The unfulfilled reconciliation story of SA


When South Africa attained its democratic status in 1994 Africa and the rest of the world celebrated what almost appeared like a miracle. Bringing together blacks, whites and coloureds who had been antagonists in one form or another for centuries was no small achievement.
All these population groups vowed to become an integral part of the rainbow nation to be guided by the democratic values and processes enshrined in the newly written constitution. Some went as far as claiming that South Africa had crafted one of the best constitutions in the world.
Amid the celebrations which followed, very few people noticed that the rainbow symbol itself did not include the black colour.
The overwhelming tendency was to give credit for the more or less miraculous political achievement to Nelson Mandela, that much beloved grand old man of the African National Congress. Again very few bothered to analyse the implications of the political compromises which Mandela had made on behalf of the majority population which had been on the receiving end of an apartheid system for long.
After more than 20 years of democracy, tell-tale signs that all is not well are becoming more apparent by the day. For instance there is the 2012 tragedy at Marikana at which 34 miners were killed by the police. Then followed the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ protests by university students in 2015 as well as the xenophobic attacks against fellow Africans in the same year.
Why? Because some locals perceived them as taking advantage of jobs and business opportunities in almost all the townships scattered all over South Africa at their expense.
These attacks were so serious that the army had to be called in to quell the unrest. But the short-lived tranquility which followed soon after the unrest got disrupted by the ‘Fees Must Fall’ student movement from universities all over South Africa.
Running through all the above-mentioned protests like a thread is the fact that it is taking too long for South Africa to be transformed into a truly democratic country. There is this feeling that the country has largely been transformed in a political sense only while leaving the economic field shaped by apartheid completely intact.
There is also this feeling that blacks who constitute the majority have remained outsiders on almost everything that relates to the economy.
For instance, whites have remained dominant in all those key sectors one can think of. In mining, agriculture, financial services, industry , commerce, business and even in the NGO sectors of the country, the whites remain as dominant as they have always been for over four centuries. And they seem to regard this state of affairs as a natural God-ordained order of things that is destined to remain so for a long time to come.
Notwithstanding the supposed reconciliation which took place in 1994, most whites in South Africa have not bothered to change their negative attitudes towards blacks! Here is how Penny Sparrow described blacks recently:
“ These monkeys that are allowed to be released on New year’s Eve and New Year’s Day on to public beaches, towns etc obviously have no education what- so-ever and to allow them loose is inviting huge dirt and discomfort to others… from now on I shall address the blacks as monkeys…”
When her remarks generated a lot of criticism, a certain Van Vuuren, like a knight in shining armour, boldly stepped into the ongoing controversy in support of her. He wrote:
“There is no control over these animals! Our promenade smells like piss…go back to where you came from and take your 13 kids with you…”
The animal imagery used by Sparrow and Van Vuuren speaks volumes about their undiluted hatred of and contempt for blacks. Both regard the beach as belonging exclusively to whites; both regard blacks as being far too many and a threat to whites.
In other words the political rhetoric in South Africa may have changed but the language of prejudice, of bigotry, of division and stereotypes, that language which nurtured the apartheid philosophy for centuries has remained firmly embedded in the imagination of most white folks in South Africa. The crime which Penny Sparrow committed, as far as most white folks are concerned, is to go public, expressing what they all feel against blacks on a daily basis, in a crude public manner.
It never occurs to most of them that blacks belong to South Africa on the basis of their birthright. Most (whites) act as if nothing happened in 1994! All they want is to be left alone to enjoy their racist and privileged status as whites and regard themselves as the real owners of South Africa, not blacks.
One can argue that the tragedy of South Africa is that white racism which has done much in history to subjugate and degrade blacks in order to exploit them as beasts of burden has not only remained alive and well after 1994; it is actually growing and is now being re-asserted forcefully by many whites.
For instance when public figures like Gareth Cliff rush to the defence of the Sparrows and Van Vuurens of this world in the name of freedom of expression and in support of their racism against blacks one is left wondering as to the kind of democracy South Africa achieved in 1994.
Even public figures like F.W. de Klerk have been defending in public the apartheid system that is supposed to have been dismantled in 1994! He described it recently as “a good idea that was executed badly”.
De Klerk has gone further to describe that archetypal colonial scoundrel, Cecil John Rhodes, as a hero whose statue at Oxford University should not be removed because he bequeathed to the University a substantial amount of money which he looted from Africa.
Put differently it is becoming obvious that the reconciliation which took place in 1994 was one sided; it is blacks who forgave the whites for all the crimes they committed against blacks but most whites never bothered to change their racist attitude at all. It is as if white racism is a congenital condition which many whites, like those in US, are finding difficult to outgrow.
And that is, in spite of the numerous attempts by the Mandelas and Martin Luther Kings of this world to uproot this deep-rooted prejudice against blacks which continues to afflict most whites.
In South Africa’s case it is becoming obvious, as it did in Zimbabwe, that no amount of persuasive charm, reasonableness and sound logic on the part of blacks will ever convince whites that blacks are normal human beings and that they need to share the resources of the country equitably with blacks.
Mandela tried hard almost to a point of surrendering wholesale the key tenets of the ANC’s Freedom Charter but sadly, the political and moral risk that he took is also almost coming to naught.
Like the Rhodesians who wanted to keep all the loot which colonisation availed them, most South African whites seem hell-bent on courting the same fate which befell the Rhodesian lot; they remain oblivious to the perilous risk they are undertaking by simply clinging to an apartheid economic system of the past which put black labour at the centre of all production activities but placed blacks at the margins when it came to sharing the spoils of that same labour.
The South Africa dilemma may look complex and delicate from a distance but the reality is very simple: Whites have a choice to make and a simple one at that! Either they allow deep structural changes to be made to the economy or risk the total collapse of their world of privilege.


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