For ages, the country today known as South Africa was no more than a loose band of separate communities. The Nguni tribes, which settled on the Southern tip of Africa around the 10th century, neither considered themselves a single nation, nor did they consider the Khoisan people already inhibiting the area part of their collective.
The proximity of their murders—Steenkamp posted a tribute to Booysen to her Instagram just days before her own death—presents an unavoidable reminder that gender-based violence cuts across society and cannot be dismissed as a problem faced only by others. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the gory glitter of Steenkamp’s murder has overshadowed Booysen’s death in the international media.)
One of the greatest tragedies about South African society is how entrenched mob psychology is. Our retreat from engaging objectively on matters of racial antagonisms has resulted in the naturalisation of opinionated prejudice and a herd mentality. But more than that, it has resulted in the tendency to shift from fundamental questions as we employ our energies on vilifying folk devils that are a creation of moral panic, which is largely fuelled by the media. While Malema is not necessarily an angel with a shining halo, he is also not the monster he is projected as and in fact, he is one of the young people with the greatest potential to re-write the narrative of the oppressed black majority in this country. But to understand the vital role Malema has played and is yet to play, we must first understand black not as subjects of political and media chess, but as a people with a history that has shaped our collective consciousness.
Pictures of labourers with raised fists, chanting liberation slogans are now commonplace in South Africa. We’re notorious for industrial protests, dubbed “the protest capital of the world”. For many, the only serious cause for concern is the unsightly violence of industrial protests. The world watched in awe as the police showered (allegedly) armed Marikana miners with rifle fire. Forty-six people were killed, 34 all in a day’s work. With Marikana incident still fresh, a violent transport workers’ protest erupted. Local and international media were littered with images of burning trucks and reports of violent clashes between protesters and police. Before the country could breathe, protests erupted in De Doorns. This time it was the farm workers protesting disgustingly meagre wages. The pictures were no different: burning police vehicles, blocked roads, burning tyres and substantial damage to public and private property.
Last month Miss USA won the coveted crown of Miss Universe. As is tradition in pageants, if the winner is not able to finish her year as title holder, the first runner up assumes the title and the crown. Nana Meriwether was the first runner up to Miss USA and she must have been overjoyed when Miss USA won Miss Universe because that then automatically made her the new Miss USA.
One of the reasons I fought so much with my colleagues at Syracuse University is because I was told that my advocacy for black men made me something less of a legitimate scholar than my colleagues. If I was on CNN talking about black males, there would be no mention of it, even though my colleagues would get accolades for appearing in the local news. Of course it was easy to ignore the criticism, since I was trained by some of the best scholars in the world in my field and determined to bring my expertise back to my community. Also, the fact that my business school has not tenured one single black finance professor in over 100 years of existence speaks to the awesome wall of blinding racial inequality that had been built over several decades. In other words, racism makes people stupid.
By the time I met Cyril Ramaphosa in 1992, he was Nelson Mandela’s choreographer at the negotiations that would eventually bring three centuries of white dominion to a thrilling and relatively peaceful end. Every day a polyglot, multiparty assembly — of former prisoners and their onetime oppressors, Communists and Bantustan autocrats and Afrikaner nationalists and union militants — mingled in a conference center outside Johannesburg to discuss what would be, in effect, the terms of surrender.