Postapartheid reformation still awaits us - Businesslive

29 May 2022 - One evening about three decades ago — in what seems another world, and probably was — a friend joined me and my wife-to-be for a supper that, despite the gulf of time that has opened between then and now, retains its simple delight in my mind.

Michael Morris

One evening about three decades ago — in what seems another world, and probably was — a friend joined me and my wife-to-be for a supper that, despite the gulf of time that has opened between then and now, retains its simple delight in my mind.

Back then our friend was, like me, a political correspondent for a daily newspaper, though I much suspect that as we set about sharing the various supperly tasks — assembling the caprese, minding the simmering bolognese — politics could not have been further from our minds. I can’t really remember if that is true, but my hunch is that I am right.

As it happens, my sense of what stirred us in those vivid days of the early 1990s has been resuscitated over the past few weeks by a new book, which I recommend for being at once enormously engaging and profoundly unsettling. If that’s an odd combination for a recommendation, I’ll explain myself shortly.

The author, who in fact was our supper guest all those years ago, is fellow Business Day columnist Ismail Lagardien. I remember well the “blinkered tolerance” and “romantic idealism” he recalls of the 1990s, and how, as he writes, “we rose ... on a wave of moral authority and certitude”. Apartheid was over. What more could you wish for?

I haven’t seen Issy for years — though we did have email contact after his 2011 return to SA from an extended period abroad, and I follow (and have sometimes disagreed with) his writing.

I recognise in the memoirist the younger man who once came to supper, but Too White to be Coloured, Too Coloured to be Black also reveals an older, more complex, largely self-made man willing not merely to level with his disappointments — chiefly, in fact, about the limits of choosing who to be rather than being judged by who he seems outwardly to be — but to convey why this matters in our lives too, and perhaps most importantly, how we are all responsible.

His harshest commentary is aimed at the rising ethno-nationalism under ANC rule — yet Lagardien leaves little room for anti-ANC smugness. It is not, after all, only the racialism of African nationalism that has let us down so badly since 1994. We know it just as well in the nauseating arrogance of those who think it’s courageous these days to call 1994 a mistake, who persist in cleaving to the figment of “white interests” even as they moan that apartheid is over and can’t be blamed for anything any more.

We know it too from those who neglect to acknowledge that the ANC’s chief failure over these past 28 years has been its mostly woeful record in steering the country out of apartheid, its failure to rescue vast rural and urban populations from its degrading effects, expunge apartheid’s morally decrepit logic from policy and public life, and devote itself to the postapartheid reformation that still unfortunately awaits us and will be the central, unavoidable challenge when the ANC is finally defeated.

As this fate looms for the ANC, so too does the challenge that society must face, and it will not be easy. Whoever you are, you are likely to be discomforted by elements of Lagardien’s memoir, or find yourself furiously disagreeing with him. But in its thrilling absence of politesse you may also recognise that his book directs the same unwavering gaze the author turns on himself and his intimate world, on the society that has made us all, and is ours to remake.

• Morris is head of media at the SA Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2022-05-29-michael-morris-postapartheid-reformation-still-awaits-us/

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