Con­sti­tu­tion cre­ates clean break from past

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

Open Let­ter to He­len Zille EAR Madam He­len, I trust this let­ter finds you well af­ter a tu­mul­tuous and ex­cru­ci­at­ing few days. I am pained to write to you as one of those who suf­fered and still suf­fer the ef­fects of colo­nial­ism and apartheid. Is­sues that you just don’t seem to un­der­stand.

In the con­cur­ring opin­ion of Judge Chris Jafta in the Con­sti­tu­tional Court judg­ment on the case of the City of Tsh­wane Metropoli­tan Mu­nic­i­pal­ity v AfriFo­rum and Another, Judge Jafta says “… I am trou­bled by the state­ment in which is im­plied that a cul­tural tra­di­tion founded in his­tory rooted in op­pres­sion may find recog­ni­tion in the con­sti­tu­tion. And it can­not be gain­said that the op­pres­sion we are talk­ing about here was based on race and there­fore was racist to the core. Its cen­tral and yet false pil­lar

Dwas that the white race was su­pe­rior to other races. As many au­thor­i­ties show the con­sti­tu­tion cre­ates a clean break from our ugly past of racial op­pres­sion by em­phat­i­cally re­ject­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion based on race and the hu­mil­i­a­tion and in­dig­nity suf­fered by black peo­ple at the hands of their white com­pa­tri­ots.”

This case de­cided in 2016 con­cerned a tem­po­rary in­ter­dict against the city over the chang­ing of mostly Afrikaans street names (what Zille now loosely calls the re­pur­pos­ing of our ugly past).

Judge Mo­hamed J, In the very first case to be heard by the ConCourt said, “How can our un­ques­tion­ably trans­for­ma­tive con­sti­tu­tion be ex­pected to recog­nise cul­tural tra­di­tions rooted in the racist past? The an­swer must be, if there is such ex­pec­ta­tion, that it is mis­placed. The fact that the op­pres­sive racist his­tory ex­ists at the level of fact does not mean that it de­serves any recog­ni­tion in the con­sti­tu­tion.”

Both Judge Jafta and Judge Mo­hamed J make a sim­i­lar but crit­i­cal point. The new South Africa cre­ates a clean break from our ugly past giv­ing birth to a new na­tion with new pre­scripts.

South Africa is not an im­proved ver­sion of the past or a case of tak­ing our bet­ter past for­ward, South Africa is a new na­tion.

The core and yet false pil­lar that was, for 400 years, a guid­ing nar­ra­tive of ev­ery­thing that hap­pened in this coun­try’s past was not only that the white race was su­pe­rior to the non­white race, but the tenet ev­ery­thing would be built upon. Ev­ery­thing that Zille sees, her roads, her piped wa­ter, her rail roads, her jus­tice sys­tem were built, al­beit falsely, on the false pil­lar of su­pe­ri­or­ity of white peo­ple.

In a speech to the Su­danese Na­tional Assem­bly on Jan­uary 6, 2005, for­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki said, “When these em­i­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Bri­tish colo­nial­ism were not in Su­dan, they were in South Africa, and vice versa, do­ing ter­ri­ble things wher­ever they went, jus­ti­fy­ing what they did by defin­ing the na­tive peo­ples of Africa as sav­ages that had to be civilised even against their will”.

In Zille’s world, we owe our civil­i­sa­tion to the white world.

Ig­no­rance of the black world and the sup­pres­sion of its ge­nius can­not in it­self be pa­raded as truth. In other parts of the world, the his­tory of Africans and their con­tri­bu­tion to civil­i­sa­tion is be­ing dis­cov­ered ev­ery day, ren­der­ing white his­tory cir­cum­spect at best. Eli­jah McCoy, a black man, in 1872 de­vel­oped a “lu­bri­cat­ing cup” that could au­to­mat­i­cally drip oil when and where needed to im­prove ef­fi­ciency and elim­i­nate the fre­quent stop­ping nec­es­sary for lu­bri­ca­tion of the train.

He re­ceived a patent for the de­vice later that year. The “lu­bri­cat­ing cup” met with enor­mous suc­cess and or­ders for it came in from rail road com­pa­nies all over the coun­try. There goes Zille’s trains. When ev­ery­thing is built on as­sumed (and false) race su­pe­ri­or­ity the peo­ple who actually make things are never recog­nised un­til the con­science of their past op­pres­sors gives in.

There is ev­ery rea­son to be cir­cum­spect of ev­ery­thing given our ugly his­tory built on false premises, but we have de­cided to cre­ate a clean break from the past.

The much cel­e­brated Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell em­ployed Lewis Howard La­timer, a black man born in Chelsea, Mas­sachusetts, on Septem­ber 4, 1848.

In 1876, La­timer, then a drafts­man at Bell’s patent law firm, drafted the draw­ings re­quired to re­ceive a patent for Bell’s tele­phone. There is again a rea­son to be cir­cum­spect on this story be­cause black peo­ple’s con­tri­bu­tion ended up feed­ing white peo­ple’s false pil­lar of race su­pe­ri­or­ity.

In South Africa we are left to only take sat­is­fac­tion that the man­power that built the white world was black power. This is true but it is not, and can­not be the whole story.

As Mbeki said, again deal­ing with this false his­tory that has a white face in Africa, “Here, in the African con­ti­nent, when we speak of Africa we speak of African works of art in South Africa that are a thou­sand years old. We speak of the con­tin­uum in the fine arts that en­com­passes the var­ied artis­tic cre­ations of the Nu­bians and the Egyp­tians, the Benin bronzes of Nige­ria and the in­tri­cate sculp­tures of the Makonde of Tan­za­nia and Mozam­bique. We speak of the cen­turies-old con­tri­bu­tions to the evo­lu­tion of re­li­gious thought made by the Chris­tians of Ethiopia and the Mus­lims of Nige­ria. When we sur­vey all this and much more, we find noth­ing to sus­tain the long-held dogma of African ex­cep­tion­al­ism, ac­cord­ing to which the colour black be­comes a sym­bol of poverty, prim­i­tive­ness and lack of progress”.

We built our world a thou­sand years be­fore we en­coun­tered Europe. One day, all his­tory will be told.

Zizi Kodwa is an ANC spokesper­son.

Ev­ery­thing Zille sees was built on false pil­lar of white su­pe­ri­or­ity

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