Why have we allowed our oppressors to hoodwink us?

By Time of article published Sep 7, 2021

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David Letsoalo

The author says the recognition of the problem of race as the cornerstone of black people’s oppression is vital

We are a busy race as black people, especially in this occupied Azania after three decades of our so-called freedom.

Much business about nothing really. For me, this is a frustrating situation, particularly when looking at the painful state of un-freedom for the Afrikan people who constitute the majority in this land of our ancestors.

Throughout history, the story of the black condition has been that of pain, poverty, suffering, hunger, landlessness and indignity. These are the elements that lie at the centre of our struggle. You cannot, therefore, tangibly speak of liberation at the exclusion of these crucial tenets. By extension, these aspects characterise the conception of power and its meaning.

Liberation is about truly unshackling the chains of oppression, domination and subjugation applied by other races over the black race. The pain that black people suffered throughout human existence has precisely been on the basis of their race or colour.Nothing else.

White supremacy is the realisation of this attitude as entrenched in the various aspects and spheres of our lives. It is a systemic issue.

The various facets with which the dehumanisation and exploitation of black people were orchestrated and implemented have consistently been race-based. You can name colonisation, slavery, imperialism, apartheid and rainbowism; in all these instances, the race that has been at the receiving end hereof is black.

This is sufficient to inform us that any act of reversal of the impact of white supremacy (in whatever form) should recognise the racial character of oppression. We should thus not be apologetic about being race-conscious in our endeavour to address this evil in order to redress the social injustice.

In terms of modern forms of resistance that inspired the African liberation movements, we need to look at the conception of Pan Africanism. This movement appreciated, as its point of departure, the reality that the oppression of Africans throughout the world has been enacted on the basis of their race. It is on this understanding that WEB Du Bois famously stated that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the colour line”.

I daringly opt to understand this statement as not really an advocation of “non-racialism”. I am not there. What is of importance to me is the sheer recognition of the problem of race as the cornerstone of our oppression. At the same time, I hasten to argue that the “race” issue has been the problem throughout human existence, and not only for the 20th century.

As I pen this text, I know that we continue to experience hardships, indignity, humiliation, exclusion and oppression as a race at the hands of others. This was also the understanding of the likes of Henry Sylvester Williams, Booker T Washington and, of course, Marcus Garvey.

At the core of Pan-Africanism, therefore, is the quest for (black) racial unity and the advancement of all African descendants in this hostile anti-black world. Our racial identity was, as it should now, be proudly embraced and celebrated. This should explain why being “Afrikan” is basically the source of pride for all Pan Africanists.

More than a century later, it is almost impossible to believe that the ruling party in South Africa, the ANC, was inspired by the Pan Africanist ideals. Its founder, Pixley Ka Isaka Seme, was very clear on this matter. I guess the present-day members of the ANC would smash one to smithereens if one were to state the fact that the organisation at some point in history embraced Garveyism and the notion of “Africa for Africans”.

Robert Trent Vinson records the role of Senior ANC leader James Thlaele and the unapologetic stance of the likes of Reverend Zaccheus Mahabane and Josiah Gumede, who were presidents of the ANC in the 1920s. For me, it is really painful that the ANC, ultimately, broke away from Pan Africanism, or is it that Pan Africanism escaped the ANC?

I have the following critical questions to pose: Why did the ANC leave its formative liberatory ideals, especially looking at the essence of Pan Africanism? What was the role of other races in this instance? Any infiltratory project and the torpedoing of the liberation ideals? Can you imagine had the ANC not abandoned the Pan Africanist ideals? All these fundamental questions are quite interesting and worth digesting when interpreting our state of existence today in this so-called democratic dispensation of the senseless rainbow.

I guess these questions underline the reasons for my somewhat basic historical account of Pan Africanism in this textual contribution. Why are we, as blacks, busy catching tadpoles instead of hunting for the crocodiles, proverbially speaking.

The consequences of this abandonment of the Pan-Africanist spirit are dire and far-reaching. The 27 years of the ANC in its political office have undoubtedly displayed or exposed the extent of the damage this loss of ideological track has caused the oppressed black majority of this land. We seldom pause to reflect on how costly this has been.

The significance of the post-1994 arrangement (thanks to the betrayal) is that our struggle has been reduced to the fight for non-racialism, reconciliation, peace, human rights and the permission to participate in elections. All these are mere routine acts that do not translate into true liberation in the sense of reversing the damaging impact of white supremacy.

We are still seized with the horrific spectacle of colonialism and apartheid which, painfully, characterise the black condition in this country and the African continent at large. The patterns of life haven't really changed in that the face of poverty, landlessness and suffering remains black, while other races have kept their privileges derived from generations of conquest, dispossession, exploitation and looting from the Afrikan masses.

In this maze, only a select few blacks, especially the ruling class, have been accommodated. But this is not surprising. The oppressors, settlers, imperialists and colonisers have predictively been consistent in terms of their strategy to sustain their domination over the Afrikan majority: divide and conquer!

We seem to have, retardedly, failed to learn and undo this template. We have, as if per osmosis, normalised our oppression so much so that even our leaders have reached the point where they are never ashamed of this racial inequality. Black pain, suffering and poverty do not shock them, while the possible tampering with white privilege definitely causes them sleepless nights.

No stone is left unturned as the (black) leadership readily, and with utmost ferocity, deals with any attempts to interrupt white privilege. It is apparent that this sad reality will persist. Unless something drastic happens, I do not, honestly, see the land being repossessed, the Reserve Bank nationalised, the mines nationalised (and thus benefiting the people), and generally, the economic scale tilting in favour of the natives of this land.

The mental colonisation that has besieged us has meant that we have become distracted from the real essence of the freedom struggle, which is true liberation. We have become so obsessed with ineffectual things and activities such as elections, social grants, food parcels, being accommodated and affirmed by other races, so much so that we hate ourselves with superlative passion and, indeed, lost our sense of pride.

We fight to get our children into their schools (even when they are not welcomed). We follow them wherever they go, imbibe their cultures, religions, languages and so forth. We have been devotedly voting for the past 27 years, but the picture hardly ever changes. I do experience some flash moments when I really question whether Afrika will ever return to its own children.

It is sad that black people do not seem keen to unite. If elections, which we are obsessed with, are the tools of true liberation, we could easily return this country to the people. Imagine if our people were conscious of the fact that our oppression has been based on our race. Imagine if we all looked at the bigger picture and figured out that we should unite as the oppressed sons and daughters of the Afrikan soil?

I know this will not be easy, especially as the oppressor has infiltrated our spaces and even controls our organisations by proxy. We have consequently fallen victim to the sponsored narratives of “non-racialism” to the extent that it is embraced as an achievement, while any expression of anger against racial inequalities in the rainbow arrangement is vilified and rendered politically incorrect. I think we need to return to Pan Africanism as a tool for true liberation and stop chasing the proverbial tadpoles. Lizobuya!

David Letsoalo is a Sankarist, an activist and Law academic

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