File picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency(ANA)
File picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency(ANA)

Being non-racial is just not enough, anti-racism action is the way to go

By Oupa Ngwenya Time of article published Jun 14, 2020

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Events in the US, in which George Floyd breathed his last at the hands of the police, and in South Africa, where Collins Khosa lost his life in an altercation with law enforcement, drive home the point that it is just not enough to plead being “non-racial”.

While a declaration of crime against humanity may be good, it is better to act against its commission. Being anti-racist is an action-driven battle cry intent to wrest the lives of black folks from the clutches of unrelenting racism worldwide since slavery.

While all lives matter, in the death of Khosa and Floyd, a worldwide pattern shows that black lives matter less.

Floyd died on May 25, and Khosa on April 10. The 45 days after Khosa’s killing presented no lesson to deter Floyd’s. His was captured on a mobile phone for worldwide view, the perpetrators could not escape culpability.

Khosa’s case hinges on the strength of the words of witnesses unheard in the SANDF’s board of inquiry, which cleared members of any wrongdoing.

Khosa family lawyer Wikus Steyl said Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s affidavit confirmed the report as final to Parliament. To the public, though, the minister reportedly had a different take, prompting Steyl to intend lodging a complaint in Parliament about the minister’s inconsistency. Witnesses said they were at home with Khosa and two others when soldiers arrived, assaulted him, accusing them of violating lockdown regulations.

Khosa died a few hours later, leaving his grieving partner baffled by why the loss of her beloved has not been met with as much outrage as Floyd’s.

What good are solemn pledges, of being “non-racial”, finding frequent easy flight in lofty rhetoric, but unable to hold water in everyday reality? Being non-racial is just not enough. Anti-racism action is the way to go.

In South Africa, “non-racial” has been advanced as a pillar by which race neither counts nor is a factor in the determination for importance or non-importance of people. Lived experience stubbornly suggests otherwise.

Racism has negatively impacted the lives of black people even after the abolition of slavery in the US, as in post-1994 South Africa. In the words of Black Consciousness founding father Steve Biko, being non-racial envisaged the ultimate station of a liberated society of equals in which race would not matter, with people being just people, “and where there would be no minorities or majority, but people”.

With the unending colour-coded impact of inequality, ordinary black people have had a name for it. They called it a “colour bar”, on either side of which life was lived. Colour and race still matter as a passport to the good life.

Being non-racial, then as it is now, is nothing more than a statement of denial of not being racial. In retrospect, outright confrontation of racism has often been frustrated by the question of participation of white people in the struggle. By accident or design, black organisations allowing white people in their ranks earned the honoured stripes to be defined as non-racial.

On the other hand, black organisations, that appreciated the role of white conscientious objectors, thought whites would serve the anti-racist struggle best if they directed their energies in their own communities. That there was more room for solidarity action than mere membership issues was too obvious to be missed.

Regrettably, the perennial question has continued being: “What about white people?” For white people, “non-racial” has been a puzzling jigsaw question of “What to do with or in solidarity with black people?”

To black people, “non-racial” always comes down to the question of “What about white people?” A tactical issue graduated to the status of principle - reducing the presence or absence of white people in black organisations.

What seems missed by most is that the world is at a stage where nothing is free from question. Governments, worldwide, are under notice. The end game to black commiseration worldwide has reached an inevitable confrontation point.

Depending on the presence of leadership response, geared to affirm just-driven fundamental change, a return to the status quo after Covid-19 and demise of both Khosa and Floyd, and the black movement it triggered, would be as good as returning champagne after the cork has popped, were the world to allow racism to last.

Looking at the state of hopelessness that blacks have resigned themselves to, to drown their misery, nothing less than BC will reinstate black people’s total awareness to reclaim self-personhood, self-worth and true humanity.

And to measure Black Consciousness by the presence of electoral strength of parties represented in and outside Parliament, would be as good as reckoning the power of the ocean by the frailty of its foam. Black Consciousness is a powerful tool at the disposal of black people worldwide to use or squander.

There are none as obligated to the cause for their own rehumanisation than the dehumanised as opposed to assigning that front-line responsibility outside black experience, to champion.

This does not discount solidarity action from white conscientious objectors, to rid the world of racism, as the US streets populated by protesters show. For justice’s sake, this means the life of Floyd in the US ranks no less than that of Khosa in South Africa.

* Oupa Ngwenya is a former journalist and corporate strategist.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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