Dr Lebogang Tiego Legodi
Cape Town - Middle class liberals in South Africa — a predominantly white group in the colonial and apartheid periods — have for a long time, even as far back as the period of the defiance campaigns when the Freedom Charter was drafted in the 1950s, interposed themselves as those best placed to articulate black struggles.
It could be argued that this racialised bourgeois gaze persists in the treatment of the poorest people by the state long after the negotiated settlement of 1994.
One may even argue that contemporary liberals are enabled by blacks masquerading as progressives who still imagine that white people must be consulted and considered in strategising against the oppression of black people in the later apartheid period.
And now, in the post-apartheid period, this is mirrored by the insertion of bourgeois and bourgeois aspirant groups as the articulators of the plight of and the aspiration for better lives by South Africa’s poor majority who have been left out of the post-apartheid gains.
Steve Biko cautioned against such liberals, and our failure to heed his warning may be key to accounting for the “unfinished business” of the past in the present.
When former president Jacob Zuma was believed to be unable to resolve the challenges of post-millennial South Africa, calls were made by political parties, unions, social groups and members of his own party that people must come out and voice their grievances under the hashtag #ZumaMustGo.
Today, when the EFF and other groups call for a national shutdown and demand the resignation of President Cyril Ramaphosa, we are cautioned by those who prefer the status quo against what is termed either “anarchy” or “lawlessness” on how this will repeat the events of July 2021, or that the struggling economy would not recover.
Throughout the democratic dispensation – and no less so in the “new dawn” of Ramaphosa since 2018 – black people in South Africa have remained at the margins of economic gains, but have been substantially affected by economic failure.
Ironically, a government run by black individuals did not change the lives of the majority of black people.
This then begs the question, almost three decades into democratic South Africa: Can black people speak of having attained full humanity in the eyes of the administrators and governors of the state they live in, with full realisation of the human rights promised them in the Constitution their governors swear to defend and uphold at the swearing-in ceremonies after every election?
Who is to blame? The ANC, or changing global political dynamics, or both? If all of these or none, what is being done to change this for ordinary people like the children forced to use pit latrines while ministers are driven in convoys of luxury vehicles?
Should South Africans wait for the 2024 general elections to voice their grievances when currently they are without water and are subjected to debilitating power outages?
Or should they, as they were asked to do in 2017, take to the streets and voice their grievances and dissent?
Or should they consider the views of liberals on how that will collapse the already struggling economy as if not going to the street would somehow, some day, by some unexplained and presumably inexplicable process mean a better life for them? How much more patience and hope and trust must be wrung from their hungry, homeless, thirsty, miseducated, unemployed bodies in the name of stability and order?
These are questions all South African should ponder. At least for once, as Biko cautioned, black and poor people must stand together against the injustices that pockmark their lives – even in this new South Africa with laws that are not coupled with justice – and demonstrate their dissatisfaction with this so-called black government.
The poor will not see any improvement in their lives as long as their deprivation and pauperisation is secondary to the aesthetic order insisted upon by the bourgeois and bourgeois aspirants who speak with the forked tongues of the liberals of old.
Dr Legodi is a senior lecturer at the University of Limpopo
* The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.