The Biggest Issue (II): The Destructive Effect.

Oddly, the Creator was recently listening to the DA’s Shadow Minister of Rural Development, Mr. Swathe. This came after reading a number of newspaper articles and weblog posts written by right-wingers, virtually all of whom played the race card in one way or another. It’s worth asking what is meant by “playing the race card”. Its meaning actually differs according to who you are describing.
When a black person plays the race card, what s/he is doing is saying, in effect, “Whites are trying to take advantage of their privileged position in order to undermine me or the faction or policy for which I stand”. So, if two comparable candidates compete for a job, and one of them says “Yeah, but I’m black and he’s white”, that person is saying, in effect, “If you appoint this person, you will be furthering the aims of the great white conspiracy to undermine black people, and as a white person, this person will follow the objectives of that conspiracy”.
It would all be a terrible and silly conspiracy theory, if it weren’t for the fact that white people have been historically trying to undermine black people for the last couple of millennia, and to most blacks the Broederbond and the United Party are not easily distinguishable in their effects.
Thing about the race card is that, obviously, a person who is not winning an argument or who does not deserve to be considered for a post can easily say “You’re just doing that ‘cos I’m black”. In other words, what is called the race card only has meaning when race is used inappropriately, as a way of sidestepping real issues.
When a white person plays the race card, s/he is saying, in effect, “You’re just doing that ‘cos s/he’s black”; that is, “Blacks are trying to take advantage of their privileged position . . . the great black conspiracy to undermine white people”. On the face of it, there’s no difference that a philosopher could find between the two discourses. There is, however, an actual difference — which is that blacks aren’t generally in a privileged position and there isn’t a great black conspiracy to undermine white people. You will not find black people who think that whites are stupid, lazy or feckless — on the contrary, many blacks who unfairly play the race card are suffering from the belief that whites are cleverer, smarter and more diligent than they, and don’t want to be put in the shade.
What this means is that when blacks play the race card it is sometimes wrong in the specific instance. When whites play the race card it is sometimes right in the specific instance (in our corrupt society it is perfectly possible for a black-dominated entity to strive to exclude whites, just as it is possible for a white-dominated entity to strive to exclude blacks). However, as a general principle, when whites play the race card they are essentially trying to deny the obvious structural advantages which whites enjoy over blacks as a result of colonialism and apartheid. Whites playing the race card are almost invariably racists and are almost invariably enemies of the 1994 settlement.
Which takes us back to the Democratic Alliance.
Before Mr. Swathe spoke there was a speech by Willie Spies, late of the Freedom Front Plus. (Plus what? Now with added racial and tribal prejudice? It appears so.) The Freedom Front Plus, please recall, was a descendant of the Freedom Alliance, a broad front of racists and fascists attempting to prevent democratic elections in South Africa through the use of massive violence. The appropriately-initialled FA was responsible for possibly ten thousand murders before its bloody campaign collapsed in ignominious defeat, and the brutal thug responsible for the Mmabatho massacres in 1994, General Constand Viljoen, happily waltzed into Parliament with massive white support.
Spies is now a member of AfriForum, which is invariably described as a “human rights organisation” in the press and radio. AfriForum is an organisation devoted to the interests of white Afrikaners, although it is willing to accept support from brown Afrikaners if they do what they are told. As such it campaigns to secure the privileges which white Afrikaners enjoyed under apartheid, and to roll back any loss of white Afrikaner privileges which have arisen out of the collapse of the racist state. As such, AfriForum is a “human rights organisation” in the same way that the Ku Klux Klan is.
Spies was speaking against land redistribution, on the basis of his efforts to give land to white Zimbabwean landowners. He cited a family whose farm had been invaded by black people and who had taken the Zimbabwean government to court, first in SADC and then in South Africa. They had a fairly good case, so the Zimbabwean government didn’t contest it (they probably couldn’t afford the fees, anyway) and the landowners won. The people living on the farm beat up the landowners (cue for harrowing photographs of injured white people, on whose skin blood shows up much better than it does on black people) and drove them off the land, ramming the point home by burning their house down. It’s an ugly story, by any standard.
Spies, however, drew an interesting conclusion: that this had all been planned long before by Robert Mugabe (he cited Mugabe’s speech at his inauguration as proof) and, therefore, that the international community should have acted to prevent Mugabe from becoming President in 1980. It appeared that Spies had little faith in black people’s choice of leaders. (He was uninterested in anything which had happened in Zimbabwe between 1980 and 2000, or possibly just ignorant.) One could say that Spies was using Africa Addio-style propaganda to claim that there was a vast black conspiracy against white people, which is where we came in. Later, when Spies was asked how the hell land reform and restitution should take place, he replied that this should happen within the context of white ownership through the title deeds which they acquired (at gunpoint, as he did not say).
OK, one can expect this from the FF+. (It was notable that Spies was not particularly avowedly racist, didn’t mind shaking hands with black people, etc.) So one awaited Mr. Swathe’s speech with interest. How would the DA distinguish itself from the FF+ (especially since both parties had delivered eulogies following the death of Eugene Terre’Blanche)?
Mr. Swathe’s position was interesting. He agreed with Mr. Spies that there should be no land reform outside the context of property rights (to summarise: if you stole something before 1994, it’s yours, but nobody gets to steal nothing now). Very well; but what about land reform happening within the context of property rights? Here Mr. Swathe’s position was all too plain. Where blacks get their hands on land, said Mr. Swathe, it’s a disaster. In 90% of cases, they just break everything. They steal stuff. They’re always fighting each other and they burn things. They don’t look after anything and it all goes to hell. That’s why land reform is a failure.
Wow, one may say. It is possible to say that a specific farm handed to a specific black or group of blacks has deteriorated — there’s a farm thirty kilometres from where this is being written which once grew oranges, where the orange trees were burned away, the irrigation equipment was trashed, and where now a handful of scrawny cattle graze in fields which once supported a real crop, surrounded by the skeletal forms of dying pine-tree windbreaks. Clearly some black people who take over farms are people who cannot be trusted to wipe their own backsides without supervision. But to extrapolate from this that blacks cannot farm is a murderous lie. Indeed, one woman at the back rose up to protest that her father was involved in a highly successful farm which had been established through land reform. Ah, replied Mr. Swathe, I said 90%. There are always exceptions. They prove nothing. Blacks can’t be trusted with land, in general.
This is a lot more racist than Mr. Spies’s position. Perhaps, to be fair, it is not really more racist, but is simply openly expressing a racism which was implicit in Mr. Spies’s position. The question is, surely, how anyone can get away with such an expression of racist belief. The audience, at least half black, did not storm the podium and tear off either speaker’s trousers, which would probably have happened in 1990. (At the very least, probably the black half of the audience would have decamped en masse. Meanwhile, numerous black DA councillors were present, all of whom appeared untroubled by the racist propaganda spouted by their superior. This is weird, isn’t it?
It seems probable that sheer repetition has enabled this level of racism to restore itself to public acceptance. Of course, that alone is not enough, but repetition does have a numbing effect; gradually one comes to accept that people have a right to say a hundred and first time what has already been said a hundred times. However, the act of repeating the phrase “Blacks are stupid, lazy and feckless” should surely have been difficult to sustain at some point in the past. How did it get into the public discourse?
Obviously it has been commonplace within a part of the public discourse — most specifically, that part of the public who vote DA and FF+, white reactionaries and their hangers-on. There isn’t much doubt that apartheid-era attitudes exist big-time in this community. The fact that they have learned not to make lip-farts when blacks say things they don’t want to hear, and to shake hands with blacks in public, does not mean they have changed their minds.
Meanwhile, however, the massive media campaign against the government after 1999 had a powerful impact. This was in part a neoliberal corporate campaign, the object being to undermine the left and boost the right, but also to weaken the political authority of the government, to systematically deny it the right to take initiatives of its own. The silencing of Mbeki (in the media, that is) is important whether or not Mbeki was right; the point is that he had ideas of his own, and this could not be tolerated. However, once this had been accepted it was easy to go further and claim that Mbeki’s ideas, and the independence of his ideas, were intimately tied up with Mbeki’s skin colour; that, contrary to all evidence, Mbeki was a racist, and that all of Mbeki’s wrong ideas (and in this discourse, all of Mbeki’s ideas were wrong) could be traced back to Mbeki’s blackness, hence his hostility to (and envy of) superior white people and ideas.
And once this propaganda was established in the case of Mbeki, it could be used against any black intellectual who did not do as he was told by whites. Then it could be used against any black who said anything which was remotely unpopular. Then it could be used against any black who stepped out of line. At each stage, the discourse depended upon racial prejudice — and, particularly, upon blacks not contesting racism, but rather choosing to ignore it (for fear of becoming targets of the same type of attacks) or even endorse it (because destroying the career of a black who stepped out of line might create a space for oneself — and having to stick to the white line was a small price to pay in exchange for hugely lucrative employment, as people like Seepe, Mangcu and company have found).
As a result blacks have simply become accustomed to hearing racist propaganda against them without question, complaint or qualm. It is simply part of the background noise, and nobody is outraged when a black person recites filth last heard uttered by the Blankebevrydingsbeweging. As a result, blacks are being coached to believe that they are actually inferior to whites. The Zuma government has continued this process by refusing to hold blacks to high standards of integrity and competence, and indeed largely abandoning the idea that such high standards matter. Whites love this because Zuma is doing what they expect a black person to do, and because, whenever Zuma spouts guff about African solidarity or about a developmental state he is, by his example, undermining the very ideology he pretends to endorse. Thus one can safely believe, courtesy of Zuma and his merry males, that when a black says something which sounds good, that black, like Zuma, doesn’t mean it, and instead means the opposite.
So racism is succeeding as part of a carefully-crafted and quite clever plan on the part of whites, and is facilitated by white control of the media and of corporate capital. However, it is also succeeding because blacks (and all people of goodwill) refuse to challenge this, and instead often connive at it.
Perhaps you think this isn’t a problem?

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One Response to The Biggest Issue (II): The Destructive Effect.

  1. JackClaxton says:

    I would like to pick up on your point about Spies’ point about “… this had all been planned long before by Robert Mugabe, and therefore the international community should have acted to prevent Mugabe from becoming President in 1980”.

    You did not say if you agreed with Spies on this, you merely went on to indicate that Spies is an unsavory fellow and that we should not like him.

    We know that you have a passion for honesty and truth, you’ve said so often enough, and so, jokes aside, I would like to know if you agree with Spies?

    Because, frankly, at the time there really were only four possible modes of thought to be held about the Rhodesia of way back then:
    1) There were those who knew that the only possible alternative to the Rhodesia of Smith was the Zimbabwe of Mugabe, and died fighting to prevent that.
    2) There were those who were simply ignorant about this, and participated in movements to destroy Rhodesia.
    3) There were those who were merely stupid, and participated in movements to destroy Rhodesia.
    4) And then there were those who actually knew this, lied about it, and participated in movements to destroy etc.

    Now, in view of for instance the Matabeleland massacres, the tortures, the rapes and the terrible loss of life in the subsequent Zimbabwe, it is abundantly clear that everybody who supported and were instrumental in the rise of Mugabe and Zanu-PF (including those of the international community who have done so) are guilty of gross crimes against humanity, and in the interest of truth and honesty should be so charged before the ICC. Stupidity and ignorance may sometimes be considered in extenuation when sentencing, but it is not normally considered so when deciding culpability, and neither should that be the case here.

    In any event, I think that Spies has a rather mild attitude towards this, and that he would probably change his mind if he thought it through more rigorously.

    What do you think?

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