Saturday, 9 August 2008

‘Two nations’: Who is stalling progress towards reconciliation?

There is an old saying in Japanese that goes: “Shobo-ni kidokunashi”, which can be construed to mean that “out of nothing comes nothing”; and indeed the present order of things social bear testimony to this adage.

After 14 years of liberation, our society in all its formations is still very much divided along colour lines; this is the greatest impediment to any attempt at reconciliation and nation building.

President Thabo Mbeki, a decade ago, at the opening of a debate in the National Assembly on Reconciliation and Nation Building, said:

“We are interested that our country responds to the call to rally to a new patriotism, as a result of which we can all agree to a common national agenda, which would include: an all-embracing effort to build a sense of common nationhood and a shared destiny, as a result of which we can entrench into the minds of all our people the understanding that however varied their skin complexions, cultures and life conditions, the success of each nevertheless depends on the effort the other will make to turn into reality the precept that each is his or her brother’s or sister’s keeper.”

Racial segregation under apartheid, which ensured that blacks, whites, coloureds and Indians lived in different geographical areas, prevented these different races from knowing much of each other’s cultures and traditions; or even from sharing a common appreciation of many things social.

Despite the death of apartheid, blacks, whites, Indians and coloureds continue to lead their lives in isolation from each other, and this does nothing but entrench further the division that has existed for many years. We can therefore not contest the assertion by the president that South Africa consists of “two nations”. We do not share common interests, and that is natural among individuals, but it does become a problem when characterised primarily along racial lines.

The African-American scholar WEB du Bois, in his Souls of Black Folks (1903), said: “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the colour-line.”

It is evident that colour persists to be the driving wedge that is firmly fixed between South Africans of all backgrounds, and it continues to feed on some destructive racial stereotypes that are counterproductive in the desire to promote harmony and spirit of nation building.

Economic progress of the majority who were previously disadvantaged has not brought the nation any nearer to the solution of this racial problem. While the economic success of black people has enabled them to “invade” the leafy residential suburbs of their white countrymen, it has often precipitated the flight of the latter to more exclusive gated areas or even to emigrate to other countries. Such economic progress appears to be the common cause of resentment among the disgruntled few, who see it as the fruits of a systematic form of reverse discrimination.

While mutual consideration and tolerance may be present among some, it is generally very much hollow as it is limited to a professional interface among the races. It is as if apartheid has conditioned us to suppress the innate tendency of human beings, regardless of race, to interact socially and treat each other as equals. Our behaviour is reflective of horses that are able to work together because they are hitched together and conditioned to perform no service whatsoever with a fellow horse except that for which they were trained.

If there has to be any form of progress towards nation building, we must emulate the nature of ants, which go voluntarily and unfailingly to the support of their fellows. Our society can only progress to the extent that its members possess this admirable trait. There is nothing more fatal to a democracy than an attitude of apathy and resentment. It is the mother of corruption of the soul.

A large section of the white community still remains too terrified and intimidated even to visit a black neighbourhood on their own. This may be born of some prejudices and absurd misconceptions about the disposition of black people and the level of crime in black neighbourhoods. The self-restriction of free movement and self-restraint from learning something about how the other side lives do indeed undermine the effort we must make “to turn into reality the precept that each is his or her brother’s or sister’s keeper”.

There is a prevailing sentiment among the black majority that since the dawn of the new dispensation, they have over-extended their hand of reconciliation to the white community, which is not always reciprocated; that there is lack of commitment on the part of a large section of the white community to promote reconciliation and nation building. It is all too common that that some plead that the scared black people disregard the structural faults of the past and their effects on their psyche, and rather gaze at the uncertain future with ardent hope that society will naturally bring itself to normality. Surprisingly, none of us ever hears anyone muster the courage to demand of the Jewish community to forget about the Holocaust and move on.

HT Kealing (1860–1918), a principal, teacher, writer, editor and distinguished Methodist Episcopal layman, when defining The Characteristics of the Negro People, said:

“There is but one human nature, made up of constituent elements the same in all men, and racial or national differences arise from the predominance of one or another element in this or that race. It is a question of proportion. The Negro is not a Caucasian, not a Chinese, not an Indian; though no psychological quality in the one is absent from the other. The same moral sense, called conscience; the same love of harmony in colour or in sound; the same pleasure in acquiring knowledge; the same love of truth in word, or of fitness in relation; the same love of respect and approbation; the same vengeful or benevolent feelings; the same appetites, belong to all, but in varying proportions.”

South Africans possess no different characteristics of the Negro people so eloquently expounded on by Kealing. The affection of black people is by nature no less towards any other race than to their own. Society yearns for the goodwill and respect among all races; for the revival of old ties among men that were restrained in so many instances in the days of slavery, colonialism and apartheid. We owe it to generations to come to imprint in the sands of time notable footprints for them to follow with no burden of regret. What we face as a nation is a greater challenge than previously estimated!

Poached from here


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this - I know there are some who will disagree, but this is important to digest. I think Sentletse pretty much tells it like it is.

Dante said...

You fail to understand an extremely important point, sir. Humans are tribal by nature. Just as our sexual drive and mortality serves to keep our race strong and healthy, so too does what you denounce as racism. Understand: most people are not rational, they are tribal. "My team yay, your team boo." Further, a great many rational men realise that accepting our inherent tribalism may just be the best way to go. The worst conflicts around the world are inevitably racial conflicts. Human nature, as communism so elegantly proved, is largely unchangable by unrealistic ideologies. And really, tribal urges, like sexual urges, are not so "evil" once you recognise their purpose and make peace with them.

Think of them this way: I love my children more than other people's children. Not because my children are better or other people's worse, but simply because they are MINE. Likewise I love my family more than strangers and, equally sensibly, I love my race more than other races. That is the instinctual, emotional side of it.

The rational side is a matter of genetics. I will engage in a debate on genetics only if I must (it's hella complex and lots of work) but just trust me that it is commonly accepted within the field that organisms will co-operate in direct proportion to the amount of genetic material they share. Parents won't risk their lives for strangers but will gladly sacrifice themselves for their children. Even though the shared DNA between parent and child is only 50%, the child nonetheless represents the parent's chance at genetic survival and... Well, such is survival. I would recommend The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins as one of many excellent works on the subject, assuming you wish to learn more on why racial divides will remain persistent and, indeed, crucial.

The Uhuru Guru said...

Dante, what a brilliant comment! Unfortunately, utterly wasted on a few disbelieving, reality-faking dimwits here!
Rather repost it here
SA Sucks blog where thousands of intelligent, appreciative readers will eagerly lap up such incisive conceptual gems.

Anonymous said...

UG - will you post Sentletse's column on SAS or have you done so? I know you and most of your readers there will not agree, but in my humble opinion Sentletse laid out SA's current racial situation pretty much as it is.

The Uhuru Guru said...

G-man said: "UG - will you post Sentletse's column on SAS or have you done so?"

No G-man, I did read it, found it to be insufferable waffle, same old same old clichés interspersed with predictable blame storming, guilt tripping and utterly unoriginal.

What I did however post was Dante's brilliant reparteé here, hope you don't mind. Doodler posted another black journalist's article (Mosibudi Mangene) there today, you might want to read & post it here.

Anonymous said...

I have been contemplating Dante's point, that people are tribal by nature. There may be quite a bit of truth in that. However it is up to parents, educators, etc to inculcate people away from this, just as we inculcate people away from other things they naturally incline to - like theft, lying, violence, even murder, etc.
UG - Sentletse may or may not have been original, but based on what I saw and on how many white people I did NOT see in Soweto nor Alexandra I would say he is right. White South Africans by and large still do not venture into black neighborhoods (there are, of course, always exceptions.)And so the circle of ignorance instead of moving towards reconciliation continues. Perhaps the thing that whites fear about venturing into townships is that the people living there are just as human as you, even if their culture is somewhat or even very different from yours. That would after all shatter the white supremacy myth that some hold on to so dearly they just can not imagine letting it go.

The Rooster said...

Dante , socio-biology is really not that complex in the slightest. While I'm fully on board I don't see myself as a victim of my own genetic code. Whilst at some stage of our development this might have been the case , mankind has long since transcended and become a complex entity. With complexity comes self realisation and consciousness. To hold and define ourselves to a necessary but mostly redundant stage out our developmental past does just not cut it ...