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Of Uncle Toms and Black-On-Black racism

There are two types of blacks I’d let Winnie Mandela ‘necklace’ with burning tyres any day: the one who treats another like the white master used to, and the one who believes in white-supremacy, finds it his duty to uphold it as gospel



The Uncle Toms; Malcolm’s house nigga. Tarantino’s Stephen, Aaron’s Uncle Rukus, Marechera’s Harry; creatures of the imagination that ever so often spill back into reality from which they were drawn.

Once upon a time in Africa, a young Philani, finally liberated from the formal nonsense of high school – necktie nooses and haircuts – stopped combing his hair one day and eventually woke up with dreadlocks. A proponent of Biko, Malcolm, Marechera et al, he kept company with conscious rastamen, even though he objected to the notion of Ras Tafari Makonen aka Haille Selassie being God (not as extremely as Marechera who called him ‘a dictatorial midget’). This Philani went visiting in an upmarket suburb in Pretoria. He arrived twenty or so minutes before his hosts returned and stood outside the gate, patiently passing time with his earphones. During that time he was interrogated by three security guards, a police vehicle drove by…twice, slowing down each time it went past him. The methods of inquiry varied, but each of the guards wanted to know why he was in the neighbourhood; one went as far as saying young Philani’s presence would make ‘the whites nervous’. He snapped back: “Let them come say it themselves”.

“The underwear of our souls was full of holes…we were whores, eaten to the core by the syphilis of the white-man’s coming.” – Dambudzo Marechera, ‘House of Hunger’. Photo: Ernst Schade

“The underwear of our souls was full of holes…we were whores, eaten to the core by the syphilis of the white-man’s coming.” – Dambudzo Marechera, ‘House of Hunger’. Photo: Ernst Schade

The bumper-stickers are amusing: ‘A BLACK MAN IS ALWAYS A SUSPECT’. I suppose in Zimbabwe it makes a bit of sense, seeing as 99% of the nation is black, on a balance of probabilities it has to be a black man who done it! But it stopped being amusing that day in Pretoria. It got worse the next day when my nephew and I went to a shopping centre in Menlo Park with him still in his Christian Brothers’ College uniform. As we walked out of Spar, a sentinel who was by an ATM stepped directly behind us, assuming a tactical position and walked us off the pavement with tight-fist grips about his assault rifle. It appears the bumper sticker was right; a black man is always up to no good, even if he’s carrying a plastic bag with bread, milk and cigarettes from his local supermarket. Even if he is a teenager in school uniform.

I had forgotten about the incidents until a few days back when I found myself in what one would call a ‘white’ shopping centre in my good old Bulawayo. I was carrying a backpack, with my Kalashnikov and sidearm (plain English: notebooks) with absolutely no interest in leaving the instruments of my trade at the parcel counter. I walk into the shop and before I can take five steps an armed guard wants to know what’s in my bag. But the whites are greeted when they come in with theirs. I am asked to explain what I want in the shop and the contents of my bag, like anyone ever went shoplifting in a crowded supermarket with a backpack. Is it because I don’t shave regularly, wear boots and fatigues, the sum of which makes me look like Boko Haram? Of course not.

Apartheid was serious mental sodomy (I watched Skin and couldn’t talk to my friends of Boer descent for two days). Some of the whites genuinely believed the blacks ‘had only just come down from trees’ and a benevolent God created them to serve. So they had Bantu Education which was the spark of the Soweto Uprising by kids who were fed up with learning Afrikaans and being taught laundry instead of geometry, reared to become good domestics instead of being empowered to become the best versions of themselves. We hope those kind of whites will slough off the face of the earth before infecting a new generation. But what excuse is there for former kaffirs to view each other with such disdain? The worst part of my South African ordeal was that one of the guards was Zimbabwean, his Northern Ndebele was showing its feet from under the blanket of Hillbrow-Zulu.

So maybe it isn’t an exclusively South African problem, at home fortune turns a man white in the eyes of the beholder. Anyone who appears to be better off is a khiwa, your employer is your khiwa, in an omnibus the conductor calls us his khiwas. It’s a pandemic, mass-inferiority-complex, black-on-black racism based on the maxim that a black man was born into for the underworld, to be at the bottom while the white man occupies the top tier. Black is not just a concentration of melanin, we are the wretched of the earth, swine, sons of Ham, the Canaanites, beasts of burden, born to be our brothers’ slaves. ‘Anything but black is beautiful’ says the logic more fucked up than what Ambi did to 60’s women’s faces. You don’t have to listen too hard for it, screaming silently ever so often, omnipresent, whispering in bold letters in the flowing weaves of Caucasian mimicry. Monkey see monkey do.

© Philani A Nyoni

© Philani A Nyoni

There is a blood-moon whenever Robert Mugabe and I agree, and there will not be one today. He is an extremist, but when you distil his warped wisdom the essence is a fact every black must realise: the tiers are illusionary Bastilles that must be stormed.

Of course whites are often more privileged for several cultural reasons and the advantages history presented some of them including free labour and superior education. To level the playing field will take a while, but as long as we regard the uneven nature of things as Nature’s sovereign design, we are doing ourselves more harm than any whip and shackle ever did. One of the most deformed children of this ideology is the creation of a ‘black standard’, which is often mediocrity. Then we hear repugnant phrases like ‘it’s better to be oppressed by another black man…’ Once in a while you catch the haggard musing aloud: ‘things were better when Smith was around’. And something wilts within.