Black man, you’re still on your own | by Olwethu Sipuka

by Jun 9, 2012All Articles

Olwethu Sipuka says Brett Murray hit the black man in the belly of his struggles
“Black man you are on your own”
“For the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line”, (W.E.B du Bois, 1903)
The scenes that played themselves off at the Goodman Gallery over the past few days confirmed Steve Biko’s words, that “Black man you are on your own”. This confirmation was shown through the portrait of President Zuma with his private parts exposed and the brutal assault of the young black man by a security guard. If anything, these scenes represent a microcosm of South Africa today. During his inauguration in 1994, President Mandela echoed, “We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.” The covenant which all of us gladly entered into in 1994 seems every day to be broken.
In the quote above, President Mandela raises a lot of fundamental things including what black people have always struggled for; DIGNITY . Surely the many years that black people suffered under colonial rule; years of indignity, humiliation and general degrading should still be in our minds. Surely Nelson Mandela’s words of a rainbow nation should never leave our minds and hearts. Therefore respect of the other colours (cultures, etc.) of the rainbow should never be something taken for granted. Professor Sono (1994) moves that the oratory nature of African intellectualism is responsible for the non-documented African perspectives particularly on academic resources. Most literature on African Cultures and Traditions to this point are documented and consumed by white people. It is therefore very painful when an artist of Brett Murray’s calibre decides to hit the black man right at the belly of his struggles; DIGNITY and prove to the black man that indeed “he would not bleach his Negro soul” (Du Bois, 1903). Like many white artists, Murray knows very well that DIGNITY is one thing that a black man can never allow to be taken away from. Not after having fought for it for so long.
I may not agree with some of the things that President Zuma’s government may be doing, however I do believe in Nelson Mandela’s words that;
“Our single most important challenge is therefore to help establish a social order in which the freedom of the individual will truly mean the freedom of the individual. We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political liberties and the human rights of all our citizens.” (Mandela, 1995)
Therefore I believe that President Zuma deserves to be treated with respect and afforded his dignity. Clearly the painting took the nation back to an epoch of disobedience and violence. The three men arrested for damage to property at the Goodman Gallery symbolises that. I choose to speak about the two men arrested to defacing the picture; a white Professor and a black man of 25 years of age.
How the security guard handled the matter confirmed one thing; that “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”(Biko, 1971). It remains sad that the centuries of brainwashing of a black man still pay dividends 18 years into the rainbow nation. The fact that the Professor was humanely apprehended whilst the black man was brutalized during his arrest suggests in fact the institutionalization of racism in particular within the law enforcement faculties. The scene was nothing but a microcosm of South Africa today. The young man must therefore sue both the guard and the Goodman Gallery.
I have no further words for the security guard, but;
“Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time. Its essence is 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 to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude” (Biko, 1978)
Unless and until we provide structured means of dealing with racism, it will always show its ugly head and our society’s development may be forever dwarfed.
Olwethu Sipuka – Centurion
23 May 2012
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