Ever since Zindzi Mandela’s rant about white people on Twitter, and AfriForum’s consequential calling for her to be fired as Ambassador to Denmark, the civil rights organisation has been inundated with media queries. Many journalists asked the same question: “Please explain to us why you regard her comments as racist?” Many of them seemed sincere in asking the question – that they honestly couldn’t understand how we can regard her comments as racist.
“Please explain to us which part of what she said was false?” asked one journalist. “It’s true that white people stole the land. How can it be racist?” asked another. “It cannot be racist, because black people can’t be racist,” argued some on social media.
Writing an article on why Zindzi Mandela is racist feels a bit like writing an article on why the earth is round. It’s supposed to be obvious, but some people seem evidently unable to comprehend it.
Firstly, these are some of her tweets on 13 and 14 June 2019:
“When you came here without land you found the original people making fire. Next you’ll claim you taught us. Just like Chris Barnard learnt the basics of heart surgery from his Black gardener. What you’re good at is fantasy.”
“Dear Apartheid Apologists, your time is over. You will not rule again. We do not fear you. Finally #TheLandIsOurs
“Miss all these trembling white cowards, shem. Botha, Potgieter, Thieving Rapist descendants of Van Riebeeck, etc: how are you my babies?”
The problem here is what George Orwell describes as “doublethink”: The act of accepting at the same time two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct. It is also related to cognitive dissonance – that mental discomfort that a person feels when they hold opposing beliefs. Doublethink usually results in the supressing of facts that do not align with your narrative and leads to double standards and incoherency.
There are countless definitions of racism and we needn’t get bogged down in a definition of what constitutes racism. To provide context, however, I’ll list two different definitions.
The African American activist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates describes racism as the need to attribute bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce and destroy them. Indian-born American and conservative author Dinesh D’Souza regards the basic definition of racism as an ideology of intellectual or moral superiority based on the biological characteristics of race. It is also argued by philosophers like Franz Fanon that racism is all about power.
This is a classic case of doublethink: The mere acknowledging of the fact that Zindzi Mandela is a black South African ambassador, appointed by a black president, presiding over a (mostly) black government that is outspoken about using the mechanisms of the state to promote the interests of black people, while also arguing that she cannot be racist because she is black and black people have no power. If you sincerely believe that you can only be racist if you have power, then you have to also believe that a small right wing fringe group like the AWB couldn’t be racist. There is no form of power that the AWB ever had that the ANC doesn’t have to an exponentially higher degree.
In her tweets she attributed bone-deep features to white people in general in an attempt to humiliate them. It was an argument of black (moral) superiority based on nothing but skin colour. She did this by describing white people as criminals, cowards and rapists.
“Yes, but surely you would have to concede that these things are true, that white people did steal the land, etc.,” responded one journalist.
Well, the response to this is quite straight-forward, but also apparently very difficult for some of our friends behind the microphones of the country’s biggest radio stations to comprehend. So to make it easy, I’m going to present the explanation in a numbered format:
1. It is true that land dispossessions took place in South Africa.
2. It is untrue, however, that all white people participated in this.
3. It is also untrue that all black people had their land taken from them.
4. It is also untrue that all land was taken across the entire surface of South Africa.
5. It is also untrue that all white people who own land does so as a result of illegitimate means.
6. We can identify where land was dispossessed through illegitimate means.
7. Where this happened, it must be corrected through a process of restitution, which is why there has been land restitution for the last quarter of a century.
8. We must however acknowledge that 84% of land claims are filed in urban areas and that 93% of land claimants choose financial compensation rather than land.
9. To refer to imbalances in land ownership as a justification for anti-white racism is misplaced.
10. Acknowledging that some white people engaged in land dispossessions doesn’t justify the claim that “white people are criminals,” because this amounts to ascribing negative features to people based merely on the colour of their skin.
Having said that, we can flip the argument on its head to expose the doublethink and the cognitive dissonance that so many in the mainstream media suffer from:
1. If a white public representative – let’s say Derek Hanekom – were to say for example that “blacks are cowards, blacks are criminals and blacks are rapists”, there would be no argument as to whether he should be fired or not.
2. If any person were to try and justify their comments by stating “surely it’s true that black people are rapists”, that would also be racist.
3. That fact that some people have committed the crime of rape in no way justifies the claim that the entire race can now be described as rapists as a result. This is the very definition of racism.
This is not supposed to be rocket science. And the mere fact that it is necessary to write an entire article to explain why it is racist and unacceptable to regard an entire race of people as rapists, is evidence of the crisis in the South African narrative.
Ernst Roets is Deputy CEO of AfriForum.