JONATHAN JANSEN: A focus on what binds us can undo the damage done by our tribal instincts
We need a symbolic politics that names and acclaims all people as citizens, not as races
From Westbury in Johannesburg to Mitchells Plain in Cape Town, something troubling has been unravelling in South African society. People mobilise themselves and articulate their grievances not as the poor, or even as blacks, but as “coloured people”.
In a mosque where I was about to speak, a well-organised group of citizens spoke brazenly about black Africans in Cape Town as outsiders coming from the Eastern Cape. “Not white enough then, not black enough now,” they complain.
To the protesters the grievance is real — the government of the day prioritises the needs of black Africans and, once again, coloured people are shunted aside, this time by dark-skinned nationalists.
It is not only poor or working-class communities that experience this sense of rejection by the government in power. At another function where I was speaking, a well-dressed professional woman gave the vote of thanks and, in a calm voice, said something to the effect that, “when I hear my president speak, I do not always feel that he is including people like me”. It would be tempting to dismiss these concerns as that of “racist” coloureds who expect to be treated differently from their African brothers and sisters, but I believe the picture is a little more complex. The feeling of being included or excluded is not, as Mandela understood, an empirical science. You do not need “data” to determine whether people feel part of a nation or not. It is something people sense, an emotional connection, a feeling of being recognised or not. The truth is that people who were classified coloured feel alienated within the broader South African society. It is the signals that ordinary people in so...