If there is anything we learn from Nelson Mandela is that an important yet normally overlooked facet of struggle is the struggle against fear. In his prison cells Mandela realised that the liberation movement could not win if it did not defeat white fear of a black government. He rightly realised that had he been party of a minority race and done the heinous crimes against another race, he too would fear losing power. He therefore began to put himself in the shoes of the apartheid generals and leaders. He immersed himself in understanding their language and culture. It was a stroke of genius if you ask me. He realised that among the motivating factors for the continued enforcement of apartheid despite world condemnation was a deep-seated fear by the Afrikaner race of a possible political apocalypse should a black government take over.
Fear was therefore that big elephant in the room. No one would boldly stand up to the world and say “actually we fear what will happen to us when we lose power”. It would be a faux pas but equally an honest and truthful assertion. Once Mandela had understood the current that drives apartheid he began to use their language, from among other things, to strike a chord with them, at times bending backwards just to assure them that there would be no revenge or vengeance once the ANC was in power. Many people who were locked in years of perpetual fear and uncertainty began to integrate themselves in a healthy and productive reconstruction of South Africa once this fear had been defeated. Many a time this fear of “a black take-over” was dressed up in teeny-weeny intellectual arguments yet it was nothing else but fear. It was the same fear that led to a mass exodus of whites at the dawn of democracy but those who had defeated it stayed behind and enjoyed being part of a rainbow nation.
In years to come white people’s fear of a black government subsided even though mistrust of what would happen when Mandela dies lingered stubbornly. Sometimes this fear was projected in newspapers and other media outlets as rational arguments against the ANC government. Mandela died late last year and doomsayers who had predicted a race war were forced to eat humble pie. The country is still progressing peacefully. So was this fear justified? No. The unfortunate part is that this fear finds expression in legal, intellectual, moral and other discourse often hiding mistrust about each other’s vision for the country. I argue that in the same way that there is a struggle against forgetting or better put, a struggle for memory, there should be a struggle against fear.
Fear continuously holds back this country from advancing politically and entrenching more firmly democracy. Fear therefore is the main obstacle to progress. The DA recently learned that many black people mistrust it because they fear they may introduce apartheid. So worried was the DA about this fear that it even attempted to reinvent itself and its “heroic” struggle credentials. But is there any basis to allege that the DA would bring back apartheid? Of course not. Those who have read the DA policies and heard their rhetoric would ridicule the mere assertion. But a majority of black people fear a return of apartheid should they lay their hands on the levers of state power.
Even when an “uneducated” man from Kwazulu-Natal was inaugurated as president there was a depressing fear that the country would plunge into economic chaos. That Jacob Zuma would roll back the gains of the last decade and that his traditionalism would undermine women’s rights, from among other things. This was nothing else but a fear projected by mainstream media as a reality. To better appreciate how fear plays a role in South African politics one has to look at Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) as an example. Despite several assurances that the EFF’s policies would benefit all, most white people have concluded that it is borne of a desire to fight them. Those who harbour this fear then project it as a reality and engage in a facile attempt to force the EFF to “assure” white people they will not be driven to the sea. EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi dealt with it well on 702 radio recently when he said white people project this fear onto a public domain to force the EFF to lose its radical and militant character and consequently become an apologist organisation.
Zuma, and by extension the ANC, have been a victim of this unfounded and sometimes unsubstantiated fear. The ANC has had a two-thirds majority for most of its governing life and had all the legal rights to change the Constitution. They did not. But recently we have been inundated with reports that the ANC will change the Constitution. As the country prepares itself for the upcoming elections we are bound to see an upscale in the projection of sectorial fears. Some will vote out of fear either against an ANC getting yet another two-thirds majority or a DA getting to take over Gauteng or even an EFF ascending into power. Each time we allow fear to cloud our rational judgement, we must remember that this country was arrested for years in brutal conflict simply because a section of our society refused to confront the opium that was fear. We should remember too that we shall never experience something new if we allow fear to colonise us.
Let us allow our vote to change the conditions that we agree define contemporary South Africa. Let this vote not be influenced by fear. All our fears are of the past and only sustain the illusion of our past identity. The struggle against fear is a permanent struggle.