DA leader, Mmusi Maimane delivered a speech against racism a few days ago which received extensive media coverage in both the print and electronic media. I don’t want to impugn his motives; I propose to address the issues he raised to see if his party’s views or his views on racism are realistic and honest.
He began his speech with the following words:
“I stand before you as a child of Soweto, a proudly Black South African, a son of the African soil. I stand proud to live in a country that is no longer the skunk of the world, proud that out of the ashes of apartheid a new nation could rise. I am a product of the Group Areas Act, the Population Registration Act and the 1913 Land Act. I was born four years after the Soweto Uprising, but the struggle that began at Morris Isaacson High School was my struggle. And the desire to break down the last vestiges of Bantu Education still burns within me”
To begin with, ‘Black Pride’ in this country was popularised by the South African Student Organisation (SASO) and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) in the late 60’s and early 70’s led by martyrs such as Bantu Steven Biko and Onkgopotse Tiro and many others who are still alive. But nowhere in his speech does Maimane mention Biko and Tiro and/or SASO and BCM. The phrase ‘son of the soil in this country was popularised by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania’s founding President, Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, PAC founding member and its second President, Zeph Mothopeng and many other Africanist leaders. But nowhere in his speech does Maimane mention Sobukwe, Mothopeng and the PAC.
The Soweto Uprising were a direct result of the influence of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and PAC. After his expulsion from the University of the North following his speech titled “the Turfloop Manifesto” delivered in 1972, in which he (Tiro) criticised Bantu Education and the Apartheid government, Tiro went to teach at Morris Isaacson where Tsietsi Mashinini, one of those who led the Soweto Uprising, was a student. Mashinini was one of those students who were influenced by Tiro and the BCM. But Mashinini’s name is also not in Maimane’s speech. At the time of the Soweto Uprising, the Principal of Morris Isaacson was Mr. Lekgau Mathabathe, a PAC underground operative. His name is also not in Maimane’s speech.
As for Maimane’s claim that he desires and still burning “….to break down the last vestiges of Bantu Education….”, it is important to recall that when the apartheid government introduced Bantu Education in 1951/52, Mothopeng, who was Vice Principal at Orlando High, opposed the move and lost his job. Others who lost their teaching posts were Eskia Mphahlele and Peter Matlare. There is no leader during the time of the introduction of Bantu Education who was as fiercely opposed to the introduction of Bantu Education as Mothopeng. But his struggle and opposition to Bantu Education to the extent of losing his job didn’t ring a bell in Maimane’s mind. Mothopeng was also the President of the Transvaal African Teacher’s Association. He traveled the length and breadth of this country agitating against Bantu Education.
In 1978, after a lengthy and secretive Bethal trial, Mothopeng was sentenced to thirty years on Robben Island for having predicted and led the 1976 Soweto Uprising. In the aftermath of the PAC’s 1960 anti-pass campaign – which Maimane conveniently left out of his speech – Mothopeng, was sentenced to imprisonment, including Robben Island.
On non-racialism, anybody worth his salt won’t talk about this concept without invoking the name of PAC founding President, Sobukwe. He introduced that term in the English lexicon. When he first spoke of non-racialism, the likes of Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu said there was no such a word in English.
Without having gone very far with his speech, Maimane mentioned, “this humble man, incarcerated for 27 years for fighting against racial domination, was the embodiment of forgiveness and reconciliation. He urged us to look beyond our differences and find our common humanity. And so we did”. First of all, Mandela was not incarcerated for 27 years. Maimane should first get his facts right. He spent only 18 years on Robben Island and spent the rest at a house of a former prison warder with television, fax and a phone. If Mandela fought against racial domination why is Maimane still talking about Blacks being victims of racism 21 years after democracy?
The person who fought against racial domination and correctly spelt it out as white supremacy was Sobukwe. The antidote is non-racialism or anti-racism as others prefer to call it. Sobukwe is the one who spoke about our common humanity in his 1959 inaugural address when he spoke about one race, the human race, not Mandela. Sobukwe spoke about the myth of racial superiority because he said no race is superior to any other and no race is inferior to any other. Last year I criticised Maimane in various newspapers for overlooking Sobukwe when talking about non-racialism and always harking on Mandela. The following day he mentioned Sobukwe in a SAfm radio interview and he never mentioned him again. It seems as if he is given orders on who to mention and who not to mention.
Maimane continued to say, “they said the scars inflicted by centuries of colonial rule and half a century of apartheid laws were just too deep. They said forgiveness and reconciliation were impossible. And then came a leader who taught us that our scars would not be healed by more hatred, but only by love and understanding”.
Mandela has misled youngsters and old people alike. Mandela didn’t understand the extent and magnitude of the damage colonialism and racism caused, which is why South Africa is where it is today. Colonialism and apartheid or institutionalised racism can’t be resolved by love and understanding. Maimane further said, “Part of the problem is that we – as black South Africans – are still made to feel inferior because of the colour of our skin. And this inferiority complex runs deep”. The inferiority that blacks are made to feel does not antedate colonisation. Prior to colonisation Africans (blacks), were not made to feel inferior. Scholars who understood colonialism and racism better than Mandela observed that direct colonial rule may have disappeared; but colonialism, in its many disguises as cultural, economic, political and knowledge based oppression, lives on. The psychic structure of colonial relation, the colonial identity settler colonialists and colonialists gave to the indigenous population, cultural alienation, white suburbs and indigenous people’s shacks lives on.
The police still treat Africans the same way the apartheid police treated them. The Marikana massacre is one example and the public broadcaster is refusing to flight the documentary that captures the Marikana massacre the way it unfolded. There is no single white person who has been shot and killed or beaten to death by police officers the way Andries Tatane was killed.
In his 1952 book, Black Skin, White Masks Frantz Fanon writes that, “A given society is racist or it is not”. He disagreed that the contempt of the poor whites of South Africa, for Africans, has got nothing to do with economic factors. Fanon said the displacement of the white proletariat’s aggression on to the black proletariat is fundamentally a result of the economic structure of South Africa. He said economic exclusion results from, among other things, the fear of competition and the desire both to protect the poor-white class that forms half the European population and to prevent it from sinking any lower. At the present moment, it is the preservation of white privilege.
Colonial exploitation is the same as other forms of exploitation, and colonial racism is not different from other kinds of racialism. All forms of exploitation resemble one another. They all seek the source of their necessity in some edict of a Biblical nature. All forms of exploitation are identical because all of them are applied against the same “object”: man. European civilisation and its best representatives are responsible for colonial racism.
Maimane, Mandela and Malema won’t criticise Europe because to them Europe represents the Tabernacle (After his recent trip to Britain where he addressed a Cecil John Rhodes created institute, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Malema said the people there were more civilized).
Fanon said South Africa has a racist structure. In South Africa, there were (at the time) two million whites against almost thirteen million native people, and it has never occurred to a single black to consider himself superior to a member of the white minority (The latest census shows that there are a little over 50 million people out of whom about 4 million are white).
Maimane said, “We must continue to embrace the rich diversity of South Africa – with all its challenges and contradictions. If we do not, we will not be able to have an honest conversation about our divided past, nor will we be in apposition to craft our shared future”.
Let me revert to Fanon again. He writes that the seeds of inferiority of the non-West are already laid in the first chapter of history that the others have compiled for me, the foundation of cannibalism has been made eminently plain in order that I may not lose sight of it, but western history not only writes cannibalism in the very chromosomes of the non-West, it also writes off the history of the non-West. History, both History of the West and History as perceived by the West, is transformed into a mighty river into which all Other histories flow and merge as mere minor and irrelevant tributaries. White or European history claims that when white settlers arrived in the interior of the country there were no people. By people they meant white or Europeans. Will Maimane agree with that falsification of this country’s history as well as non-recognition of Africans?
Finally, Maimane said racists are not welcome in the Democratic Alliance and that he is going to introduce an anti-racism pledge that every new and returning member will be required to sign when they join his party. If Maimane was honest he would, as suggested by Fanon, propose to prove the impossibility of explaining man outside the limits of his capacity for accepting or denying a given situation. Thus the problem of colonialism includes not only the interrelations of objective historical conditions but also human attitudes toward these conditions. That pledge will never rid Maimane’s organisation of racists.
By Sam Ditshego
The writer is a fellow at the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI).