The demons of tribal arrogance

VICTIMS OF HATE: Xenophobic attacks took place in the Ramaphosa informal settlement several people dead and scores injured. Ernesto Alphabeto Nhamwuave from Mozambique was set alight alive and later died in hospital. Photo: Simphiwe Nkwali
VICTIMS OF HATE: Xenophobic attacks took place in the Ramaphosa informal settlement several people dead and scores injured. Ernesto Alphabeto Nhamwuave from Mozambique was set alight alive and later died in hospital. Photo: Simphiwe Nkwali

WHO would have thought international icon Nelson Mandela could be a victim of racial vitriol after 18 years of democracy?

A website recently reported that journalist Charlene Smith's Facebook page update boasting that her book, Mandela - In Celebration of a Great Life, was doing very well in the market "was met with a flood of racist and anti-South African sentiments", mostly from readers in New Zealand.

After reading the story and some of the anti-Mandela comments that were posted, I asked myself - why would anybody perceive Mandela so negatively?

For an answer, I turned to Professor Jonathan Jansen's book, Knowledge in the Blood.

Jansen has it right - there is indeed knowledge in the blood and this gives us an inferiority or/and superiority complex.

It makes it difficult for us to accept people beyond our own communities or constituencies. It breeds suspicion, jealousy, contempt and creates stereotypes.

That is why we are sometimes contemptuous towards people of other backgrounds, ethnic groups and race.

That is why we may not care for other religions because our thinking dictates that "ours" is better than "theirs".

Knowledge in the blood is spread through utterances such as "ANC shall govern until Jesus comes back" or "man is the head of a family and therefore superior to woman".

Knowledge in the blood is so powerful because it is the basis of personal belief. That is why a person can utter a vitriolic statement or behave in an unseemly manner and fail to defend their utterances or actions.

A former colleague in Rustenburg, North West, once made a remark that made me uncomfortable.

She said in Setswana: "Ke utlwile, ga ke le Tshangane", which in English means: "I have had enough, I am just a human being, not a Shangaan".

Shangaan is one of the South African ethnic groups mostly found in Limpopo. The above-mentioned suggests that Shangaans are not really human beings and thus they are able to endure the hardship that she was being subjected to.

This derogatory statement is a product of the knowledge in her blood. It is not a racial statement, but rather a tribal superiority complex.

As she grew up, she was made to believe that her Batswana ethnic group is in a higher class than Shangaans.

This is why in most mines in Rustenburg, the people who go underground are largely amaXhosa from Eastern Cape, Shangaans from Limpopo, Mozambicans and people from elsewhere in Africa.

Many years ago, according to the Sunday Times, a newsreader was reading news in IsiZulu and announced that "three people and two Shangaans died".

The demon of tribal superiority complex was and is also entrenched in South African liberation movements.

In his memoir, Sometimes There's a Void, Zakes Mda, wrote how he witnessed some South African political activists and freedom fighters, who were exiled with him in Lesotho, undermining their hosts. They were mostly amaXhosa and regarded themselves as naturally superior to Basotho.

Mda wrote: "I used to get very embarrassed when I met one of these cadres late in the afternoon and he would greet me by saying: "Molo umAfrika, yazi oko kusile ndiqal' ukubona'umuntu ngawe." (Greetings to you, African, you are the first person I have seen this whole day). This implied that the rest of the Basotho he had met that day were not really people.

This kind of behaviour has its roots in the knowledge in the blood. If you say to the victim of these kinds of stereotypes: "Why do you hate foreigners?" The answer might be something like: "I don't really know. I just don't like these people."

Knowledge in the blood is tacit, intangible and subjective. It is characterised by prejudiced personal beliefs, experiences and understanding of a particular phenomenon and its dynamics. It is how we perceive certain environments and their dynamics.

Knowledge in the blood is about how we view reality now and how we foresee the future.

Knowledge in the blood has its origin in how, as we grow up, we are indoctrinated and socially engineered.

  • Dagada is a development economist based at the Wits Business School and Sebata Group of Companies.
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