- By Mukoni Ratshitanga|November 15, 2013|Johannesburg |Twitter: @MukoniR
On the 1st of June 1919, a Sudanese and African patriot, Mohammad Amin Hodeib, was sentenced to three years imprisonment “for attempting to excite feelings of disaffection to the [British colonial] Government … by means of a speech delivered by you in the Omdurman mosque.”
Throughout the three years of his incarceration, Hodeib wrote countless letters of protest to the British authorities, starting with the prison chief, the Chief Justice, the King of England and even President Woodrow Wilson of the United States.
In one such letter to the Chief Justice, dated May 20, 1920, Hodeib wrote:
“I searched for the Law and Justice under which I was imprisoned and my houses pulled down but I could not find them except in The Law of the Elephants and the Justice of the Monkeys.
“The Law of the Elephants is that under which an elephant trampled the nest of a lark and killed its small birds. The lark appeared before the King of the Elephants and with due respect, enquired from him about the reason for killing birds and whether the action was with or without intention. It received no answer but roughness and disregard to its complaint. It then left the case for the Almighty.
“The Justice of the Monkeys is this: there was once a crow and a hawk who were in dispute over a piece of cheese. They decided to appoint a monkey to divide the cheese equally among them. The monkey swore on his honour to exercise perfect justice. He then brought a balance and divided the cheese into two pieces.
“The larger piece of course brought its side down, so the monkey cut and swallowed a portion of it so that it became lighter than the other. He repeated the same thing again and again – swallowing the bigger side that brought the balance down.
“When the two adversaries saw that in the end there will be nothing left of the cheese, one of them said to Judge Monkey, “Sir, I have no objection to take this small piece and my adversary will take the larger one.” But Judge Monkey said: “Justice would not allow this and you should get equality by this balance.”
“They were pained to see their cheese eaten by the monkey in this way. I find myself between the Law of the Elephants and the Justice of the Monkeys. In asking for my rights, I got results as the lark from the elephant and the two adversaries from the monkey.”
FAST FORWARD TO POST 1994 SOUTH AFRICA: Since then, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has opposed every government policy intervention to redress the legacy of apartheid on grounds that the policies offend against principles of liberalism.
The DA’s latest somersault in its support of Employment Equity and Black Economic Empowerment legislation is consistent with its post-1994 posture.
Those who have followed the debate within the party will have noticed the strain on especially sections of the party’s black leadership, who, even after Helen Zille described support of the legislation as “A plane crash that should have been avoided,” are desperately trying to water down the DA’s “Fight Back [Against Social Change]” instincts.
The current debate within and outside the party prompted Business Day columnist, Sipho Hlongwane, to enquire: “If we explicitly agree that the effect of apartheid policy was to deny people economic policy based on race, then should a policy designed to reverse that legacy not use race as one of its criteria?” (“DA must decide: party of ideology or governance?” Business Day: Nov 14, 2013).
Hlongwane continued: “Even if we agree that “non-racialism” should count for more than redress and justice, arguments that intervention should be based purely on education and economic growth ignore the effects of apartheid on the structural imbalances in the labour market, and pretend as if 1994 solved those too.”
The legacy of apartheid is exactly what the DA refuses to acknowledge. Listen to Zille: “Although “race” is still often synonymous with “disadvantage” this is changing rapidly. Race classification is thus becoming increasingly problematic as a reliable determinant of which South Africans are disadvantaged, and which are not.”
Zille does not explain what factors are about to surpass race as determinants of “which South Africans are disadvantaged, and which are not.” I suggest that there are several reasons for this omission. Firstly, a tenuous statement such as she advances to challenge policies so fundamental to alter a morally and otherwise indefensible and visibly ugly social reality must deliberately be left vague. Secondly, were she to elaborate, she would have to make concessions about important, albeit still insufficient, advances that have been made to better the lives of the people since 1994, for, supposing it is true that race is soon to wither away as a factor, it cannot have happened without deliberate and conscious public policy intervention. Such concessions would undermine the DA’s narrative about South Africa and the African National Congress as the governing party since 1994 and collapse the DA’s raison d’être as an opposition. Thirdly, after detailing the factors, Zille would be hard-pressed to sustain the argument that race is soon to loose its currency.
Presented in these vague terms, Zille’s statement has one meaning: “apartheid is dead and buried!” And if it is dead and buried, we must do nothing about its enduring legacy. Any attempt to do anything about it however minimal, must be “fought back,” even if the crude (and revealing posture and language) is to be avoided.
Thus, the targets of the tyrannical Law of the Elephants, the historical victims of colonialism and apartheid, are required to acquiesce that the democratic government they have mandated to end apartheid’s legacy should abandon this mandate and, as a result, visit upon them the Justice of the Monkeys by ruling in favour of the historical beneficiaries of colonialism and apartheid who must remain plentifully endowed while the former wallow in their misery.
Just as Judge Monkey ruled that Justice did not permit the proposed compromise to the dispute over which he adjudicated, the DA vociferously counsels that liberal principles are more sacrosanct than social equity.
The intersection between the Law of the Elephants and the Justice of Monkeys is a most inhospitable place for anyone to be. No one should, with any reasonable measure of justice, ask another to take permanent residence in this intersection. It is a recipe for disaster for society as a whole, including those, like the DA, who try hard to convince us that it is the ideal. There is a political concept for it. It’s called “Social Injustice!”
The last word goes to Wits University academic, Melissa Steyn who, in her book, “Whiteness Just Isn’t What it Used to Be – White Identity in a Changing South Africa,” writes: “The appeal to let sleeping dogs lie hides the crucial issue of which dogs are still holding onto the bones. It is an evasion of the extent to which the past permeates the present, of how the legacy of social injustice continues into the future. It is a refusal to acknowledge that sustaining ‘normal’ white life perpetuates the disadvantages of others. Complacency, even indifference, is passed off as liberality.”