SA’s Black Leaders, Like White Moderates, Devoted To “Order” Than Justice

By Khotso Molekane

I was left with a deep sense of expectation as Thulasizwe Simelane of eNCA commenced his widely shared rant on air about Clicks and their racist supremacist vilification of black hair – advertisement would be a misnomer. I didn’t have to wait long to figure out what was happening. Simelane called Clicks stupid. I am made to believe that there is no cure for stupidity and I guess we are being asked to contend with the same in the future.

It soon became clear that the intended target of Simelane’s expletives was not Clicks and Unilever but the EFF. The English that was enough to express his dismay at the ‘stupidity’ of Clicks and Unilever, was by his own admission woefully inadequate, only his mother tongue (Zulu) could bring out into the open his disdain for the EFF. Clicks became a footnote and EFF became the main story. The public remained non the wiser about what Simelane was doing to fight racism. We know very little about his views on racism but know more about his views about the tactics of those who come out to confront racism. In the case of the EFF, he is angrier about what he thinks the EFF might do. He is angry that their trolls might troll him.

Hot on the heels of Simelane was Advocate Thuli Madonsela who described the actions of Clicks as ‘unconscious bias’. We are left to figure out for ourselves whether the bias is against black hair or black people. Madonsela even chastises black people for disturbing public order because of hair. It is therefore obvious that she would not disturb her peace by asking Clicks and Co why they spent their valuable commercial time coining new insults. There are too many incidents where Madonsela apologises for racism and defends racists. Take the instances when DA’s Helen Zille indulged in her favourite past time and insulted black people – she earned herself high noon tea with Madonsela just as Madiba earned himself a cup of tea when he visited Tane Betsie Verwoed in Orania.  Our self-styled Madibas seem to have jumped onto the wrong side of the historical fence.

The above seems to be the template that most politicians borrowed from in response to the EFF protest. 

The US civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr had a few observations of his own about these types of responses.

‘’I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season’. Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection’’. The tragedy here is that unlike Martin Luther King Jr’s letter from Birmingham jail in1963 these statements are made by black leaders 57 years later.

The Democratic Alliance response to the EFF protest is to lay criminal charges against the EFF for instigating and perpetrating violence. No mention of the original sin. This is hardly surprising given that this is the party of Helen Zille. The same Zille who describes her parents as immigrants from Germany and describes black South Africans from the Eastern Cape as refugees. The same party that demands speedy responses for everything else but has gone dead quiet on its own processes of holding Zille accountable for the racist vitriol she spews at regular intervals. She operates like a sensor activated machine. I just can’t figure out what the triggers of the spew are.

The African Christian Democratic Party came out with a positive message congratulating Clicks for its ‘muted apology’. The reality is that there was no apology from Clicks, but an explanation of how they released the racist material. In any event, one hopes that the ACDP will display the same spirit of understanding and generosity to those who now and then find themselves having to terminate their pregnancies.

Ultimately, it is the reaction of the ANC that most South Africans look up to. After all, this is the party that rules South Africa thanks to the votes of black people. The ANC calls itself ‘the leader of society’. The Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu weighed-in on behalf of the South African government. His statement reminds the public that cabinet has approved “National Action Plan to combat Racism, Racial discrimination, Xenophobia and related intolerances’’. One was hoping that Mthembu would tell us how this policy with such a long name was helping to combat racism and specifically, Clicks type racism. Instead, he goes straight for the EFF. He uses the language of ‘Law and Order’ to deal with EFF’s campaign.

At the least, the Presidency should have taken the lead by summoning the CEO and the Board of Clicks and the Global CEO of Uniliver to come and account and pay reparations in the form of bursaries and global management internships for black South African women and a global research institute on black hair which would be based in South Africa and funded by both companies. Perhaps this would have established their credentials to attack the tactics of others.

Most frightening is that the ANC had nothing to say. The government had spoken and there was therefore no need for the ANC to speak. The ANC has truly become the party of government. Alternatively, the party of OR Tambo who convinced the world that Apartheid was a crime against humanity now sees the EFF and not racism as a crime against humanity. The ANC is the new security branch. Social Order has become mutually exclusive to Social Justice.

The ANC Women’s league whose membership is overwhelmingly black, is also silent. The response comes in the person of the Minister of Small Business Khumbudzo Ntshaveni who rejects Clicks’ apology. That is courageous coming from a minister in this government. She sees the current public outrage as an opportunity to twist Clicks’ hand to stock a few locally made black hair products onto their shelves. While at face value this might look like a forward looking move, the question that has to be answered is why the ANC government needs to hide behind this moment to demand that local retailers stock a quota of local products. After all, we protect South African based Foreign car manufacturers and others against their international competitors. What stops the government from imposing quotas on retailers? Instead we beg for shelf space from those who insult black people.

This article would be trivialising racism if it did not ask the question: What is to be done? Often times we spend too much time ranting and not  finding solutions. 

The biggest problem facing Africans in general and black South Africans specifically is not the racism ingrained in white minds, but our tolerance and accommodation of racism. Many European countries have outlawed or criminalised Nazi ideology. The reason is quite simple – Nazism is a menace they dare not forget. The denial of the crime of holocaust is criminalised in most European countries. The state of Israel continues to hunt the perpetrators of the holocaust and their collaborators 75 years after the end of the Second world war, even if it means kidnapping them to go face Justice in Israel.

South Africa is the host of two centres (Johannesburg and Cape Town) dedicated to the study of Holocaust and Genocide. They are funded by the Jewish people to ensure that the world never forgets the horrible crimes committed against them. Why hasn’t our government done anything to ensure that we study and expose every little detail about Slavery, Colonialism and Apartheid? The answer is simple, our leaders’ memories have been erased in exchange for short term comforts.

One of the famous and powerful public relations and reputation management companies of our time was Bell Pottinger. It was brought to its knees in 18 months because white South Africans decided that it had crossed the line by accepting the brief to be the gramophone of the Guptas. Would Clicks allow itself to be biased, as Advocate Madonsela claims, if it knew that the bias will seal its fate?

Black people in South Africa were never oppressed on the basis of political or ideological affiliation, but purely on the basis of the colour of their skin and ethnicity. For black folks to reclaim their dignity, the following would have to happen.

  • The highest form of corruption is moral corruption. Black people should therefore resist the enticement to focus exclusively on financial corruption and neglect the worst form of corruption which is racism.
  • Unlike African Americans who don’t wield political power, black South Africans possess political power. The question is how they use it. Do they frame their agenda and call for political bidders to execute it? My submission is that we should only vote for parties that commit themselves to the black agenda, otherwise parties like the ANC will have to be voted by those who benefit most from its policies. No more manifestos. Show us your track record and your capacity to implement the anti-racist agenda. Any takers?
  • Apartheid was an economic system underpinned by economic exclusion. Without economic might and control, black people do not deserve respect, but scorn. Our votes should echo this fact. No middle ground. Are you with us or with the Clicks of this world and their political patrons?
  • No person or party that mocks and insults our blackness should have the space to campaign in our midst. I am aware that just before the elections, the IEC will awake from its slumber and talk political tolerance. What about racial tolerance? Where is the IEC? The rules cannot be tailored for the thieves to come and steal our votes before elections and go back to their hate speech immediately thereafter. Human dignity is a pillar of our constitution. Constitutional protection for all or we will have constitutional protection for none. Let us return Zille’s favour when the time comes.
  • Demand accountability from all the symbols of white power (anti-black) power. The time of begging for recognition is over -f rom schools to banks. We should designate a day for each sector that has not transformed. A day where we will walk into the office of the CEOs of retail companies and managers of their shops in our numbers to demand to see their action lists, approved by their boards, that state how they have changed their policies to serve the majority. Demand timelines and accountable names. Go to schools that were built to perpetuate white supremacy and demand same. Do the same with banks and every other sector of our society. True respect is earned, and not begged for.
  • For as long as black people allow themselves to be locked into echo chambers of white supremacy that shout about corruption (some of which they are the authors) to the exclusion of our agenda, our kids will spit on our graves. The time has come. 
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