...more African than others

Monday, 26 July 1999

THERE'S a weird week ahead of us. President Mbeki, through finance minister Trevor Manuel, has thrown down the gauntlet to our — (pause to insert tongue firmly in cheek) — overworked and exploited comrades in the teaching, health workers, and safety and security services.

If there ever was a time to rally around the government, it's now. A year ago, when some 50 000 teachers were facing retrenchment, the militant and glorious South African Democratic Teachers' Union forced the government to back down. This time around, the stakes are much higher.

The markets will be watching Mbeki's first large-scale confrontation with organised labour with keen interest. Mbeki's Growth Empowerment and Redistribution (Gear) strategy has received high praise, enabling South Africa to better weather the storms of the Asian crisis of last year. Backtracking on the fiscal discipline of Gear under pressure from the unions would not go down well at all.

But let's talk about being African.

I've been following the Helena Dolny / Bonile Jack / Land Bank affair with keen interest, not because of the issue itself, but rather because of the resultant debate around "white" versus "African" agendas within ANC structures.

This debate bothers me immensely. There are influential sectors of the media that attempt to twist an ongoing process of transparency and accountability into a racist witch-hunt when the scrutinee happens to be white. At the same time, this process would not be possible if not for the very real sense of alienation being experienced by those who realise that — in the new scheme of things — their contribution to the struggle counts for less than their relative blackness.

We need to talk about this ... urgently. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject which I shared with an Internet audience some six years ago.

X-News: acuvax soc.culture.african:5276
From: svpillay@berlioz.crs4.it (Kanthan Pillay)
Subject: Random thoughts on being African...
Date: Tue, 8 Jun 1993 15:27:19 GMT

It was Peter Tosh who said: "It doesn't matter where you come from. As long as you're a black man, you're an African". Catchy tune, I love the song. But what do the words mean?

"black": Who is black? My skin is darker than many people of Negroid ancestry, but because my ancestry is Dravidian, they call me "Indian". Why? Because my hair is straight?

"man": Who is man? Man is born of woman. What of the woman? Is she not worthy?

"African": Who is African? Is it Virginia governor Douglas Wilder? Is it Boutrous Boutrous Ghali? Is it Robert Mugabe? Is it Muammar Gadaffi? Is it PW Botha?

I am a third generation South African. My ancestors were brought to South Africa as slave labour for the sugar cane fields in 1860. African soil gave birth to my grandparents and my parents and my siblings, and its food nourished us. Are we African?

What of my daughter, born here in Sardinia? Or her mother, my soul-mate, who was born in England but raised in Africa? What of all those people who carry my blood in their veins from my years of donating blood while at home? Are they more or less African as a result?

There are those of us who refer to South Africa as "the motherland", while there are those of us who refer to South Africa as "die vaderland". She is neither. He is both. She nourishes. He destroys. People have come and gone. We do not own the land any more than the crocodile owns the Mgeni or the meerkat owns the Karoo or the rat owns the canefields. No one speaks for Africa and Africa speaks for no one. Love Africa, but do not presume to own her.

Peace. - Kanthan

Centro di Ricerca, Sviluppo e Studi Superiori in Sardegna
Work: (39 70) 279-6264 Internet: svpillay@crs4.it
Home: (39 70) 89-2334 Bitnet: SVPILLAY@ICRS4VM
Fax: (39 70) 279-6220 uucp: princeton!svpillay
Snail: Via Nazario Sauro 10, 09123 Cagliari, Italy
Centre for Adv. Studies, Research, and Development in Sardinia