Careful when you ask a black a question…

…you will not get a straightforward reply.

Well in South Africa that is. Before you lambaste me for racialism you should address any ire to Mphuthumi Ntabeni who is a Cape Town based freelance writer. His details are at the bottom.

Here it is in full. And here is the link to the newspaper article. My comments are in [square brackets].



THE more I read the survey results, the more I lose trust in their predictions. They daily looked more and more like the ancient practice of reading the bird entrails to predict the future.

Their limitations lie in their inability to comprehend the culture of those they interview. Let me make a short narrative to assist my point.

This week, my friend and I went to his home in Gugulethu, Cape Town. Around the corner from his mother’s place we met up with a friend he had not met in a long time.

“I hear this place is now Cope-ing? Is that right,” asked my friend, slightly in jest, but definitely serious.

“No; what do you mean?” The guy sized up my friend to see which side he was on.

The area, notoriously known as Kakyard Street, [translated: shityard street] was originally a Black Consciousness stronghold, but had, like most black townships, been voting ANC in the past elections.

“I’m Cope-ing chap,” said my friend. “And so was impressed when I read this place was Cope-ing big-time last weekend with Terror.”

Then, and only then, did his friend came out more and go on: “Our problem here is zizikoli (an untranslatable word the meaning of which runs from ‘ unemployed’ to ‘ rogue’).”

I was slightly put off by what he said, but was soon able to understand what he meant.

My friend’s mother stays with relatives: her sister, who has two grown-up daughters aged 28 and 23. At [in] the back flats stays my friend’s unemployed brother, who is 38.

Naturally, the talk gravitated to the elections and my friend’s mother made it clear that, though she’s seeing a lot of things she does not like in the ANC, the party is still her only hope.

She told us how all her life she’d been treated as a domestic servant, and how the ANC gave her dignity back. All of us were touched by her loyalty and respected her decision.

This is how she explained herself: “I’ll vote for what I know, not untested promises. Yenzani nina umhlawumbi nakuhamba nisibonise indlela entsha nathi (Do your thing as you’re doing, perhaps later on you’ll convince us of the new way). I can see Vathiswa and her varsity friends, who are good kids, are following this Cope thing, and I think there must be something to it; unlike Madoda and his friends, who spend most of their time in the back flat smoking dagga, [cannabis] only to come out more convinced that they are ANC members, as if that’s all there is to it.”

I almost said that it was what it amounted to: the black townships have been severed into two, along the lines of progressive versus conservative, traditional, and, sadly, regressive.

[Very important paragraph follows] Coming back to my issue: The crucial error of our opinion surveys is that they do not consider carefully the variants present on the ground. Culturally, for instance, black people will never give you insight to their true thoughts unless they trust you completely (remember my friend’s friend). You’ll not get a straight answer until you first declare your cards. The best you’ll get is the answer they think you are looking for, not what they are actually thinking. All answers are laden with searching undertones and psychological assessment.

These elections in our country cut too close to the bone, dividing sibling from sibling; true allegiances are thus far too sensitive to discuss, even among family members. A stranger [such as a BBC reporter] stands basically no chance of getting to the real truth. Politics in our culture is personal and is associated with many things close to personal identity.

The ANC will still remain a legend even after these elections – albeit a wounded one. But it will never again command unchallengeable support. Many people see its wasting maladies, eating through its moral fibre, even if others do not yet have energy or the desire to go against it. Most people are taking a wait-and-see approach.

There’s something in the formation of Cope that has stirred the South African political mind to deeper reflection. Despite the arguments of those in the ANC in political power now, the cause of the organisation’s maladies do [did] not just lie with one man, Thabo Mbeki. Hence, his removal from the leadership solved nothing. Instead, it brought into focus the real cause, which is the decaying structure of the ANC as a liberation movement.

Everyone knows what’s gone rotten in the South African State, even those who allow wrong and vested habits to get in the way of their reason. Sometimes we see and acknowledge the truth, but our passions drive us to follow the worst course. Unfortunately for us all, we now seem to be under the power of the men of passion and there is very little reason.

The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

Mphuthumi Ntabeni is a Cape Town- based freelance writer. He is editor of Cope’s website for the Cape Town Metro – He writes in his personal capacity.

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