Black ANC Voters and Where South Africa Is Right Now

Elections are almost upon us again and just in case anyone thinks I’ve changed my mind since 2014, I haven’t.  I still think black people who vote ANC are partially responsible for the state South Africa is in.  Sorry.

Some people will point out that it wasn’t just black people who voted ANC.  But I’m not personally concerned with the voting choices of people from other races.  I don’t know their group interests and motivations as much as I do black people’s.  I can honestly say I don’t know why any of our people faithfully vote ANC even today.

Often when I say something like this, it is read as my excusing white beneficiaries of apartheid from their complicity in inequality.  While I do believe (black) people are not responsible for the bad circumstances they’re born into – that those who benefitted from those bad circumstances are responsible until they make reparations – I do believe each of us is responsible for who we empower once we turn 18.

Voting is free.  You might not get to decide which school you’ll go to, the circumstances you will grow up in and how those impact subsequent life choices, but none of these pressures exist in the voting booth when it is you and the ballot sheet.  There, you can do something, however small, to change your circumstances.

A good mind might be deprived of an education; a talent may be denied expression; a good person might be kept away from opportunities.  But the voting booth is the one place where there is no barrier between the sharp mind and a tactical political decision.  By voting ANC, black people have trusted a party shielding thieves to improve their lives.  Only so much good can come of that choice.

Someone else will say he votes ANC because they liberated us.  Well, if it’s struggle heroes we’re looking for, they’re a dime-a-dozen: most of the other parties have people who played a role yet chose to work under other political parties.  Those individuals have refuted the argument that the ANC was the struggle and the struggle was the ANC by fighting for the same principles under other political parties.  At any rate, having reasons to vote ANC does not change that you bear some responsibility for what they believe they can get away with once they have your vote.

As the race that suffered the most under apartheid to subsequently get majority voting power, what this country looks like reflects directly on us more than it does on anyone else.  No nation ever rose above its government without first rising against it.  If onlookers desire to know how honest, intelligent and orderly South Africans as a group are, they need look no further than our government.  This is especially true of black South Africans.  We have an image to protect.

Often, when systemic racism, white privilege and whiteness are under discussion, one gets the sense that whoever is controlling the discourse does not want its participants to integrate the critique of white privilege with criticism of the ruling party.  I have consistently argued that white privilege would not exist without the corruption of high-ranking members of the ruling party.  The two tied together at the 1994 compromise: simplistically put, white capital bought the ANC and the ANC sold itself.  The words, “Mandela sold black people out” are often softened for a politer, “Mandela did what was needed for peace” but a fire’s a fire, and judging by the unchecked greed of many officials in the government, it can be argued that the ANC didn’t compromise on economic transformation because it sought to preserve peace but because the personal gains were irresistible.  Effects are quantifiable; initial intentions are not.  I do not have a direct opinion on whatever is brewing between AfriForum and the ANC but consider this: it would not be the first time that the ANC has gotten “peace” at the expense of legitimate black concerns.  History does repeat itself, no?

By any political standard – radical Pan-Africanism, Black Consciousness, (Neo)liberalism – the ANC has gone out of its way to disappoint black people and sell them out on top of it for good measure.  The only ideology many of its members have consistently upheld post ‘94 is bourgeois self-enrichment.  They are having their cake and eating it; getting it both ways and playing the two sides off against each other.  And our people still vote for them?  The mind boggles.

Someone will say they vote for the old ANC and its initial goals.  Again, argument from intention does not work.  We don’t judge things by stated purposes but by foreseeable results.  Words are cheap, and even if the ANC means theirs the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.  By the time Marikana happened, we should have known what kind of ruling party we had on our hands.  By the time the Nkandla ConCourt case happened, we should have known we had sold the Constitution to keep the ANC.  Therefore, black people who voted ANC do bear a special responsibility for the state the country is in.

Others will vote for ANC in honour of late loved ones both in their immediate families and in the political sphere.  Is this (*points at Nkandla and everything else*) all those loved ones’ memory was worth?  Is this all we’re worth?  Then why fight for reparations from apartheid?  They’re only going to be gorged on by members of the ruling party anyway.  They’ve been trained up to feel assured in people’s votes and loyalty.

Another person will say the alternatives to ANC are not that attractive.  I do not advocate not voting at all, but it would still leave the ANC with less power than if you voted for them in particular.

In the ANC’s defence, an acquaintance said even a broken watch is right twice a day you don’t give up on a relationship when things go wrong; you fix what you already have.

My response: personally, I don’t keep broken watches and I don’t have forever to fix things that need nonstop fixing.  I’m getting old and I’m responsible for retiring well and leaving those that come after me a decent legacy.  I submit this is true for a lot of black people whether they pay attention to it or not.  The ANC is not protecting our future anymore, and we know it.

It’s not the people’s job to fix government; it’s government’s job to fix itself and people’s job to pay taxes to a functioning government.  As for what the government has gotten right: we hold people in the private sector to a higher standard but even they are not guaranteed jobs or a thank you.

Dear black people: voting tactfully (whatever that means for you) will not be a betrayal of the struggle, a surrender to white supremacy, or any of the things you fear it may be.

Voting ANC, on the other hand, comes with no such promise.

Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex; he has also written a book (#TheUnveiledFacesProject coming soon).

Please share and follow @SKhumalo1987

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The Comments’ Section on #Shackville

“[I] just went through [Rhodes Must Fall] page’s comments section taking screenshots of all the filth that’s crawled out from the recesses of our country since ‪#‎Shackville,” posted a Mohammed I follow on Facebook.  “I’m angry, indignant and surprised my eyes aren’t bleeding.”

As argued before, the apartheid government’s preferential treatment of white people at black people’s expense is no basis for violating white people’s right to basic dignity.  Likewise, black students’ decision to burn universities is no justification for the racist dehumanisation of black people that has followed.

Racist comments strengthen the students’ argument that structural racism has obstructed their access to education.  When the sanctity of art and property is put ahead of black students’ fundamental humanity by spectators, it indicates those bystanders take it for granted that the destroyed property was representative of a world meant to exclude blacks.  Humanity on probation with its recognition on condition points to a problem that could very well justify the destruction of property.  It is not by accident that the Constitution puts the human right to dignity before its provision for the protection of private and public property.  If #Shackville has achieved anything, it’s proving the exclusivity of learning spaces by pushing observers to reveal how many considerations compete with their recognition of black people’s humanness.

So these uprisings are more scandalous in their lateness than in their inevitability.  South Africa has two households, unalike in dignity: #Shackville and #Nkandla.  These have been inevitable since 1994 left unchallenged the disparity between #Sandhurst and #Alexandra, #Clifton and #MitchellsPlain, #BantryBay and #Langa, #Westcliff and #Diepkloof, #Bishopscourt and #Gugulethu, #Dunkeld and #Soweto, #Fresnaye and #CapeFlats, #Constantia and #Khayelitsha, #CampsBay and #Manenberg or #Ballito and #KwaMashu.  The list goes on.

In response to this inequality, many say, “Use your vote” but that’s truth stretched to serve a myth.  Our first mistake with the ANC was leaving it to the Powers-That-Be to solve the inequality.  Funders don’t bankroll a party’s election campaign until it’s agreed to enough compromises that its plan to resolve inequality ends up smelling like a pontifical sanction of the status quo.  The ANC didn’t get corrupt in 2009 but in 1991.  Government corruption and white privilege are unacceptable, but the preservation of the one was built into the possibility of the other.  So Nkandla and Shackville would have no existence apart from the preservation of white privilege.

If we know nothing else about white privilege, we must grasp that to a lot of black people the value of white people’s opinions – be they political, economic or behavioural – is directly proportional to how much they lost as a group in 1994.

As long as white people retain what they gained during apartheid, those black people see no basis for viewing or talking about them as anything but oppressors: in this untrusting paradigm, nice white people are simply the “good cop” gently policing how black people recuperate from the damage caused by the “bad cop” that was the apartheid government.  But gentle or not, policing is policing.

Writing on the Black Lives Matter movement, “Lily-White Mama” observed that oppressed black people’s “relying on us moderate whites to help address things on our white timeline doesn’t appear to work.  Most white folks haven’t done a thing to fix those institutions aside from tsk tsk that they are terribly unjust.

“As a white moderate, you have a great privilege they want you to recognise: you get to choose when and where you want to address racism.  This is something no person of color can ever do.”

Many white people will claim that they weren’t born when apartheid was happening.  That they never asked to be privileged.  But a lot of the protesters weren’t born when apartheid was happening and they never asked to be disadvantaged either.  “If you’ve ever wondered how you would’ve acted during the Civil Rights Era, now’s your chance to find out,” says Mama.

Many have spoken about the need to pick “constructive” methods for expressing outrage.  I submit we live in a world where lawful, orderly and polite solutions work for the privileged by deliberately excluding the marginalised and then finds the justification for their exclusion in their “barbaric” expression of their outrage at their ongoing systemic suppression.  The late-night news show one end-result after another (the cameras are not there to see any other stage of its development) until privileged viewers come to believe that “they” only know how to destroy and protest.  They do not realise that the oppressed have run the gamut from constructive to destructive solutions only to see the world nodding in sad agreement yet going about business as usual.

“Business as usual” won’t work anymore.  While it’s true the ANC-led government has been drumming up the race issue for political purposes, it does not follow that racial concerns aren’t real, definitively relevant or were not going to come to the fore at this point anyway.  Sisonke Msimang wrote that #RhodesMustFall (RMF) “decided to erect a shack to disrupt the complacency that says shacks must stay in their place.

“It was jarring; incongruous amidst the pristine and manicured elitism of UC.  It looked malignant; a growth where tidiness normally masks exclusion.

“The university of course, has institutional and structural weight on its side.  It has far more ‘respectable’ power than the students.  It has the logic of the status quo in its corner and so it is easy to see it as ‘rational’ in the face of irrational and angry students.”

Or as theblackwendy said on Instagram, “This country has been burning for years, but the flames have never been this close to privilege.”

What if destruction is the oppressed atoning for the sin of those who never questioned inequality enough to challenge it?  Expiation is done through blood or fire.  When the oppressed destroy, they reject the idea that they should be “grateful” for what they do have because that’s really the short end of the stick, and if they accept it they likewise accept that others get the better end whether they deserve it or not.  Yesterday I tweeted, ‪#‎Shackville will get domestics thinking, “But each painting in the mansion I clean is worth more than the mjondolo I live in.”  One of my well-intentioned friends replied that the “answer is yes in terms of financial value, but the mjondolo is priceless in terms of putting a roof over the heads of millions…”

But if that were the case, then the most advantaged and privileged beneficiaries of apartheid should have put that thought ahead of the need to own overvalued pieces of art.  After all, it’s not as though South Africa’s wealth was built without a single drop of black sweat.  They would have marched and protested against systems that produces such inequality.  Why didn’t they?

Another friend pointed out that if the domestic in my tweet burns the artwork, she’ll be out of a job.  But black people already know that if they physically confront what apartheid left them, they’ll be the criminals while those who benefited from apartheid wouldn’t be criminalised because “Mandela forgave.”

Expecting black students to find “constructive” solutions to racism makes it their responsibility.  Setting property alight is their way of saying that just as we haven’t had the time to fix that injustice nicely and constructively, they don’t have the time to do so either.  Society may expect the victims of, say, systemic sexism to live with it.  But these students will not accept the inverted imposition accompanying our “normal.”  They’d rather turn whole world upside-down.

Sarah Godsell explains how this normal’s “violence destroys lives in a more systematic, brutal way than physical violence”:

“Preventing students from accessing education for financial reasons is not considered violent.  But protest in the course of which there is any damage to property – intentional or otherwise – where there is any kind of physical altercation from the protesters – aggravated or otherwise – is considered violent.

“Service delivery protests are considered violent.  Executive pay is not considered violent.  Strikes are considered violent.  Corporate fraud is not.”

She’s saying “violence” is the word we use not when an injustice is perpetrated, but when its victims push back in any way that threatens a world that works for us.

“I reject the idea that non-violent protest needs to be held up as an impossible spotless ideal of how things should be argued in South Africa.”

There is a time and place for everything, including, sometimes, those things for which we haven’t made a time or place in 22 years.  Anyone has the right to criticise any aspect of this process.  But if he throws stones while living in a glass house, he does so at his own peril.

Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex; he has also written a book (#TheUnveiledFacesProject coming soon).

Please share and follow @SKhumalo1987

What A Nation’s Saviour Reveals About It

Revolutionary deliverers fill leadership vacuums.  They tear down what no longer works, and embody the compromises a country is willing to tolerate as it rights a set of wrongs.

But leading a revolution is not the same thing as leading a nation, and few people can lead a nation on the back of leading a revolution.  You end up needing a revolutionary deliverer to deliver you from your previous revolutionary deliverer.

22 years ago, Nelson Mandela became the sunny packaging of a trade-off that otherwise would have been unpalatable to many black South Africans.  “The Mandelafication of the Struggle against apartheid is not by accident but by design,” insists Malaika wa Azania.  And as I’ve said before, black liberation leaders got in bed with capital and today, the best black people can hope for under this status quo is a “fair” opportunity to start over in the New South Africa as though the Old never took anything from them.

Seeing the lawful provisions for inequality as a letdown, a considerable number of black families tapped into government corruption as one of their revenue streams.  Zuma is the symbol of and makes possible the system’s permeability and penetrability even among people who’ve never been in the same room as he.  The most unassuming civil servant relies on the milieu he’s set up to get away with blue murder.  Zuma is not the respectable custodian of our country’s resources; he is the intruder who has broken in on excluded black people’s behalf, and as long as he’s there, defending broad-daylight corruption and mismanagement, those who are as he is will eat state resources, work less hours and give suboptimal performance: they’ll behave as they feel they’re entitled to, which is how they feel the beneficiaries of apartheid got away with behaving.  So in many ways, the seeds for Zuma were planted and destined to sprout from Mandela’s time in office.

And where most politicians would have diversified the moneyed families they would pimp the country to, Zuma dedicated cabinet, parastatals and supply licenses to mostly one family – the Guptas.  If the seeds for Zuma were planted in Mandela, then the seeds for Malema were planted in Zuma.

In his press briefing, Julius Malema threatened Gupta-owned media houses; in response, the Daily Maverick wrote a smouldering piece saying there is “absolutely no justification” for his threatening journalists; if Julius can let his issues with one family’s media houses cause him to do this, then there’s no saying that any media house’s perceived interference won’t be met with similar ire.  In his zeal, Malema could become a bigger threat to democracy than the one he’s denouncing.

Of course, Malema backtracked at the briefing and promised he wasn’t threatening anything illegal.  He realised he could not be in the establishment yet break out of its rules.  So he is a victim of his own success.  Getting his party into Parliament gave Malema the loudhailer he wanted, but it also gagged him.  He is reduced to playing the DA’s drawn-out court game with Zuma.

But again, that doesn’t mean Malema himself is above the temptation to unconstitutionally bulldoze his enemies down.  He’s called for a mass march to the Constitutional Court on the 9th of February.  He guarantees a disruption of parliament should Zuma not open his State of the Nation Address with an explanation of why he relieved Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene of his duties in December.  While his current interests may coincide with the protection of democracy, his methods properly belong to someone outside the establishment.

Julius Malema also had some spicy words about South Africa being sold to the Guptas for a plate of curry; he demanded that those Guptas return to India.  By evoking stereotypes and naming countries of origin, he has played to prejudices on the strings of an unspoken grudge: Zuma’s fondness for corruption with Indian personalities and families (Reddy, Shaik and Guptas), which many of Malema’s listeners would see as the continuation of a pattern of Indian complicity from apartheid.  Stay with me.

In rumours of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s anti-black racism is an indication that at some moments, the Indian section of the liberation struggle was less about dismantling an oppressive system than it was about revolting against the position Indian people had been relegated to in that system.  That was too close to the level of black people for their comfort.  Now we have a problem where the victims of oppression remain as divided as they were when they were conquered.

When I (as a black man) point out that Afrikaans and Indian people generally struggled for their human rights against the British – that is, not to be treated with a contempt that should have been reserved for blacks – I’m accused of minimising the suffering they did experience though it’s never my intention to deny that suffering.  I am also accused of denying many instances where cross-racial solidarity happened in the face of great risk.  So the conversation is frozen.  This makes it perfect rhetoric fodder.

At this point, someone will point out that there are many Indian people who support the EFF and don’t view Malema’s words as divisive.  But all I am pointing out is that to the extent that historical grudges between Indian and black people eclipse their history of mutual solidarity, to that extent those issues stand to be exploited not necessarily by Malema, but by whoever appears to that particular black crowd promising to resolve “the Indian problem” much as Hitler offered to resolve the Jewish one.

And Malema didn’t have to explicitly explain or deny this because in many circles, couched anti-Indian sentiment remains fashionable 22 years after the end of apartheid.  I put it to you that Malema is non-vocally painting the Guptas as doing what Indian people have been suspected (rightly or wrongly) of doing: getting a piece of the State pie while black people get shafted.  A Zuma who is corrupt with or for black people is understandable; a Zuma who is corrupt with or for white people is just doing what the ANC did in 1994.  But a Zuma who is corrupt with or for Indian or coloured people is colluding with those who should have understood what it was like to be oppressed but instead rode on the same system.  Cue many ANC voters defecting to the EFF.

How to resolve this bitterness, beyond pointing out that a.) there are more successful Indian people will a good work ethic than there are corrupt or racist Indian people or b.) the structural space a whole people group was put in is not synonymous with every individual in that structural gap or c.) Indian people are no more or less human than anyone else, and like everyone else have an intrinsic right to dignity?

I do not know.  If anyone knew, we would have already completed the discussion on white privilege as well.  But if we dare back down from that conversation because we do not know how to have it without gouging one another’s eyes out, then watch Zuma exploit our paralysis on the white privilege discussion, or Malema on the Indian discussion (or whoever else on whichever other discussion).

Mail and Guardian editor Verashni Pillay witnessed Julius Malema revel in what she saw as a sexist milieu and wrote,

“It’s difficult to confront sexism dished out as casually as that.  Like the popular kid in the class, Malema has a way of creating a protective layer around himself in a room.  He dishes out hilarious one-liners usually at some or other person’s expense and has everyone giggling along while he grins winningly.  It’s hard to argue with that.”

It remains hard to argue with that because we hardly speak about the prejudices being played to until they have been exploited.

In going along with Julius Malema, we could end up playing one embodiment of constitutional compromise off of against another just as, in Mandela, we found ourselves “merely changing the drivers of the same car” because we could not speak about white privilege then and cannot wrestle with history now.  We are the country of false awakenings, thinking we’ve revolutioned unto a better day when really set ourselves up for a revolt against ourselves and one another.  The Rainbow Nation was announced prematurely, before work had been done on the ground to create it.  And now it is killing us.

To go along with Julius Malema, we must ask how much of the bill of human rights we’re willing to lose in order to get the economic freedom promised by the freedom charter – and whether such an economic freedom would be worth having.  Unless, of course, Malema suddenly reveals a conviction on the Bill of Rights that goes beyond just catching out the ANC on its prejudices, or inviting South Africans of all stripes to join the EFF.  And maybe he has.  I do not know.

One thing is for sure.  The aluta has been continua too long for us to sustain the cycle of revolutionary leaders that save us from past revolutionary leaders.  A country in need of perpetual rescue is not a country at all; it is a business opportunity for those who make a profit supplying that rescue as a commodity.  Malema could end up inadvertently selling the country to the same unbridled capitalism he accuses the ANC of having sold the country to.  Who knows, eh?

The struggle continues.

 Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex; he has also written a book (#TheUnveiledFacesProject coming soon).

Please share and follow @SKhumalo1987 and also contact

#Nkandla: Ripple Effects

#Nkandla: Ripple Effects

When Roman generals paraded through streets after victorious battles, they’d have a slave come up to murmur, “Memento mori” to them.

This is Latin for, “Remember that you [also someday] will die.”  This idea is echoed in expressions like, “Pride comes before the fall” and “What goes around comes around.”

Just days before the Constitutional Court receives applications on the Public Protector’s findings on Nkandla, and just before the State of the Nation Address, President Jacob Zuma has suddenly offered to repay some of the money for security upgrades to his residence.

This is not only an admission of defeat on Zuma’s part; it leaves egg the face of every person who defended him.  And it begins to unravel the web of patronage he has woven about himself.

The Presidency’s site states that,

“While President Zuma remains critical of a number of factual aspects and legal conclusions in the [Public Protector’s] report, he proposes a simple course to implement what the Public Protector recommended as remedial action contained in the report.”

As pointed out by the DA, Zuma is trying to sideline normal legal processes, which, if taken to their ultimate logical conclusion, could have him impeached.  For the timing of his offer may show he knows his conscious complicity over Nkandla to be damning despite factual and legal errors he claims are in the report.  They’re not enough to mitigate his guilt.  Otherwise he would have left it to the Constitutional Court to exonerate him; he could have played dumb and come off as innocent.

So out of his own mouth, a mouth that was once boastful and proud, Zuma has condemned himself.  Because if the Court finds he has knowingly undermined the Public Protector’s constitutional powers, and in so doing has acted unconstitutionally, he would have given ammo for those who would have him step down as president.  So what he should have remembered as he crackled over Nkaaaaaandla was that he too, would die because the laws of cause and effect by which he’d vanquished his foes have seen the rise and fall of men much greater than he.

But that universal rule is exactly that – universal.  No one is exempt.  If Zuma falls, it will set a precedent that ours is the sort of country where if it’s found that the State has enabled someone to enrich himself unduly or in ways that implicate him in injustice (even if that person can prove to not have known the entire situation as Zuma often claims) then the State balances the scales.

This will expand on to the beneficiaries of corruption in spite of their claim that they did not realise what was happening.  But it will go further.

If it should ever be found that Julius Malema owes the Receiver money (and it’s been argued that he doesn’t) the EFF will hopefully also support justice and principle as much then as they do now.  Memento more.

The beneficiaries of apartheid were who they were and it’s pointless for me to pontificate on that issue now.  They could have been citizens or corporations or mine bosses.  It does not matter; I do not have a vendetta.  For if the sitting President can be brought to justice despite his claims to not have known what was happening in his backyard, then anyone in a similar situation can be placed under the same microscope.

By its own actions, the DA is headed for a moment where it will practically prove that its abhorrence of Zuma’s corruption is equalled by its desire to see justice visited upon the beneficiaries of apartheid, even if they happen to be within its ranks or among its voters.  The DA itself has laid the groundwork for this day, and they will be happiest when it dawns, no?  Memento mori.

No one is exempt.  You are not; I am not either.

“Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex; he has also written a book (#TheUnveiledFacesProject coming soon).

Please share and follow @SKhumalo1987 and also contact

Gwen Ngwenya On #PennySparrow

People have privately and publicly asked what I think of Gwen Ngwenya’s, “The Response To Penny Sparrow Was Not Rational.”

For length, I will only allude to some of her points.

Ngwenya says that Sparrow is a non-entity.  She cannot understand why social media would treat her as a specimen of widespread structural racism and white supremacy.  Sparrow is far from unique or insignificant.

That Sparrow knows some “thoughtful” black people may mean that in her life, she’s the arbiter of which black people get to be treated with dignity and which don’t.  Can we imagine the damage someone who thinks like that can inflict as she goes about her daily life?  Ngwenya’s piece intimates that there’s no need to imagine.  For all intents and purposes, Sparrow’s existence (along with her racism) neatly began when she started typing that Facebook post.  And we should have serenely let it fade back into the oblivion from which it came once she’d posted it.  Then, it would remain the victimless crime we should see it as.

But is Ngwenya correct?  What if Sparrow was not just exposing a momentary thought?  Her post is probably part of a pattern of harm against those black people over whom she enjoys financial or professional dominance.

Minimize Sparrow and disconnect her post from harm that’s been perpetrated on black people in the past, and we suddenly have no explanation for why some black people have little access to the economy, centres of cultural development, sporting facilities, academia, the arts – and why there therefore no “intellectual tradition of the black individual” in whatever sense Ngwenya meant that.

At no point does Ngwenya explain where the victims of apartheid should have received the material justice to move beyond where apartheid left them.  She indicates they should have used their post-1994 liberty to embrace individuality and develop a strong-enough sense of self to put racist actions in perspective, as though that racism has no impact on whether its victim get hold of the tools with which to do this.

If apartheid and colonialism were grand-scale crimes against humanity, hate speech is an indication that the speaker would voluntarily form a link in the chain from speech back to the systemic, broad-scale crime.  Which were the miners shot down at Marikana not enough of: black, or fragile?  Nowhere in Ngwenya’s post could I fit our collective responsibility to victims of racism like the black boy who was asked to leave the pool as a “sign of respect” to other bathers.  How strong a sense of self would a kid need to have to shrug that off?

It is important to deal hate crime (no matter how seemingly minor) because once a perpetrator has been committed one on someone who shares a characteristic with a particular group, that perpetrator will have the courage to move on to bigger acts with disastrous consequences for subsequent victims.

Whatever hate crime we’re talking about, it takes an especially inward-looking mind to think that “the individual” should lean on his or her “sense of self” to protect him from the  hate speech that anticipates the hate crimes.  If the lesser is tolerated, the greater comes.  I cannot help seeing Ngwenya’s talk of “a high degree of an individual self, such that when another black person is criticized you don’t feel vicariously insulted” as anything except her abdicating social responsibility.  In the end, that’s between her and her conscience, or her God, or whatever she holds sacred.

She thinks the reaction to Sparrow took from her more than she had taken from others.  “I couldn’t stand by and watch them take away from her more than she took from me” is Ngwenya’s explanation for why “the punishment” should fit “the crime” and why racists shouldn’t have to lose their jobs and public standing.  As though racism is not the reason many black people have no jobs or public standing.  Mercy makes us human, but that doesn’t mean wrongdoers are entitled to it.

If someone steals, we do not feel it’s enough to take the thing back or take something of equal value from that person.  We lock thieves behind bars not just for a period equal to how much time it took to commit the crime.  A gunman who holds people hostage for 12 hours isn’t jailed for 12 hours.  The time length is influenced by the need to protect the community from the criminal.  In fact, the sentence may be influenced (within parameters) by how frequent theft is becoming in a given community so that copycat thieves might think twice.

If we applied Ngwenya’s sentencing across hate speech and the hate crime it points to – or to any crime, since she idiomatically drew a parallel to the logic of sentencing criminals for crimes – we wouldn’t have a criminal justice system because relative to how crimes are actually punished, most criminals would get a slap on the wrist.

Then there’s the remorse aspect.  Cain’s, “My punishment is more than I can bear!” indicates that he doesn’t regret killing Abel or lying to God about it.  Unrepentant, Sparrow issued what Angelo Fick described as a “non-apology apology.”  We can rest assured that she remains a menace to those black people she will exercise influence over.  Explain to racists why racism is wrong and let them get on with their lives?  That would be irrational.

Ngwenya then speaks of “the dishonesty of identity politics” and of the blurring between indulgence and empathy.  This line in particular signifies an admirable tough-love A-type personality: “When black identity is so fragile it requires a perverse mollycoddling to take place and exaggerated responses to incidences that are capable [sic] of simple rationalization.”  But even this glimmer of insight is tainted by the other errors in her approach to this issue.

And while it’s good to treat people as individuals as Ngwenya advises, my unique self-expression may not overcome what racist people already believe about black people.  And though their awareness of how groups have traditionally been discriminated against shouldn’t colour the whole of non-racist interactions, it shouldn’t be left out completely either.

Ngwenya then names white people who supposedly try to educate other white South Africans on how to interact with black people – Gillian Schuttes and Scott Burnetts – but she doesn’t give examples of the behavior she finds problematic.  She doesn’t quote or give contexts; she just accuses.  Must we then take it on her word that these white individuals exhibit the hypersensitivity Helen Zille was met with when she used the word “refugees”?  By accounting for her thoughts in the Zille instance but not doing so with Schutte and Burnett, she casts the people who reacted to Zille in the same intellectual light as Schutte and Burnett.  This oversight may have been unintentional on Ngwenya’s part, but she ends up doing what she accuses these others of doing: painting individuals with the same brush.

She says, “It does not bother me that my intellectual influences are mostly white men, what resonated where [sic] the ideas.”  Would it bother her if she met those white men, and some of them expressed disdain that a black woman was trying to grasp their theories?  She may want to only find a “colourless and sexless” self reflected in the world of ideas.  But in the real world, she may need a framework to address prejudice should her gender and race refuse to disappear from the room.  As for her being able to read in the first place – there was a time, not to long ago in many places, when black women could not get the opportunity to learn how because they were black women.  The fact that she finds a generic “colourless and sexless” self repeatedly reflected in the ideas of white men isn’t an innocent coincidence.  Nor has it been because black women were voluntarily absorbed in something else while the white men did all the cerebral heavy-lifting.

She supports the acknowledgement of the work and findings of black academics but “but on the basis of intellectual integrity not as atonement or a psychological exercise.”  Intellectual integrity is not perceived in a vacuum.  I know of two women (who don’t know each other) who could not finish the practical aspect of the same course at the same place, years apart, because they were aggressively sexually harassed or very vulnerable to the possibility.  Likewise, black academics may be underestimated.

Hours before writing this, I sat next in a live TV studio audience next to a white female final-year medicine student whose Zambian clinical partner is often told by patients that they refuse to be treated by her because she’s a foreigner/female/black.  I guess while Ngwenya looks for her colourless and sexless self in abstract ideas, this woman will be turning to her strong “sense of self” to help her cope with this perennial discrimination and its impact on her psyche in an already high-pressure environment.  Sure, Ngwenya has not encouraged anyone to show this discrimination but she’s done something as harmful: she’s dissed attempts to bring these attitudes and their effects into the light.  The bodies of people who’ve fought for her to have a platform and a voice are barely in their graves yet, and Ngwenya’s already used that platform and that voice to reassure the powerful and privileged who benefitted from the system that victimised those liberators that the work is done when it’s just beginning.

Ngwenya concedes that, “If there are bodies of literary works, histories and innovations that we do not know of because of imperialistic oversight then of course academic institutions should seek to uncover them and have them included in curricula.”

Imperialistic oversight?  If that was a euphemism, it’s an insult to the hard work of colonialist genocidalists whose intention was to destroy and bring misery.  So we should not hold our breath for institutions “to seek to uncover” the works of the marginalised.

Oh, and another thing: if a sentence has the words, “then of course” in it, it may be because the writer would be embarrassed if he has neglected to pay lip service to whatever is then said.  You decide.

“But the power to govern oneself and be the curator of your own feelings and value systems is available under all regimes.  Enormous pressures can be placed on that power by external forces but it cannot be taken away.”

Then at which point is taking someone’s life or destroying their sanity tantamount to taking away his power to govern himself?  I’m not sure whether history’s abundant torture victims would appreciate this sanitised intellectualisation made in the midst of what Ngwenya admits is a “most favourable” external environment for individual definition.  And torture is run-of-the-mill in oppressive regimes.

It appears with the room to define oneself must come the self-given right to whitewash history until it makes room for us to define a self unburdened by political or social responsibility to anyone but those who have a vested interest in the whitewash.


Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex; he has also written a book (#TheUnveiledFacesProject coming soon).

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