“South Africa is a dishevelled society in which two groups with disparate goals share one geographical space. It is a country where forgiveness is overrated and justice underrated. For these reasons, South Africans are perhaps as far from being a nation in 2016 as they were in 1994.”
Christine Qunta’s latest book Why we are NOT a nation discusses a wide array of issues faced by South African society today. I got my hands on a free copy (yay!) of this incisive book after attending an event, hosted by The Press Club South Africa, where Qunta was interviewed. The book serves as a collection of essays written by Qunta discussing topical issues affecting South Africans living in a post-Apartheid era. Let’s look at 5 things I think Qunta got spot on about South African society:
- Empty Land Thesis
In the title essay, Qunta explains why she feels South Africa is a dishevelled society by using a few case studies she calls “markers of disparateness” to highlight the tensions between South Africans. Her most compelling argument Qunta terms “the empty land thesis”, where she notes how the apartheid state presented the myth, in school-curricula and history books, that South Africa was largely barren land with no other inhabitants besides the Khoi and San people. This argument was quite interesting, particularly in light of the fact that history was largely written from one side (read: race) and often open to manipulation. I can still remember being shunned at school by one of my high school history teachers when I questioned why we never read any stories told by the Khoi and was quickly told to keep questions to myself.
- Lack of Remorse
Another compelling marker of disparateness is Qunta’s argument that there is a lack of remorse, in the post-Apartheid era, shown by white South Africans for the hardships the majority has been subjected to by them, on their behalf and in their interest. In elaborating on her argument, Qunta makes reference to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), particularly how it failed in promoting reconciliation but succeeded in recording some of the heinous crimes committed during Apartheid. Qunta further substantiates her point using incidences where Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Carl Niehaus spoke out against white South Africans and their benefitting from Apartheid, but were soon faced with a mountain of backlash. There’s just something about changing the status quo that gets people all riled up. Seriously though, how many times have you heard them say “but my parents worked hard for what they gave me… why can’t we call just get along… it’s been 22 years already geez”.
- Steps to Success
I think it’s safe to say we can all point out some problems facing South African to date, but can we suggest viable solutions towards those very problems mentioned? Without taking politics, law and socio-economics into account, I highly doubt it. And NO, voting for the DA solely because it’s not the ANC is not going to fix all of South Africa’s issues. Nevertheless, Qunta offers a couple steps to build a strong South African nation. Some of Qunta’s suggestions include mainstreaming African Culture, particularly promoting black culture and history in schools, accelerating corrective policies such as BBBEE, and implementing a reparations fund. The reparations fund is, according to Qunta, the most important step which serves as a precondition to a great nation. This fund is aimed at correcting the wrongs of the past and directed at (you guessed it) white-owned companies and individuals. Controversial hey? Whether these solutions are viable is another question but I think at least one of the measures she suggests is good enough to try.
- Attacking Assimilation
In her second essay, titled Is Hair Political? Qunta discusses the politics of hair in contemporary society. Qunta argues that black people have essentially been conditioned to change themselves to fit in to modern (read: white) culture. This, she argues is sometimes done willingly, for example through the wearing of weaves and lightening of dark skin, but is to a large extent forced upon non-whites by the media, fashion and modelling industries. In making her argument Qunta refers to incidences that caused international public outcry including the 2008 L’Oreal scandal where they lightened Beyoncé’s skin in an ad for hair products. Qunta’s essay makes strong arguments regarding the portrayal of black culture not only in South African society, but the world at large.
- The need for Role Models
Further, in Is Hair Political? Qunta discusses the need for non-white role models in South African Society. Qunta explains the importance of role models and notes that “the lack of affirmation is one of the reasons why African women, especially in societies where they are in the minority, simply choose to accept an imposed model of beauty”. Qunta substantiates her point by making reference to a number of case studies, most notably Lupita Nyong’o rocking her natural hair and later winning an Oscar. I think this argument can definitely be extended to other facets of life and industries in South Africa. Just recently, Wayde Van Niekerk won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics which was hailed as a victory for non-whites of South Africa, using the hashtag #ColouredExcellence on social media. This was largely claimed to highlight what could be achieved if non-whites in South Africa were given proper opportunities.
All in all, I think it’s a good book. Qunta makes strong arguments regarding her views on why South Africa is a dishevelled society. She looks at various aspects of society in the post-Apartheid era to bring her points across. I don’t think you’ll walk away from this book with a neutral view on issues affecting South African society.
Christine Qunta – Who’s Afraid of Affirmative Action
Ferial Haffajee – What if there were no Whites in South Africa
Richard Calland – The Anatomy of South Africa