If I Had To Wear Black: A Poem

If I Had To Wear Black // Tristan Pringle 

If I had to wear black, it wouldn’t be for Zuma. He disqualified himself long ago.

If I had to wear black, it would be for Tafelberg.

For the mothers on the Cape Flats.

It would be for Marikana.

For Napoleon Webster.

If I had to wear black it would be for free decolonial education.

I would wear black to mourn the death of a thousand dreams of young ones that will never see that matric certificate.

If I had to wear black it would be for East London, and potholes and bad service delivery.

I would wear black for Buffalo Flats, joblessness and gangsterism.

If I had to wear black it would be for the heartless perpetuation of a neo-colonial system that continues to oppress the most vulnerable in society.

For Esidimeni.

I would wear black for the landless masses.

I would wear it for my coloured people who still don’t know whether there is a space for them in South Africa.

I would wear black to cry for those who think we should get over it.

I would wear black only if it meant that we understood our president is merely a brief and periodic symptom of a centuries-old disease.

If I did wear black, it would be for many other reasons, not for Zuma.

And before I wear black, I will remember my brothers and sisters who wear it on their skin everyday. I will remember what that means for them when they apply for jobs, and school. What it means on the trains in the township and in the workplace.

Lord have mercy on me if I ever wear black and did nothing else to act toward making good the destruction and terrorism wrought on the people of this country. Lord help me turn this keyboard courage into action that costs me more than putting on another colour t-shirt for the day.

Tristan Pringle was one among the many young South African writers who publicly denounced the #ZumaMustFall and #BlackMonday movements following the cabinet reshuffle, calling out the core nature of it’s classism and veiled racism.

Not everyone held the same stance, however.

White people in South Africa have been holding out on us, it would appear. They are in fact quite proficient at organising protests – that is, when their privilege is at stake. The fervour behind the mobilisation of the #ZumaMustFall protest followed by the #BlackMonday solidarity showcase under the platitude “These Issues Affect Us All!” managed to be awe-inspiring while simultaneously appalling.

The thing is, these issues don’t really affect us all, at least not in the same way. In a country where white people occupy 70% of the private sector workforce and earn household incomes almost six times higher than the average black family, it stands to reason that a downgrade to junk states (carrying the likelihood of inflation and increased interest rates) will not affect the millions of black South Africans who are unemployed and living below the poverty line to the same degree that it will affect the wealthy white sector of society. So, demanding solidarity from disenfranchised racial demographics in order to protect something they never had in the first place is… a dick move, for lack of better term.

Take a look at their official campaign page: “our souls are not for sale” and “we mourned our nation” (in regard to the cabinet reshuffle which took place on 30 April).  Interesting that it takes a strained exchange rate and a hike up in holiday prices to make white South Africans “mourn our nation”. How about a colonial education system accessible only to privileged minorities? Not having access to sanitation and flushing toilets? A literal massacre of black mine workers? No?

A protest over the right to live and a leisurely march to protect the privileged are so clearly discernible.

Cross the words “ubuntu” and “unity” off your #ZumaMustFall signs if you only acknowledge their significance when your privilege is being threatened but not when black South Africans are fighting for their basic human rights.


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