Allow me to begin with a few excerpts:
“A lot has changed since high school, ne?” he says.
“Wena, at school we were all just kids. The colour thing was there, but it also wasn’t there.”
“We were all too horny and thinking about our pimples to realise what was out there,” he says.
“And now people I went to school with, people I considered my friends are turning out to be bigots. Of course darkie will give you crap because you’re doing okay. You think you’re white. O e ketsa lekgowa. Bana ba di-private school,” I say.
-Excerpt from The Quiet Violence of Dreams by K. Sello Duiker (p177-178)
“For too long the narrative of this institution has silenced the voices of the non-white student.”
– Excerpt from speech by Ramabina Mahapa, President of University of Cape Town (UCT) Student Representative Council, 16 March 2015
“white racism forces the coconut to see themselves as part of the great black excluded and their proximity to whiteness makes them assets [sic]”
– Andile Mngxitama, Twitter, 12 March 2015
“We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For.”
– We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For by Alice Walker
I write to you with a full heart and a restive spirit. This issue marks important milestones. The first is for us all at Vanguard Magazine, as we celebrate one year of working towards a womanist platform for the critical and conscious voices of young black women coming of age in post apartheid South Africa. The second is a milestone the history of the country, as we are having what I can only describe as a ’76 moment, where our generation of young people, which has long been described as politically apathetic and directionless, is coming together to define our struggle in a meaningful and transformative way.
I literally want to pinch myself because I feel the way uTata Tutu did at the 2010 World Cup concert when he exclaimed, “I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming. lt’s so beautiful.Wake me up!”
We are at an exciting and interesting nexus in history. South Africa’s ‘bornfree’ generation of black youth hailed as part of the torchbearers for a ‘Rainbow Nation’, are increasingly disillusioned by and pushing back against those very notions of racial reconciliation. For much of the short post-apartheid period where the country has struggled to cling onto the promises of Tata Nelson Mandela’s reconciliation legacy, mainstream public discourses have continued to project ‘colour-blind’/‘post-race’ narratives onto us ‘bornfrees’.
Our generation, which has been a conduit for the country’s absolution from the ‘real work of reconciliation’ as they shipped us off, Woolies skhaftins in tow, to the likes of Pretoria Girls High and Michaelhouse, is now ‘behaving badly’ and ‘militantly’ demanding more from South Africa.
As a twenty-three year old black woman, it is very often that people older than myself are very surprised when they hear my ‘conscious politics’. I find that both black and white South Africans are unable to reconcile this and are quick to ask, “But why are you so racial/racist?”, as if there is not any conceivable reason for anyone with my middle class background not to be. (My mom in fact called me racist the other day after I had rattled off a list of 2014’s infamous racist incidents.)
This very anger and disillusionment that I and many other ‘bornfrees’ feel is what led me to leave a promising and secure career at an established media house to create Vanguard Magazine, a platform where fellow female ‘bornfrees’, or who we have called ‘code-switchers’, can speak to their experiences of post-apartheid South Africa. As you would know, a central theme of our content is how, despite the likes of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s best attempts at non-racialism, our generation has been forced to confront our ‘blackness’ and its place within the ‘Rainbow Nation’. Similar to the experiences of our fictional peers Tshepo and Mmabatho in The Quiet Violence of Dreams, this came at the hands of persistent experiences of racism as, for example, invites to ‘the farm’ from white friends started to disappear once we were in high school, indigenous languages were not taught, white varsity mates with similar academic performance found jobs faster than black students did and myths of meritocracy were revealed as were realised that all the junior staff at work were black whilst senior managers remained white. Importantly, much of this racism was not recognised or articulated until later years when we had found the anti-racist vocabulary to name it.
It is over the last couple of years that ‘bornfrees’ have increasingly articulated experiences of racial difference, forcing the mainstream public discourse to take note. We are now part of wider movement of young South Africans forcing a country still on a nation-building project to ask itself hard questions about the future of race relations by calling out racism with hashtags such as #RhodesSoWhite and making demands such as the fall of the statue of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
In following the coverage of the #RhodesMustFall campaign and now preparing to be part of the #TransformWits movement, I have been struck by how many column inches have been dedicated to opinions of everyone but the young revolutionaries and the demands that they are putting forth. If it’s not another opinion piece from another Rhodes Scholar, it’s another rebuttal to a misguided opinion from Gareth Cliff or Chris Gibbons. I fear that this will be another ’76 moment where the movement comes and goes without us actually knowing who is really behind it.
What has also surprised me is the number of people I have interacted with who have not taken the time to actually read the Rhodes Must Fall Mission Statement. This is a fine piece of work truly for the records as it not only details the memorandum of demands, but it also goes on to deconstruct issues such as ‘reverse racism’ and tackles the importance of centreing black pain and having an intersectional approach to transformation.
Along with republishing some of our favourite pieces from the last year Vanguard (such as Boom Shaka, Box Braids and Boomboxes: The generation brought up by Kwaito and An open letter to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on our Nigerian girls), we will be responding to this vacuum by creating a space where young people part of these movements can control their narrative without falling into more of the detracting arguments. In the next few weeks we will be publishing interviews with some of the student leadership, and pieces from the student leadership themselves documenting the experience of building this movement. As the movements from the other campuses such as Wits University and the university currently known as Rhodes gain traction, we will be featuring their voices too.
I am excited because the time for theorizing is over, and the time for action is here. I could not wish for a better way to celebrate Vanguard’s first anniversary. I can’t wait to see where this story of conscious radical youth will have taken us a year from now.