Columns 5.9.2016 07:35 am

When being racist is something to aspire to

Andile Mngxitama and Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala during a media briefing on February 17, 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (File photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Theana Breugem)

Andile Mngxitama and Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala during a media briefing on February 17, 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (File photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Theana Breugem)

If the world Andile Mngxitama appears to long for comes to pass, then only black people will have the power to act like racist assholes.

In a more flippant moment, I once imagined the main reason Andile Mngxitama is so anti-white is down to the sheer impossibility of many a white person pronouncing his name right.

I myself know the agony of watching someone cluelessly attempting to decode the riddle of letters my French Huguenot surname sometimes presents them with. In London, I was often called “Mr Chillers”. I have given up on explaining that “the ‘s’ is silent” and, years ago, I learnt to even stop minding when Cilliers is pronounced “Silly Ears”, which in my own case is unfortunately accurate.

When it comes to Mngxitama, though, the challenge for the white person is orders of magnitude greater. I’ve watched as, one after the other, the everyday white man and woman stumbles when confronted by those three consonants and an ‘x’ in a combination no teacher in any formerly Model C school prepared them for.

In Andile’s position, I would probably also take the position of, “Please stop trying to pronounce my name. To hell with you all. Just bugger off back to Europe – and give back my damn land.”

Looking at it this way is a lot easier than just saying Mngxitama is a racist – however, if you follow him, you’ll know Andile doesn’t even believe it’s possible for him or any black person to be racist.

The reason for this is the mostly academic argument that racism is entrenched in historical white supremacy and is a function of structural power. Mngxitama himself once wrote that “obviously black people cannot be racists … the real question should be how to get justice. The primary step is to return the land stolen by whites, then return the economy to the black majority. Racism is simply a system of power – political, economic, social, and cultural, designed by white people for the oppression of black people. Reverse racism is a joke. Discrimination can be fair, it shouldn’t be called discrimination but rather redress.”

This idea that black people can’t be racist owes a lot to the USA, where white supremacy over various minorities who are not white remains the order of the day. According to Mngxitama’s version of the argument, even here in South Africa, where white people are an increasingly smaller minority, black people can’t even be prejudiced … because taking things from white people and denying them any further access to resources would simply be acting out a form of historical justice.

But not even in America would most racial theorists go this far.

Here in South Africa, by contrast, we have had a democratic, largely black-led government for my entire adult life, and power is certainly not something only white people possess. Power, particularly nowadays, is rather shamelessly wielded by people such as Jacob Zuma, who, rather obviously, are not white. We are, all of us, black or white, at the mercy of whether Zuma might wake up tomorrow and decide to fire Pravin Gordhan. And then all of us, black or white, will have to deal with the fallout of the rand suddenly being worth next to nothing.

The fact that a loaf of bread will then cost twice, three times, a hundred times what it costs now – and thus make life much harder for a poor person – will not be a white man’s fault. But it will be the poor – and poor black people in particular – who will suffer most. And all because of the avarice and heedless hunger for power of a black man.

It’s a pity that Mngxitama doesn’t see that South Africa has evolved into a country of far greater subtlety than one where blaming white people for all of our ills still does the job – a one-size-fits-all answer to everything that’s wrong with us.

If Andile and his rather small band of extremist cohorts get what they are demanding – namely the return of all the land into black hands and, presumably, full black ownership of the rest of the economy too, then ironically it will only be black people who would be capable of being racist, because then black people would structurally be the only ones with power to enact sociopolitical violence on others.

Is that the dream … the thing to aspire to? That black people will be empowered to finally be racist in the country of their birth if the fancy so takes them? Because that is the “African utopia” we will find ourselves in. It will be one where white people will be either completely wiped out or wishing that they had been, and where black people will be the superior assholes, just like white people were throughout a lot of history and continue to be in many places.

Will Andile be happy then?

Mngxitama calls himself a Bikoist, but I’m not sure this is what Steve Biko had in mind when he said the gift of black consciousness would bestow on South Africa a “more human face”.

There are many countries out of the 54 in Africa where white people own little, if any, of the land, as well as whatever economies they have. Many would argue that the black people living in these places, such as Angola, for example, are not greatly better off – because it’s not the race of the person oppressing you that matters, simply the fact that you are being oppressed. It isn’t any more fun being robbed of your rightful share of your nation’s resources and opportunities if the person keeping you down is called Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Idi Amin or PW Botha.

The real enemy will always be the corrupt leaders or misleaders who abuse us and exploit us, regardless of their race, and even a party that Mngxitama was once a part of, the EFF, is evolving into something that understands that and is reacting to the practical nature of day-to-day politics. Despite the fact that Zuma is destroying this country one day at a time, Mngxitama would have preferred the EFF to side with the rudderless ANC, and thus endorse Zuma, instead of the possible, much-needed change that could come from giving the DA a chance … simply because there are fewer white people in the ANC and more white people in the DA.

Interestingly, over the past few days, Mngxitama had even taking to vociferously defending Zuma and describing him as our “economic liberator”. In his world, Zuma is guiltless and the anger directed at him comes down to “white capital” no longer being happy with him, as if black people cannot think for themselves or have valid reasons for wanting a better leader.

Such blind faith that no good can come from any white person and no evil ever from any black person unfortunately means eventually becoming a slightly crazy-sounding man pushing conspiracy theories and throwing bottles of water at white people who disagree with you – which could end up being the sum total of his contribution to improving our lives.

Charles Cilliers, digital editor

Charles Cilliers, digital editor

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