In a country where we are fed the illusion of the rainbow nation, racism continues to thrive because those who speak out against manifestations of it are silenced.
How dare you call out acts of racism when the country has worked so hard for “unity” and “oneness”? South Africa remains a racially divided country precisely because the project of reconciliation prioritised peace over justice.
Yes, we attend the same malls but black people do so as cleaners and workers. Yes, we are allowed to buy the same things but black people do so on credit. Yes, we can stay anywhere we like but black people live in the townships. This is because the economy of the country is still in the hands of the minority and often that minority is white. That is why acts of racism continue, because the power relations are still tilted to the side of white people.
So they continue to call us derogatory names and tell us how to wear our hair to look presentable, which slogans are acceptable and which songs we can sing. Their feelings matter more than ours and that is why Zindzi Mandela’s utterances must be seen as a necessary act of defiance.
On June 14, Mandela, the South African ambassador to Denmark, tweeted about how white people stole the land. This caused a ruckus because white people were offended. The merits of whether what Mandela said was appropriate are secondary.
AfriForum has called for the dismissal of Mandela as the ambassador to Denmark. This is not surprising because it has unashamedly declared itself as a group that exists to defend white people and has been consistent in this. Yet when black people organise themselves in a manner such as that of AfriForum they are accused of being racist and divisive.
Anyway, white people did come on a boat in South Africa and that history is widely recorded. It is also true that no one invited them; they came here on their own accord. When they got here, they did not sit at the beach and tan. They colonised us, raped us and fed us their religion, languages and culture. They forced us to abandon our values and our ways of being. All of this is documented history: Why then is it a problem when Mandela speaks about facts that are easily accessible to everyone?
The problem is that white supremacy does not care about what is true; what matters is whether it is happy about that truth. We, therefore, cannot be concerned with a people who have insisted on dictating which parts of our history we ought to remember and which parts we must forget. The same people distorted history to insist on the inferiority of others and their superiority.
Also, what is wrong with Mandela saying: “Dear apartheid apologists, your time is over. You will not rule again. We do not fear you.” Is it not true that the time for apartheid apologists is over or, perhaps, should be over?
Yes, apartheid apologists should not rule again, so it becomes difficult to understand what is so wrong and divisive about the statement to the extent that people are calling for Mandela’s dismissal.
The fact that she is an ambassador does not necessarily mean that she ought to be silent. If anything, she is the one who is in the best position to articulate and embody the aspirations of her people. She is the one with the platform and audience to tell people that in South Africa it is not yet uhuru. She is the one who ought to remind the people that those who stole the land from us still control more than 75% of it, many years after apartheid was said to have ended.
We must heed Mandela’s advice and move away from the idea of the “good native”; the idea that we must be a certain kind of black person to be acceptable; the idea that for our behaviour to be acceptable it must not rub white people the wrong way.
Black people must be able to be who they are without necessarily having to think about whether white people will like it. Our existence must not be measured by white acceptance.
I am not suggesting that black people must take our knobkerries and fight white people or stand on top of mountains and throw slurs at them. I am merely agreeing with Mandela when she says there is “no missus and baas here”. We must all relate to each other equally as human beings and appreciate that our feelings, histories and existence matters.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation must be consistent and request meetings with white people who humiliate and violate black people every day. It must not be a mouthpiece for white people.
We support Mandela because we understand the pain and the frustration of being black in the world; of seeing our people live in poverty and squalor whereas others live in opulence. We understand that the time for other people to control how we react and voice our trauma is over.
Mcebo Dlamini is a former president of the Students’ Representative Council at the University of the Witwatersrand.