Don't allow history to be rewritten by opportunists

There’s a phrase that I was introduced to years ago by Zane Ibrahim, the late founder of Bush Radio and one of the people I admired greatly in the media industry: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

I later learnt that this was a quote from the great Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe.

I thought about this phrase a lot this week as I reflected on the possible renaming of Cape Town International Airport and was shocked at the blatant racism displayed in Parliament by the EFF’s deputy president, Floyd Shivambu.

It was interesting to see how history has been perverted by many who claim that their chosen name should be attributed to the airport in the mother city. Like I said previously, I do not really have preferences, and don’t even know whether it is necessary to go through this process, but if it helps people to understand history – especially struggle history – a bit better, than it might have been worthwhile.

An airport is a place frequented mainly by rich and middle-class people – in South Africa that would translate into white – so I am not surprised by the many calls by supposed airport users for the name to remain unchanged.

But even Cape Town is not a neutral name, because it is not the original name of the city. It is not the name given to the city by the people who lived here originally.

It is a pity that their history has been subverted over the years by the people who colonised them and those that came afterwards.

Whatever the outcome of the (re)naming process, it should help us to reflect on the history of our city and the people who played a prominent part in liberating it and this country.

One of the people who played a role in our liberation is Ismail Momoniat, a senior member of the National Treasury staff who came under fire this week by Shivambu for apparently being an “Indian” who “undermined the African leadership in the department”.

Shivambu and others who purport to be in political leadership nowadays need to look back on our history and they will see that many people, irrespective of race, played important roles in the struggle for liberation. We prided ourselves on our commitment to non-racism, as a counter to the racism on which apartheid was based.

It’s not that Momoniat’s struggle credentials should matter in relation to the important work that he is doing in the Treasury. He should be judged purely on whether he is doing a capable job, which everyone, except Shivambu, agrees he is doing.

His race should also not matter. When politicians so blatantly use race in their political arguments, we are on a slippery slope and they should be prepared to accept responsibility for whatever results from their actions.

But Shivambu is not the only one who is guilty of rewriting history. The ANC has been doing it for years, if not decades.

Next Saturday, 16 June, we celebrate Youth Day which only became a public holiday after our country became a democracy. Before that, we commemorated 16 and 17 June as Soweto Day, because people were killed on both days in 1976 when students in Soweto protested against being taught in Afrikaans.

Despite it not being a public holiday, people in schools and townships throughout the country commemorated these two days by staying at home.

The ANC, by renaming it Youth Day, could be accused of trying to whitewash the involvement of the Black Consciousness Movement, who were very active in South Africa in 1976, at a time when the ANC and PAC were banned.

The ANC has also tried to erase the PAC’s contribution from history with relation to 21 March, now known as Human Rights Day, but known throughout the struggle years as Sharpeville Day, to commemorate the deaths of people who were protesting against the pass laws in Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, and Langa in Cape Town in 1960.

The ant-pass protests were led by the PAC, who at that point appeared to have more support than the ANC, with the ANC jumping on the anti-pass protest bandwagon at a very late stage.

The DA, of course, has been busy rewriting history for a while now, effectively turning the late Nelson Mandela into one of their members.

The one way to preserve history is to write about it and, even though, most writers are only able to reflect a particular view of history, it is important to reflect and remember those views.

I agree with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga that history should become a compulsory subject at school. History helps us understand where we come from and this is important if we want to know where we are going. Let us all become lions and show that there is an alternative to the hunter’s history.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 9 June 2018)