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Qwabe’s Tipping Point: What WE and YOU really mean

Born and raised in Stanger, Jackie Shandu is part of the EFF KZN Provincial Command Team as head of Policy, Research and Political Education. He writes in his personal capacity.

The vicious demonisation of Ntokozo Qwabe by foreign and domestic white media houses fits in neatly with the logic of white supremacy – the organising principle of the entire white world since the initial encounter of white and black people.

Slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow laws, apartheid, neoliberal capitalism are all politico-economic programmes introduced and sustained by the West through immeasurable cruelty and brutality on all black bodies, minds and souls. Underpinning the sadistic violence meted out to black people is the belief by whites in their racial superiority vis-à-vis their black counterparts. Once the white-black superiority-inferiority dialectic is concluded and internalised, the implications of it on black people are not only logical but indispensable and necessary.

Ntokozo Qwabe, the UK-based black South African Oxford University student who rose to global fame through leading the Oxford campus Rhodes Must Fall campaign, is back in the spotlight, but as a villain – well, that depends on where you sit on the still unresolved land question of South Africa. Qwabe instantaneously became an enemy to his erstwhile (pseudo) white admirers when he raised the land question in an unusual manner; by refusing to tip a white waitress in a Cape Town restaurant and instead cheekily writing, “We will give you tip when you return the land”, on a space designated for tip amount.

This was a courageous and absolutely necessary political gesture by Qwabe, aimed to force South Africa to revisit the crucial yet neglected land discourse which was scandalously avoided by Mandela and the ruling African National Congress in the negotiations that culminated in the advent of liberal democracy in 1994. It was only the land question, might I add, that was left unresolved by the Kempton Park Settlement, where negotiations and agreements for a South Africa without institutionalised and legal white racism took place.

But, as if compelled to fulfil Steve Biko’s prophetic cautions on the grave dangers of agreeing to changeless change and in turn idiotically celebrating it as some historical breakthrough, the ANC negotiators, hungry and impatient to devour the crumbs promised to them as a group by apartheid politicians and capitalists, hurried to clinch the worst possible deal for black people. And as a result, 22 years later, whites are still landowners, farm owners, mine owners, banks owners– the face of South African business, professionals and academia.

From this current reality emanates the anger of Qwabe and other black people who refuse to accept the deeply insulting Rainbow Nation notion toasted to by the ANC and white minority in 1994, founded on strict continuation of apartheid wealth accumulation patterns.

In “We will give you tip when you return the land”, the “we” refers to the still dispossessed native African majority, dispossessed of the land taken away from our ancestors through savage and barbaric white violence including the mass rape of black women, upon which all white wealth in South Africa is built and sustained. The “we” refers to totally vulnerable black labourers who still brave storms and blazing heat to toil on white-owned farms for next to nothing only to be rewarded with (illegal) evictions if not fatal gun shots by white owners “mistaking” them for monkeys every now and then and easily avoid murder charges.

The “we” refers to the millions of still socio-economically disenfranchised black South Africans who, by unsafe minibus taxis, uncomfortable trains or by foot, leave the township and shacks in the early hours of every morning for the major cities and white suburbs to sell their cheap and taken for granted labour as domestic workers, petrol attendants, security guards, waiters, call centre agents, packers, cleaners, till operators and the like. Hired as casuals or through labour brokerage as per the ANC’s pro-business and anti-worker labour regime, these black workers – many of whom are young and should be pursuing tertiary studies or entrepreneurial ventures – are not only subjected to very hostile and racist working conditions but also poorly remunerated by corporations and firms who record billions and hundreds of millions in profit every financial year.

As if that’s not enough, these companies embark on all sorts of illegal activities to hide profits and thus avoid paying tax. Educated by the Economic Freedom Fighters’ leaders and parliamentarians on illegal financial practices such as base erosion, asset transfer pricing, illicit capital outflows and the like, backed by prima facie evidence, the ANC government refuses flatly to act firmly and harshly against culprit companies for a number of reasons.

Chief among them is the assistance these companies require from senior personnel and leaders in the National Treasury department, South African Revenue Services and other state institutions and agencies to successfully launder big money out of the country. Second, the top brass of the ruling party either have stakes in or sit on the boards of these companies and earn millions of rand annually and this is how political protection is purchased. Otherwise how could Tiger Brands, Murray&Roberts and others get away with such a small slap on the wrist after being found guilty of price-fixing crimes involving hundreds of billions of rand?

The “we” refers to the (black) 50% of the South African labour forces that takes home less than R2,800 every month for reasons already highlighted and spends 60% of it on transportation costs because the ANC government has no political will to confront the racist spatial geography introduced by the British and perfected by the boers.

Unemployment is a huge social scourge – more than 10-million desperate black jobseekers are without one – however, the reality of the working poor is rarely examined, hence the ANC is able to self-congratulate on exploitative labour schemes such as the Expanded Public Works Programme where bodies of black youth are ravaged through street-sweeping and grass-cutting chores for less than three pieces of silver.

Profuse reluctance to reconfigure the structure of the South African economy and the Thabo Mbeki-led de-industrialisation policies consistent with the fundamental tenets of the IMF-World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes have ensured that not only does the local economy shed as many jobs as the capitalist class wishes, but also that, despite all the misguided South African development exceptionalism notions often peddled by black petty bourgeois charlatans to undermine fellow African countries, South Africa remains just another primitive anachronistic Third World economy that imports cancer-causing chickens from the US and generates income mainly through selling raw materials to the West.

The “we” refers to the black so-called “born frees” whom Statistician-General recently found to be less educated than their parents. It refers to thousands of black kids in rural villages such as Nquthu, Mthatha, Tzaneen et al who risk drowning twice every schoolday by crossing rivers to get to school, only to be taught under trees by untrained, incompetent teachers who lack motivation due to pathetic wages. The same kids that have to later compete with over-resourced modern private school white kids at university, and compete again later for professional jobs in the workplace where employers in the private sector are virtually all white. No prize for guessing why research says black graduates are more likely to be unemployed than white high school leavers.

The “you” in “We will give tip when you return the land” refers to the system of anti-black racist white monopoly capitalism that still owns and controls the South African economy more than two decades into democracy and of which all white South Africans are beneficiaries, materially, socially and culturally. It refers to racist South African universities dominated by white professors and academics, many of whom where showered with PhDs towards the end of apartheid, just to ensure that the academy remains in the hands of whites, and, among others, ensure that there are no real curriculum changes to the poisonous white supremacist neoliberal capitalist mantra still taught across disciplines in all South African universities.

As a result, the South African university produces mainly self-hating and unthinking graduates who worship white thinkers and inventors. These are the people who go on, as professionals or academics, to tell us that the land and economy should remain in the hands of the white minority because only whites have the skills, capacity and integrity to control both with distinction. And that should ownership and control of the land and the economy be transferred to black people, chaos, failure, violence and hunger would become the order of the day and to support this grand white lie constructed by white supremacy they quickly point you to Zimbabwe if not the entire African continent.

As if white violence, whether through illegal sanctions, cheapened African raw commodities, destabilisation and unseating of progressive regimes, conditionalities-based loans and aid, is not central to the state of African economies. Who was behind the assassinations of Lumumba, Cabral, Sankara, and why? Who conspired to unseat Nkrumah? Africa has corrupt leaders, who wiped out all the great ones?

The “you” refers to the lily-white property industry where blacks feature only as consumers like at Mall of Africa or home buyers/tenants, if at all they are allowed to buy or rent. It is the major South African banks and financiers that, as a general rule, do not lend to black people. Instead, black entrepreneurial hopefuls are denied funding and turned away while their ideas are stolen and implemented to keep business and creativity white, not unlike the recent high court ruling on the Vodacom “Please Call Me” case.

The “you” are all white-owned businesses that prefer to pay fines than comply with Black Economic Empowerment transformation requirements or advise their white staff to resign and rehire their services as consultants, just to make the workforce demographics of their establishments less unreflective of the racial and gender composition of the population.

The “you” are all the whites who knowingly distort, vulgarise the message Qwabe sought to communicate to all South African whites by his remark. These clever whites have used social media networks to conveniently shift focus away from the key national issue that Qwabe meant to spark a debate on, namely, the unresolved land question in South Africa.

Whites hate being reminded of their historical racial crimes from which they continue to benefit. What they always resort to is to vilify, demonise or kill whomever insists on shedding light on the historical injustices which maintains them at the top while others suffer, also because of historical oppression. The Belgians, with the help of America and the United Nations, resolved to assassinate Lumumba after his speech on his inauguration as Prime Minister of the Congo in 1960. Robert Mugabe, after being the darling of the West for years and receiving all sorts of gifts, awards and titles from European governments and universities, immediately became the most evil person on the planet according to the global white supremacist narrative religiously circulated in the global press, television and other media platforms.

The demonisation of Qwabe and the global sympathy mobilised for the white waitress who is said to be a victim of “racist bullying” seeks to achieve mainly two things: deflect attention away from the land question discussion because whites historically are not in the habit of voluntarily relinquishing to rightful owners whatever property or rights was previously violently taken away or denied them. Just as whites commit unmatched violence to take land or enslave a people, they are always prepared to commit more violence to retain stolen property and/or maintain racial subjugation.

In the history of the white-black encounter and ensuing contradictions, we are yet to witness notable social justice programmes conceptualised and rolled out by whites of their own volition, without demands, protests and threats of violent measures to be taken by their victims. If you know of any such historic gesture – during slavery, colonialism or apartheid – please feel free to educate me.

Nonwhites, as Biko stated, have been around for a very long time and will continue to be with us for a while. Malcolm X, in the American context, called them “House Negros”. These are blacks who knowingly or unknowingly aspire to be white in everything about them. They do this because they associate everything good and desirable with whiteness: intelligence, beauty, morality, success et al. Needless to say, their allegiance is to white supremacy and thus have no problem with white domination in all spheres of life, even in countries like South Africa where whites are a tiny minority.

These are blacks who manipulate and blackmail their sisters and brothers to forgive and forget, move on, even though justice has not been served to black people. They want us to accept as normal that less than 15% of the population – descendants of violent foreign colonisers – control more than 80% of the land and economy while the native majority make do as landless and poor drawers of water and hewers of wood. Every struggle has its traitors, from Judas Iscariot, Brutus, Dingane and Mbopha to Blaise Compaoré.

Ntokozo Qwabe spoke for all of us blacks who want and will fight to get our land back from the white minority, and we will not pay for it, as the first cardinal pillar of the EFF states. Our land was stolen, violently taken away. We have neither moral imperative nor intellectual justification for compensating those who inherited ill-gotten property. We want justice, and thereafter we can discuss friendship, if we both desire it. DM


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