DR Sipho Pityana did not mince his words as he told his audience that black people were partly responsible for most of their social, economic and political predicament in post 1994. The man who hates all forms of oppression, exploitation and the degradation of our people was in no mood to beat about the bush as he called upon our people to be self-reliant, independent and stand up to claim what was rightfully theirs.
To drive his point, he quoted at length from the book, Capitalist Nigger, by Dr Chika Onyeani, an African-American of Nigerian origin, currently based in the US.
Pityana was the guest speaker at a sold-out gala dinner at the St James Uniting Presbyterian Church, also known as at Sisonke, in Port Elizabeth. The purpose of the dinner was to raise funds to carry out maintenance, repairs and some renovations to the church building.
The function was attended by some “high powered” personalities from various social codes of the metro, such as Mqondisi Ngcayisa, Lindisipho Tyatya, Makhaya Jack, Nkuli Pityana, Sipho Pityana’s wife of 30 years, and others.
Pityana’s speech was delivered with the same passion, commitment and dedication I first saw in him more than 39 years ago at the Don Bosco Roman Catholic Church hall, in Zwide. Nothing has changed in his tone, and in his zeal for searching for social justice, political freedom and economic prosperity for his people.
Having been a student leader and trade unionist, and having left the country to pursue the struggle on foreign soils, he remains the voice of the weak and the marginalised. The education he accumulated in various higher learning institutions at home and abroad has just strengthened his resolve to contribute to the welfare of his people.
The fact that he is chairing a big corporation, like Anglo Ashanti has not made him forget his roots.
Pityana applauded the church members and the surrounding community who, in the height of racist oppression, were ready to lift themselves and their community up by building the Sisonke multipurpose centre as far back as 1978. This church “from the onset, opened its doors wide open to Zwide, Soweto and the broader Nelson Mandela metro for utilisation. It was not just used for the church and its members,” he told the guests.
“I am therefore provoked to talk about self-reliance and development,” he said. He spoke about the state of mind of the author of the book, Capitalist Nigger, who, he said, was angry and was carrying the familiar rage of every black man.
According to Pityana, Onyeani’s anger was directed at every black person. The anger was not targeting a specific country.
“Onyeani is angry with black people.” Pityana told the audience that the author said: “Blacks lacks self-respect and self-esteem, they have no pride or appreciation of self”.
As a result of this low self-esteem blacks rejected and spoke ill of their own language, culture and religion while they showed eagerness for those of others. Black people felt ashamed of their way of life, food, attire, architecture and so on.
Onyeani drew a glaring distinction in the way other people approached these matters. He pointed out that Indians, Jews and Muslims were never ashamed of who they were.
Their approach to the economy showed a well-orchestrated plan of making sure that all their money was kept in local circulation, as they bought from each other. It was against this background that you had the Muslim and Investec banks, founded by Jewish and Muslim business people.
When it came to education, they started and funded schools that would uphold their religions or ways of life. To these groups, their success formula was “us first and the rest after”.
He contrasted this approach to that of blacks, who he said “take their money somewhere else”. Black people attached a higher value to imported goods than those made in their own country by their own people.
This mentality was premised on the notion that “anything from outside is better”. This conduct, according to Pityana, left us poorer and weaker as our money “flows elsewhere”.
The clarion call sounded by Pityana through invoking the book was the realisation by black intellectuals and democratic social forces that our promises and expectations of freedom are slipping through our fingers. The dependency paradigm has left our nation in a state of “free yet in bondage psychologically 21 years on”.
Freedom is not just about unseating oppressors from power. Freedom is about dislodging the oppressor ideologically, politically, socially and economically.
The current service delivery protests based on the promises made by the government to provide housing, water and sanitation, jobs, health, education and business opportunities was taken too much to the heart. The belief that the government was going to do everything for everyone has paralysed the ability to initiate things.
Pityana argued that the government could not do everything. As we realised that, we embarked on daily protests, against our very own government.
Pityana argued that it made no sense for our communities to engage in violence, destruction of public property and attacking the police. These actions were self-destructive.
Our anger was misdirected. According to Pityana, we had sufficient democratic options to change our situation, that is, through the ballot box.
Pityana’s message was simple: “black man you are on your own”, stand up and fight for what is rightfully yours. That message was saying ethical behaviour at all levels of our society would reinforce our dignity and common values as a nation.
This message will also help us to separate between good and evil, right and wrong, so that we all can be accountable for our actions, that will shape the future of our dreams.