By Sipho Singiswa
Almost 19 years after the 1994 election, institutionalised racism against indigenous African people has remained intact and largely unchallenged. The majority of Africans still live in poverty with very little access to land, housing, basic quality education, clean water and decent primary healthcare. All this is in violation of the much-praised South African Constitution.
In contrast to the false perception of a smooth transition from apartheid rule to the so-called democratic South Africa, historically-based social inequalities and injustices are still deeply entrenched. These social inequities mirror both the colonial and apartheid era and are fuelled by corrupt corporate giants and officials who regularly defraud the state out of trillions of rands in income.
The poverty that is engulfing indigenous African people is a deliberate and recycled pattern — a tool used by white corporate giants to advance business and political agendas of a white racist economy. The victim remains the marginalised black South African.
The white racist and neo-liberal apologists of this institutionalised racism and its economic subjugation of the other, will always try to wrestle the discussion away from any deep meaningful engagement. This is clearly seen in the way the merits of Gillian Schutte’s concerns, raised in her letter Dear White People, are massacred either by denial or a furious attack on her confrontation with the core subject of whiteness and privilege in South Africa.
Instead of interrogating the validity of the social issues raised by Schutte, the bigots chose to defend atrocious white behaviour and attitudes towards indigenous Africans while creating distractions that deviate from engaging with the core issues.
This they do by innuendos and threats, and by questioning Schutte’s legitimacy to speak her truth; to recognise whiteness, to openly point out and criticise such inhumane patterns that violate human rights and dignity.
But this is nothing new when it comes to whiteness responding to its own pathology. What we also witnessed was that they were not alone in questioning Schutte’s legitimacy; by their sides, a collective of co-opted black South Africans — including so-called “born-free” blacks — made similar accusations.
By association they then get pulled into this apartheid-styled tactic that racists use to prevent people from engaging in a genuine social dialogue that can help South Africa address the power dynamics of racism and social inequalities.
Indignant whining about the content of the letter and its implications served to circumvent any meaningful debate around entrenched white supremacy and its impact on the black collective.
Is it not true that the highest individual and collective earners in the South African economy are still the minority white males? Is it not true that those who still have access to prime land, the best medical care, schools, housing, sports and recreational facilities remain largely white … followed by the minority black elite?
Why is it when the habitual racist stereotyping of indigenous Africans occurs, this group of black people don’t protest about the lack of human rights and dignity for their fellow black South African? Yet, we often witness their eagerness to defend white attitudes whose negative impact on social cohesion they appear to be oblivious to.
Perhaps these are the “good blacks” people once referred to as the “clever blacks”. We have regularly seen the keenness of this group to emulate racist white behavioural patterns at the expense of their own cultural history and identity.
This group of black people have become the dogmatic and regular critics of their own blackness and being.
But even more worrying in post-1990 South Africa is the upsurge of confused young black South Africans looking for meaning in an increasingly hollow and horrifying landscape of joblessness and poverty.
Preying on this group are self-styled revolutionary plagiarists who — in their enthusiasm to create self-serving public profiles — often attack other activists with vindictiveness, as witnessed in Andile Mngxitama and Athi-Nangamso Esther Nkopo’s attack of Schutte’s letter.
His display of misogyny and patriarchal gatekeeping coupled with power hunger is as bad as the sickness of whiteness, and this is what Mngxitama fails to recognise in himself.
It is unfortunate that these revolutionary plagiarists masquerade as Steve Biko reincarnations while not having imbibed a jot of Biko’s intelligence or love of the collective. These “reborns” go around distorting the interpretation of Black Consciousness and taint the good memory of Steve Biko and Malcolm X.
By quoting these great revolutionary thinkers in vain and for their own gains they are only succeeding in entrenching the political confusion and cultural wilderness of the black South African youth from which they then feed off.
The myopic attitude and views of these “Biko wannabe’s” mirror those of their white racist counterparts who go out of their way to circumvent any meaningful dialogue around race. In the end they can only pat themselves on the back for serving the white cause by stunting the South African youth’s intellectual ability to manoeuvre, negotiate and force meaningful change in an anti-black socio-political landscape.
This group of people frequently contradict themselves by weighing black people down with their regurgitated rhetoric and tedious volumes of references from the books of authors whose insight and application they fail to fully grasp.
They want to make us believe indiscriminately that all people of European descent are inherently racist; incapable of reform, humanity, distinguishing between right and wrong and devoid of all compassion. Yet they quote European intellectuals, such as Žižek, to make this point. The contradiction is startling.
Just like their racist counterparts as well as white neo-liberal academics and intellectuals, these self-appointed gate keepers of African intelligentsia think that indigenous African people are stupid and incapable of independent intelligent thought processing.
What we need are mature and experienced revolutionaries to begin meaningful and empowering political education of the youth.
The time for authentic umrabulo is now!
Sipho Singiswa, a veteran of the liberation struggle, is an ex-MK underground operative and Robben Island prisoner. He now works as a social justice activist and filmmaker and is chair of the Black Filmmakers Network.