Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Twitter Wars

by Benjamin Fogel, African Socialist

Sometimes it seems almost universally accepted among my white peers that whites can dictate the terms and conditions of the black experience of racism. Take the counter-trend which emerged in response to the tweet story over Zille’s “professional blacks” comment, #capetownisawesome. The fact that you as a white South African have not personally witnessed racist incidents in Cape Town does not prove anything. It is revealing. The only time I really encountered blacks growing up deep in the Southern suburbs of Cape Town was in the form of domestic workers and gardeners. In my matric year at Reddam House Constantia there were only 5 students of colour out of 120 students.

This was accepted as 'normality'. Racism went unsaid. Places like Constantia and Bishopscourt exist because of Langa and Blikkiesdorp. The difference is all the evidence needed about the racist character of Cape Town. The same geography that structured racial segregation during Apartheid remains firmly entrenched in Cape Town. The bubble of the white Southern Suburbs is jealously guarded by both government policy and private security. The safe CCTV filled cosmopolitan spaces of this 'World Class city' offered to tourists and foreign Capital still feel alien and taboo to black friends in Cape Town. 
City housing policy has led to most RDP housing being flung to the outskirts of the City, far away from paltry job offerings in the city bowl. Though open land abounds in the Southern Suburbs, it remains unthinkable for that land to be developed into public housing. Policy is about hiding the urban poor from the gaze of the rich and enriching a select cadre of politically connected real estate developers.
The interests of real estate developers and often reactionary housing or ratepayers associations seeking to retain the contours of the Group Areas Act and safeguard real estate prices rule local politics. The DA services these key constituencies. The fear of falling real estate values all-to-often provides cover for racism. In Hout Bay illegal squatters in Hangberg were shot with rubber bullets for daring to build housing in a nature reserve while the big real estate company that owns the Chapman's Peak toll road is given carte blanche to construct a multi-million rand office block in a parallel nature reserve across the bay from Hangberg. This is the double standard of land use and abuse in the Cape. 
Tellingly bus lanes on highways getting people to work everyday are only open during the early hours when workers must get to work on company time. The lanes close on the way home, during worker’s free time, when people return to the Cape Flats, making the journey far more time consuming. The same sense of blacks and coloureds as nothing other than cheap labour for white employers to exploit remains in effect. Policy services the white business community. This sort of raced urban dynamic, the fruit of old and established injustices, impacting people everyday, remains invisible to many whites. Zille included. Instead we get mindless boosterism like #capetownisawesome.
Sure the leader of the DA is human, all-too-human in fact, but she has a need to get the last word in on everything. She can come across as authoritarian. Doesn’t her excellent PR team, which seems to have convinced the press that Cape Town really delivers for all, realize that Zille's incessant tweeting and sad attempts at toyi toying are making her enemies stronger?
She has managed to alienate HIV activists in classic internet troll style, by comparing them to the Gestapo, as well as getting her followers to denounce their local dealer over twitter (true story). She displays the key characteristic of the hardened DA voter: a combination of obliviousness and liberal white denialism over racism. She even thinks she can dictate the terms and conditions of black experience. Refer of course to the already infamous reply to Simphiwe Dana, where she stupidly brought Jacob Dlamini's description of Jimmy Manyi back into use. 
I propose a counter-term: “the professional white”. It refers to the legions of mildly irritated suburbanites who write the same fucking whiny letters to the Cape Times everytime racism shapes a national debate. All the time in other words. Their complaints are invariably self-serving. The fact that their kids can't get into UCT despite all the privileges afforded them by model-c or private educations. There is always the shadow of reverse discrimination across the page. And for the last time get over that David Bullard bullshit over colonialism having saved Africa from some primitive stasis and go read about the history of the Congo or the Wretched of the Earth just to get a little taste of what colonialism was really about!
I just don't buy that cheery myth of a new post-racialism in my generation: “the born frees”. Race (and class) continue to define post-Apartheid South Africa. Until there is some sort of radical egalitarian re-distribution of South Africa's wealth or a significant shift in economic power to the majority black population of the country, we can't talk about any sort of post-racialism. Currently economic power still remains firmly in the hands of whites and to avoid this uncomfortable reality in our national political discourse, when the issue of race arises, is the worst form of political mendacity.
A real debate over race on twitter is still impossible because the vast majority of the country still has no access to internet. The voices of the working class and poor who are still waiting for the change promised in the transition to 'democracy' go unheard. The ANC has so far failed to move beyond business as usual, securing Big Business's access to markets. The DA is even more committed to these same destructive interests.