Why I Stand by My Paragraph On DA “Corruption”

 

Conservative American activist Randall Terry said, “He who frames the question wins the debate.”  Unintentionally absorb your opponent’s terms, and you argue on the defensive with half your battle lost.

The definition of racism is an example of how this works.  In A Bantu in My Bathroom (Bookstorm, 2012), Eusebius McKaiser says “the idea that blacks can’t be racist is an insult to black people.”  He makes an ontological case for the definition of racism as a stable biological concept to say black people can be racist.

But Ntokozo Qwabe argues that racism cannot be defined apart from history and power structures: “Once ‘black people can be racist too,’ racism in all its viciousness becomes a frivolity — something that is anything and everything.  We are then, as a result, clouded from seeing how actual racism as a system of oppression continues unabated in social, political, economic and other institutions of power.”

Both definitions are useful, but if you allow your opponent to decontextualize the meaning of your words he’ll take your argument and beat you over the head with it.

I’ve been saying something that’s provoked many people’s ire: “[The DA’s] mostly-white network of government officials, service providers and constituency yields better results on measurables like clean audits because its individuals never returned what they gained under apartheid.  Many of its people’s temptation to corruption is lessened because that corruption was never rectified.”  Or as Sisonke Msimang observed in a Daily Maverick piece in which she described white people as “the strongest victims in the world”:

“The failure to prioritize justice has left poor black people trapped in a cycle of poverty at the very same time that it has given white South Africans the freedom to reinvent themselves.  At some point in the last two decades whites became the strongest victims in the world, and blacks — still poor, still under-represented in every area of human endeavour that marks progress — have become the oppressors.”

The DA would limit the definition of corruption to everything the ANC is more likely to be found guilty of.  This is to underplay that their parties’ respective members began life as the human results of unrectified historical corruptions.  This insidiously “corrupts” the discussion on corruption.

After Mmusi Maimane’s speech on racism, Lindiwe Mazibuko wrote in BD Live that the official opposition should interrogate “the almost exclusive dominance of white males within the party’s ‘brains trust’,” asking, “As Maimane sets targets for the recruitment of diverse candidates for public office, will he do the same for the management of the party?”  This corresponds with perceptions that post-#Nenegate -#ZumaMustFall marchers were whiter, #MarchForJobs marchers were darker and the DA’s parliamentary caucuses are black-led but white-benched.

If you point out behaviour patterns that fit hypotheses that apartheid’s intended beneficiaries are working to retain what they gained, you’re accused of repetitively harping on about the past, “making everything about race” or even “being a racist” because in 1996 we let the terms get set apart from historical considerations.  We thought changing South Africa’s vocabulary would change its soul; we thought holding our debates and discussions in English would keep them “accessible” and racially “neutral.”  Ha!

Consider how the DA takes credit for being the only party that attends LGBTI Pride Marches and “lives the Constitution” without acknowledging that more of its gay and lesbian members face less financial risk for coming out because their capacity to make a living is less likely reliant on others’ opinions.

Would I condense the DA’s good governance to its being the result of racism or invoke apartheid to explain all excellence?  These reductionist straw-man tropes arise from the same synthetic vocabulary and stifle the discussion on black excellence/white mediocrity.

Very broadly, the gist of that sensitive topic is that by and large, black people who achieve excellence do so not because, but in spite of, facing more socio-historical obstacles.  The structural-historical definition of racism forces us to question merit as a yardstick.  White supremacy will decontextualize and dehistoricise that, minimise the past and cut through every associated discussion along a similar divide.  Oh, and white people who do let themselves fall to mediocrity do so not only in spite of white privilege’s advantages, but because white privilege consists of being less exposed to the consequences of trifling with ordinariness.  Very broadly.

If the DA governs better than the ANC, we need not deny that.  But we need look no further afield for explanations as to why than its parliamentary caucus.  Mute the historical definition of racism, and the remaining unspoken explanation is that whites are naturally superior to blacks.

If we simply displace the ruling party with this opposition in 2019, we’ll again embrace ahistorical terms of engagement and postpone honest discussions on apartheid’s effects.  Future generations will pick up the tab even as we age among their unstable circumstances.

Ironically, it’s dishonesty now that will bring black people’s disillusionment with the DA to a fruition deadlier than their current disappointment with the ANC.

Please follow and retweet: @SKhumalo1987

On Holier-Than-Thou Responses to Student Protests

 

 

It would be tempting to put together a second-hand report on the actual #FeesMustFall conflicts, but others like Daily Maverick opinionista Pearl Pillay are covering that better than I can.

It’s also difficult to verify the chilling social media reports in real time.  Last night, many of us followed #ULShutdown wondering whether help was on its way for innocent bystanders caught in it.  Who qualifies as an innocent bystander is a moot debate; they get shot at, pepper-sprayed and teargased anyway.

We’re upset that our tax money is being burned at universities because we prefer to have it spent civilly on oligarchs’ vacations — and those are increasingly more luxurious.  If protesters acted like good little citizens and rolled over, it would give the reassuring impression that all is well with our fair land.  So we present an alternative: the simplistic advice that they take their fight for free, high-quality education (itself a noble cause, we insist) up with the government that’s been wasting public money.

But what do we do with the EFF’s theory that State corruption and ineffectiveness are intimately woven into the 1994 settlement’s maintenance of white supremacy and inequality?  We live in a butterfly effect universe.  To change the smallest variable at one point, we need to alter the whole Jenga tower.  We cannot demand a less corrupt government in 2016 without simultaneously demanding real sacrifices from the beneficiaries of apartheid in 1994.  We cannot shift one tile without changing the whole mosaic.  Yet the myth of white innocence still justifies holier-than-thou tweets about the use of the stick and woke students (side-eyes Helen Zille) in a country that shoots its black protesters for sport.

Our Mandelified non-racial discourse inoculates the white beneficiaries of apartheid, the system largely rigged to protect their place in the economic status quo, from black students’ “civilized” explanations as to why they’re so angry.  It insulates observes from recognising their implication in violence perpetrated by private and public sources.  That, and Power’s reliable unreliability, is why many of these students are disillusioned with negotiation and have resorted to this.

However inconvenient it is, we cannot deny oppressed people the right to reject law and order when those subvert justice; to eschew endless negotiation that delays relief.  Otherwise we’d have to condemn the anti-apartheid struggle.  We’d also have to deny the oppressed their right to exist — a task the State and private security companies will rush to before they dip so much as a toe in real justice.  This is to silence protest before you and I recognise Power’s violence as proxy condemnation of the anti-apartheid struggle in the bodies of the students who were never supposed to rise above the cycle poverty that keeps the machine going.

We could circumvent 1994’s hangover through political realignment.  But the official opposition party’s trickle-down economic policies will widen the gap between the rich and the poor.  We must also remember that its mostly-white network of government officials, service providers and constituency yields better results on measurables like clean audits because its individuals never returned what they gained under apartheid.  Many of its people’s temptation to corruption is lessened because that corruption was never rectified.

That the ANC absorbed members of the NNP or that the DA was formed long after 1994 does not change that these parties’ respective members began life as human results of apartheid’s economic and racial policies.  To uncritically swallow the DA’s message that its successes are disconnected to structural racism is to accept the ANC’s failures as the natural outcome of its being a black liberation movement.  That’s the lens through which we view post-liberation African governments.  It allows the beneficiaries of apartheid to secretly long for the good old days (side-eyes Dianne Kohler Barnard) in the same breath that they claim respect for struggle stalwarts.  In a system built for their and their consciousness’s comfort, they’ve never had to know when being on the wrong side of the law was the only way to be on the right side of history.

One of them insisted that “reasonable” UL students would non-threateningly leave the premises.  Someone else replied, “Why don’t you sit on the golden throne apartheid gave you and enjoy your white privilege in quiet?”  Many of the students at the UL res were practically ambushed: they were plunged into darkness (the power was cut) while pepper spray, stun grenades and rubber bullets whizzed around them.  Why expect that if cameras turned on those students at that moment, they’d be facing their lot with harps and halos instead of throwing rocks and burning property?

South Africa is built on the valorisation of black martyrdom on the one hand and the vilification of black martyrs on the other.  Piousness in the abstract-historical is desired; it sanitises and dignifies the measures it takes to change the status quo as though it isn’t as bad as violent protesters make it out to be.  This minimises implication.  But people in the concrete-now aren’t as desirable because they’re the actual results of the status quo’s violence.  That’s why we can grieve how the apartheid government criminalized St. Mandela while demanding that the current government presume all student protesters guilty of criminal activity until they’re proven innocent.

We’ve elevated sanctimony to a fine art.  Violent protesters anger us because they refuse to let us have that cake and eat it.

Please share and retweet: @SKhumalo1987