Political wrangling keeps from tackling real issues

The South African flag
The South African flag
Image: Supplied

Race. Land. The most talked about South African twins have colonised the current South African political dialogue.

Is there any discussion at any political level in South Africa that doesn’t reflect some form of the adversarial, “if you’re not with me, you’re against me” perspective on these two seemingly unsolvable and irreconcilable prickly pears?

Why do race and land so dominate the political landscape?

To some the answer may be obvious.

We’re on final approach to the 2019 elections, so how better to get attention than by mining populist veins?

If your policies are failing and your institutions are crashing, what better distraction than these emotive twins?

Or, what do you expect after 342 years of oppressive government and laws that sought to separate people on the basis of shades of pigmentation, and on that basis alone give one skin tone an advantage at the expense of others?

What do you expect when a pencil (in the hair) test is a method of deciding who lives where, who can marry whom, who can own which piece of land?

As always, our fledgling democracy likes to focus on the simplistic rather than the complex. Better a stick to beat each other with, than to suspend our judgment while we seek to understand before being understood.

Fighting each other produces winners and losers; it’s convenient for knowing who’s who in the zoo.

Compromise and dialogue means a continual process of engagement.

It’s tiresome, it’s confusing, it’s complex and there are no winners or culprits to blame. Land and race are tangibles. They’re handy mental short-cuts, so when you’re selecting your team, no need for uniforms – whites to one side and blacks to the other.

Whites get the land, blacks get the gutter.

They make for great suitcase concepts too.

We pack everything we can into the suitcase: culture, language, origins, beliefs and technology and so no need to juggle; just grab your suitcase and go forth.

It’s a recent thing – the black and white view of the world.

At least the South African version is. It only came into existence when Jan, the rehabilitated depot manager, stepped on shore.

Perhaps a 30-year old man called it correctly some six months prior to being beaten and transported naked in the back of a van. Had he not died from those injuries, what would Steve Biko say today?

In 1977 he told a journalist that change could only come to the (white-dominated) student movement if black people took it upon themselves to work out their own programme.

But there was a precondition, for black people had “to defeat the one main element in politics which was working against them: a psychological feeling of inferiority which was deliberately cultivated by the system”.

Biko ventured further. In his view, “whites in order to listen to blacks needed to defeat the one problem which they had, which was one of superiority”.

Is this the fuel that keeps feeding the fire? Blacks feel inferior and whites feel superior?

Is the continual focus on race and land due to the fact that we’re unable to unseat that “psychological feeling”?

Would it be correct to say that from a psychological perspective both inferiority and superiority share the same root, namely insecurity?

Could it be that white people’s insecurity (and need for superiority) is grounded in the question of whether we belong here? If we’re in charge, who can question our belonging?

Could it be that black people’s insecurity lies in the unspoken belief that whites were able to rule for 342 years because they were better?

That even now with a black government, they still seem to be the puppet masters pulling the strings?


But this we do know about the distraction twins of land and race.

It prevents us from focusing on the things that matter more.

The things we don’t want to talk about, because we have no clue how to solve them.

SA lost 19,000 people due to murder in the last (SAPS) financial year. Our city, Nelson Mandela Bay, loses 513 people on average every year to murder.

When DA leader Mmusi Maimane visited the northern areas on July 10 to view the crime-prevention initiatives of the DA-led coalition, the focus was on the 11% reduction in gang-related crime since coming into power and the failure of the ANC local government to act on crime when it was in charge.

On the same day, the national government-organised #100MenMarch took place in Pretoria (and Cape Town) where more than 1,000 men marched to show their commitment to ending violence against women and children.

The march was accompanied by an online pledge, where men could undertake that “change begins with me, in order to end the violence, break the culture of silence, to act when seeing it done to others and to teach those in your care the values of human dignity, equality and respect”. At the time of writing only 173 signatures appeared on the site.

Is it fair to say that the debate, or rather the dung-throwing contest on race and land, has distracted us from the 19,000 murders?

We do not talk about Nelson Mandela Bay’s high murder rate, where – in each of three of the city’s SAPS precincts (New Brighton, Kwazakhele and Bethelsdorp) – the annual numbers of people murdered are higher than all those killed on farms in the same period?

As we focus on femicide by partners and the murder of children by those known to them, are we blind to the reality that 87% of all murder victims are men and that men are the perpetrators of the violence?

We have no understanding of why life is so cheap at the south end of Africa.

Nor do we have any real clue as to how to alter course.

We choose rather to focus our energies on race and land and, as important as they may be, perhaps restoring human dignity and the value of human life is the real issue?

Of course that implicates us all.