­our for for­get­ful­ness nor by the fram­ing of the prob­lem as racial dis­crim­i­na­tion in­stead of what it really was: colo­nial op­pres­sion.

One of the less ob­vi­ous ex­am­ples of the docil­ity of Africans is the ex­tent to which they ac­cede to white de­mands, in­clud­ing the de­mand for for­give­ness in cir­cum­stances where it is not re­cip­ro­cated. The first is­sue that needs to be con­sid­ered is that for­give­ness is not some­thing that can be de­manded; it can only be asked for. But for­give­ness is also not pos­si­ble in the ab­sence of con­tri­tion and while the struc­tural ed­i­fice of apartheid con­tin­ues to ex­ist.

What if for­give­ness un­der these cir­cum­stances, at some un­con­scious­ness level, is an ex­pres­sion of the ac­cep­tance of a lesser sta­tus, like an abused wife who keeps on for­giv­ing her abu­sive hus­band be­cause, at some level, her low self-es­teem pre­vents her from see­ing her­self as wor­thy of bet­ter treat­ment?

What if, in this con­text, for­give­ness is a learned re­sponse, a form of obe­di­ence? What if it is a form of ac­cep­tance that we are not suf­fi­ciently equal to de­mand jus­tice and resti­tu­tion for the crimes com­mit­ted against Africans, un­like Jewish peo­ple who rightly de­manded repa­ra­tions for the Nazi geno­cide?

What if, like rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, for­give­ness has no so­cial util­ity other than to mask the sub­ter­ranean war of at­tri­tion be­tween whites and Africans in post-1994 South Africa? In such cir­cum­stances, for­give­ness is not a sign of strength but of weak­ness.

The African mid­dle class is in an in­ter­est­ing and dif­fi­cult po­si­tion. By virtue of their skills and ed­u­ca­tion, they have been ben­e­fi­cia­ries of cor­rec­tive poli­cies and democ­racy, but they also bear the brunt of in­sti­tu­tional racism. This is be­cause they com­pete di­rectly with whites in the lat­ter’s pre­vi­ously ex­clu­sive spa­ces.

The poor, on the other hand, re­main on the mar­gins of the struc­tures and con­scious­ness of whites. The poor have not yet ad­e­quately made a con­nec­tion be­tween their con­tin­ued poverty and white priv­i­lege.

In­stead, they vent their frus­tra­tions against the ANC, which they see as not de­liv­er­ing fast enough. The African poor and the mid­dle class ex­hibit the same prob­lem in post-apartheid South Africa, an over-re­liance on govern­ment to solve the fun­da­men­tal neo­colo­nial con­tra­dic­tions.

With a few ex­cep­tions, the mil­i­tancy, the self-re­liance and the re­solve that were so ev­i­dent among all classes dur­ing the strug­gle against apartheid ap­pear to have evap­o­rated. This adds to a dis­turb­ing sense of help­less­ness in the face of a resur­gent White­ness.

On the other hand, the sup­pres­sion of the le­git­i­mate feel­ings of loss, anger and pain of black peo­ple has created a massive build-up of frus­tra­tion among all black peo­ple, which is now be­gin­ning to find ex­pres­sion in all ar­eas of life: in the work­place, in sport, at schools and at in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing.

The in­crease in ser­vice-de­liv­ery protests, protests by stu­dents ini­ti­ated by the Univer­sity of Cape Town’s Rhodes Must Fall move­ment against struc­tural apartheid at in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion and ag­i­ta­tion else­where for free ed­u­ca­tion are ex­am­ples.

The sig­nif­i­cance of the stu­dents’ protests is that it’s the first time since the 1970s and 80s that stu­dents ag­i­tated against the ar­chi­tec­ture of colo­nial­ism. What the stu­dents achieved in 2015 was to bring us back to the ques­tion of how to chal­lenge this ar­chi­tec­ture. One of the most re­veal­ing com­ments by a stu­dent on a plac­ard cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia was the fol­low­ing: “Our par­ents were SOLD dreams in 1994 … We are just here for the RE­FUND.”

As whites use their fi­nan­cial and eco­nomic mus­cle to cre­ate hur­dles in the way of cre­at­ing a more equal so­ci­ety, the pres­sure in­creases ex­po­nen­tially. Ev­ery vic­tory white peo­ple gain in the courts or else­where against cor­rec­tive poli­cies such as em­ploy­ment eq­uity and black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment moves us a step closer to an erup­tion. What they seem obliv­i­ous to is that vic­to­ries so gained in ef­fect se­cure fu­ture losses. Such losses in­clude so­ciopo­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and the pos­si­bil­ity of vi­o­lent ret­ri­bu­tion be­cause le­git­i­mate av­enues of re­dress are be­ing frus­trated. This is an ex­tract from Qunta’s book,

Why We Are Not a Na­tion

PHOTO: DEON RAATH

REIGNIT­ING AC­TIVISM In Oc­to­ber, thou­sands of stu­dents marched to the Union Build­ings in Pre­to­ria to protest against an in­crease in univer­sity fees and de­mand free ed­u­ca­tion

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