The African National Congress wants to reach out to coloured, Indian and white people to help re-elect the party in next year’s general election. This looks like an opportunistic and expedient effort, possibly a desperate move, by a political movement that has been losing the trust of society quite steadily, and that has led the country to the edge of ruin.
What is clear is that the ANC needs as many votes as possible to hold on to power, that they are reaching out to communities that have by and large been ignored by it for most of the past 20 years or so.
With respect to being ignored, it is especially true of the coloured community which has been considered a nuisance and generally neglected since the start of democracy, at least at the level of perception.
This issue of neglect has been raised frequently for more than a decade. A former Cape Town dockworker, identified as “Lofty”, told The Guardian in 2013, that “apartheid was worse for blacks… But after everything we coloureds did to help [Mandela’s party] the ANC, they only care about their own people. I spent time in prison for the Struggle, and I can’t see anything is better for us coloureds today.”
A decade later, when earlier this year violence and social breakdown wreaked havoc in Westbury township in Gauteng (as it has increasingly over the past three or four years), residents complained that the ANC-led government wanted to “get rid of” the coloured population.
The coloured community has not suggested that they were somehow exceptional, or that they needed special attention; their fears (real or imaginary) are simply about being neglected, ignored and that they fear being got rid of. When any group identifies ways in which it is being persecuted it is not a call for special treatment, but for justice.
What members of the coloured community are saying is that they have been neglected and that their concerns have been ignored, as “Lofty” told The Guardian in 2013, and what residents of Westbury said in March this year.
Naturally, the ANC, and the nomenklatura (that odious method of selecting, training and deploying cadres which the ruling party adopted from the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union) would dismiss this. Busani Ngcaweni, Principal of the National School of Government, in particular, has played down the beliefs and perceptions of the coloured community.
In other words, there is no problem unless the party says there is a problem. This has distinct echoes with Leon Trotsky’s observation in 1936 that: “Cadres decide everything” [which] characterises the nature of Soviet society far more frankly than Stalin himself would wish.”
The president of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, was more honest and admitted last week that the movement had neglected non-racialism (something we wrote about more than three years ago) and that he wanted the movement “to embrace everyone and lift the non-racial character of the ANC. It needs to be seen by all and sundry that the ANC is the home for all South Africans, every South African, be they white, Indian or coloured people… they must feel that the ANC is their home”.
Historical othering of coloured people
From the earliest days of colonial settlement in South Africa, when people from the Indian Ocean rim and archipelagos were brought to the Cape against their will as slaves for the convenience of European colonists and they blended into what was subsequently described as the coloured community, there has been systematic othering (of the coloured community) in South African politics, state and society.
There was a time, late in the 19th century when the colonist, Sir Abraham (“Abe”) Bailey, who became stupendously wealthy from South African gold, considered it unnecessary to give the “coloured man” any prominence because it would have a “moral effect… on the whole coloured community”.
Also in the 19th century, the Ghanaian Pan-Africanist, FZS Peregrino, who founded the South African Spectator newspaper, encouraged coloured people to show more pride. The coloured people battled to have a voice, but never considered themselves as exceptional, as pop revolutionaries with their bumper-sticker philosophies would insist.
Apparently, with good intentions, Peregrino blamed the coloured lack of “race pride” on what he described as “disgusting sights” such as drunkenness, hooliganism, prostitution, gambling and dandyism. He never got very far with his encouragement.
The othering of the coloured community would continue deep into the 20th century. In April 1991, the late Winnie Mandela reduced coloured people to products of rape; when white men raped black women…
Winnie Mandela was, of course, resurrected after her death and restored to the pantheon of great Africans, but the children born of rape bear the stigma for life. To be sure, rape (male rape of women) destroys much of what the victim holds dear about herself. This is extended to the child born of rape who quite often acquires a superimposed identity, linked always to that of the rapist, and impedes the development of the child’s personal identity.
Rape then becomes more than a sexual and violent abuse of power and the desire to dominate, but an enduring intergenerational or transgenerational violation that is debilitating for identity formation and senses of belonging.
The late Marike de Klerk described coloured people as leftovers. The ANC-government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi said that coloured people were over-concentrated in the Western Cape. Each step of the way, first the European colonists, then the Afrikaner nationalists and now the African nationalists have held “arbitrary authority” over people who were not quite black and not quite white.
Currently, the coloured community is in the grip of violence which is exacerbated by a general lack of public goods and services, and by perceptions of neglect and dismissal. We should not traduce the impact of these as ideologically driven, as cries for special attention or privilege.
The groups to whom the ANC are reaching out are precisely those who the liberation movement in power has relegated to second- or third-class citizenship using almost exactly the same, terribly pernicious and unjust racial classification system that the apartheid regime used. This unjust system has been sanitised, as it were, and now shapes a sliding scale of justice, freedom and opportunity, all of which are now justified.
While I am not interested in, nor have I ever indulged in or participated in “coloured politics”, I am sure that the coloured community does not seek special treatment, as lazy revolutionaries self-medicating on the elixir of non-racialism would insist.
Faced with soul-destroying crime, violence, political and civic neglect, the defenders of the non-racialism reverie and bumper-sticker revolutionary philosophy refuse to accept the life world of coloured communities, and insist that they are merely seeking (special) attention.
The coloured community “wakingly live” in this lifeworld (described as “everyday practical situational truths”) which is “always already there” and was established, its iniquities reproduced, without their participation and against their will.
The evidence is clear that the coloured community has for most of the period since 1652 been “given” an identity and a history. Put another way, the coloured community constantly attempt to “make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past”, as Karl Marx put it in 1852 in his 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
I have no obligation, no intent nor the desire to tell coloured people which party to vote for; racial politics and political parties that represent identified races are necessarily divisive.
As much as class preferences are better, in the sense that they can address problems of inequality and the withholding of justice, it cannot blind us to recognising that particular groups feel aggrieved.
What can be said, nonetheless, is that South Africa is a minimal democracy in which citizens are called to elect a new government every four or five years, after which the population have little to no say.
A bigger threat, especially to “non-Africans”, is that between the African nationalists and the Economic Freedom Fighters (and all the parasitic formations that cling to them), the coloured community will always be reminded that they are “not Africans” and that “Africa belongs to Africans”.
This is a repeat of the tradition that goes back to 1652 when coloured people were categorised not by what they are, but what they are not; initially they were not white/European, and now they are not black/African. DM