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By Ido LekotaPolitical Notebook | Dec 03, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

IN HIS book, Native Nostalgia, Jacob Dlamini tackles the subject of how often we hear of black people seemingly hankering after "the good days of apartheid".

IN HIS book, Native Nostalgia, Jacob Dlamini tackles the subject of how often we hear of black people seemingly hankering after "the good days of apartheid".

This normally happens when people complain about how their lives have changed for the worst in post-apartheid South Africa.

This knee-jerk reaction, as Dlamini correctly points out, is (especially for those in power) to reject these comments as "reactionary".

Reactionary because apartheid was an evil system that cannot be compared with the new democratic order brought about by the freedom fighters who are now in power.

Dlamini's argument is that such a contention is based on the notion that apartheid affected all black people the same way - and under it black people were just a "mass of suffering".

Such an argument, Dlamini posits, blinds those who seek to understand the impact of apartheid on its victims to "a richness, a complexity of life among black South Africans, that not even colonialism and apartheid at their worst could destroy".

Dlamini's suggestion is that the reaction by those who hanker after the "good old apartheid days" is firstly an indication that there was life under apartheid where black people created social orders, produced art and literature and also bore morally upstanding children.

However, of most interest is how Dlamini deals with the topical issue of how some "revolutionaries" are using the apartheid legacy of race to define how especially black South Africans must uncritically accept black (African) leadership.

This attitude, argues Dlamini, arises from "the fiction that black South Africans lived, suffered and struggled the same way against apartheid".

Dlamini writes that this has allowed what he calls "racial nativists" to claim with impunity that if all blacks suffered the same way, then any black person can stand in for all blacks.

This argument, more than anything else, addresses the tendency by many "progressive blacks" to play the race card whenever they do not get their way.

The normal argument is that some individual is being targeted because he or she is a black person who stands up to those who were beneficiaries of the apartheid system.

This is normally in counter to qualitative questions being raised about the individual's integrity or capabilities.

Some displays of the racial nativism Dlamini speaks about have been seen among some beneficiaries of black economic empowerment, where unscrupulous individuals with no bone of compassion for the poor within them have used their blackness to try to garner racial support from the black majority while enriching themselves.

What Dlamini's thesis does is to give context to the impact of apartheid and the resilience that black people showed in the face of the evil system.

What it also does is to challenge the manner in which those in power seek to bring change in the lives of those who suffered under apartheid.

For example, Dlamini argues, correctly so, that black South African life, including under apartheid, is experienced through gender, class, ethnic and regional differences, just like life anywhere else in the world.

Therefore, any intervention aimed at changing the quality of black people in post-apartheid South Africa must take cognisance of theserealities.

This includes refraining from seeing townships as "hospices" where people "infected by poverty" exist and therefore need "treatment". Whatever we do to bring change to people's lives we need to understand that they are not just "victims" who need to be rescued but there are among them people with the ability to create space to become agents for change.

We should also consider that maybe those who seem to hanker after the "good days of apartheid" are expressing frustrations that those in power have closed the spaces created under apartheid to be mothers, fathers and human beings.

Maybe in our attempt to rid these communities of the bad memories of apartheid we also erase memories of how they survived against apartheid.

This is the corruption of black history that Dlamini warns against, which could undermine efforts to improve the quality of the lives of those for whom the apartheid legacy still lives in its crudest form.


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