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For South Africa’s sake, please don’t say these words

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex. He is the author of ‘You Have To Be Gay To Know God’ (Kwela Books, 2018), which won the Desmond Tutu-Gerrit Brand Literary Prize. Follow him on @SKhumalo1987 (Insta and Twitter), or like his Facebook page With Siya Khumalo.

For our country’s sake, I am going to ask that we do not think, post, tweet, retweet or say, “It’s time for all races to rise up and unite as South Africans.” It may sound counterintuitive, but our eventual unity lies in letting go of the lie that we’re united by common causes.

The government is vulnerable. The ANC may have to recall its president. Many South Africans want this, but it seems we can’t get together long enough to make it happen. Many of us are on the verge of intuitively saying, “It’s time for all races to rise up and unite as South Africans.”

For our country’s sake, I am going to ask that we do not think, post, tweet, retweet or say these words at this time. This is rather counterintuitive; while the intention behind unity and rainbowism is good, the effect is racial alienation.

Our eventual unity lies in letting go of the lie that we’re united by common causes right now. While many of our struggles and priorities are the same, and while many people will complain about being categorised or lumped in groups, the general reality is that:

  • The black majority is still fighting the effects of apartheid, which the ANC left unresolved to its immediate members’ benefit – though many black people believe the ANC is rescuing them from the apartheid the ANC now benefits from;
  • A lot of white people have not fully come to terms with their unfair position in the status quo. Many support the DA, which many black people perceive as offering to polish the neoliberal status quo (which implies little to no redress for colonial and apartheid losses) instead of overhauling it.
  • A lot of coloured people feel like the South African racial discourse is black and white without shades in between, though by their vast support for the DA they have mostly aligned themselves with a side anyway, and
  • Having been away from Durban for some time, I can honestly say the last time I spoke in real life with Indian individuals was probably October last year. I’d be lying through my keyboard if I claimed to have an inkling what their group priorities are.

There is nothing racist or intellectually lazy, by the way, with generalising about what racial groups are out to get. Nor is there something necessarily bad with racial groups wanting different things at any given time. This is normal. As long as what people want lies within the boundaries of the constitution, it should be fine (not that the constitution is the unquestionable standard of right and wrong*).

We want different people to want what we want because if they do not want it or affirm its rightness, their priorities could make ours look selfish in comparison. The point is that if we “unite”, all that will happen is that black people will use their political majority to force one political agenda while white people use their greater access to technology, media and money to force a contrary agenda.

In the end, this will benefit white people more than black people because ongoing economic apartheid not only enriches members of the ruling elite, it gives the ANC something to campaign and make promises about.

Trying to make the groups co-operate is pretending that we’re starting on a footing that’s more equal than it really is. If white people are oblivious to where black people are or what they need, it’s because they can’t face the systemically imposed difference between black and white people’s starting points. To face that would be to face history. That is why many white individuals insist on being dealt with as individuals. I think this does more harm than good. “I am an individual” and “let’s all unite” whitewash these differences and drown out voices that implicate white people in socio-systemic injustice.

Our reasons for wanting the ANC gone are more diverse than they are similar. Crushing those differences thwarts the resolve to revolt. Black people will see a “united” revolution as a step back into a pro-white world.

Regime change needs a shift towards Black Consciousness to work.

As Julius said, for something this big to work in South Africa, it needs to be black-led.

Does this mean we literally and ideologically cannot unite?

I don’t think so. It does mean being conscious of why someone else would want a change of regime, and giving that reason room to breathe without stifling it or denying the justifiability of that stance.

Since #FeesMustFall began, we have seen white students forming “human shields” around black students; we have seen law enforcement treating black bodies and voices with more violence than any others. The fact that we should be equal before the law doesn’t erase the reality that the colour of your skin comes with baggage; “let’s unite” is an attempt to deal in insurgency with what should have been dealt with in quieter times.

While anticipating racist responses precipitate them in some instances, more often than not racism happens all by itself and is entirely the racist’s fault – even in instances where the person swears up and down that he’s not racist. In fact, racism is always there because it is systemic; blaming black paranoia/chronic victimhood does not change that.

To say “I don’t see colour” often shows that the speaker has been sheltered from racism either by money or by his own race. A person who cannot see the world as it is has no business trying to change it to what it should be.

If we try to effect a regime change as though racism is not real, racism will keep getting in the way.

Please let’s pre-empt that problem by not trying to hold hands and sing Kumbaya. DM

Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex; he has also written a book (#TheUnveiledFacesProject, coming soon).

Please share and follow @SKhumalo1987

This piece initially appeared on Siya Khumalo’s blog, SanityThinksOutLoud


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