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29 Nov 2013 00:00
Dr Wouter Basson, also known as Dr Death. (AP)
At the risk of offending most sensible South Africans, let me state that Dr Wouter Basson, also known as "Dr Death", must be left alone. This declaration resists the distortion of history through the apportioning of blame to individual white people for the atrocities of colonialism and apartheid.
Allowing Basson the same life as the general white population and the former generals and presidents of apartheid keeps the question of white culpability open and the reparation demand of blacks alive.
To say men such as Basson and Eugene de Kock must not be singled out for punishment is not to forgive or forget, but to demand a more complete justice.
The hypocrisy of the negotiated settlement and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is best seen in the absurdity of giving FW de Klerk the Nobel peace prize while hunting down his foot soldiers.
For a similarly absurd idea, one has to imagine leaders of the Jewish community giving respect to the Nazis.
The continued jailing of De Kock and the hounding of Basson (as in last week's Mail & Guardian) only diverts attention away from the structural nature of apartheid and avoids asking questions of white responsibility in creating two worlds in one country.
Pre-1994 South Africa was designed to be hell for blacks and heaven for whites. The hell finds expression today in the perilous lives of the black majority and the relative privilege and security of whites' lives. The ANC has refused to end the two worlds, but that does not mean white culpability has now come to an end. The ANC will pay for its sins of continuing and managing neo-apartheid.
To understand apartheid, one has to have a good grasp of white supremacy, because apartheid is a highly visible branch of white power, but not the most insidious.
Apartheid, unlike contemporary and more sophisticated forms of white supremacy, declared itself and thus became easy to see and name. But white supremacy proper operates as a total system, one that naturalises itself with little drama. For instance, it's natural that blacks will be poor, live in shacks and townships and get the worst public services. We go into a restaurant and see blacks serving and whites dining, and there is nothing wrong with this picture.
We need to turn the picture up-side-down if we wish to see white supremacy more clearly. Steve Martinot and Jared Sexton, thinkers in the rapidly growing black radical ideology known as Afropessimism, have invited us to desist for a while from seeking white supremacy in its "excessiveness", but rather to return to the "ordinary", because otherwise we "miss the fact that racism is a mundane affair".
If racism is a mundane affair, then we need to see the anti-black violence of the everyday that sustains the link between white normal lives and black "social death". Basson and the likes of De Kock were soldiers of white supremacy, who worked to make white life "normal".
The two white people reading Karl Marx at a coffee shop, enjoying their croissants and sharing stories of loved ones, are in fact enjoying such a life only at the expense of blacks.
White supremacy to ensure white privilege operates on the basis of historical amnesia. That is why the narrative of "let's move on" is so pervasive in South Africa.
The real question that must be asked is this: is Basson any more guilty than the white family enjoying the normal life of white privilege? Let me put it another way. Is Basson more guilty than the white doctor who hung a "whites only" sign at his surgery and provided shoddy services to blacks at inflated prices? What about his children, who got a good education on the proceeds of an apartheid medical practice? We must remember that the white doctors who helped to murder Steve Biko were doing their job as ordinary whites in a white supremacist society.
I don't believe Basson is any more evil than a white ethics professor at a liberal university. The two occupy the same space in this anti-black world, with the significant difference being that Basson admits to being a warrior for white supremacy, and the ethics professor will proclaim himself to be in service of a colour-blind humanity. This makes Basson a more honest man.
Apartheid is part of the undeclared war on black people that started in 1652. The first chemical and biological warfare was unleashed upon the Khoi and the Bushmen. Today the same war finds itself in the genetically modified organisms fed to blacks through our staple food, maize. Why are we not shocked by the chemical warfare conducted on prisoners in Grootvlei prison? It's part of our reality.
Basson's crimes must be made known, but they are not his crimes alone. He shares the burden of culpability with all of white society. For as long as historical injustices are not redressed, the curse of the white burden will be carried by coming white generations.
Black suffering cannot be restituted fully; the debt the white world owes blacks is incalculable. But there are some things we can do, such as returning stolen land without compensation. We can also nationalise the mineral wealth and democratically redistribute it to end the squalid black life in townships and squatter camps.
Men like Basson must not be made to pay, alone, for the sins of whiteness, as the rest of South Africa maintains white supremacy as an ordinary reality, one that gives life to whites and suffering to blacks. The whole of white society is guilty.
Dr Death is by all accounts a good cardiologist who mends sick hearts and has been an excellent soldier for white supremacy as a system.
Punishing him without understanding the system he helped to build is as good as giving a patient Panado when what's needed is heart surgery.
Andile Mngxitama is an executive member of the Economic Freedom Fighters
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