27 June 2017

South Africa: The #guptaleaks - What Do We Do With the Stench in the Room?

opinion

Two elite groups vie for a place at the top of the pile

Instead of being disgusted by the Guptas, we might want to see the exposure of their racist conduct as a blessing. In creating a white gevaar, as a diversion tactic for the looting, the Guptas have unwittingly focused attention on the dangers of unchecked black power. The emails have given us an opportunity to see that parasitic elites, regardless of colour, are not good for society.

From the nefarious reaches of the interweb, a dark space that never fails to provide the goods, came the Gupta emails. Like a hailstorm of turd, the dodgy dealings of the infamous family left a stench in the room. As we scattered for air, it was left to the brave to discern whether what had passed was a monumental, and life changing data dump, or sprinkles of bull-dust.

From the rubble, what emerged with the most certainty was the fact that we have (again) reached a point in South African society where the shit has hit the fan. As crap runs the streets like the unsewered cities of Victorian England, it will be interesting to see, who has a droptop or an umbrella. I suspect, umbrellas, circa Hong Kong 2014, as kak dodgers hit the streets, might be in vogue this season.

The abysmal squander of resources is something of a postcolonial condition that is at the heart of independent Africa. Corruption in post-apartheid South Africa is an age-old lady that sings the blues. Since the Arms Deal (the billions gifted to Bankcorp notwithstanding), we haven't looked back.

So I imagine that the flurry of stories resulting from the emails weren't as jaw dropping as they were hoped to be. This is because at the end of the day the leak confirmed what we already knew, something we are, for better or worse, well attuned to.

Nevertheless, the clamour surrounding the emails indicates that they mean something.

They represent the country for what it is. A sheer spectacle. We are at in an age where circus masters can juggle knives with livelihoods. This is theatre of the most absurd kind. The type where the final act is to burn the tent; to the rapturous applause of the audience.

It was interesting to watch the outrage over racism play out. Those that have paid no attention to white supremacy were annoyed by the Guptas, and invited us to condemn the naked racism displayed by the family. It is hard not to clap at the fire, because either way it burns. We see the Guptas, but our inner sanctuaries, are filled with the knowledge that white society is equally racist.

Twenty-three years after the advent of democracy in South Africa, social cohesion is all but a dream. The distance between races remains apartheidesque. Studies have shown that the races have become more isolated than integrated. This cannot all be accredited to anti-black racism, but white South Africans have not exactly jumped over the divides. Instead, if the copious incidents of racism over the two decades have been anything to go by, there is evidence of a resistance to build the fabled Rainbow Nation.

What the student uprisings made clear is that racism in South Africa is widespread. The mass protest action brought to the fore the institutional racism nestled in institutions of higher learning. Student activists were unapologetic in calling out the racial oppression that continues to take a hold of the country. The resilience displayed by the Fallists brought the invisibility of whiteness out of the shadows, as they pointed out that white people continue to hold a privileged position in South Africa, whilst black people, especially the poor, bear the brunt.

The Gupta racism is, therefore, an opportunity to further reflect on the precarious position of poor black South Africans. We know that contingent white South Africa continues to be contemptuous of black people. However, what has been exposed by the Gupta emails and the conduct of black politicians is that the black elite reflects the same contempt. In deviously playing the race card, the Guptas have revealed the hand that holds the keys to the patronage of the future. Two elite groups vie for a place at the top of the pile; with both more than willing to mobilise on the issue of race.

I want to suggest that instead of being disgusted by the Guptas, we might want to see the exposure of their racist conduct as a blessing. In creating a white gevaar, as a diversion tactic for the looting, the Guptas have unwittingly focused attention on the dangers of unchecked black power. The emails have given us an opportunity to see that parasitic elites, regardless of colour, are not good for society.

In forging a way forward, the student uprisings are instructive. The great gift bestowed by the youth of 76, which was taken up by the Fallist, is the ability to identify the problem, and the bravery to confront it. Both sets of leaders were not sidetracked by the politics or the propaganda of the time in their march for a just society. Like these brave young lions, instead of accepting the bullshit (in whatever guise) that comes with injustice, we must remain critical and involved. We must create our own reality instead of living a recurrently shitty nightmare.

Mvuzo Ponono is a Xhosa man from the Eastern Cape, now based at the University of the Free State. His research interests include audience, and postcolonial studies. His MA examined the influence of a township family context on the interpretation of a health education television programme. His current PhD research is an ethnographic study on the interpretation of mainstream news by township youth. He will continue conducting research focused on townships until practical application of theory benefits the lives of those involved, or he will die trying.

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