/ 4 January 2011

Zombie Verwoerd stalks internet

There’s a fractional difference between the stupidity of a social mopani worm like Khanyi Mbau and the muddy logic of an ostensibly educated writer like Thought Leader’s Sentletse Diakanyo. The difference, I suppose, is that between a blowjob and a blowhard. Fractional at best.

In the former’s case, we are told “so what if m dating sugar daddies, at least i get to wear the fancy n expensive stuff, get to go places—etc….need i say more???? u gt a prob, deal with it!!!!!”

A fine fuck you, addressed to all her critics who dare to suggest that she’s not the most perfect role model for the production of useful citizens. Diakanyo’s fuck you is a little more selective, addressed only to Indian, white, coloured, miscellaneous and Arab peoples — non-blacks, I guess we’ll be calling them when Diakanyo is president — who dare to believe that they can be called Africans because they’ve lived on the African continent for anything from a few generations to a few centuries.

You might want to go and read his column, entitled “We are not all Africans, black people are!”

And note the giveaway exclamation mark, beloved of great publications like the Daily Mail, who believe in scoring points rather than making them. But Diakanyo’s basic argument rests on a wilful (I hope it’s wilful, as opposed to stupid — evil trumps idiocy in my book) blurring of two definitions of the word African. Well, it’s not so much a blurring as a selective use of each definition to argue against points made about the other. Confusing, huh. I’ll explain.

Diakanyo’s basic point, which he’s borrowed from that great philosopher and emancipator of slaves, Henry Ford, is that only a black person can be an African. To quote Diakanyo, “You can be an African in any colour as long as he is black.” I assume he means he or she, although you never know with these tinpot revolutionaries.

According to Diakanyo, “There is now an attempt in the 21st century to redefine the colour scheme of an African. Whites want to be classified as African.” This is a lie, of course. White people, and everyone else who was born on this continent and loves it, for all its many faults, have merely wanted to identify with the general ideological construct that is Africa. Which means embracing its many contradictions, and being willing to be part of the ever-evolving understandings of what “Africa” means in the world.

Diakanyo tells us that, “historically, the term ‘African’ never had any ambiguous meaning”. African, he tells us a little later, referred to “sub-human … savages and barbarians”. Dude, has nobody taught you to stop and think? If it was never ambiguous, then that definition would still stand. Of course it was, and always will be, ambiguous. That’s the point of these terms, they’re always contested by various interest groups seeking to use them for their own ends. In your case, apparently to antagonise South Africans who are trying to achieve some sort of commonality with their fellow citizens, both national and continental, so that they can work together to build a viable life.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m also nauseated by people who claim to be African when we’re hosting a World Cup, but mysteriously become South African when asked to account for kids having their hands lopped off in Rwanda. It’s bad enough being asked to believe in a country, but a continent? And there’s nothing more irritating than some white oke who thinks that the Castle beer ad is “moving”, and who claims to love African music because he owns a Juluka CD.

In Diakanyo’s defence, and unlike some of the Americans he is so eager to count as his African brothers and, possibly, sisters, he does know the difference between a continent and a country. “African is not and has never been a national identity. Nowhere does a country called Africa exist”, he tells us. Of course, people claiming to be African can mean it in many ways, and for different reasons.

One reason is because you’re a foot soldier in the battle to have the term “African” mean more than genocide, poverty and corruption. This does not mean you want to be “black” (as useless a label as “white”, except when you’re trying to decide who gets to be put up against the wall), it means that you’re taking sides in a global war.

I could go on, but really, this sort of shit sickens me. It’s divisive, it’s unnecessary, and it’s stupid. Obviously there are many irritating and dangerous people who are trying, like Diakanyo, to steal the term African for their own ends. But fight them on a case by case basis, don’t sweepingly alienate your friends as well as your foes. Diakanyo goes so far as to try and prove with wikiscience that Africa is not the “cradle of mankind”. No, we are all Chinese, he tells us. (Read a Thought Leader refutation of his “science”.)

Now I don’t care, one way or the other, where humankind originated. I don’t hold it in any high regard, thanks to people like Diakanyo and his spiritual soulmates like Annelie Botes and Steve Hofmeyr.

But to hate other races so much that you’re willing to give up one of the few ideological trump cards that Africa can play in the Western mass market is, to quote a famous African proverb from Rwanda, like cutting off your enemy’s nose to spite your face.

The spirit of Hendrik Verwoerd still haunts this country and the internet, a zombie stumbling around feeding off the grim life force that is intolerance and racism. Every time we get bitten, or as in the case of this column, take the bait, we create more hate-filled zombies. Ah well, at least when we have all fed off each other’s pain, we can then, truly, say “We are all zombies”. But we won’t be human.

Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisroperza, and read his blog at chrisroper.co.za