The recent chaos in South Africa over comments by Former South African President and Nobel laureate F W De Klerk that Apartheid was not a crime against humanity and this week’s truism from Paulo Coelho’s blog:
I have learnt that if you don’t control your attitude – it will control you
Brought to mind a quote I read many years ago by the now late American Author Toni Morrison when she said:
“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”
By the same token, F W De Klerk says Apartheid is not a crime against humanity, therefore the entire black community stops to prove that it is or was. Reports from the UN headquarters quoting the United Nations Conventions and article 27 of the Rome Statute of the ICC roll in to prove it.
Black twitter lit up and even Parliament is forced to take a short break during the State of the Nation Address to reason with the EFF who would not keep quiet until F W De Klerk is expelled from proceedings. Old wounds flare up and everybody is enraged by De Klerks’ audacity to the extent that his foundation is forced to retract his statement, apologise and admit that Apartheid was indeed a henious crime against humanity.
Yet, we already knew that.
Now, I have been warned not to express my views on this subject, to exercise some level of restraint. Since it is a highly emotive, potentially explosive subject which could result in some unfriendly backlash. But for the sake of my own peace of mind, I will go ahead and put my thoughts on the record.
I am glad that everyone who had a voice was able to correct F W De Klerk’s comments and others like him who would like to conveniently forget the legacy of Apartheid, or the fact that it even took place at worst or those who are quick to say that black people should just move on from the past and focus on the future, at best.
But I will admit though, that I am beginning to fully understand the minutiae of what Toni Morrison meant, when she spoke of racism as a lethal distraction.
It is a well known fact that the unbanning on the ANC and other political parties in 1990 by F W De Klerk was more an act of opportunistic improvisation than an act of actual remorse or moral contrition. Neither party wanted to relinquish their ideological/ moral positions. But external forces beyond their control dictated that negotiating was the best option for the country as a whole. In that moment the interests of the National Party to maintain some economic control over the country’s resources and the ANC’s desire for political power and an end to the bloodshed in black communities converged.
It was by no means an easy deal to make nor was it fair. I think many young South Africans myself included tend to underestimate and over simplify the complexity of those negotiations and the sacrifices that were necessary for us to enjoy some semblance of peace when we refer to Mandela as a sell-out or traitor. We were on a knife’s edge.
In all of the more prominent cases of political transitions to democracy around the world which were achieved through negotiated settlements (Northern Ireland and the Middle East being prime examples) South Africa remains the best success story. Simply because so many other internal and external factors had to align and converge to make the deal a reality. The leadership of both Mandela and De Klerk was a critical ingredient to its success which is why they were both given the Nobel Peace Prize.
With that being said South Africa is still not yet a consolidated or established democracy. As a country we have not passed the two turn over test which political scientist Samuel Huntington says is a pre-requisite for a healthy democracy.
We have not matured.
What this means is – there has not been a peaceful alteration of power from one political party to another since the ANC took power in 1994.
Only when this has happened and twice over, can we begin to think of ourselves as an established democracy and that’s only if the other key indicators such as a stable and diversified economy with a per capita income of above 14000 USD – remains on a stable or growing path. As we now stand with the ailing state owned enterprises – the picture looks very grim. We are moving in the opposite direction.
This is the “real” work that we are being distracted from.
Which is the reason why, despite all their monstrations to the contrary I do not trust the ANC nor believe the EFF, especially. They make me recall James Baldwin when he said of white people and segregation in America:
“I don’t know what (white) people in this country feel, but I can only include what they feel from the state of their(public or private) institutions: I don’t know if white christians hate negroes or not but I know that there is a Christian church which is white and a christian church which is black – it means that I cannot trust most white christians and certainly cannot trust the white church -I don’t know if the labour unions and their bosses really hate me, that doesn’t matter because I know I’m not in their Unions. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people – but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools we have to go to.
Now this is the evidence; you want me to make an act of faith risking my life, my woman, my sister my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America which I have never seen”
I feel it very time I have to use public transport, engage with government institutions or turn on my candle to read at night. In those times – I urge myself to maintain a positive attitude to control the desire to scream loudly because our country is falling apart and while we are all watching.
The events of the past few weeks ( if not decade) have shown that it is true that if you do not control your attitude it will control you. It is time we all grow up, and put as much energy fighting for pragmatic solutions to the myriad of socio-economic obstacles we face in our efforts to improve people’s lives as we do fighting for symbolic freedom(s).
“Our revolution is not a public-speaking tournament. Our revolution is not a battle of fine phrases. Our revolution is not simply for spouting slogans that are no more than signals used by manipulators trying to use them as catchwords, as codewords, as a foil for their own display. Our revolution is, and should continue to be, the collective effort of revolutionaries to transform reality, to improve the concrete situation of the masses of our country.”