Oppressed and humiliated people responding to racism cannot be illegitimate. It is racism that is illegitimate. It is the oppressed who feel the weight of violence on their shoulders and it is them who must decide their own best possible method to escape their dehumanisation.
Talking about race does not divide people. What divides people is racism. The most violent experience you can subject someone to in South Africa and the globe is racism. It is a painful encounter that confronts black people daily. Racism is being the person who works the longest hours in the workplace to earn poverty wages. Racism is catching three buses of a dysfunctional public transport system every morning to get to work. Racism is resorting to a protest just to get money to further your studies to better your life.
Racism is when white people tell you that your poverty is as a result of laziness and a lack of an entrepreneurial spirit after 400 apartheid colonial years of enforced illiteracy, land dispossession and imposed labour in your own land. Racism is when white people, a foreign minority group of settlers, are able to freely open a H&M store in a black numerically dominated country of South Africa, make billions in profits, and hire that black majority in its own land of birth as disposable cheap labour. Racism is when a history imposed by white people on South African land determines the location where the black majority of that land will stay and the type of careers that black majority will have.
Racism is when a history imposed by white people on South African land determines what the children of the black majority will eat, wear and which schools they will attend. Racism is when a history imposed by white people on South African land determines where the black majority will be buried, their date of death, the nature of diseases that will kill them and the kind of beds they will die on.
What has been done by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) on the H&M stores was incredibly necessary on behalf of the black majority who are daily victims of racism. The action of the EFF is much bigger than them as a party. It is an action that mirrors and carries the boiling pain and frustration of the entire black race in the land. South African business and the world market thrive on white imagery, white beauty, white supremacy, and black humiliation. The H&M store is correct to say, “they did not notice the sensitivity of their advert to black people” because precisely, black people are invincible in their racist business practice. In the entire value chain of the sociological imagination and upbringing of white people, black people are not able beings that can think, speak, walk, and exist.
It does not end there. There has emerged since the incident a thoughtless voice that delegitimises the action taken by the EFF of vandalising the H&M store. To them, the EFF is violent, it is damaging property and should have rather staged a peaceful protest or write a petition to H&M. Victims of racism, victims of cruelty, the oppressed, are being instructed by oppressors on how they should react to their pain.
Not only do white supremacists have an entitlement of beating up a black person but they also elevate their disdain to having the audacity to prescribe a medication to the pain they have imposed. It is what Mangolothi (2016) and Fryer (2016) accurately describe as the system telling you that “this is how you are supposed to feel the pain, you are not supposed to feel the pain this way; this is how you are supposed to define the pain and you must prove beyond reasonable doubt to me that you are indeed feeling the pain”.
Oppressed and humiliated people responding to racism cannot be illegitimate. It is racism that is illegitimate. Robbed citizens responding to lack of service delivery by protesting cannot be illegitimate. It is a government that fails to deliver to its citizens that is illegitimate. The powerful who oppress the weak cannot prescribe illegitimacy. It is the oppressed who feel the weight of violence on their shoulders and it is them who must decide their own best possible method to escape their dehumanisation.
Violence is dehumanising. Racism is violence. Racism is dehumanising. Nobody responds to a tragedy that threatens their life respectably. Therefore, violence aimed at dehumanising black people in their own land must be addressed with a decisive action that will uproot the racist head off its stiffened neck. Anything that smells of apartheid and white supremacy in South Africa must be met head on with a devastating blow of physical vandalism.
* Pedro Mzileni is a researcher at the Centre for Critical Studies in higher education transformation at Nelson Mandela University. He writes in his personal capacity.