Sandile Memela
Sandile Memela

Black diamonds sold out

The deep rumbles of discontent that have exploded into an orgy of violence among the poor in Marikana and other flashpoints are the stigma of the depravation of “black diamonds” who constitute the growing black middle class.

Over the last 18 years, especially with the advent of affirmative action and black economic empowerment, we have cut ourselves from “our people” and failed to think in terms of “redistributing national wealth to ALL people who work in this land”.

Instead, we have been quick to turn ourselves into beneficiaries of slow-paced transformation that has seen us focus on the economic crumbs and lose sight of the national big picture.

Many of us have been eager to move out of the townships to re-establish ourselves in previous whites-only suburbs where, within the space of 18 years, we have forgotten about the degrading conditions the African majority lives in.

In fact, the recent behaviour of the so-called “masses” in the mining sector, for instance, is practically taken from much lauded policies and programmes of affirmative action, if you like.

Those of us who were privileged to obtain tertiary education and training have demanded that educated black be put first when it comes to opportunities and enjoying the economic cake since the dawn of freedom and democracy.

Over the last two decades of freedom, there have been many instances where we have managed on the basis of our indigenous blackness to make a clean sweep of positions, status, power, privileges and material accumulation that were exclusively owned by whites.

When we proclaimed that we needed to be number one in terms of preferential treatment simply because we were blacks born here, we did not try to make the same demands for those who were from the masses of unemployed and poor working class in places like the mines.

Thus the illiterate unemployables and poor miners have neither been truly integrated into the economic system nor tasted the juicy fruits of freedom that come with opportunity and political connectedness.

Instead, we insisted that those who had no educational qualifications were not indispensable and had nobody but themselves to blame for not being ready to take their rightful place in society.

Thus the condemnation of the marginalised and poor working class to a hell on earth was made legitimate.

In the meantime, we waved our qualifications from Western universities and showed off our political connectedness to demand that whites and capitalists make way for us if not give us a slice of the economic cake.

As the doors of opportunity opened up for those who were educated and ready, nobody was bothered to plan to integrate poor and marginalised indigenous Africans in places like the mining sector into the mainstream.

The rules for success and opportunity to join the economic mainstream were clear: no education, no gain!

We were content to slip more and more into the dog-eat-dog capitalist system to become managers of an untransformed economic system.

In fact, we did not want to rock the system. That, in itself, threatened our own material interests.

Those who were luckier were those who were educated and prominent but also members of The Party. Where this was the case, the individuals have moved on to greater things in terms of access to positions, personal wealth and power.

There were some prominent leaders at cabinet level who encouraged this culture by declaring that black had every right to be “filthy rich”.

Others refused to champion the aspirations of the marginalised and proclaimed that they “did not struggle to be poor”.

Perhaps, with the status quo intact, there was never any intention to ameliorate the plight of the poor and marginalised. The miners were born to do the dirty job and get nothing for it. Someone had to do it.

What the new times and culture demanded was for every man to look out for himself while South Africa was for everyone who claimed it to be their home.

The progress that black diamonds have made in terms of material progress has been astounding. In fact, the group earnings of the black middle class, now, is even said to be more than of the whites put together.

The dominant psychology is “become a multimillionaire while you can” or be damned.

In fact, the black bourgeoisie have not hesitated to cut ties with the black poor and shut the door behind them as they wafted into the wealth and privilege previously enjoyed by whites only.

The material accumulation of the middle class is on display for everyone to see: posh cars, plush homes, designer labels and splashes in magazines and television programmes.

The black diamonds have, rightly or wrongly, used their qualifications and political connections to hoard all the exclusive privileges and material wealth formerly kept and enjoyed by whites.

In a spectrum of organisations in the economic, religious, political and social sectors, we indigenous Africans continue to fight to the bitter end against people who are “NOT black” to give up their positions so that we can take over.

After all, this is the land of OUR indigenous ancestors. The fact that there aren’t enough of us in positions of leadership and management, if not downright ownership, is an “insult to the struggle for liberation”.

In fact, we have not stopped snarling and do believe that transformation is NOT happening fast enough and we may need to implement affirmative action until the second coming of Jesus Christ.

The last few weeks have, suddenly, exploded into deep rumbles of discontent in Marikana as the miners and masses of unemployed and other “small people” like miners implement their own version of a culture of entitlement. They want more!

Whether we want to admit it or not, they have taken their leaf from the book of black diamonds which teaches that “local blacks MUST have positions, wealth, land and power” and enjoy a growing piece of the cake at any cost.

While those in the black middle class compete with whites for “scarce” resources, the people on the ground can only do so with fellow Africans who they see as foreigners who are stealing opportunities, jobs and women from them. Also, they can demand supremacist capitalists to cough up.

Of course, it is regrettable that a frightening wave of mine “unrest” threatens to spill into other sectors now.

But the masses of unemployed and poor working class that have been left behind by their middle-class counterparts are, increasingly, demanding a bigger slice of the economic cake.

Unlike their educated patriots, their hostile attitude is not hidden behind sophisticated policies and programmes like American invented affirmative-action programmes to give back to indigenous Africans what rightly belongs to them.

They are not transformed by education and thus resort to any means necessary, especially violence and service-delivery protest.

This includes vandalism, looting, murder, destruction, violence and total mayhem.

If we are to be honest to ourselves, perhaps the chickens have now come home to roost.

The hostile manifestation on the part of the masses of unemployed and poor working class in places like the mines have no other significance than the duplication or implementation of affirmative action where indigenous blacks have a sense of entitlement to share in the wealth of one of the richest countries in the world.

This nightmare of entitlement among indigenous black is NOT less real because it happens among those who are educated and sophisticated.

In fact, it will be more so in that there is a growing gap between the rich and poor in the black community. And the black rich are not satisfied that after more than 18 years of freedom and democracy, they own less than 2% of the wealth of the land.

What needs to be regretted is that whites are far from sharing the land and redistributing the wealth from it.

It is these facts that may see beginning of a downward spiral into what Nelson Mandela has called a “descent into divisive destruction”.

While we may ALL jump into the bandwagon of condemning the “small people” like miners for unleashing an orgy of violence against mining corporates and their black moguls, we should not forget how their leadership in the middle class has left them behind and continue to express a culture of entitlement.

The middle class has long been blunt with both government and business: local blacks must be number one in everything!

If there is to be less egg dancing, let us admit to ourselves that there is not much principled difference between how the middle class behave in the name of affirmative action and black economic empowerment and how the masses are beginning to behave in reclaiming what they consider to be “their” space and cake.

The middle class continues to dislodge whites, where they can, from top positions of power and wealth.

For the masses of the people, competition is represented not only by “foreigners” who are taking over their communities but demanding a bigger slice of the cake.

Let us brace ourselves for a permanent bumpy ride until South Africa, especially its wealth, truly belongs to ALL who live in it.

After all, the human-rights struggle was uncompromising in its aim to establish a society based on economic justice and social equality. We have to get through chaos to get to that social order which cannot be dismissed as a utopian fantasy.

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