Lavittude Ramphomane |I Post What I Like
Mbeki’s paper is a welcome gesture because, thanks to its ideological nature, it lays bare the shortcomings of this post-1994 political schema which has virtually legitimised black landlessness; and it also warns us of the dangers of embracing political formations which sanctifies the Freedom Charter and Constitutionalism
As deputy president twenty years ago, Thabo Mbeki caused consternation within the white world and was roundly castigated for ostensibly soiling the sanctified atmosphere of ethos of “reconciliation and non-racism” when he lamented the existence of what he termed two nations in the post-1994 epoch before parliament on the Reconciliation Debate.
In that opening speech, Mbeki inquired as to whether or not south Afrika was making progress towards, inter alia, a non-racial and non-sexist society which was gradually but unflinchingly shedding itself of the injustices of the past, and he duly answered this question himself with a resounding “no”!
Mbeki went on to paint a picture of a racially dichotomized society of whites and blacks which obstinately continued to reflect past imbalances: with whites living in bliss side by side an unceasing black dereliction, and, thus, pointing to a historical continuum.
One of the two nations, as Mbeki argued, was “white, relatively prosperous, regardless of gender or geographic dispersal. It has ready access to a developed economic, physical, educational, communication and other infrastructure.”
The then deputy president of the country continued: “The second and larger nation of South Africa is black and poor, with the worst affected being women in the rural areas, the black rural population in general and the disabled.”
From the above-quoted texts, we observe that Mbeki locates economic disparity as the underlying, and indeed the identifying factor, of this cleft between black and white; but what is perhaps key regarding this unwelcome status quo is that he further argued that the existence of white bliss and black perdition was “underwritten by the perpetuation of the racial, gender and spatial disparities born of a very long period of colonial and apartheid white minority domination…”
In concrete terms, Mbeki chastised the white nation of perpetuating white privilege in the face of black suffering, and also of undermining efforts of building a prosperous and peaceful egalitarian society.
A corollary is that the white world continued to display an unbridled disinclination towards disimbricating the building blocks of colonialism and apartheid, the twin catalysts of white privilege and black suffering.
From the above synopsis and quoted texts, we can readily conclude that twenty years ago, Mbeki viewed white hegemony on the economy and ipso facto black alienation and the accompanying consequence of racial polarization as not only systemic but also elaborate. Put differently, what Mbeki says in romanticized language is that the beast of colonialism and apartheid continued to rear its head after the birth of “a democratic society”, and that this beast has a face and its face is white.
Now, in light of Mbeki’s recent views apropos to the land issue twenty years after making the observation that the white nation continued to labour to hold on to white privilege and its consequence, black suffering, it is appropriate to ask whether or not Mbeki still adheres to the notion of “a country of two nations”?
This is to say, has the white racist beast die, and have things changed since 1998 with regard to the white nation’s willingness to contribute towards the utopia so highly coveted by Mbeki and his predecessors?
If the answer is yes, why are we still grappling with this vexatious land debate and the asymmetric economic distribution which renders the black body subhuman while it charts white as human?
If the answer is no, what does Mbeki propose as the way forward to ensure that, among other interventions, the land is equitably distributed after almost four hundred years of injustice?
By way of a slight digression, I’m of the view that, with this piece on the land question, Mbeki provides the answer to the questions posed above. In point of fact, that paper by Mbeki, I contend here, is not saturated on the land and other immediately-related issues: it is an ideological communique proper conveyed through the debate on the land question.
Through this ideological hermeneutic which masquerades as a contribution to the land debate, we get edifying insights on:
– Mbeki and his ilk’s view and understanding colonialism, white supremacy and apartheid
– how he envisages the ANC’s cartography towards the promised land, and
– how he views as benign this continuing black landlessness and suffering.
Leaving aside for a moment my contention that Mbeki’s paper is not an input to the land debate but an ideological missive which explains his understanding of colonialism, white supremacy, black suffering and the ANC’s historical response to these, I propose to return to the question I left hanging above: are white people today contributing towards completely obliterating the colonialism, white privilege and apartheid for which Mbeki’s predecessors picked up the cudgels in order to dismantle?
Put differently, is the collective white nation’s structure of feelings inclined towards adopting the ideals contained within the Freedom Charter as their own?
In his paper, Mbeki, in no less than four times, refers to the 1994 moment as “victory of the Democratic Revolution”, and he associates this victory with the end of “white minority domination.”
The fact that we still grapple with this protracted nettle that the land issue has become – twenty years after Mbeki first registered his concerns at the white nation’s willingness to contribute to change – is testimony to the fact that the apartheid status quo remains.
In crude terms, not only does south Afrika remain a racially polarised country, but the white nation is still systematically at labour to thwart efforts geared towards eradicating this sad reality.
Thanks to his fetish for the historical “character” of the ANC which is largely informed by the much-maligned Freedom Charter, and his conviction that blacks gained victory at the Democratic Revolution in 1994, Mbeki seems to be harbouring under a massive misapprehension that white supremacy and its intricate performance, ceased to exist once a “national democratic movement” assumed political office.
The former president’s lamentable ideological grounding – like that of the ANC, EFF and UDM, and as further entrenched in the Constitution – is decidedly informed by the civil rights movement character of the ANC so succinctly encapsulated in the Freedom Charter.
Since it sought to assimilate to (rather than dismantle) white supremacist colonialist order, the ANC to which Mbeki so tenaciously clings, relegated itself to something else other than a liberation movement which laboured “to help eradicate the legacy of colonialism and apartheid and simultaneously to help create a truly non-racial and non-sexist society”, to put it in Mbeki’s words.
In his current paper, Mbeki asserts that “[t]he very first and most fundamental historical injustice imposed on the indigenous majority in our country by the Dutch and British colonial regimes and the Settler population – ‘the original sin’ – was the deprivation of that African majority of its sovereignty, independence and freedom.”
Mbeki further indicates that land usurpation of blacks was central in establishing a white settler colony and its other side of the coin, black displacement.
In explaining a political program to right past wrongs, he avers: “In this context, necessarily the National Democratic Revolution would and must mean that it must work to resolve the land question resulting from the process of colonisation, which would also address the Constitutional imperative to address the injustices of the past!”
At this point, it should be borne in mind that Mbeki’s conceptual framework to “address the injustices of the past” is foregrounded upon the problematic Freedom Charter and the Constitution, documents which essentially reinvigorated black landlessness. And it is to these documents that he castigates the ANC for deviating from!
What Mbeki bemoaned in 1998 (albeit in romanticized language) as white reluctance towards attaining the ANC’s envisaged society; today (almost four hundred years after black dispossession, and twenty four years after “Democratic Revolution victory”) blacks define this reluctance as proof of existence of colonialism and apartheid.
This is to say, notwithstanding the different colours of the faces which decorates the State, parliament and our banknotes, this country remains a two nations dichotomy where dehumanised black exist only to facilitate white blissful existence.
This is the indisputable reality of the country to this day, and Mbeki is at pains to consign us to the 106 year-old thinking (the historical character of the ANC), the 63 year-old manifesto (Freedom Charter), and the 22 year-old document (the Constitution) which have proven impotent to address the land issue and “other national questions”!
By his insistence on genuflecting to the “historical character” of the ANC, the Freedom Charter, and the Constitution, the former president is recommending as medicine the very same poisons which has brought us to this black deathbed in the first place. In other words, blacks will continue to march and toyi toyi ad infitum for, inter alia, the equitable distribution of the land – landlessness, however, cannot only be reducible to petitions: it also means death!
Which brings me to what shapes Mbekis ideological grounding apropos to colonialism, landlessness and black suffering: he comes across as someone who believes that black landlessness in this country is not too unsimilar to stealing a single flower at the orchard on a romantic day, hence his romanticized, nonchalant approach.
Land is sovereignty, independence, heritage, dignity, economics, politics, geopolitics, food, water, herbs and cure; and to deprive a people of their land for twenty four years (let alone more than three hundred years) is the equivalent of usurping their sovereignty, economy, politics, food, dignity, cure and life: in a word, landlessness is death and it is this death that Mbeki’s seeks to perpetuate with his adherence to impotent methods which are not equal to the task of its arrest!
With regards to the ANC’s consideration to expropriate land without compensation, Mbeki declares:
“[We] would argue that it was necessary for the ANC openly to explain the matter of ‘land expropriation without compensation’ relative to the fundamentally important position adopted by our Movement since its foundation that, as stated in the Freedom Charter, ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white’”.
But this is mischievous! As one of the veterans of the ANC who had participated in many an ANC forum over the decades, and as a freedom fighter who claims to have been at the forefront of the fight against colonialism, Mbeki should know the internal democratic processes of the ANC on the one hand, and how a “National Democratic Revolutionary” movement is shaped and functions on the other.
At the ANC, branches from grassroots level across the length and breadth of the country convene for the National Policy Conference to formulate policy and provide political direction. Needless to say, this process is largely informed by the views and aspirations of the people; and this means that a movement’s political trajectory is often redirected by the views and aspirations of the masses from grassroots at policy formulation conferences.
Unlike religion where the people are guided by a sacrosanct scripture, with regards to a movement which fashions itself as a liberation movement, the masses of the people dictate its direction and not vice versa.
So in demanding an explanation on what informs the ANC’s dalliance with the notion of expropriation without compensation, and, indeed, its shift from “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white” proposition, Mbeki is demanding an explanation from the masses.
Accordingly, Mbeki is still trapped in the ideological grounding of 1912 during the formation of the ANC, and the 1963 Freedom Charter which begged the white settler with a cap in hand for acceptance in his colony while black corpses continue to pile thanks to the matrix of that death, landlessness.
In conclusion, Mbeki’s paper is a welcome gesture because, thanks to its ideological nature, it lays bare the shortcomings of this post-1994 political schema which has virtually legitimised black landlessness; and it also warns us of the dangers of embracing political formations which sanctifies the Freedom Charter and Constitutionalism. Most vitally, it also serves as a reminder that in the course of the struggle against the colonizers, the land issue, instead of being suspended to a later date, should always take preponderance above frivolities like sharing the same parks and toilets as the settler.
We are not in opposition of Mbeki’s thought but are thankful to it because it gives us invaluable wisdom on how we arrived at this mess in the first place; what we reject is his desire to keep us in this unceasing suffering with his tried, tired and failed methods.
Lastly, we advise Mbeki that, in this racially polarized society, it is the white nation’s unyielding refusal to accept that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white” which should be problematized, and not the black nation: this is laid bare in the more than three hundred years (and counting) of their unwillingness to loosen their hegemony on the land, its resources and properties worth trillions of dollars.
****Ramphomane is an activist and social commentator.