Let’s not surrender democracy for anger | by Max du Preez

by Jun 9, 2012All Articles

I SINCERELY hope all white South Africans have taken proper notice of the depth of continuing black anger and hurt at the memory of apartheid and its bitter legacy. Perhaps that was the one positive spinoff of the Zuma Spear debacle.
A few weeks ago, in response to yet another book on the South African War of 1899-1902, I tweeted this sentence: “We Afrikaners remember the Anglo-Boer War of 110 years ago, but we want black South Africans to forget apartheid that ended 20 years ago?” 
I have never had such a response to anything I had written, not on Twitter, Facebook or any of my columns. It is still being re-tweeted three weeks later (of course, there were also a number of whites who accused me of being a gatkruiper).
So how do we deal with this smouldering anger? A few years ago I took part in a workshop in Kigali with victims and perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. A young woman who saw her neighbour kill her parents told me that when her anger surfaces, she asks that man’s children, now her fellow college students, to stand in front of her so she could shout and scream abuse at them, after which they’re friends again. You white South Africans should do that too, she told me. Let your black compatriots vent their bitterness at you occasionally, and after every shouting session you will all feel closer.
She was right, I think. Our Truth and Reconciliation Commission experience wasn’t enough to heal the scars. That project ended in 1999 and wasn’t followed up. To use arguments of nation-building or social cohesion to stifle expression of anger is simply counter-productive. But we should be equally aware of the dangers posed by those who peddle black anger as a commodity for personal gratification or political gain. Using black anger as political weapon is as dangerous as trying to suppress its expression.
I stand by what I wrote last week, that ANC leaders in the Zuma camp seized on The Spear to whip up emotions. Once they had emphatically described the art as a racist insult to black culture, many people saw it that way and felt pain and anger. Let me use this analogy: the murder of white farmers has been repeatedly shown as an opportunistic rather than politically motivated crime. But reckless rightwing politicians keep on saying it amounts to genocide, and now a lot of Afrikaners are genuinely angry and fearful about it.
Last week, Stellenbosch University academic, Dr Simphiwe Sesanti, jumped up at a book launch in Cape Town and argued animatedly that there should have been a race war instead of a negotiated settlement in 1994. I told him to his face he was talking reckless nonsense. Did he want South Africa to be like Syria or Somalia? Did he think blackswould have been better off now in any way if we had descended into a protracted civil war after 1990?
Sesanti simply said what quite a few others have been saying lately, especially on Facebook and Twitter. It is true that black anger would probably have dissipated faster if there had been more of a psychological release, a tangible feeling of victory over apartheid, in 1994. But that is the price one pays for a negotiated, peaceful transition.
Many black politicians and commentators use the unequal land ownership as a tool to blame, threaten and incite. And yet, as constitutional lawyer Wim Trengove pointed out last week, there is no “willing buyer, willing seller” principle in the constitution. Instead, “it gives the state a free hand to expropriate land for transformation”, Trengove says, only stipulating that the state pays “just and equitable” compensation, not the asking price.
When will the hotheads be forced to admit that the ANC is primarily to blame for the slow pace of land redistribution?
I understand the persistent anger against whites. But isn’t it high time black anger at the continued inequalities in society was also directed at the inefficient, bloated and often corrupt elected government? They have, despite ample budgets, failed to significantly improve education, housing and health care. Many local governments have collapsed while the mayors and councillors live in luxury. Let’s face black anger and resentment squarely. Let’s not forget that we still live with the pain, humiliation and inequalities that colonialism and apartheid brought. Let’s fight white racism with energy and conviction.
But black anger as a cause in itself will only take us backwards
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