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  • Written by  Lwando Xaso, Sunday Independent
  • Published in In the News
  • Read 1282 times

It’s time the Penny dropped - article by Lwando Xaso in the Sunday Independent

Khulumani really appreciates this article by Lwando Xaso's in the Sunday Independent in which she refers back to previous articles she wrote on reparations, while addressing racism in light of Penny Sparrow's recent racist remarks. Lwando quotes her previous article on reparations:

“In truth the effects of human rights violations under apartheid, reported and unreported, continue to shape our lives today. The bleeding has not stopped, not when there are those who think it’s a good idea for black people to carry green cards to monitor their movements, not when former president FW de Klerk defends the concept of apartheid. There is a continuing transgenerational transmission of trauma and humiliation from one generation to the next when the truth is unacknowledged.”


Black people are faced daily with racist remarks from whites and it is only a matter of time before they run out of words, cautions Lwando Xaso.

 I no longer have anything to say on racism. In 2014 Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 14 others before committing suicide. Michael Moore, an American documentary film-maker, who wrote and directed the 2002 Bowling for Columbine documentary, which examines the causes of the high school massacres, was asked to comment on the shooting at the University of California.

Moore, who is usually very outspoken on such issues, surprisingly said he no longer had anything to say about what has become part of normal American life and everything he had to say he said 12 years ago, which could be repurposed for this incident.

When Penny Sparrow’s obscene social media post went viral – which is our culture’s way of describing something that has quickly spread over the internet just like a virus, which racism certainly is – I too was asked by colleagues and friends to weigh in.

I had nothing new to say because I have said everything I can on race whether it’s addressing the segregation of black and white children at Curro Schools, or whether it is quoting Amos Wilson in my reparations article, who said “justice requires not only ceasing and desisting from injustice, but… punishment or reparation for injuries and damage inflicted. The essence of justice is the redistribution of gains earned through the perpetration of injustice. If restitution is not made and reparations are not instituted to compensate for… injustices, the injustices are in effect rewarded.”

I again shared my thoughts on race when I wrote about the importance of truth in post-apartheid South Africa.

I wrote: “In truth the effects of human rights violations under apartheid, reported and unreported, continue to shape our lives today. The bleeding has not stopped, not when there are those who think it’s a good idea for black people to carry green cards to monitor their movements, not when former president FW de Klerk defends the concept of apartheid. There is a continuing transgenerational transmission of trauma and humiliation from one generation to the next when the truth is unacknowledged.”

I relayed my own experience of racism at an ice-cream shop in Port Elizabeth, writing that educated or not, eloquent or not, no one is deserving of such treatment.

I should not have to make out a case why I should be treated fairly. We are all entitled to fair treatment by virtue of being humans endowed with human rights.

How can exchanges and behaviour like this continue in our so- called free society? It reminded me there were pockets of prejudice and injustice that the constitution could not remedy.

I commented on Zapiro’s cartoon depicting black people as ape-like sub-human beings, writing that “not allowing white people to get comfortable with making such comparisons is a reasonable limitation to place on white supremacy. With black South Africans on the losing end of disparities in education and access to health care and many other socio-economic injustices, this is one parameter on white supremacy that has to be enforced with the might of moral force”.

I have not included the many times in my day-to-day life that I have spoken out on race, whether it’s over a casual dinner or as a reaction to an observed racist incident.

Many have weighed in on Sparrow and her kind on social media; however, the responses to these appalling incidents to me are now patterned, repetitive and at times unremarkable.

We show our outrage, hashtag our feelings and move on within a day or two.

I am aware that my own writings and my own voice are to some repetitive and unremarkable,which is why I now have to acknowledge that I have run out of things to say.

Lindiwe Mazibuko coined it best: “There is a psychological term – semantic satiation – for our brain’s inability to hold on to the meaning of a word when it is repeated too many times. Apparently, our other senses have similar reactions to overexposure to the same stimulus, which is why my mother taught me never to ‘top up’ my perfume during the course of the day.

“The nose becomes accustomed to the fragrance when you first apply it; over time it becomes ‘bored’ with the smell, rendering it imperceptible. You consequently perceive the need for reapplication, but by the end of the day, you are choking everybody who comes into contact with you with an overapplied scent that to you still seems perfectly understated.”

So I do not want to take up further space with my rehashed sentiments on this issue, which does not seem to be abating. I would rather defer to those with new ideas because I am exasperated and have nothing else to say.

I remember when I was younger I was either being chased by a dog or under some other, now forgotten, threat but I remember screaming so loud that nothing but screeching silence came out.

That is how I feel now.

I want to take the time to be silent rather than reactionary because without necessary silence, words lose their power. I want to figure out how else I can be of use in this ongoing battle.

Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi was a young Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on December 17 2010, in protest against the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by municipal officials.

His act became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution and the Arab Spring.

At the time I could never imagine the level of frustration that would make someone that young set themselves alight.

Bouazizi had run out of words to say.

Every day black South Africans are faced with the humiliating, hurtful and degrading racism of careless people like Penny Sparrow and it is only a matter of time before they too run out of words.

*Xaso is lawyer with an LLM in constitutional and administrative law from UCT and an LLM in international human rights law from the University of Notre.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.

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