Category Archives: Ferial Haffajee

M&G: ‘Apartheid state remains’

‘Apartheid state remains’
Ferial Haffajee
28 May 2008 06:00

Often, when I read your articles, I wonder, who is writing? Malcolm X of Ku Klux Klan-era America or Andile Mngxitama of liberated Azania. Is your thesis of the world and of your country not caught in the past?

The Ku Klux Klan and lynching have simply mutated into the prison industrial complex, the electric chair and the needle. Black America is still under siege.

Liberated Azania is a nice thought, but if you have seen what I have seen then you’d be less celebratory. What do you think the millions of landless and hungry would say to this or the harassed and criminalised Abahlali baseMjondolo [a shack-dwellers’ movement in KwaZulu-Natal] or the communities facing violent forced removals from platinum areas in Limpopo and the North West?

You are a history denialist while my writing is hugely informed by history. Where you see complexity I see black suffering.

Is it not anti-intellectual and massively populist to make a blunt statement like “… our Constitution does hold fundamentally anti-black sentiments”. What do you mean and do you give consideration to the fact that our Constitution is the fruit of a majority-black new establishment, that its stewards are Chief Justice Pius Langa and his deputy Dikgang Moseneke, two men who come from the same political school that you cut your teeth at?

The Human Rights Commission [HRC] banned black-only membership organisations, so black efforts against racism are rendered unconstitutional and illegal. If this is not anti-black, then what is? In essence the HRC decision promotes negrophobia. If justices Langa and Moseneke agree with the HRC ruling then they would be giving legitimacy to an anti-black position and I would disagree with them. But it’s not fair to speculate.

The HRC finding has its genesis in that self-same Constitution and seems a far cry from your interpretation, which is that it forever enshrines “white supervision for blacks”. In fact, it pivots on two central tenets: those of freedom of association and of non-racialism. It does not stop the Forum of Black Journalists from organising, but insists that the organisation recognises the spirit of non-racialism. Did you read the finding?

I read the findings, but tell me what is the spirit of non-racialism? Your form of non-racialism disingenuously erects a moral equivalence between the victims and the beneficiaries of white supremacy. For you and the HRC, blacks have freedom of association, so long as there are whites in the association … but are not free to associate as blacks? Your position perpetuates a dangerous illusion that flies against everyday reality and this is the illusion that apartheid and racism are dead.

You call the FBJ “… an initiative intended to redress 350 years of systematic white racism …”. What poppycock. I would say that the struggle against apartheid was such an initiative of redress while the reincarnate FBJ was an effort of a group of former journalists to carve a place in the post-Polokwane sun.

I hold no brief for the FBJ. I’m alive to the commodification of blackness for commercial gain and inclusion into the BEE feeding frenzy. What’s key for me is to defend the right of the FBJ to organise as a genuine black origination.

Don’t you think it is a massive overstatement to call the HRC finding on the forum “the end of the black struggle”? One might save such melodrama for the various continuing violent indignities like the University of Free State’s race wars, the xenophobia in Alexandra and the continuing feudalism on South African farms. But to so label an urban race imbroglio of elites denies the true remaining struggles for dignity. Your comment?

A post-1994 constitutional body has declared a blacks-only organisation unconstitutional. Is that not sanctioning the end of black struggle? What white liberals couldn’t achieve in the 1970s has now been given legal respectability by the HRC; Biko must be turning in his grave.

For me black suffering has no hierarchy, to be forced into a white friendship is as repugnant as being instructed to eat white piss and shit.

Above all else, it is the defeatism of your article that is deeply troubling, the remnant of victimology I read so often in the work of young black thinkers. How can a completely empowered young man with voice and agency feel himself to be such a victim? Is it not your duty to change these systems, to join government and alter policy or to use your voice and your agency to state how the world should be, not always to reflect on how it was or how it should not be?

We blacks have been defeated over the 600 years or so of our encounter with whiteness. Young black thinkers arguing from this perspective are more in touch with the reality of the majority of blacks. I think it’s a few blacks sitting on top of white supremacist institutions who echo the victimology canard every time we raise the black issue. We are being hurried to forget and not to see. But no one says the Jews must stop talking about the Holocaust.

I’m not seduced by the discourse of empowerment and agency; it’s actually a ruse. How do you measure completely empowered ? Ideas rule the world and my job is to be an insurgent for black thought as our country woefully lacks a critical race discourse.

Finally, your statement that “We annually kill more than 70 000 black children before they reach the age of five … a million farm dwellers were evicted from land in the past 14 years.” This did not take place under a white supremacist order that couldn’t give a damn. It happened and continues to happen under a black-led government seeking to build the caring society. Yet your analysis reflects no sense that power has changed colour and that the analysis of accountability must be entirely different.

How do you characterise the post-1994 state? Note, I don’t say post-apartheid state. We live in a classical neo-colony; what 1994 signifies is not rapture but continuity. The racist apartheid state remains, what has changed are its managers. Until we dismantle the apartheid racist state apparatus, we will never understand why it takes a high court to explain to the democratic state seeking to build the caring society, as you say, that enforcing a pre-paid water meter system on poor blacks is racist; we won’t make sense of why our government takes the side of corporations that supported apartheid when victims sue for reparations; or why the NP adopted the Freedom Charter and dissolved itself into the ANC.

Fourteen years of our democratic neo-apartheid existence has produced negrophobic bestiality, misnamed xenophobia. The barbarism of super profits for the few and the exclusion of the black majority has given us cannibalism. After the makwerekere it’s the Sotho, Venda, Xhosa and so on.