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amaNdiya is just about prejudice


amaNdiya is just about prejudice

(By Max du Preez. Used with thanks to Dave Wightman, Daily News Durban)

I will find it very hard to ever take the government, the ANC and many prominent commentators seriously again when they make pronouncements on the topic of racism in South Africa.

How stupid, prejudiced or dishonest does one have to be to swallow the absurd explanation of blatant racist incitement in Mbongeni Ngema's song Amandiya as opening up a dialogue or giving a voice to ordinary people?

Ngema did not start a dialogue between Zulus and Indians as he calls it. It was not a revelation of something hidden and unspoken either. Both these groups and the rest of us have known since the racial conflict of 1947 in Natal and Idi Amin's expulsion all Indians from Uganda, that there is a prejudice among some African people against people of Indian extraction.

I have probably heard as many derogatory statements about Indians from black South Africans as I have heard from whites about blacks in my life. Ngema's song, Amandiya, is about nothing else but prejudice, insult and perhaps extreme opportunism.

But Ngema's racism did serve some purpose. It showed up the hypocrisy in society and some of the fallacies in the debate around racism.

That's what we need to debate, not whether incitement to racial hatred against Indians Is racism or not.

The one dangerous proposition is that when people with less power insult people with more power, it cannot be prejudice.

Most of us practise this belief in on way or another. Gay people can make vicious remarks about straight people we'll think it is funny or understandable but if it happens the other way round, we find it offensive.

Malawians or Maoris or Innuits can make funny cultural generalisations about Americans and Brits and Germans, but not the other way round.

Tshabalala can crack a joke about backward, stupid Van der Merwe, but Van der Merwe can't do the same with Tshabalala. The thesis is that powerless people can't be racist.

I suspect the Ngema apologists also bank on this excuse: "Zulus" have less economic power than "Indians", so it is acceptable to make sweeping generalisations and insult them. It smacks of the same jealousy of Jews that made it possible for Adolf Hitler to seduce the German nation into condoning his genocide.

In South Africa the lines of power are not so clear any more. The ruling ANC is a predominantly black party, as is the other party with power in Ngema's home province, the IFP.

Policy makers on virtually every level of South African public society are overwhelmingly black.

The wealthy black elite is steadily growing in numbers. Newspaper editors, electronic news bosses, television and radio celebrities are mostly black nowadays. And it is right and good that it is so, and the process should be accelerated.

But it does mean that it is not as easy any more, as it was a decade or more ago to argue that black South Africans are powerless and therefore incapable of being racists.

Black African arrogance and chauvinism can develop into something as ugly as white racism.

Ngema himself is certainly not powerless. He is very, very rich, influential and famous. And I wonder when last he had spent time in a township mostly populated by unemployed or working class Indian South Africans.

Similar racist songs and stories were sang and told before the wholesale murders of Tutsis in Rwanda began, and before Muslims and Serbs and Bosnians started slaughtering each other.

In the deep platteland, white farmers are paranoid about getting murdered on their farms and emotions are running high. Would it be acceptable if a songwriter were to write a song about how "murderous" black people are, urging "brave Afrikaners" to "confront" black people? Would it get any radio play, would it be stocked in music shops? Would we allow that songwriter to feature on a dozen radio talk shows to defend himself? Would we tolerate anyone who agreed with him in public that he was merely "opening up a debate" on an issue that a lot of people feel strongly about? Of course not.

So what is really the difference between this hypothetical piece of racism and that perpetrated by Ngema?

The notion that "the blacks" are farm murderers is as wrong as the notion that "the Indians" rob "the Zulus" even though most, if not all, farm murders are committed by people with black skins and there are undoubtedly Indian people who don't show proper respect for Zulu speakers.

But the most worrying aspect of the storm around Amandiya was the complete silence of the top echelons of the ANC and the government on the topic. Never before have they been shy to call people racists.

The ANC's chairman, Mr. Mosiuoa Lekota, warned against tribalism in an interview at the weekend, but not a word about Ngema's racist outburst.

Are they silent because they agree with Ngema's sentiments? We should know.

If you have any comments about this article, please drop us a line.

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