Coloured consciousness

Published Mar 14, 2011


The responses to Jimmy Manyi’s comments about the “oversupply” of coloureds in the Western Cape and Kuli Roberts’s comedy column about her unfulfilled desires to transcend into coloured beauty, suggest that finally apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd’s project of divide and rule is succeeding.

In this whole saga something I recognise as coloured consciousness has solidified and presents coloureds as the “persecuted other” of democracy.

The idea that coloureds “were not white enough under apartheid and are now not black enough” has been making the rounds for some time. The parties of white interests such as DA, and the white trade union Solidarity, have been busy reconstituting a coloured identity as a persecuted other for the purpose of electoral exploitation.

The logic of this process casts the coloureds as unique victims of ANC neglect. From this racist ideological presentation of the truth, you would think that 17 years of democracy have created heaven on earth for everyone else at the expense of coloureds.

This articulation lacks any sense of history and proceeds on the basis of distorting current realities to fit the Verwoerdian project.

This reconstitution of the coloured insulates the coloured from the general black community.

From there a troubling conclusion is arrived at: blacks are having it great while coloureds are left to suffer. This is the basis of coloured consciousness – an acute sense of being persecuted and excluded by blacks. Needless to say, this is at variance with reality.

The truth is that the ANC, ably assisted by the DA, has neglected the poor everywhere in the country, not just the coloured community.

History shows that you can actually make a people into an image you desire.

Take the dark blue Nubians of Sudan, who have been terrorised into believing that they are Arabs. It’s comical but tragic.

The Arab minority of Khartoum uses these Arabised blacks as front men in its ethnic cleansing programmes against fellow Nubians.

Remember how the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), driven by Zulu consciousness, butchered fellow blacks for apartheid in the early 90s?

Coloured consciousness is cultivated to sabotage unified black attempts to confront white racism. But it can also be used as a bargaining chip by elites within the coloured group to get more of the post-apartheid spoils.

Ultimately this current saga is not about the excluded majorities: it’s about competing elite interests.

It is interesting that two prominent personalities from the coloured community chose to perpetuate coloured consciousness instead of obliterating it. Trevor Manuel and Professor Jonathan Jansen have caused unbelievable damage to black people in their official capacities – one as the key driver of neo-liberalism and the other an agent of false reconciliation that humiliates all blacks – by stepping up to defend their people.

Manuel and Thabo Mbeki are the architects of post-1994 black poverty, and who can forget Jansen’s bizarre decision-making at the University of the Free State around the issue of the Reitz Four?

How can these men arrogate unto themselves the duty of spokesmen of the poor?

They are not alone; even the respected writer Chris van Wyk has entered the fray to defend coloured consciousness.

Bewitched by this coloured consciousness, Manuel, Jansen and Van Wyk missed the racist plot hatched by white interests.

The Broederbond was so impressed with Manuel’s attack on Manyi that it came out of hiding to praise him as a crusader for non-racialism. If I were Trevor I would be very worried.

The bigger picture here is that both Solidarity and the DA have instigated and are now cashing in on coloured consciousness to orchestrate black-on-black hatred to gain votes for the DA.

The video clip where Manyi makes the remark about coloured oversupply is a year old.

Similarly, the one on his factually correct comment that Indians are overrepresented in management dates back to several months ago.

The question the “defenders” of the coloured community failed to ask is this: why now, and who stands to benefit from these well-timed “exposés”?

Whites must be laughing at us.

Are we blacks that easy to manipulate?

Properly conceived, the remarks made by Manyi and Roberts are neither racist (since blacks can’t be racist because racism describes the oppression of blacks at the hands of whites) nor can they be seen as purposely aimed at hurting the coloured community.

In fact Manyi’s articulation can be seen as sound advice given to coloureds on the parameters of the Employment Equity Act, which prescribes representation by national population size.

So-called coloureds form 10 percent of the national population and 54 percent of the Western Cape population. There are provinces where their representation is less than 3 percent.

If I was a coloured person and wanted to gain from the Employment Equity Act I would consider moving to where my group was under-represented.

The responses to Roberts have more to do with illiteracy than anything else because her competent use of satire went over the heads of many. But the swift removal of her column speaks to the vulnerable position African women find themselves in 17 years after democracy.

(Does the name Nomonde Mapetla not come to mind here?) Gareth Cliff was rewarded with a presidential lunch for saying some hectic stuff about blacks and the president of the country.

Coloured consciousness is anti-black. It goes against the grain of black consciousness and ultimately serves the racist status quo. Steve Biko recognised the need for the oppressed (coloureds, Indians and Africans) to define themselves as black and unite against white racism.

He was aware of the imagination and generosity of spirit required to achieve this black unity given the status of Africans, which was at the bottom of the racist hierarchy constructed by apartheid.

For blacks to liberate themselves against white racism they needed to overcome the contempt they hold against each other.

Biko said: “Coloureds despise Africans because they (the former), by their proximity to the Africans, may lose the chances of assimilation into the white world. Africans despise the coloureds and Indians for a variety of reasons.

Indians not only despise Africans but in many instances also exploit the Africans in job and shop situations.”

Despite these existential realities, Biko called for a mind-over-matter project that recognised that “we are all oppressed by the same system”. He said the fact that “we are oppressed to varying degrees is a deliberate design to stratify us not only socially but also in terms of the enemy’s aspirations”.

Manuel and Jansen are dragging us towards Verwoerd. They don’t care for the people.

If they did, Manuel would have led the war against the mass eviction of blacks including the humiliation of toilets without enclosures, which the ANC and the DA are both guilty of.

Where was he when Hellen Zille was shooting the poor of Hangberg?

Jansen would not have forced a humiliating reconciliation process down the throats of the downtrodden of his university.

We are again standing at the crossroads. Will our people choose black consciousness and resist white supremacy, now managed by the ANC and DA, or will they choose coloured consciousness and help us towards our collective ruin?

n Mngxitama is the author of Blacks Can’t Be Racist.

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