BEFORE a global audience of millions, Springbok captain Siya Kolisi thanked the nation following his side’s historic Rugby World Cup win on Saturday. So far as Kolisi was concerned, this was yet another miracle, a wonderful example of ‘the different races working together‘ he said, to bring an historic victory that recaptured the spirit of the 1995 rugby world cup.
The interview was soon followed up by news reports with headings such as ‘Boks thrive on racial unity‘.
If it all seemed a little contrived, former adversaries segregated under apartheid making good on the promise of reconciliation by bringing victory, not simply in green and gold, but black and white, under the first black captain to do so, then you’re probably in the same boat.
Government officials, including the president, had made no bones about the opportunity for nation-building presented by a third victory in Yokohama.
And yet little more than two weeks ago, former President Thabo Mbeki had put pen to paper, to write an opinion-piece, berating the opposition DA, and fedex chair Helen Zille for deploying the exact same multi-racial ‘race-speak’ as the springbok captain. The DA’s twisted explanations of the controversial events surrounding the resignation of several prominent black members from the party, including Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane are public record.
It appears Mbeki wished “to emphasise that, consistent with our Constitution, all our registered political formations have an absolute obligation practically to contribute to the national effort to make ours a non-racial country.”
It was thus Zille’s badly thought out statement: “There are racists of all races in South Africa” which jarred when it came to the outspoken non-racialism articulated by the ruling party, and for which Mbeki was now going so far as to remind other political formations, that there was also in effect, a constitutional imperative to reject multi-racialism.
If what is good for the goose is also good for the gander, why wasn’t Kolisi’s aftermatch statement equally jarring as Zille’s, despite a winning game? Why was it okay for a black man to refer to separate and distinct races, but the same didn’t apply to a white woman?
And please forgive me, why is race and racism here, starting to sound like a definition of straight marriage, right out of the period of gay prohibition? In other words, racism can only be experienced by a person defined as black by apartheid race classification, circular logic if ever there was one?
It should be remembered, that history also records the epic journey from the ‘multi-racialism’ of the Freedom Charter to the ‘non-racialism’ of our Bill of Rights. Indeed, the ANC were not the first to articulate such a progressive vision, the late Robert Sobukwe founder of the PAC, went so far as to assert before Mandela adopted this type of language during the period of reconciliation, “ there is only one race to which we all belong, and that is the human race”, and similarly,”multiracialism is racism multiplied”.
That the then multiracial ANC of the 1950s found itself in power as avowed non-racialists in the 1990s, while the much larger, at the time, PAC is in danger of withering away in the ranks of the opposition is no small lesson of history.
Which brings one to the point invariably raised here, that of semantics, is this all just nitpicking about words, and was Kolisi not entitled to make his remarks, as was Zille?
Not if one believes in South African exceptionalism — that we have somehow overcome the race question as a nation of non-racialists, at least on paper.
Not if one wishes to adopt a scientific approach to the problem of race, since, correctly there is no race when it comes to Humans, (as the recent National Geographic Race Issue, suggested, the matter has been laid to rest for quite some time). Bare in mind that the multi-regionalist theory of human evolution has been resoundingly shot down by mainstream scientists along with much South African paleontological research on the basis of race, conducted prior to the 1980s.
And certainly not if one wishes to remain consistent as a patriot with the non-racial principles governing our constitution instead of practising double standards. (It is still a mystery why our jingoistic media and captured legal system continues to operate on the assumption of race and despite the law).
Thus what Kolisi might have said differently, if he didn’t have a coach like “Rassie Erasmus” whose name itself is a strange cipher for race, and if we were not so obsessed with categorising differences and separating people into ‘race’ groups? Surely a project doomed to failure? And yet one quixotically given sanction despite our constitution, by certain racist legal authorities who deserve to be outed.
Kolisi could have said: ‘We all came together in our differences’, or ‘our people as a nation have differences but we are essentially all the same’, instead he chose to walk the same path as Helen Zille in articulating race as a conceptual framework through which we view our world. So much for the game of rugby.
And ditto the great South African experiment in non-racialism, i.e the absence of race-based thinking.
For all the springboks prowess on the field, one cannot help wondering why there was no coaching on the tricky subject of anti-racism especially when it came to a captain delivering a message to the entire world? And a team which just a brief few hours prior to winning the world cup, had received a pep talk from none other than President Ramaphosa himself?
And surely if we believe Mbeki, that ours is a country based upon the premise and promise of a non-racial future?
Which leaves us with another Sobukwe gem also taken from the 1959 Opening Address at the Africanist Inaugural Convention: “In Afrika the myth of race has been propounded and propagated by the imperialists and colonialists from Europe, in order to facilitate and justify their inhuman exploitation of the indigenous people of the land. It is from this myth of race with its attendant claims of cultural superiority that the doctrine of white supremacy stems”.
A myth indeed.
ONE has got to feel a little sorry for our second President, Thabo Mbeki. Having nursed the country through a transition to democracy, (he was essentially the man who ran the show during the Mandela administration), and having authored the African Renaissance, Mbeki literally ended up on the political scrap-heap, a victim of his own public health policies.
Thabo may have given birth to the African Union and a long-boom which resulted in a massive economic expansion, one not seen since World War 2, but his views on HIV and AIDS, certainly didn’t win him any friends so far as public health policy is concerned. It is one thing to be a dissident scientist, and another to be a President of a country whose administration is responsible for public health policy.
That Mbeki is possibly our most controversial President, can be seen by yet another round of media this week on the subject of the man’s dissident views on HIV.
According to Mbeki “a virus cannot produce a syndrome”. That HIV exists there can be no doubt. The trouble is that we don’t know everything when it comes to the attached syndrome. Providing citizens with ARVs on demand, and implementing a public health policy that tackles chronic illness, is a sound policy based upon the precautionary principle. Science on the other hand, is dependent upon constantly questioning the data and testing, and retesting the underlying thesis.
This is known as the scientific method.
The duty of the executive isn’t to produce cutting-edge science papers, but rather, to respond to developmental challenges — health challenges which necessitate that action be taken when the majority opinion within science demands it, and particularly when it comes to issues of public health.
Instead of calling for a national science symposium on the subject, Mbeki once again launched into what appears to be his private hobby horse. Having already published on ‘HIV Pathology and DNA testing”, and being the kind of person who questions statistics, I must admit to also being fascinated.
I was thus further moved by a piece by Nathan Geffen published by Groundup, entitled Mbeki is wrong about death statistics, showing graphs in which life expectancy for the average South African reached a low point in 2004. In 2001, according to Geffen, “leading epidemiologists analysed death data in detail. Their report was published by the South African Medical Research Council. They wrote that it was “highly probable that about 40% of the adult South African 1999/00 mortality in the 15-49 age group is due to HIV/AIDS.””
Geffen states that the trough in the life expectancy graph can only be explained by the HIV epidemic and the later improvement upon the ARV programme.
He then goes on to state “(1) People often die of AIDS-related illnesses without being diagnosed with HIV. (2) The doctor filling in a death certificate might, either out of sensibility for the patient’s family due to the stigma of AIDS or because he or she isn’t aware of the patient’s status, indicate the disease that is the immediate rather than underlying cause of death, such as TB or pneumonia.”
Let’s grapple with this for a minute. Firstly, this isn’t science, it is magical thinking.
In one swoop, anyone who dies from TB or pneumonia is presumed to have died of HIV/AIDS. The only way one could arrive at a scientific answer based upon the data, would be to make the disease notifiable — a conclusion resisted by HIV activists. Bear in mind that our country also experienced an epidemic of multidrug resistant TB (MDR and XDR) and the graph could equally show this without any need for an underlying “syndrome”.
Can this be explained away by the presence of a syndrome?
The persistent concerns raised in the inflation of mother-to-child transmission, infant mortality rates, and the median average for the country compared to other countries in which a 29.9% figure for mothers infected by HIV was never compared to the average for the entire population, and a prevalence rate amongst the 18-49 age group in the USA (0.6%) to South Africa (17.3%), representing a 11% variance between the developed and developing world, between the rich and the poor, remain.
Driving editorial screaming that the country was the “AIDS capital of the universe”, while removing the very real concerns raised by Mbeki, and related to South Africa’s under-development during apartheid, is what I truly believe, resulted in the entrenchment of a view in his administration, that HIV was some kind of conspiracy by the West.
It would have been far better to simply allow for a national science convention to run its course, and for the leading scientists of the day, to feed into public health policy.