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Wake up, SA belongs to all of us

Alex Tabisher writes about how the concept of reification has impacted South Africans, and that it’s easy for citizens to believe falsehoods because they are repeated as truths so often. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency

Alex Tabisher writes about how the concept of reification has impacted South Africans, and that it’s easy for citizens to believe falsehoods because they are repeated as truths so often. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency

Published Feb 25, 2021


by Alex Tabisher

My key-word for this week is reification. In its simplest (Marxist) form it referred to social relations that were perceived as inherent attributes of people involved in them.

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One shudders at the political damage that can be caused and inflicted by such thinking as ideology. It basically claims that a falsehood can be repeated until it sounds, and is accepted, as a truth.

After Marx, semiologists played around with the notion of reification as a linguistic notion to the extent that George Orwell evolved ‘double-speak’ as a narratological device. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that “… slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea”.

Lately, we reeled under the repeated assault of the happily departed Donald Trump’s illusory truth, lies and political propaganda where the facts don’t really matter.

These days, we are warned about the ‘illusory truth effect’, a glitch in the human psyche that equates repetition with truth. The effect is more powerful when people are tired or distracted by other information (Emily Dreyfuss).

We have lived with this truth for more years than we care to remember. In my lifetime, I was a loyal subject of British, Afrikaner and ANC governance.

Leaving aside the British and Afrikaner eras, doesn’t it strike you that our entire new South Africa can be said (even in retrospect) to have been built on half-truths or lies that were repeated with such thudding insistence that these days we don’t see the truth even when we fall over it?

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Rewind to the first election in 1994. We exploded the untruths that the Europeans came to release us barbarians from our ignorance by teaching us about their gods and their ways.

This crude paraphrasing of the impassioned riposte by Chinua Achebe to Conrad’s racism leads the charge. We were all united in the dictum: Apartheid must go. But no one paid too much mind as to why this was so.

We concentrated on little focal points of racial injustice to the extent that secular heroism replaced national fervour and unity.

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It is a repeated lie that only Africans suffered under apartheid. And yet, when the shackles of these dreaded racist chains, second only to slavery, were eventually broken, we rushed in to appropriate the spoils in two reprehensible ways: positionality and numerical dominance.

Freedom became a black thing. Rights became a black thing. Rule became a black thing. Language became a black thing. This dominant hegemony grew out of the skewered narratology that prioritised the sufferings of the blacks as sacrosanct and the indignities suffered by others as mediocre at least, or non-existent at worst.

So we have repeated the truth (?) that the ANC, being over 100 years old, is best for the country no matter what. It becomes a truth that the leading party takes sole responsibility for everything that happens to and for the newly liberated country.

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In this way, the deaths of little-known Africans become national events. Not only that, but the South African Communist Party is a legal leech that drains the life-blood of an ailing fiscus based on a loyalty born during the Struggle. The unions under Cosatu have more clout than the voters who place ordinary free black citizens in ministerial positions.

Even the Covid drama is set up as repair tactics for this crumbling government that might be over 100 years old, but brings nothing to the table except ineptitude and a refusal to ask for help from those who know better.

Wake up, South Africa. We need to learn that the country belongs to all of us.

* Literally Yours is a weekly column from Cape Argus reader Alex Tabisher. He can be contacted on email by [email protected]

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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