Perhaps this depends on who died or who did the killing, as in the #Phoenix22 killings, writes our award-winning columnist Bhekisisa Mncube in his weekly Letter to Mahlamba Ndlopfu
Dear Mr President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa, let’s talk about the existential crisis facing black bodies in South Africa.
I don’t know about you, my leader, but I always get a funny feeling that black bodies get the short end of the stick.
In my book, The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy, I threatened to seek reclassification to be ngamla, yes, a white man, to enjoy unearned privileges of life, the proverbial white privilege.
Perhaps I am not the right person to write about this subject because I’m too close to the forest to see the trees since I married a white woman. Thus, by marriage, I do enjoy certain privileges of whiteness. I am not suggesting that white privilege is sexually transmitted, if you catch my drift.
For instance, I fought with white people at varsity for years over the physical address versus the postal address. Every year as I filled in the registration forms, I proudly entered my only address: Habeni Primary School, Private bag 511, Eshowe, 3838. To my dismay, the white administrators always shouted at me in a condescending tone: “Walter, we need your physical address, you can’t tell us you live in a private bag.”
I didn’t have a physical address since I was a citizen of nowhere.
Another war of attrition was over “may I” versus “I want”.
Until I studied communication in English A, I didn’t know that “may I” served a purpose. For a long time, I walked into white people’s offices and proceeded to state my business: “I want my test results.”
My humble request was always met with indignation and the killer punch: “Say after me: ‘may I’.”
Every time white people shouted at me, I saw red. I could smell “racism” and I felt the historical burden of blackness. My Herculean task became the struggle to master the English language and end apartheid. I surmised that achieving these two would bring back my dignity. It never did.
Mr President, this brings me to the present and your recent letter to the nation. You went to town on what you called: “tragic events that took place in and around Phoenix in eThekwini”.
At the last count, 22 people died in and around Phoenix. Yet the death toll from the #FreeZuma riots has risen to more than 330, depending on the daily tally revisions.
As black people, including you, Mr President, we are prepared to risk it all (ink and data) to nail the killers of the #Phoenix22. Because in the #Phoenix22 matter, the suspects are allegedly “rouge” Indians driven by ingrained racism. So we are only offended because during an orgy of family killings, some random Indians joined in.
Truth be told, we don’t give a fig about the other black bodies who might have been killed by their own. By your own admission Mr President, the death of the other 308 black people is not tragic. I get you, Sir. Joseph Stalin opined: “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic”.
This may explain why you declared 10 days of national mourning for Zambia’s founding father Kenneth Kaunda, who died recently aged 97.
Yet you didn’t announce even an hour of national mourning for the dearly departed combatants of the #FreeZuma rebellion. This justifies my long-held thesis that black lives don’t matter. Perhaps this depends on who died or who did the killing, as in the #Phoenix22. Perhaps.
On the other hand, there’s the Life Esidimeni tragedy that saw 143 psychiatric patients dead. Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu committed a Himalayan blunder; on her watch white people were killed. She has lived to rue the day. She was hounded out of the executive and ANC provincial leadership. The tragedy was promptly investigated and families were compensated over R1-million each for damages.
As I write, the Life Esidimeni inquest is underway to turn the tide on rampant impunity. All these milestones in a short five years.
Juxtapose this with the Marikana massacre that saw 34 black bodies killed. In the aftermath of the tragedy there was the usual nauseating song and dance of no consequences. The Zuma administration commissioned a judicial probe. Riah Phiyega, the former police commissioner, was sacrificed: fired.
Yet, nine years later, no police officer has been held accountable. No families have been compensated. You haven’t even declared two minutes of national mourning.
In fact, you, Mr President, haven’t even set foot in Marikana.
Till next week my man. Just don’t ask me to take the knee.
This Letter to Mahlamba Ndlopfu is written by Bhekisisa Mncube, a former senior Witness political journalist, the 2020 regional winner in the Opinion category of the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Award, and author of The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy, a memoir.
This opinion piece was first published in the Witness/News24.