In recent years, I have observed with interest how the politics of race, particularly the politics of blackness in South Africa, have morphed to suit whoever’s holding the pen or the microphone. It’s become something to hide behind; a universal defence that is stretched, broken and beaten back into shape to suit the purposes of whoever feels at a disadvantage.
This is, sadly, a far cry from the blackness defined by luminaries such as Steve Biko, who developed a consciousness of what it means to be black, and how to claim our place against the tides of racial oppression.
I have watched with shame how the selfish agendas of our politicians, awkwardly disguised in speeches about “the defence of black dignity” or “the protection of the black masses” have been exposed. Or the sly motives of greedy merchants, who hide their profiteering behind “black economic empowerment”.
Let me say at the outset that there are exceptions, and for these I have the greatest respect. I hope that they continue to be a beacon of hope.
But then there is the other side. Allow me to vent my frustration at what is increasingly the easy way out for those who have no regard for the truth. I choose not to name names here – not for fear of reprisal, but owing to the pervasiveness of the rot. It just wouldn’t be possible to narrow it down. It is misleading to get lost in a debate about personalities when one is really dealing with a deeper societal ill – a situation where, as the saying goes, all the tables are stained with vomit.
The condition of blackness (not to be confused with black people per se) has, over time, graduated from being the most undesirable of conditions, in the old SA and before, to being the most powerful political currency in the hands of skilful pundits. This applies both in South Africa and beyond and, unfortunately, exposes the identity of blackness to abuse by pariahs of all types in politics and commerce.
Perhaps it would be useful to explore the reasons for this situation. I believe it is largely because of the blatant oppression that blackness has evoked and endured throughout history, for no reason other than blackness itself – an event of nature and not of choice or consciousness. The absurdity of the reasoning for so venomous and prolonged a hate for blackness, by different oppressors of every colour, even some black people themselves, is perhaps even the reason why blackness has been elevated to a position of mystery and wonder.
People throughout the ages have contemplated blackness in prose and poetry in an attempt to understand the sheer hatred, abuse and misuse of this “condition” through slavery, mockery and different forms of oppression. The confusion is best articulated in the liberation song “Senzeni na?” (What have we done to deserve such repression and oppression?) The telling reply is, “Isono sethu ubumnyama” (Our sin is our blackness).
Significantly, however, it is the relentless, irrepressible resilience of this condition that has overcome and vanquished racism through the various struggles of black people and others, which has rendered blackness in and of itself a noble and desirable identity. It is this trajectory and history of struggle and triumph, like a refined precious stone, that has given blackness untold worth; a precious, fragile and yet rugged value.
The abuse of blackness has manifested itself in many ways throughout history, in slavery (imperialism), colonialism (Apartheid) and neo-colonialism (cronyism, graft and patronage), and now it continues with renewed vigour. The demon of black oppression has become more and more cunning and sophisticated as it even changes colour and uses the rhetoric of black struggle and liberation. It has become so brazen as to use the unbearable economic, social and political conditions of black people to deceptively mask its agenda of unabated, indiscriminate looting and disregard for law and common decency. It has rendered our once-revered leaders impotent. It has possessed our youth-leaders and turned them into foul-mouthed fat cats with no social conscience. It has made us visionless, directionless and immoral.
The greatest tragedy is that never before has blackness been more mercilessly ravaged than in present-day Africa, by black Africans. It is the present-day custodians of the privilege of blackness that have turned against it. The indiscriminate corruption of our leaders, the crass materialism of our psyche, the violence of our discourse and actions.
The protagonists scream from all platforms how their indiscretions should be overlooked because others, their criminal counterparts from other racial groupings, have not been investigated in the same way, in present and former regimes. They argue that they should not be investigated and prosecuted for breaking the law, because they are black and by virtue of their blackness they are therefore immune to being corrupt or racist. They passionately contend that theirs is an argument of principle in the struggle for equity and equality before justice and the law.
Furthermore, anyone who accuses them of being corrupt or racist is in fact accusing blackness of corruption and racism, and thus perpetuating the oppression of blackness and black people. They should therefore be left alone to continue looting until all the beneficiaries of ill-gotten gains throughout Apartheid and colonialism are brought to book. In fact, they even threaten wholesale instability and violence if their spree continues to be interrupted by “meaningless questions”.
Meanwhile, in the well-orchestrated confusion, it is the poor, (usually) black people that are being treated like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed shit.
Is it so difficult to understand that we cannot continue to compare the values of a legitimate constitutional democracy to the corruption of a system that was universally declared a “crime against humanity”? Is it so difficult to understand that we are called to a higher consciousness and that our actions may not regress?
Let me sound the warning bells. The truth is some of us don’t view our blackness as a condition or a political currency to be abused perpetually and indiscriminately. It is part of our sacred identity, and we take great exception to its misuse by those who think we don’t see their evil intentions.
Do what you want to do; history will judge you accordingly. But not in my name! DM