Using the case of South Africa, the author argues that Black people cannot be racists, as racism is system that employs various means of production for domination, many of which Black people do not possess.
Moeletsi Mbeki [[i]]’s statement about Julius Malema as “a black racist” – as he pushes for land expropriation without compensation – in an article on The Citizen newspaper website dated 15 May 2018 is misleading and problematic at various levels: historicity of the land issue, present reality and racialised inequality and poverty which, to some extent, relates to the land issue. Further, he seems to suggest that in South Africa we have reached a post-racial destination. I argue that this is not the case.
In this article it is stated that, “Moeletsi Mbeki has labelled Julius Malema ‘a black racist’ and advised white South Africans not to worry about the land issue.” The South African land issue must be viewed and understood within a historical context, and it appears that Mbeki did not.
The land issue in South Africa has a long history with its epoch-making events and turning points. This can be observed from the pre-colonial era through to colonial and apartheid era. Our forefathers died in protecting our inheritance in the form of land. Kings and chiefs such as Hintsa, Makhanda, Maqoma, Cetywayo, Sikhukhune, and Moshoeshoe among others died protecting this inheritance. In recent times, we witnessed the “Mpondo Revolt”, Isaac Bangani Tabata, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe and many others continuing with the struggle. The struggle in South Africa, among other things, like in any other country, was based on land. The liberation struggle narrative without the land issue is incomplete.
To date, a high percent of land in South Africa is still owned by the few whites. This is not acceptable and should not be the case. It is the betrayal to all those who died fighting for our liberation. Frantz Fanon stated that every generation has its own struggle and must define itself. The current generation must define the trajectory and overturn the present situation as Malcolm X once highlighted in reference to an American situation. The land is not just an asset, but also about culture, identity, recognition and full citizenry in post-apartheid South Africa. Land must return to the rightful owners, the indigenous people. On this issue, I fully agree with Malema.
Moeletsi Mbeki reminds me of how the likes of Nelson Mandela viewed Sobukwe who was pro-Africa and anti-nobody. Sobukwe’s African philosophic thought and thinking was not welcome by the likes of Mandela who believed in multi-racialism at the time. Without over-stretching Malema’s meaning, to some extent, parallels can be drown on the land question with Sobukwe as he held a different view from the Congress Alliance. Sobukwe was ahead of his time in terms of his thinking. He led and changed the South African political geography and some of the leaders we celebrate in the present followed him. For instance, Sobukwe spoke of non-racialism while others, (Congress Alliance) including Mandela, were talking of multi-racialism. Now the latter that followed him is presented as a hero while Sobukwe is reduced to annotation, marginalised and pushed to the sub-conscious minds of the populace. The same can be said about his views on the land question.
In delivering his first State of the Nation Address on 16 February 2018, President Ramaphosa, reiterated the African National Congress (ANC)’s 54th conference resolution on the land issue – land expropriation without compensation. The ANC’s resolution and President Ramaphosa’s intentions of land expropriation without compensation are not in the political tradition and the DNA of the ruling party. This recent desperate move has more to do with popular politics and trying to be relevant in the present as the pressure from opposition parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters mounts and the ANC continues losing support and moral compass and political struggle morals. Importantly, this act is not its ideological framework as is not informed by its political ideology; rather a rhetoric, popular politics and desperation on its part.
The other level that this statement by Mbeki is problematic is the assertion that Malema is “a black racist”. I submit that it is impossible for Black people to be racist because racism has to do with the control of means of production, authority, power and control. In South Africa, Africans have political power not economic, social and cultural power. The white people still control and own land and other means of production. There are no fundamental changes for Black South African than the political order.
There is nothing racist when Malema and others push for land expropriation without compensation. That is not a racist statement rather it is informed by historical facts and the failures of the ANC government to reverse the levels of poverty and to return the land to its rightful owners, Africans in South Africa. To date, a large percent of the land in South Africa is owned by whites. Isn’t that part of the racialised poverty and inequality? The resistance against colonialism and the struggle against apartheid were, among other things, based on land. It is people who think like Moeletsi Mbeki who have delayed the land issue in post-apartheid South Africa. Mbeki seems to suggest that we have reached the post-racial destination in South Africa. But I hold a contrary view as racism is still with us and Africans in South Africa are always at the receiving end. South Africa is far from being a post-racial state.
On the issue of race/racism, when Sobukwe insisted that there is only one race, human race, he was not saying we stop worrying about race and hierarchies of racialised discrimination. Instead, he was saying exactly the opposite. He was relating the way things ought to be – the post-racial destination—not the way they are now. He maintained things would never be as they should be unless we find ways of elimination of the racial order, which exists, in our society.
When Sobukwe promoted African-ness and Pan-Africanism, the Congress Alliance viewed him as racist and advocating for black domination. This sentiment also resonates in Mandela’s popular speech when he was sentence to jail in 1964, when he stated: “I fought against white domination and I fought against black domination”. This presupposes that there were people who were fighting for Black domination. The notion of Black supremacy is problematic. This is of political orientation and worldview because Africans/Blacks can never be racist. Racism has to do with the control of means of production, which Blacks did not have at the time and even presently.
Sobukwe was neither racist nor promoting black domination. He promoted African nationalism and Pan-Africanism that as he said, “we are anti-nobody, we are pro-Africa”. Black people cannot be racist. Racism as a colonial, Christian, historical and social construct, has to do with power and control of means of production. It is also in this context that Fredrick Douglass in his speech titled “The Race Problem” delivered from the Bethel Literary and Historical Association in the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, DC on 21 October 1890, denounced Black supremacy as impossible.
Furthermore, different generations of scholars have made profound contributions on the race/racism discussions. My main argument of racism is framed by the black scholarship – Pan-Africanism, Black Psychoanalysis, Black psychology of liberation – and the Critical Race Theory. The white supremacy manifestation has over the years been framed by superiority and inferiority complex, racialised doctrines, ideas, beliefs and worldview. Steve Biko viewed the struggle to build Black Consciousness as having two stages, the “Psychological liberation” and “Physical liberation”. The struggle to free our minds, mental emancipation, is the first step toward physical liberation.
Racism as a social and historical construct has more to do with white supremacy and the text of whiteness with its origins from Europe and (early) Christianity. It is allied with modernity framed by international and national settings. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the European expansion and religion in the form of Christianity played a key role in the rise of modern racism. This had to do with colonialism and modernity projects. Though this Christian universalism and European expansion lacked systematic and scientific exposition; colonialism and racialised sciences gave them substantial ideological authority, power, control and provenance. Thus, Fredrickson argued: “When Europeans of the late medieval and early modern periods invoked the will of God to support the view that differences between Christians and Jews or between Europeans and Africans were ineradicable, they were embracing a racist doctrine”[[ii]].
Race (or racism) is not just a religious and colonial project, but also a political identity. Political identities are also associated with the process of state formation as observed in South Africa at different historical periods. The rise and the consolidation of the Afrikaner nationalism and the creation of Boer Republic and the apartheid state are prime examples. While the political identities of the colonised and oppressed locals were a response to the state formation and construction of their social and cultural identities by white authorities. The political identities of the oppressed Africans were both internally and externally generated in a struggle against the other – white supremacy, nationalism and authorities. Colonial and apartheid projects in South Africa produced and reproduced both race and ethnicity as political identities. This discourse fashioned race and state brutality, text of whiteness and white supremacy. In this context, race as political identity was “imposed through the force of colonial law…imported from European law, called civil law”[[iii]].
Moon-Kie Jung (2015), in Beneath the Surface of White Supremacy: Denaturalising US Racisms Past and Present, historicises and theorises racism. But more importantly, exemplifies it as practice and attitude in the US by linking the past and the present racism practices and machineries. Further, eloquently presented that we, as the present generation, have not arrived at a post-racial destination as some may think. This is more evident in South Africa as the post-apartheid dream of non-racial, non-sexist and equal society is far reached. The failed reconciliation and nation building projects under the Mandela and Zuma administrations, and the journey from a “rainbow nation” to an African dream –as highlighted in “I am an African” speech by former President Mbeki, demonstrate the race politics, racialised inequality, racialised knowledge production, and lack of material transformation and de-racialised heritage landscapes in South Africa. As such, indeed we have not arrived at a post-racial destination, particularly now that the euphoria phase and the myth of the miracle transition have passed, and the reality dictates otherwise.
The Black Psychoanalysis, Black psychology of liberation, and Critical Race Theory as a response to colonialism and the text of whiteness – white supremacy, nationalism, superiority and inferiority complex and apartheid hegemony ideology in South Africa – have been an intergenerational, intra and intercontinental conversation that shaped the struggle for free Africa and culture emancipation. This effort to humanise the dehumanised, objectified, oppressed and racially segregated other has been multi-dimensional with race (black) consciousness and Pan-Africanism.
The colonial legacy – racism and cultural geography—is evident in the present. Racism as an ideology and human experience has more to do with the national political landscapes. Central to race politics, is the politics of difference and power as underpinned by the text of whiteness that has defined the soul of the “other”. Racism is a colonial and historical construct associated with the rise of modernity and with specific national and international contexts.
Racism, as an ideology, attitude, expressions and human experiences framed by the text of whiteness, white supremacy and nationalism produced (and continues) racialised gaze, control and surveillance. Simon Brow (2015), Dark Matter: On the Surveillance of Blackness, is important as it presents blackness in a context of control and surveillance. In this text, the black gaze, which is as a result of racialised gaze, produced a rebellious desire, an oppositional gaze that in a way challenges the racialised surveillance. Malema’s views on the land issue are as a result of black gaze that produced a rebellious desire and oppositional gaze.
Du Bois’ point of departure that the problem of the 20th century is based on colour line is still as relevant as today. In the present, the status quo remained the same with regards to matters of racism and racial equality. South Africa has a particular history of racism, which manifests itself in various spheres of life.
Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression, Biko’s “psychology of liberation” and the Critical Race Theory are important in understanding Black people’s experiences in the face of colonialism, racism and the apartheid hegemony. Chabani Manganyi (1973) is also amongst the important literature in the field of Black Scholarship. Manganyi’s “Being black in the world” theory supplements that of Fanon’s psychology of oppression. It is through the former that the black experience of “being black in the world” is with us even in the present, and negotiating the past and the race politics that the submission of the land expropriation without compensation can be understood.
It is through these pointers that Mbeki’s statement that suggests that, as a country we have reached a post-racial destination is problematic with tensions. In essence, however, we are not thus “being-black-in-the-world”; our past continues to live with us in the present in one form or another. This racialised inequality, racialised land ownership, and lenses of looking into the past is inspired by a perpetually race-bound South African historical past and context.
* Doctor Luvuyo Mthimkhulu Dondolo is a historian, heritage studies specialist, museologist and a Fulbright Scholar at Cheyney University, United States of America. He is the Director and Head of the Centre for Transdisciplinary Studies at the University of Fort Hare, Eastern Cape, South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.