Since 2010 I have been lecturing a wide range of subjects at various colleges in Durban. Inevitably, the majority of my students have been young Zulu people in their late teens and early twenties. As you can imagine, I’ve had a number of fascinating conversations with these young South Africans about the state of the fabled ‘Rainbow Nation’, none more so than the one I’ve been having over the last few days with 28-year-old Zamani (not his real name), a clan prince who hails from the mystical land of Nkandla.
Zama, as he is known, casually asked me the other day what I thought about tackling the ever-present spectre of racism in South Africa. I have my own views about the roots of timeless human conundrums, and I’m old enough now not to throw casual solutions into the wind. Zama, however, has pretty clear ideas on how to fix not only racism but the state of the country in general, and after he had mentioned a few of them I asked him if I could formally interview him. The results are fascinating.
Zama is definitely not a ‘typical’ modern young Zulu man. For one thing, he is intellectually curious about the state of the world around him. That’s not to say that most modern young Africans are not, but, well, in my classroom experience, younger people generally are not intellectually curious about much these days. Fair enough; the modern world is bewildering, and hard partying seems like the most logical response. Nevertheless, part of my job as a teacher is to stimulate fallow minds, and when a student like Zama comes along, it’s encouraging.
Zama is atypical for another reason: he’s an experienced business-owner, fairly well-read, well-travelled and hungry for answers. As disconcerting as some of his ideas may be, he’s at least based them on some form of his own real life experience. He’s travelled to the Congo to observe, his Pinetown business is a going concern, he reads books and articles on purpose and is an avid follower of TV news and YouTube documentaries detailing the state of modern Africa.
Zama considers himself an insider: he is a Zulu from Nkandla, the epicenter of modern South African Political Drama. He’s a life-long ANC supporter who recently abandoned the Mother Ship in favour of Julius Malema’s EFF, who he’s convinced will be in power after the 2019 national elections. His father is chief of the clan, which makes Zama himself a leader in his community. On many levels, Zama has a unique vantage point from which to dispense wisdom.
So, what are this young man’s solutions for South Africa?
For Zama, one of South Africa’s fundamental difficulties is that ‘democracy is not a natural African way of life’. It’s a Western construct that has bewitched Africa arm-in-arm with capitalism, another ‘ism’ that Africans (a term Zama uses interchangeably with ‘blacks’ and ‘Zulus’) don’t naturally adhere to. The fundamental African ‘way’, if there can be said to be one, is more closely aligned with Communism. Marx and Engels’s utopia, which admittedly has always looked handsome on paper, is for Zama another word for the Zulu notion of ‘ubuntu’. Zulus are more used to sharing wealth and resources, whereas whites ‘don’t know how to share’.
The number one issue for Zama is poverty. “John”, he implores me, “you have no idea what that ache in your belly truly does to your dignity, self-respect and ability to function”. Modern South African blacks, he insists, are unable to innovate and lead because they are hampered by the chains of hunger and poverty: “If you are hungry, you can’t participate”.
Education is another problem: South African blacks, Zama maintains, are still ‘chained in their minds’. Their lack of education, coupled with the difficulties that arise with having to conduct their affairs in a foreign language, keeps blacks back from truly advancing. We’ve heard this all before, of course; the insistent lament of the previously disadvantaged seems to fall on deaf ears in these cynical modern times. “Poverty” and “education” are words that have been chanted in some form or another for decades in this country. Nevertheless, Zama insists that these fundamental things are still ‘The Things’.
The only solution, according to Zama, is war. Full-on, playing-field-levelling, tear-it-all-down-and-start-again war. Zulus, Zama cheerfully admits, are the most ‘violent’ of all South African people, and Zulus solve problems aggressively, with violence. First, government needs to be completely shut down, and all non-Africans are to be excluded from any form of power and responsibility. Then (assuming there’s peaceful compliance and no resistance of any kind), all institutions are to be nationalized (since whites, apparently, are still running things in this country).
The distinctions between private and public institutions are to be abolished in this post-war South Africa, and all health care and education will be declared free, as the Freedom Charter always promised. Thankfully, the BEE system created by the ANC government will be abolished too, as it ‘does not service poor people…all it does is create neo-white rich blacks’. Then, as capitalism itself is outlawed and abolished, South Africans will no longer trade in Rands and dollars, but with gold. Money, insists Zama, is not an African concept, it’s a ‘capitalist white thing’. The old methods of bartering need to be reintroduced, and gold is South Africa’s true currency.
War will force South Africa to start from scratch. Everything in South African society is unequal and messy; war will put control in the hands of the majority, and there will be no more inconvenient negotiation with minorities. This cleansing war should begin economically, but ‘bloodshed can happen if necessary’. An army, ‘ten million-strong’, should be raised from the ranks of the poor, who have ‘nothing left to lose’. Power, control and stability can then be parceled out ‘equally’, and the disasterous effects of the imposition of capitalism on South African blacks will be a thing of the past.
Zama had many more things to say about the things modern Zulus truly believe. Jacob Zuma, for example, was put in place by whites as a front, and the reason no-one likes him anymore (including, it must be said, fellow Zulus) is because his criminality has mushroomed beyond the control of his white and Indian puppeteers. Mandela is not revered by modern South African blacks; he ‘sold out’ blacks and became white South Africa’s smiling face of benign forgiveness and mercy. Julius Malema is trusted by young black South Africans because he’s believable; every news scoop Juju has gone public with (the Republic of Zupta, for example) has proven to be true. In 2019, Julius will be the South African president. That is, of course, if the war hasn’t happened first.
Zama’s thoughts are fascinating. White, Indian and Coloured readers will of course be horrified by the things proposed here, but Zama insists that this is what black South Africans are really thinking. I must be honest, I’ve always secretly wondered at the frustration shown by whites towards the ginger handling of democracy by Africans. ‘Ubuntu’, the system of sharing everything out equally, is definitely intrinsically more of an ‘African’ way of life, and democracy has never had a good track record on this continent. Zama recounted the time he saw a black, white and Indian beggar on a street corner, sharing a can of food. In that instance, ‘everyone was equal, and no one was more poor than the other’. He has a point.
To illustrate the fundamental difference between white and black ways of being, Zama used the example of the traditional communal slaughter of a cow: “You know, John, when you slaughter a cow, like our traditional ceremonies, we don’t do like you guys [whites] do; we don’t send out ‘invites’… we know, it’s a rule, once that cow dies, once it’s dead on the ground, you have no power, no control, no rule over it; everyone can eat it. In the traditional way, once the cow is down, everybody is free to eat it. That is sharing. That is community. So to us, communism is not a problem.”
Food, literally, for thought.