(1973) K.M.N. Guzana, “On Being a South African”

Black homelands of South Africa, 1973
Black homelands of South Africa, 1973
Image courtesy Library of Congress (AACR2)

In 1973 attorney K.M.N. Guzana was leader of the opposition Democratic Party in the national legislature of the theoretically independent nation of Transkei, one of the former homelands created by South Africa to contain the black population and thus reduce their “majority” status in the white dominated state.  Despite that status, Guzana addressed the students of the University of Port Elizabeth on August 15, 1973 and made the case for a South African citizenship that embraced all of the country’s inhabitants regardless of their racial background.  That address appears below.

My reactions to the words ‘South African’ may be just as docile as yours, for the words connote, broadly speaking, what we all claim to be. Just as an American, an Englishman or a Frenchman has a sense of elation and well-being when identified with his country of origin, so do we react similarly when we are identified as South Africans. The two-word phrase conjures up the idea of unity, of oneness, a belongingness to a part of the world around which we expend some pride and sentiment. Yet I have known what the reaction is when we identify ourselves as South Africans beyond the borders of the Republic of South Africa. There is a considerable raising of eyebrow, a curiosity over your geographical identity, disbelief and even cultured hostility towards us—this in contrast to the reaction that an Englishman, for instance, arouses in America. Thank heaven that when we travel beyond our borders, we carry a passport which benevolently describes one as a South African citizen.

Because our identity outside South Africa stimulates speculation, sometimes hostile, we might do well to look at ourselves closely, honestly asking ourselves the questions: why this reaction to a South African? Do we deserve this description of being South African as fully and justifiably as the insular Englishman is so called and as the man from France is known as a Frenchman? Let us join together in underscoring some of the common denominators of all South Africans.

Firstly, we are all born in South Africa. Whether we be Capetonians, Durbanites, Transvalers or lusty Free Staters, there is a common neutralizing denominator of being the children of the land called South Africa.

Secondly, broadly speaking we are subjects of one government and if this should raise in your mind the question of Bantustan governments in South Africa, let me hasten to remind you that the central government is still supreme.

Thirdly, we have—again in a broad sense—a Christian teaching recognizing one Christ although we show this allegiance in various and devious ways.

Fourthly, we all subscribe to a greater or a lesser degree to the tenets of western civilization and all that it stands for.

The list is not exhaustive by any means, but it serves to emphasize and strengthen our claim to being South African. Those who have had to leave South Africa under peremptory instructions to do so, or out of righteous choice and have marshaled themselves into forces anti-South African, betray a strong desire to be with us whether it be by fair or foul means. They wish to return to a changed South Africa and introduce to us a new concept of what a South African should be—quite different from the present South African whose rights and privileges, duties and obligations, limitations and dispensations, justice and dignity, security and affluence are trimmed by race and color consciousness. For let us face the truth, no matter how unpalatable it may be, that we have first class South Africans, second class South Africans and third class South Africans. When faced with this classification, the typical first class South African shrugs his shoulders, blames the government and all in authority for these inequalities, thus assuming an attitude of noninvolvement. He lifts his eyes above the rugged terrain of prejudice, hardship, and corrosive indignities suffered by lesser South Africans, explains all this by reminding the critical observer of our traditional way of life.

Tonight let us try to look closely at the present attitudes and see if you and I cannot diagnose the malady that afflicts South Africans. Is there not in us an arrogance of attitude towards one another, born of a righteous sense of achievement and a feeling of superiority that refuses to countenance change? Have we not brought Christianity to dark and superstitious South Africa; is western civilization not our heritage benevolently offered to less favored South Africans as bounty and largesse for which the latter have to be forever grateful in humility? Do we not owe it to our forebears to maintain and preserve these bequests and keep them untarnished for the next generation? After all, the other South Africans will taint and possibly ravish this heritage and posterity might well be the universal heirs of a civilization and a way of life second-graded by misguided humanitarianism. We owe it to posterity to maintain the status quo even if our consciences revolt against the traditional way of life which wounds and hurts.

And because of this unholy reverence for a cruel and inhuman tradition, black South Africans— I use the adjective black for lack of an accurate word—develop a counter—arrogance born of frustration and despair, manifesting itself in rejection and exclusivity, in emphasis on black identity to measure up to and counter balance the arrogance of the white South African. To me this is a dangerous polarization of attitudes that makes our claim to being South Africans a mockery and a sham. Our attitudes and prejudices which we think preserve our heritage for posterity are the very corrosive agents which say leave an empty and hollow inheritance to our children.

Then our attitudes and actions are conditioned by race and color. We have the white South African, the off— white South African, the brown South African and the black South African with corresponding attitudes and actions scaling down from being exemplary to downright hideousness as we move into the shadow of blackness. I have always wondered what would happen if all the laws based on race and color were to be expunged from the statute books tomorrow, next month or next year! Would the South African live in a Utopia? I say no, for in our hearts and minds would be left the sediment of race and color prejudice and it would take a long time to clean the mess of our inner selves.

In this context I am reminded of the recent case of agony and despair, the frustration and the fear which were the lot of white parents whose child began to fade in complexion into horrifying and progressively degrading blackness. Classmates began to tease and torment her, playmates began to shun her, there were whispers behind her back and challenges about her identity. Race classification hovered menacingly over the whole family; friends, relatives and acquaintances had perforce to give assurances and moral support and pledge unaltered social relationships. I ask the question: Why all this? Does color have something to do with the inner man, the real being in us to the extent that life grows progressively into a sinister hell for those not so white, those who are brown and even black? Ladies and Gentlemen how would you feel if after this evening you were to shade away into the color of the other South African? Would you commit suicide? Would you emigrate to the Argentine? What would you do, I ask you? I shudder when I contemplate the consequences in the South African situation.

Here let us in passing count some of the many indignities that stem from our depressing obsession with race and color. Because the other South African is not white:

(a) He must deliver my message via the back door even if I have to descend from the inner sanctuary of my residence to the kitchen door level to receive it;

(b) At the butchery I buy my cutlets, but do not forget to purchase a part of the carcass which goes under the name ‘servants’ meat’;

(c) Though he has entered the public building before me through his door and is being attended to, I must get precedence on my arrival;

(d) He is tolerated while he is of service to me, but must fade away and his existence be forgotten when night falls and for all time when he ceases to be useful;

(e) I feel self-conscious and awkward if he recognizes and approaches me in public—why did he ever know me and I know him?;

(f) Even though she nursed and cared for me into the night in babyhood, cuddled me to sleep and sang me a soothing lullaby in some language not intelligible when mother went to the cinema, she has no claim to equality with me as a South African.

And so on and so on—the list is endless.

All these manifestations of color and race prejudice are not underpinned by legislation. You cannot honestly pass on the responsibility to some inhuman legislator. We are in the dock; we stand accused—what is our plea? Guilty.

I am afraid that my handling of the subject thus far has tended to be depressing and I feel we must now put together our South African, sort the pieces out, and rearrange them in such a way that we produce a South African who is worthy of the name. I must confess that in South Africa more than at any time before, and in spite of the law and law enforcement, there is now a breeze of change which manifests itself in self-examination and a refusal to conform, a growing awakening o the inhumanity of our sectional South Africanism. Let me pause here to state how much the black South African has warmed to the students of the University of Cape Town and other like—minded students in other universities who have unwittingly bared themselves to physical pain, have suffered weals and bruises, have been tugged by the hair and by the leg for the sake of educational equality for all South Africans. What they have in education they value: but when they have it exclusively they know that they do not have it fully. Theirs was indeed a noble and acceptable sacrifice.

The term dialogue has become threadbare and some of us turn away from it because to them dialogue is an intellectual and social exercise (with political nuances) that salves the consciences of the participants. I reject this attitude, for dialogue involves for me reciprocal acceptance. It substitutes hope for despair, induces warm relaxation in place of cold rigidity and opens wide the flood-gates of goodwill and understanding. For us it connotes a willingness to negotiate, a readiness to run the gauntlet of suspicion and antagonism for the greater reward of Christian neighborliness; we are on the threshold of negotiation which presages concessions. There is a meeting of minds, a meeting of sentiments, a meeting of feelings. But because our journey in this direction is bound to be harassed by historical and emotional conservatism, let us accept the fact that rewarding results are not so quick and as precise as bombing an enemy stronghold. If we disagree, there lies the justification for dialogue, not a reason for abandonment of the effort, for those who disagree with us do not necessarily hate us, nor are they our enemies.

A very common error which bedevils good and Christian acts on the part of one South African for the benefit of another South African is the predilection for condescending patronage. Many South Africans who have been ‘do gooders’ to the benefit of distressed fellow South Africans have withdrawn into themselves because of Chilling ingratitude and suspicion on the part of those who have been benefitted. I believe the reaction of the recipient is justified because he feels bound to accept in humiliation and self-condemnation. If this is the case, can we not do our good deeds, can we not under take humanizing and developing projects with a justified expectation of genuine appreciation if the other party is convinced that he is in it for his own good; that he will get out of it as much as, if not more than, what he puts into it; that you are both in it for what you will both get out of it, and not that he gets all whilst your reward is an easy conscience. Any project motivated differently is bound to collapse in ruins as hand-outs are no longer acceptable and purposeful participation is fundamental.

One of the tragedies of the South African way of life is a refusal to concede that we must all share the responsibility for the maintenance and preservation of the western way of life. None of us will gainsay the fact that all racial groups in South Africa have been touched and influenced to a greater or lesser degree by western ways. The past 300 odd years have exposed the black South African to persistent and continuous orientation western-wise and this has meant a progressive abandonment of traditions and customs typically African. Today the black South African’s fulfillment is in the classroom and the university, in the workshop and in the factory, in his religion and the redeeming Christ and when the suggestion is made that he should develop along his traditional way of life he is resentfully bewildered. He has made his choice and the white South African must accept credit for this. He now wants recognition in that new and thrilling society, with all its complexities and bewilderment. He is as eager to perpetuate this newfound way of life as any other South African. There is therefore a need to share the rights and privileges, the duties and obligations which devolve upon those who share the same objectives, the same aspirations and treasure the same values.

I may be wrong, but I have come to the conclusion that what we hold as supreme ideals for ourselves proliferates with sharing. We hold dearly the sanctity and unity of family life, freedom of movement and access, respect for the individual, human dignity, security of residence and earnings, and freedom from fear. These are the hallmarks of cultured and civilized society and we treasure them as a golden thread that is woven into our lives. Any denial of one or more of these ideals is to say the least dehumanizing. Yet I have wondered to what extent the white South African enjoys these endowments of citizenship: and I have asked myself the question as to whether, by seeking to keep them to himself, he is not in fact diminishing his enjoyment of them: and whether his enjoyment of them is not relative to the lack of enjoyment of them by the black South African. Is it not possible that in making these fundamental ideals of society divisible on ethnic grounds we diminish and devalue them? When this happens, as it is happening to us South Africans we are not wholly South African. Let me draw an analogy for clarity. Society has a well-tried method of ridding itself, albeit temporarily, of undesirables via the law courts into prison.

The state employs officials who are not guilty of any breach of the law, to restrain and keep the prisoner in relative confinement. Consequent upon this guard and prisoner relationship, the guard’s freedom of movement and association are at once circumscribed by the degree to which limitations of movement and association are imposed on his prisoner. In effect, his freedom is no greater than that of his prisoner; and also his liberty, his conversation, his circle of associate—all limited by restrictions not imposed on him but on his prisoner. Thus those who for their comfort and restful ease at night would have black South Africans confined to the townships must have some of their number patrol the periphery of the townships and walk the city streets, those who will not allow one section of South Africans to watch an international match in progress must have some of their number manning the entrances and the fences, thus missing the exhilaration of watching South Africans win. South Africans who enjoy race and color circumscribed rights and privileges enjoy them in part and for brief moments, and never wholly.

One of the many factors which constantly circumscribe our well being as South Africans is the constant reminder that the enemy is hidden along our borders ready to launch an assault on us if we should but wink an eye. Consequently South Africans, and lately, of all races have stood guard along our frontiers in continuous vigilance and many have paid the supreme price for our safety. (l) To them we owe a reverent gratitude. Threatening forces on our borders, do not however confine the area of battle to that part of South Africa alone and we must count ourselves lucky by comparison that hundreds have not been killed by bombs, bullets or booby traps, nor have many died daily from hunger and exposure within the Republic. Let this not induce complacency for there is a battle field in South Africa, in our homes, our streets and alleyways, in our townships and rural settlements, in the cities and in towns where the call for a change of heart is as loud and clear as the call to arms. In this battlefield we cannot count the dead and the wounded, for here the casualties are invisible; they are the wounded heart, the inner hurt, the frustrated effort, distress, misery and despair of the future.

In conclusion may I present a South Africa in which there will live South Africans freed from the prison of their privileges. It will be:

(a) A South Africa in which dialogue and negotiation have replaced confrontation and conflict;

(b) A South Africa in which people can move freely and easily across racial borders, and

(c) a South Africa in which force is relied on less and less as an instrument of national policy.