I come in late into the whole Johan Steenhuisen ruckus about him not having a post-matric qualification and yet he is a member of parliament and the Chief Whip of the Democratic Alliance. The delay was deliberate on my part because what was really interesting to watch were the different reactions from the political parties and the media. The jokes made, the insults thrown and the defensive rhetoric propelled me to think seriously about the many implications and the gestures carried in the incident. Things are not always what they seem. As perhaps Achille Mbembe might want to suggest, everything has its doubles. It is therefore important that as thinkers and as politicians who are interested in thought to always seek to find the doubles. Failure to do so might lead to bootstrapping and not necessarily seeing and interpreting incidents for what they are beyond the surface.
Certain things are quite clear about the Steenhuisen incident and it is that white people do not need an education to become successful or to access certain spaces. The mere colour of their skin is enough credential for them to hold any position regardless of the skills required. This is not only the case with parliamentarians, it cuts across the board. In sectors like engineering, mining and agriculture, white people get senior positions because their uncles and their fathers own the farms and companies. The Steenhuisen incident is therefore not an aberration but a continuation of the normal state of affairs in South Africa. It is shocking though because when it happened the reaction was that of shock and it subsequently degenerated into the mocking of Steenhuisen. The mockery, as one would have expected from a white man, had no effect instead he responded in parliament with the arrogance expected of him.
Steenhuisen in his response in parliament arbitrarily argues that there is a difference between education and qualification. He argues by implication that there is no need for one to have a qualification in order to lead, what is important is the ability to execute the task at hand. This might very well be true but it was not the case when Jacob Zuma was attacked by the very same DA and it was not the case when Dr Pallo Jordan was found not to have qualifications. This clearly demonstrates that the standards differ based on shade and white people decide when the standards should be applied or not. What seems to be much more important though is to see the Steenhuisen issue beyond just the paradigm of formal education and its uses. We should rather see this issue as a signifier of the fact that white people are still arbiters of what matters, when and how. The Steenhuisen incident is therefore more than just about education, it shows us the apartheid/colonialism structure remains intact more because it hides itself behind the façade of a South Africa for all with equal opportunities when that is not actually the case.
A great number of people including some ‘educated’ members of the Economic Freedom Fighters laughed and made mockery of the man for not having a post-matric qualification. The matter for me demands much more than laughter, what he and his fellow white people have done and continue doing is to spit in the faces of black people. They have spat in the faces of all the black parents who toil as domestic workers so that they can take their children. They have spat in the faces of all the young black students who will forever be in debt because they wanted an education. Here I am speaking about the many #FeesMustFall activists who are arrested because they were fighting for this education. Instead of laughing at this matter we should all be enraged that whites still continue to determine the terms in which we live our lives. We blacks continue to dance to the tune of white supremacy and this ought to stop.
For a long time now we have been trying to tell the people that white supremacy still exists. The rainbow nation that we were force fed was not true. South Africa remains divided across race lines. It is incidents like the one of Steenhuisen that makes this fact even more evident. The reason why whites are still superior is precisely because they still control the economy and the land. This is why it is important that we ensure that the land is distributed equally and that everyone participates in the economy. Before this happens, white people who have the majority of the land and the economy will always set the terms of engagement.