Opinionista Sisonke Msimang 20 November 2013

*Overheard: a conversation on Apartheid addiction and other liberal tenets

With the battle for the soul of the DA looming large I was delighted to overhear the following conversation about yoga, Lindiwe, Helen and an Apartheid addiction as I sipped on a latte in a Jo’burg café. I wasn’t sure who the two men were so I am assigning them random names.

RW: No one seems to understand, Gary. Colour means nothing to me.  It’s an empty category. I always say, “Merit, Not Colour”.  It’s like a mantra to me. I recently started yoga and I often repeat the phrase to myself as I breathe: Merit not colour. Merit not colour.

Gary: You know Ryan Coetzee, right? Ryan’s actually become a yoga instructor. It’s like a side thing.

RW: And the reality is that merit doesn’t drop from the sky. It can take centuries, millennia actually to become a merit-based society.  Look at Scotland. Look at the US.

Gary: That’s what Ryan used to say. It takes centuries.

RW:  It can take years and years for blacks to get the requisite experience. You know, I met a girl the other day. Black. I didn’t notice her race myself because I am colour blind, but as she was talking, she told me that she was black. She was the daughter of two petrol attendants. Very poor, working class really. And she told me that she wants to stand on her own two feet. So you know what I did? I pushed her down. Hard. She got up. And I pushed her again. Harder. Then again, and again, harder and harder, until in the end, she couldn’t stand up anymore.

Gary:  Yeah. Ryan shoved me a few times. I always got back up again.

RW:  Exactly. I could tell that no one had ever treated her that way before. But she needed to understand that standing up can take centuries. She was a quick study though. By the end she was on her knees. She understood that you don’t just learn how to stand. You crawl, grovel, beg. Then finally, one day, on your own, proud and strong, you will stand up without a helping hand.

Gary: Wow. That’s profound. I need to tell Ryan this story.

RW: Yup. It’s a metaphor. Each time I knocked her down she knew it wasn’t because of her race. She could see how colour-blind I am. That was rewarding in its own right. She wasn’t looking at me for handouts. She was looking up at me with appreciation.

Gary:  Ryan did the same to his char. I mean, his domestic. Ryan was very principled.

RW: Exactly. And it’s not that Ryan was better because he was a man.  I mean heaven knows I would never ever ascribe Helen’s erratic behaviour to gender, because in addition to being colour-blind I am also gender intolerant.

I will say however, that sometimes people who happen to have vaginas can be impulsive. It’s not so much because they are women – I don’t believe in categories. It’s more like a Venus-Mars thing.

Gary:  Agreed. In fact, I don’t really think of Helen as a woman. Ryan says that the only person who never seems to forget that Helen is a woman is Jacob Zuma.

RW: Indeed. I need to get in touch with Zapiro. I keep wondering when he’s going to remove that bloody showerhead and replace it with a big chandelier in the shape of Nkandla.

Gary: This is uncanny. Ryan suggested that to me the other night on the phone!

RW: The thing is with women and with blacks, we all know that there is absolutely no difference in brain size. It’s more a cultural thing. I mean, you know my history, that I was part of a student group that raised hell, asked a lot of questions, you know. We planned a march once. We didn’t get a permit to do that march and it seemed reckless to you know, face possible arrest when one might have become a lawyer later on, so we called it off… (voice trails off)

Gary:  Ryan was a student activist.

RW: It’s hard though to remember how alike we are underneath our colourless skin, when you have buffoons like Malema parading around.

Gary:  I know. Do you think they might join up with the EFF?  The blacks in the DA caucus? Geez, that guy literally frightens the pants off me. You know that I use my merit-based connections to sit on a few boards, and last week, I was in Cape Town and I tell you the investors were in a state. The monster is damaging investor relations.  (Shivers involuntarily)

RW: I know, but lets not get distracted. This is about the DA, not the EFF. I don’t think Lindiwe and Mmusi and the others should even be allowed to meet as blacks only, without you know, some sort of other race there.

Gary: Wilmot will be there. Ryan likes Wilmot.

RW (raising voice): It’s not good enough dammit. If we aren’t there who is going to be looking after our interests? He bangs the table sharply.

Gary: RW, are you OK?

RW:  No!  I am not all right. I am tired of pretending. I just want things the way they used to be. I am sick of this. Sick. Of. It!  You hear me? Sick, sick, sick!  Bang. Bang. Bang.

Gary: This is scary. What are you sick of?  Should I call Ryan?

RW (wailing):  I am sick of this addiction. I have been hiding it all these years, accusing the ANC of it but it isn’t so. I’m not a liberal.  Draws a deep breath. “My name is RW and I am addicted to Apartheid.”

Gary (frantically tapping on his Samsung Galaxy which he bought because it was created in a merit-based economy):  Ryan?  Hello, Ryan, we need your help, RW is losing it.

*Not really.

For context, please see the two recent articles by RW Johnson at Politicsweb (here and here) as well as the Business Day piece by Gareth van Onselen.


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