July 14, 2016

Filed under: politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 10:28 pm


July 12, 2016

MOHAMMAD SHABANGU on Language and Exclusion at Stellenbosch University

Filed under: 2016 - Opening Stellenbosch,politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 12:44 pm


I should begin with a few opening remarks which will, I hope, anchor my overall argument as it relates to Language and Transformation at Stellenbosch University. Firstly, in response to the emerging critique following the memorandum of grievances and demands which was handed to the vice chancellor, it will be difficult to address some apparently ‘significant’ concerns since they are informed, however unconsciously, by apartheid era epistemic procedures which have always served to construct taxonomic racial and cultural diagrams. One such concern, often highlighted by those eager to jettison the ethico-politcal dimension of our argument, has to do with what is seen as ostensibly a paradox: ‘there is an amorphous number of black people who are also Afrikaans speakers’, therefore your demands are inattentive to the needs of many black students at Stellenbosch. Far from being a neutral objection to our demand for language reform, this argument, if that is what it is, reflects a profound and hurtful blindness to white supremacy. That is to say, such a contention simply gestures towards an inability to develop a critical vocabulary that can capture the mutating forms of racism in our post-apartheid context. A contrastive analogy, fanciful as it might seem, would be the post-Marikana debates which took place in many middle class circles shortly after the 34 striking miners were massacred in 2012. The assertion in these circles (black and white alike) was that, because the miners died under the watch of a black government, at the instruction of black police commissioners, at the hands of mostly black police men and women, the massacre cannot possibly be a racial issue, and we should therefore not conceive of it as such (it was seldom framed in racial terms). The simplistic reason: because there were black people involved in the incident, the racial and racist dimension of the episode can be set aside. This logic is clearly flawed and conveniently disavows the social determinations of human life together with the specificities of our racial past. On a far less visceral level, the objection to our demand for language reform takes on the same illogical thought pattern: because an amorphous number of black people are involved in instrumentalising Afrikaans, the charge of racism against the university and its language policy can be set aside, and the debate conceived of in neutral linguistic terms. As if to suggest that if x amount of blacks participate in a system, their mere participation indicates an ‘open’ ‘non-racist’ space. Time limitations preclude my going into detail about this logical fallacy, suffice to say that just because there are black people who speak Afrikaans, an obvious fact not even worth noting, it does not mean that Language (Afrikaans language in particular) does not function as an exclusionary tool at Stellenbosch University.

Now, no right thinking person can deny that Stellenbosch is a space of deeply entrenched structural and institutional racism and patriarchy. So, the language question cannot be separated from the question of ethis, and ethics in turn cannot be conceived of outside of the process of developing democratic intuitions. When talking about the language issue, we – members of Open Stellenbosch – are driven by a will to social justice. To attend to this, we are working together to bring about critical change at Stellenbosch University, a change that can only be realised by addressing the language question. OS is an anti-racist, anti-sexist, non-partisan movement that recognises our location in the belly of the beast of Neo-apartheid infrastructure.

I should begin by highlighting an obvious fact, that is, the idea that the post-apartheid present is mediated by historical discourse. If Language is itself the bearer of discourse, then it is also central to ideology. Language, both as a means of communication as well as a process of meaning making, can be and has been manipulated to subjugate black people in general. The typical conception of collective and individual power dynamics, a way of understanding ones existence as arising ex nihilo, creates a false history which further implies that ‘cultures’ and peoples are at different places on the timeline when, in truth, they are merely different. And one way the university has successfully managed to minoritise blacks is by presenting Afrikaans as ‘a developed academic language’, in contradistinction to Xhosa, for instance, an indigenous language still needing to be systematised, or invested with scientific and academic value. Apart from the absurd notion that systematising indigenous languages is an unquestioned good, this discursive strategy nevertheless works well for Afrikaner nationalists. Hence, I want to suggest that we commit ourselves to unlearning the naturalised and commonsensical ways of accounting for disenfranchised groups. To this extent, we must refute the notions of ‘diversity’ or ‘inclusivity’, in favour of comprehensive Transformation of the space sine the concept of ‘inclusivity’ relegates black people to mere appendages of a white, specifically Afrikaner dominant culture and mode of being. I’ll explain this further as it relates to language: The idea of diversity, of languges, of people, and of class and various other subject formations, belongs to the terrain of cultural studies within which the discourse of ‘minorities’ is located. The language policy, the discourse about diversity to which it gestures, may in fact be complicit with the minoritisation of cultures in, and people at, SU. By rethinking some of Homi Bhabha’s early formulations in postcolonial subject formation, I want to relocate culture within the diversifying processes and therefore highlight the benefit of historicising the discursive construction of social reality which is in turn reified in the form of the policy. I want, thus, to advance and develop the late twentieth century proposition that such historicism is only possible if one “relocate[s] the referential and institutional demands of such theoretical work in the field of cultural difference – not cultural diversity” (Bhabha’s italics, 32). If Transformation is a true objective of the institution, then this distinction between difference and diversity must be accentuated and accounted for in the language policy. It is important for my undertaking since ‘cultural diversity’ is concerned with epistemological objects and is therefore constituted by treating culture as “an object of imperial knowledge” (34). Hence, the usefulness of cultural difference within cultural studies (in contrast to cultural diversity) is that difference, in fact, lies in the very idea that the enunciation of cultural difference “problematizes the binary division of past and present, tradition and modernity” (35) and so forth, and therefore disrupts the very homogenising symbols that one will find in ‘cultural diversity’: the idea of a fixed and single ‘community’ or a stable system of reference. . I am suggesting here that we move our attention elsewhere in search for an opportunity to rethink our understanding of Transformation more generally, so that we think of it as has having to do less with notions of inclusivity or any comparable compensatory gesture, but Transformation as beginning with the work un learning our epistemological procedures, and doing the ethical act of giving up our privilege (white, male, heterosexual and any other positions of domination) in order to create the enabling conditions for a spontaneous abrupt kind of newness in the space. Such a newness is characterised by co-ownership of the space.

As far as language, then, black people do not want to be taken in by the narrative of inclusivity, because such a narrative, by the very definition of the term ‘inclusive’ reaffirms the position of white power by establishing a minority/ majority dichotomy which itself is a distortion of reality in South Africa. Once we see Transformation functioning to as undo this insidious myth, ‘inclusivity’ (as well as the resultant fallacies of it; multilingualism etc.) falls away and the space is cleared for the emergence of true reconciliatory work. I mention this, however inchoate, because it seems to me that the university has consistently talked about transformation in quantitative terms that have been negligent of the material realities and lived experiences of black people at Stellenbosch

Now, taking the language policy as a point of departure, we are fighting for substantive and comprehensive Transformation which is attuned to the lived experiences of black people, a political category which for us is not only a matter of pigmentation, but also includes those people who have a shared experience of discrimination and dehumanisation in this space. We challenge the privileging of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, not simply on the grounds that it is necessary if we are to bear the full fruit of ‘inclusivity’, but on the grounds that it belies the university’s own vision statement. In addition, the university is largely funded by a post-apartheid and democratic South African state which means that it is thus intended – inherently – to be a public space. It follows that such a space should be one to which all students should feel able to lay equal claim. We have noted how the privileging of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction translates itself to a privileging beyond the classroom. It extends into the social fabric of our residences and other shared spaces, wherein black people are consequently marginalised and maligned

It is interesting too that management’s response to our movement has thus far been predictable: defend Afrikaans as the language of instruction by insisting on ‘multilingualism’ and repeating that the use of Afrikaans as a primary medium of instruction is constitutionally valid. Ironically, the University Council, the Vice Chancellor and Vice Rector, who are supposedly key overseers of transformation, have failed to recognise that the achievement of equality is one of the founding values of the Constitution. The right to equality is entrenched in section 9 of the Constitution. This right is elaborated on in the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA).

We have noted that the problem with the University’s current approach to Transformation has to do with a deliberate equivocation of key terminology, a convenient mistake on the part of management. For instance, their uncritical understanding of ‘racism’ is taken to mean different things at different times. This equivocation works well for those who do not recognise the need to account for the injustices of the past. Such people will often claim that any differentiation on the basis of race should be deemed ‘racist’. Related to that, what is also often conflated is the distinction between direct and indirect discrimination. Indirect discrimination can, and often does, amount to unfair discrimination. Indirect discrimination as exemplified by the language policy, includes any discrimination which is framed in terms of ostensibly neutral criteria, but that none the less has the effect of marginalising a particular group. In a landmark case on indirect discrimination is the Constitutional Court, the decision in City Council of Pretoria v Walker, was properly summed up Langa DP in noting that he problem with cases of indirect discrimination is that “there is almost always some purpose other than a discriminatory purpose involved in the conduct or action to which objection is taken”. As far as Stellenbosch University is concerned, that purpose is said to be the ‘protection’ of the language rights of the Afrikaans minority. The calculated actions of the university amount to the protection, not of Afrikaans culture, but of the white Afrikaans culture. Staff demographics are the most striking and measurable indication of this, but they are by no accounts the only indication.

From its inception, Open Stellenbosch has impressed on the student body the simple message that we wish to hear their stories. “I remember sitting in a lecture once, when a student raised her hand to clarify something with the lecturer in English.” So begins one of the hundreds of stories that have been sent to Open Stellenbosch. What the student describes next is a several minute long monologue in which the girl was personally attacked for having even dared to ask the question: “You people come to our university, and then expect us to change!?”

The stories that are the most revealing are often more subtle. One student recalls that way his lecturer, while following the language policy, would none the less make all of his jokes in Afrikaans. Jokes told in this way are not funny – they are a sign of the systematic exclusion of black students and, through that exclusion, a way of securing white Afrikaner culture which was founded and since kept in place through symbolic, systemic and physical violence in the present.

Filed under: 2016 - Opening Stellenbosch,politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 12:36 pm


June 28, 2016

jim haynes – workers of the world unite and stop working!

Filed under: philosophy,politics — ABRAXAS @ 8:32 am


June 23, 2016

Sabelo Dludla on the South African “nation”

Filed under: politics,race,sabelo dludla — ABRAXAS @ 6:08 am


June 13, 2016

Rato Midfrequency on Nelson Mandela

Filed under: politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 8:49 am


June 10, 2016

Pastor Xola Skosana declares war

Filed under: politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 5:11 pm


first published here: http://blackopinion.co.za/2016/06/10/take-battle-spaces-privilege/

June 9, 2016


Filed under: politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 4:31 pm

We are an independent collective of students who have come together with the aim of subverting white supremacy and institutional racism at UCT. This movement was catalysed by Chumani Maxwele’s radical protest action against the statue of Cecil John Rhodes on Monday the 9th of March. This has brought to the surface the existing and justified rage of black students in the white supremacist space which is cultivated and maintained by UCT, despite its rhetoric of ‘transformation’. In our belief, the experiences seeking to be addressed by this movement are not unique to an elite institution such as UCT, but rather reflect broader dynamics of a racist society that has remained unchanged since the end of formal apartheid.

This movement is not just about the removal of a statue. The statue has great symbolic power – it is a glorifying monument to a man who was undeniably a racist, imperialist, colonialist, and misogynist. It stands at the centre of what supposedly is the ‘greatest university in Africa’. This presence, which represents South Africa’s history of dispossession and exploitation of black people, is an act of violence against black students, workers and staff. The statue is therefore the perfect embodiment of black alienation and disempowerment at the hands of UCT’s institutional culture, and was the natural starting point of this movement. The removal of the statue will not be the end of this movement, but rather the beginning of the decolonisation of the university.


At the root of this struggle is the dehumanisation of black people at UCT. This dehumanisation is a violence exacted only against black people by a system that privileges whiteness. Our definition of black includes all racially oppressed people of colour. We adopt this political identity not to disregard the huge differences that exist between us, but precisely to interrogate them, identify their roots in the divide-and-conquer tactics of white supremacy, and act in unity to bring about our collective liberation. It is therefore crucial that this movement flows from the black voices and black pain that have been continuously ignored and silenced.

We want to state that we adopt an unequivocally intersectional approach to our struggle against racism. An intersectional approach takes into account that we, as black people, experience different forms of oppressions. Our understanding of race is informed by recognising other forms of oppressions such as gender, sexuality, disability, and class, so that no one should have to choose between their struggles.

With regard to white involvement, we refer to Biko:

“What I have tried to show is that in South Africa, political power has always rested with white society. Not only have the whites been guilty of being on the offensive but, by some skilful manoeuvres, they have managed to control the responses of the blacks to the provocation. Not only have they kicked the black but they have also told him how to react to the kick. For a long time the black has been listening with patience to the advice he has been receiving on how best to respond to the kick. With painful slowness he is now beginning to show signs that it is his right and duty to respond to the kick in the way he sees fit.”

We support the White Privilege Project and encourage white students to engage with that. They can contribute through conscientising their own community on campus. We also welcome their participation in radical action as a sign of solidarity, so long as that participation takes place on our terms.


In line with our positions, we reject the policing of the responses of black students to their violent experiences. We want to add that we feel that the Constitution’s conception of racism is fundamentally racist because it presupposes that racism is a universal experience, thus normalising the suffering of those who actually experience racism.

“A derivation from the word ‘race’ is ‘racism’. The mere definition of the word race does not amount to racism. Racism is a set of attitudes and social mores which devalue one race in order to empower another, as well as the material power to deploy those values in the devaluation or destruction of the lives of the devalued race. Therefore those at the receiving end of racism cannot be racists. They may develop counter values which despise racists, but precisely because of racism, they lack the material power to implement those values” – Yvette Abrahams, UWC Women and Gender Studies Department.

The Constitution’s conception of racism has systematically been used to deter irrepressible urges by black South Africans to challenge racism and violence. An example of this was the Human Rights Commission ruling against the Forum for Black Journalists, when white journalists were banned from the organisation in February 2008 and this was declared unconstitutional and racist. An examination of South Africa’s political history reveals the necessity for black people to organise to the exclusion of white people in the fight against racism.

It is laughable that UCT has a building named after Biko, when Biko himself said “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 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?”

We have noted that the UCT SRC has supported this movement, and we welcome their solidarity and appreciate the strong stance they have taken. However, we are wary of the contradictions inherent in the SRC taking up such a cause. Given that they are a structure specifically designed to work with management, having them lead puts this movement in a compromised position in which we would have to negotiate with management on their terms. To be clear, we see SRC involvement and support as crucial in this movement, but believe leadership and direction must come from students themselves. Any attempt by the SRC to co-opt the movement will thus be rejected.


We find the way in which UCT management has ‘engaged’ with this movement to be disingenuous. At no point have we been engaged directly by management. Management has responded to various media houses and has made attempts to isolate individuals from within the movement to divide us. Black outsourced workers are used to deal with protests, despite their own exploitation at the hands of the same institution, whilst management keeps itself unseen. Their releasing of statements reflects the way in which the university prioritises pacifying public opinion and defending its public image over the interests of its own black students. Our expectation is that management makes a genuine attempt at meeting with us, on our terms, which involves the removal of investigations that frame us as criminals. Meaningful engagement cannot happen if one party is under duress.

We also find it infuriating that management is attempting to open up a process of debate through their ‘Have Your Say’ campaign. Alumni have been emailed and asked for input, and notice boards have been put up near the statue to allow for comment from the broader student body. This is not meaningful engagement of black students by management, and in fact shows a complete disregard for the black experience. Management is making clear that they are not interested in alleviating black pain unless the move to do so is validated by white voices. It is absurd that white people should have any say in whether the statue should stay or not, because they can never truly empathise with the profound violence exerted on the psyche of black students. Our pain and anger is at the centre of why the statue is being questioned, so this pain and anger must be responded to in a way that only we can define. It must be highlighted that the push for dialogue around the statue reflects the disturbing normalisation of colonisation and white supremacy at UCT. That the presence of Rhodes is seen as debatable shows that management does not take seriously the terrible violence against black people historically and presently. Finally, it is revealing that while black protestors are threatened with and are facing investigations, the racist backlash from white students has been met with silence by the university.


Our immediate demands are that we receive a date for the removal of the statue from campus grounds, and that the university investigation of student protesters be withdrawn. We find it unacceptable that management has presented a date on which council will discuss the statue; we reject the notion that the university has any decision to make here. Our position is clear and will not be hampered by bureaucratic processes which management hides behind. Our pain should be the only factor taken into consideration, and therefore the statue’s removal from UCT must be a non-negotiable, inevitable outcome.
Our long-term goals include:

1. The removal of statues and plaques commemorating racists; The renaming of buildings from names of racist or average white people to black historical figures; The re-evaluation of artworks which exoticise Africa, poverty, and the black experience and are predominantly done by white artists; The recognition of suppressed black history relevant to the institution such as slave graves on campus, and black people who have contributed to the development of the university.

2. The implementation of an Afro-centric curriculum. By this we mean treating African discourses as the point of departure and only examining Western traditions in so far as they are relevant to our own experience; Financial and research support of black academics and staff; Radically changing the representation of black lecturers across faculties; Revising the limitations on access to senior positions for black academics.

3. An admissions policy which explicitly includes race and which prioritises black applicants; Improved academic support programs; A meaningful interrogation of why black students are most often at the brunt of academic exclusion; The development of an improved financial aid system; Improved facilities which deal with sexual assault, as well as facilities which help black students deal with the psychological trauma as a result of racism.

4. The end of victimisation and intimidation of workers; Challenging the system of outsourcing which diminishes UCT’s accountability towards workers and gives rise to worker vulnerability; The implementation of support structures for workers similar to those offered to students for sexual assault and mental health, as well as access to services dealing with labour, family and housing issues.

In solidarity,

The Rhodes Must Fall Student Movement
Posted 22nd March 2015 by Clifford Ncube

first published here: http://uncensoredvoice.blogspot.co.za/2015/03/uct-rhodes-must-fall-mission-statement.html

on the struggle

Filed under: philosophy,politics — ABRAXAS @ 10:51 am

I struggle to “talk” from the wound’s gash and pull the pieces of my life back together. The struggle has always been inner. Nothing happens in the “real” world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.
Gloria Anzaldua

June 3, 2016



May 24, 2016

the free black on fallism

Filed under: politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 7:00 am

Screen shot 2016-05-24 at 7.04.12 AM0

first published here: https://thefreeblack.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/damage-to-property-v-fallism-the-hypocrisy-within-the-movement/

May 23, 2016


Filed under: Mlungisi Ngubane,politics — ABRAXAS @ 2:25 pm

Screen shot 2016-05-23 at 2.33.10 PM

I am anxious, actually i am angry, livid. My soul is losing this battle.

My body is still fighting but for how long? My mind is with my body. But i need my soul ahhh, are the people of matsheni going to be evicted? How am i and my people going to live? Life is expensive for a black person?

Ahhh no! Food is expensive for a black soul, ohhh i have no soul. I am being dehumanized but the constitutional pillar which is the south African human rights commission is dehumanizing me, they told me “we can’t help you”…

We are going to surrender our souls to crime now, my mind is objecting to this, my body is rich the sun or encroaching it private position – because it is boiling.

I know i am a human, i tried living like one, the law “human right” said i am not human enough to work at the matsheni premises. I am not the “human” who must work there, i must pay rent for working that my father’s land – mind you i am from umngungundlovu district, at msunduzi municipality which has a national and global norm of a gigantic animal which is not only a companion, but a family that we can’t abandon by law we have to be poor (if the law see it optimal that we leave the black market)

and it’s a fact, the only reasonable conclusion to rid ourselves from the oppressive majors of poverty is by violating the haves.

The haves are the black working middle class or the minimum earning black race, we can’t reach to whites they are far from us, so we take from the opulent blacks around us by force, we are dehumanized so we expect no human behaviour from this unhurtung human, the means to rid ourselves of poverty are violent and vicious.

Fanon says; violence is man recreating himself, so how we re-create ourselves is displaced as andile mngxitama emphatically states. So we are not recreating if we not waging that war to whites who are dehumanizing us.. We just as Willie lynch said this (making of a slave) will refuel it self, it will regenerate it self.

We are on our own – as biko had envisaged.

May 20, 2016

GHAIRO DANIELS on the predicament of the black middle class elites

Filed under: politics — ABRAXAS @ 4:48 pm


NTOKOZO QWABE after the no tipping point

Filed under: politics — ABRAXAS @ 4:39 pm


university of fort hare

Filed under: politics — ABRAXAS @ 4:33 pm


May 18, 2016

civil war soon?

Filed under: politics — ABRAXAS @ 10:51 pm


the no tipping point has been reached

Filed under: politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 10:49 pm


April 24, 2016

Jesús Sepúlveda – The Garden of Peculiarities

Filed under: Jesus sepulveda,philosophy,politics — ABRAXAS @ 6:04 pm


Efficiency is inflexible. An automatic collector on the bus processes only exact change to print a ticket; otherwise, it does not work, and it invalidates the operation. The automatic teller buzzes at a wrong button pushed and rejects the plastic card. This is the logic of efficiency, or the reason of inflexibility. In the same way, being indecisive is a sign of inefficiency, which marks and burns with the stain of the flexible.

The sap that flows through nature spreads without a stable base of identity. Rather it flows spontaneously, precipitately. It does not reproduce itself identically, and it rejects the molds of mechanization. This fluid is in constant movement. While the river runs, its particles have no possible replica. In this way, freezing a single drop, isolating it from the general flow, is an act against nature. cloning nature in order to pour its double into a test tube is a reifying act. Nature is peculiarity itself and is fragile like every snowflake. Its spirit is flexible. The logic of standardization articulates itself instead through the mechanisms of efficiency. An experiment cannot make itself flexible; it requires a stable pattern that must be tested under inflexible conditions and coordinates. Life flows in an organic way, like the sap of plants; it is not a laboratory experiment under scientific control. On the contrary, it flowers with the flexibility of a bud. Sap waters the world through each one of its peculiarities. Efficiency negates nature, given that it tries to impose a control panel over the garden, which sprouts spontaneously and organically. Efficiency expands and colonizes, ignoring all peculiarity Because of this, its function is to construct categories that operate with the logic of taxonomic standardization. Thus it differentiates and creates sets while it negates the differences in these same sets, which cannot resist the light and organicity of their own peculiarities.

Reality is a garden of peculiarities forged from a constellation of other peculiarities, which at the same time disperse themselves in their own universe to the rhythm of the sap that flows and flowers. The fluid does not organize itself nor does it represent itself. It is only a flow. Everything that inhabits it is part of its own organicity, which grows in the constant movement of each unique and unrepeatable constellation. The organicity of change—which sometimes expresses itself like bubbles in boiling water— surfaces when humans concentrate their energy— which becomes self-reflexive consciousness— and corrects the course of daily events. But organicity is also natural and independent of consciousness. For example, global warming, caused by human technology, will make the planet cool down to counteract the frightening and artificial heat of fossil fuels. This will cause floods, tsunamis and even the disappearance of coastal population centers. To not understand this is to alienate oneself from the course of life that flows between each and every one of us. It is to fall into reification, that is to say, into the logic that situates subjects like dead matter in a control panel. This is the panel that turns the mechanized system on and off, negating with its measured tic-tac the permanent course of life.

April 22, 2016


Filed under: politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 12:43 pm

Athabile Nonxuba ‪#‎FeesMustFall‬ Interview

1. Who is Athabile and what defines you, tell us your life story?

Athabile Nonxuba is my name, I am a 23-year-old Public Policy and Administration student and was among the first group of students who defaced the statue of Cecil John Rhodes on the University of Cape Town main campus. The defacing of this statute sparked the ‪#‎RhodesMustFall‬ movement a year ago. I decided to attend UCT because it offered the best financial aid package of the two universities that vied for me when I finished high school. I live in the Cape Town township of Delft but hail from the Eastern Cape in a village called Centane. It was in high school that I realised that my family history and personal beliefs meant that I was, am and always will be, a Pan-Africanist. I am currently the founding chairperson of the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA) at the University Of Cape Town. My life is a form of protest and black pain is the nightmare that keeps me on my knees. This pain has also urged me to live a life based on serving my people with love and passion. In the pursuit of this, I founded the “Let’s Build Institutions” NGO. This organisation unites descendents of democracy, who have entered South Africa’s education system, and subsequently experienced its inadequacies. “Let’s Build Institutions” calls upon critical thinkers, the owners of resources, those dissatisfied with the neglect which children face at school, and those who are passionate about inclusive education and access to facilities for all, to aid in the building of institutions in South Africa’s most socio-economically handicapped communities.

2. What is your vision in the next 10 years?

I hope to see Africa liberated and united. I hope to see African people taking back their land, their God-given gift, and thus restoring their dignity. It is my dream that, in the next 10 years, we will form an African government. This would be a government by Africans for Africans, within which we are vested with full ownership of the continent, all the way from the Cape to Cairo, and Morocco to Madagascar. I dream of a world that is full of love for all humans, regardless of race, class and gender. I dream of a society that does not normalise and glorify the abuse of women and children. I wish to see the ideas of Professor Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe manifest; “an Africa reborn, an Africa rejuvenated, an Africa recreated, a young Africa.”

3. In your opinion, what is the bigger narrative behind #FEESMUSTFALL ? Is it merely a movement about fees? (please expand as far as possible)

For centuries, universities have been sites of white supremacy and opulence. In 2015, for the first time, black working class students disrupted this privilege by bringing their lived experiences to the fore. On the 9th of March 2015, Chumani Maxwele threw human faeces at the statue of the colonial master, Cecil John Rhodes. Together with other UCT students, I joined the #RhodesMustFall movement. Out of this, the philosophy of Fallism was developed. This philosophy recognises the collective suffering of African people and attempts to assist them in reclaiming their dignity from Europeans. Fallism involves a commitment to the decolonial project and attempts to expel European imperialism from the African continent. The calls for the expulsion of European history from the intellectual and ideological cultures at universities are an example of Fallism. Fallism is a philosophy which caters to all Africans regardless of political affiliation. It is a response to the continued domination of society by European ideals. #FeesMustFall is the economic wing of the decolonial project and calls for free, quality, socialist education.

#FeesMustFall provides immediate support to poor African children and hopes for free or subsidised education in the midterm. The ultimate goal, however, is free, Socialist education. Free education and Socialist education are separate concepts. Socialist education cannot be realised while the rest of society is governed by capitalism. Socialist education emphasises the needs of the oppressed. Capitalism, on the other hand, caters for the needs of the few at the expense of the exploited black majority. The current education system places the burden of paying for education on the over-exploited working class. This is a form of racism as education is guaranteed to those who can afford it. These are the same people who already own the means of production. We believe that education is a right and not a privilege.

#FeesMustFall structured its demands by addressing both the National Question and the Local Question. On a national level, the movement appeals to the ANC government to implement free education, from primary to tertiary level, as they promised to do in 1994. This would mean that no person would have to experience the trauma of financial exclusion. Locally, #FeesMustFall calls on tertiary institutions to do everything within their power to commit to the movement’s cause. This would involve the universities taking the following action:

1) Releasing all degrees despite the degree-holders being unable to pay their fees;

2) Allowing all financially excluded students to return to university;

3) Cancelling outstanding student debts which prevent students from reregistering;

4) Assuring that there will be no more financial exclusions from 2016 onwards;

5) Cancelling all registration fees from 2016 onwards; 6) Reforming of the NSFAS policies.

The student struggle is inherently linked with the struggle of university workers. We have called upon universities to ‪#‎EndOutsourcing‬. This is because we are the children of workers and as such, when our parents are outsourced, we are too. We completely reject capitalism as it treats African people as commodities and emphasises profit over human dignity.

– Athabile Nonxuba

originally published as a facebook post
re-published here with kind permission of bond plaatjie

April 21, 2016

DAVID FREEDBERG – From Defamation to Mutilation

Filed under: art,censorship,politics,zuma vs. murray: the spear — ABRAXAS @ 6:32 pm





FEZI MTHONTI on #RUreferencelist and the grammar of white feminsim

Filed under: politics,race,sex — ABRAXAS @ 9:05 am

There is no doubt in my mind that Mabizela is a deplorable man, but (and I mean this sincerely), he and his small cowardly management are acting in the direct lineage of Cecil John Rhodes.

Rhodes was a homophobe, a racist and crude capitalist obsessed with plunder and disposing of the black body. Rhodes was also deeply anti-intellectual, a fundamental feature of Rhodes University discourse at the moment.

That is why the grammar of white feminism is not helpful in our context right now. I’m not being race reductionist here, I mean the kind of feminism espoused by systemic white middle class actors who oppose the interventions of intersectionality and queer theory in their praxis.

None of these people are redeemable in my opinion. None. But we might need to think about how we move forward after this moment. How we quantify excellence from here on out and how we develop tools for justice.

first published as a Facebook post.
re-posted here with kind permission of the author.

April 19, 2016

DESMOND PAINTER on the language debate

Filed under: politics — ABRAXAS @ 11:55 am

One of the fascinating things about listening to liberal English speakers talk about language and plurilingualism at SA universities – usually expressed as exasperated gasps, vague statements about ‘the international world’ or ready-made accusations of ethnocentrism – is how what is essentially a deficit – the inability to lecture and function academically in more languages than English in a country that is plurilingual – is immediately treated as normative; something academics and especially students with more linguistic resources, more linguistic capital, should immediately conform to.

In what other context has the narrow self-interests of an entitled form of whiteness, bolstered by support from its cynical counterparts amongst the Afrikaner elite and its aspirational counterparts among the black elite, so successfully managed to present itself as revolutionary? As ‘in the interests of others’?

The point is not to keep this university Afrikaans or make that university isiZulu. The point is to think creatively about:

One, how to validate and employ the linguistic resources students and academics bring with them into the university system, rather than to devalidate it and narrowly link academic literacy and production to standard English. It should be possible for any student to do as much of their academic work as possible, or as much as they want to, in languages other than English. Why should we give up on this ideal simply because the academic elite is currently often monolingual?

Two, to create university spaces and experiences where increased plurilingualism – where we learn one another’s languages – is a normal and expected outcome. Where even English first language speakers will learn to speak other languages; and where this is not seen as a violation of their rights.

Third, to break with an elitist conception of knowledge production where only sterile participation in an ‘international community’ seems to count, and to understand that for the university, and for critical intellectual work, to be rooted in this country and its localised – but universalisable – struggles, operating also in local languages is more than just a bonus, it’s essential.

April 13, 2016

Jesús Sepúlveda on education and the state

Filed under: Jesus sepulveda,philosophy,politics — ABRAXAS @ 5:39 pm


The State exists because it territorializes itself. It builds itself through colonizing territorial expansion. This expansion comes about through the forced deterritorialization of the original inhabitants from the lands that the state has appropriated. This appropriation implies the mobilization of military force that the state can use to expand or maintain its territory. This has meant wars and genocide. But the state also has its experts to write history; they turn the facts around so as to justify their atrocities and obligate following generations to repeat the meaningless official litanies written by the experts.

Education, then, is nothing more than the institutionalization of disciplines of training and domestication, a training ground where children and adolescents are taught to perpetuate the dominant system. There they learn to give way to the dominant order and they begin the process of reification. On these parade grounds or schools of social indoctrination, the ideology that legitimates the system is reproduced. New members of society internalize a false consciousness, which inflates in them like a lung until everyone repeats with more or less success the same discourse. Its idea is that everyone says, dreams, and thinks that this is the best of all possible worlds. And if it has its faults, it doesn’t matter because they can be fixed. Thinking anything different is to be part of the anarchistic ranks, to go crazy or to call to insurrection. According to Adorno, standardization obliges the subject to choose between mercantilization or schizophrenia. There is no exit from this binary mold. In this society, preferring the garden to cement is seen with distrust. And depending on the political wind of the moment, this preference can cost one’s life. When the system breaks and sheep escape from the flock, prisons grow with criminal efficiency, as well as coups d’etat, raids, tear gas, repressive measures, war, etc. While all of this is occurring, the state rein forces its propaganda through radio, television and newspapers. And so the state materializes itself in the minds of individuals.

Nation states assemble their repressive apparati—police and military—to protect the transnationals and expand a lifestyle of standardization based on the reduction of humans into economic units of production and consumption. With this, a new kind of territorialization and labor slavery is produced. The technology and the goods that the global minority, dominant class uses are manufactured in sweatshops that operate with the logic of exploitation. Schools and factories are centers of control imposed by the state. In order to abolish the state, it is necessary to abolish factories and schools. The authoritarianism that the civilized order reproduces in these institutions is responsible for ethnic cleansing, political genocide, and social exploitation. In order to construct a work without hierarchies, jails, propaganda, or coups, it is necessary to sweep, away the state. And it depends on us to wipe it off the face of the earth.

April 12, 2016

MOHAMMAD SHABANGU – Precarious Silence: Decentering the Power of Whiteness in South Africa

Filed under: Mohammad Shabangu,politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 7:33 am

Unpacking the habits of “whiteness”, Mo Shabangu responds to Samantha Vice’s 2010 article “How 
do I live in this Strange Place?”. In so doing, he argues that Vice extends rather than unsettles the parameters of white entitlement.


Sometime before Samantha Vice published “How 
Do I Live in This Strange Place”, I had encountered and been moved by the narrator-protagonist of J.M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron – Mrs Curran – an old white woman living in interregnum South Africa. Mrs Curren, true to Vice’s proposition, feels a deep sense of shame as a result of her being a white woman in divided Cape Town. As she suffers from a terminal disease, the novel is in the form of a confessional letter which Mrs Curran writes to her daughter in America. In this letter, she exposes the meretricious role of the apartheid state and the condition of being white in post-apartheid South Africa.

It is important to stress that I proceed by reading Vice as a rationalist, who would sympathise with the Kantian philosophy of the individual.[1] This, it seems,
is by and large the liberal predisposition that favours a suspension of judgment upon encountering the Other, that to which one is different. It brings to mind the dichotomy that inevitably emerges when one considers the notion of the good and moral community. This idea has its roots in the Kantian philosophy which,
 on the one hand, privileges equal recognition on 
the basis of individuality and a form of autonomy that is capable of formulating neutral principals 
which lead to the construction of an enlightened community. On the other hand, the idea that cultural difference has to be recognised and acknowledged since, in our interactions with others, we habitually conceive of difference between communities by making use of stereotypes, thereby constituting our own communities oppositionally or dialectically and in relation or relative to the Other. It makes sense, then, that proponents of such a notion, premised on the need for recognition of cultural difference, would accuse the former Kantian conception (which is founded on equal dignity) of universalising its claims, since the notion of the individual or the celebration of reason is in itself a form of cultural particularity. What must be understood is that an individual is located in community, rather than somehow transcending it and, therefore, supposedly occupying a position that
 is instinctual and unmediated (326). Vice’s argument is that the white person should seek to redeem herself. Coetzee’s, through Mrs Curren, is different. One can only redeem oneself by forfeiting what one is, what one has been made to be by the social context in which one is located. One has to become other than what one is. In a sense, one has to die. In other words, his argument is not as self-directed as Vice’s, and this is because she adheres to the notion of an internal core of selfhood.

One of the main arguments that continues to permeate South African discourse around race is
 the notion that the country, having emerged from a debilitating system of institutionalised racism, has become a ‘home for all’, in which a dynamic ethico- politico equilibrium has been achieved, twenty years after democracy. This idea of inclusivity – first conceptualised by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as ‘the rainbow nation’- has become axiomatic in contemporary South Africa, where both black and white citizens claim a position in a country in which individuals and members of groups identify their similarities and differences as a means to unity. In what follows, I examine the manner in which this rainbowism has limited explanatory power in the
 face of empirical evidence in the form of the lived experiences of black people who come into contact with a white world, and South African non-whites[2] in particular, who continue to experience their blackness (non-whiteness) relative to a hegemonic whiteness.

In recalling critical conceptual frameworks within which the debates concerning race are conceived, particularly the Hegelian dialectic of ‘master’ and ‘slave’, I argue that black people in South Africa have been made to feel alienated by the white culture that has produced them. I take, as a point of departure, Samantha Vice’s “How Do I Live in This Strange Place?” and explore some of the appropriate reactions white people may have to shame, guilt and regret. I conclude that white South Africans need not feel guilty per se, but should rather convert any feelings of guilt towards an ethics of responsibility to the re- negotiation of the country’s image in an attempt to curtail the unfortunate experience that is the result of whiteness being rendered invisible. The suggestion, then, is that ‘whiteness’ as it stands has been, and continues to be, unmarked and transparent to white people themselves and that its ontology needs to become perceptible and recognised as a state of being that does not exist ex nihilo, but one that has been constructed in order to establish and maintain white supremacy. The two responses of ‘silence’ and ‘humility’ that Vice calls for, consequently, serve only to reinforce the invisibility upon which such white privilege is founded.



The thesis of the ‘need for recognition’ finds 
its relevance particularly where the construction 
of whiteness is concerned. Whiteness emerged, 
as Melissa Steyn correctly intuits, as a ‘master narrative’ long before European colonial expansion, when encounters with the ‘non-white’ world were cast merely in terms of difference, and not inferiority (4). However, the self-interest of European colonialists meant that they were “fiercely competing for the world’s economic spoils [and] recognised an identity in this competition which they baptised ‘white’ ” (5). Steyn suggests that the more European expansion and conquest prevailed, the more whitened Europeans became, developing “a common identity by using Africans as the main foil against which they defined themselves” (5). To risk stating the obvious, it is not only that is race a construct, but that it is one that has been established relationally. Steyn mentions how blackness and whiteness “can only be understood as a pair […] European colonists became white only
 in parallel with their identification of those they colonised as blacks” (5). This notion finds its roots 
in the Hegelian dialectic that aims to describe a specific form of human relation in which domination, and the power to define, have a central role to play. The dialectic takes the form of an analysis of the machinations of self-consciousness and delineates the manner in which the self can only become conscious of itself “by the presence of, and recognition of itself by an-other” (Villet 40). This process, however, must necessarily take place at the expense of the Other, thus Steyn comments: “whiteness brought the power to define both self and other, a power that whites could wield” (8). As Hegel pointed out, the dialectic must be understood as that moment in which the self becomes conscious of itself, “declaring itself as an ‘I'” and thereby negating and destroying the Other as an-other (Villet 40). Both the self and the other, then, engage in a process of self-consciousness which results in a relationship of strict opposition. The irony, of course, is that both the master and the slave are in need of each other’s recognition in order to exist and, subsequently, survive. This implies that, since the master:

[achieves] his recognition through another consciousness (the slave), and in so doing becomes dependent on the thing for his own self-consciousness [,..] the chains of the
 slave become that of the master as well. As a consequence, there exists no manner of freedom, only mutual enslavement to the thing. The slave is dependent on his thinghood and thus on his definition as the thing by the master. (41)


This irony, as Steyn mentions, can also be analysed in terms of the Lacanian split subject, or Derridian deconstruction, but the end result will be the same – the (psychological) dependence of “the oppressor on the oppressed for a sense of identity” (Steyn 16). Hence the difficulty of conceiving of whiteness in isolation:

It is the black condition, and only that, which informs the consciousness of white people. It is a terrible paradox, but those who believed that they could control and define black people divested themselves of the power to control and define themselves […] The purer white the identity, the more dependent it is on its black other. (16)

The paradox, of course, is that ‘homogenous 
white identity’ is constantly seeking to disavow
 that on which it is dependent. For this reason, the construction of an ‘Other’ more degenerate and less virtuous emerges out of the self-hatred and guilt that lies inherent in the construction of whiteness. However, as Fanon seems to suggest, while the need to recognise difference is important, it serves us best only when the white ‘master’ is willing to see difference as simply dissimilarity and not inferiority. To acknowledge difference, to know one’s whiteness or blackness, is an affirmation of difference that
 is significant in a sense that knowledge of the ontology of whiteness or blackness is invested with epistemological certainty about one’s identity, an identity which is thus constructed oppositionally. The difference between the two, however, should not lead to an idea that there is only difference, but that, between the two racial groups, the need to recognise the different enterprises means that we do not allow for a forgetfulness of the atrocities of both colonialism and racism because we simply desire to elide the specificities in our heterogeneous and conflictual history. The starting-point in recognising our differences is accepting that it has become the centre of dominance where one group is advantaged and privileged at the expense of another.



In his semi-autobiographical study of racism, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege, Robert Jensen describes
white privilege as a facet of white supremacy, by which he means “a society whose founding is based in an ideology of the inherent superiority of white Europeans over nonwhites, an ideology that was used to justify the crimes against indigenous people and Africans that created the [American] nation” (Jensen 4). While, at a juridical level, white supremacy has been destabilised, the concept of ‘white power’ and privilege is still very much alive in South Africa today. If to many white people this seems preposterous, it is perhaps because of the lack of absolution that many people (both black and white) desire from the mere existence of the new constitutional imperatives which have allowed for all South Africans to be viewed with as ‘human’. ‘White power’ continues to be contested, since it is generally accepted that vestiges of racial inequality do indeed exist, and that, additionally, racial tensions can be felt, and that many white people still take recourse in on a sense of apartheid nostalgia. If we analyse the national statistics since, at the level of collective experience, they are generally taken to be a regular barometer of the social condition, we begin to take the first step towards making whiteness visible. This is because whiteness is tied up with a privilege that necessarily is impossible to overlook. Consider, for instance, that “one of the key ways of theorising whiteness is as a global norm that is invisible, working in the background as a standard, not of one particular being in the world, but as normalcy, as universaliziblity, of just being ‘the way things are'” (Vice 324). Through such a system, whites are positioned advantageously since this way in which ‘things are’ is simply invisible to them and so is not seen as an advantage.

The latest census results released in October 2012, for instance, revealed that the average income of a white household is seven times the average income of the black household (Statistics South Africa: Census Results ). This points to the reality of the disparities between these races, which, if continually denied, compromises the very notion of the ‘rainbow nation’. What does it mean, then, to say that whiteness needs to be made visible? Commensurate with
Steve Garner, I proceed from the notion that the invisibility of whiteness stems from never having to consider itself as ‘raced’ and, therefore, of never having to define itself explicitly in comparison to ‘non-whiteness’ (39). As a result, whiteness is represented as normality, the universality of humanness: whites are not simply a certain type of race, they are the human race. Anything that is not white is, accordingly, deviant from the normative[3] code (35).

The argument, in fact, would be better encapsulated if we were to use the term ‘unmarked’ rather than ‘invisible’, since whites are indeed visible but, in their eyes, whiteness has become unmarked for the majority of whites under the weight of privileges bestowed upon them (35). This project of marking whiteness means that white people need to ‘see their particularity’ and to ‘make whiteness strange’ by recognising that the state of whiteness occupies a privilege bearing position, notwithstanding the different contingent privileges attached to it and the contextual differences that exist (39). Hence, to acknowledge whiteness is to admit that “one is inherently tied to structures of domination and oppression, that one is irrevocably on the wrong side” (Vice 326). It means, as Vice would argue, that whites have to see and conceive of themselves as “a problem” that is constituted
by “moral offenses” (326). The project of visibility begins, apparently, by disabusing oneself of the notion that things simply happen to individuals and that whites cannot bear a collective burden
of responsibility on the grounds of those who are only implicitly involved, or are involved by association with a group, that is, by virtue of the fact that they are born white. This is why, for instance, the much-cited essay by Peggy McIntosh, “The Invisible Knapsack of Privilege”, deals with the common responses of white people to their privilege, which responses, according to her, stifle the project of particularising whiteness. On the face of it, one may term these responses “denialism”
but I want to suggest that it is far more complex in the South African context, and that, this ‘denial’ or passive reluctance to acknowledge and particularise the white race is seen by well-meaning liberal whites as a polite and constructive means to negotiating identity.

When Robin DiAngelo develops the neologism “white fragility”, she seeks to account for the systematic processes through which the black experience is delegitimised by an irrational sensitivity of whiteness. Quite often, this sensitivity is concealed within silence as well as within the universal platitude that whites use in response to the assertion that black lives matter. Such a universalism insists that ‘all lives matter’ and that, as result, the question as to whether or not black lives in particular matter, is not significant since the matter can be set aside by invoking the abstract equality of all lives, regardless of the socio-politico specificities of our moment. Could it be that the silence whiteness presumes in such an instance, evades the very question; do black lives matter?
Is it not the case that attempting to answer that question opens whiteness up to be revealed as
the moral and political scandal that it is, since of course, when such a question is asked, the asker
is simultaneously invoking the Hegelian Other by implying another question: for whom do black lives have value? Of course, to ask the question, or to pronounce the aphorism “black lives matter” is already to lodge an appeal to whiteness. So, to ask the question is simply to show that, in the spaces where the value of lives is adjudicated, there is no consensus on the matter, and that in these valuing communities, the question can be asked in the first instance and that this should not be the case. A white fragility, in the first place, cannot respond to such a question since it is ever in a defensive mode, a mode which vacillates between audible assertions of individualism (we are not all the same) or universalism (we are all the same, humanity – no colour), or simply in the form of a precarious silence (we ought to be silent, this is a black issue a la Vice).



While Vice’s thesis of ‘habitual white privilege’ acknowledges that the white subject is born into
a world that is not directly controlled by her, she finds it easy to “disentangle guilt from any direct relation to actions one has performed” (328).
She argues that it is difficult to avoid feeling
guilty, since one is “a continuing product of white privilege and benefiting from it, implicated in and enacting injustice in many subtle ways” (328). Vice concludes, therefore, that “feelings of guilt are appropriate” when one considers the unfortunate positionality of white South Africans who do not choose to be in the privileged situation in which they find themselves. However, the problem associated with the use of the term ‘guilt’ is that
it does not take into account the extent to which white people are involved in white privilege,
since it suggests that the one from whom the
guilt emanates is implicated and stained by the privilege as if she was directly involved in the act of oppression (328). under these circumstances, Vice suggests that we instead turn our attention to ‘shame’, since it is the one feeling that is often met with a defensive approach on the part of those who are said to bear it. Shame, a suitably fungible term, is therefore marked by its difference from guilt to the extent that it is “directed towards the self, rather than outwards toward a harm one brought about” (328).

“[W]hite silence will only serve to sustain white privilege, whereby those perceived as occupying towering positions over the rest will continue to do so, without taking opportunities to engage meaningfully and learn from the ‘diverse’ cultures within the ‘rainbow nation'”.

The feeling of shame, then, is the causal result
of failing to meet the self-imposed standards that
we accord ourselves, as opposed to the result of an unpleasant feeling that is associated with what one has done (328). Shame, as Vice correctly observes, is concerned, first and foremost, with whom one is. This is a radical thesis insofar as the responses to white privilege are concerned, because it acknowledges that while not all white people were directly involved in the oppression, they still benefit from a system that relied on their whiteness in order to survive and, consequently, they must undergo a deep emotional and cognitive dissonance between their inherent whiteness and the oppression of those who were used to sustain it.

This is akin to Albert Memmi’s notion of “the coloniser who refuses”, a proposition that presents a white person who is not complicit in the environment in which she finds herself, since it is understood in light of the ‘white master’ who comes to dwell among the ‘black natives’ but is “astonished by the number
of beggars, the children wandering about half-naked” (63) and the scandal that is racial domination. On sight of this, the ‘white master’ then refuses to indulge in the systems of oppression, naive to the fact that his complicity in the oppression means that “what he is actually renouncing is a part of himself” (63) since the individual is located within the community and does not occupy a type of acosmic position, transcending her surroundings and freed from the burden of skin colour. For Memmi, the ‘white master’ who refuses the conditions under which blacks are subjugated is in fact complicit insofar as her skin enables her to “participate in and benefit from those privileges” in which the master revels:

Does he receive less favourable treatment than his fellow citizens? Doesn’t he enjoy the same facilities for travel? How could he help figuring, unconsciously, that he can afford a car, a refrigerator, perhaps a house? How can he go about freeing himself of this halo of prestige which crowns him and at which he would like to take offense? Should he happen to rationalise this contradiction so as to come to terms with this discomfort… (64)

The white master is clearly cast into an inherited world and must therefore choose to accept or refute the machinations of such a world. In feeling shameful, the white master rejects the oppressive – and indeed constructed – superiority of whiteness. It would seem, then, that the feeling of shame is correctly identified, by both Memmi and Vice, as an appropriate response to the question of white privilege, since it shows some inclination towards a responsibility not for the past systemic oppression, but for being the by-product of a system which aimed only to benefit white people and distance them from the sufferings of others. It is common to hear whites in South African declare that they do not feel ashamed of the past, because they are not to blame. The presumption of innocence and worthiness are part and parcel of the privilege that is bestowed on white people – the knowledge that they were not involved directly or even collectively in creating a system of oppression and marginalisation absolves them from responsibility. However, to say this is to miss an opportunity to take on a responsibility not for the past, but rather, a responsibility to the future. This is primarily because white people have inherited a legacy and, as such, cannot merely deflect the shame that comes with the horrific past as if to suggest that their innocence means that, even accidently, they played absolutely no role at all in maintaining subjugation. For this reason, Vice argues that the “sense of historical innocence is often self-serving and not merely ignorant” and must therefore result in further shame (331). I would argue, though, that once white people begin to see the evidence of the past as ever more prevalent, in other words once the pathology of whiteness begins to be marked and made visible, the indifference to the historical implications will at that point be enough to generate another kind of shame, resulting in an instance in which shame stems from their shamelessness! Ultimately, white people may have to confront feelings of shame once whiteness is made visible, and will therefore have no recourse in the silence that Vice suggests is necessary in order to take seriously the ethical primacy of the individual moral self. Thus, white silence will only serve to sustain white privilege, whereby those perceived as occupying towering positions over the rest will continue to do so, without taking opportunities to engage meaningfully and learn from the ‘diverse’ cultures within the ‘rainbow nation’. To retreat, therefore, is not to take a feeling of shame and use
it to direct an ethical impetus: it appears to me that silence is to be so guilt-ridden that one is reluctant
to speak out, fearing that a disagreement with non- whites may be conceived as a demonstration of white supremacy. For Vice, the prescription is to

Live as quietly as possible, refraining from airing one’s views on the political situation in the public realm, realising that it is not one’s place to offer diagnoses and analyses, that blacks must be left to remake the country in their own way [because] whites have too long had influence and a public voice; now they should in humility, step back from expressing their thoughts or managing others. (335)

While Vice notes the limitations of silence on a personal and professional level, citing the Platonic relationship between self-knowledge and dialogue with those different from you – the idea that one finds oneself only through earnest interaction and engagement with other people divergent from
oneself – her ‘silence’ prescription has limitations beyond those which she so readily acknowledges. Vice’s resolution that “the relevant kind of silence is therefore a political silence” (335) has inadequate explanatory power in a country that vowed never to silence the voices, political or professional, of any
one group. Hence, the suggestion that whites should exercise “silence in the political realm, rather than a professional silence or the stifling of all conversation with others in which race or privilege, for instance, is the topic” falls nothing short of a pipe-dream. How, in a country in which everything is so highly and overtly politicised, can it be suggested that whites retreat and withdraw from the political realm? At once, the notion of politics which Vice invokes seem reductive at best and derisive at worst since the professional realm is political as Vincent so carefully demonstrates in her analyses of the institutional at Rhodes University. The personal, what is termed the ‘private sphere’ is also political, mediated primarily by that in which the individual is located.

One of the first public respondents to Vice’s prescription was political commentator and associate at the Wits Centre for Ethics, Eusebuis McKaiser, who argued that it is deeply problematic for a country to argue that the idea of silence, political or otherwise, would be the morally correct course of action for white people, even if shame and regret are appropriate feelings for those who have benefited unjustly. He mentions, therefore, that the project of making whiteness visible does not necessarily mean that blackness replaces it. Thus McKaiser:

It is not black South Africans’ turn to be political. It is all South Africans’ duty to engage each
other as equals both within the public and private spheres. Whites need to engage their whiteness publicly […] I do not want to be shielded from whiteness I want to be given the space to rehearse my own full personhood as a black South African by engaging […] publicly; it is the only way healthy relationships between blacks and whites can develop. (para. 18)

It would seem that the political is personal and the personal is political; whiteness is not merely the pigmentation of the skin, but also involves the systems of power and privilege that are sustained in the professional realm. Remaining silent simply means that these systems are reinforced in ways that would otherwise not be possible had there been earnest ongoing dialogue between whites and non- whites. The problems with whiteness in the political realm need to be approached in the same way that the problems with whiteness are approached in
the personal and professional realm, specifically, by making whiteness visible and, by virtue of this visibility and the resultant shame with which it is coupled, changing the ways in which white people interact with the structures that exist from a white supremacist discourse of the past, to a self-reflexive discourse of humility.

The South African media is plagued with examples of whiteness, be it print media, radio or television. Whether it is the unproductive and racist comments that can be found daily in every response to an online news article, or the disgruntled white people who mobilise whiteness as a signifier of “clean governance, reliability, and competence” (Steyn 128) on talk radio, incessant illustrations of what Steyn calls “White Talk” need to be replaced with talks that seek to negotiate an identity of South Africa that is not insensitive to the damage caused by the audibility of white talk. This is something which can only occur once whiteness is made visible, a visibility that cannot be obtained through silence. To repress oneself into a state of self-flagellation seems to me an exercise that reaffirms the ontology of white domination in that the characteristics of “White Talk” are not elided, but merely suppressed even though they exist in the minds of white people. Bearing in mind the overarching nature
of white supremacy, a forced white silence seems tantamount to arguing that racism is fine so long as it is lodged in the hearts and minds of those from whom it emanates. Genuine non-racist encounters with people of different backgrounds may never occur, since the sentiments held by white people would be silently repressed under a pretentious humility! McKaiser, then, rightly recommends to Vice that the way to confront whiteness is not to adopt a strategy of silence, but to engage black people while being mindful of not presenting whiteness as a normative standard to which they should aspire (para.18).

Steyn contends that ideas around European superiority “are strong enough to ensure a certain amount of ‘buy-in’ from some African people” (127) who would then be made to beg for white people to break their silence by participating in the political realm. Writing against this inevitable legitimation by reverse, the black Mail and Guardian journalist, Mvuselelo Ngcoya, captures the cognitive dissonance engendered in him by this proposition quite neatly when he says:

Reading Vice, I was caught between two reactions. The first and most flagrant and visceral was: I don’t flipping care. I wanted to meet this white threat of silence with a black silence of my own. The second reaction was more measured, but I hated it more, because it requires that I say: “Please speak, baas!” (para. 17)

Ngcoya’s aversion to his second reaction to the ‘threat’ of silence must be read as a disavowal of the meretricious role that silence plays, disguising itself as the manifestation of an ethical impulse,
 but in reality, inconspicuously requiring the 
black subject to beg for validation from the white master by asking her to break her silence, if only
 for the black subject’s need for recognition. In conjunction with such a meretricious role, there 
are a number of white supremacists who are hell-bent on maintaining the status quo, and therefore leaving whiteness the invisible entity that it is.
Such individuals are outspoken in public forums
on a daily basis, and persistently enlist to their supremacist agenda like-minded white people who have no qualms about living in a white supremacist society. Let us take, for instance, the likes of Andre Visagie, the former secretary general of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), who became infamous for violently storming off a live television interview with a black woman political analyst who challenged him about the ideology of white supremacy shortly after the murder of his leader Eugene Terre’Blanche. Here, Visagie, too, was exercising a certain kind of silence when he refused to engage the black woman, whose argument was that black South Africans continue to be subjected to macro-structural antagonism: “whites versus us [blacks]” (Maroleng 2010, Interview). For the most part, the limitations of this silence imply that well-meaning white people, like Vice herself, would not be able to influence morally depraved whites, and would thus pave the way for racists such as Visagie and his sympathisers to continue to dominate the discourse by obstinately claiming a position of victimhood and subsiding into silence when that position is challenged.

“The problems with whiteness in the political realm need to be approached in the same way that the problems with whiteness are approached in the personal and professional realm, specifically, by making whiteness visible”.

In response to the commotion that Vice’s paper created, the F.W. de Klerk Foundation released a press statement asking her to withdraw her “witless” comments on whiteness and refrain from aiding the ‘reverse apartheid’ to which white people are subjected in a democratic South Africa:

We must challenge Ms Vice’s views because they are dangerous. They will be eagerly grasped by a new generation of black racists who will use them to justify their increasingly aggressive campaign of anti-white stigmatisation and exclusion. (para.12)

What we have is a discursive strategy that attempts to reconfigure whiteness as disadvantageous
and not beneficial. Whites such as F.W. de Klerk would argue, as he is known to have argued on international platforms, that whiteness in South Africa has become a liability. The suggestion conveyed by the press release on Vice’s paper was,
in the first instance, a flagging of the possibility that whites were increasingly becoming an unprotected minority in the country. This idea stems from the view that whites consider the slate as having been wiped cleaned by the new dispensation and political reforms that have come into place in a post-apartheid context – Affirmative Action (AA) and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) to name a couple. The proposition, it seems, is that even talking about race is itself racist, since we ought to see people for their individuality rather than as members of a collective group.

I return to the conceptual framework which earlier adumbrated Hegelian the need for mutual recognition. Since Vice’s silence would ensure that, yet again, the political discourse swings into a fixation with whiteness: it perpetuates and endorses its invisibility and continues to deny black people an opportunity to negotiate their own identity. It therefore lends itself quite neatly to the master narrative that suggests that the relationship between the master and the bondsman is dialectically established. The silence, then, functions merely as a self-indulgent, narcissistic tool that serves to keep white people in a state of heedlessness about the unearned privileges that they simply take as entitlement, privileges which are in fact built on the dependence on blacks. It is safe to conclude, then, that the critical theorising of white privilege has become a cornerstone of whiteness studies in South Africa. So, while white privilege manifests itself in many different contextual ways, it is accrued to white people by virtue of their being born into a white supremacist society. Since hegemony is relationally established, there is not only an epistemological frame within which to understand the Other, but also a power structure that locks both the master and the slave so that they can only exist at one another’s behest. The importance of this dialectic is pivotal to our conception of race in the first place, not least the ideas around superiority and servitude. Only once we recognise the irony of this relationship, that the chains of the slave are those of the master as well, will we be able to understand the arbitrary nature
of race, while at the same time realising the need to make the racial distinctions known. White privilege operates in a deceitful way because part
of the privilege is the freedom from the burden of knowing one’s whiteness, or thinking of oneself in terms of colour. The danger, then, is the normative nature whiteness assumes, making it invisible and therefore difficult for its group members to recognise.

Upon recognition of this whiteness, however,
action rather than inaction is indispensable, and Vice’s prescription of silence seems to me, although unintentionally so, insidious. While the type of silence recommended is intended to de-centre and disempower white privilege, the inadvertent result is that it ultimately re-centres and re- inscribes the very whiteness it wishes to silence. The notion of silence is not silent; it is as loud and boisterous as any overt attempt at maintaining white supremacy.



1. See Michel Monahan’s response to her argument.

2. Throughout this essay, I use the term non-white deliberately to emphasise a point. I want to put whiteness at the centre, but not in the sense of valorising or claiming it as the norm. Contrarily, by using ‘non-white’, the concept of ‘white power’ is highlighted and shown only
to be vested in one category – whiteness. One may argue, indeed following Steve Biko’s decentring of the term, that the focus is then placed on white people. But in an essay about making whiteness visible and ‘marketing’ it, the term can be useful only as a rhetorical strategy since I
wish to accentuate the political nature of the struggle and indeed point towards the dependency of whiteness on ‘non-whiteness’.

3. In the context of ordinary South African discourse, this brings to mind a poignant point raised by Louise Vincent in her paper “The Limitations of Interracial Contact”, in which she argues that Rhodes University, attempting to be all-inclusive and liberal, has provided a variety of dietary options in its residence menus. However, “the options
are labelled ‘African’ and ‘normal'” (1433). She concludes, there can be “no more explicit exemplification of Richard Dyer’s point (1997) that to be white is to occupy the position of privileged normalcy” (1433).


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Garner, Steve. Whiteness: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2007.

Huisman, Beinne. “Don’t Touch Me On My Studio.” Times Live, April 7 2010. Accessed
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McKaiser, Eusebius. Mail & Guardian. 1 July 2011 @ 25 October 2012. http://mg.co.za/article/2011-07- 01-confronting-whiteness

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Statistics South Africa: Census Results. National Research. Pretoria: Stats SA, 2012. Document.

Steyn, Melissa. Whiteness Just Isn’t What It Used to Be In A Changing South Africa. New York: Albany, 2001.

Villet, Charles. “Hegel and Fanon on the Question of Mutual Recognition: A Comparative Analysis.” The Journal of Pan African Studies November 2011:

Vincent, Louise. “The Limitations of ‘Inter-racial Contact: Stories from Young South Africa.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 31.8 (2008): 1426-1451.

“Tell Us Another Story: A Narrative Take on Institutional Culture.” Unpublished Paper @ 4 September: http://www.ru.ac.za/media/ rhodesuniversity/content/institutionalplanning/documents/InstLouise%20Vincent%2023June2011.pdf

Visagie, Andre. e-TV News, Chris Maroleng. 8 April 2010. Television.

first published here: http://jwtc.org.za/volume_10/mohammad_shabangu.htm

April 11, 2016

MARLON JAMES on the atrocity timetable

Filed under: literature,politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 12:14 pm


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