Quote of the week

Over the last 150 days we have learned much about the power of the habitual in post-millennial, post-apartheid South Africa. We have heard it in the grumbling, cavilling, quarrelling and grousing about the logic (or lack of) of government decrees. We have also seen it in the defiance of logic among the many bourgeois folks who mistook their entitlement for rights, whether to go running, do yoga on the beach, surf, get takeaway coffees, or to purchase items subjected to restricted trade… We saw it in the contradictory messages relayed by official government channels, in the conflict between some experts advising government, between government officials and such experts, and in the ways in which opposition parties contradicted themselves as they opposed government proclamations.

Angelo Fick
Johannesburg Review of Books
22 March 2007

Wanted: Biko not Mbeki

As is often the case these days, Xolela Mangcu delivers a thoughful column for Business Day. His take on President Thabo Mbeki and his missives on racism is particularly acute.

I have often wondered what gives President Thabo Mbeki special access to the experience of racism — access those of us who lived under the apartheid regime all those dark years somehow seem never to have had. Race has such a privileged space in the president’s thinking that no ordinary personal experience has any autonomy. The irony of this apparent radicalism is that black experience is always explained in terms of white experience. In this over-racialised framework, HIV/AIDS does not have any autonomy — it is white people who see black people as “germ carriers”.

In the same way, corruption does not have any autonomy — it is a figment of white people’s imagination. Crime does not have any autonomy — it is white people fixated on black people as the “swart gevaar”.

Ouch! Mangcu seems to be saying that President Mbeki needs to read a bit more of the work of Steve Biko so that he can free himself from the internalised racial oppression and can learn to be free from always having to worry about what white people think. I suspect the implied criticism at Mbeki for not having lived in South Africa also has a double importance because it is exactly a person who lived most of his life as part of a racial minority in the UK who would continue to obsess about the racism of whites.

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