On the way to Sci-Bono, the radio is race, race and race. UN economist Jeffrey Sachs is under fire for raising the thought of a three-child policy in Africa. A lengthy string of African persons come on to express extreme distaste for non-African persons telling Africa what to do.
I sukkel over what to make of this. An outside agency tells you to change a practice that has been unquestioned forever? This practice has given you a richly extended family that makes you as an African feel strong and fortunate compared to cultures by whom in other respects you feel daunted? Of course you're cross.
Then again, is it compulsory to ascribe to Sachs a malicious secret anti-Africa agenda? And even if Sachs is to be crucified, is "the West" as a whole truly to blame? Note that "the West" is no longer in any sense an entity, as in Cold War days. It's a way of saying "white people" obliquely so it can be said fiercely.
Thus do the airwaves flow with bile about villainous white people who are hell-bent on re-suppressing Africa by restricting its birth-rate. These are the same airwaves that yesterday flowed with bile about villainous white people having too much wealth. There are times a ou can wonder.
Sci-Bono is new to me, I suppose I should be embarrassed to confess. But new Joburg is coming on so fast that you'd need Superman's cape to keep up. The Newtown side, where Sci-Bono is, is at or past take-off point, after 30 years of almost-there. The east side is galloping up behind, with Arts on Main in the saddle. The long-awaited day that downtown, too, re-acquires critical mass is now genuinely in sight.
Sci-Bono is Gauteng's science education centre. What exactly that means I'm still to discover, but I congratulate it in principle – for being there, for adding to mass, for making things happen. Last night the place showed enough cars to credit Loftus. One thing on the go, in a big auditorium, was the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation launching a series of discussions on "Deepening Non-Racialism". They're planning on a long series, I gather.
Larney occasion it was, all the right people there; even ten or more pale faces, covering most of the ANC's remaining white contingent. Raymond Suttner and Zwelinzima Vavi shared a couch on centre stage, looking like bovverboys in leather jackets.
Raymond and I see each other once every five years and are at the stage where we each think "jeez, he's looking old". But he lives young in my mind for once telling me that if he had to choose between another five years in jail and another five years as ambassador, he'd take jail.
Raymond opened the batting with a solid, thoughtful, academic speech on ways that race does matter and ways it doesn't. I counted 14 fine points and I'd tell you all of them if (a) I had the space, and (b) I'd had my notebook – left at home for the first time in years. (A hollow feeling, reach for it and nought in the pocket, like a cowboy finding an empty holster).
One of Raymond's fine points, echoed by both by Vavi and by Andile Mngxitama after him, was that the extraordinary media-created idea of Julius Malema as the be-all and end-all of SA politics is getting in the way of helpful discussion. Hear hear!
I also record – I didn't notice at the time, I got grounds to notice later – that Raymond's speech may have had no "black" or "white" in it. If there was some, it weren't much. He talked the concept of race, he talked issues around race, he did not talk them-or-us.
Next was Andile; nice surprise. I'd met Andile the night before. On a Wednesday on little Radio Today I am supposed to punt my D2 theme, but in compassion I leaven things by getting to know a – usually unexpected – one-hour guest.
Andile was surely an unexpected guest (you can listen to the podcast here. DS). He was also a great one, interesting as well as fun. This guy is the Biko of the twentyteens and is warming up. He'll have a hard time getting as famous – you imagine newsreaders struggling with Mngxityama, think also of sub-editors fitting it in headlines– but he's taking the same themes further, with the same sharp head and the same quick mouth.
What is more, Andile has the same capacity as Steve to be totally non-racist about his incredibly deep-died racism. Black people, black interests, blackness is his life. He eats, sleeps, breathes the Black Predicament. Yet he can leave whitey feeling friendly, warm, respected & respectful, plus mentally enlivened.
That's what happened Wednesday on the rayjo. Super discussion, drop him off afterward at Boekehuis in Auckland Park, cheers, good wishes. (He'd been bang on time, by the way – to the minute, another thing he shared with Steve, and with Nthato Motlana who was also fanatical on rewriting "African time".)
Thursday at Sci-Bono... well, I could understand if a person got a different idea. A news reporter looking for outrage could write Andile in a way to get the remaining Old White Liberals levitating from their armchairs and running to their kids in Perth and Toronto.
While dumping on Vavi for workerist thinking -- "going to employers to say please can we have eight percent, please can we have seven percent" -- Andile pronounces that Black thinking doesn't fool around with percents. "We want it all. We want the land, we want ownership, we want Pick 'n Pay".
Vavi comes on. He's always impressive and gets oddly more so when, outblacking Andile, he goes into roots – "my mother was a kitchen girl ... I don't even know when I was born..."
It is instructive to repeatedly have to recall that Africans with big views, big voices, big comprehension needn't come from generations of privilege. Both these guys were exactly the types who ran to open the farm gates, to be tossed a sweet or a farthing by the likes of me from our father's car on country holiday.
Of course, we were all very anti-apartheid and so forth. People like these had to have rights, oh yes, but they were also meant to stay... you know, humble, aware that we knew best.
I mean, we had umpty generations of literacy behind us. The picanins could come up in the world, yes, but behind us who had forged the way. Who the hell said they could overtake?
Vavi proceeds into an out-radicalising, too. I think he used "white" and "black" closer to a thousand times than a hundred, every one to do with black dispossession. He was pungent on the impossibility of a person like him believing that anybody – DA supporters, say – could sincerely maintain that efficiency was more important than transformation.
He gave much evidence to support his case that 1994 was by the way, the blowout is to come. However, intriguingly, while hanging out all this honesty and straight-talk he ducks the evidence he doesn't like – the abundant proof that when BEE or AA pushes people into jobs they don't master, you wreck the person as well as the economy.
Firoz Cachalia started a scholarly address. I felt rude sneaking out – apologies, Firoz – but respite was calling.
Ironically, Black Mambazo were on "Sound of the Men Workin' on the Chain Gang" (another excellent rendition).
A proper reporter would have stayed, I know, but I'm too grouchy now to be that person any more, if I ever was. I'm grouchy because the more days go by, the more clearly I see that my country is never, on current course, going to get out of the drek in which we suffocate. The race drek per se is part of this; not all but a compelling part. Half a century ago my youthful earlets started hearing threat/pressure/gripe "you whites have too much, you better watch it, we gonna get you." That's not a nice incentive to love the country around you. What's going to change it?
Well, yes, D2 will change it. When decision-making answers effectively to the ordinary timorous majorities in whose name it is made, and answers to us in a context where we directly feel the effects, the you-whites song will dry up.
Andile will be a valuable player, urging "vote for me and you can have it all" and being infuriated at voters who tell him "forget it, if you run the factory it'll close in a year, and the boss is giving us fifteen percent". Vavi's transformation will cease to care what colour hands retain which levers, it'll focus on whether voters have confidence in the hands.
I imagine them as two retired guys sitting on a stoep as the sun sinks, nodding in satisfaction at their world. Such memories they will have! Those debates on the population policies that African countries chose! That flowering when voters' votes acquired all the power that voters' souls had needed!
Sounds alright to me. You? Then how about taking more than a five-moment oh-nonsense look at this website. In not a lot of other arenas is there much possibility of old retired toppies nodding in satisfaction.