Monday, 27 August 2007

James adds to thinking on settlers and natives

Dr Wilmot James adds an interesting bit to the ongoing discussion about which group(s) can lay indisputable claim to being South African. It arguably opens up new ways of looking at the issue of settlers and natives, and may lead to new arguments and contestation about indigeneity.

James argues that – as a newspaper headline put it – “we are all settlers”. He states that the modern human being in South Africa came here from East Africa. This occurred about 110000 years ago.

“No one group can lay claim to South Africa. Everyone is a settler, and we will show how people came here in waves of migration,” says James. “We do not understand our history well enough and the truth has been modified in many stories.”

This news will cheer many people up; they will see this as further support for the Freedom Charter notion that SA belongs to all who live/settle/survive in it and that the country will thrive only if shared. Such persons will take it as further encouragement to work for the non-racial and anti-racist, inclusive and democratic society envisioned in our Constitution.

Others, however, will be very cautious as they read James’ findings. Already, in some views expressed, people particularly resent the term “we are all settlers” and the leveling it suggests. These people rail against what they might term an ingenious attempt to gloss over the terrible impacts of the colonial period. In this category will also be groups such as Bruin Development that are campaigning for a better status for so-called Coloured people. They will latch on to James’ remark that the “Khoi/San moved from East Africa and, up until 2 000 years ago, people living in southern Africa were brown.”

Somehow, we must try to live with both truths and perspectives – one that centres on inclusiveness and the other which emphasises restoration and restitution. As I have suggested before, if you want to live on the Southern tip, a capacity to live with ambiguity is a must.

We need to accept the truth that we are all human beings and spring from the same source; at the same time, we must deal with memory, history and past experience. Put another way, we cannot solve the problems of the past in a manner that creates new prejudices; at the same time, we should not myopically try to avoid rectifying past injustices just because we want to be nice or avoid constructive conflict.

This research information drives one to the conclusion that it is possibly incorrect, sloppy and perhaps expedient to use the term "native" in an essentialist way. It is much better to use it in a political sense, and, when doing so, to explain what is meant and who is included in the category.

A subtopic to all of this is the science that underlies all of this: James draws his conclusions from DNA evidence and his studies into human genetics.

The “origins” of human-beings always fascinates, as does the genetics involved, but it all becomes sullied, ridiculous and facile (and sometimes even evil) when various forces try to apply this knowledge to issues such as culture and identity. I say: study our origins, teach it to wide-eyed children by all means, but keep the scientific wonder of our genesis far as possible away from contestation about culture, race, ethnicity and social organization in the world today. Identity, it can be argued, is influenced by culture and by power relations that interfere with selfhood and distort discussion around definitions.

Identity and culture are social constructs; they are also subject to change/ adaptation/ evolution through development processes, policymaking and conscious decisions and actions. In any case, cultures adapt in the light of changes (social, economic, technological, etc.) in the world around them. Let’s use the diversity and richness that lie in our differences as human beings to build the society we want here in Mzansi and in the wider world.

Blog readers are invited to share their "take" on the issues involved and on my views by adding a comment.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Mantogate: the unraveling of national focus and direction

The current political turmoil, centred on the political leadership of the Health Department, is leading to a major unraveling of the sense of focus and direction in Mzansi.

The current phase of instability was triggered when the President fired one leader (with controversial timing and a peculiar way of handling reactions) and insisted on holding fast to another. Large numbers of people are getting involved in what is a burning hot controversy, lining up to support or denounce the leadership of the President. Colourful language, scathing cartoons and funny but insensitive jokes are the order of the day.

There is an unraveling of, shall we say, a spirit of broad consensus, of working towards the same goal as well as, in national terms, dilution of the sense of direction, pace and due regard for leadership. The project of national advancement is of course much more deeply rooted in policies, institutions and aspirations. The fundamentals are in place. But the erosion is nonetheless worrying. It has a tiring effect, drains hope and among some causes depression.

As particular interests enter the debate, they add to the shrillness. Unthinking interventions can entrench the modes of attack and defend. Many a contribution does not help to draw lessons or lead to institutional and policy changes that will ensure the same mistakes are not made again. In only few instances does the rhetoric progress from the particular case (and the specific personalities) to elaborate on how we might build from here – what practices, behaviours and principles need to be restored and re-emphasized.

Sure, many don’t like the Minister and some of us doubt she adds value any more – but what are the underlying values that we want to emphasise, popularize and consolidate? Let’s keep spelling that out and perhaps we can still draw something edifying from the sordidness and noise.

At the same time, we should perhaps acknowledge that a good spin-off of the saga is that many ordinary people are yakking about the health of the nation. People care! There is a sharp decline in passivity and a widespread spike of interest regarding the behaviour and performance of politicians. It is positive that many ordinary people airing their views are adamant that their motivation is that they desire something better - for example, a better quality of politics, media and practice around public debate for South Africa.

The current squabble links to the ANC succession debate. Who can deny that either the causes or effects of the saga (and actions of key roleplayers in it) have a bearing on the succession battle? Madlala-Routledge – the fired former Deputy Health Minister – indicated as much when she made reference to the succession struggle within the ANC at her much-cited press conference on 10 August.

Clearly, while the Mantogate saga makes its specific contribution, the succession battle and its protagonists take the prize for having a debilitating effect on key national processes and on processes of policy development and review. In fact, in quite a few rows, conflicts and controversies affecting the tripartite alliance, the rot (and allegations of rot) starts there (in the way the succession battle is being waged).

Not so long ago - around mid-year and just before - the ANC was emphasizing the concept of a developmental state that could play a leadership role through key interventions in society. Of course, the state cannot adequately lead change if those in power are mired in conflict, and others outside stir the pot in specific ways. As I have argued before, the current climate means that agreement on important projects and initiatives are stalled or slowed down. Of course, many initiatives already approved and budgeted for are continuing – such as preparations for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. It is new initiatives, as well as precarious projects and campaigns that require a broad unity of purpose among all stakeholders such as the HIV and Aids strategy, that may run aground as a result of divisions in government decision-making structures.

In the rest of this blog post, and in perhaps a less serious vein, I share comments I have heard on the Mantogate affair:

A young women, too young to have been involved in anti-apartheid campaigns, said to me: “You guys were so united during the struggle. Now that you have power there are so many vicious fights.”

A progressive theologian and now a businessman, during a conversation on Mantogate, referred to his recent visit to Zimbabwe where he noted the shocking extent of collapse: “Their problem was that they loved their leaders too much. We should not go down the same path.’ I argued that our democracy is stronger and our political culture of better quality but the reverend, who is very much an ANC man, cautioned that many people are willing to rally blindly around leaders.

In a casual discussion at lunch with a group one day, I noted that, if it were true that the Minister drank a glass or two beyond the limit, surely it could in some respects be understood: “If I opened the newspaper every day and saw myself lampooned and lambasted, I would say: pour me another one.” I reminded the group how a foreign traveler on SAA refused to sit next the Minister, causing the Minister to flare up and starting yet another row. “That must be depressing,” I said, only half-seriously and desperately trying to find another angle to what was becoming a repetition of just a few similar viewpoints on the issue. The group of women I was speaking to were totally unmoved: “She brought it on herself,” they said.

A consultant working on behaviour-change programmes in the HIV/Aids area told me: “There is a human element, certainly. But I think it is good she (Tshabalala-Msimang) is getting roasted by the Sunday Times. Think of the many lives lost as a result of her approach to HIV and Aids. She deserves what she is getting.”

An ANC representative, Hope Papo, was explaining on radio why we should ignore allegations of theft. “Many things happened in exile,” he said, and suggested that Tshabalala-Msimang could easily have been set up. (If you have any more information on this, Hope, please elaborate!)

A friend SMSd me to say: “Enough already,” adding that the Sunday Times "drunk and a thief" revelations/allegations about the Health Minister were “below the belt”. This was a sequel to an earlier message which noted the following “lekker consequence” to the Madlala-Routledge controversy: “the nation is awake and paying attention again”.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Tshabalala-Msimang: is this saga dragging us all down or is it good for the country?

There is great deal of noise, and much division around the Tshabala-Misimang saga. In this blog post, I decline the chance to add to the shrillness, stridency (there's enough going around) and name calling and instead set out 18 questions that may help clarify the issues and your own response to them?

- Is this saga dragging us all down or is it good for the country?
- Is it true that - as one friend said to me - that recent developments around Health Minister Tshabala-Msimang and former Deputy Health Minister Madlala-Routledge are good because many more people (who are otherwise passive and quiet) are discussing and debating political issues?
- Among those who think the Health Minister has done are good job, where are the areas of notable achievement and how does this stack up with areas of poor performance, ineffectiveness and mediocrity?
- Can the Minister actually do her work, especially regarding the HIV/Aids pandemic, without widespread societal confidence in her?
- A Cabinet Minister does not have to be a fervent populist, but they need to be responsive; is the Health Minister responsive to key constituencies?
- If the President is wedded to keep the Health Minister as his Cabinet team, has he considered moving her to another portfolio where broader stakeholder enrolment is not as critical?
- Has government investigated why highly-regarded senior managers in the Health Department (two Director-Generals) quit their jobs in recent years?
- Was the timing right/immaterial/poor for the President to fire Madlala-Routledge as Deputy Minister of Health?
- Did the Presidency anticipate the extent and types of reaction to this decision?
- Did the presidency anticipate that the dismissal decision could spark negative reactions in the international media (e.g. the Independent in the UK) and reignite questions about the President's stand on HIV and Aids?
- Did the Presidency anticipate that a leading Sunday newspaper would want revenge – "an eye for an eye?" – and would pull out all stops to try to bring about the sacking of the Minister of Health?
- Does the way the government is handling Public Relations and implementing crisis management on this issue fall short of government’s usual competence in media handling?
- What is making the Sunday Times so strident, angry and vehement? And why does it garner support from several/many quarters, even if it is venturing into distasteful reporting and a reporting style that is unusual in South African tradition?

- Do you agree with Sunday Times's probe into the Minister's private life? What do you think the wider media impact will be? Assuming the end is more effective implementation of stated health policy, does the end justify the means?
- Is this issue – surrounding the Health Ministry’s political leadership – not an unnecessary distraction for officials such as Themba Maseka who are charged with building broad support for government’s Asgisa agenda?
- Has this issue unleashed forces and reactions that are feeding into a broader breakdown of consensus between government and key constituencies?
- Is it worth it for government and the President to cling to Tshabala Msimang as Health Minister, given the impact it is having?
- Is it true that many people here and abroad think Minister Tshabala-Msimang’s behavior and performance reflect on President Mbeki, and if so, why should the President, who has scored many remarkable achievements, have his legacy sullied by what looks like an overall poor performer? Why should he let her be a liability to him and adversely affect his leadership standing?
- Earlier this year, the President considered replacing Manto Tshabala-Msimang in the health portfolio with Transport Minister Jeff Radebe, but backed off from the idea; is the thinking and motivation behind that original proposal still valid, and can the impediments to implementation now be overcome?
- Is there a way that the President can relieve Tshabala-Msimang of her Health Minister job without it looking like a climb-down, or does this not matter?

- How can we move the focus back to key policy issues while making sure performance and conduct flaws revealed through this incident are dealt with?

As always, responses to this post are welcome ....

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Afrikaans gets a boost from black ten-year old

Beeld last week (15 Aug) covered a fascinating story about a black kid who won a national debating competition in Afrikaans. The girl, Pretoria based Thuli Manunga (10), although her mother tongue is Xhosa, speaks Afrikaans like the best of them and is the winner of the junior division of the ATKV debating contest.

This story is emblematic of how the new South Africa is liberating Afrikaans.

Sure, I know there are those who perpetuate the myth that Afrikaans is under threat in Mzansi. They write to connections and well placed people in countries such as Belgium airing dire warnings that the future of “die taal” is at risk. You can also, for example, read the writings of people like Steve Hofmeyr who seek to feverishly defend Afrikaans culture and language against various forces, including an ANC government. The truth is different: under democracy, Afrikaans can shed its old burdensome associations and face the future with new confidence.

The way to protect your language is not to retreat into the laager, but to step out and take your place, in a vital way, in South African social and cultural life.

The advent of democracy – with its built-in formula of inclusivity and synthesis rather than conquest and retribution – frees Afrikaans of its baggage. We can acknowledge that this language, embroiled in unjust historical processes, was used as a tool to bark some of the meanest and nastiest instructions. We can ruefully reflect on how Afrikaans coined the word bliksem, a reference to cruel punishment meted out in a context of skewed power relations. But we can also simultaneously put that behind us. We can say, taking the present as the vantage point, that Afrikaans is categorically not the language of the oppressor. It is a proud constituent of Mzansi’s culture; it is entrenched and constitutionally recognized as one of South Africa’s languages. Afrikaans is part of the distinctiveness that we marshall as we seek to engage and advance our interests in a fiercely competitive global context.

It is true that Afrikaans faces a challenge; it is up against the dominance of English in the business arena and in many parts of the academic world. But this is a different problem (to a claim that Afrikaans is being singled out and specifically suppressed); instead, this is a concern facing all other official languages. Afrikaans taal stryders (language activists) should unite with others to examine ways in which to promote the use of the mother tongue in education as well as multiple language usage in policy debates, in the creative arts and as many spheres of life as possible.

Afrikaners can also get some perspective by recognizing how many African black people speak Afrikaans. For millions of people in the country, Afrikaans is the only or primary language second only to their home language. Thus, for example, Matthews Posa writes poetry in Afrikaans and well known figures such as Mosiuoa Lekota, Mannie Dipico and Sandile Dikeni are at ease when engaging with others using the medium of Afrikaans. And tsotsitaal, as its name suggests, is replete with Afrikaans words. Afrikaners should also take proper cognisance of the many South Africans of mixed heritage who speak Afrikaans as a home language, and who argue that coloured black Afrikaners played a key role in the emergence of the language. Leaders in this community have always noted that, in their book, Afrikaans was as much a language of “onderdrukking” (oppression) as a language of “bevryding” (liberation).

I say: it is time to further break down the laager of official ownership of and fearfulness around Afrikaans. Stop circling the wagons! Let the Afrikaans arts festivals increase the pace of opening up to people of different cultural backgrounds and halt the possible slippage into rallying points for conservatism, exclusivity and fearmongering. Let us use these and other platforms to harvest the lessons from the development of Afrikaans so we can assist those practitioners struggling to enhance the status of other marginalized indigenous languages. Afrikaans will be part of the Mzansi landscape for a long time to come, especially if Afrikaners eschew navel-gazing in favour of reaching out to fellow South Africans in a spirit of optimism and togetherness.

And if white Afrikaners do shed their blinkers and reach out, they will find that the Thuli Manungus of the world have long joined the process of sustaining and promoting “die taal”.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Madlala-Routledge's firing will deepen political ructions

The firing of Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge from her position as Deputy Minister of Health is causing giant waves in political circles. The full story of the motivations, specific issues and processes related to the dismissal is still emerging. Comment has come from many quarters and many more wise heads will pronounce, I'm sure, but I will still add my tuppence worth:

1. The action to dismiss is at best puzzling and at worse a cardinal error. Given the rifts and ructions in the party, President Thabo Mbeki appears to need friends; it is not a time for further disturbing a hornet’s nest. The past year and more has seen a block of opposition build up against him. If one takes the pervious ANC National General Council (held last year) as a marker, he has become something of a rallying point for a variety of sub interest groups and disaffected persons who are united only in their opposition to him, including:
- Some who feel denied their share of the BEE gravy.
- Those who feel bypassed in the appointment of provincial Premiers.
- Those more generally who have their eye on top positions - they believe they can get there if they join some kind of united mobilization for a new leadership order.
- Those bitter and angry because they feel top ANC leaders continuously undermine the Tripartite Alliance.
- Those (including communists in the ANC) who remain angry about the adoption of Gear and the austerity programmes that the country has recently emerged from.
- Supporters of Jacob Zuma who feel he was being victimized through the use of state agencies such as the Scorpions.
- Those from marginalized social groups who feel they have not yet benefited from transformation (e.g. unemployed youth, local ANC activists angry about gaps in local government delivery and ANC members who feel that demarcation decisions mean a much longer wait for delivery).

In this context, the axing of Madlala-Routledge is almost certain to add to Mbeki's problems of political management and maintaining cohesion in the party.

2. The axing may be positive in at least one sense. It would indicate that President Mbeki has broken his moratorium on firing members of Cabinet, even where they perform dismally or fall seriously short of expected leadership behaviour.

3. Madlala-Routledge is a leader to many of us. Her leadership standing is not only related to the role she played in building unity of stakeholders around a clear and strong platform on the issue of HIV/Aids prevention, treatment, care and support. It dates way back to the eighties when she was active in mass democratic movement structures and was a central figure of women’s organization in KwaZulu-Natal.

4. The official comment from the Presidency around the axing of Madlala-Routledge is that the President owes no one an explanation. I think the president’s spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga, should distinguish between rulership and leadership. Rulership requires the minimum engagement and communication with subjects; under that conception of governing, a leader needs to do the bare minimum required by law. Leadership, on the other hand, entails constantly engaging and enrolling others - the public, stakeholders and interest groups - behind the leader’s thinking, what s/she stands for and the direction s/he is taking.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Cultural products are a mirror to the ebbs and flows of change

We can learn much from culture about ourselves and our world. My potted dabbling in movies, books and plays - as opposed to more extensive exposure and enjoyment of what is available -signals considerable gaps in my continuing education.

I have not seen many movies lately, although I managed to catch titles such as Queen and Last King of Scotland. The last major South African movie I viewed was Drum, which focused on life in Johannesburg in the 60s. The place featured in the movie (Sophiatown) is like a frontier town – the rough- and readiness, a definite vibrancy, the urban-rural connections, communities in formation and the co-existence of trust and danger. The apartheid state also contributed to the edginess, what with its raids on shebeens and a variety of controls on the movement of the black population. In the end, the bulldozers won the day as the regime sought to make a white spot out of a residential area it viewed as a black spot.

Being and Afro-phile, I went to the movies anticipating the Last King of Scotland to depress me out of my skull. I expected dead bodies piled high and indeed that was so, but Forrest Whittaker gave a performance that lifted the movie. The film also gave insight into the recruitment, selection and formation of (firstly) a dud leader and a dictator. On display was also the Hollywood technique - par for the course in movies about Africa - of having (for commercial reasons) a white person in a major lead role. In Last King of Scotland, a fictional white medical doctor interprets what happened.

Turning to the theatre front, a past blog entry has referred to the play Dream of the Dog directed by Malcolm Purkey which is still running at Market Theatre. Purkey once told me that he believed the challenge in theatre was to lay down the new paths (moving forward from the rich history of protest theatre). This play sits in the transitional space between the new directions and the old forms. The play also nicely symbolizes Mzansi’s current position, located as it is in the interregnum which involves grappling with past injustice (insufficient closure on the past) while making advances towards a new and fundamentally different future.

I also recently saw Ntsako Mkhabela’s student production Sis Dolly’s Place which played at one of the small theatres at Wits University. The play could have done with a stronger story line. On the other hand, this deficiency gave the play a strongly post-modern flavour and featured some exciting juxtapositions. Sid Dollys Place skillfully conveyed the edginess of Johannesburg: the vibrancy, the seduction (always drawing newcomers, it seems) and those ragged and jagged edges. The play had no discernable lead role, but featured various main characters on an almost equal footing. There’s the procrastinating writer who is dreaming instead of actually writing, there’s a tough cookie of a shebeen owner (Sis Dolly), there’s the depressed person with a large suitcase of letters searching vainly for her husband and there’s a narrator darting/flying around the room declaring undying love for Johannesburg. With a little reshaping and fine-tuning, this play could easily be taken beyond the student scene.

On the literature front: currently on my bedside table is Zachariah Rapola’s The Beginning of Dream. This text fuses instances of magic realism with references to a local world that is all too recognizable. We see the parochial viewpoints of people whose horizons are confined: the petty jealousies, fraught and competitive interactions between women and intergenerational/ interfamily pressures coming into play. But we also see strange things happen and witness the dead engage in dialogue while maneuvering and schlentering - and trying to steer the lives of the living. Happily, "Dream" avoids contrived and the trap of trying to be too clever: Rapola is at ease as he weaves these two worlds together. His is a potent voice.

I am also rereading Oswald Mtshali’s Sounds of a Cowhide Drum and the work of Wopko Jensma’ Sing for the Execution. I am reading them - apart from my enjoyment of their craft – because I am perturbed that these artists and others who were enormously influential in the early eighties (and the preceding decade) are completely unsung in the new South Africa.

Mtshali wrote powerfully about ordinary life, but often with an ironic twist in the tale. In one of his poems, the central character sees a person collapse after being assaulted, the blood flowing “from his nostrils” into the street. The observer averts his gaze and walks on and into a church. When the self-satisfied and now-blessed observer returns from church, a neighbour asks: “Have you heard? They killed your brother?”

Jensma, for his part, marries texts with images, and his striking black and white woodcuts set off explosions of awareness that invigorate consciousnness and perception.

Proving that there is little thematic connection between the books I read, I have also started on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Of course, Harry is no hero or genius; in fact, he is all too frequently helped out of trouble by Hagrid, Dumbledore, Hermione and many guardian spirits. But he is a good soul and takes an implacable stand against the use of magic to harm muggles (us ordinary folk who don’t use magic). It seems that not only is it okay for Westerners like JK Rowling and Shakespeare to write of ghostly happenings – they are often feted for it. But stories with similar supernatural happenings penned from an African perspective are not appreciated and are often viewed as reflecting backwardness. But - what the heck! - the Harry Potter books are making the kids read, and that is an eminently good thing!

I exhort you the reader to access relevant plays, books and films as one of way of learning more about other South Africans, and perhaps about yourself.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Old Word with New Meanings?

The term ‘native’ has re-entered the SA political debate. This entry is positive – unlike in the past when ‘native’ accompanied a long line of terms such as ‘Bantu’ and ‘Plural’ that were used as the name of the government department charged with the administration of the majority in the black population.

Firstly, the current use of the term ‘native’ is interesting. The word ‘native’ leapt into the public arena through the formation of The Native Club about a year ago.

We all know the meaning of the word as per the Webster’s or Oxford dictionary. Used in its political sense, however, the term originates from the context of the colony and colonisation. It conjures up a graphic image of the coloniser (hard, aloof and frequently patronising) and the locals (exploited in many different ways). Today “native” is often used in tandem with the term “settler”. Sometimes, however, it is deployed interchangeably as referring to the hardships and oppression that arise from the vestiges of colonialism as well as the evils of human subjugation prevalent during imperialism.

There appears to be some link to debates about who can be regarded, I suppose, as true and genuine South Africans, those with a genuine interest and a more legitimate stake in the future of the country.

I believe that when considering who is a South African, we should steer away from essentialist notions. Such notions get you into all kinds of trouble. When trying to categorise people, terms that at first seem clear, after a while – especially at the margins where categories interface – become murky and nebulous. You would be in danger of becoming entangled in problematic debates about genetics, bloodlines and eugenics.

South Africans include:
a) indigenous people, those who can trace their forbears as far back as possible and still place their footprints and fossils in Southern African soil.
b) groups/individuals that have no home in another place, no place else either geographically (or in their consciousness) where they can run to when things become too much for them in Mzanzi.
c) people or individuals who make a commitment to and identify with Mzanzi and its nestling within the region and continent; such a stand means the exercising of an option and a political commitment to Mzanzi.

These categorizations should not be the building blocks of prejudice and intolerance; rather (more positively) they should indicate the deep reservoirs of human experience, insight, perspectives and ways of living that we can draw on as we define our distinctiveness as South Africans into the future.

However, I must ask: how important is it to draw a distinction between being native and non-native as we dialogue about the future of the country and debate each other’s positions?

There is some use or merit to the term being employed in debate. For example, it seems to come into play in the quest to unmask power relations. It is a tool in discussion about how major solidarities develop and sustain themselves. Its use can lead to a deeper discussion and reflection about the motivating forces for change. In this regard, the term can be deployed to indicate persons whose vested interests stand in contrast to those of imperialists. It puts the spotlight on sets of people or organised groups seeking redress against specific cases of historical exploitation.

At another level, the term has little value. Our constitution gives citizenship rights to all South Africans and such rights (which include voting rights) imply that we can all take part in debates about the future of the country. Even the Freedom Charter, which appears to provide the philosophical underpinning for our democracy, states that Mzanzi belongs "to all who live in it".

In terms of these seminal documents, this opening up is much more than a liberal concession; they punt such an inclusive stance as a radical position that is distinct and intentional against a backdrop of historical (in South Africa) and contemporary (many parts of the world) racist exclusivity.

Although the term native has undoubted currency - and appears to be adding spark and vibrancy to political debates - those who use it should bear in mind the following issues:

* The term is weakened to the extent that it overlooks or submerges the class factor. It suggests that persons organized in terms of nationalistic solidarity fundamentally and always share common perspectives. But in today’s South Africa, as COSATU frequently points out, people who have a shared heritage, historical experiences and even common national heroes often have significantly diverging interests and priorities. In the trade union federation’s view, a huge gulf exists between the “native” capitalist mogul that has benefited from affirmative action and the native unskilled worker.

* The term does not bring to the fore gender differences in a meaningful way, nor does it adequately deal with other differences within, for example, the black community. The danger is that those who then aim to articulate the “native” position run the risk of downplaying the diversity of views, and instead put forward monolithic views that in themselves can be stereotypical.

* We should not become so caught up in the use of jargon (or “in” terms understood by a few) that we neglect to explain what we mean. If a term gets used as shorthand, or as a sociological term with specific meaning, it will be helpful if those using such a term continuously explain what the term means. In this way we would ensure wider participation in debates and ensure that discussion of real issues is not undermined by poor hearing and distorted inferences.

* Categorisations are a problem if they paint us into a corner and limit the possibility of forward movement. Once we have completed the classification of who is a native and who is not, or who is an African and who is not, what then? Where do we go from there? As someone who works in social change and transformation, I am perturbed by rigid categories that suggest no change is possible. Even the original communist thinkers that emphasized the primacy of class categorisations conceded the possibility of "class suicide". Thus, whereas in the context of a nationbuilding, terms such as "native" and "settler" help us to openly discuss the legacies of oppression and exploitation; they also lead us to a dead end if the peddlers of such terms close off possibilities of moving forward, of working together on shared priorities, and forging new solidarities based on some shared grasp of past truths and future possibilities.

What is your view as a reader on this issue? Let's widen participation in the debate.