TO Molefe
TO Molefe

No miracle arose in SA’s transition from apartheid

We can’t ask him, because he’s six-months dead, but I’d be surprised if Mgcineni “Mambush” Noki thought South Africa’s transition from apartheid was a miracle.

I didn’t know him at all, so wrapping my thoughts around his shoulders, as I do now, as he did the blanket that earned him the nickname in the press “the man in the green blanket”, gives me pause. He was about my age and he’s dead, for R12 500 a month. It was said this’d spell disaster for Lonmin Plc’s value if the company acceded to the miners’ demands.

But at almost £370 a share at the close of trade on Friday, the company’s value has more than recovered from the Marikana “tragedy”, as it’s become euphemistically known. It was a mistake, a senseless aberration, divorced from the predictable man-made arrangements that led to the massacre.

Lonmin Plc has recovered, alright, but too bad about Mambush and the 33 others who died with him on August 16, and the 10 others who died during those six days where people rose up and asked for their fair share, and got it.

Mambush. Can I call him that? His image haunts me. His head is cocked to the left and he’s smiling, sweetly. Me. A cool, calculating “head” person.

At the same time I’m assailed by an immutable narrative that this country, this rainbow nation of ours, underwent a miraculous transformation between 1990 and 1994. The sea parted and we walked dry land to Canaan on the other side.

Barefoot blanched by fluorescent white light, I look like a corpse. I mouth to my reflection the bathroom mirror: “It could have been me on that koppie.”

It really could. Had my parents died when I was young, as Mambush’s did, it could have been me, the eldest son, on that koppie, making a last stand for wages enough to feed, clothe and educate my younger siblings.

But it wasn’t me. I’m on the other side with the tiny handful who made the crossing. I’m in the promised land watching daily a bloody tide wash away Mambush, Andries Tatane, the Verwaal four and many others, far too many others. And as I stand here on cool, dry, safe ceramic tiles, the sea continues to close in around the millions more pincered in the closing torrent. Twenty years later, being poor and black in South Africa is often fatal, still. How’s that for a miracle?

So whose interest does it serve to promote the narrative, as the History Channel’s Miracle Rising: South Africa does, breathlessly, that disaster was averted by the negotiated settlement? Averted for whom?

Certainly not Mambush, whose bones lay in the cold, hard earth. He paid with his life for this supposed miracle.

Apartheid was a system that at its core was about the economic exclusion of blacks for the benefit of whites. All the other forms of exclusion that encased it, political, social and such, existed only to preserve an economic system designed to benefit whites. Had the latter-day apartheid chiefs known that the system could play possum by shedding its outer layers yet keep living without the global moral condemnation and being harangued by blacks yapping incessantly about equality, they surely would have begun negotiations sooner.

See, in barter for granting blacks political equality, whites got to keep their ill-gotten economic gains, which is what apartheid was about anyhow. To boot: blacks agreed to stop demanding equality in all its forms with the militant urgency that boiled over into a state of emergency in the 1980s. Blacks agreed to accept progressively, bit by aching bit, the freedom they’d been unjustly denied for decades. Blacks agreed that the majority would continue to be excluded and oppressed while a few got theirs.

That’s no miracle.

Mambush surely knew that, which is why he was up on that koppie, with the cry for freedom that many forgot still on his lips.

For each time the miracle narrative is repeated, and it has been many times and will be many more, another poor black life is snuffed out, drowned by what goes down in my books as the greatest marketing campaign to never be acknowledged as such.

Tags: , , ,

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    • GrahamJ

      “…Apartheid was a system that at its core was about the economic exclusion of blacks for the benefit of whites…”

      If you are going to write about something then learn about it first. This was not the root cause of apartheid, and neither was skin colour.

      As much as you might want to believe something, go and do some research…

    • Stephen

      “Apartheid was a system that at its core was about the economic exclusion of blacks for the benefit of whites.” Yes, that it certainly was.

      And now we have another minority dominating the vast majority. A system about the economic exclusion of blacks for the benefit of blacks, with whites slowly but surely being marginalised.

      The economically disenfrachised masses are more numerous now than under apartheid. This is the miracle. A ‘miracle’ that this was allowed to happen immediately after apartheid.

    • Simon

      Great article. I enjoy your writing.

    • yvonne

      So, should you be paid according to ability and production or should you be paid according to the number of siblings, wives,children of your own making you have to support?No business works that way! If you think you should be paid according all your expenses and not your production and ability – then you will have to start your own business and pay yourself because nobody else will.People are murdered here in heir own homes for a cellphone! Thousands need jobs and will accept being paid for what you are worth not what your family costs you !That is not any Company”s problem but your own. That is how it works with all of the rest of us in the rest of South Africa- that are NOT protected by AA?BEE and all that nonsense, we deliver and work and our families are not the problem of our employer- it is our problem if we want too many kids and extra wives,we have to find the extra money NOT the job- then we are free to leave an look for a job that will pay what WE think we should get. That could take years.! So better start your own. or accept a jobs as it is, if it is not for you-No Problem find another one.

    • Pale Rider

      Your article leaves a bad taste. There would be no President Obama if there were too many people who think like you do. Think about it, Mr. “thoughtleader”.

    • Alois

      Why not call apartheid what it actually was, an occupation. And the work is still not done in “rainbow” South Africa, where the national narrative remains in the design of the apartheid paradigm. For example, news coming from South Africa reveals a tendency to mimic the United States in that the newscasters as usually presented as of mixed heritage and possessors of flawless English but nothing “African” about them. Moreover, the African identity has been erased totally with flawed categories such as “blacks.” Was this your self reference preEuropean southern Africa? I pity future generations of young Africans who will face a cultural erasure and self flagellation. Israel wisely named itself a Jewish state, meaning never again will they be fourth rate in their ancestral land.

    • Gaboutlwelwe Solomons

      I shudder just to think that was what used to happen,enemies fighting in the dark.Today we have our own people we elected to steal,rob and get rich alone

    • Dave Harris

      The miracle was that even after the brutality of colonialism and apartheid, we still avoided a protracted civil war which would have led to immense death and destruction on both sides and foreign investors would be left high and dry.

      The negotiations for liberation unfortunately were one sided due to the apartheid state’s use of the “third force”. This greatly angered Mandela but in the end the ANC placed more value on saving human lives and let the beneficiaries of apartheid hold onto their ill-gotten gains a while longer. Mandela also understood that this greed was the genesis of apartheid. And so the struggle for economic liberation continues!

    • John Foley

      Good article.

    • Tofolux

      @TO, I am quite astounded at our fickleness, our intellectual laziness and the lack of moral fibre we have when we interrogate this transition. In fact, I wonder who promised this ”rose garden” everyone now talk about. There is no sane, sobre or responsible person who uttered any promise other than this chattering and spoilt middle-class who said promotes this instantaneous ”new order”. Also, it is quite astounding that despite NO blueprint, we are this unrealistic and thankless. But in saying this, TO, please paint me the picture with a timeline of this instantenous, transformed society and whilst you are doing this, please do not forget to add the day to day challenges and realities both local and global. I am really interested in this ”BLUEPRINT” that some seem to be talking from.

    • Matoro

      Great article. Keep on writing … be it from the other side of the great political aka economical divide.

    • The Creator

      No, it definitely wasn’t a miracle. It was, however, a tremendous accomplishment by the ANC and its allies, bought by colossal struggle at prodigious cost and through brilliant and dedicated leadership.

      In other words, what we accomplished through all that hard work (and the work of so many others across Africa and the world) was imperfect. Now we need to do something to build on that. Unfortunately, to do that would take almost as much work as overthrowing apartheid itself. So far, nobody has come forward to attempt the task.

    • Quincy

      That which brought us freedom has been ambushed by a bunch of opportunists masquerading as leaders. We have become a leaderless nation overnight. Those who are willing to serve their people expose themselves to all forms of assassinations. The brutality of Apartheid and white supremacy to which we so much continue to grieve has been replaced by a more sophisticated machinery of self service and greed that continues to produce all forms of poverty.The time has come to bring these words to fulfilment the words by Madiba, that “If the ANC does to you what the Apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the Apartheid government.”

      People will arise to make a stand against, not only the present regime but the corruption that has enraged the whole country.

    • Brent

      The IFP almost right up to toi 1994 elections insisted in wanting in depth discussions on economics (see Mario Ambrosini’s article in Daliy Maverick) to match the politics but they were dismissed as spoliers. The commandment of Nkruma “seek yee first the political kingdom” ruled the ANC/SACP alliance and we still reap the down side now. About time people, especially the media start apologising to the IFT and their aged leader. Winnie a few years ago blamed Mandela for not negotiating the ‘economic codesa’ but it is the fault of the whole ANC/SACP grouping.


    • Peter Joffe

      As long as we have corruption from the top of the ruling party to the bottom of the ruling party, as long as we have panga and gun waving ‘protesters’ trying to force their will onto companies, as long as we have violent strikes and demonstrations, as long as crime and rape are acceptable behavior and, as long as accountability is not part of high office, there never ever will be a miracle other than the ‘miracle’ of destroying what little was good in the past and replacing it with what no longer works.

    • ian

      370 pounds a share? nooit bru…you reading that incorrectly, thats the pence price – so its 3.70 pound per share (now down to 3.49).