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Prologue: No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power

By Kim Heller

A group of supporters celebrating ANC victory outside Luthuli House in Johannesburg. 2019. PIC: Mdu Ndzingi

For voices like mine, which find absolutely no concord with the popular tune  of the day, words can be expensive. ‘I read your blog this morning, Kim,’ the Human Resources lady said as she entered the boardroom at the sprightly Sandton office park, where she set about to interview me for a senior strategic communication post. ‘I see you have strong views. Please do take a seat.’ The ‘interview’ commenced, on the sterility of an unearned scorn. 

As I left the building a measly ten minutes later, I walked past cascades of handsomely pruned jasmine flower whose fragrance and bloom had long been lost in the clipped chatter of the train-and-tame of corporate speak that lingered in the pristine corporate corridors. I have never found resonance in the master narrative peddled in the media and in the public court of opinion. My reluctance to subscribe to mainstream thinking has cost me dearly. My once-flourishing career has been severely bonsaied by corporate, media and political bullies. A harvest of job offers, career opportunities, executive roles and powers have been summarily withdrawn on the inkblot of intolerance.

‘Her articles are a problem,’ said a CEO of a company that I had a contract with as he issued an instruction to terminate my consultancy. This penalty of prejudice is the everyday burden of independent voices, like mine, whose words disrupt the hegemony of popular crop conversation. A deep intolerance of difference of opinion is fast becoming the defining signature of our time. It is a worrying inscription of an intellectually illiterate society. I write about uncomfortable topics. Deliberately so.

No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power is a selection of newspaper columns that I have written over the past few years, on the fountainhead of frank, often inconvenient truths. I have written about reconciliation in South Africa as ‘a white man’s medicine,’ which has harmed rather than healed the nation, even if this was not the original intent. I have written about how white supremacy in South Africa has nursed itself on the umbilical cord of black pain, and how it feeds its progeny with the enduring obsessive devotion that only a mother knows.

It is no white lie that today, almost twenty-five years into democracy in South Africa, the milk of white supremacy continues to flow freely, sustaining white privilege and wellbeing. It is a stark truth that millions of black mothers across the nation wake to the everyday ache of an impoverished new dawn in which they are unable to nourish their newborns.

The Rainbow Nation delivered a stillborn democracy for which few of us mourned or wept. Most of us chose not to cast our eye on this pained death. Rather we celebrated the unconsummated joy of racial reconciliation and the unnatural birthing of the Rainbow Nation. Today we should weep for liberation lost in 1994. Reconciliation was an airy flirtation with hope, consummated on a ring of deep structural inequality without even a blush of reparation. The Rainbow Nation was a win for white South Africans rather than a triumph for black liberation.

Ironically,  there has been a crystallisation of black poverty and white wealth. This is deeply disturbing, not only because of the pain of the present for the majority of South Africa’s people, but because one day future generations of South Africans may cast their eye upon black poverty and landlessness as if they were natural phenomena, rather than the monster creation of colonialism and apartheid. I write from the perspective of a foreigner – a white settler in South Africa. I do not understand whites who claim that they are Africans. For we have robbed South Africa and its people, economically, politically, and culturally, through colonialism and apartheid. 

Like every white South African – past, present, or future – I am a child of privilege. It is shameful that the majority of white South Africans have shown little or no tender loving care towards reconciliation and social justice in the ‘new’ South Africa. My writings on the Rainbow Nation have caused much heartburn among white South Africans who have continued to feast on a wonderland of opportunity in a post-apartheid South Africa.

My writings also appear to have found uncomfortable digest among some black South Africans – mostly from those who have sought majesty in the Rainbow Nation’s elite ray. I am unapologetic about any discomfort that I have caused. In fact, I relish the opportunity to disrupt the feed of white privilege and power which continues to suckle, with a gluttony that will never be sated, on the overburdened and exhausted mammary gland of the South African economy.

For as long as we are force-fed and feast upon a narrative that nourishes privilege and preserves structural inequalities, I am happy to be an unpalatable voice. My platter is not to flatter. Popularity has never been on my menu. My opinion of political parties and politicians is frank and heartfelt. I was once a committed disciple of the ANC. But over the years, I became disillusioned with the ruling party’s meaningless bourgeois tinkering of economic power relations and its timidity in dealing with land return. This has meant that the logic, patent and power of colonialism and apartheid has continued its supreme rule in a politically free South Africa.

During South Africa’s general election in 2014, I campaigned for the EFF alongside thousands of fighters whose commitment to the struggle for economic liberation was palpable. But for me, the EFF compromised its revolutionary prowess in the 2016 local election when it ‘illegitimately gifted’ votes to the Democratic Alliance, augmenting white economic power rather than fighting against it. Nonetheless, I do believe that the EFF has much radical promise. As for the DA, it is my view that white privilege is the oxygen of the party and that without it the party would struggle to breathe and would snuff itself out. I have not been a praise singer of the New Dawn which I have described as a ‘smash-and-grab’ of hope in a quicksilver of hopelessness. 

For me, the New Dawn is a mirage in a wasteland of opportunities where great expectations for economic liberation wander waif-like and without true ideological compass. In my view, ‘Ramaphosa’s New Dawn,’ like ‘Mandela’s Rainbow Nation’, is an optimal illusion. My writings grate against mainstream South African media, which has become rather sad and limp, like a jasmine flower without bloom or fragrance. The stifling modality of a monologist media and opinion landscape is beginning to wilt in its very own intellectual sterility and propagandist trickery. Strong, independent and contrary voices like mine are seeds in the cultivation of a national conversation that is not only cognitively coherent but socially and ethically conscious. It is disillusioning to bear witness to the public’s ready capture by mainstream journalism and how spell-bound people are, in the main, by conjured-up partisan portraiture and highly charged sensational headlines. My articles which, by design, have focused on sensitive social and political issues, have largely been published in and on alternative media platforms rather than in mainstream media. I am thankful for the opportunity that I have had to express my viewpoint without any blot of censure. My words have never sought favour nor have they ever shrivelled in fear. My tune, often not melodic, has always been my own.

Askies.

The truth, she hurts.

Kim Heller is an author, political commentator and advocate for radical economic transformation.

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