What Can White South Africans Do?

This question keeps coming up.  After much wine and against my better judgment, I’ve decided to try answering it.

1.) Reparations

If our businesses can pay CEOs R100 million bonuses, we can afford justice for their employees, whose terms of labour were decided more by our country’s history than they were by the fair, non-exploitative labour practices we pretend they work under.

So white people and white-owned businesses can set up a model for reparations.  I don’t want to call it a “fund” because that sounds static, passive and dead.  We need something more participatory.

This model can be based on a simple pact between white people and members of other races: the more tax money is lost to state corruption, the less funds are available for reparations.  Conversely, the more white capital reneges on its pledge to make funds available for poverty alleviation and free high-quality decolonised tertiary education, the less accountable the black voting majority is for ensuring the state stays clean.

So if we want anything to change, reparations in exchange for holding the government accountable have to come on the table.  The one cannot possibly happen without the other.

***

Yesterday, one Ziniko Zini posted a status on Facebook that included this complaint:

“When did the ANC become custodians of blackness?  Whenever you criticise ANC you are labeled as anti-black.”

Much turns on who gets to define the word “corruption.”  I have argued in previous posts that any definition that abstractly, conveniently fails to take into account the  absence of reparations for colonialism-apartheid can only serve to shield the resultant status quo from transformation.  Or to put it simply, if you can recognise the ANC’s corruption but you cannot recognise the DA’s as it has been described on this blog on past posts, you do have an anti-black view of corruption.

A lot of white people think political/voting power should automatically translate into economic power for black people.

But how would that happen without reparations?  And why should political voting power mean better governance without reparations being made to ensure nobody is starting on a back foot?  If we say the improved governance happens

  • By trickle-down economics (DA), the rich would get richer and poor, poorer.  Apartheid economics would be reproduced.  There is nothing in it for those who started off disadvantaged
  • If by total state intervention, we become the communist regime the apartheid government predicted
  • If by some hybrid economic model, who gets to decide how far left or right the needle should land?

Do you see what is missing?  Redress.

To maintain the economy without disconnecting it from the rest of the world, we made black empowerment a secondary priority except in the case of a connected few.  Black “corruption” resulted.  For black success was only going to happen,

  • By trickle-down economics (DA) if black people were willing to be twice as good to get half as far as white people
  • Seldom by state intervention, or
  • Through corruption and connections

The only way around this, as I see it, is we de-sanitise the gains white business/people got under apartheid and call them what they are: stolen, to be returned.

So the first suggestion is reparations by the beneficiaries of apartheid in exchange for holding the government accountable by the voters.  Then you will see black voters teach one another just what is at stake: more than just the possibility of a better life, but also the upfront means for it.

2.) Repeat: Black Lives Matter

I often ask white friends to stand in front of a mirror and say, “#BlackLivesMatter” three times.  Not to explain it away but just to explain it; not to resist it, but to insist on it.

That’s when many of them begin doing what Christians call “manifesting”: dogs start barking; objects levitate.  The smell of sulphur fills the air.  They begin speaking in deep voices.  You get the idea.

There is nothing “different” or I-have-a-right-to-my-own-opinion about turning aside from the reality that black people are disproportionately targeted for violence in the U.S; from the reality that they bear the brunt of life-threatening structural inequalities in this country.  University students are being shot in #FeesMustFall protests.  Those kids are being sacrificed to white privilege.  Go ahead, roll your eyes: it is still true.  So this is racism.

Why is the exact wording around #BlackLivesMatter so important anyway?  Well, if you as a social justice activist are the first to help everyone reach an important milestone, other social justice activists who claim sympathy with your cause will pay homage to whatever rallying cry you used, by echoing it.  “[God] brought them to Adam to see what he would name them; and whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name” because first dibs.  Respect says genuine supporters will not correct, ignore or erase the first rallying cry.  They will not kill it by a thousand qualifications extrinsic to it, though they may use their own words to expand on your core concept in a sense consistent with it.

For if #BlackLivesMatter is true in any sense rooted in the real world which we share, we can only demonstrate our respect for it by echoing it without alteration, distortion or qualification.  We can accept in good faith that it does not mean #OnlyBlackLivesMatter but #BlackLivesMatterTOO.  That is the meaning consistent with the moment in which the cry arose.  Think about it if you must, but don’t overthink it.  White people generally have not overthought racist beliefs, so resistance at this point is problematic.

Nobody ever created an #AllLivesMatter rally except as a response to the traction gained by #BlackLivesMatter (or straight pride except as a response to gay pride); therefore, real social justice champions ought to echo the initial battle-cry of the underdogs revolting against oppression.  They shouldn’t echo alternatives created by those who are simply defending against disruptions of the status quo.  Don’t accept clichés that have kept an unjust world intact while giving the impression of improving it.

Google says #BlackLivesMatter was first popularised by Alicia Garza in mid-2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin.  Read about that injustice.  It happened overseas, but the world is getting smaller and strikingly similar patterns are emerging.  Those patterns indicate that white privilege was created on the back of black labour at cost to black lives.  Silence on this from white people is a loud, clear “Yes” to violence on black bodies.

Police officers only started coming clean about the racial and racist aspect of their work not because someone said #AllLivesMatter in general, but because someone zoomed in on #BlackLivesMatter in particular.

Nobody under the “we are all equal” banner has ever achieved anything like this or so graphically exposed and confronted prejudice.  This is why we suspect that “we’re all equal,” though true, is often used to neutralise those calling out specific issues at specific sites.

Though the permutations play out differently depending on where you are, #BlackLivesMatter is the starting template, and we need more white people to start saying it.  Loudly.

3.) Repeat After Me: “If It’s Not Intersectional, It’s Bullshit!”

Any of us could be the only thing standing between a casual joke and the next rape-and-disembowelment news headline.  So we must understand intersectional feminism, and live it.

If I type in who first used the word intersectionality, the internet immediately responds, “Intersectionality (or intersectional theory) is a term first coined in 1989 by American civil rights advocate and leading scholar of critical race theory, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw.  It is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.”

Intersectionality is a way of looking at the world too broad and important to describe in one sitting.  It lets us look at the world not through a lens that says, “this is either a race issue or a class issue” but one that lets us ask, “to what extent is this a race and a class and a  gender issue?” because intersectionality is the understanding that these oppressions can and do overlap.

So I’m not shy to ask that you spend at least 30 minutes a day reading on it.

4.) Repeat After Me: “If I’d Been Classified as White In the Old South Africa, I’m Still White”

It sounds helpful to say, “I don’t see race” but until apartheid’s effects are resolved, this is moral escapism.  Whatever you believe about race being an artificial construct, the effects of racism are still real.

5.) Recognise that Black Displacement, Black Pain, is Not an Accident: It’s an Accomplishment

Despite claims to the contrary by colonialists and the architects of apartheid, apartheid’s intention was to elevate white people by putting black people “in their place.”  So black pain is a white accomplishment to be owned.  Abel did not die because a rock fell on his head; he died because Cain struck his head with that rock, and that, hard enough to kill.

So, too, was black pain intentionally inflicted hard enough to persist decades after apartheid itself ended.

What’s happening today is not some mistake; it’s a testament to how serious the architects of apartheid were about ensuring that apartheid could neither be ended nor reversed.  So it is not too far off the mark to blame apartheid for many troubles after all these years.

You were not personally there when colonialists colonised and apartheidists aparthedised.  The beauty of it is you didn’t have to be for the legacy to be given to you as the gift that keeps on giving.

6.) Repeat After Me: “I Am A Born Self-Justifier. Moral Self-Preservation Is Practically Part of My Social DNA.  My Default Mode is White Apologist.”

If what I’m saying about black pain is true, do you really think the white conscience could live with it?  No!  It would hold on to the moral whiteness of being white.  But would the white individual be able to extricate himself or herself from the clutches of white privilege?  Again, no!

See how it is normal in many white people’s minds to see black people oppressed, silenced and side-lined, and then find rationalisations that allow them to live with what they’re seeing.

When black people are beaten by police or starving on roadsides, it’s just another day in paradise for a lot of them.  When dogs are beaten or rhinos are poached, however, their capacity to right wrongs is roused to full stature.  They know, on some level, that they can do this for other species but they cannot do it for their fellow man because it is then that they are the poacher to be brought to justice.

7.) Understand that Blurring the Rule for the Exception and Averages for Extremes Doesn’t Change History, Nor Does it Get You off The Hook

See 5.).

8.) Fees Must Fall and the Decolonisation of Curricula Must Commence

Look up “dead white men” or “Emmanuel Kant was a racist” and this will become clearer.  Oh, and free decolonised education is part-and-parcel of that reparations business (see 1.) so whatever high-and-mighty opinions you may have about the current Fees Must Fall protest, recognise it is happening because there was no plan for reparations.  That is why I say those students are being sacrificed to white privilege.

9.) There Wasn’t “Nothing” When White People First Got Here (or America, or Australia, etc. — You Get The Idea)

So these places were not discovered nor were the countries “built by white sweat, blood and tears” as many of you have been taught (see 6.).

What would you add to this list?   Let us talk.

Thank you.

Please follow and retweet: @SKhumalo1987

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Response to “I Know I’m Not Supposed to Ask, But Are We Still Welcome Here?”

The politically correct answer to Steve Sidley’s question is, Of Course You Are, Silly!  More tea and jam with those croissants? 

But politically correct answers are like placebos for Ebola patients, plasters for gunshot wounds, or, to cite a more scandalous comparison, like 1994 rainbowism for apartheid’s aftermath.

While I liked Sidley’s article, I would have preferred one titled This Is What I, As A White Person, Am Prepared to Do About Structural Racism and Inequality.  Or Why Aren’t More White Businessmen Concerned About Structural Racism and Inequality?  Sidley has probably addressed these topics, but what surprises me how much traction this piece got.

But of course.  The question conveniently implies we (black people) have the power to decide white people’s fate and were always ready to use it violently.  It conveniently underplays how much economic power white people hold.  So this is not about accountability; it’s about victimhood.  I submit this is why its resonated.

It is glorified abdication of social responsibility, a sexy way of resignedly asking, What else can I do, but just [pick up my assets while I still can and] leave?

Its a refusal to admit complicity in the inequality that defines South Africa.

If we pretend the displaced shack-dweller has the power to tell the white billionaire to leave the country, we impute powers to black people that they haven’t got and a victimhood to white people that isn’t there.  It is for this reason that Sisonke Msimang has said that post-apartheid South Africa allows white people to reinvent themselves as “the strongest victims in the world” at the expense of wronged black people who are then cast as unfair, unreasonable and hostile.

We all did this as children at some point.  When numbers and raw strength aren’t on your side, your biggest weapon is exaggerating your vulnerability.  Use tears to elicit sympathy.  One black person posts a rant against white people?  Cry global reverse racism.  The newest BEE codes compel you to have at least one director of colour in your business?  Tell the world that reverse apartheid and white genocide are everyday business here.  But what, I ask, has been taken from white people as a group?

This resistance of historical justice is only possible because the level at which we’ve chosen to bring about redress has been persuasive rather than coercive; dialectical rather than confrontational; peace-based rather than violent.  And I’m afraid a respectable, even likeable piece asking whether white people are welcome here may serve, in the end, to legitimize this sleight of hand.  Hilarious, this thought, that the noise of white victimhood will probably be inversely proportional to actual white losses (or as my mother used to say, “Stop crying before I give you something to cry about”).

This is not to say the concerns listed in Sidley’s piece are not legitimate.  It is to say that a reaction that goes from 0 to asking whether you are still welcome in 4 seconds rushes past questions like What Can I Do To Help? and for this reason reeks of a quest to skip accountability.

What inspired the question was Sidley’s observation of events associated with #FeesMustFall protests.  Allow me a tangent?

***

British surgeon Dr. Paul Brand discovered that leprosy doesn’t “do” anything to damage sufferers’ limbs and eyes.  It deadens pain sensors, making the sufferer more likely to sustain a thousand little injuries.  Infections accrue to precipitate life-threatening syndromes.  This is how diabetics and lepers lose their limbs and lives.

The doctor spent five years trying to develop an artificial “pain device.”  He would put electronic pressure sensors inside modified gloves and socks, and those would beep when users’ hands and feet were exposed to undue pressure.  But a glove can’t tell the difference between useful force and unwanted stress the way a functional nervous system can.  Did you really mean to tap those keys so hard, or is something biting your fingertips?  Even if it could tell the difference without seamlessly referring to your background knowledge about where you are and what you are doing, device users would ignore warning beeps from those gloves/socks and continue with strenuous tasks, worsening their existing injuries anyway.  This is human nature.  So whatever its imperfections and drawbacks, there’s no substitute for nature’s ingenious early warning system — pain.

Since 1994, South Africa’s progress towards equality has depended on white people vicariously, artificially feeling pain they’d been systemically insulated from; pain they’d in fact been positioned to benefit from.  So instead of actually entering this pain and dismantling the structures that inflict it, many have turned to two escape routes.  The first has already been discussed, and that is resignation disguised as vulnerability.

The other has been to remove the gloves and the socks when the beeping got annoying.  And what #FeesMustFall and many other protests is, is beeping from a second-hand pain detector.  It’s annoying, but it’s not actual, direct pain inflicted on those who’ve gained the most from the inequality being protested.

At its worst, this has been referred pain.  Referred pain is when, for example, your heart isn’t getting enough oxygen and you feel a pain felt in the neck, down your left shoulder and arm.  In such instances, the issue is never the issue.

Likewise, Fees Must Fall isn’t about fees.  It’s about the unequal status quo that law, order and the 1994 settlement have served to uphold.  That’s why the protests, which began so peacefully, have devolved into lawlessness and disorder.  This is a snapshot of how even the most peace-loving people will turn ugly if you keep bullshitting them.  “They are discrediting their cause,” say those who probably have not suffered half the injustices the protesters are revolting against.  But they are no longer playing to that audience because that audience was never going to help them.

Had a dignified life been accessible and affordable to all in South Africa all along, nobody would have thought about protesting for free education.  Nobody would have had to.  So #FeesMustFall is a proxy #BlackLivesMatter movement with a subversively narrow and indirect focus — or if you prefer, it’s referred pain.  The students cannot turn it political (I imagine) because they come from different political backgrounds.  But they can still cause unspeakable pain and inconvenience for all of us at an issue they all have in common.  So this is about the unspeakable everything.  Absolutely everything.

I point this out because an easy way to abdicate the responsibility being placed at society’s feet is to say, “Vote for change” or “Use the ballot.”  This ignores that our political options will never have to be better than the audience they play to or the funders they get money from.  Quite frankly, our political parties suck.  To explain the ways in which they are irrelevant and out-of-touch, I would have to duplicate explanations as to why I think we like being lied to.  I would also have to repeat points made in previous blog posts.  It is enough to say that the task of questioning our political stars is not the students’; it’s ours.

The violence that’s followed #FeesMustFall protests is more the State’s than the students’, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story.  Assuming it came from students, I submit such violence is their rejection of the dangling plastic carrot-stick lie that “someday” they’ll have access to the world they’ve systemically been excluded from.  I was sent a cartoon in which a protester burns his own car to reject a fuel price increase.  But the analogy falls apart because while the car belongs to the guy in the cartoon, our university spaces (along with our economy) belong not to all who are admitted into them, but to those who have the money to stay and thrive in them.  So this cartoon makes the same mistakes as the Are We Welcome Here question —  false imputation.  The car is not to the driver what the university is to the student protester.  That is why the protester will burn the university but the sane car owner will not burn his car.  This all reeks of a move to paint rioting students as uniformly insane; by extension, angry black people as hostile and unwelcoming.  It is a fucking abdication of fucking responsibility, and yes, I will swear to stress that point.

“But they’re burning the very facilities they’re going to need!” we’re told.  Ah, so that, and not the sight of thousands of your countrymen living in squalor, is what makes you sit up and pay attention.

Let’s get back to voting as the solution.  Against what standard do we grade our political options?  The constitution?  The freedom charter?  Why are so many South Africans convinced that the constitution is an expansion (and not a dilution) of the freedom charter?  You don’t have to support the freedom charter to see that a number of sleight-of-hands have been pulled, and shall continue to be pulled, to keep South Africa from ever becoming anything other than a playground for the obscenely rich and a cheap-labour farm for the obscenely poor.

So are white people welcome on this playground by the badly-paid labourers who maintain it?

Are the bourgeoisie welcome with red carpets by the proletariat?

I don’t know, hey.

A friend of mine — white guy — often says the earth will “sneeze humanity off” because we’ve become a plague, a parasite.  Does this mean we’re not welcome on this planet?  The question makes it sound as though the planet went out of its way to not want us.  That makes it the planet’s fault.  Bad planet.  Hostile black people.  Etc.

But any being’s sustainable occupation of the corner of the universe it finds itself in is dependent on that being’s awareness of its impact on and interaction with that corner of the universe.  In other words, rather than asking whether we are wanted, we should each strive to not be parasites.  Let us not embarrass other people by putting them in positions where they have to teach us not to litter, or not to exploit unjust power relations.  We cannot change a second of the past, but we can fight to act with greater awareness going forward.

For if I say “No, white people are not welcome” I’m the bad guy, the racist.

If I say “Yes” I make it sound as though we’ve achieved rainbowism and I’m pleased with how far we’ve gotten.

If I keep quiet, I make it as though the white people I’ve loved and respected should be left without defense.  Or I am seen as passively endorsing that white people still live off of material goods they gained under violent circumstances.  Are white people welcome here makes it sound as though I have been deciding whether white people keep those goods or run with them; it avoids the hard question of what white people are prepared to give up so a better South Africa is achieved.  That is not a question that should be abdicated to other agents, or political parties.  It is personal work and group effort.

Assurances that white people are welcome only serve to guilt black people into feeling they may have been too harsh in their critiques of whiteness, or may have drawn white tears.  This makes it about white people all over again.

Thank you

Please follow and retweet: @SKhumalo1987

Jacob Zuma Has Been Recalled By the ANC

Those of you who understood #ZumasResigned (which he has, in every way that counts) will understand when I say Jacob Zuma has been recalled by the ANC’s NEC.

I know, I know.  They couldn’t actually recall him themselves.  He knows about too many of their smallanyana skeletons.

But reports on intended actions tend to leak.  They intended to recall him; they didn’t intend for the country to find out at this time.  But there never could be a right time.  So let’s make this the right time and call it ourselves: “Jacob Zuma has been recalled by the ANC.”

#ZumasBeenRecalled.  At this moment, this has zero Twitter and Facebook search results.  It is a blank canvas, a tabula rasa.  The NEC must recall Zuma is an old idea that dies upon suggestion; the NEC has recalled Zuma, however, is a thought that has not crossed any mind.  Because it has never happened; it never could happen, except by extraordinary means.

So say it.  Trend it.  Breathe it into being.  Be one of the extraordinary means.  Retweet.  Post.  Tell everyone who will listen.  And those who won’t.  For once this thought becomes part of the national psyche (even a resisted thought), those fighting it will be demoralised by one unexpected disadvantage: we are not waiting to hear whether Zuma is still on the throne or not.  As far as we know, his closest buddies, whom he’s been throwing under the bus, have finally returned the favour and done away with him.  And they are not denying the idea as vehemently as we would expect.

Anyone fighting this rumour will slump into resignation because the death of that cause need only happen by word of mouth.  As more and more people take this opportunity to say, “Zuma’s been recalled,” contesting this narrative will make less sense and take more energy.

“Jacob Zuma has been recalled by the ANC, and the ANC has forced him to resign.”  Look at what a magnificent chain reaction it is!  If the ANC recalls Zuma and the NEC demands his resignation, he has to hand it in.  Likewise, if we make it clear to the ANC NEC that their doom is fait accompli unless they’ve passed this grenade to Zuma, they, too, will have no choice but to accept it.

Recalling him was their only choice already from months ago.  If they choose to remain in power without acting on this only choice, it won’t be too long before the power is shown to be illegitimate and more wheels fall off the wagon.  And just as they won’t care how long Zuma will take to hand over his resignation once they publicly announce his recall, so, too, won’t we care how long the fact of his recall takes to materialise in their world before we accept it as truth in ours.  We’ve made up their minds.

“Jacob Zuma has been recalled by the ANC.”  Any engagement with this proclamation will only serve to give it oxygen.  One person after another asking, “Is it true that he’s been recalled?” will force out one seemingly surprised denial after another, one arrogant laugh after another, and then, as the inevitability of it dawns on them, one angry and defensive statement after another.  We can push them through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief on what has happened, affirming Otto von Bismarck’s words: “Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.”  John Pilger stated the same thing.  “If it’s been officially denied, then it’s probably true.”  Get the ANC to deny this, and the seed would have been planted in its listeners’ minds.

Even if they do not deny it, their silence on it will be deafening.  No response serves to do anything but create another headline.  ANC Mum on Growing Rumours of Zuma’s Recall.  Zuma Still Out And About Despite Collapsing Country That Has Recalled Him.  His presidency stands delegitimised whatever he does.  Zuma’s friends won’t finish this round of crisis-management without succumbing to what’s already true about his rule.

“Jacob Zuma has been recalled by the ANC” and a dignified exit has been arranged for him can be the default belief of the nation until it is true.  Anyone who wishes to plant a contrary idea in the national psyche first has to disabuse the public of any contrary thought.  But we won’t be disabused.  We already know how this ends.  He’s dug the grave, and he’ll fall into it; he’s erected the tombstone, and shall trip on it.  We’re just using our voices to startle him into doing so.

Say the words syllable by syllable.  Out loud.  Hear how they already ring with truth.  Look at how they’ve already set a celebration from the start of this week to the end of this month.  Because it is true, even if the ANC says it isn’t.  They don’t have any credibility anymore.  In their hands, the country disappears.  So we force their hand to make Zuma disappear instead.  Jacob Zuma was recalled by the ANC because the ANC has no existence from which to deny doing this, unless it does recall him.

#ZumasBeenRecalled is the ANC’s only remaining lifeline, and if they don’t take it from us they’ll continue flying to the brick wall they’ve been racing to all along.  If they do take it, they may just have a chance to rescue their party and with their party, the country.

 

We will tell stories that begin with the words, “Remember when Jacob Zuma was President…” whatever stage his recall and subsequent resignation is at.  We’re not waiting for him or the ANC to agree.  The events of the last few weeks have been their agreement.  Zuma owes us R6 billion rand — and R50b for the latest Gordhan crisis, and half a trillion for #Nenegate, and so on.  Which of your creditors will wait this long for their money back from you?  Will they wait until you give them the go-ahead to hand you over to lawyers?  Never!  Their letters say, You have been handed over, not You must be handed over.  You are a passive recipient.  Likewise do we consign Zuma and his cronies to the archives of history whether they are ready to be consigned or not.  We do not say, “The ANC must recall Zuma” but “The ANC has already recalled Zuma” because it cannot have done but otherwise if it still exists.  And if it does not exist, it cannot deny.

Reader, don’t investigate into the matter: simply push it as news no matter the response and no matter the source of the response.  We are now in charge of the transmission; we control the leaks and the denials; we make the decisions.  Because ultimately, it is our fate, our money and our futures that are tied into the decisions.  This isn’t sedition; it’s survival.

And one by one, as more and more people choose to survive, they, too, will echo the event: Jacob Zuma has been recalled by the ANC, and the ANC has forced him to resign.

Thank you.

Please follow and retweet: @SKhumalo1987