Dear Black People in SA
Yes, I just went there. You’re most likely thinking, “Who’s this cheeky, condescending upstart to write a letter with a title like this one?” But I must speak about some family issues.
Apartheid wasn’t primarily about racism
It was about power and it used an exceedingly efficient method to control the public: “divide and conquer.” The colour of our skin was a convenient, nature-given way of marking us out as the most vulnerable group at whose expense another could take a shortcut to the kind of life everyone wants, and which anyone could make moral compromises to achieve. Do you really think that had the situation been reversed, we would have been that much more righteous? Freedom fighters who fought against both white and black domination are barely even in their graves yet, and some of “us” already wondering how to “make ‘them’ pay.”
That advantaged group did what it did, ignorant of, and in some cases ignoring, the bigger story behind advantages it received from the State. If anyone would dissect who of “them” was merely ignorant as opposed to who was actively ignoring the issue, I wish him well and hope he still has his sanity at the end of the exercise: it is one in futility. It was very few people that actually ran this system, and most of them are now dead and buried. Racism was a means to an end. Please let us see it in proper perspective.
Racism was the tool by which apartheid got control of our souls by teaching us what to fear, what to hate and what to tolerate. And now, we can tolerate so much that ought not to be tolerated and are fighting and fearing the wrong enemy because of everything we were taught.
Racism was the fastest way to teach everyone the Pavlovian cues by which the system could orchestrate people’s movements to serve the financial and political interests of those running it. Even Hitler, who had Jewish blood, would have happily traded his anti-Semitism for another prejudice that would have served his purpose better. Psychopaths have no empathy; let us not believe that they are capable of hating us. We were not their real interest: the thing they could get from us as we responded to what we perceived to be wholly personal attacks is all that they wanted. Our skin colour was convenient. If we believe that apartheid was about racism, then we might as well also believe that rape is more about sexual interest than it is about power. As long as we believe that apartheid was entirely about racism, we will retain something of those Pavlovian cues in a way that skews our ability to correctly interpret the words and actions of white people today. Racism is real and it was apartheid’s tool, but it is not the ultimate explanation for or purpose of apartheid.
People who believe that the devil is real say that his real genius is making everyone believe that he doesn’t exist. Apartheid’s real genius was feigning defeat in the early 1990’s. Apartheid walked out of the Union Buildings and climbed into most of our souls where it continues to rape, exploit and control us with a far more refined efficiency than it enjoyed last century. The tragedy is that we don’t think we’re suffering, and when we realize that we are we locate the problem anywhere but with ourselves.
As long as we conflate apartheid with racism, we will be drawn to an “us and them” mentality. We will consequently refuse to see anything good in “them” or criticize anything bad in “us.” “They” could speak the truth with good intentions but because it has come from Them, we will reject it and move the other way. We will keep cutting our nose off to spite our face, and therein lies apartheid’s supreme victory: when the enemy has finally taught his victim to self-mutilate, then the enemy can truly retire because his work is done. Many of us say that we are free and empowered. I think that we are sick, lame, blind and deaf lepers.
If we confound apartheid with racism instead of seeing racism in its place as apartheid’s most expedient tool, we will form a blind spot to our racism against ourselves and other races. We will believe racism to be a one-way street, or “white people’s invention,” something “they” and the other races have a monopoly on and naturally exert whenever they get the power or opportunity to do so. But we all should know by now that absolute power corrupts absolutely, whatever the race of the one wielding it.
The danger with believing that racism is a one-way street is that it dehumanizes us by saying that black people can either be the targets of racism, or of the pity of other members of other race groups (Eusebius McKaiser wrote something to this effect in A Bantu In My Bathroom). This view strips us of the human abilities to love and be loved, hate and be hated, respect and be respected, contribute and be contributed to. It also allows us to get away with using our victim-hood as a shield while stabbing the lance of our unacknowledged racism into other people’s dignity. To wholly confuse apartheid with racism could potentially strip us of our humanity. It is an act of self-loathing, another way that apartheid declared its absolute victory over us in 1994.
Much has been said about the need to “forgive white people” for apartheid. There is no question that vast percentages of white people benefited and perpetuated the system, knowingly or unknowingly, nor that many black people suffered and resisted. But when we reduce the complexity of this tangled, dazzling history, a history with many sub-plots running contrary to the overarching storyline, to an “us-them” story in which we are the innocent, victorious victims, we likewise find justification for mutually dehumanizing “solutions” and “correctives” to the inequalities brought about by apartheid – solutions and correctives that are ungainly, unwieldy, and in the end, destructive enough to turn South Africa into another byword like the names of countries slightly north of ours. We must tread carefully as we address past injustices.
As long as we think that apartheid was about racism,
and the Pavlovian queues of race, racism, people and group mentalities are in place, we will believe subconsciously that democracy is about majority rule. The kind of democracy we have shaped, puts any person or people-group at a close second to some highly nuanced principles that hold in careful legal tension the good of the individual and the good of the group.
Critical, unbiased thinking
On the one hand, we must investigate everything we hear; on the other hand, if we are suspicious because it was said by someone of a different race, then we’ll be so much more gullible to something said by someone of our own race in a prominent position. And that gullibility leaves us open to so much abuse, abuse whose brazenness defies our education, our worldliness and our shrewdness. Any psychological opportunist Tom, Dick and Harry could learn how to use this Achilles’ heel to our detriment and for his gain. Let the reader understand.
We must be very careful about when to bring race into an equation, and when not to, and at what angle. I was at Clicks, yesterday, buying some personal items when the cashier asked me whether I wanted airtime with my purchases. Out of habit, I said, “No thanks,” and then realized that since I’d be going to Pietermaritzburg, I might need extra airtime in case the person picking me up had difficulty finding me. “You know what, actually, I’d like some,” I told her before she finished ringing up my purchases. When I saw a knowing smile on her face, I traded some small talk. “You get that a lot, don’t you, people changing their minds?” “Yes,” she said, still smiling. “But some people take advantage.” I realized then that the smile was a contrivance when she dropped this bombshell: “Especially if they’re fellow darkies.”
I looked at this beautiful girl who carried herself with so much poise, and pitied that beneath the human being was a mental animal who kept in her mental cage because she’d been trained to do so. The Pavlovian cues were still there. She thought that my last-second change of mind, which had to do with the trip I was leaving for, was about our shared skin colour and me viewing her with contempt because she was serving me, as a customer; that I derived power from victimizing fellow former hostages of apartheid, and in so doing assumed the role and power of the oppressor. She was barely 30, and the apartheid government had gotten inside of her and owned her. That, or she thought everything that happens to her is about her when it wasn’t. Her racism-victim mentality is just the “poor-me” and the “it’s-all-about-me” mentality projected to the scale of the group, and hidden behind the accusation of contempt and the defensiveness of suspicion. Young lady, and I have your name on my till slip: cry me a river and drown in it.
Unless and until we learn to step back and ask, “What is this really about?” other people of other races will resent the power we derive from positioning ourselves as dejected Victim at every opportunity we get, or the slack we cut ourselves whenever we say an issue is about race. I will not list examples and say, “That was about race while that other thing wasn’t”; I merely highlight the principle as we go about addressing those past wrongs that still need addressing.
Just as the Church was pure until it came into power in 300 AC, the ANC too was pure, but apartheid went undercover and reincarnated as two of the most morally volatile elements in the world: money and power. Disguised, it Trojan-Horsed into the ANC as those two things and now eats it up from within.
Apartheid is almost ready to lean back and take a proud look at its masterpiece: us. By going undercover and operating as moral corruption within us, it would have turned us into materially wealthy animals, parodies of humanity replete with all the trappings of humanity. The scars of bondage accentuated with the scratch marks of what we did to ourselves, by ourselves, when we had freedom. Our ruin will be complete. We will be animals, with some being more equal than others.
Remember Animal Farm when you pelter me with indignant comments about this letter I’ve written you.
Twitter handle: @SKhumalo1987