The black elite must help the na­tion heal the wounds of the past in­stead of fan di­vi­sions, as it did af­ter the #Black­Mon­day demon­stra­tions

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Khulu Mbatha voices@city­ Mbatha is au­thor of Un­masked: Why the ANC failed to gov­ern

Now that the dust has set­tled af­ter the #Black­Mon­day protests, re­vis­it­ing and re­flect­ing, specif­i­cally on the at­ti­tude of the black elite, is nec­es­sary.

In Long Walk to Free­dom, Nel­son Man­dela revealed some­thing many would find as­ton­ish­ing. When the ANC won an al­most twothirds ma­jor­ity in the 1994 poll, he was wor­ried. When FW de Klerk con­grat­u­lated him and con­ceded de­feat, he be­came more wor­ried.

He wrote: “Some in the ANC were dis­ap­pointed that we did not cross the two-thirds thresh­old, but I was not one of them. In fact, I was re­lieved…”

What wor­ried Man­dela were the racial vot­ing pat­terns through­out the coun­try. The ma­jor­ity of Africans voted for the ANC. The ma­jor­ity of whites voted for the Na­tional Party, with strong sup­port from coloureds and In­di­ans. But his worry was not just about the writ­ing of the new Con­sti­tu­tion that was to fol­low – he had his eyes on what “a true gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity” should look like based on what we al­ways claimed was a de­mand of the Free­dom Char­ter, a gov­ern­ment of the peo­ple.

But, look­ing at the re­sults, he feared that this would be seen as an ANC gov­ern­ment that was ready to pro­duce what he termed “an ANC con­sti­tu­tion, not a South African Con­sti­tu­tion”.

We must think of all the de­bates at the Con­ven­tion for a Demo­cratic SA and the com­pro­mises reached, and then those re­sults.

Man­dela con­cluded: “From the mo­ment the re­sults were in and it was ap­par­ent that the ANC was to form the gov­ern­ment, I saw my mis­sion as one of preach­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, of bind­ing the wounds of the coun­try, of en­gen­der­ing trust and con­fi­dence. I knew that many peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly the mi­nori­ties – whites, coloureds and In­di­ans – would be feel­ing anx­ious about the fu­ture, and I wanted them to feel se­cure. I re­minded peo­ple again and again that the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle was not a bat­tle against any one group or colour, but a fight against a sys­tem of re­pres­sion. At ev­ery op­por­tu­nity, I said all South Africans must now unite and join hands and say we are one coun­try, one na­tion, one peo­ple, march­ing to­gether into the fu­ture.”

Where are we to­day? Shouldn’t this be the way we ap­proach our prob­lems. In my book Un­masked, Why the ANC Failed to Gov­ern, I iden­tify six im­ped­i­ments that must be dealt with to build the new South African na­tion. One of those is racism.

Firstly, I ex­pect the black elite to help the na­tion to heal the wounds of the past in­stead of fan­ning di­vi­sions. Se­condly, we must stop cham­pi­oning the role of vic­tim­hood in all facets of life. In­stead, we must lead the way on how to build the South Africa we all want to live in.

The de­bates af­ter the #Black­Mon­day marches ex­posed some of the hypocrisy as­so­ci­ated with elite think­ing. Most of the anger – car­ried through so­cial me­dia, was di­rected at the old South African flag and not at what brought those Afrikan­ers to the streets in the first place.

Jour­nal­ist and for­mer Fi­nan­cial Mail ed­i­tor Bar­ney Mthom­bothi said: “It’s as if, of all the prob­lems con­fronting this na­tion – the crime, cor­rup­tion, loot­ing – a piece of cloth posed the big­gest threat.”

What was worse was that the wrath was di­rected at all Afrikan­ers and, in some cases, at all whites, which per­pet­u­ated our stereo­typ­i­cal way of ar­gu­ing that in­ad­ver­tently nul­li­fies the progress we have made as a na­tion.

The events of #Black­Mon­day were not brought about by racism per se, although oth­ers may ar­gue other­wise, but by the mur­der of white farm­ers, notwithstanding some per­cep­tions held by some within the Afrikaner mi­nor­ity group that they are the only tar­gets of this crime.

It is not my in­ten­tion to de­bate the cor­rect­ness or wrong­ness of those per­cep­tions. But some of these per­cep­tions are held not only by the mi­nor­ity groups, but also by blacks as the ma­jor­ity group. These still dom­i­nate the think­ing in our so­ci­ety.

What con­cerns me is the ab­sence of prac­ti­cal ways of deal­ing with post-apartheid prob­lems, in­clud­ing racism. In this re­gard, Father Sman­gal­iso Mkhatshwa ad­vised that “South Africans must, in the in­ter­est of de­bate, dis­tin­guish be­tween pre-1994 statu­tory racism, which was legally en­forced from the cra­dle to the grave, from resid­ual post-1994 racism”.

It re­quires a lot of soul search­ing and de­ter­mi­na­tion from both blacks and whites to learn from our past. Many of our so­cial ills need us all to forge a com­mon un­der­stand­ing of the causes of our prob­lems and what needs to be done about them.

Steve Biko pro­claimed that, in in­ter­ra­cial group re­la­tion­ships, “whites are su­pe­rior, blacks in­fe­rior. So as a pre­lude whites must be made to re­alise that they are only hu­man, not su­pe­rior. Same with blacks. They must be made to re­alise that they are also hu­man, not in­fe­rior.”

But to elim­i­nate “su­pe­ri­or­ity’ and “in­fe­ri­or­ity” – racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion – so­cioe­co­nomic fac­tors have to be tack­led and struc­tural in­equal­i­ties erad­i­cated. Black peo­ple had hoped that the ANC-led gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy of “af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion” had the po­ten­tial to make a dif­fer­ence to their lives. There have been lim­ited re­sults.

Be­cause the black elite oc­cu­pies a great part of the so­cial-me­dia space, what a few Afrikan­ers did on #Black­Mon­day eas­ily pro­vokes ill feel­ings to­wards whites in gen­eral.

As Wil­liam Gumede writes: “Some blacks tend to over­com­pen­sate for white racist at­ti­tudes: over-as­sert­ing their ‘black­nEss’, see­ing the world only in black and white, not in be­tween or as a mo­saic of dif­fer­ent colours.”

If our im­me­di­ate world is de­fined through black and white, blacks (as the dom­i­nant so­cial group) will tend to take and oc­cupy ev­ery space for them­selves and, in so do­ing, bring back racism in re­verse. Some blacks deny this be­cause they pre­sume that only whites can be racist. As I say in my book, this logic is racist in it­self.

We could have eas­ily en­gaged with the #Black­Mon­day demon­stra­tors with­out turn­ing it into a black ver­sus white is­sue. At­ti­tudes of racism have also not dis­ap­peared be­cause in­ter­ra­cial re­la­tions have not changed for many in our so­ci­ety. Some­times cul­tural dif­fer­ences and pref­er­ences are raised as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for dis­crim­i­na­tion – in this case, both ways – by blacks and whites.

We must also con­sider the fact that peo­ple feel threat­ened by law­less­ness and dis­or­der. In most cases, mi­nori­ties are more sen­si­tive to it. These are worldly traits. At the same time, there are still too many in­ci­dents of blacks be­ing killed by their white em­ploy­ers for petty crimes or mis­de­meanours.

The coun­try is burn­ing not be­cause the Afrikaner has taken to the streets; it is burn­ing be­cause the ANC gov­ern­ment has not ful­filled many of its prom­ises, among them to unite all of South Africa’s peo­ple.

With­out a con­scious ef­fort to do away with racism, we are doomed to fail in our other en­deav­ours. Non­ra­cial­ism should be how we ar­gue our po­si­tions.

Like Man­dela put it in 1962: “The ANC fur­ther be­lieved that all peo­ple, ir­re­spec­tive of the na­tional groups to which they may be­long, and ir­re­spec­tive of the colour of their skin, all peo­ple whose home is South Africa and who be­lieve in the prin­ci­ples of democ­racy and of equal­ity of men, should be treated as Africans…”

In 1985, Oliver Tambo said: “We are mak­ing the point here again that power in South Africa must be held by the peo­ple of South Africa as a whole, not by a white mi­nor­ity and not even by a black ma­jor­ity, but by a ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple of South Africa as a whole. Such a gov­ern­ment will be le­git­i­mate; it will de­rive its man­date and author­ity from the peo­ple.”



GREEN BLOOD Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela con­grat­u­lates Fran­cois Pien­aar af­ter the Spring­boks won the 1995 rugby World Cup

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