Ndlozi’s dismissal of progress made since our first win in 1995 offends in the greatest of senses the people who fought for where we are, writes Yonela Diko
Each generation, or at least some leaders in each generation, are always convinced that they are the most incensed by the lack of change, that they are more radical than the rest of the reformist bourgeoisies and their sympathisers.
They also think they have a much greater sense of urgency for drastic change than the previous generation.
These leaders always think that through sheer force of will – verbal in most instances – they can solve problems of injustice, race, gender disparities and other social ills with one big swing and be the ones to give the nation a once-off leap into Utopia.
Underneath their zealotry – zealotry that is void of tact and knowledge – is youthful exuberance.
This always happens when young people are at the beginning of their political activism, having not yet tested their high-minded ideas against the hard reality and seen how they measure up.
It bourgeoisie of course part of being young to possess delusions about what is possible.
They only realise much later that words, as powerful as they may be, are too easy in ways actions could never be.
EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, in his crass and crude rants at the weekend over and against the nation’s mood and disposition following the Springboks Rugby World Cup victory, is walking the same path of youthful foolishness as thousands of others before him.
It is only once these young politicians have put in the real work and have done the heavy lifting in their constituencies that they may appreciate the words of 19th century German philosopher Karl Marx, captured perfectly in his seminal work, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
Marx said: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.
“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionising themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language.”
It is only with hindsight of experience and longer life that these leaders realise that the circumstance in which we find ourselves, the theatre of life in which we must perform our lives’ deeds, weighs like a nightmare on our dreams and aspirations so that each generation’s singular role becomes but to move the needle a little forward, irrespective of their zealotry.
In the end, each generation has to make sure that the battle is a little easier for the next generation.
This has never been out of choice or lack of drive or anger, but because of how meaningful, durable and lasting change happens.
A simple glance at history shows us that the previous generations were much smarter, more capable and better driven.
But, in all their genius, they could only give a difficult world with all its challenges, but certainly better than the one they had inherited.
Each generation must give the next a better shot and an advanced struggle.
It’s foolhardy and borderline grandiose for anyone, especially a man like Ndlozi to think that, given this immeasurable capacity of the previous generations, their drive and urgency for change, we are the generation that will end history with one swing, and that every progress made up to this point is meaningless.
The history of the Springboks and South Africa is telling in this regard.
The racial changes we are witnessing in the Springboks today, though below both last year and this year’s racial representation targets, are a product of the unmatched vigour, determination, blood, sweat and tears of many generations.
And whatever Ndlozi thinks his mindless remarks will achieve, people more gifted than him achieved greater things in moving the needle forward and have given us the gains we are witnessing today.
There would be no Chester Williams if it were not for Avril Williams, his uncle who played for the Springboks before him.
There would have been no Avril Williams if it had not been for Errol George Tobias, the first black player to be included in the Springboks.
It is not their first black player status that we celebrate, but their endurance, their commitment, their understanding that in circumstances not of their choosing, if they could open one more door for black players, that would move history forward.
It is players such as Tobias who endured being called a token player, being disdained by both their own management and fans abroad, that we are here today.
These players understood that, if they gave up, if they gave in to the abuse, they would have to fold their own ambitions and desires, and postpone their own victimisation to future generations.
They would stand up to it and not be bowed. History progressed.
We should applaud countries such as Argentina, which denied the Springboks touring visas in the 1970s; organisations like Halt All Racist Tours that operated in New Zealand from 1969 to 1980; the exclusion of South Africa from the 1987 and 1991 World Cups.
All these decisions had a ripple effect that finally explode in 1995, then in 2007 and now. History has been progressing.
Change does not come from one angry fellow who finds a sense of vanity in his exaggerated and special sense of grievance.
Change comes from collective action, from black players at the coalface of racism but choose to push forward, commending progress, but demanding more.
It comes from acts of government, convictions in sports federations, the people who see progress but find it not enough.
Change comes from all of us, and Ndlozi is not angrier than all of us.
His dismissal of all this progress, all these sacrifices, all these victories, the World Cup under Siya Kolisi; all to present himself as a true believer and a purist, offends in the greatest of senses the people who fought for where we are.
It is okay to say that winning a World Cup with six black players in a 15-member squad is not ideal.
But to deny the progress made since our first win in 1995 with just one black player is completely dishonest and an insult to the collective effort on transformation.
The question of the slow pace of transformation is not one for only the Springboks to bear, it applies to all sectors of our society.
Most of us understand it better when the conversation is about women empowerment and the slow pace in letting women lead in their majority.
Why the EFF has only one woman in its top six may well conjure a more self-justifying answer than the simple-minded sloganeering that they throw at others on issues of race.
Ndlozi is young and, most importantly, he is a product of his time, where the conversation space is so saturated that one has to go to the extreme margins to get attention; be ridiculous and reckless to stand out and trend.
Unfortunately, being a leader also means understanding the country’s mood and disposition and not clashing with it.
You may not recover.
Ndlozi has failed to understand that opposition politics is more than hostility and standing apart; it’s also about choosing the people and, on this day, in this moment, the people choose their national rugby team.