THIS week, South Africans celebrated Human Rights Day, in one of the most unequal societies in the world, where black poverty lingers as white wealth continues its prosper. South Africa is a nation, whose land and wealth, stolen by whites, has yet to be returned.
We speak proudly of the fact that we are a democracy, yet our Constitution, revered worldwide as a masterpiece of human rights, has hardly shaken the white privilege and structural inequality which patterned the underbelly of oppressive colonial and apartheid regimes.
So, whose human rights are we celebrating? Human rights, without land, is nothing to celebrate. There is no
freedom, or dignity for a landless people. Frantz Fanon summarises it best, in The Wretched of the Earth;
“For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.”
A genuine commitment to a human rights agenda in South Africa will require us to hush the tenacious hum of Rainbow Nation-ism. For while Rainbow Nation-ism preaches reconciliation and social cohesion; it is effectively a sermon of and for white privilege.
A chorale for racial harmony is a false chord in a society where inequality and poverty, crafted with much precision and dedication over decades of colonialism and apartheid, still taunts our everyday life. It is actually a highly oppressive chant, if not strongly accompanied by a resilient stanza for economic redress and justice.
The cry for economic liberation was unanswered in 1994 and consequently white wealth and black poverty have been crystallised and normalised as part of a current day South Africa. It is a status quo upon which true human rights can never flourish.
Land expropriation without compensation and radical economic transformation across all aspects of the South African economy, need to be chapter and verse of a new anthem for South Africa if we truly aspire to be a bastion of human rights. White South Africans have taken no responsibility for atrocities fashioned by their forefathers under colonialism and apartheid.
Despite Apartheid denounced as inhumane by the International Criminal Court in 2002, white South Africans have side-stepped culpability and accountability and continue to derive benefits daily, and without jeopardy.
It is a gesture of deep ethical bankruptcy. I have written previously that if whites had a moral compass they would have returned stolen land and wealth by now.
But in the words of a true humanitarian; Bob Marley; “Some people are so poor, all they have is money”
Last week, DA stalwart and Premier of the Cape Colony, Helen Zille raised the ire of many with her twitter posts which suggested that colonialism had heralded in some benefits to the country.
Among other things, Zille wrote: “For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water”.
Colonialism and apartheid brought no benefits or gains for black South Africans. To postulate this is to completely misrepresent the dynamics of these vicious racist regimes which were purposefully engineered to benefit and cater to white interests through the systemic deprivation of black South Africans.
White fortunes were built on the orchestrated fracturing of the livelihood, fates and fortunes of black
South Africans. Zille tells a horribly distorted version of history, as many victors of history have before her. The great
revolutionary South African songwriter, Miriam Makeba said: “The conqueror writes history, they came, they conquered and they write. You don’t expect the people who came to invade us to tell the truth about us.”
An example of this is how a proud part of Limpopo’s history; the Kingdom of Mapungubwe was deliberately kept hidden from our history books by the apartheid government until the late 1990’s. The pre-colonial Kingdom, which
has been compared in historical significance and magnificence to the Great Wall in China was hidden because it made a lie of the apartheid dogma of white supremacy that sought to obscure and miniaturise black economic success.
It is a story that was almost lost. In many ways, I feel we are losing the story of Sharpeville too, as we celebrate Human Rights Day, without a direct telling of this tragedy. On 21 March 1960, police fired on a group of unarmed people who had marched to the Sharpeville station to protest against pass laws, which restricted the freedom of movement of black South Africans on their own land.
It was a massacre where 69 lives were lost and a further 180 people injured. We must never forget these true fighters for human rights. Karl Marx said ‘the past lies like a nightmare upon the present’. Today, the South African post-democracy horizon still holds the cruel bruise of colonialism and apartheid.
South Africa remains a three-dimensional, unfiltered celebration of copious white privilege and wealth; although
such images are rarely captured in tourist glossaries or Instagram selfies. The ANC government has struggled against the goliath legacy of colonial and apartheid plunder, and has yet to free the economy from the clutch of white power and privilege.
The Government needs to be far more resolute and decisive on radical economic transformation and land
return. Until stolen land and wealth is returned to black South Africans and every facet of our economy is
transformed, the dignity, rights and well-being of the black child will remain last.
Kim Heller, is a media and political strategist and outspoken advocate for economic liberation in South Africa