How to keep hope alive

A cul­ture of mul­ti­trib­al­ism, non­racism and non­sex­ism must pre­vail to re­alise our new democ­racy, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

hand, and, on the other, the his­toric foun­da­tions of our econ­omy on in­va­sive cap­i­tal­ism, whose ex­trac­tive habits for nat­u­ral resources and hu­man labour are still ori­en­tated to­wards Europe.

The demo­cratic as­pi­ra­tion be­comes harder to vi­su­alise against the re­al­ity of ex­trac­tive ori­en­ta­tions, whose struc­ture re­mains firm, but with only one his­toric dif­fer­ence: they are now also served by new, nu­mer­i­cally small re­cruits who labour un­der the il­lu­sions of self-em­pow­er­ment as they, in fact, con­sol­i­date the de­pen­dence of our econ­omy on for­eign, colo­nially em­bed­ded needs. There is no coun­ter­bal­anc­ing town­ship vi­sion (the source of the new) to re­ori­en­tate to­wards a ground­ed­ness in which to in­vest.

Se­condly, it has been a ma­jor fail­ure of the black col­lec­tive imag­i­na­tion in 23 years of democ­racy to con­tinue to re­sort to race in un­der­stand­ing South Africa’s predica­ment. Against some re­al­i­ties of his­tory, race is part of the ex­pla­na­tion, but it has never been fun­da­men­tal – al­though it has been made to seem so un­til it seemed to have be­come an unas­sail­able re­al­ity. What is fun­da­men­tal is the story of hu­man­ity in this part of the world.

It is of­ten for­got­ten in to­day’s South Africa that two ma­jor threads run­ning through a cen­tury of strug­gle for free­dom here have been an­tiracism and an­titrib­al­ism. The lat­ter has been so phe­nom­e­nally achieved that its power to be de­ployed against the his­toric fic­tion of the former has not been fully re­alised and ap­pre­ci­ated. I elab­o­rate with some ob­ser­va­tions.

Firstly, sec­tion 1(b) of the pro­vi­sions of our Constitution should have added “non­trib­al­ism” to “non­ra­cial­ism” and “non­sex­ism”, in recog­ni­tion of the solemn un­der­tak­ing of the mul­ti­tribal, mul­ti­lin­gual and multi­na­tional gath­er­ing of those who met in Bloem­fontein on Jan­uary 8 1912, as the SA Na­tive Na­tional Con­ven­tion de­clared that its aim was “to bring all Africans to­gether as one peo­ple, to de­fend their rights and free­doms”.

Against this back­ground, it is rea­son­able to spec­u­late that, as a re­sult of the de­ploy­ment of race in the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic his­tory of South Africa, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the so-called races was pri­ori­tised among the ne­go­ti­at­ing par­ties of the Con­ven­tion for a Demo­cratic SA.

I be­lieve that the reaf­fir­ma­tion of unity among the op­pressed should have led to a fol­low-up congress to that of 1912 in Bloem­fontein. This kind of unity was ev­i­dent in the ex­is­tence and broad so­cial ac­tivism of the United Demo­cratic Front.

The unity of the op­pressed was as im­por­tant as its an­tiracist, an­ti­sex­ist stance. In­stead, the an­tiracist stance pre­dom­i­nated out of pro­por­tion to its di­min­ish­ing de­mo­graphic rel­e­vance.

The ten­dency to­wards multi-eth­nic and multi­na­tional con­ver­gence had been hap­pen­ing for much of the 150 years of South African cap­i­tal­ism. Sig­nif­i­cantly, there has been a new wave since 1994 which has added an im­ported cos­mopoli­tanism to South Africa. In this re­gard, the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity, with its 300 mil­lion Africans, be­comes an ex­ten­sion of re­gional cos­mopoli­tanism that drew work­ers from south­ern Africa.

Man­dela’s gov­ern­ment in 1994 was the first one in 150 years to for­mally put at the cen­tre of na­tional con­cern the con­quered, dis­pos­sessed, dis­persed, decul­tured and op­pressed. The Constitution was the sym­bol of that re­cen­tring ef­fort. The ex­tent of the chal­lenge was vast. None of the con­quered tribes had ever lived to­gether vol­un­tar­ily un­der a sin­gle con­sti­tu­tional obli­ga­tion.

But the cos­mopoli­tan and mul­ti­tribal con­ver­gence speaks to an even larger mat­ter of his­toric sig­nif­i­cance.

The multi­na­tional, mul­ti­cul­tural, non­sex­ist, non­tribal, cos­mopoli­tan com­mu­nity of south­ern Africa, its axis lo­cated in South Africa, does not need “white­ness”, “white racism” and white peo­ple as a ref­er­ence point to de­fine its iden­tity and sense of self­worth. They have been here for more than 1 mil­lion years. In that, 150 years of bru­tal re­pres­sion is but a drop in the ocean. The hu­man com­mu­nity that has evolved over those 150 years has an en­dur­ing sense of it­self and the ca­pac­ity to cre­ate a civil­i­sa­tion once more in this part of the world. It de­rives its his­tor­i­cal sense of self from Zim­babwe, Ma­pun­gubwe, Congo, Mali and Zam­bia, among many oth­ers with cross-cutting cul­tures that de­fine col­lec­tively a dis­tinc­tive space of cul­ture: one more gift to the world.

Per­haps my last word is to the so-called white South Africans. I re­call ad­dress­ing them 17 years ago, at the first Steve Biko memo­rial lec­ture. I said: “Wher­ever the white body is vi­o­lated in the world, se­vere ret­ri­bu­tion fol­lows some­how for the per­pe­tra­tors, if they are non­white, re­gard­less of the so­cial sta­tus of the white body ... This leads me to think that if South African white­ness is a ben­e­fi­ciary of the pro­tec­tive­ness as­sured by global white­ness, it is an op­por­tu­nity to write a new chap­ter in world his­tory ... Put­ting it­self at risk, it will have to de­clare that it is home now, in South Africa, shar­ing the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of other com­pa­triot bod­ies. South African white­ness will de­clare that its dig­nity is in­sep­a­ra­ble from the dig­nity of black bod­ies.”

White­ness as ide­ol­ogy or life­style in an over­whelm­ingly black de­mo­graphic en­vi­ron­ment in Africa in the 21st cen­tury is im­pos­si­ble to sus­tain. From the per­spec­tive of white­ness, the town­ship is no longer the source of labour and profit, but a site for the co-cre­ation of new liv­ing en­vi­ron­ments that have evolved a new aware­ness of them­selves.

Per­haps Hil­ton Col­lege will not wait for the min­is­ter of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and land re­form to de­cide on ap­point­ing a spe­cial mas­ter. Per­haps Hil­ton Col­lege will write on its web­site: “Mr Mn­deni Sikhakhane and Mr Bhekindlela Mwe­lase, and those that have passed on, are the fa­thers of all our boys. They will rest on their land as future gen­er­a­tions of boys tell their story, our story: the story of Hil­ton Col­lege.”

Then again, per­haps the min­is­ter will sur­prise us and pro­claim the ide­al­ism ex­pressed in our Constitution. He may con­firm his and his gov­ern­ment’s al­le­giance to it “as the supreme law of the Repub­lic”. He may own up to a blur­ring of vi­sion in his de­part­ment and com­mit to restor­ing dig­nity to our men and their fam­i­lies, en­sur­ing that it is re­spected and pro­tected as the very rea­son for gov­ern­ment in a con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy.

This is part two of a speech Pro­fes­sor Nde­bele de­liv­ered at the in­au­gu­ral Jabavu Lec­ture last week at the Uni­ver­sity of Fort Hare as part of its cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions held jointly with the School of

Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies of the Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don

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