Source: Amandla! Issue 45
By: Alex Hotz
Jeff Rudin has published three articles recently. One of them appears in this issue of Amandla! The other two (“Where are all the ‘good people’?” and “The gallop back to apartheid”) are on similar subjects. This is a response to issues raised in all of them. The debate about race and class has been reignited by the formation of the RhodesMustFall movement and many other black student movements across the country. These movements are articulating a black consciousness and pan Africanist politics in response to the context of black people more than 20 years into “democracy”.
Why are “born frees” focused on racism?
Rudin starts off his article “Where are all the ‘good people’?” by stating that our Constitution has declared South African society to be non-racial. He says that the students who are up in arms about racism, who have worn t-shirts or said things like “Fuck White People” are all born frees. He wonders how this can all be explained, since it seems we have not experienced the racism of apartheid.
Firstly, we are not a rainbow nation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission did
nothing for this country except put a bandage on a deep gaping wound. The rainbow nation mythology of the new ‘democratic’ South Africa is a long way from the work that is actually required to deal with a history of racial discrimination, segregation and
Non-racialism or multi-racialism?
Historically, in the liberation movements during apartheid, there were different ideas of what non-racialism is. Neville Alexander, for example, argued that race was a social construct. The white supremacist system of apartheid used the idea of race as a means to exploit and oppress black people and build the wealth of a small minority. The ANC claim
to believe in non-racialism. But their understanding and practice reflects multiracialism,
not non-racialism. It accepts the apartheid categorisation of people into four races (African, Indian, Coloured and White). Their difference with apartheid is a belief that these four races should be able to co-exist equally.
Can non-racialism work?
It seems that Rudin, like many others, really believes that the end of formal apartheid and the adoption of this new constitution has led to a non-racial society. All are equal before the law, South Africa belongs to all who live in it and there is in fact unity in diversity. This has been promoted through liberal processes of reconciliation as seen in the Truth and Reconciliation narrative, the rainbow nation mythology. These and other stories try to mask the deepening inequality, structural and epistemic violence that permeates our society, for purposes of “nation building”. As Neville Alexander asks: “given the tenacity and the apparent solidity of the colonial-apartheid social and economic structures and their ideological underpinnings that have shaped all our lives, how realistic or feasible is a nonracial South Africa?”
It is impossible for a non-racial society to exist if it has failed to come to terms with race and racism in all its aspects, including the law, politics, and economics. We cannot build a non-racial society without dealing with the structural, systemic issues that perpetuate and entrench systems of oppression, especially if we have not deracialised ownership of assets and capital, redistributed the land, and changed the structure of the economy.
“Born free” is a myth Why ca ll young black people ‘bornfrees’ simply because we were born towards the end of formal apartheid or at the beginning of the “democratic” South Africa? The reality is that the majority of young black people do not see any of the supposed benefits of post-apartheid South Africa. We live in a post-apartheid, apartheid South Africa, where racism is still very much alive, rife and institutionalised. Look at our universities, Afriforum, the Penny Sparrows for example. Young people throughout 2015 have voiced clearly that “vokol” has changed “ Not only have they kicked the black but they have also told him how to react to the kick”
Since 1994. We are not liberated. Violence is inflicted upon black people every day (physically, psychologically and structurally). Inequality and poverty have deepened. Black people are still landless, wealth is still in the hands of the minority and the opportunities for young people become less and less every day. We are still having to fight for free education.
What are race and racism?
Rudin says that there is no such thing as race and it is a social construct. In response, I would like to look at Biko’s definition of black consciousness and even racism as it serves as one of the ideological pillars of RhodesMustFall. The Black Students Manifesto of SASO defined blacks as “those who are by law or tradition politically, economically and socially discriminated against as a group in the South African society and identifying themselves as a unit in the struggle towards the realization of their aspirations”. Biko himself said “Black Consciousness is in essence the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude. It seeks to demonstrate the lie that black is an aberration from the ‘normal’ which is white”. As black students in RMF we have made it clear that we adopt blackness as a political identity, not to “disregard the differences that exist between us, but precisely to interrogate them, identify their roots in the divide-and-conquer tactics of white supremacy, and act in unity to bring about our collective liberation”.
Are all “whites” the same?
Rudin comments about the homogeneity of the definition students put forward of racism. Someone like Joe Slovo is in the same category as the white supremacist criminal Clive Derby-Lewis. It is this very argument which makes young black people angry, when we are
voicing our pain and challenging the racism and the racist vitriol that we must
confront on a daily basis. White people do not experience this.
We don’t need white saviours
In I write what I like, Biko writes that white liberals must understand that “the days of the Noble Savage are gone; that the blacks do not need a go-between in this struggle for their own emancipation. No true liberal should feel any resentment at the growth of black
consciousness. Rather, all true liberals should realise that the place for their fight for justice is within their white society. The liberals must realise that they themselves are oppressed if they are true liberals and therefore they must fight for their own freedom and not that of the nebulous “they” with whom they can hardly claim identification.” White people, especially those who claim to be progressive, resent black people whose political consciousness is awakening and who can no longer tolerate the injustices they must face on a daily basis. It challenges the very privileges white people have been afforded just because of their skin colour. These are very comfortable privileges that they have grown accustomed to and are unwilling to relinquish.
Instead of acknowledging these forms of oppression, white liberals want to control the response of black people to the provocation. As Biko said, “not only have they kicked the black but they have also told him how to react to the kick”. For a long time, black people, including students at universities, have been patiently listening to the advice on how to respond to the kick. Now we are saying we will respond how we see fit.
Can black people be racist?
Rudin, goes further than just criticizing our definition of racism. He proposes that black people can be racist. This idea of “reverse racism” must be rejected as vehemently as the policing of black people’s responses to our violent experiences. In the RMF mission statement we deal extensively with the problems of the constitution’s conception of racism, as racism is not a universal experience. The constitution normalises the experiences of those who experience racism on a daily basis.
Biko explains it clearly: “Those who know, define racism as discrimination by a group against another for the purposes of subjugation or maintaining subjugation. In other words one cannot be racist unless he has the power to subjugate. What blacks are doing is merely to respond to a situation in which they find themselves the objects of white racism. We are in the position in which we are because of our skin. We are collectively segregated against – what can be more logical than for us to respond as a group?”
We need to be able to organize separately
The Constitution’s conception of racism has systematically been used to deter irrepressible urges by black South Africans to challenge racism and violence. An example of this was the Human Rights Commission ruling against the Forum for Black Journalists, when white journalists were banned from the organisation in February 2008. This was declared unconstitutional and racist.
An examination of South Africa’s political history reveals the necessity for black people to organise to the exclusion of white people in the fight against racism. Lastly, the politics of respectability will not prosper in 2016. We are tired. We are not going to be respectable in 2016. Black people have been respectable for too long. No matter how respectable we try to be, respectability fails to undo the ways in which white supremacist capitalist patriarchy operates. So we will wear the-shirts that say “fuck white people” (coincidentally the other side of the t-shirt says “being black is shit” but that didn’t upset anybody). We will continue to shut down campuses. We will continue to build shacks and disrupt rugby matches. Because respectability has gotten us nowhere.
Black and Proud