Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)
Non-racialism v multiracialism
Country obsessed with categorising people by race; for true unity, we are all South African
BEFORE a global audience of millions, Springbok captain Siya Kolisi thanked the nation following his side’s historic Rugby World Cup win on Saturday.
So far as Kolisi was concerned, this was yet another miracle, a wonderful example of “the different races working together”, he said, to bring a historic victory that recaptured the spirit of the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
The interview was soon followed up by news reports with headings such as “Boks thrive on racial unity”.
If it seemed contrived, former adversaries segregated under apartheid making good on the promise of reconciliation by bringing victory, not simply in green and gold, but black and white, under the first black captain, you’re probably in the same boat.
Government officials, including the president, made no bones about the opportunity for nation-building presented by a third victory in Yokohama. Yet little more than two weeks ago, former president Thabo Mbeki had put pen to paper, to write an opinion piece, berating the opposition DA, and federal council chairperson Helen Zille, for deploying the exact same multi-racial “race-speak” as the Springbok captain.
The DA’s twisted explanations of the controversial events surrounding the resignation of several prominent black members from the party, including parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane, are public record.
It appears Mbeki wished “to emphasise that, consistent with our Constitution, all our registered political formations have an absolute obligation practically to contribute to the national effort to make ours a nonracial country”.
It was thus Zille’s badly thought out statement: “There are racists of all races in South Africa” which jarred when it came to the outspoken non-racialism articulated by the ruling party, and for which Mbeki was going so far as to remind other political formations, there was also in effect, a constitutional imperative to reject multi-racialism.
If what is good for the goose is also good for the gander, why wasn’t Kolisi’s after-match statement as equally jarring as Zille’s, despite a winning game? Why was it okay for a black man to refer to separate and distinct races, but the same didn’t apply to a white woman?
And please forgive me, why is race and racism here starting to sound like a definition of straight marriage, right out of the period of gay prohibition? In other words, racism can only be experienced by a person defined as black by apartheid race classification, circular logic if ever there was one?
It should be remembered that history also records the epic journey from the “multi-racialism” of the Freedom Charter to the “non-racialism” of our Bill of Rights. Indeed, the ANC were not the first to articulate such a progressive vision. The late Robert Sobukwe, founder of the PAC, went so far as to assert before Mandela adopted this type of language during the period of reconciliation: “There is only one race to which we all belong, and that is the human race”, and similarly,
“multiracialism is racism multiplied”.
That the then multiracial ANC of the 1950s found itself in power as avowed non-racialists in the 1990s, while the much larger, at the time, PAC is in danger of withering away in the ranks of the opposition is no small lesson of history.
Which brings one to the point invariably raised, that of semantics: is this all just nit-picking about words, and was Kolisi not entitled to make his remarks, as was Zille?
Not if one believes in South African exceptionalism – that we have somehow overcome the race question as a nation of non-racialists, at least on paper.
Not if one wishes to adopt a scientific approach to the problem of race, since, correctly, there is no race when it comes to humans, (as the recent National Geographic Race Issue suggested, the matter has been laid to rest for quite some time). Bare in mind that the multi-regionalist theory of human evolution has been resoundingly shot down by mainstream scientists along with much South African paleontological research on the basis of race, conducted prior to the 1980s.
Not if one wishes to remain consistent as a patriot with the non-racial principles governing our Constitution instead of practising double standards. (It is still a mystery why our jingoistic media and captured legal system continues to operate on the assumption of race and despite the law.)
Thus what Kolisi might have said differently, if he didn’t have a coach like “Rassie Erasmus”, whose name itself is a strange cipher for race, and if we were not so obsessed with categorising differences and separating people into “race” groups? Surely a project doomed to failure? And yet one quixotically given sanction despite our Constitution, by certain racist legal authorities who deserve to be outed.
Kolisi could have said: “We all came together in our differences”, or “our people as a nation have differences but we are essentially all the same”. Instead he chose to walk the same path as Zille in articulating race as a conceptual framework through which we view our world. So much for the game of rugby.
And ditto the great South African experiment in non-racialism, ie the absence of race-based thinking.
For all the Springboks’ prowess on the field, one cannot help wondering why there was no coaching on the tricky subject of non-racialism, especially when it came to a captain delivering a message to the world? And a team which just a brief few hours prior to winning the World Cup had received a pep talk from none other than President Cyril Ramaphosa?
And surely if we believe Mbeki, that ours is a country based on the premise and promise of a non-racial future?
Which leaves us with another Sobukwe gem, also taken from the 1959 Opening Address at the Africanist Inaugural Convention: “In Afrika the myth of race has been propounded and propagated by the imperialists and colonialists from Europe, in order to facilitate and justify their inhuman exploitation of the indigenous people of the land. It is from this myth of race with its attendant claims of cultural superiority that the doctrine of white supremacy stems.”
A myth indeed.