We must confront racism head on if we are to succeed in eliminating it, writes MEOKGO MATUBA
One enduring puzzle for me is how the ANC, at the height of racial oppression of the 60s and 70s, Sharpeville, pass laws brutality, the police killings, mass imprisonments, how the organisation maintained its unwavering belief in South Africa where black and white can live together in conditions of peace and prosperity.
There is absolutely nothing that I can point out; no thousands of white South Africans marching against the oppression in the country, nothing in the 60 years before that I can find that would justify this unwavering belief in non-racialism. It seems to have been a hopeless vision of leaders who could only have been guided by a certain measure of divine providence, dreamers who looked into the future and claimed it in the midst of chaos and decay.
The ANC believed in non-racialism when there were no signs pointing to even the slightest possibility of that reality manifesting in the country. The only inspiration that one can point to, as the reason of this enduring belief in non-racialism is that such belief comes naturally to the majority of South Africans, despite the hand we were all dealt by our misguided forefathers.
Still, the prevailing reality of the day meant that holding on to such hopeless beliefs would have a high price for ANC, with breakaways and challenges from a few black leaders and their followers of the day who were growing impatient with the organisation that seemed to hold on to a world that could never exist.
It is the ability of this unbreakable conviction that ultimately delivered the dream that we now call a ‘rainbow nation’, whatever its imperfections.
We must, therefore, state it without fear of any challenges that may be, that there is no populist, whether far-left or far right that can collapse this conviction and what it has accomplished. There is no agitation about the economy, land, wealth that can make black people abandon non-racialism.
There are no new slogans, radical or otherwise, there is no reality of black people today, whether its youth unemployment, poverty, that can be used to make black people abandon non-racialism. There are certainly no racist incidences, brutal or subtle, random or institutional, which will make our people abandon non-racialism. Non-racialism is written in our people’s hearts and it is going to outlast all ignorance, it is going to outlive all prejudice and whatever rascals may emerge, seeking to undermine the journey we have travelled, they will not succeed.
There are however certain things we must consistently confront if we are to truly cross over to the other side.
The institutional racism and false sense of racial and cultural superiority on the part of some white South Africans, expressed in their previous exclusive schools, institutions of higher learning, corporate South Africa and just about every other sphere of life has to be challenged constantly, with greater vigour and determination with each year of our hard-earned democracy.
What as black South Africans we reject, and we reject vehemently, is the expectation that for a peaceful South Africa to be maintained, the requirement is that black people must maintain a certain quiescence and silence about past and present injustices. That is not how this democratic project is going to be maintained. The idea that the biggest requirement for our democratic project to work is for black people not to offend white people who still hold much of the keys to the economy, institutions of higher learning, private schools and that we might cause capital flight if we upset them too much.
When black people point out that Maritzburg College is being racist; It does not help anyone to go over the edge denying this. The measure of racism is the person who is offended because you cannot dismiss someone’s reality because you don’t agree with it. There is no reason for anyone to be offensive and stupid when there is an option to be quiet.
Equally, it helps a great deal to accept that racial attitudes are no longer held as crudely and as widely as they once were. We cannot deny the progress that has happened among black people which signals the openness of mainstream society that was effectively closed to them only 23 years ago.
For example, the UCT Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing found that the country’s black middle class had more than doubled, from 1.7-million in 2004 to 4.2-million in 2012. In 2016 Black middle class was up to 5.81 million, according to University of Cape Town marketing professor, John Simpson and exceeds the white middle class which is at 3.5 million.
Now it is also true that percentage wise, black people still make a very small portion of corporate South Africa. We barely have 5 CEOs in the top 40 RSA firms; our numbers at senior management and company boards are still minuscule. There is no doubt that in 2017 black South Africans and progressive white South Africans are justified to be angry that we can’t still be pointing the obvious to one another given how far we have come.
The solution, therefore, seems to be that if we are to overcome the last vestiges of racism, which has been rearing its ugly head rather frequently of late, we are forced to confront our own racial thinking. We are forced to subject our own perceptions and perspectives to a racial test of inherent biases and prejudices that we may not easily be aware of.
According to Ibram X. Kendi, author of ‘Stamped from the Beginning…’, this year’s winner of the US National Book Award for Non-Fiction, ‘The common factor across these centuries of racist ideas is that they place part of the blame for racism on the supposed inferiority of blacks. As biological racism is largely regarded as unacceptable and unscientific today, it is black people’s culture that is denounced as inferior and used to justify everything from the mass imprisonments of young black men to extrajudicial executions on the streets and even on playgrounds’.
This speaks to this idea that there is a certain transformation that black people must go through in order to be acceptable in the eyes of white people. Some black people have exhausted themselves trying to meet these white standards only to realise this one great truth; they are still black. There is absolutely nothing wrong with black people and anyone who uses the white mirror of assimilation to check us, must be rejected and condemned. He is the real enemy of the people.
Black people do not deserve any insults, arrogance, prejudice and judgment from the very people who created the problem of the colour-line. What we need is to confront the problem honestly, genuinely and overcome it.
When black people say you are being racist, believe me, you are.
Matuba is Secretary-General of the ANC Women’s League