Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Apartheid and Eskom for white people.

Here’s why I think we need to talk about Eskom and apartheid. Firstly, let’s agree that our opinions matter: every article that deals with apartheid does, slowly but surely, create a Foucaultian style Truth of what actually happened, which defines how we understand what is happening now. A narrative about our past, and in turn present, that becomes accepted fact.

I was there when Jacob Zuma, that gregarious geriatric hustler who hasn’t paid back the money, told us that Eskom’s kak is apartheid’s fault. Chester Missing tweeted at the time how ridiculous this was. Because, after we have bought submarines instead of power stations, it is patently stupid.
But that, my friend, is only half the picture. Take today’s Cape Times piece by David Lipshitz. David blazingly details exactly how our power problems are not apartheid’s fault. It’s a great piece titled “Don’t blame power crisis on apartheid”, where there is absolutely zero acknowledgment of what apartheid DID do. It’s a brilliant breakdown of how useless the ANC Eskom strategy has been. And it has been useless (as far as my ignorant little brain can tell). However, like with Zelda, time and time again the question of what apartheid DID do gets misunderstood or ignored. This undermines the potency of how we can hold government to account, because when they say we are being biased, it’s true.

A problem is that the memory conversation has been polarized, so when many white political commentators write, they often seem to assume we are all in agreement on what apartheid DID do. We are not. Not at all. The apartheid conversation never really happened in SA. In my view most South Africans, black and white are clueless about the machinery that apartheid engaged to extract black labour and wealth that left millions destitute. And the fact is no significant white leader post apartheid has turned to their followers and in no uncertain terms explained that their privilege and wealth (in this, if you are not in a shack, you are wealthy) are a direct product of apartheid. The argument that ‘I am wealthier just because I work hard’ means you believe that the millions of black people out there stuck in poverty are lazy. Kinda racist, eh? It means denial of unequal access to resources, education, business language skills and cultural capital, etc.

I had one guy on twitter in relation to this saying “I’m not denying apartheid was wrong”. But if that were the case then you would want an article on energy, the ANC and apartheid to nail, at least in passing, what apartheid DID do re energy. Its not so much this one article that gets my beef, but rather the larger conversation that repeats itself. The facts of historical inequality are time and time again overlooked. And, ironically, it helps the ANC get off the hook because it validates accusations of bias.

Black people were for the most part denied any access to such resources whatsoever. The fact is we have had to pour huge effort into building infrastructure that wasn’t there before. Online I get tweet after tweet by white people  (not all, just some) arrogantly claiming that apartheid built infrastructure… the racist ones insanely try use this as proof of cultural supremacy. Firstly, black people did the work, at the end of gun, secondly, that work was funded by evil apartheid employment practices, thirdly, that infrastructure was built to buff up the cushy, privileged lives of 10% of the population, fourthly, it bankrupted us, and fifthly, it was also hugely corrupt.

If the conversation about apartheid is to move forward it needs to actively explain what apartheid did do, so we can really get into what it did not. This both takes away dodgy politicians’ historical excuses, and also, as importantly, disrupts the gradual apartheid denial that happens when we leave apartheid’s impact out of the conversation.

Ps, before the usual right wing nutjobs accuse me of white guilt and political correctness. 1) Its not about guilt. It’s about putting the facts on the table so we can move forward. 2) Politically correct is where you play it safe. I am saying, stop playing it safe. Being brutally honest about apartheid, white privilege AND ANC mistakes/corruption means pissing off some very wealthy people.