You’re probably sick of discussing the racial aspect of the #ZumaMustMarch marches. Please read on anyway.
When #ZumaMustFall started trending, our top three political parties responded as follows:
The ANC spouted rhetoric about how it’s a listening, engaged party without listening to what people had called for. People hadn’t asked for a change in finance ministers but for a change in president. But this has happened before.
The DA proposed an early sitting for National Assembly to discuss a motion of no confidence in the president. It will be crushed by the ANC’s majority. It will probably be an open ballot. This has happened before.
Many of its members posted social media statuses to the effect that all the issues highlighted in the last few days could best be resolved in court and at the ballot. I’ve speculated that this is because what happens in courtrooms and voting booths is easier to legitimately quantify as clean victories for their party than the alternatives are. They are eliminating their competition. Now, these solutions they proposed haven’t actually worked but that didn’t stop the DA’s members from proposing them. Again.
The DA’s thinking confuses me at this one point. They laud Nelson Mandela and the ANC of the past for disrupting the system during the struggle – presumably because the system was evil – but they can’t stand to see anyone doing that now; at the least, they prefer ineffective approaches that respect the system to effective processes that threaten it. But what’s the difference between purging a system of evil, and dismantling the system away from its evil core? Once you’ve called Nelson Mandela a hero, you’ve tacitly agreed it’s okay to break the law in order to ensure a future where the law actually serves justice. The fragility and meaningfulness of establishments and systems is a terrible excuse for fiddling while Rome burns. Far from protecting it, their hesitancy on civil disobedience is going to prove as damaging to their brand as their ambivalence on BEE was. And what do the DA’s members’ professed struggle credentials mean, if anything, if they cannot recognise a moment that calls for a bald-faced encore of the same?
Only Lindiwe Mazibuko pointed out the obvious: #OccupyParliament. I didn’t like that she proposed that it be the “the youth” that does it, otherwise her solution is a perfectly illegal, peaceful and relatively risky way of pushing the desired result through. And, it’s the one most likely to work.
The catch is, we’d have to take an indefinitely long time during working weekdays to disrupt the system – and possibly run into trouble with the law for trapping members of parliament in the building against their will until they pass a motion of no confidence against Zuma. We would have to hold hostage those who hold the country hostage.
In all of this, the EFF kept oddly quiet. At first I had no idea why. Eventually, its senior-most members started issuing statements that the march and the campaign were largely motivated by white interests and priorities. “It won’t succeed, it requires black leadership,” Malema said. “I refuse to sign #ZumaMustFall petition.”
A lot of white Facebook commenters said he just wants glory for himself, as though that is necessarily a bad thing and as though this desire for renown does not have some sound thinking behind it. It would destroy the EFF irreparable brand if Julius went along with this campaign.
Today the march(es) happened as planned. I attended the Johannesburg one. The turnout was okay and disproportionately white. While “disproportionately” is not “mostly” I do not recall ever seeing that many white people in one place. Ever.
But what was achieved? Beyond frustrated South Africans coming together to share their frustrations, I do not know how a #ZumaMustFallMarch is any more effective than #ZumaMustFall trending on Twitter or how ice is any more water than liquid water is water. It is the same thing in a different form: the same frustration expressed on a different platform without it being harnessed to achieve anything in particular.
Like the DA, vast numbers of white people suffer a crisis distinguishing the preservation of the systems upholding constitutional democracy with the preservation of the values of constitutional democracy. The whiteness of the #ZumaMustFall campaign showed its hand not only in its timing – it broke out when R290 billion vanished from an economy that most black people have little direct participation in – but also in its setup. The campaign balanced safety, systemic and legal correctness, against the need to protect the values of democracy. In my opinion, this was its unforgivable flaw. There should have been no balance. The system should have been brought crashing to its knees immediately, consequences be damned. I have stated before that protest history belongs to those who have nothing left to lose.
When the establishment belongs to the enemy, there is no way you can beat him on that establishment’s terms. White privilege is not knowing that the establishment that belonged to you for decades at some point got hijacked and vomited you out, and that there is no way to confront it without embracing the identity of the outlaw.
The narrative of white moral whiteness will not allow this. Having been preserved by a system that called black people animals, they cannot bear to be hunted down like animals. Someone at the protest had a sign that read, “ZOOMUCH.” I wanted to whisper to her, “Put that away.” She doesn’t get it. Most white people don’t. Who gets to call whom a “zoo” or a “circus” now is a more complex and contentious issue than they realise.
Some of the pre-march speeches were so excruciatingly long that some of us went off to coffee shops to where we sipped on cappuccino foam as white as the privilege that affords such mid-protest luxuries. It was there that I overheard someone say, “This march has nothing to do with race, religion or political affiliation.” I turned to him to reply, “This march has everything to do with race, religion and political affiliation.”
White people will isolate themselves if they keep separating the issues. Just as no decision is a decision and just as colour-blindness can precipitate the same effect as systemic racism, any move in the political arena is the advancement of someone’s or another’s agenda. The only people who have a vested interest in ignoring this are those whose agenda is being advanced at that moment. When someone says this march has nothing to do with race, he ignores which race group has the most to gain from this particular demonstration, at this particular time, by these particular means. I have already tried to explain why the #ZumaMustFallMarch in its current forms reeks – unforgivably – of privilege, and why the face of that privilege is largely white. “This has nothing to do with –” is nothing but, “I absolve myself for benefitting from the status quo while advancing an agenda that most benefits me under the banner of it being equally good for everyone.” It’s not. Zuma’s fall will achieve many good things, but it won’t automatically bring about the upliftment of black people, and anyone who says it will is part of the problem. This is why many black people have decided better the devil they know than the devil that does not know itself.
If you’re sick of discussing the racial aspect of these marches, consider the possibility that you’re subconsciously shielding yourself from a confrontation with your deepest priorities for supporting it. You’re not tired: you’re ashamed of the dissonance between your professed reasons for wanting Zuma gone (“Good for everyone!”) and your actual reasons (“Good for me”) and I say this because if your professed reasons and your actual reasons kissed at any point (“What’s good for everyone will logically be good for me as well”) then you’d likewise see that discussing the racial aspect of the march is good for you as it is for everyone. You would not be tired of addressing the race issue because you would see that it is not a side topic but the main topic.
By keeping its mouth shut, the EFF has let the other players play themselves self empty. It now has all the cards. One of these days, it’s going to find an excuse to mobilise a large, mostly-black crowd to go and do something spectacularly effective in dethroning Zuma and his cronies. That excuse will be something closer to black people’s immediate priorities than the JSE and the rand-dollar exchange is. They picked #FeesMustFall as one of their battles because they knew it was closer to black people’s hearts than it was to the white people who, let us face it, largely gave it a lot of unnecessary and ill-informed flak. Truth is, a movement structured like #FeesMustFall is more likely to inch South Africa closer to justice than a movement like #ZumaMustFall.
The EFF normally jumps on every shiny thing and burns itself out chasing it. It is a disconcerting sign of their rapid maturation that they shrewdly held back on this one. Whether we like it or not, the way they’ve responded to this episode has, so far, been crafty and ingenious enough to carry them into more seats in parliament.
Whether we realise it or not, the EFF is the only political party that seems to be evolving during this crisis.
Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex
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