Framing “freedom of choice” as “everyone’s right” as Kgwete does, does not allow us to “grasp … South Africa’s socioeconomic realities”, which are defined by a lack of choice rooted in institutionalised racism.
The fact that 91% of South African companies and 85% of all wealth, salaries and assets are still in the hands of a few “choice” individuals in South Africa is itself a racialised privilege.
Most black people in South Africa do not have a “choice” between private or public services.
In most South African townships or rural areas, where the majority of black people live, there are no services at all – public, private, or otherwise. These are the realities of which members of the September National Imbizo speak: the realities of young people who use public services if they have use of services at all; who are paid R10 an hour, when a one-way ticket for a taxi from Khayelitsha to Cape Town costs R12.50.
The pass system might have been abolished, but getting to Clifton is still an insurmountable effort for most people living in Khayelitsha.
The “members of the black semi-elite” Kgwete mentions are certainly contributing to the maintenance of white privilege and black dispossession for the majority, but these “members” are not to be found among the imbizo’s majority.
It is a shame that Kgwete assumes that “they like to write, but do not seem to like to read” without mentioning the fact that 92% of South African schools do not have libraries, or that a copy of Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like costs R150.
Even so, these “intellectuals”, as Kgwete writes, are reading extensively, in particular important works of the black radical tradition. Kgwete’s letter demonstrates that black consciousness remains invaluable for an understanding of “South Africa’s socioeconomic realities” and the “social ills”, which he claims to be interested in.
As Biko said in I Write What I Like, which is certainly well known to most imbizo members: “I think there is no running away from the fact that now in South Africa, there is such an ill distribution of wealth that any form of political freedom which does not touch on the proper distribution of wealth will be meaningless … If we have a mere change of face of those in governing positions what is likely to happen is that black people will continue to be poor, and you will see a few blacks filtering through into the so-called bourgeoisie.”
I suggest that, aside from the works of Steve Biko, Kgwete also (re)reads the September National Imbizo’s people’s manifesto. – Marzia Milazzo, PhD candidate, University of California, Santa Barbara, and visiting scholar, University of Cape Town