Vusi Gumede
Vusi Gumede

The South Africa we do not want to know

There is a real South Africa. There is a fictional South Africa. Perhaps there is one in-between. This is a country, not a nation as Christine Qunta persuasively argues in her new book, which got its political independence – not real freedom – 22 years ago. Until the latest and newest African country – South Sudan which got its political independence 5 years ago – South Africa was the late bloomer in Africa. The euphoria that characterized the gaining of political independence has dissipated. There are occasional moments of ecstasy and frequent moments of depression.

This is a (our) country – the ‘post-apartheid South Africa’ as it has become popularly, but questionably, known – whose reality underwhelms and its fiction overwhelms. What is South Africa in the context of 1994? Some argue that post-apartheid is an inappropriate description of the country as we currently experience it. Others feel that democratic – as in democratic South Africa – is a misnomer. The journalist and author Naomi Klein characterized ours as a ‘democracy born in chains’. The fiction might very well be that South Africa is great; that this is a new country – alive with possibilities – a rainbow nation. The reality is epitomized by the paradoxes and contradictions that describe South Africa 22 years since political independence as I discuss in my new book.

Among the key issues is that the political economy of present day South Africa is a compromise between the African majority rule and the white minority that holds greater economic power. The racism and white supremacy that the country endures cannot be divorced from this reality, hence FW de Klerk (the last apartheid President of South Africa), can say that the apartheid regime was only “morally repugnant in a qualified way”. Linked to this are brainwash and the damage that the minds of black South Africans have gone through. Both global white capital and white business in South Africa still have an upper hand while the political leadership and the masses of Africans bicker. The 350 years of apartheid colonialism – and the over 500 years of colonialism and imperialism that rudely interrupted progress in Africa – have done a thorough job, not only in relegating the majority to the periphery but to instill self-hatred, ignorance, arrogance and vindictiveness among the majority Africans.

Because the government is increasingly losing credibility, white people have acquired another ticket to disrespect the majority with impunity. And indeed the majority allows this, because whiteness is viewed as sacrosanct. The system was configured in such a way that even today the majority spends more time worrying about white people, and their white justice/law against their white crimes. Many Africans have been so preoccupied with the Oscar Pistorius case, as an example. When Sindisiwe Manqele was incarcerated for 12 years, possibly for defending herself, the silence among Africans was deafening for instance: most Africans find themselves in a helpless psychosocial ‘space’ which clouds them and pay undue attention to wrong things instead of self-advancement and playing part in taking South Africa forward, among other important things. Most Africans go to white churches where white priests tell them that Africans are subhuman. Most Africans adore whiteness, as Caribbean scholar and intellectual activist Ama Mazama says, and to the extent that we dream of white Jesus Christ.

The country has a long way to go, if we are to face the reality. Mabogo More, one of the greatest Fanonians of our time, has been on point that there has not been decolonization in South Africa because “decolonization entails the re-appropriation and return of national territory (country) to its original indigenous people and freedom from oppressive regime.” He further argues that “without decolonization in the form of land reparations, reconciliation is impossible”. Indeed, reconciliation has been a façade as many have argued. Without effective socioeconomic transformation (including systematic restitutionary, restructuring measures and, more importantly, equitable sharing of resources), we must forget about ever becoming a nation as I argue in my new book.

To take us forward, we must address one of the fundamental issues which we seem to ignore or avoid: what has informed the policies and associated initiatives for the kind of the society that the liberation movement envisaged? Could it be that the theorization by the liberation project had blind spots? Put differently, were the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) theory, the Colonialism of a Special Type (CST) thesis and such sound bases through which a new South Africa was to be born? What about the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)? And now the National Development Plan (NDP)? It has become patently clear that the first stage of the NDR remains far from being completed, and there are no signs of moving to the second stage (i.e. socialism). So much has been said about the TRC: what is clear is that reconciliation has not taken place. As far as CODESA is concerned, it is important to acknowledge the context that brought about the political settlement we have had to embrace. The work of the TRC too was shaped by a particular context which we cannot wish away. However, that said, white privilege looms large. And the NDP is oblivious of this obvious reality.

Given the various policy positions that guided the liberation project, a question arises as to whether the Bill of Rights in the Africans’ Claims or the Freedom Charter or the 1996 Constitution or some other theoretical framework should have formed the basis of the ‘new’ South Africa and or what should inform our development approach going forward. Norma Chaloult and Yves Chaloult as well as Peter Hudson, among others, argued that the CST thesis was not an appropriate characterization of South Africa even in the 1950s/1960s. In addition, Nicholas Visser argued that the CST thesis would easily impress any person with little knowledge about South Africa because it obscures rather than explains the South African conundrum. Writing about the TRC in 2000, the Ugandan academic Mahmood Mamdani argued that the use of a Latin American (TRC) commission’s design was problematic because “the Latin American analogy obscured the colonial nature of the South African context: the link between conquest and dispossession, between racialized power and racialized privilege, between perpetrator and beneficiary”. It is therefore, perhaps, a better or more accurate characterization that South Africa is [was] a settler colony.

Besides the challenge of global capitalism and ubiquitous racism, as a starting South Africa requires a profound restructuring of state-capital relations – a new vision for the economy is critical. At the centre of any initiative to redressing the historical injustice or to ensure inclusive justice has to be a thorough understanding of the ramifications of apartheid colonialism. And, by implication, fundamental reconfiguration of societal relations is overdue.

So much for the new South Africa, where fiction thrives!

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