By Professor Sipho Seepe

In No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power, Kim Heller provides a razor-sharp critique of South African politics. In doing so, she takes no prisoners. The hypocrisy and privilege of white society screams out of every column. She knows this well as she is a white South African. She is not unconscious of the fact that her privilege is linked to her skin colour.

While many of her white compatriots are keen to rewrite history, Heller is bold to state that she is a ‘foreigner’ in South Africa. A ‘settler on stolen land’.

She writes “like every white South African, past, present, or future, I am a child of privilege. The phenomenon of ill-gotten white privilege and power in South Africa dating back to 1652, continues to benefit us daily, at the expense of our ‘fellow’ black South Africans.”

This privilege is total. It is reflected in politics, in the economy and in the cultural environment.

Heller’s lens adds to the scholarship that looks at white privilege. She joins fellow travellers such as Peggy McIntosh, an American activist and scholar. For McIntosh white privilege is an invisible package of unearned assets that whites cash in on every day. She notes that “white privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks”.

The ANC is also not spared from excoriation. For Heller, the once-upon-a time liberation movement has become complicit in perpetuating and protecting the system of white privilege.

Under the ANC, whites have had it good, she argues. Many of the ANC’s senior members, especially those who are not in government, are comfortably perched on the boards of the corporate white world. And make no mistake. They are not co-opted to advance any struggle for economic liberation. They have accordingly turned into ‘shop stewards’ of white capital chosen with the sole purpose of stripping the ANC of any revolutionary thought.

It could be argued that this arrangement is nothing short of a mutually corrupt relationship in which big white business is assured of political protection. For their service, these former activists are rewarded handsomely with shares in white companies.

As modern-day security guards of white privilege their role is limited to whipping any potential radical thinkers into line. There is nothing new in this. This is an old strategy of capturing liberation movements and denuding them of revolutionary content. The capture of the ANC was long in the making.

It started with the infiltration of the ANC by the apartheid regime and the conversion of some of its cadres into askaris. It could be argued that with Ramaphosa’s presidency, the capture is almost complete.

Heller’s critique is not that of a bystander. She participated in anti-apartheid organisations and in 1994, she became a member of the ANC.  She reflects: “Once upon a time I was a zealous disciple of the African National Congress. I blissfully poured my faith into this political party. I scorned sagacious prophesies that the ANC would, like the colonial and apartheid rulers before it, ordain South Africa as a never-ending wonderland of and for white economic interests, at the deep expense of black South Africans.”

Heller was soon to become disillusioned with the party. She describes her disappointment: “Twenty-five years into political democracy, a goliath of landlessness and poverty is the daily bread of most black South Africans. The timidity of the ANC in dealing decisively with the land question; South Africa’s ‘original sin’ has seen black South Africans remain as pariahs in their own land. There is little trace of land return or economic liberation. Perhaps this was never part and parcel of the ANC’s post-apartheid governance treaty or its broad-church political philosophy.

“The ruling party’s meaningless bourgeois tinkering with economic power relations has meant that the logic, patent and power of colonialism and apartheid continues its supreme rule in a politically free South Africa.”

Heller, in this set of columns, also describes her disappointment in the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in which she was an active member and office bearer.

She writes about how the EFF brought great promise of radical revival but how the ‘illegitimate’ gifting of EFF votes, in the 2016 local election, to the Democratic Alliance (DA) was an augmentation of white economic power, rather than a battle against it.

This, according to Heller, diminished the EFF’s revolutionary standing. She also argues that the EFF’s radical ideology was somewhat tempered when an anti-Zuma thrust effectively became the party’s “eighth cardinal pillar”.

Other black political parties are not any different. Their persistent attack on the ANC, and particularly former President Jacob Zuma, has unwittingly defocused them from the real people’s struggle. Their barbs are rarely aimed at destroying the system that keeps African people economically and culturally enslaved.

In doing so, they render themselves as useful idiots who continue to shield white supremacy from revolutionary critique. What is at play is nothing short of a political form of black-on-black violence. It is this understanding of South African politics, which Heller aptly describes as ‘Black Politics and White Power’ that propelled her to abandon narrow party politics. This sets her free to speak the truth as she sees it.

The adage ‘truth will set you free’, is apposite to her ideological awakening. For Heller, this is the kind of freedom that liberates one from party political entanglement. This freedom has enabled her to find her authentic voice of speaking truth to power.

No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power is a refreshing treatise on Post-1994 South Africa. It is difficult to find a more honest and brutal assessment of South Africa’s new political dispensation. In providing this critique, Heller zeroes in on the core of South Africa’s political dispensation in that it is rooted in, and premised, on the logic and framework of apartheid.

Understood this way, it comes as no surprise that the ANC government has been unable to disrupt apartheid’s geopolitical imagination. If anything, the reproduction of apartheid mental and spatial patterns is now in full swing, reversing whatever gains may have been made.

In the final analysis, Heller opines that “the Rainbow Nation, consummated without revolutionary romance in 1994, has since been unmasked as a deceptive act of seduction to ensure that white power and privilege maintained a choke hold on the throat of the South African economy”.

Until the edifice of apartheid colonialism is destroyed, black people must resign themselves to being mere spectators of a vulgar and exuberant display of white supremacy and arrogance.

In a no-holds-barred assessment of the ANC, which probably applies to other black parties, Heller concludes: “My moral and political consciousness will not allow me to vote for a political party that is incapable of, or unwilling to fundamentally transform South Africa. I cannot sanction a political party that places narrow white privilege before the good of the black majority. I will not support a political party that does not place the will and welfare of South Africa’s poorest first and foremost. On 8 May 2019, I will not be voting for the ANC.”

She concludes: “The tragedy of ANC governance and of South Africa’s stillborn liberation is that black poverty and white wealth have become cemented as the natural order of South African society and economy rather than as the precision–engineered monstrosity and afterbirth of colonialism and apartheid that it is. It is a cruel legacy.”

Nothing could be more sobering than this!

(Professor Sipho Seepe is the Deputy Vice Chancellor: Institutional Support of the University of Zululand and a political analyst)

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