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No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa

Book Review By David Letsoalo

The release of a self-declared white settler, Kim Heller’s unique book, No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa, is refreshing and timely as it confronts an age-old issue of social injustice the world over, white supremacy. This monstrous issue is tackled through an unflinching commentary on the political pulse of the post-1994 South Africa which has effectively failed to usher the promised liberation in South Africa. This failure amounts to the indictment of the so-called rainbow nation, which is a mythical notion sadly been celebrated for many years in the post-1994 political dispensation in the country.

The massively sponsored narrative of the rainbow nation as utopian initially managed to veneer the obscene systemic reality of white privilege residual from the colonial and apartheid “past”. The myth of rainbow nation was birthed when Nelson Mandela became the first president of the post-1994 South Africa. This reality affirms the observation that real power never got to be transferred from the white minority section of the society despite the assumption of political office by the black majority. In other words, white power has never been challenged or curtailed despite the electoral politics being dominated by black people. What Kim Heller does is to take a bold stand against this injustice by exposing the docility and complicity of the ruling party, the African National Congress, for 27 years now.

White supremacy is a subject that too many writers, journalists, academics and commentators are generally afraid to confront. This indifference to this inhuman phenomenon should be seen in the light of how white supremacy manifests itself, particularly in a racist-capitalist-imperialist society such as South Africa. It is essentially an endemic malady that has permeated all layers of the society. To her credit, Kim Heller has been able to unmask the well-crafted lie that has consistently been hidden through a dominant narrative that has distracted us from true liberation and social justice. Instead, cosmetic hymns of “social cohesion”, “forgiveness” and “reconciliation” have been massively promoted. She utterly dismisses these aspects as a dangerous “dosage of reconciliation between un-equals”.

Recognising colonialism, imperialism and racism as integral components of white supremacy one would have expected blacks in the post-1994 society to have overwhelmingly unmuted themselves and confronted this monster. It is therefore encouraging that Kim Heller has deliberately made this phenomenon her focal point in this collection of her opinion pieces.

However, I think there is the perceptive or real danger that an oxymoronic effect might be presented or created by the fact that Kim Heller, as a white person, takes the cudgels to fight the struggle on behalf of black people. This is likely, especially in this instance where white supremacy is the subject of her commentary. Symbolically, her presence in this space is problematic in that it leaves the impression that she is speaking on behalf of black people, which is something that perpetuates black inferiority and white superiority complexes.

Incidentally, she is aware of this unintended risk, and ensures that she puts this reality on the table and upfront, in her author’s note and also in one of her columns dedicated to Bantu Stephen Biko. She quotes Biko as having said that he gave no “special licence or favour to whites who say they have ‘black souls wrapped in black skins’, in fact he showed disdain for this affliction of privilege. None, he argued, can conceive of or respect Black Consciousness or participate in liberation”. It is therefore clearly understood why she asserts: “I write from the perspective of a foreigner – a white settler in South Africa. I do not understand whites who claim that they are Africans. For we have robbed South Africa and its people economically, politically, and culturally, through colonialism and apartheid. Like every white South African – past, present or future – I am a child of privilege”.

She further refers to Biko’s straightforward and poignant words in this respect: “Biko pleaded with whites to stay out of black struggle and urged conscious whites to disrupt whiteness rather than blackness”. Given this scenario, one may ask, “Then what’s Kim Heller’s business in engaging in such a subject when, by virtue of the colour of her skin, she is a beneficiary of white supremacy?” It’s not my intention to even attempt to answer this question as that is the more reason for the reader herself/himself to discern from this array of columns in this aggressive, truth-to-power book, No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.

Nevertheless, for Kim Heller to confront white supremacy in a celebrated post-1994 dispensation of the rainbow nonsense means that the complicity of the ruling party in the “neo-colonial and apartheid after-party” would inevitably be exposed. What this practically does is to unmask the ruling party as a managing agency of black suffering on behalf of the exploitative racist-capitalist forces that have thrived since colonialism and apartheid in South Africa. This managing role has logically taken the form of sanitising the dirt of racial inequalities by simply tinkering with the white supremacist, capitalist and exploitative system. Indeed, the cosmetic machinations have splendidly been manifested through the grand devilish lie masquerading as a Rainbow Nation and further sustained by the so-called New Dawn pitched by current president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Kim Heller, thus, needs to be commended for taking a direct aim at this “priestly rainbow-ism” which has almost-magically lulled the downtrodden, exploited, marginalised and vanquished black masses of South Africa into opiate-induced sleepiness. It is this sleepiness that has ensured that the stolen landin”, is still not returned to the natives of the occupied Azania.

The risk of bashing this anti-black rainbow monster is that it has co-opted a few influential blacks, made them a powerful elite that would fight tooth and nail to shield itself because they also benefit from the crumbs thrown to them from the dining table of the white capitalist class, the de facto rulers in this rainbow/new dawn arrangement. Poetically, it may be said this is the space where the black elites in the “ruling party” have been ceremoniously ordained “security guards” for white privilege – a fact that is expected to be denied, defend and hardly, if at all, admitted.

What Kim Heller does through this book is to berate the molly-coddling of the institutionalised anti-back arrangement by political parties in the so-called democratic parliament of South Africa. The ANC and the “official” opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), are heavily exposed in this regard. She particularly dedicates part two of the book confronting the ANC’s loss of moral/ideological compass and the exposition of the DA’s business as nothing more than a party of white privilege. She also derides the party’s strategy of using so-called black leaders as a façade to shield its real agenda. The infamous “benefits of colonialism” tweet of Hellen Zille and her grand return to the helm of the DA leadership are critically analysed.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), her former party after the ANC, also does not escape criticism from her sharp pen for having “illegitimately gifted EFF votes to the DA in the 2016 municipal elections, effectively placing economic control in white hands”. In this respect, she argues that this step eroded her faith in the party as a “force for radical economic transformation”. For me, I find her perspective in this regard very limited, if not outright disingenuous, as it seems to suggest that giving the votes to the ANC (instead of the DA) would usher freedom. It is a material mistake that suggests that the ANC and the DA have fundamentally different agendas. Interestingly, she does make the observation that “liberalism is in safe hands in the ANC and the DA. For now, liberation is not in sight”. And I agree.

Like many critics of the EFF on this matter, she does not offer an insight as to what, in the circumstances, the EFF should have done after the outcome of the 2016 local government elections other than use the results (votes) to shake or dislodge the ruling party at that critical level of service delivery to the people. What’s apparent is that there could be a lot of deep-seated reasons driving this criticism of the EFF. Kim Heller does indicate, in one of the columns, that “my political rapture with the EFF was passionate but short-lived. I resigned with a heavy heart as the EFF’s first democratically elected Deputy Secretary of Gauteng, over the expulsion of EFF Members of Parliament Andile Mngxithama and Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala”.

It is, incidentally, clear from Heller’s thesis that the ANC and the DA are on the same wavelength as both are practically against the Freedom Charter. Yes, the ideals of the Freedom Charter have not been implemented despite the political power enjoyed by the erstwhile liberation movement, the ANC, for 27 years now.

The stolen land has still not been returned to black people, as much as the banks, mines and other strategic sectors of the economy are still in white hands. These issues constitute the major theme(s) that Kim Heller rigorously addresses in the book.

A big advantage of the book is that it takes a uniquely fresh format of chronicling some of her columns penned in various media platforms the last few years to cover the reigns of the various presidents deployed by the ANC to government: Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa. In this sense, she is able to give a brutally honest assessment of 27-year-old reign of the “broad church”, the ANC.

Issues of social justice need brave and frank commentators in order for them to be fully resolved. Kim Heller is such a commentator. First and foremost, she admits that she is a white settler, and as a white person in this settler-colonial state she is a beneficiary of white privilege. All whites, she maintains, are unfair beneficiaries of an atrocious system of colonialism and apartheid. The colour of their skin is a key to open all doors of opportunity in this society. It is this honesty that makes her such an authoritative critic of the white supremacist rainbow nation arrangement presided over by the ANC.

Having participated in the anti-apartheid struggle, joining the ANC in 1990, and the EFF in 2014, shows her consistent commitment to the quest for social justice. In her own words, “the massacre at Marikana injured my love affair with the ANC and triggered me to join EFF”. Kim Heller has embraced the perspective underlying Steve Biko’s philosophy that whites should not be part of black political parties. It is in this light that she currently has no political home in the sense that she is no longer a member of any political party.

I will not spoil the broth by attempting to highlight what each of the 36 hard-hitting columns entails. I therefore choose to leave it to the readers to grab the book and, on their own, digest each and every word, clause and phrase that the various beautifully-crafted texts present.

This is an easy-to-read book written in a simple, inviting, straightforward and conversational style, albeit packaging a very punchy message in the manner in which it raises hard questions in small and manageable instalments in the form of columns.

Importantly, it is a book that should stir the curiosity and prick the consciences of individuals or groups from different races, political parties and socio-economic classes. In short, it is a book for her friends and foes alike! White people are implored to shed their generational gains or wealth, particularly the land, gotten through white privilege extended via colonialism conquest and apartheid. The issue of reparations is one key area that the 1994 settlement `conveniently cast aside.

She aptly concludes the book with an emotionally and ideologically touching section, part four thereof, with what I refer to as “tribute-columns” dedicated to (i) the families of Esidimeni, her sister and parents, (ii) Biko, (iii) Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and (iv) Thomas Sankara. I get the impression that this is her “tongue-in-cheek” portrayal of a powerful message to society and political leaders as to what kind of leaders our people need and deserve, especially in the face of pain, deprivation, exploitation, poverty, landlessness and oppression visited on black people by centuries of colonialism and apartheid.

About Biko she makes this point: “Biko would not have sat comfortably in the Rainbow Nation. He wrote of the dangers of ‘hastily arranged integration’ and was against any dosage of reconciliation between un-equals”.

She speaks of Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as someone who will be “remembered as a revolutionary black leader in perpetual combat with white power”. She adds that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was “an ever-nursing mother of the people, nourishing black liberation on a firm breast of love”. Tellingly, she refers to what she calls a beautiful tribute by EFF: “Mama Winnie Mandela was the stone that the builders rejected. She is the first black female President South Africa was deprived of”. I am sure anyone who is not a victim of an evil contrived narrative, especially by STRATCOM, will agree with this appraisal on the Mother of the Nation.

With respect to the inimitable former President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, she says he “was a man of substance and action, not sloganeering and soundbites”. My view is that this country and Afrika at large has always needed such kind of leadership, for “Thomas Sankara was the epitome of political courage”. I cannot but take the liberty to refer to Kim Heller’s frank, liberating and most profound remark on this Afrikan revolutionary: “If Thomas Sankara was alive in current day South Africa, he would not have denied the existence of white monopoly capital. Rather, he would have challenged it and fought it with his signature revolutionary zeal”.

As if to leave no stone un-turned in this stylistically delicious book, Kim Heller covers topical political issues including the curse of the Rainbow Nation, ANC factionalism, the sold-and-bought NASREC conference, the lie and rhetoric of the New Dawn, radical economic transformation, captured media, the twisted narrative of the so-called State Capture, the orchestrated attack on the current Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, and the political analysis of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant crises.

Expectedly, the leadership of the ruling party is put to test as it is strongly, and frankly so, reminded that it has abdicated its fundamental responsibility to advance the struggle for the true liberation of black people. I think No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa is a must-have and a must-read for all of us in this contemporary space.

David Letsoalo is a Sankarist, an activist and Law academic

The book can be bought at key bookshops including Xarra, exclusive books and bargain books of directly from myself – Kimheller.writer@gmail.com

 
 
 
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