AT THE very moment, the member (of the Upper Jukskei Flyfishing Collective) decided the only way to escape the facile debate about racism in SA was to contrive a "tweemolation" of his own, a refreshing essay blogged on Politicsweb made it possible for the grown-ups to get in a word.
The blogger, Gwen Ngwenya, writes that the national cadenza over Penny Sparrow’s zoomorphic tweet is not rational, but that it is an overreaction to what may be construed as a racist insult that might have been instantly forgotten if it had remained unremarked.
Quite. A rational response, even in our race-obsessed country, would be to disregard the slur, to take it for what it is: thoughtless, ignorant and prejudiced, and a reflection instead of the perpetrator’s lack of social consciousness rather than the suggested propensity of black people to breach beach etiquette.
The same irrationality organised the response to Velaphi Khumalo’s supposed incitement to commit genocide. The rational response to a low-grade provincial official’s racist intemperance would be to ignore the fool. But this is SA, where folly rules. When the opportunity presents to profoundly screw up, we embrace it with enthusiasm and prosecute the matter to its last bitter consequence.
Speaking for black people, Ngwenya says there "is no intellectual tradition of the black individual" and "throughout history the black person’s identity has been discussed as a collective phenomenon". This premise (or is it a conclusion too) is easily dismissed as an ecological fallacy in which it is inferred the nature of the individuals in question reflects the assumptions about the groups to which they are (involuntarily) determined to belong. The fact that Ngwenya defies the hive mentality of the group she criticises by asserting herself intellectually as an individual contradicts her premise.
Speaking for white people, she applies the same reasoning without the concomitant historical rationale to explain white responses as that of a fragile identity fighting defensively to "shore goodwill with the black collective".
Still, Ngwenya’s point is useful and refreshing in advancing the racism debate. When another tweemolation artist, reporter Carien du Plessis, was banned from the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) shindig in Rustenburg at the weekend for her supposed racist remarks in referring to attendees as "pantypreneurs and tenderpreneurs" in a tweet, it betrayed the ANC’s hive mentality.
While Du Plessis’s comments, however unwise, could not be interpreted as racist by anyone rational, the fact that the ANC did so means the party views an insult to its members as an affront to black people and therefore racist. It means that the party’s groupthink equates being black to being an ANC supporter; that the party’s organising principle is race.
It follows then that, in the collective mind of the thing the ANC has become, its values, principles and practices are those of black people generally, that its identity politics is that of black people everywhere, that the ANC is not simply the party governing SA in terms of the constitution, but is a racially defined government. In the way the ANC has appropriated blackness, it means to be black in SA is to be as venal and corrupt as the party that governs it.
This we know to be untrue, but unless South Africans, black and white, deepen the discourse about nationhood, we shall be condemned to be blinded to each other through racial prejudice. Unless we abandon identity politics, we shall be condemned to view each other by that which marginalises us and condemned to be separated. Unless we let go of race, apartheid will prevail.
• Blom is a freelance journalist. He likes to flyfish