AFRICANGLOBE – South Africa is good at reinventing itself, at trying on new clothes, as if an outfit changes the qualities and personality of the wearer.
We did it in 1910 when the Union of South Africa was birthed by the British. We did it in 1948 when our new apartheid laws turned us into the most unethically dressed nation in Africa. We did it again in 1961 when the National Party declared South Africa a republic, free from the British Commonwealth. Our newest outfit, the dress from our historic Autumn/Winter 1994 collection, is now 21 years old, and evidently in tatters.
Unfortunately, South Africa has never fundamentally changed over the years, we simply changed clothes.
The greatest problem we face as a nation is not our neo-liberal imperialist economy that favours US and British capitalist endeavours. It’s not that the police criminalise and sometimes kill people for being poor or that miners, farmworkers and domestic workers are still grossly underpaid. It’s not that we have an inadequate education system, which mimics the structures of colonial conquerors or that we are importing instead of producing basic foods. Our biggest problem is not even crime, South Africa.
Our biggest problem is the unwillingness and inability to address the common denominator between these problems: the white supremacy that has never conceded its creation or the imbalanced South Africa of yesterday and today.
The system that created these problems has never been put on trial, nor were its architects. While we all live in a better country by many accounts, our reinvented nation simply wore a radiant new dress, one that was unfortunately covering an enormous white elephant.
A true miracle in the autumn of 1994, the true service that Mandela Day asks of us, would have been white South Africans getting together to think of effective ways to divide their wealth, compassionately conceding social and economic power in the name of equality and leaping at the myriad opportunities there are to break down structural racial inequality.
As long as the recipients of charity for Mandela Day and other such initiatives are poor, needy and Black it means the white elephant is at large.
The whole of South Africa can’t be faced with the responsibility of destroying a problem it did not create; all we can collectively strive for is to solve the problems that have resulted from white supremacy from within our own communities. Only white people can end white supremacy from within their communities – from their churches, schools, dinner tables, clamber clubs, sports clubs, boardrooms, banting restaurants, neighbourhood-watch WhatsApp groups, advertising agency brainstorms, rebranded Broederbond organisations, newsrooms, coffee roasteries, and homes.
The role of Black people is to recover from the psychological, emotional and economic effects of white supremacy. How they do that is up to them.
We now need for our nice white friends and neighbours to do the challenging work of having uncomfortable conversations about race and about developing ways that break the cycle of wealth- and poverty formation.
It is not Mandela’s forgive-and-forget approach to change that we should cling to now but Steve Biko’s structural, ground-up social and economic integration and the ability for Black people to self-determine outside the pattern of master and servant. To borrow from his teachings, we need to create a South Africa where Black people don’t need charity from white people.
This is not a request or a plea, it is a requirement if we are all to live in the peace we are all desperate to achieve. It is time to divide more equally the responsibility of dealing with the racial dialectic we find ourselves in. But there has to be the will to change. If there’s no will to change, those who do care will die trying, as will the dream of our new-look nation.
By: Milisuthando Bongela