I once called the Democratic Alliance’s former parliamentary leader a “house nigger” on a BBC TV programme. Her retort was instructive: something about how I was a racist who wanted to take the land of white people and give it to the hungry black landless hordes of Azania.
I was stung. I didn’t get the chance to respond to Lindiwe Mazibuko’s retort, because I then had to worry about the former apartheid foreign minister, Pik Botha, who was also on the panel. Botha, by then, was a staunch ANC member – without ever having abandoned any of his National Party views about black people.
The 20 years of democracy that haven’t served black people explain why the Nats decided to adopt the Freedom Charter and dissolve themselves into the ANC. It’s a Trojan horse business. You know what they say: ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan. Basically, they figured that, to reincarnate white supremacy, they would have to send the Nats into the belly of a black organisation, so they said, in one fell swoop: “Apartheid is dead! Long live apartheid!”
Baie slim, kêrels (Very clever, guys).
Anyway, Mazibuko’s response reminded me of one of my favourite tweets from a boereseun, who said to me: “You are the most racist kaffir on Twitter.” On that occasion, I was not sleeping on the job; I spontaneously responded: “Blacks can’t be racist.” The guy had no comeback.
In South Africa, contradictions and senselessness are part of our national character. The fake sign-language interpreter Thamsanqa “Bompie” Jantjie’s meaningless hand gestures at the memorial for Nelson Mandela in December last year, “from a very dangerous place, with falling angels”, are an articulate description of the state of the nation. Ons is mal mense (We are mad people).
I have to confess I was looking forward to seeing Mazibuko in the corridors of Parly, where the real Parliament happens away from the lazy gaze of cameras that give the house the surreal atmosphere of Big Brother Africa. You wait for the moment that never comes.
A few voters did tell me that they voted for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to set the record straight with Mazibuko, the “tea girl”. I must say, I was heartbroken when the madam decided to slap Mazibuko’s face with the tea tray to remind her who the boss of the house was. It’s true, sometimes tea ladies forget who the house belongs to and have to be reminded with a lekker warm klap. It was not a pretty sight to see expensive china shattered on the floor. As we say in Zulu: “Kwacitheka izinkomitshi [cups fell in the kitchen]”.
Black people who forget they are black suffer. The world-renowned black American professor of African studies, Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, started denying racism as soon as Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. He went on some “post-racist” America fantasy. He was celebrated by the white world. He told black people racism was now over; they must stop whining and get on with the programme.
Soon after that, to his shock, he was arrested for being black in an affluent white neighbourhood. This is the basic lesson: black people can temporarily forget they are black but the world won’t let you stay in that fantasy for too long. Soon one is yanked back to terra firma by the scruff of one’s black neck.
Didn’t a white speed cop klap Sydney Mufamadi, who was then the minister of speed cops? In a racist society, there is no defence against the contempt and violence visited on one because of one’s skin colour.
The truth is, when the tea tray flew, I was furious. Those of us who proclaim ourselves proponents of black consciousness have the thankless job of defending every black person who comes under attack from white power.
Mazibuko was humiliated by the madam because she is black, not because she is a tea girl. An attack on her is an attack on all black people. That’s a point black people who don’t have black consciousness can’t get.
Worse, those who deny race – as Mazibuko did – are totally lost when whiteness strikes. In the white world, black people are an anonymous mass; we are beings without separate existence. If one of us goes down, you can be sure that whoever is close to white power is next. If I were Brother Mmusi Maimane, I would have my plan B ready.
Anyway, as Mazibuko leaves, I want her to know that it was nothing personal: that the stuff I said on the BBC was tough black love, because I know the viciousness of white racism. I have a gift for her for that long lonely flight to Harvard: Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like, my essay Blacks Can’t Be Racist, and the book I co-wrote with a white guy (see, I’m not racist!), From a Place of Blackness.
Lindiwe, I wish you a safe trip and a great time in that land built on slavery. Hotep! (Peace!)
Andile Mngxitama is an EFF MP.