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Vangile Gantsho

Freelance Artist/Writer - "I don't suffer from insanity. I thoroughly enjoy it. You're just jealous coz the voices only speak to me." -I'm crazy enough to be loads of fun - sane enough not to be locked up (...well, permanently that is..) smart enough to hold my own - and shallow enough to not be a bore!

20 years in: Where do we even begin?

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by Vangi Gantsho and Sarah Godsell (http://ungatsho.wordpress.com/)

Vangi and Sarah - Photo by Palesa Makua

Vangi and Sarah – Photo by Palesa Makua

Whenever I listen to black people complain about South Africa being worse off, now, than during Apartheid, I am reminded of the Hebrews wishing to return to Egypt instead of journeying on to the promised land of Canaan.  I wonder if we are an ungrateful people who don’t deserve to be liberated because we might never truly know what that even means.  And does this Promised Land, that was/is/will be created just for us even exist?  Will we have our own Canaan one day?  (Mind you, this is not me being pro-Israeli… #justsaying) Then I listen to 702, most talk radio actually, and I hear white people say the same thing.  This fills me with rage!  (And secret desires to build an ark!)

I went from being a young “you’re not like other black people” coconut to being unable to tolerate white (especially Afrikaner) people’s views of my country, to striving towards the highest level of Human Consciousness.  Note I say striving.  This relating to people human to human thing is not as easy as Madiba made it seem.  This forgiveness thing is even more difficult.  I am constantly reminded of my mother telling me that I must be able to forgive someone even if they don’t ask for forgiveness, but even she finds that difficult to do when it comes to SA race politics.

Anyhow… the reason I bring this up is because we are sitting at twenty years of “freedom” and I find myself wondering what this means.  Not just in socio-economic terms but as people.  In the way we, as South Africans, relate to one other.  Our perceptions of ourselves and each other, and how that influences the direction in which our country is moving.

We are twenty years into freedom, and that freedom is thwarted by deep structural (often racialised) oppression, violence and exclusion that perpetuates poverty and deprivation.  That freedom is thwarted by people remaining stuck in their own ghettoes of language or lifestyle or thought.

Our story is often told in broad strokes: Migrations. Colonialism. Great Trek. Colonial Wars. Capitalism. Apartheid. Struggle. Freedom. Forgiveness But these broad strokes leave us ill-equipped for dealing with the tangledness of our present.

We have certainly made many strides as a nation since the election of our first democratic president.  From freedom of movement to freedom of marriage, on paper at least; there is much to celebrate in this beautiful country of ours.  We have disagreed and found common grounds, think TAC and the antiretroviral drugs campaign.  We have also seen the creation of a large black middle class, which is worth celebrating because it means there have been strides made towards granting black people economic access to the wealth of this country.  This is not without its own problems, however, and as the leader of the African People’s Convention, Themba Godi, said at the 2013 December 16 Reconciliation Day Celebrations said:  if the rich do not share their wealth with the poor, the poor will share their poverty with the rich.

We survived a brutal regime. We survived with wounds. Wouter Basson’s guilty verdict, and Eugene De Kock’s potential parole are reminders of the dark in our past, the dark in our present. Any born-free, or any South African that lived sheltered: google these two. That, that dark, is what we survived.

I find the discussion of De Kock’s parole chilling. Surely, if anyone should stay in jail, it should be him? Of course, the people who issued him the kill orders, who orchestrated and constructed the system that needed the death squads, those leaders who shut their eyes , pretended not to know, claimed “clean hands” after. (We see you de Klerk. Nobel Peace Prize and all), those people are not in jail. They were not punished, they weren’t jailed. De Kock was. He was not granted amnesty. He did not fully disclose, not all his crimes were politically motivated –  was there also a sense that what he did was just too bad for him not to be behind bars?  He was serving 212 years and two life sentences . He now may be granted parole, and even wants a job on the NPA. The commentary on this in the Saturday Star was that that De Kock is emerging into a “new world” – not a new world of post-apartheid South Africa,  but a new world of new technology for him to get used to! Come on guys!

“I freed a thousand slaves.  I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” – Harriet Tubman

So. We survived. We carry the wounds. But mere survival is not enough for us to say we are free, that we are moving forward.  Yet the movement is there, slow and incremental and backwards sometimes. It comes  from unexpected quarters.

We are working on building communities where we are accountable to ourselves, to each other. We work towards living lives cognisant of the past, aware of how the past and present structural oppression and dispossession play themselves out in our lives, and what we can do to counter these effects. This requires growing relationships between different space: poets cannot stay among poets, academics cannot stay among academics, people living in suburbs cannot be confined to their suburbs, people living in a specific hood cannot be confined there either.  And in these interactions we can confront our privilege or deprivation (economic, linguistic, social, through education or other infrastructure) and address those imbalances with and through each other.

I am not buying into the neoliberalist ideas of ‘each person responsible for themselves’, to empty promises of if an individual works hard enough they can overcome the structural fuck-ups that cut off their feet. We need to hold the government accountable for it’s policies and the implementation of those policies. I am speaking about groups of people, networks,  ‘communities’ that live with each other, honestly, addressing and integrating past and present.

In all fairness, if I were to look back at the young woman I was at 20, the state of our nation makes sense to me.  The reckless, arrogant (ignorant) passion of youth.  I thought I knew everything and refused to see my self-destructive behaviour.  I couldn’t even acknowledge when I was hurting the ones I love.  Mostly because, truth be told, I had no idea who I was.  My purpose, my beauty, my potential… I had no idea.  And I often feel as though South Africa has no idea how beautiful she is.  Not in relation to anywhere else, in itself.

We are stuck in a juvenile state of anger, self-entitlement and ignorance that separates us into angry blacks and ignorant whites (and black middle class).  This is not to say that anger is not justified, even.  Only that we cannot be governed by anger, especially if that anger makes us self-destruct.  We are angry about service delivery (or the lack of it) and the expanding governmental waistlines, so we burn schools and trains and libraries.  Or we have to share our wealth with poor majority of our country, so we scream genocide and start selling guns at Woodlands (right next door to the Pick n Pay and the coffee shop).

“emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds” – Bob Marley

Thinking of us in this way has also helped me explain so much of what I see to myself.  Like black on black service, especially as reflected by our government in poor (largely black) communities.  Or wanting the government (or anyone) to help us out of our own ruts.  The late teens and early twenties are a good time to get into trouble without really having to take responsibility for your own ish.  So you can have four children, no work and no home, but expect a grant.  And this is not me trying to be insensitive but COME ON! (Actually, I’m not going down that road.  Not yet anyway.)

When I was in high-school I was engulfed in the idealism of the ‘rainbow nation’, of democracy, and of hope. My twenties have been reality-bittered. But I still nurture some of my idealism. The resources and the successes we have had in this country are miraculous.. We survived. And now, we have to move. (Note, here I say ‘move’. Not move on. We will never escape the wounds and scars of our history.) We are fearful – but moving.

The political options we thought we had for this upcoming election just got fewer: the DA’s BEE cookiemonster got into the party jar, “NOMNOMNOM mmmm Agang!.”  And my hopes for a mature alternative in the EFF (after shamefully COPEing in hope), have been squashed by Nkandla politricks and my fear of making the same mistake twice. Our confusion over who to vote for, who we can put our trust in has gotten worse.

The waves are bigger than the boat we are in, but we have no other option.

We slide in, and swim.

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