OPINION BY MCEBO DLAMINI
There is a misconception that black people are not progressing because they are lazy and are unable to think of strategies that will empower them. Often these critiques are leveled without acknowledging that black people have a particular history that structurally situates them in the conditions in which they find themselves.
So, it makes no sense why people consistently insist on making an analogy between other races and black people. Afrikaners, Jews and Indians, for example, have a distinct history from that of black people. The fact that blacks are still imbued in poverty has much to do with the brutal history of subjection. We must never be afraid to speak this important truth just because there are those who will accuse us of being stuck in the past.
I am in no way denying the fact that black people have agency and possess the necessary capabilities to change their lives. I am also in no way denying the fact that some of the problems we face are self-inflicted, but what I want to highlight is that we exist within a structure that makes it difficult and sometimes almost impossible for black people to progress.
So, black people are unemployed because there are no jobs and not because they are lazy; they steal not because they are inherently criminals, but often because they are hungry and there are no other options; and they do not have their own businesses not because they do not have ideas, but often because there is no funding.
The preoccupation of society should therefore be about dismantling the structure that keeps black people stuck in a whirlwind of stagnancy.
I overheard a conversation which unashamedly said the problem with black people was that they are complacent and all they want to do is to whine and complain. This angered me because there are people constantly working hard to change their lives. They wake up at 4am, squeeze into unsafe modes of transport, toil for long hours in factories – only to be underpaid. They do all of this so that they can survive and feed their families.
If black people were lazy, would they be working in mines, retail stores, as cleaners, as plumbers? Would they be dragging huge piles of rubbish in big cities? If black people were complacent, the workers of Marikana would still be alive: they died because they wanted change. If black people were complacent, the students would not have taken to the streets and protested for free and decolonised education.
They do all of these things because the conditions they live in are unbearable and they want things to change.
And quite frankly, black people have the right to whine because for a long time they have been fighting, dying, working, singing, writing and still, things have not changed.
The long history of black insurrections and uprisings bears witness to the fact that we have not only been whining.
So, the next time I hear any of my friends claiming that black people are not doing enough, I will respond in anger. This is because it suggests that they do not appreciate our collective efforts to change our conditions. Not only that, but it also says that they are not sensitive to the brutal past that has permeated the present.
Black people DO want to better themselves, but the odds are stacked against them. Black people must continue to find subversive and alternative ways of being better in the world, but we must not erase the numerous efforts of black people who imagine better tomorrows.
Mcebo Dlamini is a former leader of student protests at Wits University.
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