By Thuli Gamedze
Our country remembers Marikana, and is silenced by a sentiment that recognises the narrative only of those who have long forgotten. We need to recognise Marikana in the suburbs, we need to see Marikana at UCT; we need to accept that we are Marikana- not in solidarity but, as the black middle class, a force made specifically as an opposition to the decolonisation of our people.
The black middle class of ‘new’ South Africa is a unique addition to our detailed, violent construct of blackness, which is by nature already divided with accordance to apartheid legislation. The stratification of black people in South Africa into categories, for instance colouredness, African blackness, Indianness, etc, remains an effective tool in preventing the decolonisation of this country.
The myth of genuine ‘upward mobility’ based on the proximity to whiteness breathes life into this caste-system, which refuses to give up on the dream of humanities that can be realised separately for different factions of our black population.
With this idea of division in mind, I think it might be important to reflect upon the more abstract divisive potentials of white supremacy amongst black people. The conversation around black people possessing (or being possessed by) an oppressed imagination is well into play, and, in relation to the notion of ‘Remembering Marikana’, I think it is important to consider this imagination, most particularly in terms of its own divisive potential. Because, if there exists a stratification of oppressed peoples, then too, there must exist a parallel stratification of our imaginations.
In apartheid South Africa, for instance, a constructed, but nevertheless important difference might be realised between a ‘coloured’ and ‘African black’ imagination. In post-apartheid South Africa new stratifications create a further divisions between the black middle class and other black populations.
On Imagination and Memory
When I talk about imagination, I refer to the translation process in our minds that allows us to understand the experiences we absorb in the world. Imagination provides a lens, or a filter, a nuanced ‘individualised’ symbol-world where our lives play out in a way that reflects the boundaries and limitations of our actual positionality in the real world. With this understanding of imagination as a tool for translating and re-seeing real life, we go on to conceptualise memory as something that operates under the ‘supervision’ or filtering of our imaginations.
The ‘separate-ness’ of of real life, memory, and imagination is dangerous because it allows us to individualise experience in a way that values the ‘isolated’ human, over the collective experiences and memories of multiple oppressed people. Memory, cannot be separated in this manner. It is an entity that can only reach us in a form that has already been filtered through our imaginations. In every instance of understanding our experience, we must use our imaginations, and so too, imagination is always and inevitable linked to memory.
My point here might not be as complex as I have made it seem but it somehow feels necessary to make the link between imagination and memory, because it is the framing of imagination as an abstract symbolic language, rather than as an inexplicable human entity, that allows us to move closer toward my discussion of the linguistic, and by extension ethical pitfalls (or neo-apartheid strategies) inherent within the phrase ‘Remember Marikana’.
This inference specifically to ‘memory’, presumes obviously, the act of remembrance- an action that situates one’s current self outside of the memory itself. When we say ‘Remember Marikana’, therefore, who are we actually addressing? And what is it that these peoples’ memories signify? Why do we need them, in particular, to remember?
‘Remember Marikana’: When we say ‘Remember Marikana’, the implication is that we are addressing a faction of society who possess the ability to forget.
‘Remember Marikana’: The phrase ‘Remember Marikana’ therefore, is inherently directed at those who cannot remember anything tangible about Marikana, and who lack the experience to recognise its systemic significance.
‘Remember Marikana’ : The instruction seems to imply that the memory of Marikana is a static object that we can all access, and that we should all access. It does not link the memory of Marikana to an imagination governed by the experience of living Marikana.
‘Remember Marikana’: It plays on ‘human’ choice, appealing arbitrarily to a middle-class ethics whose moral dilemma is either to remember. Or not. It says that three years have passed and that there is danger of this event being ‘forgotten’. It implies that those who can choose to remember are those whose memories matter. In essence, it is a continuation, a re-enactment of anti-black divisive violence because it deepens the stratification of memory between black peoples in making a value judgement on whose memory is important. It gives certain narrative power to black people with money.
‘Remember Marikana’ : It does not address those who remember Marikana through their existence in the everyday, those black people whose material livelihood confirms their place of un-humanness within South African society. It does not address those who do not choose whether or not to remember; those who cannot forget. It does not seek to be self-reflexive, but rather it seeks self-affirmation.
‘Remember Marikana’: The phrase falls short in every regard because it over-values my ability to reflect and imagine, putting forth that I might even ‘remember’, and in doing so, it negates the validity of the very existence of the black working class individual who is living proof of systemic crime in which I am complicit.
‘Remember Marikana’: I do not ‘Remember Marikana’. A film documenting the events of the day does not jog my memory, for in my shock and sadness, I am imagining a single day of brutality; I imagine bullets, shouting, and I imagine fear. I imagine extremism, physical violence, and horror. It is a nightmarish, individualised event- it is isolated; it made it on the news.
‘Remember Marikana’ : I do not live the everyday of the Marikana Massacre; I do not share in the collective memory of a disinherited black working class for whom Marikana reflects the status quo in ways that should not be surprising. I recognise Marikana as a date not to forget but this is only because I am not living there- I am not living in it.
‘Remember Marikana’: I have the ability to commemorate Marikana because my perception is a two-dimensional one, one of mourning, rather than of ongoing and consistent suffering. I do not ‘Remember Marikana’ but I am given the space to write on it. I do not ‘Remember Marikana’, but a liberal culture, protected by a value-system which prizes representation of existence, over existence itself, allows the educated black middle class to work themselves into such intellectual frenzy that we forget the fact that the majority of our population actually ‘Remembers Marikana’- not through memory nor film, not using the newspapers, and not via the grapevine.
‘Remember Marikana’ : Our country remembers Marikana, and is silenced by a sentiment that recognises the narrative only of those who have long forgotten.
‘Remember Marikana’ : We need to recognise Marikana in the suburbs, we need to see Marikana at UCT; we need to accept that we are Marikana- not in solidarity but, as the black middle class, a force made specifically as an opposition to the decolonisation of our people.
‘Remember Marikana’: I do not ‘Remember Marikana’ for the very reason Marikana happened- I am the black middle class, and this uprooted twenty-year-old memory has more representative, historical power to speak on blackness, for blackness, than the ancient truth of the material meaning and condition of the black status quo now in South Africa.