Penny Sparrow and her co-racists opened many Rainbowists’ eyes to the bright, white light of ongoing systemic racism. She saved their brown souls from the bewitchment of Madiba Magic.
I may or may not have been one of those Rainbowists, and I may or may not be having withdrawal symptoms from an abrupt disruption of fantasies about unicorns, waterfalls and butterflies.
“Don’t take her too seriously,” one of my Facebook friends has said. “She’s practically semi-literate. Racists have no real power. Don’t believe white supremacy has that much control over your destiny.”
We have 30 000 real estate agents playing in a 4 trillion-rand industry; how do we explain that only 1000 (3.3%) of those are of colour without appealing to a concentration of white power that’s made it so? Oops! we aren’t allowed to speak about colour.
But we must. Whatever their flaws, Penny Sparrow and Vicky Momberg blended in because that world recognised everything they were as the standard to which others could aspire (“Durban blacks are of higher calibre”). They never had to really try.
The elections are at hand. The DA has been saying (and texting, and calling, and texting) that Mandela would have voted DA because it’s carrying his values forward. Would compromise and non-racialism be among those? In the 1994 transition, he effectively agreed to leave intact much of the white supremacy these racists have been sheltered by. So Mandela has been voting DA since before the party’s inception—Maimane has been voting ANC since he was 14— so we shouldn’t be surprised if Mandela’s new DA counterpart is someone who’s been returning the favour and voting ANC. These two hands of white supremacy have been washing each other for a good 23 years; they have been two sides of the same coin. The only bright spot during these election campaigns was the DA’s presence (as I saw it on social media) at Durban Pride. That counts and I hope the DA keeps it up. This time around, DA: 1; everyone else: 0.
“Mandela would have voted DA” presupposes the post-Mandela ANC squandered a golden opportunity to make South Africa a success, and the DA wouldn’t do this. But the ANC started off in an awkward position, and then made all of us pay a price to maintain the status quo as the white supremacy that produces Penny Sparrows would have had it kept. The economy was opened, the Reserve Bank was privatised, and many cadres sold their souls to the status quo under the auspices of BEE. The price for this, growing greatly over the years, has been the cancer that was the tender/cadre deployment/patronage system used to keep enough black people happy to keep enough black people voting ANC.
Richard Poplak has previously connected large-scale uprisings (#Tshwane) to the sweet nothings the Congress whispered to more people than it could actually satisfy. There is a market for these promises because except for a few overachievers (“Herman Masala could do it! Race isn’t a factor!”) and convenient BEE “partners”, black people have been largely locked out of the post-apartheid economy and mostly live off of doing business with government.
But only so many of those black people can get government work legitimately; there are more people than there are government tasks to be carried out. Corruption is no aberration; it’s the necessary evil that accompanies skipping the mains of racial injustice redress and heading straight to the dessert of Rainbowism. That’s what it takes to maintain the status quo that keeps the Mombergs and Sparrows in a position to cluck at how incompetent, how useless, this government is.
You can’t have one without the other.
The hypocrisy of thinking you can—alluded to by Cloudy Motsoeneng and Faithful Muthambi—is that the dominant narrative about our government doesn’t connect its corruption to the perversion that is the status quo and big businesses’ preservation of whiteness in it. Up until recently, “senior management”, “executive” and “director” have been synonymous with “white man” except in HR, of course.
Few explanations of protester dissatisfaction in townships reference suburban wealth as the ultimate beneficiary of the compromise that necessitated corruption and, by extension, protests, because news consumers lives in those suburbs. The moment you start telling stories that point out their passive and active complicity, your TV ratings and print media circulation plummet. This is a blog, I appreciate the readers, but the same thing happens with the numbers here.
The DA’s first need is to get votes. It isn’t to prick consciences. So they’ll tap into white anger, entitlement and delusions of innocence when they peddle explanations of South Africa in which white supremacy was never the reason the ANC’s corruption was a necessary evil. They’ll never highlight the systemic and historic nature of racism or challenge its constituency. They’ll say, “The ANC has betrayed Mandela’s values!” But has it, or has it carried them to their ultimate unintended, but logical, conclusion?
This government has done nothing that the previous government wouldn’t have done. The reason our country is crumbling, over and above the “free markets’” distrust of Jacob Zuma (fuelled by subtly racist portrayals of him) is that there was never buy-in from these “free” markets.
There is tons of money locked in the vaults of companies and investors that currently plead tied hands, poverty and powerlessness. I don’t like or recommend it, but the dirty secret of governance is that you can run a thoroughly corrupt government and still have plenty of tax money (because of a high employment rate resulting from the buy-in of giving the right moguls enough of a cut) left to keep your electorate happy and your currency strong. Ask the Nats, and you’ll see that the only thing that’s destroying this country isn’t corruption or mismanagement. Those we will have with us always, and those words actually relative and malleable, used for no purpose but to channel outrage and shape the media narrative in order to bring about a shift in the balance of power.
What’s killing us is hypocrisy. When the DA talks about creating an investor-friendly economy, they’re saying they’ll massage oligarchs’ shoulders enough for them to say, “Oh, all right! Let’s hire a few more minions and cut unemployment; let’s part with a little more money so they can start their small businesses” which would strengthen the economy again.
So the other thing that’s killing us is the sort of whitist egoism that has the de Klerk foundation swearing black people control the economy, Afriforum swearing the Afrikaans language is endangered and right-wing sites insisting there’s a white genocide or that the equalising of rights is a zero-sum game in which white people lose theirs. People say, “If the EFF won an election, they’d chase the investors” but I prefer to say the investors would run all by themselves.
The third thing that’s killing us, then, is our collective (mis)use of language, otherwise known as lying.
Furthermore, turning Nelson Mandela into the measure of how South Africans should reconcile leads to the danger of gesturism. The CEO sleep-out that raised R24 million was a classic case of elements of our private sector swallowing a camel to strain out a gnat. And as a black man, I’ll be damned if I entertain the question, “What did you do for 67 minutes on Mandela day?”
The moment Mandela’s forgiving and humanising his capturers without their proving that humanity by concretely undoing systemic injustices becomes the polite thing for black people to do (“Don’t bring up race!”), we make black sainthood the norm when it should have been the exception. There isn’t enough equivalent white sainthood to justify this, and I’m tired. If Madiba’s legacy is to be abused for further such manipulation, he and the DA he’s been voting for since 1994 can honestly keep each other. Let the dead bury their dead and rest is peace.
In the bright, road-to-Damascus white light of her racism, Penny Sparrow revealed the 1994 miracle to have been a mirage. For on the day the New South Africa was born* its cord was not cut nor was it washed with water to make it clean, nor rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. The ANC is the only party rotten enough to make such a spectacular ruse seem real. Voting for it would be swallowing the bitter pill that we were sold out and lied to; it would be owning the betrayal the ANC manages; it would be admitting they’re the only party capable of managing it.
The ANC is the shrewd, cynical adult among the parties. It’s lying to everyone, but at least it knows that you know that it knows that it’s lying around the hypocrisy that’s grown out of the choice to preserve inequality at the cost of exacerbating corruption. The worst thing that could happen for white oligarchs is for ANC members to develop enough self-respect to finally stop maintaining the hypocrisy. What happens when Jesus does return or when billionaire ex-unionists find Jesus and part with the 30 pieces of silver they were given? Jesus!
Will I vote for ANC? My vote is my secret. But I do now have a deepened respect for the job they’re doing, the only job they ever really had—and that was to stage-manage the illusion of post-apartheid South Africa.
Having sold their souls completely to the devil, they are the only party that can take South Africa forward into the lie of Rainbowism and equality before the law.
*with apologies to Ezekiel, the Old Testament prophet
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