You may have noticed that I’ve been on a crusade for truth these days. In this spirit, I wrote that women must take responsibility for patriarchy, too. I’m now going to ask about the basis on which you will cast your vote.
If you’re black, you’ll recall that our before-liberation lives revolved around coping with the oppression we were under. There was safety in conformity, dignity in uniformity, and power in numbers. Compliance was what “we” did; innovation was something “they” of other races did. Indeed, Bantu Education existed to realize this narrow vision of the black person.
So when we had problems after 1994, how did we solve them? Often, we said, “Mr Government, you’re so big and strong. Won’t you help us? We’re so helpless. You made all the promises that you made, and appear to have inexhaustible resources. You told us that we were entitled to so much.”
Having been micro-managed by the State through the apartheid era, we had not learned to self-govern. Having had everything thought out for us, we had never learned to concern ourselves with how our thoughts, words and actions affected the bigger picture in the long run. This is why, incidentally, black environmental activists are so rare. We were, quite simply, slaves who were not ready for the immense freedom that arrived in the early 90’s.
You’ll notice that when we get sick, many of us still say “Ngiloyiwe” – “I’ve been bewitched.” It’s never about the diet, or the sedentary lifestyle or the drinking or smoking habit. Why is it that the common denominator with all the stories we tell ourselves is that they locate the causes and the solutions, “out there,” and never with us?
Why is it that when students struggled academically, we looked to Mr Government to single-handedly “fix it”? Ironically, our tendency to group up and kowtow helped us to form study groups that got us through Matric and beyond. But is it possible that in most other cases, we’ve just grown used to being acted upon instead of acting? How could we not be? We were the people whose lives were, for decades, run by bureaucracies that mechanically told us what to do, and spat the results back at us. We did not have to comprehend the philosophies behind the machines.
I’d like to split responsibilities fairly: if we the people failed to throw their weight behind the new government as it realized the vision of the rainbow nation, the ruling party likewise failed to emphasize that it could not play its role unless we people were willing to relinquish whatever mindsets we held in conflict with the Constitution. This I pointed out in my open letter to the ANC. In that letter, I questioned the ANC for electing a leader who capitulates to what is popular, instead of standing up for what is Constitutional. Do you imagine that the ANC will risk votes by telling people in frank terms where they themselves are acting contrary to the Bill of Rights that secures our common dignity? Do you think the ANC has a vested interest in telling people to stop thinking within their immediate worlds, and start seeing the bigger picture? No, it doesn’t, for then there will be less need for government.
When South Africa most urgently needed a firm leader with clear convictions, it gave us an entertainer who broadcasts back to us our political, philosophical lethargy and short-sightedness.
I have a theory: post 1994, persons within the ruling party figured that the country’s needs were bottomless and that “the poor” it would have around always. South Africans were becoming more aid-oriented instead of growth-oriented. There was no polite and politically correct way to get everyone on the same page about the basics of our political system and the economy.
Mixed into this was the stickiness of calling people to account for their actions just after we’d survived a regime that gave some races a head start and others a tail end. Let us admit, we would have seen that as a betrayal. Some of us found it easier as victims to sit together and nurse our wounds, our superstitions, and the half-truths we told one another about the other races, than to fix our lives in spite of those wounds. The nursing of our wounds was understandable, except the global economy would not give anyone a free lunch no matter how wounded he was.
My theory is that in the face of all this, certain members of the ANC figured, “Why not borrow some money from the petty cash?” because it knew that just as the Government was not going to tell the people to play according to the new rules, neither were we going to tell the Government to play according to ANY rules. We had just overthrown a rulership that abused its authority. The ANC knew that we were not going to reject it over discoveries made by media, the Judiciary and other political parties. In our struggle-conditioned minds, those entities were comprised of those whose demand for accountability was a sign that they didn’t “get” what it was like to be oppressed; if they understood, they would gratefully give the liberators the freedom to do as they pleased. Mbeki in the HIV/AIDS debate was an exception – only when denial becomes a treacherous river to swim in are we shocked awake.
Do you see that in their dysfunctional co-dependence, the Government and its staunchest supporters would not hold one another accountable or see fault in one another? They silently agreed to throw out the bathwater of the old authoritarianism with the baby of accountability. Even today, in post-apartheid South Africa, meritocracy is easily conflated with racism: it comes across as a sneer at the squalor of one’s underprivileged background whether such a sneer is intended or not. Under half the squabbles between people of different races is the unspoken, indignant question, “How dare you expect me to succeed in this system, play by these rules, since your forefathers gave me the disadvantages I now labor under?”
But how intellectually honest are we when we speculate on the motivations behind people’s actions? I’ve seen black people being angry at, and rejecting, fellow black people who seemed to perform well under meritocratic circumstances (PHD: Pull Him Down) – and then turn around to hold those black people up to white people as if to say, “See? Some of us can beat you on your own turf.” We, who revolted for decades through civil disobedience, hold in disdain those who keep to the rules and then turn around to hold them up as paragons of virtue when the occasion suits us. We whose Constitution gives us the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity, deny the parallel Constitutional right to those of different faiths, genders and sexual orientations. We piss on the thing that guarantees our inextricably interdependent freedoms, which we are all responsible for protecting, not just for those we agree with but for everyone, all the time. The Bill of Rights is the core of the New South Africa, and by neglecting it so badly we have failed to realize freedom.
How intellectually honest are we? I’ve seen some of us flippantly say that we owe those of other races who fought against apartheid no gratitude because they were at choice about becoming freedom fighters; they were at choice about the risks they took, about “betraying their own” as some of my relatives put it, and that is why the oppositions’ decision to clarify its role in the liberation of black people is “meaningless propaganda.” One blogger who said as much was called out by commenters who told him he was being a spoilt political brat who refused to hold his liberating party accountable for its performance – and no amount of “white guilt” would make them keep quiet. There is only so much hypocrisy and guilt-tripping that anyone can tolerate.
Unable or unwilling to embrace the rainbow in its entirety, we refuse to hold our (black) leaders accountable before or alongside citizens of other races. Race, and not reality, has come become our moral canon. This would be a brilliant strategy except it has one flaw: sharing a skin colour with anyone is no guarantee that he won’t screw you over. When race, and not reality, becomes the measure of morality, we impose apartheid on ourselves all over again whether it blossoms now or in the long run. Then again, since when do slaves consider the long run?
Beneath black people’s fear that another political party like the DA will bring back apartheid, is our fear of not being able to crack it in the meritocracy that the DA or a similar party would usher in with clinical efficiency. It would be like an anesthesia-free vivisection of our inability to “just do it” and would also question our choice to not have standards. Even now, in the wake of apartheid and colonialism, the DA’s meritocratic attitude often come across to us as a callous, racist indifference – and that is what the DA’s strategy ought to be speaking to and correcting.
In all intellectual honesty, I cannot square Helen Zille’s suspicion that the 2013 Matric results are too good to be true, with the glaringly bad Mathematics results. How can the Matric results be “too good to be true” if people are failing Math?
Perhaps her suspicion of the country’s academic potential isn’t on biological or ethnic grounds. It is that we have little philosophical honesty. For us, intelligence is something we take on long enough to ace examination papers and make lots of money: we don’t carry it through to our racial and political views, nor to holding ourselves, our politicians and one another accountable. I once found myself discussing racism with someone to whom I explained that the colour of a person’s skin could not exhaustively tell him everything he needed to know about the morality of that person; intellectual honesty said as much, alongside everything history said. “I can see how you could arrive at that view,” he said. “But it’s optional.” “How is intellectual honesty optional?” I asked him. He explained that apartheid had taught him to never trust a white person; that no matter how nice a white person appeared, none of it could ever possibly originate from a real moral center. This man with qualifications and an education said that it’s justifiable for black people to do as they please now to white people because no white people are morally real anyway; apartheid, through which he’d survived unscathed, had taught him as much.
My belief is that the injustices caused by the past do need to be addressed through interventions today; his belief conveniently juggles intellectual principles to whichever configuration suits his prejudice and his greed. It was by a similar intellectual dishonesty that apartheid’s architects justified what they were doing.
Do you see what he’s doing? He’s using apartheid to justify having race, and not reality, as the measure of morality. This is because he’s hoping to use reverse-apartheid to somehow squeeze wealth out of white people, without being screwed over by his black leaders. He’s hoping to dine with the devil without becoming the meal.
In light of the just-highlighted intellectual dishonesty we black people indulge in, and refuse to be held accountable for and also refuse to hold the Government accountable for, can Jacob Zuma truly blame Helen Zille for having what he calls “that old mentality” regarding black people’s intelligence? He knows that she doesn’t trust him so he locates the issue with race, which is a very nifty move on his part considering that as a race, many of us DO refuse to act or speak from a place of intellectual honesty. There IS something to her suspicion that the Matric results are flawed. Mathematics is a numbers’ subject, and numbers do not lie; but our intellectual dishonesty could honestly permeate everything to do with the basic education system because it, too, is riddled with so many of the unmentionable problems that cause us to prefer having no standard than having a standard that will pull us back to intellectual honesty. The racism accusation against Zille cannot help but be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Remember, what I’ve spoken about here is probably the kind of intellectual dishonesty she’s been dealing with not just in white racists but also in black opportunists since before 1994. And while racism is a Big Sin, Opportunism is a Subtle Sin. I am more vocal about Opportunism because so much has already been said about racism and everyone already knows it’s wrong.
At any rate, black people would sooner side with the ANC than with the media, the Justice System or the other political parties that call it to account. We know history says otherwise, but we act as though the ANC alone fought apartheid against the forces that now hold it accountable for its performance. Am I saying corruption is excusable? No: I’m saying that by following the trajectory of history as predictably as we have, by being so blindly, dogmatically loyal, we opened up a space where corruption goes unbridled in the very party that liberated us. Intellectual dishonesty is always followed by moral dishonesty, and then socio-economic collapse.
What Bantu Education could not achieve, we are doing to ourselves, by ourselves, through intellectual dishonesty. This has all happened many times and in many countries: there is nothing new under the sun.
Intellectual honesty has led me thus far in my thought process, in terms of trying to decide which party to vote for. A pro-ANC acquaintance recently told me that my understanding of the various political parties is naïve and shallow. I am open to new information, as well as feedback on where other people’s intellectual honesty has led them.