Debate: Non-racialism vs Anti-racism

Neville Alexander’s Unity Movement opposed the now defunct, multi-regionalist theory of human evolution and proposed that all of humanity was the result of a common stream, not separate and distinct ‘race groups’. Given that non-racialism is now the basis for our Constitution one would think that Alexander’s ideas were relatively secure on our nation’s campuses?

Not so, according to Nicoli Nattrass and Jeremy Seeking, who write about the influence of a “contemporary American antiracism … being promoted with a missionary zeal.”

They write in the Daily Maverick: “American antiracism does not simply mean being anti or against racism. It means adopting a racialised and profoundly American worldview that frames all disadvantages experienced by “black” people as the result of “systemic racism”, meaning the institutional and cultural promotion of “white supremacy”. Contemporary American antiracism entails a rejection of non-racialism. It emphatically asserts an essentialist apartheid-style understanding of ‘race’.”

“At the University of Cape Town (UCT), in a city where anti-essentialist ideologies of non-racialism — including radical as well as liberal and African nationalist ideologies — have a long history”, this contemporary American antiracism, they claim, is being promoted as a religion.

The imported, ‘racist conception of race’ flies in the face of science, since as scientists have elegantly put it, ‘adaptive traits such as hair and skin colour are not indicative of a separation between the species’, we are all one race, the human race, or as the late Robert Sobukwe put it, ‘there is no plural in race’. Issues such as discrimination, whether institutional or otherwise, are thus the product of racism, not race per se, since clearly race, is the ‘child of racism not the parent’.

Consider the Apartheid regime’s ‘separate and distinct’ race groups were tragically claimed to be the product of spontaneous human evolution, which they alleged had arisen in isolation on different continents. Race theorists, early paleontologists and bureaucrats such as Piet Koornhof, the so-named Minister of Plural Development, a man often drawn in cartoon caricature, spent their time on SABC pronouncing upon the classification of black persons as Non-White. ‘Plurals’ and similar such pseudoscientific nonsense, were terms often cast in direct opposition to apartheid’s many critics.

As a direct result of the Unity Movement’s interventions — and whilst Alexander was incarcerated on Robben Island, and a story often told by Alexander — the ANC adopted non-racialism as one of its central pillars, his having persuaded Madiba of the merits of the idea. Alongside a discourse similarly advocated by Sobukwe, the history of our country is in reality, an epic journey from the oblique multi-racialism of the Freedom Charter to the clear non-racialism of our Constitution. Nevertheless, the racist conception of an essentialist race identity persists.

You can read about my dis-enrollment from the ‘white race’ here. And the manner in which an anti-racist bigot and oxy(moron) on the bench acting in cahoots with the apartheid system, has censured me for simply advocating Alexander’s ideas, this whilst over-ruling several acts of Parliament, all of which provide a legal basis for non-racialism.

Or if you up for some additional UCT controversy, read Lushaba’s Faux Pas or take a bite out of some UCT Skeletons.

South Africa, yet another revolution betrayed?

There has been much talk about South Africa’s Tahir Square moment. The events at the Lonmin Platinum mine at Marikana have brought home the problem of enormous wage disparities between those at the top of the capitalist pyramid and ordinary workers at the bottom. Clearly the so-called National Democratic Revolution sponsored by the ANC has failed to deliver on its promise of a better life for all.

The attempts by the ruling party to contain the crisis, with empty Marxist rhetoric only serve to focus our attention on the inability of the ruling party to deflect criticism of its leadership.

“The ANC is facing a crisis of legitimacy … because of internal corruption and a lack of dignity within the party,” national executive committee member Pallo Jordan said over the weekend.

On Saturday I was with a crowd of 500 people who marched to the Parliamentary precinct in Cape Town in protest at the brutal slaying of 34 mineworkers. Afterwards I joined mourners at a memorial service held in Belgravia for the late Neville Alexander — an auspicious event also attended by Jordan and struggle stalwarts such as Ahmed Kathrada.

Dr Neville Alexander

Speaker after speaker paid tribute to the activist, educationist and advocate of citizen’s self-defense, Alexander, whose vision of a unified country, one which was avowedly based upon an exuberant and outgoing non-racialism as opposed to the narrow limits of ethnicity and the colour of ones skin, and where race should be of no consequence in the greater scheme of things — stands in stark contrast to the reality of the present regime.

With our government’s continued support of separate development, in particular a new form of multiracialism posing as Black Economic Empowerment, one can only observe as Neville liked to see it, that this kind of race-based tinkering was merely racism multiplied.

The betrayal of the Unity movement, along with the murder of Dulcie September in Paris can be seen as one of histories great tragedies.

Not only was Alexander locked up in prison, serving time on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela, but he died, after a short illness, without ever seeing his somewhat imaginative vision of a utopian “Azania” in which liberty and egalitarianism — true people’s power, would be fully realised.

A powerful didact and intellectual giant whose criticism of Mandela’s multi-streamed approach to nation-building is now being re-evaluated through sheer force of the riguour and words with which he posed uncomfortable questions of the state.

Alexander’s writing has an uncanny resonance with the debates of the day, for example recent correspondence in the press on the issue of the resurrection of the United Democratic Front (UDF), as we take stock of the prescient moment during the 80s when the Unity movement, whose culture and thinking underpinned much of the thrust behind the UDF , was once again betrayed.

What would have happened if the true non-racialists had prevailed, and if the ANC party and partyarchists like Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale, whose self-serving business interests now merely serve to prop up the last vestiges of the apartheid regime, had been pushed aside by the UDF?

As the miners strike plays itself out, one can only imagine what the pedagogues within the party must be thinking, knowing that any strike within the Platinum sector has the perverse effect of boosting currency markets, while driving down share prices enabling further opportunities for fund managers. The Rand once again rallied over the weekend upon news that the strike would reduce the global supply of Platinum.

We may look back and view the R12,500 wage demand by workers as small change, when the true worth of each and every miner has been calculated by some analysts at around R88 000 per month.