Illustration by Thandiwe Tshabalala

Call Me Clever: Racism or self-determination?

25 April of 2014

By Thato Magano (@pothaeto)

Ever feel like your conversations on the condition of blackness in South Africa are misunderstood? Perhaps a new definition is what is needed to help those who don’t understand finally ‘get it’.

I know that this is a little old news, but allow me to throwback a little. Also, it is voting day next week, so you will indulge. It was the week that we were told the landscape of South African politics would change for decades to come. The Democratic Alliance (DA), through the leadership and courting abilities of its matriarch Helen Zille, had finally hooked the elusive leader of the new kid on the block, Agang SA’s Dr Mamphele Ramphela. The week that gave us that kiss more infamous to us than Britney and Madonna’s VMA smooch and the divorce that soon followed quicker than that of Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian.

Being the Grinch that I am; I was greatly relieved at the failing of this marriage. Being highly entertained and also strangely frustrated by this move, I went onto Facebook to make my feelings known about how the DA and Dr Ramphela, in her complicity, had taken us years back to our hey days of ‘window dressing’ but had also done a great thing in exposing the DA’s underpinning ethos on black representation and leadership among its ranks. I alluded to the messy game they were playing with black talent among its rank and file.

Hardly a minute had passed after posting these comments that a friend inferred my comments were racist. Actually, the statement made was that while the DA is slowly making progress in the right direction, all racists of all races are pulling us backwards. I was affronted for a second but then collected myself and reassessed what was potentially racist about my commentary. Granted, Lindiwe Mazibuko and Mmusi Maimane have been part of the DA structures; Patricia de Lille was acquired through a political merger and Dr Ramphela would have been the coup d’état.

I was experiencing that common South African smokescreen of being lost in the racism debate even when the issues on the table aren’t related to racism. Whenever black people are engaged in a debate about substantive transformation issues, some are always quick to call out racism. We should have time to discuss, be emotional and thereafter, find ways to construct new narratives of how we can move forward if we, as black people in South Africa, are to create a transformed future. However, that is not the case, these conversations are always derailed by labelling and disdain by those who do not wish to afford us the space to do so. What these limiting voices fail to realise is that black voices need the space to engage with their reality in order to articulate various ways to constructively move this country forward.

Paraphrasing the words of the great Steve Biko, I believe that black people need to have discourse amongst ourselves about the legacy of apartheid and how to overcome it (as an overarching theme for all the ills that black South Africa faces). What is critical is that these conversations cannot happen in the presence of our white compatriots because talk about ‘the black condition’ and transformation issues will often be misconstrued as racism, and in the name of persuading the other of the absence of racism, the issues are clouded and we often never get to talking any actions or solutions.

It will take a long time for us, both white and black, to truly decipher the impact of apartheid and years of systemic privilege. In order to do this and move South Africa forward, we need to create and allow spaces for the kind of constructive conversations that need to be had by black people without being told to ‘get over it’ or that we are being racist when we do.

In a previous life, Thato Magano was a strategy consultant and marketing dude at Cadbury’s and has since moved to crafting alternative entrepreneurial spaces to explore his various talents. He is a transitional griot trapped in the comforts of saxon realities and longing for the freedoms of civilisations past. A liker of things and yet prisoner to none. A revolutionary non sequitur! Motho wa Batho fela! 

Photo credit: Reuters


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