Blacks / Masculinity / Men / Race

Sampie Terreblanche May Be Right, and a Failing Transformation Has Everything To Do With Black Masculinity, Actually

Last month in a piece published on Times Live online pages I observed that, ‘though I have heard the view that the well-fed black classes, embodied in the persons of such luminaries as Khulubuse Zuma, hate the hungry masses of blacks, I find that I have to disagree’ (see piece here

I am of the view that, as I said, the well-heeled black classes, particularly the ruling black political class and their comrades, are less and less moved by that old feeling of comradeship when they look upon hungry blacks. Having gotten fat, they have forgotten the hunger.

The most interesting part of the relationship between well-off blacks and the black poor is, I noted, how the ruling party, the African National Congress, has so far managed to persuade enough black people to ignore the fact that it is under its watch that black poverty has deepened and inequality grown.

Hence, it is not, I suggested, outright black-on-black hatred, self-hatred, internalised racism, or anything simple like that we are witnessing.

What we have in 2012 South Africa is, I think, a Brenda Fassie-like, weekend special, complicated, anniversary kind of racial solidarity. In other words, we can’t be bothered by transformation – expect on national days and during elections. Who needs black solidarity when we have champagne! 

I am no sado-masochist. I am not gladdened to find that others have made similar observations. Still, it gives real pause to realise that Sampie Terreblanche has noted this perturbing dividing and growing alienation within blacks. Emeritus professor of economics at Stellenbosch University and best known for his book ‘A history of inequality in South Africa: 1652-2002’, Terreblanche argues in his new book that the new black elite are as ‘conspicuously indifferent’ to the plight of the impoverished black majority as were the old white elites. It turns out he has been making the same argument for a while now (see

Is Sampie Terreblanche right? I am afraid I think so.

Is it true that we are getting indifferent to each other’s pains? There is something to that.

How did we get to be here? Money, that’s the short answer.

How do we get back on the right course? By first admitting that the ANC, even though it led us in overcoming colonial and apartheid oppression, is possibly not very good at running a modern government. A great national liberation movement, yes. A government that will bring a better life to all? Only in manifestos, which are like dreams.

What’s all this got to do with African masculinity? Like nearly all liberation movements, the ANC is also masculinist party run by not always wise old men. Women can be given seats at the main table, but they also have a league of their own. That very idea, of having a league of women, means the main action is elsewhere, where the men are. The masculinist tendency within the ANC unfortunately undermines its best intentions about gender equality – and the Congress has some of the best policies about women’s empowerment and gender justice actually. 

Here is a lesson for all black revolutionaries then: men who lead national freedom struggles or other similar great movements don’t know everything – can you believe it? Very often revolutionaries can’t clean after themselves. Fighting and winning a liberation war – even though it’s definitely no child’s play – is different from making and leading a free and egalitarian society. When the revolution is done, there is often a world to remake, and revolutionaries are often too tired to go the next mile. Living well with one another is, it turns out, no child’s play too. 

This lesson applies also to personal struggles and internal movements, of course. Becoming a CEO, Premier, PhD, or getting that job you always dreamed doubtless elevates your status in the eyes of women and other men. It must fill you with pride. Celebrate it damn it. However, don’t believe success in your career in itself will mean you’ll automatically be successful in other parts of your life. That is another ball game entirely, demanding a whole different skills and knowledge set. Succesful masculinity is not the same thing as succesful career, certainly not the same thing as good man, and surely not the same thing as a well-lived life.


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