White Slavesby Brandon Edmonds / Illustration by Alastair Laird / 23.01.2012
Sometimes you gotta laugh. Right? I mean this country. I tell ya. It is funny. Here’s Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s recent toast at the ANC Centenary shindig: “The leaders will now enjoy the champagne, and of course they do so on your behalf through their lips.” Oh of course. Wait. So the lips of our leaders belong to us? Whatever passes them is our business, is beholden to us? We control, by proxy, the intimate threshold of their lips. Cool. I say we test this.
Champagne, who wouldn’t bolt that down? That’s child’s play. How about piss? How about raw sewerage? How about taint sweat a’ la Jackass? How about the menstrual blood of a hundred loyal members of the ANC Woman’s League? A sort proto-feminist-performance-art-Centenary-tribute-thing. May even win the Turner Prize, right. Shit lets test our leaders’ commitment to this ‘servant of the People’ / representative democracy thing. Let’s take them at their word. Let’s push them all the way.
We could have monthly referendums on a rotating provincial basis with alternating cabinet ministers: You Decide What Goes in the Minister’s Mouth. Tears, sump spillage, ground bees, the drippings of a homeless man’s cyst. Now that’s entertainment. Interest in the political process among the youth would spike to North Korean levels of commitment. Nimrod could host the show like the Lotto. The Parlotones could be the house band. The McGregor sisters could be naked and administer the liquid in like an S&M dungeon setting. The Minister would gulp it down and roar in exultation as households cheer. This thing has legs producers. Call me.
It isn’t an original idea. As in so many things, the great Frantz Fanon, anti-colonial philosopher and psychologist from Martinique, author of Black Skin White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, got there first. In an essay that grows more and more pertinent to the situation in South Africa by the second, called “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness”, free online and so worth reading, Fanon suggests the only way ‘the authentic national middle class’, the new leadership that emerges once the white suppressors give way, can avoid becoming just another champagne-glugging “tool of capitalism” is by making itself “the willing slave of that revolutionary capital that is the people.” Hence the S&M dungeon set. See I’m on it. I’ve thought this through.
Speaking of slaves, more shits and giggles are to be had with that nagging venereal disease of the political system, as devilishly hard to eradicate as syphilis, Juju, who told delighted Khayelitsha residents that they’ll be employing white domestic workers in a decade.
This is ingenious political opportunism. Flipping the drudgery of so many upside down. Stoking political fantasies. For Malema liberation is a form of resentment. For one race to succeed another must fall. A sense of how class works in capitalism would help shift the racial basis of his thinking but the objective conditions in South Africa, the abiding blackness of poverty, make his ideas both accurate and appealing.
But their ultimate hollowness, the self-serving truth, is nailed by Fanon: to cut-rate ideologues like Malema, “nationalization quite simply means the transfer into native hands of those unfair advantages which are the legacy of the colonial period.” That’s why the call isn’t for rational anarchist freedoms, the collective autonomy of workers to decide their own fate, an urgent necessity, but the continuation of indignity in a different skin. Whites will be domestic workers rather than the right of work and dignity for all. The same overall oppression abides. The same system that lets Malema re-do his house at a cost of millions mustn’t be challenged.
Imagine a white domestic. A retired old librarian. Let’s call her Betty White. Black kids would sneak out to her ‘khaya’ (a nice Tudor bungalow that smells of tea and Marie biscuits) when their parents are away and score mince pies, racy Jilly Cooper novels and Michael Buble CDs. She’d teach them to bake and keep their elbows off the table. She’d tell them how to talk for hours about the weather. The kids would learn how to use an inside voice and keep their feelings well hidden. She’d tell them about the days whites were on television and hair salons didn’t have a selection of weaves and braids. They won’t believe her.
Betty will tell them stories about life under apartheid to put them to sleep at night. Being a liberal she will be moved by regret and shame. The kids won’t understand her shame. But they will feel sorry for her and a little disgusted at her lowly position in life. Couldn’t she have worked harder or studied more? What’s wrong with her? Doesn’t she have any pride? Hating too how their father speaks to Betty. The offhandedness. The indifference. She’s a good person they’ll think. But lazy. Shame man.
*Illustration © Alastair Laird.