Verwoerd’s last laugh

by Jul 18, 2011All Articles

verwoerdAMANDLA ISSUE 19 | EDITORIAL : The DA is a party that primarily exists to protect the privileges of the wealthy that monopolise the land, industry and finance in South Africa. Solidarity is a trade union that similarly exists to defend the interests of that section of the working class that was privileged by apartheid.

That they have ulterior motives in exposing the racial prejudices of Jimmy Manyi is difficult to dispute. Local government elections will take place in a few weeks and the DA cannot make gains by depending only on the historically empowered elites. It needs the votes of the so-called minorities –“Coloureds” and “Indians” to break out of their narrow electoral limits. Yet this way of thinking is part of the problem. Race thinking continues to dominate our entire society almost two decades after the end of Apartheid. We operate through the prism of race and continue to organise our society through racial categories. Even how we envisage dealing with the impact of racism and racial inequality reinforces race consciousness, ensuring that people see themselves first as “Coloureds”, “Indians” or “Africans” before we see ourselves as people of one single nation. “Africans” no longer means people from Africa, but a racial category of people conferring entitlements.
Racism has been a very important construct in ensuring the monopolisation of wealth and in ensuring that it continues from one generation to the next. National oppression depended on dividing up the people of South Africa into distinct national or population groups, as they were often referred to. Here was the divide and rule tactic taken to extreme levels.

The end of Apartheid has not changed the fundamental role that “race” plays in constructing, in our minds, the ascribed roles and social positions of people as dominant, subservient, privileged or oppressed. Moreover, by leaving largely intact apartheid geographic and social segregation, separate national identities along the lines of Africans, Coloureds, Indians, and Whites have been reinforced. On top of this, not knowing each other’s language and thus culture perpetuates national division and race thinking.

Now, into this toxic mix add the problem of inequality and the struggle for scarce resources in a capitalist market economy that is not working. Since the end of apartheid, the promise of a better life for all lies in tatters. Unemployment has more than doubled since the end of apartheid and now stands just under 40 percent. Inequality has widened to a point where 50% of South Africans live on just 8 % of our national income. Meanwhile, in 2010, the country’s 20 richest men enjoyed a 45% increase in wealth , and the number of billionaires nearly doubled, from 16 in 2009 to 31.

Under these circumstances it is almost natural for people to make sense of their place in society through the prism of race and national identity. Racial scapegoats and racial stereotypes are used to gain access to resources in the current reality. Xenophobia is obviously an outcome of this toxic situation. Similarly national chauvinism roots itself in the same way and is just as dangerous and destructive as xenophobia.
African chauvinism has become the tool of the aspirant middle classes to enforce their claims and entitlements for wealth accumulation. In a situation where the dominant ideology in post-apartheid South Africa encourages us to believe that success and status is measured by wealth, a predatory elite has emerged that has turned its back on the principles of the struggle for national liberation, the principles that underpin the Constitution, and the principles of non-racialism.

In the minds of Manyi, Malema, Kunene et al, the way to enter the world of business where money can be made is to mobilise around an ideology that privileges their claims for wealth. This is the role of African chauvinism, captured in their mantra “blacks in general, Africans in particular”.
Similarly in a previous period, Afrikaner nationalism was mobilised by the Afrikaner petty bourgeoisie to advance socially and economically. It is in this context that race thinking and the use of racial categories continues not just as a device to defend privilege, but as a means to enter the world of money. Hence, the main form of affirmative action is Black Economic Empowerment. Quickly “blacks in general” slides into “Africans in particular”, which then can easily morph into “Zulus” or “Xhosas” specifically.

If non-racialism, meaning the total rejection of the concept and meaning of race in every sense biologically, socially, and behaviourally, is not reasserted and fought for, South Africa will be engulfed by a future of sectarianism, chauvinism and division. Not only will the DA and Solidarity use fears to protect their privileges and build their power base, but we will see new waves of reactionary Zulu chauvinism, in competition with Xhosa, Coloured and White chauvinism.

And Verwoerd will have had the last laugh.

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