The abused, naked and landless black man tells a story of ANC choices on land since 1912

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By: Clyde Ramalaine

Social media is abuzz with a video-clip of a man ejected from his shack and subdued by a group of Cape Town law enforcement officials. They were seen on recorded cell-phone cameras violently removing a naked man from his shack at Empolweni informal settlement in Khayelitsha on Wednesday.  In the video, the naked man is ejected from the shack, thrown to the ground and repeatedly prevented from entering the shack.

It is not the first time in democratic SA that landless black people are removed during winter from their dwelling places considered illegal informal spaces of settlements. From what is known, the man was taking a bath in his shack when he was accosted by the clearly zealous and testosterone driven pack of wolves parading as law enforcement officers. In April the Western Cape High Court ruled that the eviction of occupants of the said land were illegal and the dwellers needed to be returned to the land. According to Luthando Tyhalingbongo, the land which is a matter of a court case is restricted to accommodate only 49 households. 

Thus, the story of the naked man intersects critical main themes that have come to define the meaning of blackness in this epoch. Themes of perpetual landlessness, ongoing indignity, the horror of economic deprivation and a systemic entrenched challenge of abuse uniquely served on the black identity which in democracy continues unabated.  We still do not know the name of the man, since he is just a naked man, an invader of land,  hence his identity appears not to matter.  He is dehumanised and defaced because the system in SA allows for this. All of this while he is the father of a child, someone’s brother, another’s son even an uncle to others.

His nakedness depicts the meandering tale of the masses, who in SA have remained naked in ownership of land, denied access in economic opportunity and robbed of dignity with the odds stack against them.

Unfortunately, it is his black identity that renders him deserving of this treatment. How do we know that because the entrenched prevailing reality is that no white person will ever be subjected to this inhumane, embarrassing and disrespectful treatment that this black landless man was served yesterday in Cape Town? His is a tale of the antithesis of white privilege better understood in black indignity.

We know this is not unique to Cape Town, Western Cape as an incident since this is prevalent all over SA.  The infamous ‘Red Ants’ of Gauteng annually have its contract renewed and violently unleashed on the poor, landless and economically disenfranchised who in South Africa are necessarily black. It’s a black-led government in Gauteng that annually legally empowers the ‘red ants’ to do their piece in the subjugation of the black life. The naked landless shack-dweller and illegal land occupier is another chapter of a voluminous book of previous ones. Lest we forget we had the Marikana black lives–miner-massacre in the North-West in 2012. Dare we ever forget how mathematics educator Andries Tatane in 2016 was killed for protesting in the Free-State in service delivery quest.

The naked man violently ejected from his shack, pushed and shoved and thrown to the ground resembles Collins Khosa from Alexandra Township who was taken from inside his house and killed after soldiers found two empty bottles of beer in his house. The Empolweni naked man speaks to the ten lives besides Khosa who were killed during  COVID-19 lockdown at the hand of police and soldier brutality. And you guessed right ten lives who also are black. This when hardly a white who equally contravened COVID-19 Lockdown rules were arrested. The man from Empolweni in identity details those who were rolled in the mud, kicked on the backsides and made to do stupid physical exercises at the hand of Lockdown power.

This perpetual insult on black lives continues because it took a black president who is captured by the toxic white monopoly nearly sixty days before he could mention the name Khosa.  All along he knew Khosa’s case was in court. Even when he did it was only because he dared to speak on the USA murder of  George Floyd when some of us reminded him that there are 11 people that were killed by his police and army which he has remained silent on. When he finally was forced to address the matter, it was to tell South Africans the police acts in overzealousness sometimes.

The men that harassed and dehumanised this naked man find their action correct because SA remains a country that reveres white lives as sacrosanct though for more than a quarter of century its led by a black ANC government. I guess I am trying to show disrespect for black lives is systemic. The fact that even blacks [Biko definition of black] could do this to the man from Empolweni confirms a system that allows it. A system that supports it, it does not matter who does it. 

The reasons why black lives remain treated in this fashion are simple no matter how complex some will try to make it. In SA whites don’t live in these spaces and therefore are naturally exempted from this treatment or any threat to their dignity. In SA police officers know how to treat whites and that is never inhumane. Don’t tell me about a few whites that live in Krugersdorp in shacks. The facts are whites continue to own over 78% of this land which was robbed from the aboriginal people.

The naked man’s story is the story of landlessness and unfortunately, it’s the story of the African National Congress  in  grave lack of leadership. The same ANC  and its hypocrisy on land redress that I increasingly find nauseating. Now you can shoot me for the following: I just find the ANC hypocritical for its special attention on land disenfranchisement in the definition of apartheid in the Middle-East situation when it is wholly silent on the Khoisan land robbery, the Australian aboriginal land robbery, the theft of land from the aboriginals of an America and the Dalai Lama in his Tibetan land quest return.  We are not seeing half the energy exerted to attain land restitution for the aforementioned groups, but the ANC appears to have a scripted and convenient obsession with the Middle East. It does not take rocket science to figure out where this push in the ANC emanates from. But if that was accepted as external its biggest indictment on a land opinion on Palestine is its  tragic failure to ensure land redress on the home front. What happened to the adage, charity starts at home?

Those who hope that the ANC will deliver on land redress have not understood the ANC from inception. The ANC that was born in 1912, in the Methodist Church of Waaihoek in the Free State, as we all know represented an elitist group who was not fighting colonialism hence it was not essentially against colonialism per se.  Had the ANC been fighting for land for all every land invasion and robbery that transpired before  its advent in which indigenous people suffered loss would have been its cause.

For the record the aboriginals of the Southland of the continent of Africa referred to in frames of Khoi-San identity who had their land robbed didn’t even register on agenda of the ANC.  Since its birth its interest exclusively was for a portion of the colonial loot, hence it’s dispatching of subsequent delegations to engage the British Colonial Crown. It never had any conviction to fight for land. It inadvertently endorsed colonialism because it didn’t seek to fight but to negotiate with colonial masters.

Forty years later despite brief moments of militancy as led by its radical youth leaders in the 1940’s it remained a placid and pliant organisation. Much is made of its adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955 and this is often interpreted in a specific way as the watershed moment of equality. Yet it can also be argued that when it endorsed the Freedom Charter, which really is a subset of the 800-year-old English Magna Carta it was really guaranteeing the beneficiaries (whites) of robbed land an equality to equal access to land to those it dispossessed and disenfranchised. We also can argue who really was behind the adoption of the Freedom Charter.  We know Robert Sobukwe who is airbrushed out of an SA liberation history was vehemently opposed to this. We must appreciate the undeniable  and indelible influence white SACP members who for an elongated period dictated the ANC in its thought and policy articulations exerted.

Regardless to how romantic some in the ANC will try and spin the Freedom Charter as a direct challenge to white land ownership with the aim of disowning them it hardly registered anywhere a threat to white land ownership but inadvertently endorsed it.  In a sense no different to its negotiations with the British Crown. It, therefore, was no surprise to see its later adopted negotiations-stance that implicitly guaranteed protection of white pensions and economic livelihoods as part of the Joe Slovo introduced sunset clause. The 1996 adopted constitution for SA stands on the shoulders of this lacklustre fight for land for all since it builds on this trajectory of entrenching white ownership of land however obtained. 

To appreciate the dichotomy of the naked man we must take a step back in time  namely to an era of ANC led negotiations where it was wholly outfoxed by apartheid beneficiaries. The traces of black indignity and value of life runs through this epoch because the ANC  never made the dignity of black equal to that of white in the commonness of a human race as non-negotiable. They were too concerned to sit at the table of colonial and apartheid white interest by way of a concocted  BEE-pollution plan that benefitted ANC and Tripartite alliance leaders, their families and friends. The ANC until now remains hyper-sensitive and concerned to respect and appease white privilege, therefore, in 2020 blacks lives as under apartheid are still seen and treated as subhuman

If we want to appreciate why a black man can be ejected in this form, we must perhaps trace it back to the farce of “negotiations” the ANC as led by Nelson Mandela [who staged his own release] and the SACP. It must be traced to the fundamental not often admitted reason why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was brought to life. We will remember that the TRC was the final step before an interim constitution was adopted. The less stated facts are that it could not happen unless by the insistence of apartheid perpetrators of heinous crimes demanding that they first be guaranteed amnesty because they threatened to withhold their participation in the crossover.

The TRC was then repurposed to not just engage apartheid atrocities but its terms were now made a wider human rights abuses case in which the atrocities of apartheid Dirk Coetzee were equated to that of freedom fighter Robert McBride. The TRC remains a betrayal of justice when it was overtaken by the identity of a cleric obsessed to get victims of apartheid through badgering some to underwrite the questionable reconciliation agenda at the expense of justice. Truth was sacrificed at the altar of reconciliation and an unsolicited opaque ‘rainbow nation’ was born where the land still remained white-owned and the economy in the control of that same oppressor while the apartheid perpetrators had their pensions and investments secured. If you want to appreciate the agony of the naked man of Empolweni you can’t ignore the TRC in being repurposed and in its outcomes,  which confirmed a tragic truth that in SA white lives will always matter more.

Despite one flash of radicality in its 54th Conference when it adopted resolutions on land redress in its 2017,  it remained a divided lot that extended an opportunity for no accountability from those it deployed in SA government leadership to ensure its resolutions are executed.

The ANC in the authenticity of a land quest and redress for the cause of the masses remains sketchy, highly dodgy and precariously playful. This speaks to the true ambiguity of the ANC on land return for those who were robbed from the first time Europeans that arrived at the foot of Africa. I, therefore, cannot take the ANC with its empty slogans, foolish petitions and rhetorical statements on Palestine and Israel serious because it has wholly failed to lead change on land ownership in their own back yard.

So, expect them to shout, pen petitions even join marches for land when it is in power or as Winnie Mandela long ago observed, the ANC is not in power but in office. Today you will see the ANC loud on the naked, insulted man of Empolweni, it will release press statements and play its usual politics with the DA, the latter known for its undeniable defence of white privilege at any costs, yet by sunset after its leaders caught the attention of the media they will retire home and forget the naked man until another incident similar to this and all others before. Hence, I will take the ANC serious on its Palestinian land stance and fight when it takes its ballot-bequeathed role more serious to deliver land for the naked man who represents the landless   masses under a black government.

The inactions of the ANC led government continues to guarantee the ongoing disrespect for blacks which threatens under an ANC leadership an eternity.  Let us also admit the discomforting truth that whites made Mandela an icon, after they thoroughly had access to him and conditioned him to be a grand old man. It made others in the ANC filthy rich by financially dry- cleaning them while black lives remain cheap and subjugated deserving of this inhumane treatment. 

The intersectional themes of a man ejected from his shack while bathing, violently abused and made a mockery in nakedness is the sickening story of the African National Congress choices an inaction on a necessary wider than elitist land struggle since before 1912. South Africans are finding out black lives may never matter because the ANC enables the knee on the neck of black lives at every turn of societal life. It is directly responsible for the naked man in landlessness who still remains disenfranchised in economic life and who today is without a shack and more so his dignity. As Malcolm X told us the fight for freedom was always about land.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Litt.et. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA