The intense national furore that erupted following the thoughtless and tasteless use of the term "professional blacks" by Helen Zille, the Premier of the Western Cape, and leader of the national official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), represents a defining intellectual and middle class moment in the short life of South Africa's constitutional democracy.
Helen Zille recently accused Simphiwe Dana, the acclaimed black female musician, and Lindiwe Shuttle, a well-known black artist, of wanting to be "professional blacks", instead of being black professionals, following the latter two's complaint that Cape Town was racist.
The bitter spate between the three played itself out on Twitter, and was joined by others.
Confronted by the deep-seated misgiving among blacks over her ill-advised use of the term, a misgiving expressed on twitter, and later during radio talk shows on which she appeared jointly with Simphiwe Dana, Zille was forced to concede that she was actually not being original when she employed the term "professional blacks".She pointed out that the real originator, and rightful claimant, to the term was none other than Jacob Dlamini, himself a black South African, and former freelance journalist at the Business Day.
This rapid reaction response by Zille in revealing the epistemological provenance of the term seemed to startle her fierce black critics a bit, catching them, as it were, off- balance, and momentarily confused. How could it be that it was a black man that coined such a deeply offensive term, and how did they miss the first time it was used by Jacob Dlamini a while back on Business Day?
There was stunned silence and disbelieve amongst Zille's now a little deflated black critics. It was into this momentary confusion and emotional hiatus that the Sunday Times' Phylicia Oppelt sought to insert herself with her "When 'blackness' defines the politics of identity" column.
Although Oppelt starts frivolously by saying that "...when artist Lindiwe Suttle, singer Simphiwe Dana and politician Helen Zille got into a non-spat this week about whether Cape Town is racist, social media sites were abuzz." She improves only slightly on her initial frivolity around what she termed "a non-spat catfight" by stating that "while it might have been as interesting as watching two-minute noodles expand in a bowl, there was something about the issue of race that lingered." In so doing, Phylicia Oppelt honours the sad saying that we trap words, and then ourselves in turn get trapped by the same words we use.
Consequently race, racism and racial stereotyping become the womb that has trapped the main thrust and conclusion of her column, out of which she is either unable, or unwilling, to break out, in order to be able to give birth to a new and different meaning, and discursive interpretation, of the "non-spat catfight" and expanding "two-minute noodles in the bowl" she derides. Untangling the frivolous from the serious in Oppelt's argument becomes as difficult as separating the tomato sauce from the boiled and expanded noodles in the bowl.
In the process, what Oppelt misses is that the spat between Helen Zille, on the one hand, and Simphiwe Dana and Lindiwe Suttle, on the other, is anything but "a non-spat catfight". It is a royal and mighty representation, and very public illustration, of our ongoing national contestation over the direction and trajectory our country should adopt as we go forward.
I actually submit that the racial overtones of the spat amongst the three ladies are misleading and hide away much more seismic, much more fundamental, certainly very strategic, and long term underlying forces at play in our national psyche. Instead of a catfight amongst women, what we in fact have are the first powerful stirrings of SA's future political contours foretold.
That it was the three women who happened to have been at the metaphorical scene first, over the spat as to whether Cape Town is racist or not, so to speak, is the primary, if not the sole, reason why commentators would delude people and themselves to arrive at, and passionately embrace, superficial analyses and predictable, if not tired and worn-out, conclusions and prejudices about the real meaning of the now well-known spat.
I will demonstrate the over-riding importance of the Zille-Dana-Shuttle. spat by focusing on what it reveals about:
- The growing behind-the-scenes strategic and intellectual leadership role that black intellectuals with ostensibly impeccable anti-apartheid struggle credentials, and those cloistered in their think-tanks, away from any public view of their strengthening symbiotic inter-dependence, and cross-pollination, with Zille's Democratic Alliance (DA), play in our politics at this rare phase of our country's national political development.
This strategic and intellectual role that these credible, supposedly independent, black intellectuals now play for the DA is an unintended parody, but still unmistakable, and inverse role-play, of the indispensable strategic and intellectual role that the CPSA/SACP members historically played for the ANC before the 1969 ANC Morogoro Conference, when the ANC membership was closed to non-Africans, including white SA communists.
-The unprecedented and historic convergence of class and ideological interests between the enlightened leadership of the DA, represented by people like Zille, Patricia de Lille, James Wilmot, Lindiwe Mazibuko, and the DA chief ideologue and strategist, Ryan Coetzee, and what Jacob Dlamini once characterized as the "Commentariat", but specifically "the black commentariat". In all the history of South Africa since 1652, this is both a wholly new and fresh political development, but also an important affirmation, and watermark, of the ongoing evolution of SA's constitutional and democratic vision.
-The mighty and bitter strategic and intellectual clash between two long-term and strategic visions of where the country should be in the next fourty years, starting with the predicted epochal 2019/2020 political epiphany, i.e. the 2019 DA national electoral victory, or the more unsettling Moeletsi Mbeki predicted 2020 "Tunisia moment" for the country. In brief it's the clash between the "Tsunami" vision, which postulates that the masses must and will always push the national elites and decision-makers to arrive at the right "Finland or Singapore" moment for SA.
The "Tsunami" vision is fiercely opposed and counteracted by the "Ox Wagon" vision, which in turn postulates that, since we are running out of time, and the masses are not ripe to be the subjects of their own history, an enlightened, conservative, but very powerful multi-racial elite, whose theoretical and strategic direction is provided by the DA-aligned, albeit outwardly independent, black intellectual "commentariat", should take it upon themselves to lead the country to its Utopia, and drag it crying and kicking if needs be, like an oxen pulling a broken tractor. It is, to wit, as good as now having a totally democratic, multiracial, and non-sexist Broederbond running the country, or Western Cape, behind the scene.
On what do I base this analysis?
Let's take the point about the growing ideological and strategic leadership role played by black intellectuals to retool and reboot Helen Zille and the DA. The starkest example of such a political collaboration and confluence of interests is provided by Zille's use of Jacob Dlamini's term "professional blacks", which she uncharacteristically, quickly, and happily admitted is not hers to claim intellectual ownership over. You would think that she must be given credit for such a rare leadership act of outright political candour?
But what she and Jacob Dlamini do not bother to tell us is that they are collaborating on a second level, hidden from uncritical public view, which makes Zille's employment of the term against certain black professionals who differ with her and the DA, even more pejorative, insulting, and slanderous. Both Helen Zille and Jacob Dlamini do not reveal that, if truth be told, the credit for the term does not even belong to Jacob Dlamini, who chose to use the abominable term in the manner most foul and offensive to blacks, in a Business Day article violently ranting against the now SA Government Spokesperson, Jimmy Manyi.
Yet the first time a similar term was used it was intended to protect and defend blacks from the scum of white racism. Here is what Malcom X, the famous and deeply revered American anti-racism black prophet, stated:
"Today's Uncle Tom doesn't wear a handkerchief on his head. This modern, twentieth-century Uncle Thomas now often wears a top hat. He's usually well-dressed and well-educated. He is often the personification of culture and refinement. The twentieth-century Uncle Thomas sometimes speaks with a Yale or Harvard accent. Sometimes he is known as Professor, Doctor, Judge, and Reverend, even Right Reverend Doctor. This twentieth century Uncle Thomas is a professional Negro...by that I mean his profession is being a Negro for the white man" (Autobiography of Malcolm X, assisted by Alex Haley, page 345, 1968, Penguin Books edition).
Now do compare please what Malcolm X wrote above with what Jacob Dlamini wrote about "professional blacks" in his Business Day article, and with which Zille agrees completely. In short, Malcolm X's intention is to condemn abject collaboration with white racists by Uncle Thomas Negros in Ameriica, whilst Jacob Dlamini and Helen Zille, to the contrary, use the term "professional blacks" to condemn any post-apartheid South African black professionals, who constantly complain about perceived ongoing acts of racism and racial bigotry, especially in the DA-governed Cape Town and Western Cape, even though in so rightly complaining, they thus affirm that our very new constitutional democracy still carries open racial wounds of its recent, and fresh-in-memory, collective past of legislated racial bigotry.
In his autobiography, Malcolm X further reveals that he had visited and spoken at many American colleges and universities, including Yale University. It is interesting and maybe, in the circumstances, pertinent to note that our own Jacob Dlamini did his PhD in History studies at the self-same Yale University in America that Malcolm X visited and spoke at. The likelihood that Jacob Dlamini, as a Yale History student, would have come across Malcolm X's autobiography, and the that he particularly mentally noted the observation of Malcolm X about "professional Uncle Thomas Nigros", is more than probable, and allows for an informed assumption to that effect, I would say.
The real question at the heart of this intellectual inquiry is, therefore, why, and to what political ends, did Jacob Dlamini, now supported by Helen Zille, so cruelly and unsentimentally, completely distort, turn on its head, and in fact abuse, the words of Malcolm X, to deliberately temper a steel dagger that he plunged, heartlessly and remorselessly, at the hearts of both non- and anti-DA black professionals? And thus so dishonourably and shamefully distorting the sacred and immortal words of the world's universal black anti-racism icon, who to this day, through his thoughts and uncompromising anti-racism stance, inspires us so profoundly and comprehensively, from his grave, i.e. Malcolm X?
Was this all done so that Jacob Dlamini can give meaning, and purpose, to a whole new intellectual class he invented single-handedly and christened "the commentariat", i.e. black commentators from within the pre-1994 broad democratic and anti-apartheid movement?
Was his Ruth First Memorial Lecture just a calculated public laundering of his undoubted great democratic credentials, in order to mollify and sooth a rebelling conscience when he would later slander and besmirch an entire group of black professionals at a stroke of a pen? Within what ideological and political context should his book, "Native Nostalgia", be understood and appreciated? Was it intended to be the first shot at romanticizing our horrible apartheid past embodied within lived black township experience pre-1994, so as to best rubbish and spit on our post-apartheid past, present and future?
In his classic, "The Souls of Black Folk", W.E.B Du Bois, that titan for universal black emancipation, wrote: "And to make men, we must have ideals, broad, pure, and inspiring ends of living, - not sordid money-getting, not apples of gold...The worker must work for the glory of his work, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame."
In coining the term "professional blacks" from the day-light, and unacknowledged, intectual defrauding and basterdization of Malcolm X's "professional Uncle Thomas Negro", what "ideals, and broad, pure, and inspiring ends of living", to quote W.EB. Du Bois, was Jacob Dlamini pursuing? For whom was he singing for his intellectual and political lunch, which was most certainly at the unashamed expense of those black professionals he perjuratively termed "professional blacks"? Was he being a thinker for fame, and not truth?
What is beyond dispute is that Jacob Dlamini, through stealing and subverting the meaning of Malcolm X's term, has made Helen Zille, and the entire DA membership, very happy indeed, whilst at the same time he made a large swath of black professionals very unhappy and embarrassed, for sure.
Let's now turn to the question of the converge of interests between the DA and the powerful "black commentariat", which basically is an archipelago of black intellectuals and thinkers scattered across various think-tanks, universities, corporates, and even civil society research outfits throughout the country, and which is broadly supportive of and sympathetic to Helen Zille's DA goals. Again Jacob Dlamini has elevated himself, by dint of his writings, to be the High Priest of this "black commentariat".
His typical, but influential, thinking on this point is captured by his also now world-famous article entitled "ANC will not go out with a bang but a whimper", which was carried by the Business Day of 17 February 2011. In the article Jacob Dlamini quotes Moeletsi Mbeki, the brother of former SA President Thabo Mbeki, with fawning approval and undisguised frisson, as if to indicate that he regards Moeletsi Mbeki as not just a fellow traveller, but that he regards him also reverentially as the Dalai Lama of "the commentariat" he invented. This is what Jacob Dlamini writes in this context: "Black voters are not waiting for the opposition to persuade them that an arrogant ANC in power for too long is not good".
This must have sounded like celestial sweet melody in the ears of the opposition, especially Helen Zille and the DA. This in politics is as close as it gets to being similar to a marriage proposal by a desperate lover on a rebound. Of course Helen Zille and her key DA party strategist, Ryan Coetzee, must have picked up these courtly love signals from Jacob Dlamini.
In the same article, Jacob Dlamini went on to quote Moeletsi Mbeki, when the latter famously asserted that SA will have its "Tunisia moment" around 2020. In reference to Moeletsi Mbeki's "Tunisia moment" prediction, Jacob Dlamini wrote: "It was a bold prediction. But what if the end of African National Congress (ANC) rule does not come to pass via revolution, but through something as mundane as the popular vote? That I suspect is far more likely". Jacob Dlamini leaves nothing to imagination and chance, as he feels inspired to provide not just the over-all strategic and intellectual depth for Helen Zille and the DA, but also the tactical action plan.
According to this article, Jacob Dlamini predicted that even before the "Tunisia moment" in 2020, (failing the DA national electoral victory in 2019), the ANC can be electorally defeated in Gauteng, "...because the ANC support will drop to 50% or less, before there is a revolution in SA". Alternatively, the DA must be in power nationally through an Arab Spring-type Revolution in 2020, as predicted by Moeletsi Mbeki, and which prediction was given an enthusiastic intellectual, moral and strategic stamp of approval by Jacob Dlamini, marking out both as apparent leading lights and brightest sparks of "the black commentariat", but by no means the only ones. And thus the intellectual and strategic genesis of the DA's strategic political and electoral plan to oust the ANC from national power through the vote in the 2019 national elections.
Let's now turn our attention to the last point, ie the competing "Tsunami" and "Ox Wagon" national visions. The over-arching validation for the DA's "Ox Wagon" vision derives from what was quoted above, ie that Jacob Dlamini, in his article of 17 februiary 2011, believed, and sought to convince others, that "black voters aren't waiting for the opposition to persuade them that in arrogant ANC in power for too long is not good".
Such are the ripe, low-hanging fruits of disillusioned black voters waiting to be harvested by the DA, starting in Gauteng, that even the DA would have to be aroused screaming and kicking from its self-induced Rip Van Winkel political and strategic slumber by Jacob Dlamini's clarion and French Revolution-like clarion call "To Arms! To Arms!" for DA electoral victory.
All that the DA needs to do is just to appoint a few "rising stars" black professionals in order to legitimize the electoral project to capture the black vote away from the ANC, such as Lindiwe Mazibuko and a few others. Now, if there could ever conceivably be a legitimate instance for Malcolm X being justified in employing the term "professional Uncle Thomas Nigger", or indeed for both Jacob Dlamini and Helen Zille, if both were politically and intellectually honest, and consistent, to use the term "professional blacks" to describe some folorn group of misguided black professionals, this would really be it, at least in the original non-fraudulent sense of the use of the term as was intended by its original wordsmith, and right intellectual claimant, Malcolm X.
So incomprehensively subversive, and so totally outrageous, has been Helen Zille's premeditated and calculated use of the appalling, slanderous, inflammatory, explosive and humiliatingly derogatory term "professional blacks", that she really has three options now before her and the DA:
- a public and sincere apology to the country by her for her impermissible lapse in judgement over the use of the term, even if it was in a hissy fit and uttered in the heat of the moment. Many people would be prepared to accept her unconditional apology and genuine remorse, if it's done sincerely. SA could then allow her to move on.
-she could immediately resign from her DA leadership position, and hand over the reigns to Patricia de Lille, as a way of her acknowledgement of the deep hurt, suffering, and pain her unguarded and unwise use of the term has inflicted on all black professionals especially, all blacks in particular, and all SA democrats in general. Such a decision would be consistent with Helen Zille's own and known impeccable, irreproachable, untouchable, and undeniable great anti-apartheid and anti-racism credentials before 1994,
-she can choose to stubbornly continue to cling to power and influence as the governing Western Cape Premier, and the leader of the country's national official opposition, impervious to, and contemptuous of, all criticisms against her, because she too foolishly and mistakenly believes, like the Sunday Times' columnist Phylicia Oppelt, that the country should view her use of the term "professional blacks" during her "Is Cape Town racist" twitter spat with Simphiwe Dana and Lindiwe Shuttle, as just a minor entertaining girls' "non-spat catfight", which is as boring as watching two-minute noodles expand as they boil in a bowl.
No Madam Helen Zille, take it from me, you are facing your political Waterloo Battle moment now. The only choice you really got in the matter is: Do you want to rise up from this incident as Admirtal Nelson, or go down as Napoleon? If you decide to tough it out in your current positions, here is the bleak scenario staring right back at you and the DA:
Instead of you capturing national power in the 2019 national elections, starting with an earlier capture of Gauteng from the ANC (as recommended by Jacob Dlamini of "the black commentariat"), you face the almost certain prospect that the DA will lose the Western Cape in the 2014 provincial elections, suffer a route in its national black support, lose most of your recent municipal gains in the next municipal elections of 2016, and then you would go on to preside over a debilitating and destabilizing period of prolonged and unruly internal DA succession battles. Sadly, Madam Helen Zille, by uttering the "professional blacks" term, you failed the greatest test of leadership, which, according to Howard Gardner, is for leaders "...above all, to embody in their lives the stories that they tell." (Leading Minds - An Anatomy of Leadeership).
In a unique, uninvited, unrehearsed and unguarded political moment, when you felt supremely provoked on twitter by the two black ladies over the "Is Cape Town racist" spat, your non-racial mask momentarily fell from your face, and what was revealed behind the mask was a lady as hard and uncaring, as unresponsive and unmoved, as John Voster, our cruel apartheid-era Prime Minister, once was.
Are you going to again throw away your non-racial mask if, and when, you get provoked whilst going about your duties as our country's first democratically elected white female national President following the 2019?
Will your first presidential act as our first democratically elected white female President be to fire all those "professional blacks" you so much and openly despise and loath, and who you clearly suspect over-populate the national and provincial public service, as well as within the corridors of power across the length and breadth of our country? A softer, blacker, African, and Godzille version of post-Saddam Iraq's"De-Baathification" maybe?
As for "the black commentariat" that was attaching itself to you and the DA on the basis of a "professional blacks" swart-gevaar, maybe they will finally be able to heed the thundering and unambiguous words uttered in public anger by Rev Dr Martin Luther King jr, who fiercely opposed the Vietnam War, to Whitney Young of the Urban League, and who was very supportive of the Vietnam War, and who was trying to convince Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr to support the USA government's Vietnam War effort: "Whitney, what you're saying may get you a foundation grant, but it won't get you into the kingdom of truth." (David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest, page 640).
Isaac Mpho Mogotsi is Executive Director of the Centre of Economic Diplomacy In Africa (CEDIA) [email protected]. He is also a businessman and a former diplomat.
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