Defend Truth


False Narratives: Let’s take the kid gloves off and talk about the hard stuff


Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was born in Cape Town and raised by his determined mother, grandparents, aunt and the rest of his maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate hue), with recent exposure in the public sector, and is currently working on transport and infrastructure projects. He is a Mandela Washington Fellow, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, and a WEF Global Shaper. He had a brief stint in the contemporary party politic environment working for Mamphela Ramphele as Agang CEO and chief-of-staff; he found the experience a deeply educational one.

Issues of sexuality, race, culture and gender are not free to be spoken about in South Africa. Instead, these conversations are treated with kid gloves and avoided at every turn. Our voices are being hindered and we must break free because this is not who we are.

Each day, we are confronted by the deep cracks in our foundations. But it is easy to gloss over those fractures when the sideshow that is Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma consumes our country and in turn dominates our attention span.

In all of that noise, we are failing to confront the micro-aggressions that are abundantly meted out each day. We forget that poverty, unemployment and inequality have been allowed to fester. We have to get out from under this cloud, if we are ever going to be mobilised to confront our country’s fault lines.

We have embraced the false narrative. We seem unable to mobilise sufficient energy to galvanise an approach to confronting those micro-aggressions. The complicity between business and government in the events that led to the Marikana massacre has gone unanswered. It is easier to be outraged by the words of Penny Sparrow or Mabel Jansen or Matthew Theunissen than it is to confront the normative culture that harms black South Africans each day.

Each day, the normative culture that originated in centuries of oppression and colonialism, and thereafter institutionalised by the apartheid regime, goes unchallenged. We are told to gloss over those micro-aggressions. We are encouraged not to grow impatient with the “everyday racism” but instead we are told that we should try to “claim the space” or that we should “occupy spaces” that are often exclusionary. We are encouraged to not bring up these issues because that’s just awkward.

Issues of sexuality, race, culture and gender are not free to be spoken about in South Africa. Instead, these conversations are treated with kid gloves and avoided at every turn. Our voices are being hindered and we must break free because this is not who we are.

Perhaps this is the reason that events such as the Mother City Queer Party are criticised on a regular basis for operating with blinkers on and ignoring the lived reality. Instead those organisers often embrace the usual cultural appropriation. The normative culture acts with shock and horror when voices, usually ignored and silenced, rise up and the only response they have is to instinctively retreat with the usual insipid apology and a neatly crafted press statement that encourages everyone to just move on as if nothing ever happened. Those press statements pretend that they never meant to offend and that they are our defenders. We are told that they are all about inclusion and diversity but the optics of it all tell a very different story.

This is not unusual. Sadly, in our haste to move on, we have failed to have meaningful conversations that confront the micro-aggression and the disguised abuse and violence. We have failed to address why the normative culture in a new South Africa, founded on constitutional principles, is still dominated by the notion that white is right and black is inferior. We have failed to confront the micro-aggressions that question the suitability of women to hold certain roles or the abuse that is meted out to those who are perceived as “different” by that normative culture.

We are told not to be unnecessary. We are encouraged to believe that tradition equates with excellence and that the privileged few, who cling on to their culture and tradition, in our schooling system must go unchallenged. We are encouraged to accept that our universities are under siege by aggressive young South Africans. Of course, we are encouraged to accept a great deal of bullshit each day.

We are forced to fit into a particular mould. Compelled to accept the status quo – we are told to never question – and so forced to embrace the false narratives. Life may be blissful for those privileged folk who benefit from the normative culture. The truth is simple – there is something fundamentally wrong with romanticising colonialism and slavery or appropriating Indian people and their culture. But don’t despair, we are always told that “no offence was ever intended” but we all know that simply means that we never registered in their minds as valuable.

We should be very angry. After all the noise dissipates, the arrogance and ambivalence continue unchallenged. Our communities are reimagined not in the interest of inclusion and respect for our foundational values but rather to maximise and carve out space that honours the normative culture. This idolatry consumes our communities and cities – all to create pretty filters, clean lines, hipster-filled coffices, streets lined with boutiques and the necessary armed security to keep the unwanted out.

The micro-aggression of gentrification is easily forgotten. Easily forgotten across a country that has been ravaged by slavery, colonialism, genocide, displacement, the dompas, forced removals and segregated communities.

It is unbelievable to think that we are so calm about it all. Our communities are being redrafted, not in the interest of inclusion and diversity, but for the sole purpose of creating exclusive spaces for a handful of yuppies and middle-class-types that prefer their coffee pressed and eggs poached. This is the type of parasitic development that has consumed our communities while children go hungry, while mothers fear for their own survival and while the hungry are demonised. Those South Africans on the fringe are not benefiting from the new South Africa but instead their lived experience is carefully policed and managed so that it does not inconvenience anyone. Simply put, that is poppycock.

Not surprising that a property group in Cape Town would recently take out an advert that proudly announces a growing tendency of ambivalence and arrogance:

We are Saturdays at the Old Biscuit Mill.
We are the pulse of Lower Main Road.
We are the street art off Gympie Street.
We are craft beers at Woodstock Breweries
We are a piece of this City’s history.

It must be grand to live in this alternative reality. In this reality, poverty is policed and contained out of sight from Saturdays at the Old Biscuit Bill or from the folks who enjoy their craft beers. Poverty is silenced and contained while people enjoy their fancy dinners on Bree Street. After all, there is nothing wrong with detaining a homeless woman, for no plausible reason, in the back of a vehicle for more than five hours while she pleads to be released so that she can relieve herself.

Our national identity is never to be discussed frankly. No, the real issues are never to be discussed. The real issues are to be avoided. After all, real conversation would create unnecessary awkwardness. It would raise unnecessary questions. We must direct our anger inwardly if we are ever going to confront the callousness, ambivalence, violence and micro-aggression that has been allowed to fester. DM


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