17 May 2020
Transformation is under threat during pandemic
In the book, Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon makes a poignant observation about a devastating pathology rooted in our “core beliefs”, contradicted by empirical evidence or facts.
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong,” Fanon writes in his 1952 classic. “When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called
cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalise, ignore and even
deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief,” he writes.
Fanon’s seminal text sought to situate internal contradictions for black people in a world meant to make them believe they were inferior. Drawing from his
experience of racism in the French colony of Martinique, his timeless writing is instructive to most post-colonial societies. But it is important to turn the logic of racism on its head.
In South Africa, the core belief among some white people about their denial of black disadvantage is so strong, that “when they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted”.
For them, the racial fault lines of our country are an imaginary creation. Their retort is – we must all compete as equals. That our constitution enjoins us to ensure redress is, for them, unfortunate.
A few ministers have, of late, been kept busy in various courts and on a
global stage because of a rearguard battle against imperatives of transformation fought by a white boys’ club.
DA leader John Steenhuisen last week wrote to International Monetary Fund (IMF) MD Kristalina Georgieva with a view to exert pressure on the IMF to force the country to disregard transformation or redress in how it will spend COVID-19 relief funds, should SA receive any help from the IMF.
“There is a big difference between a government redress programme and emergency relief during a pandemic,” argues Steenhuisen.
What is apparent here is that Steenhuisen and the DA, who are just emerging from a bruising race-based battle that saw the party’s first black leader
Mmusi Maimane and others removed, has taken on the COVID-19 battle on behalf, for the most part, of white firms.
That South Africa remains a deeply divided, highly unequal country with the black poor most adversely affected by the virus is lost to Steenhuisen. That it is, in fact, small black firms hit the most by the virus, is immaterial for Steenhuisen.
As far as he and the DA are concerned, only funds from the government could be used in line with its transformation mandate derived from the constitution.
Funds from the IMF, even if the government will be expected to pay them back, must not be subject to the imperatives of transformation. Read correctly, they must be channeled to white, advantaged business.
The thing about racism in South Africa is that we no longer talk about it and, those who are racist, who serve a narrow Afrikaner agenda, are emboldened to pursue racism with shamelessness.
Steenhuisen, supposedly leading a progressive liberal party, feels no shame, sees nothing wrong with suggesting we forget about transformation – even when his suggestion will disadvantage millions of black people he expects must vote for the DA in the coming local government elections.
In the past, there would have been some subtlety to the racism. Maimane would have used some sophistry to betray his fellow blacks. Not that it’s any better. But the pursuit of a racist agenda is today very naked.
And so “the core belief” which Fanon writes about is so strong in Steenhuisen that any empirical evidence that his argument, if acceded to, will unleash pain on black people is ignored.
Right-wing movements AfriForum and Solidarity targeted the departments of small business and tourism, but were correctly rebuked by the high court in Pretoria under judge president Dunstan Mlambo who, correctly, pronounced on the imperatives of transformation in relation to the government’s COVID-19 response.
“The response to the crisis must therefore recognise this uneven playing field and therefore calibrating such a response to deal with the impact of the crisis as well as the effect of historical disadvantage is not only permissible at the level of principle, but warranted and necessary,” Mlambo said as he ruled in favour of Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane. A victory for transformation. A victory against a white sense of privilege.
A similar battle by the DA which, I repeat, is unlike Solidarity and AfriForum, is set to unfold in the same court against Small Business Development Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. When white firms and white interests are vulnerable, the white machinery – AfriForum, Solidarity and the DA – come out fighting.
Remember how white firms benefited from the Solidarity Fund meant to help raise funds to fight COVID-19? To date, they blatantly refuse to say who sat on a committee that advantaged white firms. The white power structure protects and serves its own interests.
They do this because, in spite of the evidence of the harm their pursuits might have on black people, it is important, Fanon taught us, to “protect the core belief” and racism, to “rationalise, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief”. Kubayi-Ngubane and Ntshavheni, who are kept busy by the white boys, deserve all the help and support. Transformation must be defended.