I have been reading Steve Biko’s “I Write What I like” and in it he opens up my eyes and names things I have been thinking about but have failed to give names to. Biko tackles lots of issues from colonialism to racism and imperialism. Biko confronts the issue of white guilt stemming from the past and how white South Africans, particularly, deal with this guilt. “Basically the South African white community are a homogeneous group of people. It is a community of people who sit to enjoy a privileged position they do not deserve, are aware of this, and therefore try to spend time trying to justify what they do and why they are doing so. Where differences in political opinion exist, they are in the process of trying to justify their position and usurpation of power” Steve Biko. Biko further suggests that white South Africans become liberal in hope to overcome their guilt, and not because they understand what black South Africans have been through, are going through and will continue to endure. Whilst Biko wrote the article during the epitome of Apartheid, his Black Consciousness (BC) ideals still prove to be necessary. It is however imperative that black people do not use BC ideals to perpetuate racism, for populist tactics that are likely to degenerate their countries into states of anarchy that undermine the democracies that were attained through blood, sweat and sacrifices.
It must be put in mind that Biko’s philosophy was to change the negative idea that the black man had of himself into a positive one so he is able acquire freedom and he’s able to grasp it. It was never to ignite war or anarchy. Therefore, a black boy, Thamsanqa and his poverty in the township of Langa should invoke the same pity and similar assistance for a poor Afrikaner girl, Marlieke, residing in a squatter camp somewhere in Pretoria. However it should be understood that Marlieke will benefit from white privilege as she would easily walk into a shop without being severely scrutinised under the suspicion that she will steal something, because of so much access for a favourable life for the white race, she would be assumed to be well enough to afford luxurious possessions and therefore not a threat. Thamsanqa on the other hand, will have to contend staring eyes, glaring at him, not blinking they will wonder what he is doing at such an exclusive restaurant ( his kind has had been deliberately disenfranchised for centuries). The system implemented decades ago, ensured that Thamsanqa will always assume the servitude role, therefore “how could he afford the food his masters eat?” They’ll ponder. He does after all, come from a race earning six times less than that of Marlieke, on average. This will eventually affect Thamsanqa’s state of mind as he’ll ponder what he’s always faced, what his father and forefathers faced. Hopeless, he’ll feel. The first step to rescue Thamsanqa would then have to change his mind first. He’ll need an emphasis that his blackness is beautiful and can achieve anything, that his blackness is anything but inferior. That is the essence that drove me directly into the wings of black consciousness.
I am a black South African man of Zulu descent, possessing 19 years on this earth and having been born in the year 1995, I am referred to as a “born-free” in South Africa. Although I was born in a democratic South Africa I can testify that I have been disadvantaged to many things and I link that to the colour of my skin and the deliberate historical disenfranchisement of my people. The community in which I was born, the initial schooling I received, the social class in which my family belongs to and the preconceived ideas that society has about me are a testament to this. I believe this is the same case with my white counterpart. It is therefore myopic to suggest that race does not affect us. Our world is racialised, which I have no problem with because it is divine power that made it so, I do have a problem with racism though, no matter who it comes from.
I come from a historically, economically and socially defrauded race. I still find it hard though, to believe the stories I’m told, I struggle to process in my mind the atrocities committed by a people against another. I also struggle to accept “documented” stories of my forefathers. I just refuse to believe the stories they share of Shaka, Mosheoshoe and Cetshwayo. I suspect that these are half truths narrated by a biased author.
Perhaps we were barbaric, uncivilised, technologically behind and covered in animal skin, we needed rescuing. But were we as morally repugnant and morally indefensible as the treatment we receive/d from the civilised lot? The answer is the obvious. By the way rescuing is a sugar-coated term for colonialism.
Whilst most colonies now have independence, imperialism is still alive and well. Before developed countries jump into self-defense denying imperialism, I urge them to review the reasons why the developing world is looking is looking forward to the development bank by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries.
The truth is that rich countries still continue to rip off poor countries e.g. France forces 14 African countries to pay for the benefits of colonialism (google it). The rumoured next police of the world (slowly overtaking the US) is a janus, I accuse. Where do you get the moral ground to colonise a country, disenfranchise its people, tell them that they are barbaric, enforce your ways, exploit its natural wealth, enslave and exploit its people, take it over and after its rightful, original inhabitants successfully regain what was theirs in the first place by reaching independence, you ask them to pay for taking it from them, huh?
Why mention the past?
Whilst it should be reiterated that descendants should not be punished for the atrocities of their forefathers, they can and should be blamed for failing to redress them. This means that we cannot blame today’s Europeans for slavery and colonialism but they can be blamed for not doing enough to redress the mess their forefathers left in the colonies e.g the Rwandan genocide, skills shortages in former colonies, poor infrastructure, ethnic segregation and feuds, inequality, current exploitation of natural wealth, civil wars that has roots of colonialism, etc. We cannot blame white South Africans for the monster of Apartheid (except those that kept the National Party in power and those that voted “no” in the 1993 memorandum) but we can blame them if they don’t pay fair wages or comply with laws that aim to redress past imbalances such as affirmative action. Likewise in the US and all other countries that had a more/less similar history. The Spanish as well need to cognise that their brothers massacred an entire race for them to settle in Argentina, there’s an extinct people because of them, that’s why the demographics of Argentina and the like stand like that.
The truth is that the past has an influence today and will continue to do so in the future unless young people from all over the world (especially those that benefited from the never thanked slave-labour and colonialism) make their leaders cognisant of the moral responsibility towards the developing world. Young leaders from the US need to elucidate to their leaders that descendants of slaves are suffering from poverty which makes them compromise their values and ethics in order to survive. These descendants are suffering because of the past. Leaders need to be aware that slaves were forced there, however, they now have rights to call the nation of immigrants theirs since their hard labour was the foundation of its economy.
The fact that in South Africa inequality corresponds with race needs to be redressed and this redress should be spearheaded by those that benefited from an unjust system. Those whose ancestors ensured that the status quo in Brazil is maintained for generations and generations need to start accessing how fast they can share their wealth to make sure that the inequality that stares at your face in that blessed country is reduced.
Young European leaders need to start speaking out in public about the damage colonialism placed to its victims. They need to start lobbying their governments to play more constructive roles in their former colonies. Young Belgian leaders need to elucidate to their governments how their colonialism led to one of the biggest genocides in human history that took the lives of an estimated 1 000 000 lives.
These young Belgian leaders can also lobby their governments to educate young Rwandans so the latter can lead its country into a developed state. The Portuguese can invest in infrastructure in Angola and Mozambique. The French can play a more significant and more constructive role in poverty stricken Madagascar and those entwined in war and poverty like the Democratic Republic of Congo. These are some ideas and examples. The truth is that mass immigration into Europe and is linked with the past because no-one would easily leave everything they know behind if there wasn’t a situation forcing them to do so. Secondly, Europeans and Americans that complain about mass immigration into their shores must introspect in a sense that they reminisce on colonialism which also included mass immigration.
All of this will take young, vibrant youths who will will realise the usurpation of power by their forefathers, how they have benefited from such action and are still benefiting, therefore realise that, that places a greater responsibility for them to formulate redress practices. I believe that there is still space for a morally and ethically accountable government. There still exists a space for world leaders who’ll start to think less about the next election but more about the next generation. Disingenuousness has no place and should not be tolerated.
They must be identified and groomed. These are the type of people that’ll really tackle the biggest and realest issues that hinder the world today. Without them conservation of the human race is threatened. These people will emphasise we must stop all the trees from being cut down, all the land from being dug up and all the rivers from being polluted because we’ll never be quench thirst and take out hunger by eating or drinking money.
Nkosikhona Raphael Duma
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