When darkies are dazed, leaders are few

It was one of those cold winter’s nights. Whisky and beer flowed. The music made a better background than the tapestry and the conversation was serious, but not too serious.

Then Tango, a friend and one of those who in the old days were called “politically minded”, said: “I am giving up on darkies.”

Tango, in case you wondered, is a darkie, as in an African of African origin.

It’s a statement I am hearing more and more these days.
At its heart is the question: why should black people attempt to justify or defend black incompetence.

And it is not always from reactionary types who clamour for the apartheid days where at least people had jobs and crime was not as bad as it is now.

Like Tango, many of those raising their disappointment with “darkies” were schooled in the hard knocks of politicking when it was not only life threatening to do so, but stole their youth.

Tango’s brother-in-law, Tops, supports this view. He adds nonchalantly: “Blacks are a cursed people.” Tops promises to show the verse in the bible that supports his view.

Nobody who knows them can accuse Tango and Tops of fatalism or harbouring anti-black sentiments. That is why I find their views so fascinating.

These discussions give me a sense of hope and of despair. On the one hand I am hopeful that the state of affairs is something they feel so strongly about that they exhale. Holding people accountable for their public roles suggests to me a maturing of our democracy.

On the other hand, as South African Communist Party leader Jeremy Cronin alluded to in The Star last week, the failure to make President Thabo Mbeki accountable for how he protected the national police commissioner from being investigated, spoke to the immaturity of our democracy.

Despair descends when talented and intelligent young men like Tango and Tops (I am still to have such a conversation with young women) say they are close to giving up on things black.

If they do, I keep reminding them, they will be mortgaging the gains they struggled for to the growing number of political Johnny-come-latelys; those who spent their youth roller-skating and imitating Michael Jackson by wearing funny jackets and one white glove. We already have too many such people running around making important decisions and trying too hard to compensate for their days of political indifference.

I read Tops and Tango to be calling for black leadership to emerge at these trying times. If for no other reason than to say that their despair is misplaced.

It may not be a politically correct thing to say, but blacks will have to play a more positive role in the leadership of this country if it is to achieve its full potential. This is not meant to say that white people are superfluous. The sheer numbers of black people in strategic positions in the public, academic and private sector demands more from black leaders.

Instead, our leaders seem to be caught up making political and policy decisions that appear to boost the egos of the policymakers rather than to advance the country’s interests.

People want to change street names, abolish successful crime fighting organs, preserve/fire a backward/progressive judge for no reason other than because they can. Confusing.

In case you are expecting a line that says “but whites are not perfect either”, the point I am trying to make is that in the same way that blacks make up the majority of citizens in South Africa, we play a proportional role in the leadership of our country.

If our political ancestors had been pre-occupied with the same self-seeking as we are today, we would not have made the advances we have in South Africa.

Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela could have enjoyed the prestige they had as lawyers who owned their own firm in the 1950s. Robert Sobukwe could have enjoyed being a fine gentleman and a scholar. Steve Biko might have made bucket-loads of cash as a medical doctor.

But these and many thousands of men and women whose names we will never know, chose to place their own interests second so as to fight the conspiracy that perpetuated black underachievement.

I am not about to give up on “darkies” or offer nails for the coffin of black leadership.

In a week that saw another anniversary ­—the June 16 uprising—it may be worth recording that the event was a celebration of black pride, assertiveness and a willingness to pay a price for what young people believed in.

Instead of moaning about poor leadership, I hope Tango, Tops and many others who feel like them, will find a space and a community where they can make a change.

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