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South African Non-Racialism and Its Discontents

South African Non-Racialism and Its Discontents

The resolution of the national question is one of the conditions of possibility for the relatively smooth running of government. A coherent national identity premised on a given ideology serves as a foundation for an effective bureaucracy. The resolution of the national question depends on the historical evolution of a nation. In the South African context, the resolution of the national question is the question of liberation. There are two dominant views regarding the resolution of the national question in South Africa. The first one posits that the national question revolves around the question of land and race while the second one states that the problem of the national question is one of class in the form of the haves and have-nots. The first one traces its origin to the four-nation thesis while the second one expressed itself as the two-nation thesis. Incidents of racism be it the Stellenbosch white student urinating on the belongings of a black student or the 50/50 quota suggestion by Lindiwe Sisulu are symptoms of the lack of the resolution of the national question. This lack of resolution of the national question implies that liberation in South Africa is incomplete. At the heart of the 50/50 quota suggestion by Sisulu is the contradiction between transformation and decolonisation. While the suggestion by Sisulu seems to revolve around the school system and its management, it is in fact a microscopic manifestation of the absence of the resolution of the national question in the so-called post-apartheid South Africa.

The transformation framework as adopted by the ANC as a Civil Rights movement in South Africa characterised by the pursuit of integrating blacks who were excluded since the founding of South Africa triumphed during the so-called negotiations. The decolonisation framework as pursued for instance by Poqo as a liberation movement was overtaken by the triumph of liberal constitutionalism and its value of non-racialism. There are two ways of viewing the ideology of nonracialism in South Africa. The first one is analysed by white settler scholars like Jon Soske who trace it to the cooperation between white settlers to deal with the racist fantasy of the “native question”. The second view traces the origin of non-racialism to the split among Africans regarding the white settler question. Some of the so-called civilized natives posited that “whites are here to stay” while others among Amaqaba stated that “whites must be hurled back into the sea where they came from”. The question of non-racialism arose to those who accepted that “whites are here to stay”. The ANC of Sisulu epitomises the camp that accepted that “whites are here to stay”. The question becomes how to stay with them. The how question implies a pursuit of a political vision to resolve the national question. The ANC chose transformation to find a way “to stay with whites who are here to stay”. We will call this political vision of the ANC and Sisulu Charterist non-racialism. The second political vision is represented by the African tree and table metaphor of Sobukwe and Biko. This political vision is premised on Azanian non-racialism. The third political vision with which we align ourselves is the race-first Africanism of Lembede. What does Sisulu’s 50/50 quota suggestion have to do with political visions? Well, pretty much everything. This is because one of the aims of balancing the demographics of blacks and whites is to address the national question regarding who owns the land and who is a majority. In its annoying concern with accommodating white supremacist anxiety of white settlers the ANC of Sisulu sat at the Charterist table during the so-called negotiations and accepted that blacks in post-apartheid South Africa will be integrated into white South Africa because “South Africa belongs to all who live in it black and white”. The transformation of Sisulu and the ANC does not seek to overthrow white supremacy but to change its form rather than its substance. White South Africa transforms by accommodating blacks while Sisulu’s black government formulates policies which accommodate whites and their obsessional anxiety of “black danger/swart gevaar”. This racist anxiety is one of being “swamped” by the natives as white settlers are a numerical minority both in South Africa and globally. It is also an expression of the fear of genetic annihilation and a form of European/white collective survival thrust. No matter what Sisulu and the ANC who have accepted that “whites are here to stay” do, they can never satisfy white settlers. Sobukwe and Biko on the other hand opted for the African tree and table, so that instead of Africans being integrated into white settler colony like South Africa, Africans as the rightful owners of the land and a majority will turn the tables around on white settlers and integrated them on African terms. Some of these terms are the return of the land, the disrobing of their whiteness and the acceptance of African majority. This is a form of decolonisation as Africans are now at the helm. The 50/50 quota of Sisulu would not arise here since whites would not obsesses about their whiteness and both blacks and whites will be classified as Africans. But as already stated above whites will never disrobe their whiteness, since history has shown so far that whites need white supremacy and white supremacy needs whites. Whites are only willing to accept a reality in which they are in power. We posit that the non-racialism of transformation of Sisulu and the non-racialism of decolonisation of Sobukwe and Biko are inadequate. Africans must stop to accommodate whites and opt for the uncompromising Africanism of Lembede in the form of Africa for the Africans and Europe for the Europeans.

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Masilo Lepuru

Masilo Lepuru

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Despite these problematic ideological trappings of the Congress Tradition, this is a well-written book. For a biography that does not focus mainly on the intellectual contribution of the protagonist but on his life and times in general, this is a well-structured book.

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