Wednesday, 24 March 2010

...but now that dream is gone from me.

I wish this entry was unnecessary. This is like wishing that history wouldn't repeat itself, however, and for the same reasons.

Sixteen years ago, we stood on the threshold of something greater than just another regime change, something more than a mere colonial handover. South Africa opened the door to hope. The disenfranchised got to vote after being oppressed for as long as their living ancestors can remember. On 27 April 1994, newly-enfranchised South Africans elected the party that had fought long and hard for their freedom. The erstwhile oppressors feared for their lives, livelihoods and families.

Then a wonder happened. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission took to the past not rage and a broadsword, but a scalpel and a gentle but firm bedside manner. The abscesses of the past were excised, festering wounds reopened and cleaned. Justice, as and when needed, was not only firm but correctly firm. Everything was documented, everything public. South Africa might just have needed that catharsis more than the election itself. In the days after the TRC's final report, South Africans had hope.

As it always does, though, life happened. We assumed that the hope would never go away and went on with the ever-important yet wholly insignificant business of daily life. We raged against the small oppressions of Affirmative Action, as-yet-extant racism, and sports quotas. We looked at the past as though it was just that, the past. The old South Africa was taboo, verboten, not to be referenced in polite company. The lessons of the past were forgotten; some things which should not have been forgotten were lost.

The old regime enabled, at state level, some of the worst parts of the human condition. Nearly-legal torture, bombing of innocent civilians, the economic oppression of tens of millions. A state-engineered breakdown of the family structure leading to racial violence and pandemic levels of HIV. The long-term human suffering deliberately planned and executed by the state machine of the Old South Africa is as bad or worse than anything the Nazis did.

That's all in the past though, right? Right? Wrong. There is no reason why this will not happen again. What are the tools used by the old regime to keep the people in line? Main and legal force, to be sure. What else? Media manipulation. Censorship. Doublespeak, doublethink. Fear. Fear for yourself and your loved ones. Fear that your children or your parents won't come home one day. Fear of your children, of your neighbours.

At face value, the lesson Julius Malema and the African National Congress' Youth League takes home from the Old South Africa section of their history books seems to be something to the effect of "All white people are out to screw the black man over." This apparently justifies everything they do and fools the world into believing the ANCYL to be just another vocal and ultimately powerless political faction acting as a puppet for the ruling party. I don't believe them to be that simple and frankly neither should you.

The lesson I learn in our own history books is not a new one. It's not even a unique story. The lesson I take to heart is this: The oppressor comes in many shapes and forms, but the tools are always the same. The local monopoly on violence, control of the judiciary and legislative mechanisms, censorship of the media. Political officers in our midst. Fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Most worrying of all, Julius Malema has put out a (misspelled) call for "patriotic" citizens to supply information on these political agents provocateurs (ie. journalists doing their jobs; bloggers doing their own unpaid thing). Turning people against one another. Divide and conquer.

There was another dictator-to-be who used his own youth league to come to power. The ANCYL has the capacity to become Julius' own Hitler Youth, if indeed this is not already the case. Do we ever want children to turn in their parents for having an opinion? For being the wrong colour or creed?

Will it stop there?

You don't have to be white to be an oppressor. You don't have to subjugate people of another race to be an oppressor. You don't even have to wave swastika-equivalents and march in jackboots to be an oppressor. All you have to do is to fool most of the people most of the time into thinking that a small group of rich privileged people that are different from you are to be feared as the oppressors.

With that, you can do anything.

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