October 20, 2014

josé saramago on the body of god

Filed under: literature,philosophy,politics — ABRAXAS @ 11:13 am


homosexuality and the south african left – by gerald kraak who passed away last night at 9pm

Filed under: literature,politics,sex — ABRAXAS @ 8:36 am

by Gerald Kraak


For friendship, such an unrequited longing

(Text engraved into the marble of the Gay Monument in Amsterdam, from a poem by Jacob Israel de Haan)

This article is a contribution to a slim, but emerging body of work in gay South African historiography – the hidden, largely unacknowledged role played by gay men and lesbians in opposition politics and in the anti-apartheid and liberation movements.

Mark Gevisser, in particular, has sought to chronicle the lives of such people, initially as co-editor of the seminal Defiant Desire in which there are partial biographies of political activists, such as Zackie Achmat, Ivan Thoms and Derrick Fine, later in his film documentary The man who drove Mandela. The documentary is a biography of Cecil Williams, a member of the proscribed Communist Party and a contemporary of Mandela and others, later indicted in the Rivonia Treason Trial of 1963. Gevisser’s posthumous outing of Williams and his account of the way he straddled the spheres of anti-apartheid politics and the homosexual underworld of 1950s Johannesburg, is a history rich in contradiction. Like Williams many gay men and lesbians hid their, homosexuality not only from the authorities, but also from their comrades, for fear of marginalisation or oppression, even while committed to the liberation of others.

The experience of progressive gay men and lesbians in South Africa is not unique in this respect. The link between the agendas of the progressive political movements in the US and Europe and gay liberation over the last decade and a half belies a longer, more enduring tradition in the left. Notwithstanding some brief epochs where groups and governments, such as the early Bolsheviks, tolerated a degree of emancipation, historically the left has proved as homophobic as the right. So for example in the socialist countries of the Soviet bloc, homosexuals were persecuted, even as centre-right governments in the West decriminalised same-sex behaviour.


History, is an interpretive discipline and inevitably subjective when it involves autobiography, as this interpolation into the work of Gevisser and others, does. Like Gevisser, I am still struck with awe at the quantum leap from the antediluvian criminalisation of homosexuality under apartheid, to the full citizenship of gays and lesbians under the government of the African National Congress (ANC). The awe derives from an apparent lack of connection, the absence of a historically-explicable discourse linking the past to the present, so that the change has the quality of miracle. Returning to South Africa in 1993 after 13 years in exile I was struck not only by the contrast between the repression of homosexuality of the country I had left in 1979 and the pre-election debate on the indivisibility of human rights, but also by contradiction between my sometimes, negative experiences as a gay man in the ranks of the exiled liberation movement and the ANC’s latter-day support for an emancipatory agenda.

There’s a gap, that seeks explanation. Gevisser has tried to provide one

The primary reason why the notion of gay equality passed so smoothly into the constitution is most likely that the ANC elite has a utopian social progressive ideology, influenced largely by the social–democratic movements in the countries that supported it during its struggle: Sweden, Holland, Britain, Canada, Australia. In exile in these countries key South African leaders came to understand and accept – and in the case of women, benefit from – the sexual liberation movement. Foremost among these were Frene Ginwala, now Speaker of Parliament, Albie Sachs, now a judge on the Constitutional Court; Kader Asmal, now minister of education and Thabo Mbeki himself, South Africa’s second democratically-elected President (2000:118)

This exposition of the ANC’s encounter with homosexuality needs further interrogation. While Gevisser’s tribute to some of the more libertarian and open-minded members of the movement may be valid, he discounts two other strong ideological traditions which competed with social democracy in the ANC – those of Africanism and Stalinism, both hostile to the variants of gender politics framed by Western feminism and the proponents of gay liberation.

As a closeted political activist inside South Africa and later, as a member of the ANC in exile, there was more of a resonance and a continuum of experience in these latter traditions, than in the ANC’s late embrace of social democracy and full citizenship of gays and lesbians.

After my own, late, coming out it was something of a revelation to discover how many of my fellow activists in the late 1970s and early 1980s, were gay and had led lives of partial subterfuge keeping their sexual identities secret in their political lives. It has even led me to speculate that assuming the resolutely political identities required by the style of anti-apartheid politics amounted to a sublimation of sexual identity and the deferral of coming out, that was a subtle form of internalised homophobia. Or even that the subterfuge of the political underground allowed for a parallel secret sexual life, otherwise difficult to express.

Mystic crystal revelation: The student movement and the counter-culture

I was active in the left-wing National Union of South African Students from 1975, taking up the post of National Media Officer in 1978. Many of my predecessors in the Union’s executive were gay. Yet this was never disclosed. Ironically the NUSAS of the mid-1970s aped the counter-cultural revisionism of its European contemporaries – the era of “free love”, expressed in a flowering of (heterosexual) promiscuity, long hair, flowing batiked clothing, rock festivals, cannabis use, nascent feminism and other challenges to social mores, on the campuses. The cultural wing of NUSAS was even dubbed Aquarius – after the signature tune of the musical Hair.

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius! Aquarius!

(Rado J and Radni G.1969)

Thankfully these cheesy sentiments were mitigated by a more realistic and hard-nosed leftism in the ranks of NUSAS, but neither allowed for the homosexuality celebrated in another track from Hair

Sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, pederasty.
Father, why do these words sound so nasty?
Masturbation can be fun
Join the holy orgy
Kama Sutra Everyone!!

(Rado J and Radni G. 1969)

Homosexuality was so deeply buried in the movement that the notorious Schlebusch Commission established in 1973 to investigate the threat posed by NUSAS to the state – the Prime Minster at the time had called it a “cancer in society” to be rooted out – failed to discover or note that the NUSAS President and three of its executive members were gay men or lesbians.

The Commission highlighted – and condemned – the promiscuity of its heterosexual office bearers and the fact that they lived in communes!! These and other such moral digressions were sensationalised by the media at the time and were used as partial justification for the Calvinist government’s subsequent restrictions on NUSAS .

Neville Curtis the President was banned, later went into exile and played a prominent role in the Australian Anti-Apartheid Movement. Shiela Lapinsky, a member of the executive, also served with a banning order after the Schlebusch Commission issued its report, re-emerged as a United Democratic Front (UDF) activist in the 1980s. Another executive committee member went into exile and helped found the South African war resisters movement. Yet others, whose political involvement began with NUSAS, helped establish the nascent trade union movement or became involved in the ANC underground.


In the 1980s NUSAS abandoned the excesses of the counter culture and embraced the more sober conventions of anti-apartheid politics of the day, seeking alliances with the emergent trade union movement and black students and scholars. Yet the implicit homophobia persisted.

James Barrett a student at the University of the Witwatersrand was a founding member of the Wits Alternative Service Group, that challenged compulsory military conscription and questioned the role of the South African Defence Force(SADF) in the repression of anti-apartheid opposition.

There were about eight of us. I was the only gay man. It was quite a schizophrenic experience. I had this sense of needing to split my gay identity from my work against racism. Politically, at a gut passionate level it felt right to be involved, but the meetings, dominated by straight socially-conservative couples, were uncomfortable. (Interview with author: July 2001)

Barret’s experience mirrored those of a contemporary, Rupert Smith (a pseudonym) studying at Natal University, later a founder member of the Committee on South African War Resistance based in London.

I think my sexuality has always held me back in some ways, because of a general fear that being “out there” politically, making things happen, all opens you up to scrutiny of who you are and what you do in your spare time. (Interview with author, May 2001)

I have given this absence of a discourse about sexuality in the student movement a great deal of thought, confounded by its progressivism on every other front while failing to mirror its western contemporaries, which allowed space for the emergence of gay liberation. This lacuna bears further exploration. It could not have been the Africanist denial of homosexuality expressed more strongly in the late 1980’s by spokespeople of the liberation movements – the student movement’s links with these were tenuous and clandestine until well into the second half of the decade.

Perhaps the homophobia had two sources – the student movement’s developing embrace of Western Marxism, which in its more derivative aspects derided homosexuality as “bourgeois deviance”, inimical to a robust working class culture of hardy men supported by dutiful women.

Or perhaps it lay in that most debilitating aspect of “being gay” – the internalised homophobia of gay and lesbian student activists themselves. Their terror of discovery delayed the student movement’s coming to terms with homosexuality, in contrast, say, to the way that separatist feminists challenged the sexism of the male leadership in 1978 and forced the movement to adopt more progressive policies on gender.

And there was crucially too, the absence of a meeting point between the open expression of gay identity – in the early 1980s confined almost entirely to the white, gay male club scene – and anti-apartheid politics. James Barrett incisively captures the schizophrenia of gay anti-apartheid activists in this period.

I really struggled. I endured homophobic jokes and remarks in my political work and then went to gay clubs in Hillbrow where there was the most grotesque racism. I had a one- night stand with someone, in fact my one sexual encounter in two odd years. We finished having sex and this guy talked about what a terrible time he was having at work. He said that he was treated worse than the “kaffir girls”. It was just dismal. You had a sense that the few black men that were allowed in the clubs were only there because they were with much older white men. (Interview with author, July 2001)

Barrett’s experience reflects that of many gay and lesbian activists of the time – the sense of a life half-lived, of sublimated identity, the truncation of a discourse on the relationship between class, race and sexual oppression, that was implicit, but never realised in the notion of struggle.

The white gay community was racist. There was very little sense of a black gay community. So for white gay political activists the spheres of political and gay identities just did not come together, as they might have in a Western country. (Interview with author, July 2001).


I left South Africa in 1979 to avoid military conscription and lived in Europe for 13 years. So did Rupert Smith and James Barrett – after his flat was raided by police and other members of the Alternative Service Group were detained. Some were later charged with membership of the banned ANC and treason.

Exile proved no different. Exile politics in the United Kingdom of the 1980s was shaped by the London structures of the ANC and by the solidarity campaigns of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM). In both there was again, a curious silence on the issue of homosexuality, the more marked because in British society there had been an upsurge in progressive mobilisation against the policies of the Conservative Party government of Magaret Thatcher. These included further restrictions on gay men and lesbians.

Path-breaking alliances were being struck between the conventional, socially conservative formations of the Left, such as the trade unions and gay and lesbians organisations. According to James Barrett:

Lesbians and gays were supportive of the miners strike – there was extraordinary coalition politics; gay and lesbian groups raised funds for the miners. The 1983 Gay Pride March was led by a colliery band belting out Tom Robinson’s anthem Glad to be gay. (Interview with author, July 2001)

Although the ANC and AA structures were closely allied to the Labour Party and other left-wing groups, which were at least nominally libertarian, the exile community seemed hermetically sealed against outside influences. Why was this? Was it a typical exile response, a fear of integration, the loosening of the bonds with home, a cultural regrouping around essential identities? Or did the homophobia have roots elsewhere?

We found little evidence of the exposure of “the ANC elite to a utopian social progressive ideology, influenced largely by the social–democratic movements in the countries that supported it during its struggle”, cited by Gevisser.

Rather we encountered a certain defensiveness; that in adopting or opening up to issues other than the racism of apartheid, the movement would be deflected, led astray. The notion of oppressed groups other than blacks, expressing themselves, or organising separately somehow constituted a betrayal of the imperative of national liberation.

The stronger influences here were the ANC’s – always latent – Africanism and the extreme social conservatism of Stalinism that its alliance with the South African Communist Party brought to the movement. As I have written elsewhere

[The ANC] rejected feminism as a western unAfrican concept…….feminist debate may not have been openly suppressed, but it was sublimated to the intrinsic logic of the strategy for liberation: the first struggle was for liberation of the nation; the second for the liberation of the working class, and at best third down the line might come the struggle for the liberation of women (Kraak(b),1998: 7)

The more conservative women’s sections of the liberation movement [even] held that it was the primary task of women to provide support to the front ranks of the struggle – the men – and to care for their children…. (Kraak (a), 1998:viii) …

In the pubs of London

In the many discussion with “comrades” in the ANC’s leadership and membership structures, in the pubs of London, inhibitions loosened by pints of beer, the responses were always the same, when the issue of homosexuality was raised.

Most often the subject elicited revulsion, ridicule or discomfort. More intellectually or ideologically-considered responses held that homosexuality was decadent, a bourgeois deviation of Western capitalism that would disappear under socialism. Or that while homosexuality might well occur in the white community it was alien to African culture. Where homosexual practices existed in African communities it was by contamination, or as a consequence of apartheid institutions such as the migrant hostels which broke up families and confined men in urban barracks. An explicit project of the anti-apartheid struggle was to restore the sanctity of family life.

For others still homosexuals posed a risk to the movement – they could be blackmailed or compromised by the regime and for this reason could not be trusted as comrades.

In the absence of more rigorous research what I am recounting can only be anecdotal and risks stereotyping. But there is other more compelling substantiation that these views were prevalent among the membership. The assertion of the unAfricaness of homosexuality, or of homosexuality as contamination, struck other chords. Activists from inside South Africa, passing through London at the time recounted that at least some of the victims of the notorious necklacing phenomenon of the 1980s, were homosexuals, rejected by their communities.

Gevisser in his compelling account of the inclusion of the equality clause in the constitution cites a debate on whether the ANC government ought to recognise gay partnerships that took place in the Cabinet in 1998 which confirms the homophobia abroad in the ANC even in the late 1980’s He cites Sbu Ndebele, currently the leader of the ANC in Kwa Zulu/Natal and

a former political prisoner with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, [who] declared that it was outrageous for the ANC to support homosexual activity. He reminded his comrades that anybody caught doing this on “The Island” was automatically expelled from the party.” (2000: 120)

This squares with the experiences of Indres Pillay (a pseudonym), sentenced to imprisonment on Robben Island for activities in Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK), the ANC’s armed wing, in the late 1980s. One of the prisoners’ hard-won concessions was that that authorities allowed them to watch videos on weekends. After screenings of 9 ½ weeks (in which there is a brief lesbian scene) and Kiss of the Spiderwoman (an account of the relationship between straight political prisoner sharing a cell with a transvestite in an unnamed Latin American dictatorship) the leadership group on the island issued an edict that videos with gay scenes not be shown. Prisoners also had to agree to a code of conduct that disallowed anti-social behaviour. Pillay learnt to his cost that this included homosexuality. He was later ostracised by his fellow prisoners. (Luirink, 2000:38 – 9)

Jack’s story

Gevisser also cites Dumisane Makhaye an ex-MK combatant, present at the same Cabinet meeting who is reputed to have said that MK cadres discovered to be homosexuals were shot. (2000:120)

There is nothing to suggest that such executions took place, but it resonates with a chilling encounter I had with a comrade in the late 1980s – let’s call him “Jack”.

Jack joined MK and was part of a group that smuggled arms into the country and had begun to plan acts of sabotage against military targets when they were betrayed and arrested. Jack recounted later that in the course of an operation, the group needed a car for a reconnoitring operation, that they might later abandon. Jack had a certain rugged, blonde attractiveness and the group hit upon the idea that he could pick someone up in a gay bar, go home with him, kill him and take his car. For reasons I can’t recall the operation was aborted – but the homophobia and the hostility to homosexuals as dispensable solely on account of their sexual orientation that the group’s strategy displayed was deeply alienating and accelerated my own coming-out to my political peers.

The anti-apartheid movement, an organisation of predominantly British people and rooted in the politics of the British left, seemed no more open. A prominent member of the movement recounts that

A march had been organised by the AAM to mark the Soweto uprising. I had taken part and was acutely disappointed with the turn out bearing in mind the nature of the occasion being commemorated. On the same day Gay Pride had organised a huge demonstration. It was obvious that the two events had competed for support. I was subsequently in the AAM office and stressed the importance of establishing links with the gay community. Though one person in that office agreed with me, others agreed with the ANC VIP who was there, who insisted that being gay was not a natural thing. That in any case it didn’t occur in South Africa. Somebody else suggested it was a result of the public school system in the UK. It was also pointed out that women would be the sufferers if this gayness were accepted (Interview with author, June 2001)

A poverty of debate, a dissection of identities

That was the poverty of the debate, on the issue of homosexuality in the discourse of national liberation

This placed those of us who were white, gay and anti-apartheid activists in the uncomfortable position of living a sometimes conflicting dissection of identities, racial ( in relation to our black comrades), sexual (in relation to our straight contemporaries) and political (in relation to the overwhelmingly politically-conservative communities from which we had come).

This was perhaps most vividly expressed in the internal politics of the Committee on South African War Resistance (COSAWR) – an organisation of exiled conscientious objectors, draft dodgers and military deserters, established to undermine the SADF, by encouraging internal resistance to the draft and international isolation of the apartheid regime.

The ANC and COSAWR developed a close political relationship, the ANC included the work of COSAWR in its broader strategy to undermine the South African military. Some of the COSAWR leadership participated in the ANC’s clandestine structures exploring ways of infiltrating the military and police, broadening the campaign against conscription and undermining the morale of the white community.

An army of lovers?

At least a third of the executive membership of COSAWR were gay, as was a much larger proportion of the broader war resister community – perhaps because in addition to our moral and political objections to military service many of use feared participating in, as avowedly homophobic an institution as, the military.

For many of us who had come into exile in this way, our primary social, political and sexual relationships were with fellow war resisters. And yet even within the confines of the organisation our common homosexuality was never an explicit part of the discourse, even where our brief might have dictated otherwise – in particular the treatment of gay men in the military.

Rupert Smith, a founder member of COSAWR said that being gay in the organisation

It was possible but it wasn’t welcomed. I’ve always been pretty discrete/straight acting/fucking boring and closeted, so I wasn’t a threat cos I toed the party line. But a friend of mine who was much more out was definitely seen as being a bit…..what’s the right word? Just not quite the right image really. COSAWR was never overtly homophobic, but the liberation struggle was never really about sexual politics, not even feminist politics! Basically pretty heteronormative. (Interview with author, May 2001)

James Barrett struggled with exile:

I felt screwed up, messed up, not finding a niche to think about my gay identity. I found the general spirit in the war resister community destructive – many of the South African refugees were very depressed, living in bad conditions, really struggling with their loss of comfort. I gradually drifted away. I got involved in the London Gay Workshop, a group of gay men who got together to discuss political issues. It had a broad left-wing agenda and was trying to reach out and establish coalitions with other groups and draw gay men into political activity. This was formative for me and drew me away from anti-apartheid work and into the field of HIV/AIDS.

Ultimately I was put off the closetedness of some of the leading members of COSAWR who saw being gay as a shameful thing that might be used against COSAWR – you know, fags who were to wussy to do military service. (Interview with author, July 2001)

Terry Shott, also a founder member of COSAWR echoes Barrett’s response, but chose a different course of action. As a student in London in the mid-1970s, Shott was drawn into Okhela, a clandestine group loosely associated with the ANC, that sought to infiltrate South Africa, recruit additional members and carry out sabotage, but was quickly rounded up, making it impossible for Shott to return to South Africa.

An “out” gay man, Shott found the homophobia of the ANC and the AAM alienating and chose instead to become involved in groups which welcomed gay members – initially the Southern African Liberation Support Committee and later the Namibia Support Committee. He also helped establish the End Loans to South Africa Campaign

I chose to work in these groups. I sought out groups that I thought would be sympathetic to my sexual orientation and a broader politics that embraced gay rights, women’s rights and so on. In the ANC and the Anti-Apartheid Movement these issues were seen as a distraction. (Interview with author, May 2002)

Shot confirms, that as in NUSAS, an insidious form of internalised homophobia prevailed – not only that our homosexuality would alienate us from our comrades in the movement, leading to our marginalisation,

but that it would somehow confirm the propaganda of the regime, that in fleeing military service we were cowards, not real men. (Shott, interviewed by author, May 2002)

Always the link with home

In the mid- to late- 1980s there was something of a cultural and politic shift. These were dictated from inside South Africa where the rise of the UDF, which although closely allied to the ANC was not characterised by the same ideological rigidity of its exiled counterpart, and allowed a broader debate.

But it was the courage and actions of Simon Nkoli that broke open the silence around homosexuality in the liberation movement. Simon Nkoli, an African gay man was a UDF activist on the East Rand near Johannesburg. He was arrested and put on trial for treason, part of a dragnet that included some the UDF’s most prominent leaders. With extraordinary personal courage, Nkoli came out to his colleagues in prison, at first inspiring opprobrium and later through sheer persistence, respect.

One of them the trailists Patrick Lekota, now the ANC National chairman and South Africa’s defence minister, speaking at Nkoli’s funeral in 2000 said that

all of us acknowledged that [Simon’s coming out] was an important learning experience …. His presence made it possible for more information to be discussed, and it broadened our vision, helping us to see that society was composed of so many people whose orientations were not the same, and that one must be able to live with it. And so when it came to writing the constitutions how could we say that men and women like Simon who had put their shoulders to the wheel to end apartheid, how could we say that they should now be discriminated against? (Gevisser, 2000:119)

Nkoli’s actions not only challenged the notion that homosexuality was unAfrican, but demonstrated the presence of gay men and lesbians in the anti-apartheid movement. Nkoli’s arrest and trial came at a point where the scale of the uprising against apartheid and its brutal repression by the security forces had captured world-wide attention and sparked a revival of anti-apartheid solidarity in the west. Gay groups in the US and Europe took up Nkoli’s cause demanding his release and brought the issue of gay and lesbian identity into the foreground of anti-apartheid politics.

Nkoli emboldened gays and lesbians in other formations of the anti-apartheid and liberation movements, including a group of gay men in COSAWR, who launched a campaign in solidarity with imprisoned conscientious objector Ivan Thoms. Thoms was a prominent member of the End Conscription Campaign and of the Western Cape branch of the UDF. A medical doctor who tended to the victims of police brutality and shootings in the squatter camps and townships of Cape Town, he spoke with particular authority about the consequences of the state of emergency. Clandestine elements of the security forces tried to discredit him by pointing to his homosexuality in pamphlets and posters circulated in Cape Town.

Thoms, who had until then remained silent on his homosexuality in his public life, became increasingly open, pointing to the similarity of experience of oppression shared by homosexuals and black people. Thom’s coming out was a signal for the gay membership of COSAWR. When Thoms was jailed for refusing to obey his military call-up, COSAWR organised a campaign of solidarity with him, specifically profiling Thoms as a gay activist targeted at and winning support from gay groups in the UK

The Dutch connection

There were other shifts.

Bart Luirink and other openly-gay executive members of the Dutch anti-apartheid movement, were disconcerted by the absence of a discourse on homosexuality in the liberation movement and with some of their colleagues began to raise the issue with the senior leadership ANC. Some of executive members of the Dutch movement were uneasy about this stance. The Dutch movement, had very close, ties with the ANC, was one its mainstays of support in Western Europe and could not be easily discounted.

This invisible debate, a samidzat discourse, that went on behind closed doors, between senior leaders of the ANC and gays in implicitly trusted anti-apartheid movements was brought to a head in 1987, when the gay London weekly Capital Gay interviewed senior representatives of the ANC in London on the movement’s position of gays and lesbians.

The publication was responding – in part – to the assurances which had been given to a delegation of students who had sought contact with the ANC’s headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia. This was part of the dialogue that was opening up between internal groups and the exiled movement that presaged full-blown negotiations three years later. The ANC stated that while the ANC had no policy on gay and lesbians, it was “open minded on the issue “

ANC policy grows as it confronts social questions that need to be addressed. A democratic state should restructure and accommodate issues related to oppression…. “ (Capital Gay, 18 Sept 1987)

But Solly Smith the ANC’s representative in London responded to Capital Gay’s question thus

We cannot be diverted from our struggle by these issues. We believe in the majority being equal. These people (lesbians and gays) are in the minority. The majority must rule (Capital Gay, 18 September 1987).

An executive member of the ANC, Ruth Mompati, went on to say

I cannot even begin to understand why people want gay and lesbian rights. The gays have no problems. They have nice houses and plenty to eat. I don’t see them suffering. No one is persecuting them. We haven’t heard about this problem in South Africa until recently. It seems to be fashionable in the West….. They are not doing the liberation struggle a favour by organising separately and campaigning for their rights. The (Gay) issue is being brought up to take attention away from the main struggle against apartheid…. They are red herrings. We don’t have a policy on gays and lesbians. We don’t have a policy on flower sellers either (Capital Gay, September 1987)

Mompati’s views betray the much wider thinking in the ANC at the time – that all gays were white. This says a great deal about the visibility of black gays in the liberation movement, a subject to which I will return.

What if 1990 hadn’t happened?

How far this process of discussion and opening up on the issue of sexuality in the ANC would have gone had the events of the late 1980s and early 1990s not transpired, is open to question. But the focus of debate on the future of gays and lesbians shifted to the halls of the constitutional negotiations at the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park where a group of gay UDF activists pressed for the inclusion of the clause on sexual orientation in the constitution. The rest is part of a remarkable and unprecedented story which others have covered in detail.

What then to make of the role of gay men and lesbians in the liberation movement and the contradictory experience of commitment to an apparently emancipatory project that took no note of their oppression. In this their most critical endeavour, the one that is likely to have shaped them, they led half- lives.

Of course most cadres in the movement also did, sacrificing their youth, sacrificing the possibility of sustained relationships and many also their lives. Women in particular endured the suffocating patriarchy of the ANC’s exiled structures, and have been vindicated by the explosion of an indigenous feminism in post-apartheid SA. We have all gone on to claim full citizenship of a democratic country.

But for gays and lesbians specifically it might so easily have been different. Where it not for the “miracle”, for the actions of a few brave individuals who had the foresight to seize the historical moment of the negotiations, South African gay men and lesbians might endure the oppression of those in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Uganda, where Africanism has held sway.

At the same time this has of necessity been a white history, a story about some white gay political activists. Emerging historiography has now established that the notion that homosexuality is un African is a fallacy, called into question not only by the flowering of black gay and lesbian organisation, but by the rich emergent histories of gay life in black communities. Yet we can count on the fingers of one hand the out black gay political activists in the history of the struggle. This very lack of the visibility of gay and lesbians cadres in the movement, points surely to the persistence of homophobia in the political community, which colours the memory of the struggle. What was the experience of black gays and lesbians in the formations of the liberation movement and its armed formations, in the trade unions and the affiliates of the UDF? We need to know to be able to reclaim our pasts.

This brief history of some gay men and lesbians who worked in anti-apartheid structures and in the liberation movements tries to do that. It seeks to add to the complexity of our experience. It tries to pose critical questions about how we arrived in this safe haven, so that our history is not appropriated into some bland notion of rainbow nation in which the needs of all have been accommodated and the real difficulties, pain and alienation of reaching this point are air-brushed into the rosy-hued background.

In as much as truth and reconciliation are motifs of the post-apartheid society, we need to look back and proselytise the union of the political and personal, so that the politics of the future embraces all those who seek a role. The indivisibility of the human rights of all is a standard that should never again questioned, compromised or contoured to fit ideology.


Gevisser, M. 2000: Mandela’s stepchildren: homosexual identity in post-apartheid South Africa. In Drucker,P (ed): Different rainbows. London: Gay Men’s Press

Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical lyrics by James Rado & Gerome Ragni music by Galt MacDermot

Luirink, B. 2000: Moffies. Gay Life in Southern Africa. Johannesburg:David Phillip

Kraak,G. 1998: Class, race, nationalism and the politics of identity: a perspective from the South. In Development Update, Vol 2, No 2, 1998

Kraak G and Simpson G. 1998: The illusions of sanctuary and the weight of the past: notes on violence and gender in South Africa. In Development Update, Vol 2, No 2, 1998

October 17, 2014

Zonnebloem renamed District Six by Haroon Gunn-Salie

Filed under: art,politics,Ziyana Lategan — ABRAXAS @ 4:36 pm

Published on Nov 19, 2013

‘Zonnebloem renamed’ is a site-specific artwork by Haroon Gunn-Salie.

Executed on Sunday 17 August 2013, ‘Zonnebloem renamed’ marks the centenary of the 1913 Natives Land Act in South Africa. This short film forms part of the artist’s ongoing collaborative exhibition with District Six residents titled WITNESS.

WITNESS was conducted between 2011 and 2013 and deals with still unresolved issues of forced removals and land compensation in District Six and South Africa. District Six was a closely-knit, vibrant and multi-cultural community, forcibly removed by apartheid decree during the 1970′s from Cape Town city centre, when the area was declared ‘whites only’ under the Group Areas Act in 1968. During this time, District Six was officially renamed by the apartheid government as Zonnebloem. This renaming further erased the history of the area and people from maps and public spaces.

This film shows Gunn-Salie executing series a temporary artworks by changing the ‘Zonnebloem’ roadsigns in central Cape Town to read ‘District Six’.

The artwork is self-reflexive piece with deep political intent. ‘Zonnebloem renamed’ is a brazen attempt by Gunn-Salie to change apartheid and colonial heritage that dominates peoples popular memory in Cape Town and South Africa, through artwork, social action and intervention.

Artwork and film by Haroon Gunn-Salie

“Calypso Minor” by Abdullah Ibrahim & DJ Explicit (iTunes)

October 16, 2014

deon skade on race in south africa today

Filed under: deon skade,politics — ABRAXAS @ 10:24 am


October 11, 2014

the irvin k word

Filed under: 2014 - Black Skins Wits Masks,politics — ABRAXAS @ 5:03 pm


malaika mahlatsi on corruption in south africa today

Filed under: politics — ABRAXAS @ 3:32 pm


October 8, 2014

the acknowledgement

Filed under: akin omotoso,politics — ABRAXAS @ 4:18 pm


ziyana lategan reviews the biko lives! re-launch

Filed under: andile mngxitama,politics,reviews,Ziyana Lategan — ABRAXAS @ 11:13 am

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The Biko Lives! re-launch was a real rollercoaster. Mngxitama’s choice of protégés delivered on one hand a bathetic intellectual concert mirroring an Eisteddfod recorder competition, and on the other, a brave wrestle with black radical thought in its many forms. First out of the gate was Athi Mongezeleli Joja (Mngxitama’s only remaining confidant, and the slow moving Chair of the panel) who lamented Biko’s appropriation by every faction across the ideological spectrum. This appropriation is represented most notably by those who wear BC the way a new convert of Cabral’s would don a dashiki, but also by every other Biko anthology to have been published, from Bounds of Possibility (1992) to his Memorial Lectures of 2009. The significance of Biko Lives!, according to Joja, represents Biko and his intellectual tradition in its most ideologically sincere and progressive form to date – in celebration and in criticism of the mind of the man.


There was an unidentified arbitrator who decided on the parameters of the thought of the Biko of Biko Lives! on the night of the re-launch, and it was not always apparent that it was the collective efforts of the books’ contributors. Among the scathing attacks against the hypocrisy of White liberals, as Biko is celebrated for having unveiled, was an attack on the limits of Marxism, Feminism, and (Pan-)Africanism, all of which in their white expressions have successfully assisted the repression of black resistance and thought. To the contrary, the collection of essays do not argue against a Biko who was sensitive to the steady growth and severe repression of a capitalist state, sensitive to the exclusion of black women from life and politics, and sensitive to the recreation of a society based on African values. If this Biko is simply another appropriation, it was egregiously over-simplified by the panel.

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The committedly short (a theme among the panellists) and passionate first speaker, Ayanda Gladile for instance, drew on Lenin to applaud the vanguard revolutionary movement of the EFF, and correctly chided the efforts of well-meaning but bourgeois affluent personalities of white comrades. While following Biko’s criticism of white Marxists in general, he paid no attention to the more radical black Marxists in South African history, such as Tabata and the like. Mngxitama – exhausted by feminists who claim allegiance to the black liberation project but who have been known also to allow whites to defend them against the savagery of absent black men – jettisoned the entire feminist project, bar his unwavering respect for the now late Deborah Matshoba (who appears in interview at the end of the anthology, and to whose memory the talk was dedicated).

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Following the tacky trend of throwing the baby out, Patrick Matabeni, the lanky (an exceptional fact only in this context) and heavily bespectacled second speaker, betrayed the distinctly black-American flavour of black radical thought. After an apology and a disclaimer, he began with an effort to appropriate the Christian Church and insist on the existence of a Black Jesus who will spark the veld fire that finally destroys the plantation, encasing both Africans and slaves into an experience of perpetual slavery. Oddly enough, and without the slightest intended contradiction, Matabeni concomitantly repudiates the inherent unprogressive foundations of ‘African Culture’ and all its ritualistic trappings. He recognises blacks as having been destroyed and enslaved in tandem with their history and culture. In some sense, Matabeni may be saying something profound about the decanting of the substantive qualities of black people. But while many black South Africans can be said to believe in Jesus, it is certainly not to Him they look for household insurance and a cure for their common ailments, but rather to the indigenous wisdom and protection of a long-respected ancestry whom they succeed. For them, as opposed to their kidnapped counterparts, some things are simply beyond Jesus. Of course, I subscribe to the metaphysics of neither belief-system, but to make attempts at appropriating the Christian Church, a spiritual home to black America, suggests a reading of an experience not necessarily African. Blacks, being so signified through the creation and structuring of an “anti-black World” should then boast neither of the provincialism of South Africa, nor the particulars of an American experience. If a ‘combative ontology’ can be found in a Black God of Liberation, could it not be found in equal measure in ‘Africanity’?

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Shopping for Biko’s influences and interlocutors in black America seems strangely inconsistent, for by the time Mngxitama took to the mic, he spoke of the intellectual lineage of Biko’s thought as having its base in South African black thought. Seated on a panel with his sons, Mngxitama paid some attention to the relationship between Sobukwe and Biko: ‘Father and Son’. It is embarrassingly presumptuous for any father to claim to know who his sons are (information privy only to mothers), so I am all too happy to have this assertion play out here, and not from Sobukwe himself. Nevertheless, according to Mngxitama, it is only through the limits and contribution of Sobukwe that we can really come to understand the radicality of Biko. Biko is able to capture all the oppressed groups in South Africa (coloured, Indian, African) who are differentially oppressed, into a black mass. For the first time in black resistance thought (a debatable historical account from my own reading), the racial hierarchy which has bred mutual distrust and hatred among the oppressed, is collapsed. Biko, the structuralist, manages to solve a problem which Lemebede completely fails, and which Sobukwe only barely navigates.

On this same structuralist logic, all hierarchies are collapsed within the black ghetto of pathology and social death – including the ever controversial sex-gender distinctions. It should be noted, the mysterious mothers of these men do not exist, in part because of historical reasons, and perhaps in part because of a sexist reading of history. Be that as it may, black feminists, as opposed to feminists who are black, remain absent in contemporary social practices and it is exceedingly difficult to account for this given the psychological impulses in the history of the BC movement which have shown women to change cultural performances of womanhood.

I am partially sympathetic to the argument put forward by this Band of Brothers: if black women could escape their racial identity, they would no longer be bodies available for structural and other abuse in any historically unjust quality. And so it follows that their defeat of the various expressions of ‘black patriarchy’ (a most severe misnomer) will in no way introduce a new episteme resulting from the violent destruction of White supremacy, or as popularly labelled, ‘the end of the world’. Returning to age-old debates, these materialists will probably go so far as to argue that the monolithic structure of White Supremacy informs the ideologically informed everyday actions of even a single-celled amoeba. And that may well be the case. For black women, an immediate and understandable concern exists: stop the abuse. For many, this is not a question of structure, but rather one of agency. But then, over-emphatic agency driven hopefuls often offer arguments only one cut above the racist correlation between laziness and poverty. It is difficult to imagine the existence of widespread abuse in spaces where human life thrives. So, to stop the abuse you would have to stop the idea that a township can be a place for human habitation. To think that the violence experienced by black women in black communities is limited to them independent of their race (and by extension place), is to over-emphasise a sexist logic which makes women on the margins solely susceptible to violence, and to re-inscribe a racist logic which constructs black men as especially inclined to commit acts of sexual violence. For all its regressive implications, this argument does not make the concerns of women irrelevant, but simply that they should not, under any circumstances, lead to the present confusion surrounding who our enemies and comrades are in organisational practice.

Appealing to the tally of dead and abused black women in the ghetto helps little. The death toll in the location keeps rising and the space kills indiscriminately, because essentially, “all blacks look the same”. Our tears should not fall selectively, but I would advocate that our violent outbursts should. My grand hope is to see the violence turn outward – so we can finally call it even. And no sooner than we are able to mismanage our own affairs, we’ll send this bag of balls straight to the gulag! The bitter fact is that the tribalists, xenophobes, and make-shift men are indeed our only allies against those living on the hills, and they are in desperate need of conversion.

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By the time this conversation reached its nadir bits, some feminists who are black left the room, a homosexual anarchist who is black got censored, and some impotent black men threw their fists into a pool of nothingness, and in a huff of powder, like a magic show – it was over. According to the rumour mill (me) very few people have actually read the book, and I’m pretty sure the Alexander woman did all the hard work on it. That aside, the anthology boasts some big names, some who still lurk the corridors of various universities, their voices a whisper much like the global BC movement. Regular yapping/fighting rows should remedy the dearth of black radical intellectual activity in Cape Town, where Biko’s children can grow and maybe be forced to stretch until eventually someone lights fucking a match.

The re-launch was the first of a monthly series of New Frank Talk review lectures at 6 Spin Street, Cape Town.

stephanus muller on thomas pringle’s “the caffer”

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October 2, 2014

na de geliefde land – karel schoeman (1972)

Filed under: literature,politics,stephanus muller — ABRAXAS @ 4:48 am

Die besit het hulle as vanselfsprekend aanvaar sonder om hulle ooit oor die waarde of betekenis daarvan te besin, en die verlies het hulle nie tot besinning gedwing nie. Eerder het dit gelyk asof die impikasies daarvan nooit ten volle tot hulle deurgedring het nie, en hulle het so goed moontlik voortgegaan asof dit nooit plaasgevind het nie. Êrens was daar wel ‘n klein onderbreking gewees, ‘n nouliks waarneembare geologiese verskuiwing, net genoeg om die glase te laat rinkel, maar hulle het geen ag daarop geslaan nie. Die verstoring is tydelik, bloot tydelik, het hulle mekaar verseker; in wese het daar niks verander en kán daar ook niks verander nie. Die groot huise wag nog, die bediendes staan gereed; die lesssenaar, die kar, die tuin wag op hulle terugkeer, die boek nog oop by die bladsy waar hulle laas gelees het, die koppie op die tafel waar hulle dit neergesit het. In daardie roerlose stilte spits die hond sy ore, luisterend na die klank van hul voetstappe in die verte …Die droom het voortgeduur, onverminder in sy glans, en hulle bestaan is ’n gedurige poging om die opdringerigheid van die omringende werklikheid to probeer ontken, terwyl hulle onthou en mymer en wag op die uur wanneer alles weer oor sal wees en hulle sal kan terugkeer na die geliefde land.

herman charles bosman today

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October 1, 2014

louis aragon on what is necessary

Filed under: paradoxism,philosophy,politics — ABRAXAS @ 5:02 pm

“No more painters, no more scribblers, no more musicians, no more sculptors, no more religions, no more royalists, no more radicals, no more imperialists, no more anarchists, no more socialists, no more communists, no more proletariat, no more democrats, no more republicans, no more bourgeois, no more aristocrats, no more arms, no more police, no more nations, an end at last to all this stupidity, nothing left, nothing at all, nothing, nothing.”
- Louis Aragon

September 26, 2014

decolonising class

Filed under: 2014 - Black Skins Wits Masks,andile mngxitama,politics — ABRAXAS @ 10:56 am

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first published here: http://mg.co.za/article/2014-09-26-class-theory-finally-decolonised

biko lives!

Filed under: andile mngxitama,politics — ABRAXAS @ 5:27 am


September 24, 2014

ian kerkhof on music and censorship in south africa (originally published in rixaka)

Filed under: ian kerkhof,music,music and exile symposium,politics — ABRAXAS @ 7:14 am


September 14, 2014

mngxitama on biko

Filed under: 2014 - Black Skins Wits Masks,andile mngxitama,politics — ABRAXAS @ 8:27 pm

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September 5, 2014

thomas pringle – the caffer

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Aspects of S.A. Literature – Herman Charles Bosman (Trek, September 1948)

Filed under: andile mngxitama,literature,politics — ABRAXAS @ 12:25 pm

In an attempt I made recently at sorting out what is what in South African literature, certain ideas occurred to me, which I jotted down in somewhat haphazard order. I also tried to put down some of my notions about what is not what in South African literature. Judge of my surprise when, on re-reading this collection of stray notes, I found that they seemed to form part of a coherent, overall pattern. I would as readily have expected them to fit neatly into a sizeable portion of chaos.

So I went along home and wrote down some more things.

You mustn’t ask me to approve of the artificial efforts being made by a section of the Afrikaner literati at establishing cultural links with the Hollanders and the Flemings, in order to stimulate interest in the creation of a “Dietse” (Low-German) literature. Afrikaans is not Low-German. Its name tells you that it is an African language.

The resemblance that exists between Afrikaans and the languages of the Low Countries is something fortuitous and meaningless, something to do with the mechanical side of linguistics. The politician or the business-man might feel that he would like to do something about exploiting these chance similarities. But the poet must know that Afrikaans is more different in spirit from Nederlands than from Chinese.

Perhaps a few Afrikaans writers will continue to delude themselves for a little longer with the notion that the Hollanders and the Flemings are interested in Afrikaans literary developments. But any Afrikaans publishing-house will tell you that the demand for Afrikaans books in Holland and Belgium is plus nought. The only people in the Low Countries who read Afrikaans authors are Afrikaners who are there as students, or on holiday, or on business.

Were people in West Flanders interested in Anna Neethling-Pohl’s readings, just before the war, or N.P. van Wyk Louw’s poems? No. But they were interested in the fact that, at a political meeting held in the same town, a Fleming hit a Walloon over the head with a bicycle. They were interested only in their own culture and in the make of the bicycle.

Similarly, the visits to this country, since the war, of Hollander and Belgian poets and professors of literature have perhaps served a useful purpose in strengthening the international amities.

It might help to sell a few push-bikes in this country when Holland starts exporting them again.

Some years ago it was fashionable for a European tourist to explore some part of Africa, and after he had spent a week or two on the Dark Continent, to return to Europe and to write an authoritative work on the tribal customs, etc., of the savages who allowed him to pass peacefully through their territories. Because they didn’t ask to see his visa, or offer to kill him – as would have happened to a foreigner trying to walk through any part of Europe that way – the tourist always knew that he was dealing with a lot of savages.

And the funny thing is that Africa has been uncivillized like this for a very long time. Look for how many years Livingstone walked about all over Africa as a spy. And whenever he came to a village the savages, with studied brutality, would set before him food and drink. When he got fever, the benighted heathen even nursed him back to health without pay – just so that he could go and spy on them some more. That’s this continent for you, sunk in absolute abomination.

Latterly, I have had occasion to make a somewhat detailed study of certain aspects of S.A. English literature, and I have made a number of interesting discoveries. In the first place, considering the fact that S.A. English literature had its beginnings way back in the early years of the 19th Century, long before Afrikaans literature was thought of, why is it that today S.A. English literature has got to take so much of a back seat to Afrikaans?

I think I have found the answer, all right. The Afrikaner accepts himself as part of Africa. Out of his own traditions and history and background, out of the stones and the soil and the red guts of Africa, he is fashioning a literature that has not reached a very high inspirational level – let us make no mistake about that – but that has struck an authentic note, somehow, and that you can feel (italics) has got a power in it that must become an enduring part of the Afrikaner’s national heritage.

During the 19th Century, the paradox about S.A. English literature, which had no pretensions to being anything more than a frankly colonial literature, was that it was a literature essentially of the soil. The first writers really tried to find themselves in terms of their identification of themselves with the African scene. It was hard going, but they tried. Pringle might be a colonial poet, but his love for South Africa was sincere enough to get him into trouble with the British Government on account of it – and the last line of his sonnet. “The Kaffir”, is a challenge ringing across one and a quarter centuries.

The pioneers of S.A. English literature, from Pringle to Olive Schreiner, struggling by whatever inner light they had to give expression to their individual creative urges, were consciously or unconsciously contributing to the task of bringing into existence an indigenous South African literature, native of the soil. And their ultimate level of achievement was not too bad.

The Bantu has got a marvellous world of knowledge and experience right here in the city of Johannesburg that he should be able to pour into the mould of great literature. But then he mustn’t follow in the footsteps of a lot of these semi-educated, half baked Natives who embark on literary careers with the idea that producing fiction is no more complicated a matter than turning out Left sociological treatises.

Never mind the obvious features of location-life, and all that. I recently had occasion to travel up and down a Native lift in one of Johannesburg’s tall buildings. I had to go up and down it quite a number of times. It was a revelation – another world, dun coloured and queerly frightening, existing a few yards away from the European lift that I had used daily for years.

Nobody can know the streets, the gutters, the seamy side of life in a South African city like a kaffir does. And it says in the Book of Kings: “He that climbeth up into the gutter shall be chieftain of them all.” Here is the tremendous raw material for the Bantu writer of to-day and of the future. But the theme of kaffir man and woman in the city must be handled romantically. The whole art of literature is to transform this kind of squalor into the hard, imperishable grey beauty of literature.

To deal with it in terms of realism is to offer insult to the theme. Furthermore, this is material only for the Bantu artist. The white man must keep away from it. We have stolen enough from the kaffir. Don’t let us have the cheek to go and try to poach on the preserves of his life’s bitterness as well, without having shared them. In any case, how can a white man get into a black man’s skin – and vice versa? That sort of thing is presumption, and can produce only falseness in art. No, they must write their literature. We must write ours. Only thus will we be able to meet each other in honesty, as fellow-artists, on a footing of equality.

Another thing: If I were a Native, and I had acquired a certain amount of culture, I wouldn’t want to call myself a Bantu or a Native or a negro or an African. No, I would demand to be recognised and accepted as a plain kaffir. I would receive from the hand of the white man nothing less. I would never allow them to take away from me a name so rich in legend, sorrow, and so heavy with the drama of Africa.

Incidentally, the etymologists’ tame derivation of the word “kaffir” from the Arabic for “unbeliever” must be rejected by anybody with a feeling for the significance of words. It is a strong, florid word, broad as the African veld, and in its dissyllabic vehemence a depth of contumely that I am sure no Arab would ever be able to think up.

published in uncollected essays, Timmins Publishers, 1981

July 22, 2014

Running Orders by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

Filed under: niklas zimmer,poetry,politics — ABRAXAS @ 11:53 am

They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think “Do I know any Davids in Gaza?”
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.

July 17, 2014

chris thurman on the national arts festival

Filed under: andile mngxitama,art,kaganof,politics — ABRAXAS @ 11:01 am

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first published here: http://www.bdlive.co.za/life/entertainment/2014/07/17/festival-of-standoffs-airs-some-used-linen

July 16, 2014

mphutlane wa bofelo – the river that returns to me

Filed under: literature,mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry,politics — ABRAXAS @ 9:42 pm


July 15, 2014

uit die blauw van onse hemel


July 10, 2014


Filed under: andile mngxitama,politics — ABRAXAS @ 9:38 pm


Basically the South African white community is a homogeneous community. It is a community of people who sit to enjoy a privileged position that they do not deserve, are aware of this, and therefore spend their time trying to justify why they are doing so. Where differences in political opinion exist, they are in the process of trying to justify their position of privilege and their usurpation of power.

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With their theory of “separate freedoms for the various nations in the multinational state of South Africa” the Nationalists have gone a long way towards giving most of white South Africa some sort of moral explanation for what is happening. Everyone is quite content to point out that these people -meaning the blacks -will be free when they are ready to run their own affairs in their own areas. What more could they possibly hope for?

But these are not the people we are concerned with. We are concerned with that curious bunch of nonconformists who explain their participation in negative terms: that bunch of do-gooders that goes under all sorts of names -liberals, leftists etc. These are the people who argue that they are not responsible for white racism and the country’s “inhumanity to the black man”. These are the people who claim that they too feel the oppression just as acutely as the blacks and therefore should be jointly involved in the black man’s struggle for a place under the sun. In short, these are the people who say that they have black souls wrapped up in white skins.

The role of the white liberal in the black man’s history in South Africa is a curious one. Very few black organisations were not under white direction. True to their image, the white liberals always knew what was good for the blacks and told them so. The wonder of it all is that the black people have believed in them for so long. It was only at the end of the 50s that the blacks started demanding to be their own guardians.

Nowhere is the arrogance of the liberal ideology demonstrated so well as in their insistence that the problems of the country can only be solved by a bilateral approach involving both black and white. This has, by and large, come to be taken in all seriousness as the modus operandi in South Africa by all those who claim they would like a change in the status quo. Hence the multiracial political organisations and parties and the “nonracial” student organisations, all of which insist on integration not only as an end goal but also as a means.

The integration they talk about is first of all artificial in that it is a response to conscious manoeuvre rather than to the dictates of the inner soul. In other words the people forming the integrated complex have been extracted from various segregated societies with their in- built complexes of superiority and inferiority and these continue to manifest themselves even in the “nonracial” set-up of the integrated complex. As a result the integration so achieved is a one-way course, with the whites doing all the talking and the blacks the listening. Let me hasten to say that I am not claiming that segregation is necessarily the natural order; however, given the facts of the situation where a group experiences privilege at the expense of others, then it becomes obvious that a hastily arranged integration cannot be the solution to the problem. It is rather like expecting the slave to work together with the slave-master’s son to remove all the conditions leading to the former’s enslavement. Secondly, this type of integration as a means is almost always unproductive. The participants waste lots of time in an internal sort of mudslinging designed to prove that A is more of a liberal than B. In other words the lack of common ground for solid identification is all the time manifested in internal strifes inside the group.

It will not sound anachronistic to anybody genuinely interested in real integration to learn that blacks are asserting themselves in a society where they are being treated as perpetual under-16s. One does not need to plan for or actively encourage real integration. Once the various groups within a given community have asserted themselves to the point that mutual respect has to be shown then you have the ingredients for a true and meaningful integration. At the heart of true integration is the provision for each man, each group to rise and attain the envisioned self. Each group must be able to attain its style of existence without encroaching on or being thwarted by another. Out of this mutual respect for each other and complete freedom of self-determination there will obviously arise a genuine fusion of the life-styles of the various groups. This is true integration.

From this it becomes clear that as long as blacks are suffering from inferiority complex -a result of 300 years of deliberate oppression, denigration and derision -they will be useless as co-architects of a normal society where man is nothing else but man for his own sake. Hence what is necessary as a prelude to anything else that may come is a very strong grass-roots build-up of black consciousness such that blacks can learn to assert themselves and stake their rightful claim.

Thus in adopting the line of a nonracial approach, the liberals are playing their old game. They are claiming a “monopoly on intelligence and moral judgement” and setting the pattern and pace for the realisation of the black man’s aspirations. They want to remain in good books with both the black and white worlds. They want to shy away from all forms of “extremisms”, condemning “white supremacy” as being just as bad as “Black Power!”. They vacillate be- tween the two worlds, verbalising all the complaints of the blacks beautifully while skillfully extracting what suits them from the exclusive pool of white privileges. But ask them for a moment to give a concrete meaningful programme that they intend adopting, then you will see on whose side they really are. Their protests are directed at and appeal to white conscience, everything they do is directed at finally convincing the white electorate that the black man is also a man and that at some future date he should be given a place at the white man’s table.

The myth of integration as propounded under the banner of liberal ideology must be cracked and killed because it makes people believe that something is being done when in actual fact the artificial integrated circles are a soporific on the blacks and provide a vague satisfaction for the guilty-stricken whites. It works on a false premise that because it is difficult to bring people from different races together in this country, therefore achievement of this is in itself a step forward towards the total liberation of the blacks. Nothing could be more irrelevant and therefore misleading. Those who believe in it are living in a fool’s paradise.

First the black-white circles are almost always a creation of white liberals. As a testimony to their claim of complete identification with the blacks, they call a few “intelligent and articulate” blacks to “come around for tea at home”, where all present ask each other the same old hackneyed question “how can we bring about change in South Africa?” The more such tea-parties one calls the more of a liberal he is and the freer he shall feel from the guilt that harnesses and binds his conscience. Hence he moves around his white circles – whites-only hotels, beaches, restaurants and cinemas -with a lighter load, feeling that he is not like the rest of the others. Yet at the back of his mind is a constant reminder that he is quite comfortable as things stand and therefore should not bother about change. Although he does not vote for the Nats (now that they are in the majority anyway), he feels quite secure under the protection offered by the Nats and subconsciously shuns the idea of a change. This is what demarcates the liberal from the black world. The liberals view the oppression of blacks as a problem that has to be solved, an eye sore spoiling an otherwise beautiful view. From time to time the liberals make themselves forget about the problem or take their eyes off the eyesore. On the other hand, in oppression the blacks are experiencing a situation from which they are unable to escape at any given moment. Theirs is a struggle to get out of the situation and not merely to solve a peripheral problem as in the case of the liberals. This is why blacks speak with a greater sense of urgency than whites’.

A game at which the liberals have become masters is that of deliberate evasiveness. The question often comes up “what can I do?”. If you ask him to do something like stopping to use segregated facilities or dropping out of varsity to work at menial jobs like all blacks or defying and denouncing all provisions that make him privileged, you always get the answer -”but that’s unrealistic!”. While this may be true, it only serves to illustrate the fact that no matter what a white man does, the colour of his skin -his passport to privilege -will always put him miles ahead of the black man. Thus in the ultimate analysis no white person can escape being part of the oppressor camp.

“~here exists among men, because they are men, a solidarity through which each shares responsibility for every injustice and every wrong committed in the world, and especially for crimes that are committed in his presence or of which he cannot be ignorant”.

This description of “metaphysical guilt” explains adequately that white racism “is only possible because whites are indifferent to suffering and patient with cruelty” meted out to the black man. Instead of involving themselves in an all-out attempt to stamp out racism from their white society ,liberals waste lots of time trying to prove to as many blacks as they can find that they are liberal. This arises out of the false belief that we are faced with a black problem. There is nothing the matter with blacks. The problem is WHITE RACISM and it rests squarely on the laps of the white society. The sooner the liberals realise this the better for us blacks. Their presence amongst us is irksome and of nuisance value. It removes the focus of attention from essentials and shifts it to ill-defined philosophical concepts that are both irrelevant to the black man and merely a red herring across the track. White liberals must leave blacks to take care of their own business while they concern themselves with the real evil in our society-white racism.

Secondly, the black-white mixed circles are static circles with neither direction nor programme. The same questions are asked and the same naivete exhibited in answering them. The real concern of the group is to keep the group going rather than being useful. In this sort of set-up one sees a perfect example of what oppression has done to the blacks. They have been made to feel inferior for so long that for them it is comforting to drink tea, wine or beer with whites who seem to treat them as equals. This serves to boost up their own ego to the extent of making them feel slightly superior to those blacks who do not get similar treatment from whites. These are the sort of blacks who are a danger to the community.

Instead of directing themselves at their black brothers and looking at their common problems from a common platform they choose to sing out their lamentations to an apparently sympathetic audience that has become proficient in saying the chorus of “shame!”. These dull-witted, self-centred blacks are in the ultimate analysis as guilty of the arrest of progress as their white friends for it is from such groups that the theory of gradualism emanates and this is what keeps the blacks confused and always hoping that one day God will step down from heaven to solve their problems. It is people from such groups who keep on scanning the papers daily to detect any sign of the change they patiently await without working for. When Helen Suzman’s* majority is increased by a couple of thousands, this is regarded as a major milestone in the “inevitable change”. Nobody looks at the other side of the coin -the large-scale removals of Afri- cans from the urban areas or the impending zoning of places like Grey Street in Durban and a myriad of other manifestations of change for the worse.

Does this mean that I am against integration? If by integration you understand a breakthrough into white society by blacks, an assimilation and acceptance of blacks into an already established set of norms and code of behaviour set up by and maintained by whites, then YES I am against it. I am against the superior-inferior white- black stratification that makes the white a perpetual teacher and the black a perpetual pupil (and a poor one at that). I am against the intellectual arrogance of white people that makes them believe that white leadership is a sine qua non in this country and that whites are the divinely appointed pace-setters in progress. I am against the fact that a settler minority should impose an entire system of values on an indigenous people.

If on the other hand by integration you mean there shall be free participation by all members of a society, catering for the full expression of the self in a freely changing society as determined by the will of the people, then I am with you. For one cannot escape the fact that the culture shared by the majority group in any given society must ultimately determine the broad direction taken by the joint culture of that society. This need not cramp the style of those who feel differently but on the whole, a country in Africa, in which the majority of the people are African must inevitably exhibit African values and be truly African in style.

What of the claim that the blacks are becoming racists? This is a favourite pastime of frustrated liberals who feel their trusteeship. At that time, and for many years, the only Progressive Party MP. Editor’s note. ground being washed off from under their feet. These self-appointed trustees of black interests boast of years of experience in their fight for the ‘rights of the blacks’. They have been doing things for blacks, on behalf of blacks, and because of blacks. When the blacks announce that the time has come for them to do things for themselves and all by themselves all white liberals shout blue murder!

“Hey, you can’t do that. You’re being a racist. You’re falling into their trap.” Apparently it’s alright with the liberals as long as you remain caught by their trap. Those who know, define racism as discrimination by a group against another for the purposes of subjugation or maintaining subjugation. In other words one cannot be a racist unless he has the power to subjugate. What blacks are doing is merely to respond to a situation in which they find themselves the objects of white racism. We are in the position in which we are because of our skin. We are collectively segregated against -what can be more logical than for us to respond as a group? When workers come together under the auspices of a trade union to strive for the betterment of their conditions, nobody expresses surprise in the Western world. It is the done thing. Nobody accuses them of separatist tendencies. Teachers fight their battles, garbagemen do the same, nobody acts as a trustee for another. Somehow, however, when blacks want to do their thing the liberal establishment seems to detect an anomaly. This is in fact a counter-anomaly. The anomaly was there in the first instance when the liberals were presumptuous enough to think that it behoved them to fight the battleforthe blacks.

The liberal must understand that the days of the Noble Savage are gone; that the blacks do not need a go-between in this struggle for their own emancipation. No true liberal should feel any resentment at the growth of black consciousness. Rather, all true liberals should realise that the place for their fight for justice is within their white society. The liberals must realise that they themselves are oppressed if they are true liberals and therefore they must fight for their own freedom and not that of the nebulous “they” with whom they can hardly claim identification. The liberal must apply himself with absolute dedication to the idea of educating his white brothers that the history of the country may have to be rewritten at some stage and that we may live in “a country where colour will not serve to put a man in a box”. The.blacks have heard enough of this. In other words, the Liberal must serve as a lubricating material so that as we change gears in trying to find a better direction for South Africa, there should be no grinding noises of metal against metal but a free and easy flowing movement which will be characteristic of a well-looked -after vehicle.

Frank Talk

By Stephen Biko

first published on the web here: http://www.blackstate.com/sbiko1.html

July 7, 2014

talking out loud @national arts festival

Filed under: andile mngxitama,politics — ABRAXAS @ 5:53 pm


4 assholes @thinkfest – a lot of hot air and little else

Filed under: andile mngxitama,politics — ABRAXAS @ 12:14 pm

Screen shot 2014-07-07 at 12.11.25 PM

first published here: http://thinkfest.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/from-how-do-you-do-to-fu/

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