South Africa and the dream deferred

South Africa and the dream deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

By Langston Hughes


I open this week’s article by quoting the words of poet Langston Hughes that were made famous by Mark Gevisser when he wrote the biography of former President Thabo Mbeki. These words I believe resonate with every South African at this point in the history of our great nation, in particular for the black majority. The last two weeks saw some significant events take place, such President Jacob Zuma appointing his second Chief Justice since taking office in 2009. The appointment was marred with controversy from the time the nominee was announced but for his part Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng cut a very calm figure in the midst of a tsunami that seemed certain to shake the stability of our body politic.

Further to that judgement on the Julius Malema hate speech hearing was delivered at the equality court in Johannesburg by Judge Collen Lamont. On this occasion the judge found that the singing of the song “Ayesaba amagwala” was tantamount to hate speech. It is this event that I want to engage in this article. It is my view that the sensitivity of those who brought hate speech charges against Malema is an indication of a deeper issue in our society and that is the 1994 rainbow nation miracle and its dream is still far from attainment. This is because if we were a nation that was at peace with ourselves and with who we are then we would not explode at the first hint of a racist remark or something that sounded a bit hateful towards us. Especially for something that is very well documented in our history such as struggle songs. It should be clear to any South African that these are part of a rich history of the ANC and black people in general. So why did people’s fuses get blown when the song was sung? It is, I think, because underneath the surfaces there is still a very genuine fear of one group by the other i.e. the members of AfriForum et al honestly believe somewhere in their subconscious minds that black people hate them and therefore they would go out and kill them at even the slightest of encouragements. That then by implication tells us something about our dream of a rainbow nation in which we all live side by side as equals who are not suspicious of each and trust each other’s motives.

On the other end of the spectrum, on Malema’s part, the question is: why has the song not changed from the struggle rhetoric? The answer lie I believe in understanding why these songs were sung in the first place. These songs were a sign of solidarity and unity of purpose for the masses against an enemy that was oppressing them and evoke certain emotions that will cause them to take action. So the singing of this song is an indication that the enemy for most blacks is still at large and has not been defeated yet. Indeed the youth leagues war cry of economic freedom in our lifetime does shows you that the enemy is out there and the nature of the battle might have changed but the war is still on. In addition to his war cry of economic freedom in our lifetime Mr Malema has also made statements about expropriation of land without compensation in the recent past.

These are an indication that the war for liberation is still on and therefore the 1994 miracle was only a first step in the right direction towards that utopia of a free and equal South Africa. However a lot more work still needs to be done for us to arrive at this land that is flowing milk and honey. The truth and reconciliation commission for its part exposed only some of the wounds and only those wounds that are exposed can be properly treated so they can heal. But the point however is that the dream of a free and equal South Africa for all is still far away and we can only get there through conscious effort by all involved. Because the truth is that the dream of an equal South Africa has been deferred and as Langston Hughes suggested it may just explode in our faces and do we want that to happen?

Joel Maine

Joel Maine is a full time minister, scholar and a part time business consultant. In his spare time he enjoys working with community development organizations to improve the lives of the less fortunate. It is his deep conviction that it is the time for African's to make an impact in the world and take a leadership role in all spheres.

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