Black Wednesday: Remembering the pain

About a week ago, I went to a film screening of a short doccie on Black Wednesday, hosted by the Steve Biko Foundation at the Bioscope in Maboneng.

I imagined that it would be enlightening and robust debate would be had. I didn’t imagine that I would cry throughout the entire thing.

I “know” our history, I’ve studied it extensively in school, varsity and in my private time to make sure that I never forget, I never become complacent, complicit and and and. Some say I am obsessed and I think we need to be if we truly want to “fight” the system – but that’s a discussion for another day.

Black Wednesday: On October 19 1977 three newspapers and a number of anit-apartheid journalists were banned. The movie we saw was about that, linking that day to the broader effort by the apartheid government to weaken the Black Consiousness Movement as a whole.

Seeing a grown man cry about how Steve Biko’s death was more than just a loss but something that left an indelible mark – at which point he cried, I cried. Personally I will never ever be able to forgive that. Killing Biko on September 12, a month prior, was more than an act of extreme hate but a convoluted plan to break a people – and it may have worked.

Anyway there was a cool opportunity for a Q&A session with the journalists who were banned that time, Joe Thloloe and Juby Mayet. Some highlights from that discussion:

Q: There’s a dirth intellectual leadership amongst emerging generations. They engage with Pan-African ideas at a very superficial level because it’s the “in” thing. The black rage they feel is fabricated. Thoughts on that?

Joe Thloloe: When you say fabricated anger, I disagree with that. It’s still the same anger. But we tried to sanitize it and in the process we find it erupting in ways we didn’t imagine… Since 1994 we have started to believe we are a rainbow nation, we are a miracle nation – when in fact the issues of the time still haven’t been solved. That’s the tragedy of our history.

Q: If that’s the case, can we be saved?

Juby Mayet: The black rage that exists today is directed at the current leadership, because there is such a vast gap between the haves and the have-nots. The haves are not necessarily white anymore…There is such a simple solution, don’t do it  for the t-shirt and the free food hamper – think. You’ve got the vote now, use it.

Q – asked by my friend, Shandukani Mulaudzi: What would you have liked to see happen in ’94?

JT: The first disaster was at Kempton Park, where a whole nation was hoodwinked into believing that a miracle is happening. The first thing that should have been negotiated was – how do we make up for all these years of suffering? That question wasn’t answered. And it still hasn’t been answered. We just went right to ululating and saying we are free – when in fact the basic issue was not resolved. Today a few of us have been co-opted into the old apartheid structures – we just have a few black faces there. I wanted us to answer the question of what do we do about 300 years of painful oppression.

Q: The term Black is now being used as a divider, rather than a term to unite. In the era of BCM, it was used to identify all people who were oppressed. The term Black is being abused by the current holders of power. How do you identify yourselves?

JM: When I had to fill in forms in those days and I still do this – where it asked for race I used to say human. If all of us do that they’ll soon chuck away all of the forms.

Q: Recently Minister Lindiwe Sisulu that people under 40 were not affected by apartheid, therefore should not benefit from redress measures like receiving RDP houses. Thoughts?

JT: That’s absolute nonsense. The child who is unable to read and write in Soweto today – is a product of the apartheid system. Is a product of Jan van Riebeeck landing in the Cape. So it’s 300 years that you are talking about and that will not be removed by the wave of a magic wand. When we talk about redress we must be talking about how we fix the systems, the hurt and damage that was done – mental, physical and spiritual.

Q: How do we address correcting the wrongs of the past if we don’t identify who is Black, White, Coloured etc, if we go by the human race definition?

JT: Saying we are part of “the human race” is a nice little intellectual trap we have set for ourselves. We have to be Black or Coloured or Indian to redress the past. Ultimately we are looking at all people who were oppressed, people who couldn’t vote, couldn’t get work, live where they wanted to etc.

JM: Millions are spent on nonsense things like Nkandla, expensive clothes, flying here and there. That money could be spent on other simple things like education. They did away with Teacher Training Colleges – where must our teachers learn to do what they do? There also needs to be more emphasis on reading from a very young age. Open more libraries, have mobile libraries in rural areas. My informal education largely came from reading when I was young – I just read everything that was in the house.

Q – asked by me: I’m a new journalist and obviously a black female. I find myself in a space where I am expected to write about Nkandla being so bad and that minister being so corrupt – when I know that that is not the real issue – white supremacy is. I suppose my question is, how today, as a journalist can I move beyond the anger I feel towards Jacob Zuma and focus on the real issue we have had and will probably have for I don’t know how long? It’s so very depressing to me to think that my children and their children and their children will have to live through this. It’s an all-encompassing frustration and depression that emanates from me not knowing what to do.

JM: You used the term “white supremacy” – there’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist in my world. In ’94 when we blacks went to vote for the first time were so blindsided by this rosey image of what was happening. We need to lay blame at Nelson Mandela’s feet. Yes, he was a terrific person and a great inspiration but we blindly voted for his party because of who he was – we didn’t see beyond him. We need to conscentise one another, to change mindsets.

JT: The media is a reflection of society in general. We have come to glorify the sensational. The media are businesses, they provide society with what society wants. As journalists we need to reflect who we are in our writing, not what the powers that be want. We are guerillas operating in enemy territory – the newspapers and radio stations are not ours but we must use them.

Q (asked audience member from Bolivia): I would like to see South Africa become a clour blind society. Because with this rainbow of this rainbow nation thing, there are just too many tribes – like in South America. It’s another form of apartheid to say black or white or coloured. People use “black” to play victim.

In response I said: It’s useful to label ourselves because there is a bigger system that supports those lables. It is not a coincidence that the people who liv e in dire poverty are people of colour. Until that is no longer the situation, the labeling of ourselves is necessary.

It was a lovely evening and much more was discussed in the hour long conversation. Keep learning, keep growing.

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