There was little Old Testament retribution for apartheid and colonialism. I do not think that would have been wise but I believe we must understand the effects of choosing against that for the choice to have meaning.
If I can take your life without losing my own, it can be concluded that mine matters more than yours. If I keep the benefits of my crime against you, it means I was entitled to them.
The sin committed against black people was shrugged off; therefore, they remained sub-human to their previous government and subsequently, to the new one that never took a life to vindicate a single black death.
Had someone bled to death at the hand of the new State for anything that happened under apartheid, it would have set a legal precedent stating that black lives have value and black bodies are inviolable. For if, according to Old Testament justice, a life must be given for a life, and none is given, does that not imply that the life taken was worthless? That another one of its kind may be taken or robbed with impunity again and again?
Retaliation isn’t necessarily wrong or racist when it is built on the same bizarre cataloguing that racial crimes have historically been based on. It is difficult to argue for the moral imperative to follow in the footsteps of saints; this is often disingenuous and self-serving when done by those unfairly advantaged by a socio-structural wrong. Revenge may be harmful to all parties involved, but this observation alone does not automatically clear the perpetrator (or his passive beneficiaries) of wrongdoing.
When the perpetrator is not treated as a wrongdoer, the sufferer becomes the ultimate explanation for his unjust circumstances. One unexpected result of the peaceful transition in 1994 was that vast numbers of white people continued with the delusion that everything they had was purely the result of their own or their parent’s hard work. No humans were harmed in the making of this fantasy. The lack of retribution allowed them to mentally separate the houses they lived in and the jobs they worked at, from the actions of some distant government they did not like but many of whom had religiously voted for.
This confusion makes it difficult to tie explanations for inequality into a useful whole. We see this in Chris Hart’s Tweet. “More than 25 years after Apartheid ended, the victims are increasing along with a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities.”
Who are these “minorities”? Did they magically appear only after apartheid ended? Were they in no way connected to or beneficiaries of apartheid? If so, we would all be hard-pressed to explain why “the victims” would direct their anger over it at them.
And when was blood shed to humanise the victims and elevate them from victimhood? When a life is not taken for a life, victims tend to remain “victims”; they are not just political orphans but fate’s bastards and everyone’s favourite target practice board.
The new government repeated the same crime for the reasons that Hart’s world hasn’t been hugely disrupted by black people’s anger: as long as it went unjustified and unvindicated, it could be scoffed at. Once a person is victimised without redress, someone else can do the same thing to him.
When sin is remitted without the shedding of blood, the sinfulness of that sin is minimised or altogether denied: Hart gets to say what he does because there has never been large-scale colonial and apartheid state violence perpetrated on black people to make his world possible; therefore, he is inherently superior to those who have failed to crack it in his world. Once you skip Old Testament vengeance and rush to New Testament forgiveness without imposing a consequence that is proportional to the crime, sin disappears, hell is snuffed out and nobody notices except the wronged.
That is what happened in 1994.
And what exactly does Hart mean about the end of apartheid? Is he referring to all those instances where each of the acts and policies that happened to black people in those dark five decades were repeated, tooth for tooth and life for life, but in reverse? Could he be talking about that terrible time when the new government clicked “undo” on everything the previous government had done detail for detail? This is not even discussing colonialism before that. Because that is how apartheid could have ended with an even or nil number of victims on each of its wrongly created “sides.”
Erase the “sides” into a beautiful non-racism paradigm, and apartheid ceases to be history and becomes an urban legend. The categorisations may have been a lie but their effects weren’t. It could be argued that as long as it left black people with a nil value of their lives in the eyes of the State (again, life for life), then apartheid never ended for black people. The inequality stands, unfairly, until life-for-life vindication is carried out. So whose end of which apartheid, then, is Hart speaking of? Which type of ending would he have preferred? Which end of apartheid is he asking for now?
Where some black people are concerned, 1994 was an anticlimax. Are they wrong for subscribing to an old-school version of justice? If we say they are wrong, then Project South Africa is in trouble because this is the bone of contention: many speak as though historic injustices only happened in their “victim’s” imaginations.
The relative absence of bloodshed in 1994 serves to sanitise and whitewash a bloody history. It also says the beneficiaries of the system were entitled to all of it – the forgiveness, because it was practical, necessary and therefore theirs to receive because they were at the right place at the right time to receive it – and a trouble-free “happily ever after”.
Someone will say, “Shaka did the same thing.” As pointed out in different posts written by myself and others, it wasn’t at the same scale nor was the systemic poverty intended to last as long as the effects of colonialism have managed to last, to the benefit of those who’d now downplay how it happened while valorising old heroes.
As a result of these discordant narratives, explanations for persisting inequality cannot be consolidated. The populace becomes divided on which set of policies government should adopt especially where the effects of historic injustices are concerned.
This is part of the reason we didn’t agree on Zuma’s fall late last year, nor can unite enough to support an opposition to make the ruling party work for its money. If their overthrow further serves the convenient narrative that those who formerly benefitted from apartheid deserve to benefit from the post-apartheid state as much as they did under the apartheid state (that they have anything to defend has been said to prove exactly this), then a lot of black people will fail (or refuse) to grasp what is at stake because seeing eye-to-eye with those who formerly benefited from apartheid is allowing them to “get away with it” as they complain about contemporary disruptions in what they act like they’re entitled to. That they are gloating over their white supremacy even as they deny it.
Who gets to set the agenda going forward? If we say, “everyone benefits” at the end of the day from such and such political reform without truly examining the prospect from all sides, we repeat and rinse the 1994 whitewash. Not “everyone” benefitted then, so why should “everyone” believe the same spiel now if their interest is only propped up when it truly just serves someone else?
And that’s why calling yourself non-racist at this point in history is laying claim to a heavyweight social justice champion title, one only gained after losing popularity for daring to question what has emerged as normal sentiments many white people share among themselves. The most non-racist people I know are the quickest to say, “I’m implicated in racism.” If it has not cost and it is not inconvenient, it cannot count.
Yes, many black people are willingly deceived by the current government. But it’s also that where there has been no vengeance, there is also no consensus on the extent and cause of the damage: where there has been no atonement, there must have been no sin. That in turns means there is no consensus on the explanations for persisting inequalities and what should be done about them. We have the current regime by default. The peacefulness of 1994 quietly unmoored inequality from white privilege. Because this was for our collective good, no?
If Chris Hart cannot make the connection between the victimisations of the victims he sees as having an attitude of entitlement and his own entitlement, we have a problem. Had he and those like him seen that link long ago, the ANC would either be a very good party or be out of power. His racism is as much one of the ingredients towards their ongoing corruption as anything else is.
If Hart climbed into a taxi or stayed in a township, someone would probably ask, “Is everything okay?” or at least do a double-take. Because we went out of our collective way to avoid it, white poverty and powerlessness is abnormal. Black poverty isn’t. White condescension into black-like situations calls for sainthood. I don’t have to know Mr. Hart personally to understand this.
Had Hart been born into a darker skin in another corner of the country, his chances of fully exercising his talents would have been much slimmer.
At the moment, Hart cannot legitimately sell any solution to anyone other than those who share his background and demographic. White people who agree with Hart are, to me, like black people who buy what the ANC is selling just because the people selling it are mostly black.
Violence would destroy our country beyond recognition. State-sponsored violence would have been a sad start to the New South Africa. But avoiding one route does not mean we cannot peer down that path for insights that explain where we are now down the road we did take.
It is practical that black people move on, but this does not make it a given that they should.
Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex; he has also written a book (#TheUnveiledFacesProject coming soon).
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