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Has Sisulu stepped on the tail of the proverbial snake?

Published Jan 24, 2022

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THE brouhaha surrounding Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s recent bold opinion piece refuses to die; and won’t die soon. The piece has stirred up the hornets’ nest within her own party, the ANC, and beyond.

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It was not my intention, really, to dwell on this Lindiwean fiasco this week, but it seems we will be seized with it for some time. This is particularly so with the awkward scenario of the statement released by the Presidency late on Thursday that the minister had retracted her opinion piece after meeting President Ramaphosa the previous day. This got messier when the minister distanced herself from the statement issued by the Presidency. What a bloomer!

This matter has certainly gripped our national discourse and consciousness. The ferocity of the views from various commentators should necessarily make us reflect. My observation is that, since 1994, we seem to have lost our sense of anger and outrage. The leadership, particularly, is not outraged by the acidic pool and waves of poverty, landlessness and suffering that black people are swimming in.

Why this high velocity anger, especially from those of us perched on the privileges and spoils of the colonial status quo? Imagine if this anger were to be directed at the anti-black neo-liberal system in this country? As I pointed out last week, what she uttered is not new at all. It is a fact that black people are at the receiving end of all the torrents and tempests in this rainbow country.

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Afrikanist parties and activists have been highlighting these harsh realities since 1994. Methinks the issue lies not with the truth or untruth of her utterances, but rather with who she is.

A senior member of the governing party breaking ranks with the anti-black (or pro-white) arrangements must be unsettling to the powers that be. I guess their fear is that if this were allowed to flourish, it would open our eyes most significantly, and awaken us from the induced opiate slumber of the decorated rainbow nation with its so-called “best constitution”.

For me, the lie and rhetoric of freedom, rainbow nation and “rule of law” are some of the catchphrases, disconnected from the reality and daily experiences of the oppressed natives of this land. These have deflated our sense of outrage, and dissuaded us from taking the revolution to its logical conclusion.

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It’s a simple analysis: how do you activate the repossession of the stolen land when the “best” Constitution reminds you of the property rights of the dispossessors or usurpers of the land? How do you complain of an unjust system and its antecedent injustices when it’s impressed upon you that you live under the “rule of law”?

It’s in this respect that criticism of the rainbow system and its operative apparatus is bound to be ruthlessly vilified and crushed by any means necessary, including by sheer cacophonous noises. Yes, noise is also a weapon of war.

This is basically the brutal strategy employed in the past two weeks in an attempt to, politically, vanquish her. Sisulu’s criticism, at least from the perspective of beneficiaries and proponents of this anti-black status quo, was quite unexpected. A tsunami, perhaps?

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Let’s not shy away from asking these critical questions: why don’t we engage her message? Why are we obsessed with her? Which constitutional provision or law did she violate?

I think we, including the so-called democracy and human rights organisations, have allowed our obsession and anxieties to dominate our thinking so much so that we have, unfortunately, even forgotten that “freedom of expression” is an essential nourishment for any democracy. Conveniently so.

What is that raw nerve that Sisulu has touched to precipitate this vicious reaction? The point is, what she articulated is simply a repeat of issues that have consistently been raised by pro-black organisations in this country.

However, this matter should be seen against the backdrop of a plethora of political episodes that have since hatched in our troubled land, Azania, and are likely to render 2022 a cantankerous year. It will certainly proffer a theatre of the absurd and the incredulous.

Like many commentators, I have recently pointed to the fact that almost all factors that would collude to place all of us in the cauldron of the vicissitudes of current times will emanate from the internal political wrangling in the ANC. The elephant in the room being their upcoming 55th national conference!

What needs to be asked, rhetorically, is what happened to the quest and appetite by the ANC to complete the revolution? To repossess the land for equal distribution, and nationalise the mines, for instance? I guess the vacillatingly grumpy answers to these questions will confirm the agonisingly deep assertion by Amilcar Cabral that, “the problem of the nature of the state created after independence is perhaps the secret of the failure of African independence”.

In this context, we should provocatively ask why are so many down-pressed people (natives) choked by the miniscule number of those who do the down-pressing? The real issue is to establish the effective armour of the oppressor to sustain the status quo, albeit the political office is occupied by politicians from an erstwhile liberation movement.

It is my view that engaging these questions openly will make us all understand the inclination of those in the oppressed class to seek affirmation by the very oppressors, and thus eventually break ranks and get assimilated into the culture and machinery of the oppressors.

The tried and tested template of the oppressor has consistently been to “divide, conquer and rule”. But this strategy only works because the mind of the oppressed makes it possible. So, we are back to Steve Biko’s clear remark that “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”, while Pixley ka Isaka Seme, said, “I set my pride in my race against hostile public opinion”.

Mental colonisation is a reality, whether the mentally colonised are aware of it or not.

It’s either one is colonised or not. But some are conscious of this. They thus resort to a hypochondriacal condition or defence mechanism of denial or justification. And we have highly deceptive vocabulary in abundance for eloquent justification of the oppressive onslaught. This vocabulary list is dominated by (politically correct) expressions and terms that include “best constitution”, “rule of law” and “democracy”.

It’s not helpful for one to simply deny one’s state of mental colonisation, regardless of our role and standing in society. Our state of mind or political consciousness is reflected in our conduct and attitude, as political leaders, academics or lawyers (or judges even) when engaging the socio-political realities in our environment.

Essentially, it is possible for the oppressors to infiltrate communities of the oppressed by using some among them as proxies. At the end of the day, the mind of these dangerous proxies remains the centrepiece of this infiltratory expedition.

I get frustrated every time I see capitalists and neo-liberal politicians sing freedom songs and chant revolutionary slogans of “Amandla, Mayibuye iAfrika etc”. It’s disconcerting. If we don’t live under a boulder, we should know that in the past 28 years the race living in a state of indignity are the natives of Azania.

Who lives in shacks? Who are victims of shack fires, devastating floods and dilapidated buildings? Who is landless, exploited and impoverished? Whose children attend mud schools and under trees? It’s the natives who are, consistently, subjected to such conditions. By the way, do other races use pit toilets?

I therefore argue that we should rekindle our efforts at conscientisation and encourage questioning minds in our people. That is, if we are serious about true liberation. Unfortunately, we are immersed in convenient politicking characterised by the imposed world view and narratives of political correctness, ruthlessly driven by the dominant media.

In this vein we need to be cognisant of the precarity of differing with the dominant narrative and the views of those who are powerful. It is not only risky, but quite scary. The discourse on ANC-related matters, today, has unfortunately degenerated to a low-end level of binary thinking: it’s either you are for this faction or that faction! So, anyone with bold thinking risks being bundled into either faction.

In light of this ANC elective year, it is easy for anyone that challenges the establishment or the dominant faction in the ANC to be vilified. Necessarily, the best place to be in such circumstances is to not be in the fold of the ANC. In other words, it may be argued that it is best to leave these internal ANC issues or shenanigans to the ANC members alone.

It is in this context that Eskia Mphahlele would caution us against the risk of “madi a kgofa'” or being caught in the crossfire. But I hold the view that as patriots we should venture into that space because the ANC is the governing party and has an incredibly entrenched position in society. What happens within the party has implications or consequences for the broader society. In any event, the ANC itself considers itself the “leader of society”.

It is worrisome that all these controversies distract us from the substantive agenda of true liberation. Instead, we see continuous untold suffering of black people, high unemployment, inequality-levels and poverty.

Further, there is a sense that things have really fallen apart in this country mainly because the centre does not seem to hold the ruling party. And, as a country, we are in serious trouble. Unless the oppressed wake up and forge black unity, we will never realise true liberation.

It is thus important to re-engender the spirit of black consciousness in all natives for “it is hard to free fools from the chains they revere”, to use the words of Voltaire.

So, compatriots, let’s break free from the mental shackles. Our minds are where our enemy resides!

David Letsoalo is a Sankarist, an activist and law academic

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