Why The ANC Isn’t Going To Lose Sleep (Or Votes) Over This

As a blogger, I know when I cannot do a topic justice and what’s been happening in South Africa probably defies any skill I may have with words. Still, we ought to talk.

A lot of Facebook commenters have proposed very “reasonable” alternatives to student protesting. Many have pointed out that when they were in varsity, they worked hard to pay for tuition and in some cases are still working to pay off student debt.

And of course, they’ve said that all it would take to resolve all of this is for the black voting majority to vote for a party better than the ANC. I share that sentiment because if we had a better ruling party, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Which leads me to my next question: wouldn’t it be great if black South Africans had the choice of a party better than the ANC?

On many fronts, the ANC’s track record of uplifting black people’s lives sucks, hard. But depending on what you’re looking for as a voter, it could very well be the best party there is. So you vote ANC because as selfish and cowardly as many of its once-courageous leaders have become, they share something with black people that members of, say, the DA, have been tone-deaf to.

[And the fact that someone once worked three jobs to pay for his tuition doesn’t take away the possibility that his tuition fees could have been that high because of corporate greed or factors that he’d been sheltered from and neglected to question and stand up against. That some people assent to slavery doesn’t make slavery right; on the contrary, it causes me to question the value of the education they received — but that’s a whole different show.]

The ANC understands what these students are doing and why they’re doing it better than anyone else does. Struggle stalwarts know what it’s like to be misunderstood and have nothing to resort to other than spectacular disruption. Everyone who proposes a “reasonable” alternative to disruption was not in the room when every other option was taken away: therefore, voting for another party is not one of those alternatives. The people voting or advocating for those parties have no idea what they’re talking about. They weren’t in the room.

Most white people don’t know this room exists, by the way. Or if they know about it, their knowledge is academic, just as a straight person’s knowledge of homophobia can only be academic or second-hand. And that’s not enough. Privileged and nonprivileged can only see each other as human when they swap experiences, and that takes every fiber of our humanity. Everyone wants to be heard from the heart, and part of hearing is participating. In a piece she titled, Dipping In And Out, Tracey Lomax observed that

“Firstly, there was the CEO sleep-out, an event where wealthy businessmen slept out, one night, in sponsored sleeping bags, safe environments, with access to hot soup and manly companionship, in order to draw attention to the plight of the homeless. Millions of rands were collected, and many corporations drew tremendous positive publicity from the event. What struck me, however, was that it took the wealthy, largely white, largely male voices to drive this movement. Why was this? Why is the subject of poverty, of homelessness, unworthy of attention when it is spoken in voices whose accents are less Sandton, less private school? Less white.

Secondly, there was Jack Bloom’s book, 30 Days in a shack, which is also lauded as having exposed the dire consequences of poverty in South Africa. Because we couldn’t possibly have known about it, unless a white man told us.

White people have the privilege to be able to dip in and out of the reality of life for the majority of our country’s poor. We have the privilege to escape from the consequences of the society which, let’s face it, our forefathers created, with years of colonialism, followed by Apartheid. We have the privilege of either leaving, or of blocking it from our reality and refusing to see it, unless one of our own, like the aforesaid CEOs and Bloom, speak about it, and then we can make ourselves feel better by retweeting it, tut-tutting about it at book club, and donating part of the housekeeping to it.

We still define the narrative. We still determine the manner in which it will be spoken, and whether it will be regarded as serious, or as not worthy of attention. We need to address that, we need to ensure that our voices don’t drown out the voices of those who are directly affected by this, because, surely, their voices should be heard first?”

Lomax then points out the irony of using her voice as a white person to shout out about white people not using their voices to drown out other voices, but for me the fundamental point is that she gets it. Whether she’s been in the room or not, she’s listened and observed long enough and hard enough to gather that it’s very real.

Another reason many white people don’t know about the room is that they know it shouldn’t exist, and so assume that no evil in the world could have brought it into existence. That’s where they’re wrong. The NP sustained itself on the two pillars of white votes and black subjugation, so they should know. While many did make it their moral duty to find out and confront it, white people never had to know about that room.

The voices of a party is its constituency on the ground, and right now the DA as opposition party is being spoken for not by its leaders and spokesperson (and even if they are speaking, the only people listening to them are, well, people who’d listen to them! That’s their voters) but by people who vote for the DA. DA voters are the voice of the DA to everyone who doesn’t vote DA, and when the DA itself tries to speak to non-DA voters, it comes across as protecting the apartheid-borne interests and privileges of DA voters who’ve spoken for it on the ground already. The DA cannot help being perceived as avoiding the gut of the issue pointed out by black people. Black voters cannot distinguish between the racism of DA voters and the speeches of the DA; add to this that the speeches are prepared with a political end in sight and are “tone deaf,” and you’ll how it says something of black people’s profound interpersonal instinct that they’ve called bullshit. I learned this when the DA called Kohler-Barnard in for a disciplinary for her Facebook share but made Maimane party leader after his gay referendum gaffe.

So regardless of what the DA says, its voters are saying really patronizing things about the students and their protests. They delegitimize and trivialize black people’s struggle for equality, then wonder why black people aren’t convinced that they’d be taken seriously by their DA. So again, the DA is seen as protecting its voters’ right to delegitimize black people’s voices. When the DA says, “We don’t believe in racism and we wouldn’t bring back apartheid” what black people hear is, “We’ll protect and empower our voters’ on-going racism by pretending that apartheid is over when it’s still there in spirit. That way, you won’t have a word to describe and label the oppression as it happens.”

The leaders of the ANC have been in that room. They and their political demand for equality have been disrespected. They’ve stood where those protesting students and many black people have stood. ANC leaders probably know more about my experiences of being the butt of white people’s dehumanizing jokes about race than DA leaders do even if those leaders are black. Way I see it, some of those black DA leaders fit into the DA because they’re black. But they didn’t pull out because their Model-C accents and backgrounds have led to their being more sheltered than most black people. It’s black kids living in white privilege and taking everything the DA says at face value, and on some level it must cut them to the core that they agree so deeply with DA principles but are betrayed by the DA’s tone-deafness towards the exact nature of less privileged black people’s suffering.

That’s why so many black voters keep voting for the ANC. People who have not been in that room, have not had their access to “reasonable” and “proper” spaces, methods and paths systematically closed off — those people have no idea that the room even exists. So they can’t help pathologizing black pain and speaking down to black people. “Now children, if you just focus on your books and study hard…if you just vote for a different party…if you follow the correct channels…this will all go away.” And it would. But it won’t.

The discourse of non-racialism, these “reasonable” alternatives to protesting, have this in common: they arise from unconscious attempts of those who benefited from and were privileged by inequality, to shield their consciences from acknowledging that the systems that served them have in the past been aggressively unjust, violent and evil. The police shooting black students now are not behaving differently from police who shot black protesters in order to protect the white nirvana apartheid South Africa was meant to be. In the unconsciousness of our police force, black people are still vermin to be rid of, and white people are still people to be served and protected. That’s what those white kids were exposing when they formed a circle of protection around black protesters. White privilege is real, and those students were not afraid to face it. Unlike the real DA spokespersons, that is, most white people that non-DA voters come into contact with.

That so many people vote for the ANC is proof of this, for if there existed a party with members better acquainted with these black experiential truths, ANC voters would have most likely voted for that party. Who else is there? Would you like to see EFF in power? Is COPE coping? What has Agang built of itself? There is no one else, and DA voters are so busy telling black ANC voters how stupid they are that black ANC voters are only hearing the same thing they were told during apartheid. They see a vote for the DA as the legitimization of all these voices still going on about how stupid/emotional etc. black “sheeple” are. Those voices are much, much louder and heart-felt than DA rhetoric about nonracism and equality. The DA leaders’ words come off a script. The DA voters’ insults come from the heart. Guess who’s more believable?

The ANC’s best election campaigners are DA voters. The ANC doesn’t have to lift a finger to fix anything in order to win elections. All that has to happen is the majority of DA voters to keep talking to and about black people the way they’re doing, then add insult to injury by saying, “I’m not a racist.”

At the end of the day, what’s going to scatter the ANC’s voter base is white people responding thusly to black people’s pain: “We hear you.”

Then maybe, just maybe, more and more black people will be ready to leave that horrible room.

Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex

Please follow and share @SKhumalo1987

Contact SKhumalo1987@gmail.com


About Dianne Kohler-Barnard, That Facebook Post Share and Why #BlackVotesMatter

The DA’s Federal Legal Commission will decide on Dianne Kohler-Barnard’s future in the Party now that she’s pleaded guilty to misconduct, bringing the Party into disrepute and not abiding by the Party’s social media policy.

In the wake of Helen Zille’s shoot-from-the-hip online stunts, I am surprised to discover that the Party has a social media policy. I must have been living under a rock.

The Facebook post by Paul Kirk shared by Kohler-Barnard concluded with, “Please come back PW Botha — you were far more honest than any of these [African National Congress] rogues, and you provided a far better service to the public.” She later deleted it and said she’d shared it without reading the entire write-up.

It was too late: there was blood in the water. Even Justin Malala wrote a terse, poetic piece on why Mmusi Maimane will have no choice but to “call Kohler Barnard in and make it clear to her that she has to resign. Immediately. She must not wait for a disciplinary hearing.”

Malala’s argument is this: given that Maimane was made party leader so the DA could counter the accusation that it simply brings in black faces to disguise white interests while securing the black vote, he would have no choice but to get rid of Kohler-Barnard in order to prove the mettle of the DA’s anti-apartheid stance. Her exit would not depend on the findings of the Commission but on the DA’s positioning for next year’s elections. Politics trump principles.

I am fascinated by the events that didn’t happen: Kohler-Barnard did not defend herself, nor was that defence followed by a tide of (mostly white people’s) proposing the possibility that what Kirk’s post really meant was that relative to current government’s corrupt approach, PW Botha was simply better at “getting things done,” and keeping “the public” (read, white people) informed and serviced.

In other words, Kirk and Kohler-Barnard merely meant PW Botha’s administration was preferable to the ANC’s apart from how Botha used his skills against black people, in the same way that Hitler would be preferable for leadership to someone with no political acumen or experience apart from how and to what ends he used his political charisma against Jewish people. It’s cold hard math, not warm fuzzy feelings; we shouldn’t take it so personally.

This “explanation” would then have unleashed the wrath of #BlackTwitter. (Post one un-PC thing and this force of nature will flatten you into a hashtag and have you go viral faster than Olivia Pope can fix your reputation). #BlackTwitter would have pointed out that PW Botha could only get things “done” by getting innocent people done in. And indeed, if you’re a member of the race with the greater number of legal cards stacked on your side and free reign to get things done by doing as you please with another race that exists to serve the needs of your administration and your race, your effectiveness isn’t proof that you’re good at your job; it’s that the toughest rule of governance has been removed from the game, namely, the rule that we don’t get things done by killing and exploiting innocent people. Remove that rule, and you don’t have to be truly brilliant to be effective. Saying someone who’s done that is “smart” is like saying someone who’s won a race by tripping and sabotaging everyone else has become very fast by training very hard; it’s celebrating the narrative of white accomplishment by ignoring the footnote of black pain.

#BlackTwitter‘s point on this matter should go without saying. Because if it doesn’t, then why hasn’t anyone described Moral Mugabe as an excellent politician apart from an evaluation of how and to what ends he’s used his political skill? Someone may answer this hasn’t been done because he’s plunged countless black people into poverty. Well, then, why are many of those black people agreeing that he’s brilliant despite their poverty? The real reason he hasn’t been lauded the same way Hitler is often praised for his leadership skills, is that he struck against white farmers, businessmen and Britain. You cannot be paid the compliment that you’re brilliant if you’ve done something against systemic whiteness. If you achieve greatness at the expense of blacks, Jews and homosexuals, it’s okay for someone to acknowledge your brilliance as long as they specify that they’re doing so apart from an assessment on how you used it against those blacks, Jews and homosexuals; there, the human element of your victims may be separated from the assessment of your genius. Achieve greatness at the expense of Dutch and English businessmen, farmers and colonialists, however, and you have affronted everything that is civilization, that is human, virtuous and good, and cursed be he who assesses or compliments your brilliance apart from an evaluation of how you achieved it at the expense of white lives and systems. Now that you’ve struck closer to white stomachs, the dominant discourse will vilify you until even otherwise objective and impartial white people are blinded from the systemic privilege built up by the dominance of the dominant white voices and media. Fill those stomachs, however (even if it’s at the cost of other races’ lives), and people will be more inclined to assess your “technical brilliance” apart from the cost to human lives. It all depends on which way the bottle points, really.

Still, hadn’t Kohler-Barnard apologized, these defenders would have gone on to make  withering remarks about the intellectual shallowness and hypersensitivity of black people who’re “still stuck in the past” and cannot think “objectively” enough about Kirk’s “impartial” and “factual” comparison of Botha’s presidency and effectiveness to Zuma’s administration. These explainers would have also insinuated how you can’t expect more from Bantu Education graduates — assuming “these people” even got that far — and would have then pointed out how some of their own acquaintances/gardeners/maids/born-free kids’ friends agree with Kirk and Kohler-Barnard’s assessment of the respective administrations, and wish some elements of apartheid could be brought back.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Kohler-Barnard pre-empted the possibility of this to-and-fro by immediately embracing the criticism. Not even Allister Sparks was that “smart” so I do believe she was just careless on social media — something many in the DA (and many of us mere mortals) fall into all the time — which makes me wonder what exactly the DA’s social media policy says. Why the sudden clean-up? Is it that Kohler-Barnard accidentally stepped onto the landmine of Maimane’s political branding and the majority voters’ hot-button issue of that feared return to apartheid under DA rule?

Recall that in the run-up to the party leadership elections earlier this year, Mmusi Maimane said (in a televised debate) that he’d support a referendum over gay rights. There was something of a furore on social media. But there were also people who didn’t get what issues a referendum on gay rights would pose given that we’re in a democracy and “the majority rules” so straight majorities should be able to decide individual gay people’s rights without contemplating what the reverse would feel like. And if you’re “normal” as is defined by everyone you were lucky enough to be born looking and feeling like, you don’t have to think such a possibility through.

For pastoral and political reasons, Maimane could not retract his statement (or video sermons where he likens homosexuality to an illness), and luckily for him there wasn’t enough pressure for it to come to that. But there was just enough pressure that he had to dilute what he’d said, putting it to a slow death by a thousand qualifications. So he defended. He explained. He practically denied. He expressed indignation that “some people” were “twisting” what he’d said, without explaining how they’d twisted anything apart from making logical inferences in it. He shadow-boxed the whole thing to oblivion and won not just that battle but opposition party leadership. I was ready to fall at Gareth van Onselen’s feet and worship him as a prophet.

Maimane subsequently posted pictures of himself with gay friends, witnessing their unions and so forth. The reason I wouldn’t give those the weight of a full retraction is that they were not retractions and their context was muted. If I say something negative about coloured people, do I fix it by taking a selfie with coloured friends? Do I say, “Some of my best friends are coloured people”? No. I either apologize or I don’t. The thing either is or it isn’t. Maimane didn’t, and most of us were too blinded by the bright, blue light of his inauguration to care.

If a politician said he’d be open to a referendum on, say, Indian people’s rights, several things would happen:   The Indian segment of our population (being about 2.5% of us) would be split 90%-10%, 9/10 of Indian standing against the referendum, and 10% of them (including intelligent, well-known people) being “open-minded” enough to “allow space” for “intelligent discussion” on it so that our “democracy would be strengthened.”   The rest of the population would probably be split as follows:   About 5% would reject the call for such a referendum and report whoever made it to the Human Rights Commission. They’d petition their employees to fire them and boycott their products and services.   5% would quietly agree it’s inhumane and disgusting. And 10% (a sampling from each of the other races) would say, “About damned time!” Remember when Mbongeni Ngema made “Amandiya“? People came up with a thousand “reasons” Ngema was right then, and they’d come up with ten thousand as to why the constitutional rights of Indian persons should be subjected to popular opinion now.   More tragically, about 40% would think, “Well, it’s not about us so there’s no need to panic; we’re not exactly sure why anyone is picking on the Indians in particular but they must have done something terrible to deserve being picked on, otherwise why would so many people, many of them darlings of the government too, agree to such drastic measures?” And they would slowly accept the hateful rhetoric spouted by the hateful 5% as gospel truth. Because, rather than believe we’re swimming in a sea of evil that could turn against any of us for reasons and lies beyond our control for its own populist ends, we’d rather believe the evil’s report on the hunted minority instead of calling it out as evil.   Now, substitute “German population” for this impressionable 40%, “Jews” for “Indians” and “Nazi Regime” for “South Africa,” and you’ll realize why history repeats itself: so long as it’s happening “over there” to “them,” and my children and I are safe; there is no need to speak up for “them” over there. Especially since the accusations against them seem to be true the more you listen to them. Account for the remaining 37.5% as you see fit.   

Now, if we spin this bottle we’ll find that whenever a statement is made in which a minority could be threatened by a majority or a hegemony, the outrage is quantitatively smaller; in turn, the backlash against the person who originated the statement is less severe. That’s why Maimane ultimately wasn’t pushed to apologize for saying he would support a referendum on gay rights.   

On the other hand, whenever a statement is made in which a majority could be threatened by a minority or a hegemony, the outrage is so spectacular that immediate punishment is expected to be shown against the person who made the statement. Depending on which way the top end as opposed to the bottom end of that spinning bottle points at the polarized, conquered and divided groups, you can expect a different chemistry in the interaction between those who have been given the power of actor and those who are acted-upon; between those who have the power to decide the rights of “the other” and the other whose rights are decided. Maimane knowingly said he’d be open to a referendum on gay rights, didn’t apologize or retract, defended himself to the nth degree, and was made DA party leader. Kohler-Barnard accidentally called for a referendum on black rights, unreservedly apologized, didn’t defend herself, and was frogmarched to a disciplinary. Why? Because of the way the bottle span, which side the flat, big side ended versus the open, small and pointed top pointed, on that statistical pie chart, with her as a minority threatening the voting majority and, by extension, the DA’s likelihood of getting its votes.

We’re just kids playing social and political spin-the-bottle. But the rules change with every spin and no one is really keeping score.

Do the “disciplinary proceedings” get carried out just to lend substance to the DA’s rhetoric, then? Are they, like the Oscar Pistorius trial or the race before Maimane’s landslide victory as Opposition Party Leader, a formality given to reassure all of us that there is some rhyme or reason to how things happen “up there”?

Do they just happen to convince us that the Powers-That-Be don’t only react (rather inconsistently) to events only because #BlackVotesMatter but because those events truly call for those responses?

I guess we’ll have to wait for the outcome to find out. Way I see it, the DA is damned if it makes her resign and damned if it doesn’t.

Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex

Please follow and share @SKhumalo1987

Contact SKhumalo1987@gmail.com

His Name Is Cayden

Sydney Jace took her son Cayden with her to work. Her colleague Geris Hilton (also known as Gerod Roth) took a selfie with her son in the background and made it his Facebook profile picture. Roth and his (white) Facebook friends then made racist jokes about Sydney Jace’s (black) son.

The words “racism” “white supremacy” and “privilege” have gotten tired in online discourse. Because of their perspectives, powerful and vulnerable people are sensitive about and find humor in different things. If I had a white kid wearing a Yamaka in the background of my picture and made jokes about gas chambers, I am sure I would receive a long, harsh lesson on sensitivity. Make it a black kid, and the offense would probably not be as vivid to (some) white minds because where media has made white experience “default,” “normal, “universal” and “human,” black experience awkwardly tries to elevate itself to a similar status by repeatedly reminding everyone that black lives matter. I imagine grasping black people’s experience of reality (and the moral imperative to do so) does not come easily to all white people. But I can only imagine.

I was once struck by something said by a black female commenter speaking from a live TV show audience. Among the topics they were discussing anti-Semitism. She corrected the panelists’ popular description of Hitler’s extermination pogrom by adding two words to it: “The Holocaust was simply the biggest atrocity on film.” She then pointedly added, “Ours was not filmed.”

This really speaks to a broader, more global context so it sweeps over a lot of nuances. But I have noticed this:

Genocide perpetrated on white bodies on ethnic grounds: evil.

Same thing happens to black bodies: it’s a mistake.  It’s called genocide only if it’s perpetrated by the dictator of an African country only known for what has gone wrong with it since it gained independence, in which case consciences can release a secret sigh of relief.  At least it wasn’t us this time.

Anti-Semitism happens to human beings so it’s insensitive and we must never forget.

Racism against black people happens to a previously disadvantaged focus group so it’s un-PC, tasteless and embarrassing; everyone wants to forget.

The approach to the first crime against humanity is humanizing and humanized; the approach to the second is clinical, political, token and perfunctory.

What I find disturbing is how that segment of society that is statistically most likely to subscribe to fearful stereotypes about black men, is also the demographic represented here as turning a black boy into the butt of a joke. So which is it? One cannot expect a ghetto of fully realized black men who contribute meaningfully to society and dehumanize, fetishize or trivialize black boys at the same time.  It’s got to be one or the other.

The tragedy of racism is that many of us may never become truly human to one another. The greater tragedy is that many people go through their whole lives never seeing that they’re incomplete without the fullness of the human race in their hearts and minds.

In the end, Cayden’s Mom posted pictures of her son as she knows and loves him, and reminded her friends, family and supporters that that’s how she wants her son seen and experienced: as the lovely and lovable (but, I would add, very, very impressionable) child that he is. That way, by the time society’s snickers and voices make sense to him and he comprehends the incomprehensible, he will know better than to believe people’s stereotypes about him and his potential.


Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex

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