Collaborating with the Government
(A speech made in Reservoir Hills in 1982 against the establishment of the President’s Council.)
When some friends asked me last week what I was going to speak about today, having just come back from teaching A Man for All Seasons, a matric set book this year, I replied A Man for All Seasons. It was a joke at the time but the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that it wasn’t a bad idea. After all the hero of the play is a man who pursues the truth and as a result loses an important position, is pulled in for questioning, is detained without trial during which time he is repeatedly questioned, treated with austerity and even tortured. Finally, he is brought to trial at which false evidence is used against him and he is executed as a traitor to the State. Now if this is not relevant and familiar, I don’t know what is. Of course in the play, they do not call the hero a communist, because they hadn’t invented communism at the time; the best they could do was call him a traitor.
In this play, the hero, Sir Thomas More, makes a distinction between gesture and real action and this is the point I use to illustrate my talk today. Now just to explain the distinction, I shall have to tell you a little about the play. Thomas More is made Lord Chancellor by the King and when he finds the monarch changing laws to suit his convenience, he resigns. His son-in-law regards his resignation as a grand gesture but More is puzzled by this description of what he has done. He says he resigned because he could not go on with the job, he could not do it any longer and that was that. There was no other significance in his action. It stood for itself. It was a real action. But to his son-in-law, it was a gesture. In other words, it was an action that did not stand for itself – it symbolised something else – his resistance to the King. As far as the son-in-law was concerned, More did not resign because he wanted to, he resigned because he wanted to show the King his disapproval.
Let me give you another example to make my meaning absolutely clear. If I sit down now because I want to sit down, just that – that is a real action. If I sit down because I do not like this room that is a gesture. My sitting down in that case is symbolic of something else. It is saying something else that I for some reason or other cannot say directly. I say what I have to say indirectly and you may or may not catch my meaning.
If I make a gesture, I am not committed to the action that I have undertaken. I do not believe in it – it is a means to an end. If I sit down to show you I hate this room, my sitting down is in itself meaningless. I may actually not want to sit down. I am not committed to sitting down. If I am not committed to the action, it means I can change it. This means that you do not really know where you are with me because you cannot really trust what I shall do. So if I were simply making a gesture, you cannot trust my action which may mean one thing to you and quite another to me.
If you look at our actions in this country, our whole existence consists of gestures – not real action. We say we hate apartheid – that is only a gesture because we live by it. We say we believe in equality but that is only a gesture because we accept an inferior status in society. We boycott or strike, but those are only gestures because the boycott or strike does not mean we wish to stop work, it means we want our human rights. We even go to jail, are tortured and die – and these are only gestures because we do not want to suffer, we want to live, we want an existence free from the humiliations that we are made to bear because we are this or that.
Now if our entire lives are expressed in gestures does that mean we are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites? We would be if we were free to determine the way we live. But we are not. In South Africa, the Black person’s way of life is determined for him by an extremely unsympathetic and un-Christian power that has reduced Christianity to a gesture behind which acts of barbarism are committed.
We are forced to accept apartheid. If we do not our survival is threatened. So we are thrown into a situation in which our actions do not match our words.
But in our case it is not our actions that are gestures, it is our words.
When we say, “I hate discrimination” it is only a gesture because we have already accepted it. Therefore, in our case our word, being a gesture, is liable to change – so we cannot give our word because our word cannot be trusted. You have seen this happen often – people who were radical suddenly became very conservative because they suddenly saw the benefits of accepting discrimination. When they accept discrimination, they are rewarded by the powers that be and the reward makes them see themselves as being beyond the reach of discrimination. In other words they accept discrimination for us but not for themselves.
You can also see how we change our word in the fact that yesterday we all wanted to be white and today we call ourselves Black. Some of us hold up the Indian culture as a gesture – flaunting it to show we believe in it, meanwhile we are trying our best to live like whites.
If we are just a bunch of hypocrites, how can we ever make our actions real? How can we stop making gestures? The answer to that is easy: we need to be able to determine our own destinies. In other words, we must have power. And this is where the problem lies. How do we get power? We could seize it, but that would be a bloody affair and we, thank God, are not barbaric like our adversaries.
Our newspaper says of them:
The whites in this country are enormously powerful
militarily. That they have not even begun to flex
flex their military muscle displays a maturity on the part
of the government which appears to be determined to
tread the path of conciliation.
Here the government is being praised because it has its bloodlust under control. You hear the contradiction in this quotation – how can one tread a path of conciliation when one knows one has the beast that will bring the opposition under control. No this reluctance to use violence is not a sign of maturity – it is a sign that pressure from other parts of Africa and the other countries, is being felt.
Violence is definitely not our style – it is definitely theirs. So what alternative is there? Negotiation? We could negotiate for power and we have been doing that for years. But as Archbishop Hurley pointed out at Orient Hall, negotiation calls for willingness on BOTH sides to negotiate. Our adversary has NOT been willing to negotiate. The Open Door policy is a gesture – it means nothing.
But we have not been able to find a third alternative. So we have continued to negotiate and we will continue to pursue negotiation – I consider boycotts, strikes, protest meetings all a part of negotiation. When we stop attempting to negotiate and are pushed into a position of non-negotiation, the Government will have to flex its military might and God help South Africa then.
Now when I say our only action is negotiation, I do not mean collaboration. Many people confuse the two because they are both gestures. Negotiation is a gesture because we demand change but have no power to make that change happen and we attempt to bring about change in non-violent ways by registering protest, by attempting to change the thinking of those who are racists. Negotiation takes place from a platform of protest that says: ‘We do not accept discrimination based on creed and colour, so we cannot accept change which perpetuates apartheid. We demand change on OUR TERMS, that is, the recognition of human rights for all people regardless of race and creed.’
The collaborator, however, tries to bring about change on the Government’s terms. The collaborator says; “ I do not accept inequality. I reject discrimination on the grounds of race and creed, but I do accept the fact that racists are trying to end racism, and I shall work with them. In order to do this, I have to accept their racist policies.’
You may think that my statement of the position of the collaborator, because it does not make sense, is simply a concoction of my brain, the following quotation bears me out:
“If I am appointed to the President’s Council, I will
continue to use every opportunity to campaign against
the racism that permeates so much of the life of our country.”
This person says he going to fight racism, yet he is accepting a position on a racially segregated body that has no authority to change anything. The President’s Council is in itself a gesture, a pretence at democracy. Collaborators have been chosen by the Government to give credence to the government’s gesture of good faith. They have bee appointed because they can be trusted to make the right noises. They are expected to protest loudly that they do not believe in discrimination. In fact, the more they protest, the better it is for the Government, which can then say: ‘You see, we have not appointed yes-men.’ But they are yes-men, they have said yes to appointment on a body that will not recommend meaningful change. All advisory bodies such as the LACs, the SAIC, and now the President’s Council, are of this inconsequential sort. Their collaboration with the Government is part of the Government’s elaborate gesture of democracy.
You see, we are not the only ones given to making gestures. Our adversaries are better at it than we are. They say let us pretend to have a democracy – in fact something even better than democracy. We know that in ordinary democracy, it is the majority decision that prevails. But in our game, we will let every group have its own area, with its own little government that can be either elected or nominated. But of course, these little governments will function in an advisory capacity. Since it is only a game to satisfy those critics who do not understand apartheid, there is no need to give these little governments any real power. What would they with it anyhow? The whole thing is just a game – let’s play at elections, let’s play at making decisions, let’s call this game democracy. We’ll even pay the actors for playing this game. And since it is a game and the actors accepted that from the start, how can they make it real?
These people who lend themselves to this kind of hypocrisy do it chiefly to gain status and prestige. They are people who do not have much self-esteem – they may be egotistical but they do not have self-respect. Some of them even hate themselves for being Indian and they project this hatred on us. They are very dangerous people because they cannot accept their identities and we constantly remind them that we are their natural context so in order to betray this connection, they betray us, and they will go on betraying us. Thus they become more oppressive than the oppressor because they are of us and know our ways. They are the perfect tools of oppression designed by the government to buttress its own position in this country.
Right now games are being played, gestures are being made and we must be clear in our minds how we relate to these games and gestures. The majority of us tend to remove ourselves from the sphere of participation. We say, ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with politics. I want to be safe in the lovely home I have built. I am just going to keep out of trouble.’ Now such people are no better than those who actively collaborate with the government. These people want us to be silent and in the law, silence means consent. This means that they consent to discrimination, they consent to inferior status, they consent to the atrocities committed against the poor in the black communities, they consent to students being beaten up, they consent to increases in rent for people whose earnings are below subsistence level.
These people, by doing nothing have declared their support for the government. If we do not declare ourselves against the policies of apartheid, we are collaborating with the government and the government counts on those of us who remain silent. We, the silent majority, are the ones who give government its strength. The known collaborators are better than we are; they have shown clearly where they stand and that makes it easy for us. We can attack them to our heart’s content, blame them for giving credence to the policies of the government, meanwhile we forget that with our silence we are doing exactly that and far more effectively than the so-called sell-outs. We the silent ones are the real sell-outs. We have managed to make comfortable lives for ourselves under the protection of apartheid and we secretly support apartheid. For a long time we have been allowed to get away with it – but not any more. This year our children showed us up for what we really are when they went on boycott of classes. Perhaps you object to the word sell-out, but have you considered why we, who are the silent majority, are entrusted with positions of responsibility. Look around and see how many people who keep silent are in high positions which they have gained because they ‘do not give trouble.’
When I speak, I am not thinking only of the men in our community, I am thinking of the women as well. We can no longer hide behind our femininity and say, ‘I am only a woman.’ Just being a beautiful embellishment in a lovely home is part of a Victorian syndrome. This is the twentieth century when women are no longer just toys. Women have a contribution to make. We can stop being collaborators. With the recent school boycotts, it was our children who were teaching us that.
What our children were saying to us was that they could no longer be silent. Though the boycott was only a gesture, it was the nearest thing they could find to real action. They have shown us the way. We must find real action for ourselves. If we can commit ourselves to discovering real action, we will give up these tortured attempts to be Black, White, preciously Indian, and develop instead a true identity – an identity which, being fixed upon stable values, will restore to us our self-respect. For without self-respect we are nothing.
We cannot achieve total self-respect until we are fully participating members in this society. When we know we are making a real contribution, when our contributions are freely made and are not forced from us, we will be real people and not actors giving performances. We may think we have self-esteem because we live in a beautiful house and are comfortable, but we do not. Let just one white person, even one from the lowest rungs of society, call us ‘coolie’ and the beautiful façade that we present collapses.
So residents of Reservoir Hills, especially the silent ones and the women, I leave you with this thought: if you remain silent and do nothing, you are an advocate of apartheid.
Letters to the Editor
The silent majority behind the LACs
Sir - I refer to the article that appeared in the October 11, 1980 issue of the Natal Mercury in connection with the anti-LAC stance adopted by certain people led by Dr Muthal Naidoo at the Reservoir Hills Ratepayers Association.
There are people who criticise people using the system but would still prefer to remain within the system by working for the Department of Indian Affairs.
The Indian community's masses are generally silent, and they are not lured to public meetings under false pretences of rent increases as some people have been doing recently. That Dr Muthal Naidoo is with the NIC is no secret. I am certain that the silent majority is behind the LACs. This is evident from the fact that at the Pinetown LAC elections held on October 4, 1980 there was a 72.5% poll.
Reservoir Hills has a population of about 15 000. Yet only 50 people turned up to hear the guest speaker, Dr Muthal Naidoo at the important ratepayers meeting.
Mr H E Mall gave the narrow-minded persons good counsel when he ruled that any action against LAC members would be undemocratic.