Beware of identity politics

TWO women walk past a poster of Steve Bantu Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement.

I’m child of the 80s, grew up in Kliptown ( proclaimed 1903),  a place whose history is parallel to that of iconic cosmopolitan townships like Sophiatown, Alexandra, Evaton, Cator Manor, District Six, Albertville etc. where human nature  is operating on a hand to hand, phata-phata, body to body contact irrespective of identity or ethnicity as opposed to the digital age we are living now or in recent apartheid inventions that fit in with  the grand plan of apartheid..

I was influenced by the teachings of Black Consciousness Movement that pursued the emancipation of Black people, a generic term including all the previously oppressed (Africans, coloureds and Indians), Black Consciousness was very much part of the general ethos, a political reaction to colonialism and most importantly reflected the post-colonial struggle because Colonialism besides carving up Africa into separate identities, ethnic identities, language groups and  what it did was encouraging an apartheid hate Africa and Azania was no different to the segregation and its clear distinction to make these ethnic reserves. 

Well it was an old strategy of the colonialists (British, Germans, Dutch, French, etc.) divide and conquer.  The division gave some people more than others and to others less which led to us fighting amongst ourselves and still instead of the larger threat that was actually pulling the strings and still pulling the strings. . We are now dealing with the ethnically constructed camps, labour reservoirs or reserves that helped to serve the larger ethos  of the larger South African political system.

Apartheid was a social architecture in terms of designing and positioning people. But a much improved model of colonialism or sleek model of the post-colonial history of South Africa. That is why when true  selfless activists talk about our struggle – not our Johnny-come-latelies or stomach politicians – they don’t talk about the struggle from the 50s but the struggle that goes back 300 years. They make a continuous line that apartheid was just an improvement if not a redevelopment of the exiting power relationships that was  prevalent in colonial settler communities. The settler communities were clearly about coming in and asserting themselves in the centre and splitting up the indigenous populations into various sub groups which they then subsequently used and exploited. 

An example that comes to mind is a ploy that was used to divide the indigenous population by the co-option of Krotoa, a linguist (who was fluent in Dutch, Portuguese, English, Mandarin due to her interaction with all the aforementioned nations who used the Cape as a halfway station), turned her into a ‘house slave’ or “impimpi.” However she saw through the settlers and kept the indigenous people abreast of the intentions of their conquerors in the “big house,” especially her uncle Autshumato  aka known by the settlers as “Harry Die Strandloper” , the first escapee from Robben Island and African freedom fighters who expropriated the “first peoples” cattle from the settlers.

It’s  sad to see the fissures caused amongst the oppressed by our oppressors widened  “post liberation” making the Cecil John Rhodes, Verwoerds, Vosters and their kin  jitterbugging wherever they are whilst the Sobukwes, Bikos, Masemolas, Plaaitjies Madibas Shakas, Madikizelas Meers, Lollans , Chachalias, Autsumao, Krotoas etc are turning in their graves. The wretched part is that our (formerly oppressed) protests are racialized and our so-called leaders are milking these man made divisions. Some pull wool over the eyes of the dejected, us, wearing overalls- and unveil their manifestos next to pokey shacks, whilst they live in leafy suburbs-guarded by sentinels who shoot to kill  and consume caviar. The Ngugis and Fanons warned us of these charlatans. But still we can’t see through these plastic prophets of destruction because they are of “us”, shame Ma Afrika(meaning all who pay allegiance to the soil) Some of us who are lucky to straddle these ethnic reserves are appalled of the stereotypes and derogatory views we have of each other.

The danger of any identity is that whenever you are threatened you gravitate to tribal, laager mentality and ethnic way of thinking. Identity is the first form of violence because what it does simply put, it separates. I am this or that and when you pronounce “I” you pronounce against them. I am means I separate myself from them, so it is the ultimate act of violence. You make a distinction of from and of you that you are separate from somebody else. The self is extracting you from a communal space. So how do we deal with that deconstruction of the I. Society and the education system perpetuate that conditioning. The I becomes me and my group, my tribe, my community etc. as opposed to the other that becomes an external threat. We saw this kind of archaic expressions in the recent protests across Mzansi’s communities and during the trial of Jacob Zuma and the fact that  Black Mambazo even offered him their studio free of charge because he is one of them, irrespective of his state looting and Stalinist actions whilst he was president. As a society we need to talk about the violence of I. Where does the construction of I comes from?

As an artist we know we need to destroy the I, the ego, the superego to make art. The ego is an outer shell like an impis shield, it is there to protects but it is a shell that is hardened over  time, over history, over trauma that we experience growing up into adults. Hence we use that shell/ shield to protect ourselves so it’s extremely hard to crack that ego or the superego. Because it is reinforced by the notion I, I this I that, this happened to me etc.,  etc. this is how it happened to me. I’m different

Identity gives us a false sense of security. Why do we need attachments? Because we’ve been brought up in a world that thrives on a fact that we are empty so we are constantly looking to fill up the emptiness.  We desperately need pedagogy in our society that can change this, some sort of social engineering called but education is just one branch of society. It’s actually about a society that has a level field and not a field where we can retreat into our own ghettos in order to survive. To not enhance tribalistic thinking because you think my brother is going to support me.  

A township intellectual wietie that we need a social engineering programme  called “Eenigheid” where we’ll be forced to live cheek by jowl, listen to Caiphus Semenyas, “West Winds,” and do nation building workshops. Ha ha! ha!

Prince Massingham is a Kliptown native, involved in theatre production and the author of Kliptown Stories on which his latest play The Prince of Kliptown is based.