Sandile Memela
Sandile Memela

Black anger management

Many ugly and unfair things were done to blacks under apartheid. The miracle that some people do not believe happened in 1994 is that black people, generally, forgave whites for their sins.

They chose to let bygones be bygones, release the hurt and trust that the gesture would significantly contribute to nation building and reconciliation. The alternative would have been to cling to the hurt and humiliation and become vengeful beasts that would have plunged the country into a race war without winners.

There are no winners in war.

The apartheid regime waged a relentless war against black people that left thousands dead and countless others with deep scars in their souls. But still the mightiest military state in Africa did not win the war.

Black people who espouse and live out the philosophy of ubuntu – African humaneness – have refused to allow hurt to poison the future that so many died for, including children.

Many people throughout the world found it unthinkable that white people in South Africa could get away with murder, rape and land theft, literally. But through the grace of African people, they did. For those still wondering what the 1994 miracle was, it was the self-effacing forgiving spirit of black people.

In fact, the miracle was not the peaceful election or rise of Nelson Mandela as the first democratically elected leader of a fledgling nation. It was the generosity of black people, in general, to let go of bitterness and anger.

They intuitively knew that if they were to cling to desires of revenge to hurt and humiliate white people, they would be allowing what whites did in the past — to control black behaviour and attitude. White people cannot be hurt by black bitterness and anger. What these negative and useless emotions do is poison black lives.

Anyone who harbours feelings of revenge and anger to hurt others is carrying a heavy burden in their souls.

Unfortunately, there are some black people who are mad and angry at those who inflicted trauma and pain on them. These include men like HF Verwoerd who is dead and gone for over 50 years.

Some black leaders are bitter and angry at this man who is no longer living. Even his apartheid project has collapsed. It is bad enough that Verwoerd designed apartheid that stunted national development and destroyed black lives for 50 years. But Verwoerd is as dead as his apartheid project. They will never return.

Tempting as it is to want to prosecute people like FW de Klerk, Adriaan Vlok and their apparatchiks, black people must not allow themselves to be hurt by staying angry and revengeful.

This would be a serious setback to the journey they’ve made towards self-healing in the last 25 years.

When black people forgave white people, it was not because they were not aware of what happened in the past. It was done for black people themselves. Forgiveness was a gesture of self-healing and taking responsibility for controlling the past.

Those who want to control the future must control the past. They must retain power to define and interpret what happened in the past.

Forgiveness should have released black people from being victims and prisoners of negative emotions. It should have freed blacks from pain and anguish.

When blacks are bitter, angry and feeling revengeful in the name of seeking justice and redress, it is not whites who hurt. Instead, black people are hurting themselves. The victims and prisoners of this desire for justice, whatever that means, are black people.

When whites waged battle against indigenous people to take over the land and control its resources, they thought they would stop black people from self-determination and freedom. They believed black people would never assume leadership to determine the destiny of this country.

But today we know that whites were fooling themselves. Apartheid and white supremacy were failed projects from inception.

Black people, whether they realise it or not, control the destiny of this country. They have the power to decide to drag it back into the past or move it forward.

No one epitomises the spirit of forgiveness better than the late first president Mandela who was imprisoned for almost 30 years. This is one man could have been bitter, angry and full of vengeful thoughts.

But he did not let that injustice steal his destiny. He befriended the lowest white apartheid apparatchiks, learned the oppressor’s language, redefined himself, refocused his vision for nation building to move South Africa forward and thus claim his rewards.

There is no telling where this country would have been if he was bitter, angry and filled with revenge in his heart. There are many others who were not as lucky as Mandela to see freedom. They were brutally murdered. There are others who are buried in unmarked graves and some whose families do not know where they’re buried.

But black people cannot allow this brutality to take control of their thinking and feelings, now. They have overcome the enemy – which was a system designed to dehumanise them. Today, the destiny of black people is too great for them to cling onto bitterness, anger and revenge in the name of justice. The world is looking at black people to give it a human face.

Another living example of this spirit of forgiveness is Reverend Frank Chikane whose clothes were laced with poison. Like Mandela, Chikane allowed apartheid police chief Adriaan Vlok to wash his feet, forgave him and moved forward with him to build a new society.

As Martin Luther King Jr preached, “Either we live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.

Forgiveness is not about forgetting where we come from and the hurt and humiliation black people were subjected to under apartheid. It is not about being nice to De Klerk and giving him awards. It is about black people letting go so they can channel their energies and time to nation building and social cohesion, to leave a better world with a human face for posterity.

There are valid reasons to be bitter, angry and full of revenge. But it was not black people’s fault that white people were marauding thugs who went around the world turning others into slaves. The colonial project was approved by white kings and leaders in Europe. Blacks had no control over that.

What was done to them as a result was wrong. Forgiveness does not mean that white history will be glorified or ignored. It will be captured to show the levels that man can descend to. What happened can neither be forgotten nor excused.

Black people have every right to nurse their pain to heal themselves. But they have to learn to let go to focus on the future they suffered for.

The people of Mandela have a destiny to fulfil. They cannot falter now. The journey of healing themselves and those who hurt them must continue.

That is what Mandela would expect of black people.

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    • Tory Mok

      Dear Mr Memela – thank you for a beautifully written piece, that puts a lot into perspective. I strongly feel though that the only way to move forward is to understand each other’s position. Many white people are quite happy to accept responsibility for apartheid BUT… :) Why is the role of Shaka and his Mfecane ignored? He murdered millions of other black people and this is just ignored. Mugabe is never taken to task for 200 000 black people that he had murdered by the 5th brigade. The ANC role in the Quattro camps where more people disappeared than were killed by the white security forces if memory serves. As for the slave trade, it is well know that the Arabs, not the whites, ventured into Africa to trade for slaves that were captured by other black tribes for the sole purpose of slavery and trading. Why is this never mentioned? Why is the fact that England STOPPED the slave trade never credited, and the fact that Mauritania, a black country, was the last country in the world to outlaw slavery and this was only a few decades ago? If we are to move forward in understanding, then black people need to come to party too and acknowledge their own role in history. Otherwise, in my humble opinion, they will forever be slaves to the victimhood that was imposed on them by apartheid. I look forward to debating this with you as I am keen to learn. Wishing you a blessed weekend. Tory

    • Mathole Macwele

      But this is at the center of black inferiority. The ability to pretend you happy about something extremely painful to you. Seeking justice must never be confused with revenge. Justice cleans the soul. It makes you turn on a new chapter in life.

    • Jon Quirk

      This excellent article that embraces so much that is positive in Africa, also has embedded in its factual basis at odds with the truth of history. History is of course always open to interpretation but ignorance is seldom a good starting point to ever resolving intractable issues; and I am certain that the vast majority of South Africans are looking for successful solution rather than the ever-widening gyre of riposting hate speech.

      So rather than throwing around invective and hate speech; how else can the following be interpreted? – “But it was not black people’s fault that white people were marauding thugs who went around the world turning others into slaves” – it would be helpful to look at the facts.

      As uncomfortable as it is people should go and look at the Victorian England debates of the day (Hansard is a good place to start) and in particular that between Gladstone and Disraeli, between them five times Prime Minister of England in the so-called age of Imperialism, on the merits and de-merits of the heavy investments into the Commonwealth, then largely India but embracing also Southern Africa.

      The debate from both sides recognised the huge financial burden on the British fiscus and taxpayer in funding railways, schools, infrastructure and governance, and the total lack of direct payback from the colonies.

      The free-traders, the conservatives led by Disraeli argued strongly that it was a worthwhile investment because it opened up trading opportunities for British business; the whigs led by Gladstone felt that the development aid and assistance should rather be directed to social spending at home rather than infrastructure spend in India and South Africa.

      We could endlessly debate which side was more right or wrong – but both sides recognised that “colonialism” was a cost – massively benefitting the countries into which funds were sunk, with only, at best indirect benefit to Britain.

      So lets have the debate by all means – but let it be an informed debate.

    • Rory Short

      “That is what Mandela would expect of black people.”

      Actually I think that is what Mandela would expect of all of us South Africans.

      Throughout the generations of people living in our land there have always been those who worked for the benefit of all, as there still are today. Mandela was a supreme exemplar of this, i.e. the adherence to the South Africa project not the adherence to some narow sectional view of our beloved country and its people.

    • Sarah

      So true, may we all hold hands and walk together towards a great future for all.

    • Rory Short

      Everybody has a different start in life and that is an indisputable fact. It is a reality that has already happened if you are an adult and one that is still happening if you are not yet an adult. The question that we each face and have to answer is what do I make of the reality that has already happened in my life. Do I do my best to draw benefit from it or do I waste my energy condemning the events that comprise it and the people who I consider as being responsible for it. I opt for the first option. Unfortunately there seem to be large numbers of South Africans who fruitlessly prefer the second option.

    • HESMBC

      “…..1994 is that black people, generally, forgave whites for their sins…..”

      People can forgive each other but ONLY GOD/JESUS can forgive sins. No other being has the power to do that! Even the black nation (with the white nation) should REPENT!

    • Nardu

      If the success of South Africa is in the middle of the argument, why write about a certain race? This is narrow minded and I’m sure Mandela expected the nation in its entirety to forge ahead for mutual success and happiness for all.
      My wish is that everyone, together as a nation, would put their heads down and work toward our mutual and common happiness
      Not Black People, not White People, nor Indian or any other group – but EVERYONE TOGETHER

    • Rory Short

      Good point/

    • Moor

      Ntate Memela, next time please speak for yourself! Not everyone feels there was a miracle ka 1994 and not everyone has forgiven the Whites for what they did to us. I personally feel that we are not necessarily focusing on the deeper problem here . Firstly, In order to move forward as a nation we need to understand the problem of racism in depth (Not only apartheid)and then we’ll be able to provide with constructive solutions. Secondly, I doubted there will be a brighter future when we haven’t decolonised the education system, politics, sex, labour, media etc. We need to change the perspective of going to school and working for someone else (White boss) and we need to instill Self-Love and Self Respect to Black people. Racism is deeper and it will take more than Mandela to “Free our Souls”. It starts with us by taking pride in who we are and embracing our vernacular. Nna ke a ikgantsha ka puo ya heso!

    • Rory Short

      Absolutely! In my view the ANC has fundamentally failed black people and thus South Africa as whole by (a) seeing people with black skins as somehow unable to uplift themselves when given the right skills as compared to people with white skins and as a consequence it has (b) tackled SA’s social problems from a ‘nanny state’ perspective with legislation that bears all the hallmarks of a ‘nanny state’ stamped on it. Instead of starting from the belief that all people, black or white, are quite capable of, looking after themselves and their needs, and that the state’s only role is to assist them where needed with education, skills development and resources where needed , that is all. The provision of RDP housing is a case in point. Surely enabling people to build their own homes would have left individuals with a far greater and genuine feeling of self worth than they could ever get from putting their names on a list for government housing?

    • Kaybz

      Trying to find white people who fought for freedom of blacks under apartheid regime is like looking for a needle in a dozen haystacks. They are/were the exception. The majority enjoyed their lives and benefited greatly from apartheid whilst black mothers and fathers watched kids die and starve and and and and…
      I find it hard that some people never want to acknowledge how ugly that was. How it still affects most blacks today. and how the benefits enjoyed by white people then is still being enjoyed today. Some people wana act like sure, it was rough but lets move on and forget this whole thing. We can move on but lets remember that we will not be on the same pace, because while one was prepping himself for med school, the other was just trying to make it home alive in one piece and not get harassed by police.
      Some people in all their education and racism talk somehow fail to grasp this fundamental concept about the whole apartheid issue.
      I don;t see those “white votes” feeding poverty stricken families :(