Talking Politics & Apartheid

I was talking politics yesterday with two artisans doing temporary work on the farm – mnumzane Pulambi and mnumzane Sibane (not their real names) –  and the discussion moved to the topic of apartheid. They both spoke about some of their experiences, of which I want to share one. My goal is to conscientize and educate.

Pulambi told us that in the early 80s he went to go buy himself two tins of polish and deodorant at a store in Badplaas, and was accompanied by a friend. ‘Yes – deodorant and two tins of shoe polish; one red, and one brown. It was there by Thandabantu in Badplaas which opened in nineteen eighty – uh… ya no it opened in 1980. I bought my stuff and took my receipt but as we were leaving, my friend tells me he needs to go back and buy something else. So I go back inside with him.

‘There were two white ladies running the store. One of them saw me holding my stuff, and tells me that I can’t leave the shop without paying for the deodorant and polish. I confront her – I was cocky back in those days – and tell her that I had just bought these things from her! So she tells me to show a receipt, which I do: “Hier, kyk!”. But now this woman snatches the receipt from my hands and continues to demand me to pay for my stuff that I had already paid for! The woman next to her even tried to tell her to just give them back but she eventually gave up. She even look at her colleague, then look at me, then looked down in shame. Afterwards the first woman’s man walks in to check what the commotion was about, at which point I just give up… What was I going to do now?’

I can’t remember whether Pulambi said he eventually paid for the goods or left them – I was laughing out of disbelief. But then he brought the discussion back to politics in a way that explained something that’s been difficult for me to come to terms with: ‘See now this is why we can’t afford to vote for the DA – they’ll bring all of this back. Despite whatever the ANC does, we just can’t.’

While this was an isolated incident involving individuals, it still had everything to do with the cultures they carried within them. That day like many others, all of white South Africa was represented by two white ladies and one white man. That day like many others, the Apartheid State, the full might of its law, and the racist and patriarchal culture that built them stood behind a petty criminal and her accomplices. That day like many others, a corrupt system of privilege did exactly what it was designed to do – deprive & dispossess.

White South Africans should understand that inasmuch as Apartheid has left uncountable burdens on the black South African, it has left a heavy burden on you too. You inherit from those that came before you a reputation – as children of  inhumane and unapologetic people, despite who you are as individuals. Yes, there are black South Africans who live in the South Africa where the colour of your skin and your culture mean nothing more than they’re supposed to, but we are still few because of the lingering effects of apartheid.

In a country where 90% of the population is black, many still walk around with negative sentiments towards white people. Many still have little to no positive interactions with their white fellow citizens. Many still unwittingly pass those sentiments onto their children and grandchildren.

This is why white people’s criticism of corruption in today’s politics seems to be shrugged-off and downplated; why white media’s reporting on state captureis seldom given the time of day; why white artists and cartoonists’ work can be sharply insensitive; and why conspiracy theories of load shedding being a deliberate ploy are a non-issue: It’s because the injustices of yesteryear remain largely unrecognized let alone resolved. It makes a world of difference just to hear someone acknowledge the effect apartheid has had, and accept why the people it affected think and feel the way they do.

Next time you discuss colour, culture, and country – and this actually applies to everyone – do so bearing in mind that your book is being judged by its cover. Give the person reading it a reason to want to keep reading.

My goal is to conscientize and educate.

Z.

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Poem: Black Ghosts

Black Ghosts.
On the intersection of Freedom & Capital.
Not dead, but not living;
Just there.

Actors on an asphalt stage
By-products of systemic disadvantage
Comic relief;
From the daily dramas – starring us.

‘But I’ve heard they make a killing’
Maybe thousands every month
Just escaping life’s certainties
Taxes, death, and
‘Change please baba – even 5 cent is fine’

Black Ghosts.
Taunting us in broad daylight,
Haunting us by night.
The price we pay for privilege,
The cost incurred for comfort.

They confuse,
Attention for dignity,
Like we confuse
Sex for love
Money for wealth
Church for God
Change for charity.

Black Ghosts.
On the intersection of Freedom & Capital.
Or is it Mandela & Biko now?

Zanokuhle.
(13/10/2015)

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Suspected Bank Thieves?

This morning, I make go to an ATM to make a transaction. The only person in the queue is a (young, black) construction worker – CW for short – standing far away (about 3 meters) from the ATM. I join the queue behind him. Shortly after, a (white) lady comes and stands about 2 meters in front of CW, not seeing the queue.

I point out to her that there’s a queue. Before I finish the sentence, CW turns to ask me to – in isiZulu – to help him with his transaction since he doesn’t know how to use the ATM. I decline and point him to the security guard. Anyway, the lady kindly apologises and lets CW go ahead, but still stands in front of me (she’s standing between us now).

Now here’s the thing: A few seconds later, the lady exits the queue and walks into the branch.

First things first, the lady’s actions or character aren’t up for debate. She may have simply decided she doesn’t wanna stand in a queue, and even if she felt unsafe, she was well within her right to take herself out of a situation she thought to be potentially risky. I would too if I felt in danger.

What I am debating though is – if she did feel at risk – what made her feel unsafe? Was it race? Language? Past experience? Or am I being paranoid in thinking that this was a case of ‘the black man is always a suspect’?

Share your thoughts – I’d love to hear them.

Z.

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How white people created the conditions for anti-immigrant riots in South Africa

“After being dragged kicking and screaming into the South African state, forced to assimilate, then segregated, obsessively classified and reclassified, the contemporary emergence of a fiery and aggressive Zuluness is not unexpected.”

Quartz

A recent spate of anti-immigrant violence in South African cities has been linked to comments made by Goodwill Zwelithini, king of the Zulu nation. At a rally in late Mar. 2015, the monarch reportedly told supporters, “We urge all foreigners to pack their bags and leave.”

“As I speak to you, you find there are unsightly goods hanging all over our shops,” a transcribed quote from Zwelithini published by South Africa’s Eyewitness News reads. “They dirty our streets. We cannot even recognise which shop is which. They are all blocked by foreigners.”

Five people have since died in this week’s violence against immigrants in Durban. Many foreign-born merchants have closed shop until the unrest eases. Some in Johannesburg reportedly received text messages warning: “Zulu people are coming to town starting from Market [street] their mission is to kill every foreigner on the road please pass this to all your contacts in case they come people should be…

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Thoughts on Political Ongoings (April 2015)

A message has been doing the rounds on social media claiming “NO LIVING PEOPLE, BLACK OR WHITE, ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT OTHER BLACK AND WHITE PEOPLE DID GENERATIONS AGO.” My response to it is always the same: We may not be responsible, but we certainly live with the consequences.

The senseless violence we as South Africans (I say ‘we’ deliberately since the damage done by a few must be repaired by us altogether – again, consequences) are meting out to our fellow Africans is no doubt a consequence of the spirit imparted onto this land by our forebears. Ironically, it is no different from imperialism we suffered at the hands of the likes of Cecil John Rhodes, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, and the Apartheid State. Black and white, we all fell under their spell, and responsibility set aside, even if we were to resurrect them, it’s highly doubtful that they’d realise the errors of their ways and undo their wicked deeds. As such, we’re left with the responsibility of undoing them ourselves.

More than twenty years into our democracy, a fierce yet unspoken contest for the title of “South African” is underway – from right-wing racists to the power-hungry political elite, middle-class taxpayers to the disenfranchised strikers; everyone is in on it. For the second time in less than a decade however, our fellow Africans have involuntarily sacrificed their lives for it (this I say, not forgetting countless other victims such as Andries Tatane, white farmers, and the martyrs of Marikana).

As to why there is a contest at all is perplexing, especially in a country with one of the most progressive and inclusive Constitutions in the world. Then again, one must remember that this was a Constitution negotiated at the behest of an erudite few on behalf of a nation desperate for the bread of freedom; many of whom have yet to taste more than a few crumbs thereof. And what good is a wordy, philosophical document when all your mental faculties are devoted to some of the most complex problem-solving known to man: ‘Will one packet of Iwisa, a head of cabbage, and seven diapers really be enough get us through the rest of this month?’

The various political occurrences of past few months have made it undeniably clear that njengabantu baseMzansi we are in desperate need of a shared sense of self-worth. These recent Afrophobic attacks would have been far less likely to happen, had our leaders esintu called for their people to learn from the entrepreneurialism of our fellow Africans. There would be no room for Afrophobic sentiments in the first place had we as wealthy South Africans been investing our socio-economic capital into the actual upliftment of our fellow citizens (as opposed to just offering mere charity).

Inkosi yamaZulu uZwelithini has renounced his remarks about abantu bokufika and called for imbizo against xenophobia. He has dealt with the symptoms, but now he and other leaders esintu must deal with the illness at their cause. His royal coat of arms bears the motto ‘iLembe Eleqa Amanye Ngokukhalipha’ (the Hero that Surpasses Others in Intelligence); let him then impart and encourage that spirit of surpassing intelligence and excellence onto his people, as an alternative to the rage and violence we possess.

On the opposite end of the cultural spectrum sit your ‘twitter-critics’ (like myself?) – always ready to decry the latest viral trend from behind the safety of their screens, but seldom prepared to take action when it’s needed most. When is action needed most? Says Professor Jonathan Jansen: “The problem is not what to do in a crisis; it is what you do in peacetime – that is, between crises.”

The Afrophobic stigma held by South Africans will not change until we learn to find the same opportunity and value that our Yoruba-, Igbo-, Akan-, Amharic-, and Tigrinya-speaking brothers and sisters see in these townships & CBDs that we find so miserable. Opportunities aren’t being stolen from us, they’re being created right under our noses! We have failed to teach ourselves the art of creating opportunity like our fellow Africans can. And don’t mind what some of us like to say about ourselves (or rather each other) – that we are all racist, lazy, uneducated, or savage – those are mentalities that belong on the other side of 1994. Spend enough time with enough South Africans from different walks of life and you will see how untrue that is.

Our Constitution charges us to “build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.” If we set our minds to this goal and make a deliberate effort to work on it every single day – pro-actively and not just re-actively – we will surely achieve it.

Z.

Links:
– Preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (PDF)
– Jonathan Jansen: It’s not about the statues. (Source: TimesLive)
– Sibusiso Tshabalala: Why black South Africans are attacking foreign Africans but not foreign [white people]. (Source: Quartz)
– Achille Mbembe writes about Xenophobic South Africa (Source: Africa Is A Country)

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On the Importance of Preserving History

My blood is *BOILING*!!

If there’s one thing I’ve heard endlessly this past week, it’s that “it’s important to remember history”. If you’ve said (or thought) that to me, I want you to pay attention to this.

I decided to take the advice and read up on one of the few black South African legends I’ve heard of: Hintsa, inkosi yamaGcaleka (Hintsa, king of the amaGcaleka – a significant branch of the amaXhosa). You might know him as “King Hintsa”. Chances are you don’t know of him at all. There’s a street named after him somewhere in Diepsloot.

Short story cut shorter, nkosi Hintsa was held hostage for cattle that were stolen from British settlers **by people who may or may not have been his subjects** until agreed to pay 50 000 (fifty thousand) cattle as a penalty (aside from other outrageous demands). Hintsa refused and tried to escape. As he fled, his captor Govenor Harry Smith ordered one of his men to shoot him. After pleading mercy, nkosi Hintsa was brutally murdered and even mutilated by Smith’s men and his body was dumped in a bush.

As a rudimentary measure of how much ‘history’ you might find on each of these men, do me a favour and search for “Hintsa kaKhawuta” on Wikipedia, and then for “Lieutenant General Sir Henry George Wakelyn Smith, 1st Baronet of Aliwal GCB” on the same website. Take note of the detail, accuracy, accolades, and images on each page:

Link – Hintsa kaKhawuta
Link –  Harry Smith

Oh and does “Harry Smith” ring any bells? Vele – it does. There’s a town named after him!!! You pass every time you take a trip from Johannesburg to kwaZulu!

Now I’m not asking for any more statues to be torn down or places to be renamed – but I do want your understanding. If I am hurt by this simple fact, how much more umXhosa? Or umGcaleka? Let alone one of nkosi Hintsa’s descendants? Understand this, and you’ll have grasped the tip of the iceberg of pain and frustration that so many other South Africans are having to deal with.

You’re extremely fortunate if you have a detailed account of your past that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some hardly have one to speak of.

This is why I will continue to say you should support campaigns such as‪#‎RhodesMustFall‬ – not because you must agree with them, no – but because they are perfect and much-needed opportunities for a display of ubuntu and a commitment to a diverse but united Mzansi. Trust me – there’ll be more than enough time and space to talk about our disagreements afterwards.

Z.

#RhodesMustFall ‪#‎MzansiMustRise‬‪#‎SoundsTheCall‬‪#‎OneMzansi‬

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Opinion on #RhodesMustFall

#RhodesMustFall. I’ve heard a lot about the issue, but I’ve deliberately delayed coming to an opinion about the UCT statue of Cecil John Rhodes. While I’m late in expressing my thoughts, here they are:

Rhodes Must Fall.

There should be no question about it – the statue must be taken down. The putrid aftertaste of racial imperialism still lingers on all our tongues, and Rhodes was one of its most formidable champions. Because of the philosophies of men and women like him, we as South Africans still cannot fully trust each other to this day. Because of the spirit they infused into this land and our peoples, each of us – regardless of colour, culture, or creed – do not yet live in the peace and unity we deserve. What better a way to express rejection and contempt for these ideals than to dismantle the monuments built in honour of those that held them?

It’s tempting to take this further and say that all institutions that bear testament to the Rhodes’ legacy should be abandoned and done away with completely, but the fact that UCT (built on land donated by Co Rhodes), Rhodes University, and the Mandela-Rhodes foundation are slowly but surely starting to serve and empower southern Africans from different walks of life is good enough. My hope is that were the man to come back to life and see the success with which these organisations are diversifying themselves, he would jump straight back into his grave – and turn in it!

That being said, the notion that those institutions – academic, social, economic; whatever – that were created with prejudiced intentions are still and will continue to be our best and brightest should for us be wholly unacceptable. Our sights should now be set on establishing, developing, and legitimising more of our own democratically-minded academies, organisations, and corporations – all of which should be founded on our principles of unity in diversity, be infused with our spirit of uBuntu, and be a worldwide reflection of our surpassing excellence.

For now however, let’s sort that statue. I urge any and all in the Mother City – especially if you call me a friend – to support its removal. Yes, ‘it’s just a statue’ but let it also be a symbol of the spirits of prejudice and division that hold us back from the South Africa we should live in, and let your support be a sign that you are willing & able to stand in solidarity with your people against the injustices of the past, present, and future. It’s something we all need to learn as the people of Mzansi, especially now when the voices of those elders who ushered us into democracy sound like a faint whisper.

Phansi ngoRhodes, phansi.

Z.

#SoundsTheCall #PhansiNgoRhodes #OneMzansi

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