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Simphiwe Dana’s Sunday Times piece on not taking African languages seriously

Although I have written about this topic in the papers before, several years ago in the Mail and Guardian, this post is motivated by Simphiwe Dana’s courageous opinion editorial in this past weekend’s Sunday Times. There are a few aspects of Ms Dana’s argument that I disagree quite strongly with, but I do share many of the concerns that she articulates. The gist of her argument (in case something happens to the link above, as sometimes happens), as I understand it, is as follows:

a) In much of urban South Africa, outside of townships, looking for schools that teach Xhosa/Zulu/Sotho/Tswana/Swati/Tsonga/Venda/Pedi/Ndebele is a lesson in pain. She refers to experiencing this earlier when trying to get a school for her children in Cape Town. I am pretty sure she had similar hardship in Johannesburg.

b) The above is true because only Afrikaans and English, out of the official languages of the country, are taught in ways that take the languages seriously and in manners that encourage their use at first language level.

c) The status of a people’s language says a lot about the status of that people’s culture – to them, when they are in power – as well as to their (previous) oppressors.

d) Parents should not have to move or take their children to township schools in order to have language -which is their right legally – taken and taught seriously.

e) African languages carry more than the meanings in the words used to communicate. They carry a worldview and a series of abstract and concrete reference points that are present in various African languages. This is why Ms Dana cares less about which African language her children learn well than she does about them learning one (and the world it carries) well. This is an urgent task that we must take up or deal with the consequences of language neglect.

f) She suggests that Zulu be the official language that is taught at first language level in schools since it is widely spoken and relatively easy on the tongue.

g) We need to hold our current government responsible and accountable for the language mess in our schools even as we keep an eye to the historical context that brought us here.

h) Afrikaans is not an African language. It carries the arrogance of the Dutch colonisers and the apartheid establishment. Although the language was shaped through African location, its Afrikaner nationalist use ensured that it remained a language of wounding.

I am really glad that Dana wrote and submitted this article for publication because it raises several issues that I think need to be raised again and again until something changes. I know that the bulk of the responses will be defensive and vile because any questioning of Black marginalisation in this country elicits this kind of silencing. Mark my words, people will write back to her piece and claim that she has a chip on her shoulder, that she is playing the race card, that she doesn’t know what she is talking about. They’ll also write in and say she is out of touch with what is important in the world and the country, that most Black parents don’t mind the condescending third languages taught at Model C schools because they know their children need to speak English to make it in the world. How do I know? Because these are the stock responses that follow us everywhere. So, I applaud Dana because I think that we need to change the sorry state of education in SA, private schooling included. But I’d like to engage with the layers of her argument in more detail – agreeing and disagreeing with her, as I go along.

to a) I don’t think anybody can deny that what Dana describes is the state of language education in many SA schools post-apartheid. This is an insult of the highest order for the children who go through such schooling, regardless of which race they are. South African children should be able to speak various languages in their country – more than their parents can, even when their parents are polyglots. The school system should play a leading role in this. But it does not. This is a topic that has come up in various conversations with other parents in my own life. I was aghast, when my partner and I started looking at possible schools for our child, to learn that most schools we would have preferred – many with ‘progressive credentials’ – teach English and Afrikaans at first language level, and all other official languages at third language level until the end of primary school. I have various friends who did Xhosa third language at school. Many of them did so for twelve years. None of them can speak Xhosa beyond tentative understanding and elementary small talk. Learning a language at third year level does not teach you how to speak it no matter what your grades say. The fact that languages are taught at third language level at all is an insult.

to b) nothing more to add to this argument. This policy keeps all other SA languages marginal. It makes a joke of the eleven official languages policy/legislation since that is only true on paper. It also points to the inefficiency of our government on this point as well as – perhaps much more so – the irresponsibility of the parents who continue to leave this unchanged in the schools they pay fees to.

to c) yes. see my response to b) above. This current situation means that while these schools are located in a democracy, effectively, they operate as though they are in an apartheid state with two official languages.

to d) No, they should not. We should litigate, and in this respect follow Ntombenhle Nkosi’s example of taking a Durban High School to court, and who is quoted after her victory as having said “Parents must just not take it for granted that schools are going to do it for them, they won’t. Every parent must ensure that their language – be it isiXhosa, be it isiSwati, Zetswane, Sesotho Saleboa, Tshivenda, Tsonga – must be offered as the first language because the National Curriculum Statement states that every learner must choose the home language, not the home language of the school.” I will say nothing of the typos in the transcribed quotation, even though they, too, tell an interesting story about the disrespect of African languages.

e) I agree that this is always true of language. This is why even those of us who are polyglots often cannot translate a concept across unrelated language families. This is also why I have said over and over again that I would prefer to send my child to a school that teaches all SA languages on its books at first language. I am not overly concerned about whether the language is Tsonga or Zulu or Sotho. I am mortified that the only schools that do this in my area are schools whose other values are at odds with mine (mainly on consumerism). But I’d rather send my child to a bizzare school that takes his language and his right to language seriously (and deal with the consequences of helping him unlearn the capitalist values) than to one with “ostensibly” socialist, feminist and anti-racist politics but that tells him his language, ancestry and continent are expendable.

f) Here, I disagree on various technical points. First of all, I don’t see why our children should have to learn only one language when we speak several languages in this country and continent. Many of these Model C schools are capable of teaching SA children how to speak German and French alongside English and Afrikaans. I am sure with motivation, they can do the same with various official languages. The second technicality on which I disagree is on whether isiZulu is any easier than some other indigenous languages. I don’t think that there is such a thing as an easy language, where ease is similar for everybody. I think that what is easy for you is based on what you already know. So, no, I am not convinced that Zulu is easier than Tsonga. My third technicality is about adopting a language spoken by a larger group due to issues of possible future dominance – we will be saying something about Venda when we make Zulu more appropriately official. We do not matter because there are many of us. We matter because we are human beings.

g) Yes, let us do this as a matter of urgency. And not just our government either. Corporate SA needs to get with the programme too. In 2010, I am sick and tired of medicine inserts and packaging that comes in English and Afrikaans exclusively, as though it is 1990. This is where the power of coalitions and campaigns might be harnessed. A movement that says we matter and our languages matter is long overdue.

h) Afrikaans is an African language. Afrikaans comes from a range of languages and was formed as a creole in the mouths of slaves. The first texts written in Afrikaans were not written by people who were “Dutch” – the first Afrikaans texts were written in Arabic script because that was the script used by the first Muslims in the Cape, many of whom came as slaves from East African hinterland, East African islands, South Asia and South East Asia. This makes Afrikaans not Dutch any more than Caribbean creole languages are English or Swahili Arabic. At the same time, this once creole, once defiled by the Dutch, then became appropriated for Afrikaner nationalism in a manner that ensured that it could be used against the very people whose ancestors formed it and were punished for speaking it. Yes, someone who speaks Nederlands may understand parts of Afrikaans, and parts of Aukan (a Surinamese creole also formed by slaves using partly Dutch). However, Aukan is not Afrikaans is not Dutch, even if we do not dispute that they are related. At the same time, to say Afrikaans is African does not undo the fact that Afrikaans is also the language of wounding, misrecognition, displacement, oppression, apartheid. To honour part of our African ancestry we must remember the former because it was their mouths that crafted the creole and were punished for speaking it. To honour another part of our African ancestry, we must highlight the latter. For most Black South Africans growing up under apartheid, Afrikaans was the latter. For many Black South Africans (esp. some classified coloured), it was both. This is our thorny inheritance, and it all matters.

I hope we continue this conversation across all platforms. And, while I could have picked up the phone and had this conversation with Simphiwe in person, I chose not to. I think it is important to respond to what artists say in the public publicly – to honour the difficult task of making the important less privately. I am often very annoyed when people send me endless sms and emails disagreeing with me on something I deliberately wrote publicly, so that I have to engage them privately at the same time as engaging other responses publicly. It’s exhausting.

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Eric Miyeni vs Lebo Mashile

As a rule, I try not to blog about issues that relate to my friends being maligned in the press. This is the only reason I have not blogged about the entire mess with Nomboniso Gasa and the CGE, which continues to enrage me in the injustice of it all, or Xoliswa Sithole and the backlash to her brilliant _Shouting Silent_ saga, or similar things that I may change my mind (re blogging about). But this week, while I was dealing with personal drama, a writer that I think matters – my difference with what he writes notwithstanding – went public with an issue that I think off-page disagreement can no longer serve. This week, Eric Miyeni, author of three books, popular personality, touted eye candy and recognised misogynist in many circles, went public with his hateful nonsense this week by writing an article in Sowetan that really needs more responses than the one Lebo Mashile felt pained to write, even though I am sure she has better things to do with her time. It is totally ridiculous that Mashile had to respond to this rubbish at all, and if Miyeni had the courage of his convictions, there is no shortage of stuff to take on in SA. I have a column on which I may take this up more coherently and calmly but since it is not with the newspaper in question – and papers can be sticky about responses – blogs offer a great opportunity for unedited copy for us writers.

Miyeni’s piece feigned some concern with Mashile’s health in various ways as a thin veil to attack her for deigning to be anything but a self-hating woman. He does not have any reason to think that Mashile has any health issues – or that the presumed existence of these merits waving her privacy. He declares that “under all those layers of fat that she now carries, Lebo Mashile is one of the most beautiful women I have ever met.” Miyeni’s is very thin veiled misogyny.

How dare Lebo Mashile be anything less than rake thin and deign to think we can take her seriously for being gob-smackingly beautiful physically, profound, talented and radical without starving and begging for favours in order to live on her work? How dare she not be a cokehead and rake-thin as a result so that we can feel better about “ourselves”? How dare she not secretly have bulimia or anorexia or be on endless diets so that she can look like the image propped up by skinny women who hate their bodies in order to stay on magazine covers? How dare she be radical, beautiful, “big”, popular, unapologetically feminist and an icon today when we all think we have the answers about South Africa being so conservative?

Yes, I also think that SA is more conservative than we’d all like to admit. And yet, Lebo Mashile’s ground breaking television show, L’atitude, and “formula” is copied over and over again in popular culture – tv and beyond – and pulled many more audiences across the board than many others. She won the coveted and prestigious NOMA prize for her brilliant poetry before she even realised how significant an award it is.

I am not saying Lebo Mashile is perfect. She is a human being – and therefore automatically imperfect. And because of her courage, she is a wonderful example and affirmation for smart girls and women in this country in a million ways. This is nothing to apologise for, no matter how much hatred – in the manner of Miyeni and similar – she receives.

Eric Miyeni’s vitriol against women who are not stick thin deserves attention and rebuttal. It deserves recognition for the hateful nonsense that it is. (Maybe those of us who think he is hateful should not spend anymore money on his books.)

First of all, Eric Miyeni seems to think that you need to be thin to be healthy. However, he is clearly disingenious in this claim. He may be an infuriatingly smart but lazy writer – talented but unwilling to polish his words before subjecting his writers to them, unlike Mashile who respects her audiences too much to torment them with sloppy copy – but he has worked in advertising/media/marketing long enough to know how unhealthy many skinny women and men are, and he is intelligent enough (even though he sometimes pretends not to be) to know that most ‘fat’ people in this country are much healthier than the skinniest people on our media pages.

The column that he anchored on Lebo Mashile is probably one of his shoddiest pieces of writing and a very cheap, hateful shot. Lebo Mashile is there simply to titilate. In other words, no matter how important and profound her work, on Miyeni’s column she is the exact opposite of what she is in her work (profound, provocatice, intelligent, attractive). When Miyeni had nothing interesting to write about, he chose to pen a column about a writer whose brilliance he has not met even though his writing career has been much longer, and a writer whose genius he may never live up to, hateful cheap shots notwithstanding.

That is what misogynist do all the time in this county, and maybe it is time we stopped taking them on off-page.

Rest in Peace, Fatima Meer

Born 12 August 1928, in Durban, the courageous, inspiring and energetic activist-academic-icon, Fatima Meer passed away on 12 March 2010. She has been a staunch feminist, having co-founded both the Durban Disticts Women’s League (1949) and The Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) anti-apartheid activist who was banned repeatedly in the 1950s, 1970s, detained without trial, and otherwise tormented by the apartheid state. Fatima Meer was also a prolific writer in various capacities – biography, academic research, history with various books.

I met her only a few times, in gatherings where I spoke to her as one among various other women. The last time was at a South African Women’s Press Inititative (SAWPI) workshop in the Western Cape many years ago. But her words, her work, her life have been as important for me as they have been for a generation of Southern Africans. I am sad, and short of words, somewhat. Thankfully, I can turn around and borrow a sistah’s words, instead. Below, the insanely gifted poet, Bernedette Muthien’s ‘necessary grief’:

since dying is a wedding with the divine
why am i not deaf to the sounds of grief
wrenched from the very hearts of those left behind
blind to their vacant salted eyes
souls wrinkled brittle in suffering & loss

we are the stained
tattered
floor rags
wrung dry
by life’s exigencies
like made-up wallflowers without dance partners
dried up wombs & hollow testicles
trees without fruit
not even worthy of harvests
whipping boys on treadmills without red emergency buttons
cowed
seldom bowled over
often fucked over
the ugly sister dimwit uncle
unwanted
left behind
at divine weddings

is my sorrow sacred too?!!

take then the remnants of this carcass
and eat that too

as i rip the skin from my flesh
i remember
that some jews
still tear the clothes
from their own bodies
in simple grief

and thus i live

Jansen legitimises trivialisation of poor Black people

This is the longer version of my column in this past weekend (01 November 2009) in the City Press:

I have been as intrigued by Jonathan Jansen’s inaugural lecture as the thirteenth Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS) as I have been by some of the responses. Time may have shifted somewhat, but the Jansen saga is a reminder of various things we would do well to reflect on. Jansen lyrical references to the conflicted pasts of both the Free State province and the University itself did little to mask the real meat at the heart of Jansen’s talk: his decision on “the Reitz matter”. Although he claimed his interest in “closing the book on Reitz” and “reconciliation, forgiveness and social justice”, the University of the Free State’s first black rector legitimated the ongoing trivialization of working class black people’s lives. The ANCYL is wrong to expect us to claim him just because he is black and pretend no insult has been uttered. The workers who were victimized by the students the new UFS rector wishes to protect are also black. Who claims them?

Unlike Jansen, I am not surprised that the Reitz “atrocity could have been committed on the grounds of an institution of higher learning”. This is the easiest part of the entire Reitz video saga, unless we deliberately choose to ignore both history and the ongoing state of South African academia. It is the academy that first popularised notions of racial and other supremacy through scientific racism. Higher education continues to be shaped by this legacy in ways too numerous to list here, but on which much academic literature exists. Jansen knows this well. His claimed ignorance is a mere rhetorical strategy and not a very convincing one at that.

Having recognised that the racist performance captured on tape was enabled by institutional power, rather than individual deviant peculiarities, Jansen proceeds to re-enact it. First he treats the entire matter as though it is about sets of two arbitrary individuals set up against each other: errant young white men versus violated black workers who can be quickly compensated so that they may forgive. It is noteworthy that Jansen spends barely any ink on these workers. The bulk of his narrative is dedicated to those who matter: the young men whose futures are at risk, who need to be re-intergrated into the university community in order to acquire further institutional power. In order to mask this evaluation, Jansen is silent on the place of justice, responsibility and recognition. Not for these young UFS hooligans, the expulsion metted out to many other students who act in ways universities do not like, even if the latter’s transgressions are victimless. In Jansen’s book, the futures of the expelled UFS students are much more important than the lives of the students financially excluded from his and many other institutions of higher learning.

Jansen evokes that terrible convenient Christian narrative we had to all deal with during the fraught TRC to invite us to share his complicity. But Jansen takes it a step further, and unlike the TRC the violated are not even required to forgive, or speak at all. The workers who were publicly humiliated will be compensated in unnamed ways; they are not even important enough to consult. Legality stands between Jansen and the acknowledgement of their humanity. The workers are simply required to forgive these young men for their behaviour, and stop being difficult, like the rest of us. They need to just pretend that their humiliation is over and stop being a nuisance. This is one of the inheritances of the TRC: this terrible obligation of black forgiveness. Along with it, we are invited to turn a blind eye to the very many ways in which violence against poor black people is endemic at UFS and the country. Like many others with institutional power, the new UFS rector has chosen the side of power.

Jansen has felt himself pressed to frequent Reitz, but there is no mention of how hard he tried to connect to the man and women who suffered such indignities. After all, along with the burden of obligatory forgiveness, black people are ever-ready to take the money and run. Biko was wrong when he said that all black people’s feelings matter. According to Jansen, white supremacists need not take responsibility for their action, no matter how obviously rightwing. In Jansen they have a brilliant ally.

As for the proposed “Reitz Institute for Studies in Race, Reconcilliation and Social Justice”, I think it calls for a rare moment of action by South African academia: its complete boycott. I know that you could not pay this particular Black woman academic enough money to go anywhere near it.

Violence against Caster Semenya

On Thursday, at the 12th International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Championships in Berlin, an eighteen year old South African athlete broke a record and scooped the gold in the women’s 800m final. Caster Semenya was the first South African to achieve such spectacular athletics heights in the middle distances. Given how happy we are to celebrate Mzantsi firsts, we have much to be proud of in the accomplishments of the teenager from Polokwane. However, if Semenya showed us that “all the world is her stage”, this week we noticed the multitudes that stood ready to shower acid rain on her parade.

Reporting for the IAAF website, Bob Ramsak declared that Semenya’s record breaking time was “naturally, another world leader”. Much of the world’s media dubbed her “controversial” since the IAAF deemed her a candidate for “gender verification testing”. This is fancy language for the crude assertion: she must be a man to run that fast at 18.

But how do you test someone’s gender?

This could be simple, assuming that the tester and tested speak the same language: we are the gender we claim. Ms Semenya has lived her life as a girl, then a woman, and she enters women’s athletics events. But her answer has been dismissed as unreliable.

What people really want to question is whether her sex is male or female, not her gender. Our sex is in our chromosomes, not our genitals, height, muscles, appetites or mental agility. Although lay people believe chromosomes offer conclusive answers, many scientists tell us that XX and XY are only part of the picture, that even biological sex has many grey areas.

Gender is a social category that does not necessarily correspond to sex. Our gender is everywhere, except our chromosomes. But there was a time when scientists thought that our DNA and other biological information determined who we were. Many of us would like to think that science has moved beyond this fact, but has it?

The Caster Semenya saga is an old, familiar story: a young South African woman on the world stage for prodding, genital and other testing by a band of scientists in Europe in order to determine whether she is this or that, or if indeed she is a separate category altogether. It was exceptionally cold over Sarah Bartmann’s Eastern Cape this late August week, and she must have shivered from horror at the de ja vu.

Listening to the increasingly bizarre discussions on the super-achieving Semenya, my mind drifted to tennis legend, Martina Navratilova, who endured endless questions about her gender identity and sexual preference even as she was at the top of Wimbledon. The Williams sisters are scrutinised similarly two decades later. They all look too strong and muscular to be women. And I paused on Eudy Simelane, star footballer, who was prodded to death by a different band of men.

A friend insists that what is wrong is the public manner of Caster Semenya’s humiliation because the IAAF did not quietly take the tests at the beginning of the entire saga rather than making her the subject of rumour and speculation. She notes that the IAAF testing is justified given a history of men running women’s races and the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport.

I might partly agree if the IAAF were in the business of routinely testing all athletes for their chromosomes and whatever else they think determines sex (not gender). It would be despicable and vile test, reminiscent of a time in the science academy when people’s genitals, blood and skulls were studied for information on where to classify them and their capacities. But the IAAF does not subject every single athlete to such tests, only those who challenge dominant understandings of what men and women should look like. Semenya is not the first person to be tested like this by the athletics body. Remember the Indian athlete, Santhi Soundararajan? She first passed and then later failed the same biological sex test, and her results were released upon the failure of the infamous test.

The lesson here is sobering: unless you look like the conventional idealised woman, do not dare dream and achieve big dreams. There is nothing controversial about Caster Semenya, save for the fact that she does not look like a Black Barbie. I don’t know about you, but I will be drinking pretend champagne this week and celebrating a remarkable achievement by a young woman I am proud to share a continent with.

Apartheid still lives on in SA

From The Weekender, 27-8 June 2009
Posted to the web on: 27 June 2009
Apartheid still lives on in SA
———————————————————————
AN UNDERGRADUATE student of mine recently spoke of racism, and apartheid specifically, as something that happened “in our grandparents’ time”. How I wish that is true.

I remain ambivalent about the meanings of such ignorance. On the one hand, I am amazed that an 18-year-old can make such a weighty slip. For her, apartheid can never be a burdensome reference point, and an ever-present reality that shapes what is possible and what not — like it was for me, and many South Africans of the same age.

On the other hand, this relegation of apartheid to a mythical distant past is enabled by the forced amnesia at the heart of new South African nationalism.

The past is not a closed, transcended chapter 15 years after the formal death of apartheid. Many of its stories continue to live in the present, undermining rainbow nationalism and unity in diversity, and rendering the transcendence of race unlikely.

Two events I attended last weekend drove home the many dangers of pretending that we can wish apartheid away. Its legacy continues to shape our country in material, emotional and psychological ways every day.

Those of us who are not 18 have some answering to do, and even more work ahead of us if we are to be truly free of apartheid’s inheritances. There is logic to wanting to forget about apartheid. No matter what else was going on in our lives, it was a time of shame, complicity and degradation.

Those who were victimised by it may very well have wanted to forget about it because nobody enjoys remembering pain and humiliation. Its supporters live in an altered moral universe, and want to disavow their role due to guilt and shame .

I n our daily lives we recognise that sweeping such feelings and pasts under the carpet is counter-productive. Not wanting to “dwell” on painful experiences is different from granting permission to others to pretend there is no painful past with ongoing effects.

We want its existence recognised, honoured and respected. Being defensive when we have wounded others is bad form. Yet in relation to apartheid, for the most part, this is how we continue to write the national script on race.

Speaking at the launch of the Miriam Tlali Reading and Book Club at Xarra Books at the weekend, Tlali noted that “in order to understand this country, you have to learn about what has been happening. Like everybody else, we are the progeny of our past, of our history.”

Human Rights Commission chairman Jody Kollapen reminded us in his keynote address to the Apartheid Archive Project conference last week that there is no mention of apartheid in the South African constitution. In the spirit of the constitution, we speak of apartheid euphemistically or pretend that it has been resolved.

However, as University of Cape Town psychology professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela told the conference, denial will not allow South Africans to get to the place of transcendence we pretend to have already reached.

If we do not own these stories and how they shaped us, we give them invisible power to affect daily exchanges today. We will not be able to recognise one another’s full humanity until we choose to confront the past, and honestly own up to its wounds and ongoing material and psychological effects.

Defensiveness just postpones the problem and means we are all sitting on a ticking time bomb. There is already much evidence in our society of the rage that comes from misrecognition.

Apartheid lies not just in what Wits University head of psychology Prof Norman Duncan calls “unwelcome memories hurtling into the present” — it determines who is most likely to be poor, to be deliberately rendered homeless, racially harassed, promoted without question or ridiculed for being excellent.

It affects whose pain is most likely to be denied or mocked. It determines whose alienation is masked or amplified.

The conference was an invitation to face the archive that is apartheid — whether it is written on our bodies, in our minds or in what we choose to tell. Facing the archive is about gathering and processing information.

This was reflected in Wits historian Noor Nieftagodien’s keynote address: the importance of paying attention to ordinary people’s lives under apartheid, rather than the sole focus on the heroes and villains .

Until that is done, understanding, processing and transcending apartheid will not happen.

The conference speakers offered differing voices and contrasting politics but Kollapen’s keynote was the very embodiment of facing the archive. He went beyond asking how it was possible to reconcile South African contradictions to build a compelling argument on what the consequences of such double speak are.

Less than 4% of land has been redistributed, but public discourse focuses on white fears of land grabs “Zimbabwean style”.

Most available research shows that affirmative action and black economic empowerment have had limited success, yet even some of the most “respectable” newspapers scream about endangered white professionals. This cruel inversion provides alibis to conservative white people as they manufacture paranoia.

Apart from anecdotal recitals, even the most conservative researchers have failed to produce evidence that white men are marginalised in SA today.

This manufactured paranoia holds blacks and progressive whites hostage: for as long as we are weighed down by reassuring imaginary marginalised whites, we are distracted from fully engaging in transformation .

In academic institutions across SA, many white people refuse to recognise black excellence even when faced with overachievers because “affirmative action” has been turned into a swear word.

Yet at the same time, white mediocrity is rife, with many underqualified and underperforming white men in senior posts across the academic landscape.

Many white women in academia are both the chief beneficiaries of affirmative action and its biggest gatekeepers. Here manufactured paranoia is supported by the lie that all black people leave academia because of more lucrative employment in government and corporate SA.

Research points to the exact opposite, but we are to believe the unproven, widely circulated lie of black greed and white marginality.

It is 2009 and black academics remain a minority within the academy, where they are reminded at every turn of “affirmative action”. White academics are individuals. Blacks are representatives who stand in for the hordes of “underqualified” barbarians .

Apartheid would not let people speak their truth: of guilt, victimisation, complicity, shame and pain. Manufactured white paranoia does the work of apartheid: it silences and inverts what is really going on, sans evidence.

Counteraccusations of racism when white privilege is pointed out push the debate into invisibility, silencing like apartheid did.

Attorney Sibongile Ndashe calls these the passwords that make honest discourse impossible in SA: women have to say “not all men are bad” before they can be heard. Black people have to say “there are some good white people” before there can be the pretence of listening.

We often feel that our individual stories are insignificant. But we carry them whether painful or pleasant. The apartheid archive project is a way to find community.

It is an ambitious project. Its team continues to deal with the various ways in which an archive such as this can work and be used.

The project gives hope like little else that deals with race in SA. Tlali also said that facing our history should be part of what we teach our children and it is why we “should be as restless as we can be” until the work is complete.

Gqola is [associate] professor in the School of Literature and Language Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.