A friend of mine, Koketso Moeti, has asked on her blog whether a non-racial South African is possible. Given South Africa’s racially discriminatory history whereby the majority (being black people) were discriminated against because of the colour of their skin by the then ruling minority (being white people) – in moving past this awful history without necessarily erasing it as some monitory political parties expect of its victims – how do we achieve non-racialism?
Moeti agrees that indeed apartheid has deepened hatred amongst South Africa as a whole, both the oppressors and oppressed alike. “It also created a sense of inferiority in some of the oppressed, a phenomenon still evident today, along with the superiority still felt by some whites. To suddenly shift from all that to “…a united Democratic and non-racial society” (Oliver Tambo) took its’ (sic) toll on everyone, black and white alike. It was not an easy shift, as many clung and still do, to that hatred that was sown amongst us in an effort to divide,” Moeti writes on her blog.
She believes that “a non-racial society should be what we aspire towards”. This, she says, seems possible “considering that it was only after apartheid was introduced as an official policy following the general election of 1948 that new legislation classified inhabitants into racial groups (“black”, “white”, “coloured”, and “Indian”)”. I am not sure, however, I cannot help but suspect that Moeti’s ‘non-racialism’ question is as a result of a very controversial and contentions issue – The Race Debate – we have witnessed of late in the country.
Although this was written over 30 years ago, if not more, writing in I Write What I Like, Steve Biko had this to say: “Basically the South African white community is a homogenous community. It is a community of people who sit to enjoy a privileged position that they do not deserve, are aware of this, and therefore spend their time trying to justify why they are doing so. Where differences in political opinion exist, they are in the process of trying to justify their position of privilege and their usurpation of power”.
Biko went on to say:
“The whites in this country have placed themselves on a path or no return. So blatantly exploitative in terms of the mind and body is the practice of white racism that one wonders if the interests of the black and white in this country have not become so mutually exclusive as to exclude the possibility of there being ‘room for all of us at the rendezvous of victory’
The white man’s quest for the power has led him to destroy with the utter ruthlessness whatever has stood in his way. In an effort to divide the black world in terms of aspirations, the powers that be have evolved a philosophy that stratifies the black world and gives preferential treatment to certain groups. Further they have built up several tribal cocoons, thereby hoping to increase inter-tribal ill-feeling and to divert the energies of the black people towards attaining false prescribed ‘freedoms’”.
Of course I would differ with Biko that not all white people “sit to enjoy a privileged position that they do not deserve” because although many of them may have inherited this ‘privilege’, making them somewhat “aware” of it, it is not true that many of them continue to “spend their time trying to justify why they are doing so”. This is so because many of them continue, to this day, to work hard for their ‘privilege’. Further it is true that a “white man’s [rule and] power… led him to destroy with the utter ruthlessness whatever has stood in his way”. But, as we have also been told, it certainly is not all of them white men who enjoyed this “power”. But I might agree to a certain extent that his power at the time of apartheid did indeed build up “tribal cocoons” which as we now know or have come to understand it led to “inter-tribal ill-feeling” and have not benefited the majority except their attainment of a “false prescribed freedoms”.
Moeti rightly says by clinging on to these racial classifications created during apartheid – which Biko said were for “economic greed exhibited by white people” that has “now become a problem of its own – we are “merely clinging onto the divisions that where sown by those who wanted us to forget that we all belong to one race- the human race”.
Biko continued to write that: “The racism we meet does not only exist on an individual basis; it is also institutionalised to make it look like the South African way of life”.
Getting back to the non-racialism, it is worth noting that during the TRC not all the minority confessed their sins and wrongs and ills done during their ruling. Further, a lot was not told. As a result we will never really know what had actually taken place and what else has been kept away from us. As Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is allegedly quoted accusing his then husband and former South African President Nelson Mandela, it may as well be true that indeed the latter did rush into “selling us out” during the transitional negotiations.
Many accuse Mandela of having sold us black people at the time of the negotiations. He, however, had this to say about racism: “I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man”.
So, in responding to Moeti on our striving for non-racialism, I do not think we would achieve that until:
- All white people who worked for the apartheid government come clean on the crimes against humanity committed during apartheid and what actually happened and why did they do what they did – something that was not made clear during the TRC Commission,
- We try and see one another as equals irrespective of our blackness or whiteness,
- We talk and reach a common ground on the black and white race, and
- A “black man come to himself, pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth” (Biko).
Or I could be wrong…