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30 April 2017 20:43 (South Africa)
Opinionista Jeff Rudin

The Convenience of the Racist Guest House

  • Jeff Rudin
    Jeff-Rudin-new-photo.jpg
    Jeff Rudin

    Jeff Rudin works at the Alternative Information & Development Centre (AIDC), having returned home in 1994 after spending the previous 28 years in England.  His other paid work since my return has been as a Parliamentary researcher for the ANC and as the National Research Officer for the South African Municipal Workers’ Union.

Consider the following proposition: Zuma is a crook. Zuma is black. Therefore, all blacks are crooks. Besides the formal logical flaw in this syllogism, the cry of “Racism!” would be entirely justified. For it is patently absurd to tar more than 40-million people with the brush merited by one person.

Yet other similarly false conclusions are allowed to stand unchallenged when the syllogism supports the current national mood. Take, for instance, the recent case of the self-proclaimed and entirely unapologetic racist owner of a guest house, a certain Andre Slade. The syllogism becomes: Slade is racist. Slade is white. Therefore, all whites are racist.

The false conclusion is allowed to stand precisely because it goes beyond just confirming the reality of white racism: it represents a new shift in the national psyche.

Seeing Slade as an unbalanced eccentric is no longer sufficient. His appeal is, indeed, his very bigotry, his rabid racism. After all, there are not many people these days who readily give national media interviews to say that black people are inferior to whites, according to their God’s divine plan. And there are similarly few guest house owners who openly proclaim their defiance of anti-discriminatory laws by not opening their doors to blacks (or government officials!).

The viral response to Slade stands in sharp contrast to the acceptance of Orania, the now 24-year-old town inhabited by some 1,000 less crude shades of Slade. They are quietly allowed to get on with their lives and are, in consequence, all but forgotten, even by the few South Africans who have ever heard of them.

Orania highlights another contrast that says so much about where we are today.

Despite the all-white, all Afrikaans-speaking Orania, with its own currency and de facto rejection of post-apartheid South Africa, Nelson Mandela visited the town to have tea with the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of grand apartheid. Compare this visit of 1995 with the ANC of 2016. It is today’s ANC that chose to add to the national outrage caused by a single, hitherto completely unknown guest house owner; an individual whose mental health can be inferred from his greeting black journalists with the announcement: “I am your King. I am the King on earth. You should call me Inkosi”. Led by the KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development and Tourism MEC, 3,000 angry protesters somehow made their long way to his remote guest house to protest their outrage.

It behoves again asking: Outrage at what? It can’t just be the strange Mr Slade. Nor can it be the sudden realisation that the racism providing the rationalisations of both colonial conquest and apartheid did not miraculously vanish on 10 May 1994, when Mandela was sworn in as the new President of the Republic. The racism of those 350 years lives on in varying degrees and forms. This would be the case even if it were to be solely as part of the baggage of apartheid. The only surprise would be if South Africa was the instant, non-racial society our Constitution proclaims us to be.

What is new in all of this is not the discovery of racial prejudice among many, if not most, white South Africans. What is entirely new is the extreme form it has taken.

Notwithstanding an often explicit rejection of race as a biological reality – and, hence, the acceptance that group behaviour is not genetically pre-determined – it is now commonplace to speak of “whites” as an entirely homogeneous group and, hence, applicable to each and every person who looks white (because there is no definition of whiteness). There is thus no escape from this monolithic entity called Whites. Moreover, each and every “white” person is, by extension, an automatic beneficiary and protector of White Supremacy. The conclusion of this new understanding is that no“white” person has the right to engage in, or comment on, any of the struggles, or debates, of the day. Those “white” who forget their place must expect a quick, single word retribution: the charge of being racist. There is no longer any space even for cartoonists. The recent vitriol hurled at Zapiro serves as a pregnant warning.

What needs emphasising is that this new and publicly unchallenged black consensus about there being no exceptions to “whiteness” – if you look white you are White – is without precedent in the history of South Africa.

Hitherto, there have always been recognised exceptions to Whiteness. During the anti-apartheid struggle, for instance the Treason Trail of the 1950s, with its 17 or so white accused, made this most visible. As did the Rivonia Trial, together with those of the sabotage and related other political trials of the 1960s, each producing their cohorts of white political prisoners. Ruth First, Joe Slovo, Ronnie Kasrils were among the most prominent of the subsequent “white” exceptions.

But, today it is different: there are no allowed exceptions to Whiteness.

Within this new consensus, there is a most unexpected member: the ANC (including its alliance partners, the South African Communist Party and Cosatu, the trade union federation). It is silence that mainly signals the ANC’s membership of this consensus. Where is the ANC of the Freedom Charter that declared South Africa belongs to all who lived here, both black and white? Where is the ANC whose steadfast rejection of black racism and chauvinism led to the breakaway Pan African Congress (PAC)? Where is the ANC that welcomed whites within Umkhonto we Sizwe? Where is the ANC of the early 1990s, when whites were prominent among its leading negotiators with the then apartheid government? Indeed, where is the voice of the ANC that still has whites in government and Parliament?

It is not difficult to explain why the ANC chooses to remain deafeningly silent, while the cry of Whites, as the new enemy, gets ever louder.

Such an explanation begins with understanding the process that has led to the anachronistic rediscovery of White Supremacy. At its quintessence, this process involves: (1) Despite the abolition of the Population Registration Act, all the apartheid-invented “races” are as real in people’s consciousness as ever; (2) absent class analysis, and transformation is seen as a hoax; the poor, the disadvantaged and the unemployed remain as black as ever; (3) whites are still as rich and privileged as ever; (4) White Supremacy is the reason for the failure to transform.

Allowing this popular perception to stand unchallenged makes perfect sense for today’s ANC. Having a colour-coded enemy not only deflects attention from their policy failures but, even more important, diverts attention from their partnership with “white monopoly capitalism”; a partnership that enables them, their families, friends and business allies to become increasingly rich and privileged. A largely unseen measure of this privilege, for instance, is that South Africa’s leading private schools – costing between R200,000 to R300,000 per year – are already mostly black and are becoming even more black, according to recent reports.

This is why the ANC chooses to remain silent. This is why the racist guest house is so very convenient for the ANC. This is why it marches against Mr Slade: he represents White Supremacy, the all-purpose enemy behind which the ANC is happy to hide. DM

  • Jeff Rudin
    Jeff-Rudin-new-photo.jpg
    Jeff Rudin

    Jeff Rudin works at the Alternative Information & Development Centre (AIDC), having returned home in 1994 after spending the previous 28 years in England.  His other paid work since my return has been as a Parliamentary researcher for the ANC and as the National Research Officer for the South African Municipal Workers’ Union.

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