||Thabo Mbeki has done it again! And this time around, he has outdone himself. His online letter- Freedom from racism-a fundamental human right- (16-23 March 2007), in which he shrewdly uses the exceptionally sensitive ‘K’ word to make his claims about racism being South Africa’s ‘number one enemy’, is a ‘desperado’ maneuver, and a sad indication of the lowest of levels the President is prepared to stoop to divert people’s attention from the real issues affecting this country.
Indeed, it is also, certainly, unbecoming of a President in the ‘new’ South Africa. Such well calculated propaganda-apartheid-era style- emanating from the highest office on the land, and whose sole aim is to further confuse and
divide the unsuspecting public, needs to be countered with as much vigour
and zeal as that expressed by its main proponents.
Unfortunately, in recent years, with many intellectuals of the struggle
years, having been co-opted into the government and the private sector, very few writers and commentators now remain to do what the late Edward W. Said correctly identified as “the task of the intellectual”: to speak the truth to power. Consequently, politicians, particularly from the ruling African National Congress (ANC), have, with scandalous impunity, lied on our face and managed to get away with ‘murder’. We have been fed insulting garbage, such as “There are no human rights abuses in Zimbabwe”, and that the late crook and thief, who bought off quite a few senior members of the ANC through “empowerment” deals and loans, Brett Kebble, “was a great South African.” How about the nonsense that FIFA’s 2010 World Cup will alleviate our socio-economic woes?
Furthermore, since journalists in the so called “public broadcaster”, the
only source of information for many, are more fascinated by what
interviewing the President of the country; and government bureaucrats would mean for the advancement of their career, than exposing the contradictions, hypocrisy, and lies, well hidden beneath the smiling faces and expensive outfits, the public is forever bombarded with the government’s empty promises of the eternally enigmatic “A better life for All.” Exacerbating the situation is that the ANC has, Broederbond-style, handpicked loyalists as heads of news.
Indeed, centuries of institutionalized racial segregation have left, not
only South Africa, but the entire world highly racially polarized. However,
while, contrary to popular belief, stereotypes and prejudices about people
of other races exist in all race groups, amongst South Africa’s population
of almost fifty million, the hardcore racists are an isolated tiny minority.
Therefore, for Mbeki who, to the dismay of many attended the funeral of
the late right winger, P.W. Botha, on the eve of Human Rights Day, and
almost two decades since apartheid was officially abolished, to claim that
racism is the main obstacle towards “reconciliation” and “human rights” for
all, is a grossly disingenuous delaying tactic aimed at diverting people’s
attention from the reality that the ANC has sold out and adopted
neo-liberalism which, globally, as reflected in last year’s damning Human
Development Report, continues to widen the gap between the haves and the
have-nots. Ironically, this situation which Mbeki is partly responsible for,
only stands to fuel racial tensions.
A large number of poor black South Africans feel that “apartheid is not
dead” not because, as in the case with Mbeki’s unidentified government
colleague, of racial stereotypes and prejudices demonstrated by white
neighbours upon moving into former white only plush suburbs, but because,
even thirteen years into the so-called democracy, they remain penalized,
miserable; and are without the most basic of necessities guaranteed by our
internationally acclaimed Constitution. Some whites who have gotten poorer
with the intensification of neo-liberalism, ignorantly, blame the ANC’s
“communist” government for their plight.
While most poor people might not be aware, but the blame for their current
destitution lies squarely with the hegemonic neo-liberal capitalist systerm
of Mbeki’s government. By crying racism, is Mbeki suggesting that the
hundreds of poor black students financially excluded from the University of
KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) towards the end of last year, and from other tertiary
institutions, were excluded because they were black? Are the many people who have had their water, electrify and other services terminated because of non-affordability victims of the scourge of the “demon” of racism that “permeates so much of the fabric of our society”? Is it the evil spirit of racism which Mbeki feels “must be exorcised” that has seen more than 40 percent- using the broad definition of unemployment- very high compared to other medium income economies- of the country’s economically active go without jobs?
From these very few examples, on the manifestations of discrimination in
South Africa in 2007, one can see that while racism can and should never be
condoned, it is, however, not “race”, that has prevented many of our people from accessing their human and other rights, but their socio-economic circumstances. The Growth Employment and Redistribution (Gear)programme that has resurrected a new class based ‘Separate Amenities Act.” While the poor battle to afford enough water to drink, the rich have no problem getting their luxurious vehicles washed at the many ‘Car Washes’ throughout the country. Therefore, eradicating political, social and economic inequalities, currently featuring nowhere in the government’s policies,
should be the main, in Mbeki’s own words, “daily feature of our lives.”
In recent years, hiding behind the shield of racism, which, to a large
extent, is propagated by Mbeki himself; and is so beloved by other petty
bourgeois nationalists, has become the government’s easy escape route. When valid questions about senior Luthuli House ‘heavyweights’, both literally and otherwise, and their relatives being involved in consortia that have won contracts in the government’s mega multi billion dollar projects are raised, racism is invoked to run away, and hide from the real issue of visible corruption. The ensuing debate, in the media and elsewhere, also gets riddled with racial undertones. Instead of evaluating the facts and the points being made, mostly black people would tend to defend the “black” government and the ruling politicians against “white” detractors. This was the case during a recent Safm phone in programme triggered by Mbeki’s online letter.
In government circles whatever the ‘Chief’ says is regarded as the ultimate truth. “As the President announced during the state of the nation…” “As the President was saying in parliament last week….”, “In line with what the
President said…”, are all examples of what has become a defence mechanism for many government officials, and is turning South Africa into a ‘single-ideology’ nation, with only one man doing all the thinking on our behalf. It is regrettable that we have abandoned the culture of vigorous debate which was at the centre of the mass movement’s struggle against apartheid.
Taking the cue from Mbeki, Durban Mayor Obed Mlaba, in a move which smacks of severe nincompoopery, and is also a sign of worrying intellectual bankruptcy, recently accused all those who have questioned the municipality’s extravagant move to rename some of the city’s streets and buildings after so called “struggle icons” of racism.
Amid massive academic and financial exclusions at UKZN, the president of the Central SRC feels that racism at the institution is a serious problem and that “the struggle against it ((racism) and its manifestation, whatever form and shape it assumes, must be waged with vigour and great determination.” This is quite strange given the reality that the mainly black African students who had the “doors of learning” shut on their face by the corporatised university towards the end of last year, were denied their
right to education as a result of policies advanced by a black government in collusion with the institution’s self-proclaimed “Africanist” Vice Chancellor from the comfort of his petty bourgeois colonial ‘Campbell House’.
Surely, it is not a racist white government that, in the face of massive
poverty and destitution, is wasting billions to build stadiums for the 2010;
has purchased costly military equipment in corrupt arms deals; and has
members of the ruling class flying all over the world on gravy planes, at
the expense of the taxpayer. Is it Verwoerd or Botha, or another racist
ruler who has arrogantly denied the HIV/AIDS time bomb this country is
sitting on; or have “restructured” government parastatals for the benefit of
the elite, resulting in thousands of job loses in corporations such as
Telkom? Bizarrely, in true capitalist-style, a latest Telkom media campaign
puts the blame for the government’s macro-economic policies induced
jobsbloodbath elsewhere: on cable thieves.
When the poor stand up to demand what is constitutionally theirs, the government makes use of the same apartheid-era institutions of repression, the army and the police, to beat them up and lock them up. Some of the police that have taken part in the beatings of unarmed protestors acquired their skills while serving in the former South African Police. The beatings
are now done with ‘legitimacy’, because the orders are given by the ‘government of the people.’
The obsession with race-vigorously promoted by the politicians-has seen some black people applaud schizophrenic Robert Mugabe as an “anti imperialist” hero who has finally managed to “teach the whites a lesson”. That white people do not amount to even a percentage of Zimbabwe’s suffering population, and that this very same “hero” would rather starve his own people paying back, with loans, debts to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the main agents of modern day imperialism, is immaterial. How about the fact that Mugabe for many years was the ‘darling’ of Western imperialists, and was even awarded, in 1994, an honorary knighthood by the British monarchy: an institution whose complicity in many atrocities is well documented.
Such ‘anti white’ statements are informed by the widespread misperception that ALL white people are racist and responsible for slavery, colonialism and other injustices that have befallen black people and Africa; and other formerly colonised parts of the world. Similar sentiments are increasingly being expressed about Americans in the wake of the United States imperialism. But the main culprits of these crimes against humanity and the many atrocities that the world has witnessed are the ruling classes- the real enemy of the people from time immemorial - of Europe and the United States.
It would be extremely misleading to claim that poor Americans from places, such as Flynn-Michigan, Harlem, South Central-Los Angeles, and New Orleans, are benefiting from the bloody imperialist invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The real beneficiaries are a tiny minority, which includes George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who some have suggested is, through the intellectually challenged Bush, running the world’s only remaining superpower like a ‘Spaza Shop.’ On the contrary, poor working class foot soldiers, as former presidential candidate, John Kerry, remarked during the recently held Senate elections, are paying with their dear lives.
A heated debate has ensued following the release of the Afrikaans song “De La Rey”. Some say it is “inciting” to the extent that one reader, in a letter to the editor of the Mail & Guardian, has equated it to the slogan “Kill the Boer, Kill the farmer”. This smacks of ignorance, since the song, notwithstanding its militaristic tendencies, is a well written melody which also reminds us of the suffering of thousands of innocent Boer women and children in the British concentration camps started by, amongst others, Cecil John Rhodes in whose honour the coveted Rhodes Scholarship is named.
In true Mbeki style, the online letter is full of quotations. One is from a
report by some “independent investigator who had been asked to assess the
cause of a labour dispute, as well as conflicts within management, in one
South African company.” The report states that “the workers fear Mr X (their boss) who always threatens to fire them, and does not listen or care for them.” Chances are that Mr X, quoted in the report, might be racist. But, job insecurity, conflict between bosses and workers, and the fear of being fired, in the era of “cost reduction”, which has become the ‘mantra’ of employees, is endemic in many work places regardless of whether the exploiting boss is black or white. It is also rather startling that all of a sudden, Mbeki, a staunch believer in the ‘anti worker’ neo-liberal economic systerm, is now passionate about workers’ rights and well being.
South Africans need to open their eyes. There is a new kind of apartheid
that is engulfing this country, and, unlike before, it is not based on race.
People are denied their human and other basic rights not because of the
colour of their skin, but because they are poor. We therefore need to unite,
as oppressed and exploited members of the Human Race, like it happened in
Stilfontein during the crying times of the liquidation of the Durban
Roodeport Deep mine in 2005, and face up to our real enemy: the ruling
class, amongst whose ranks Mbeki occupy quite a prominent position, and whose greed and hunger for wealth and profit, accumulated with the sweat and blood of the working poor, are now posing a serious threat to our existence as a species.
For far too long we have allowed this common foe, as Mbeki is now
endeavoring with his racism assertions, to “divide and rule” us. Careful
examination will reveal that we have more in common with the suffering
people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries, than with South Africa’s ruling elite, including Mbeki, Zuma, Mlambo-Ngcuka, Ndebele, Shilowa, Mlaba, and other politicians. While purporting to have the interests of the “poorest of the poor” at heart, the past few years have brutally demonstrated that their loyalty lies with no one else, but other like minded avaricious members of the tyrannical international bourgeoisie that is responsible for wars and the suffering of many.
Human rights for all and reconciliation are just impossible under the
conservative economic policies that the government is robustly implementing.
Freedom from racism - a fundamental human right
Ngonyama is a postgraduate student with the Department of Historical and
Internet Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and a Durban based
activist. He writes in his personal capacity.
University of KwaZulu-Natal [student]
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