Wednesday, 16 December 2015

#ZumaMustFall, White Privilege and the South African Spring

The 16th of December is a public holiday in South Africa. It used to be a racist Apartheid holiday marking the Day of the Vow when Afrikaners swore to God that they would forever commemorate it if He allowed them victory over the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River in 1838.

Today the 16th of December is the Day of Reconciliation, a day dedicated to healing South Africa's fractured past. Or to sitting in the sun and drinking in the hot African summer. 

Today, the 16th of December was marked by protests around the country for the #ZumaMustFall movement. It was a day that made me proud to be South African and which I thought might finally be the start of South Africa's Spring. I don't expect the crime to suddenly end but I do live in hope of an end to the poverty and corruption (which I see linked). More on that later. 

There was a very good article in the RDM today.

This is an interesting article. In many ways he is right - we expats have all had awkward moments when we've had to explain to other South Africans that we don't share their racist views. You will not believe the racism amongst South African expats and the white middle classes. Or maybe you will. 

 And he's not wrong when he observes that "[i]n focusing singly on Zuma, white South Africans expediently ignore the role of unsurpassed privilege — and their refusal to relinquish those alienable components of it — in explicitly marginalising black South Africans". 

The problem is that he is ignoring that Zuma is hugely flawed, that he laughs in the faces of his corruption. And he is ignoring that something is seriously wrong in a country that hasn't begun to tackle abject poverty twenty years after the installation of 'democracy'. Compare Britain in 1965 and South Africa in 2015 and tell me again that it's impossible to put a roof over people's heads in the aftermath of devastation. 

Mzimhlophe Hostel, Front Door
Every day South Africans of all colours land up on the streets but a vast majority of black South Africans still live in shanty towns and slums with no running water, no sanitation and communal washing facilities (if they are lucky). In December 2014, I visited Mzimhlophe Hostel in Soweto where some of the worst violence took place in the 1990s. After all this time there was no running water or sewerage and one set of latrines and washing facilities for every six to eight families. There were also no plans to improve the lives of the residents there.

In October, a friend of mine died, leaving his wife and child in utter poverty. They have nothing now that the breadwinner has gone and there is no safety net, no social security and nothing to stop them landing up on the streets. There are so many South Africans in need that there is simply no charity that will take on their case. That falls to their friends and employers. 

Compare this to a R246b upgrade on the President's private residence. Move beyond the corruption, nepotism and cronyism to the wealthy elite who drive past homeless people in cars worth more than they will earn in a lifetime. Heck, some of those cars are worth more than I'll earn in a lifetime. 
Mzimhlophe Hostel Soweto
There is something very rotten in South Africa, a seemingly insurmountable discrepancy between rich and poor and I don't see anything being done about that. 

Apartheid caused what is happening in South Africa today but South Africa today is sustaining that legacy. 

So is the #ZumaMustFall movement solely the domain of white privilege and racism? Today I didn't witness my fear-mongering, often racist Facebook pals at the #ZumaMustFall marches, but the most liberal, forward-thinking and genuine of people. I know that smacks of "not all whites" but the truth is that South Africa cannot be free until all South Africans are free and if the movement does smack of privilege then it needs to move beyond that. 

Three years ago, I was reading The Battle for the Arab Spring by Lin Noueihed and Alex Warren and I was blown away by the similarities by the situation in Egypt prior to the Spring and that in South Africa. Massive youth unemployment and poverty were paired with massive state corruption, embezzlement, cronyism, nepotism and gerrymandering. I remember remarking to myself that the only factor that set Egypt apart from South Africa was that the latter had not moved electoral borders. Yet. 

Is the time right for a South African Spring? Yes, I think it is. I think that a massively popular movement needs to be played out across social media and in the streets and that South Africans need to demand housing, education, jobs, adequate healthcare and poverty alleviation. Those were the basic promises of the ANC in 1994 after all. It's one thing to support a party that liberated the country but if the ruling party has lost their way then the population needs to guide it back on track. 
© A Passion to Understand

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