Not Yet Uhuru


South Africa's “miracle transition” has not put an end to white privilege, writes AZAD ESSA for The Guardian (UK)

In his final address to the African National Congress (ANC) in 1997, Nelson Mandela stunned the Western world by attacking white privilege – that enduring postcolonial swear word that lays bare the legacy of white entitlement.

It was surprising to many observers, ordinarily accustomed to an affable, reconciliatory Mandela who appeared intent on banishing race-based politics to the past.

But the former South African President was direct when he described the ANC as being weighed down by those “committed to the maintenance of white privilege”, and that Afrikaners were “imprisoned by notions of white supremacy and of supposed Afrikaner interests that are separate and opposed to the interests of the rest of the population”. Fast forward 16 years and little appears to have changed.

In October, a new working-class, black consciousness party was launched on the pretext of ending of white economic domination.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), steered by former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, seeks to inveigle the working-class vote away from the ANC, pointing out that the ruling party has fallen short of fulfilling its promises to the poor.

And yet the EFF's founding ideologies are contested.

Just three days ahead of the launch of the party a small group of Afrikaners took to the streets under the banner of the “Red October” campaign to complain of economic marginalisation and persecution of Afrikaans-speaking white people in South Africa.

While advocates of the Red October campaign speak of “reverse discrimination” instituted by the ANC, the EFF speaks of the need for a radical transformation of the South African economy where white people need to “share the wealth” and “give back stolen land”.

Red October, however, is based on a fraudulent premise.

Research that delves past the excitable rants of a fringe minority show that white Afrikaners are not being singled out for persecution, economic or otherwise.

But there is something more disturbing about this campaign.

The organisers purposefully prey on an archaic, racist fear of the black majority – incidentally, the original basis of apartheid.

Yes, many white South Africans, liberal, rational and generous, were quick to distance themselves from the flawed campaign and concede their “embarrassment” at the claims of “white genocide” and “persecution”.

But even these condemnations of Red October neglect to sufficiently interrogate the sophisticated and popular perceptions of the juggernaut of “white privilege”.

White South Africans also suffer class distinctions, which are often overlooked.

There is no complexity expressed in the feverish discussions of white privilege that periodically grips South Africa's chattering class.

Worse still, commentators, in all their benevolence, have been even less forthcoming about how their wealth should actually be divided.

Of course, white liberals would be ill-disposed to give up their “hard-won” comforts.

The twin launches of Malema's EFF and the Red October campaign then are serendipitous in the larger story of the ignored history of post-apartheid South Africa.

For the majority of black people who have lived under colonial rule for the best part of almost 400 years, five decades of which were under the guise of institutionalised racism, or apartheid, white privilege is still the barbed wire fence they must scale.

Today, South Africa has the world's highest level of income inequality. And it is the black majority that still teeters precariously, at the bottom end of the scale.

Ten per cent of the population controls 80 percent of the land.

The farce of South Africa's “miracle transition” is fast unravelling.

The ANC is no longer the vanguard of the revolution; the beloved party has been caught on the frontline of the protection of white interests.

And yes, despite the cold, hard facts of socioeconomic inequality, South Africa is subject to conflicting narratives.

A non-racial South Africa simply cannot exist if nine percent of one racial group earns six times more than the majority.

Even if there are select black people and people of Indian descent within the much-feted new middle class, it is white South Africans who must now stop pretending to be interested in transforming the economy towards a more equitable and sustainable distribution of wealth.

The time of hiding behind the parochial economic policies of the ANC – once designed, in part, not to scare off white people – has long passed. – The Guardian 


Seeing Red

Malema stalks ANC from left

• Ed Cropley

Colour has always been central to South African politics, but now, nearly 20 years after the end of apartheid, the tint of your T-shirt matters as much as that of your skin.

While the yellow, green and black of the ruling ANC remains dominant, it is the bright red of an ultra-left party founded by expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema that is making the big splash.

With Mr Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) only a little more than 100-days-old and untested by any opinion poll, it is hard to say precisely how much impact they will have on next year’s elections.

However, the garish shirts and red Che Guevara-style berets popping up in the sprawling townships and shanty towns of Johannesburg and Pretoria suggest the Fighters, as they like to be known, will make their mark in the first election for the “Born Free” generation – voters born after apartheid ended in 1994.

The anger of the millions of blacks for whom life has changed little in the two decades since the end of white-minority rule has provided fertile hunting ground, and any EFF success is almost certain to be at the expense of the ANC, which won two-thirds of the vote in the last election in 2009.

“We are recruiting people every day,” said Happy Lefekane, a 39-year-old EFF activist in Bekkersdal, a rundown township 25 miles west of Johannesburg which experienced a week of rioting last month over shoddy public services.

Although township riots are common – one major “service delivery protest” happens every two days, according to monitoring group Municipal IQ – the Bekkersdal uprising was notable for its intensity and explicit rejection of the ANC.

When Provincial Premier Nomvula Mokonyane went to try and calm the crowd, she made matters worse by telling them the ANC did not need Bekkersdal’s “dirty votes”. She had to be rescued from a mob and driven away in a police armoured vehicle.

“Nomvula has opened up a can of worms. She is the best recruiting agent we’ve got,” Mr Lefekane said. “We don’t want her apology. We want radical change.”

Ominously, at the height of the unrest 20-year-old EFF activist Themba Khumalo was shot dead outside his tin shack by unknown gunmen.

No arrests have been made but Mr Khumalo’s friends are in little doubt he died because of the colour of his beret.

“The ANC people are the ones who started this,” said EFF activist Ruth Mogatwe (30) at a wake held for Mr Khumalo a week later. “There’s no proof but I think they’re the ones who killed the guy.” The ANC denies it resorts to political violence and has called for tolerance and “good behaviour” from its members.

Mr Malema, who holds up Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as a political model for his seizure of white-owned farms, was kicked out of the ANC 18 months ago, officially for ill-discipline – unofficially for challenging President Jacob Zuma.

The 32-year-old quickly found a political lifeline in the police killing of 34 strikers at Lonmin’s Marikana Mine in August last year.

Cashing in on simmering worker discontent in the mines, which are still overwhelmingly owned and run by whites, and on public outrage at the shootings, Mr Malema formed a party with an unashamedly populist message to take on the ANC from the left. It formally launched – at Marikana – on October 13. – The Scotsman


November 2013
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