Reflection On Ntokozo Qwabe
By Zuko Qusheka
“Are you woke?”, this is quite an interesting question for me, it’s a question that one often hears from the young adults of today and in itself has been a point of debate amongst peers. Being woke, for those unaware, is related to mainly ones’ awareness of societal issues that affect them as well as others. The main idea here is to be cognizant and appreciative of what exactly is going on around you and ultimately “unshackle” yourself from what hinders your growth. It’s a brilliant idea, the worst thing we can have as a nation is people walking around unaware of the chains that bind them, and those that are at a more privileged position, not aware of their own privilege. As Park Exchange regular, Lethabo Mailula, would say “Check your privilege.”
Now you ask, “How does this tie in with the Ntokozo Qwabe issue?”. Simple, the “culprit” in this issue forms part of the infamous #RhodesMustFall movement, I would assume these ladies and gentlemen of #RhodesMustFall would perceive themselves as rather “woke”, I mean if you challenging and are willing to engage in removing oppressive structures and ultimately, I would assume, decolonizing a university you would have to be “woke”. For those not aware of the Ntokozo Qwabe issue, it occurred when said gentlemen wrote “We give tip when you return the land” on a slip where usually the gratuity amount is written. Mind you, we don’t all know the interactions between the waitress and Mr Ntokozo, but the written words clearly upset the waitress. Before I move on to the after effects of this, let’s go back a little to being “woke” and how this ties into this issue.
It seems to me, and many others I have engaged with, that being “woke” results in some form of arrogance because now your realization of your chains results in you feeling the need to instigate or agitate a reaction from the one or race that has wronged you. Is it not enough that you have unshackled yourself and are engaging in meaningful ways to redress these systems that seek to keep you a perpetual slave? Yes, the idea might have been in the form of a joke, but wasn’t it a bad joke to play on a waitress who probably doesn’t earn much and depends on tips? It might be that our generation has become so desensitized to the feelings of others not in our race that our words are borne out of being tired of the oppression faced by our parents. Having being involved in a #FeesMustFall and #AfrikaansMustFall, it seems quite clear that this generation of black students refuses to kneel (we’re basically Wildings from the series Game of Thrones, if I’m honest) down to the system that seems not to favour the black student. That’s all great, but when we become too arrogant in our “wokeness”, we risk creating an atmosphere not conducive to a South African society that fosters engagement.
As people, I think the most important thing we can do is unlearn and relearn certain behaviour. We should be responsible in how we conduct and interact with people, interactions can change mind-sets and hurt the very same cause we strive for.
Now to the other worrying issue. The Ntokozo Qwabe issue. From my view, it highlighted something I think most of my generation always points towards: White tears matter more in this country than those of black people. In the aftermath of the incident, there was an outpour of public outcry and support for the affected waitress to the extent that people started donating money to the waitress for being “victimized”, which amounted to over R100 000. I wish people were just as giving when students around the country couldn’t afford registration fees. Selectful compassion? This phenomena of selected compassion seems to plague some of our fellow white South Africans.
This occurs when you choose not to feel for a certain person (or in this case, a race) but choose to go above and beyond for another. The mistreatment and humiliation of black people in post-apartheid South Africa is well documented and has never resulted in such an outpour of compassion as seen with this waitress. Is it that white people have become so desensitized to the humiliation and mistreatment of black South Africans that issues like domestic workers who were made to eat food laced with urine or a domestic worker who was beaten up after she was accused of being a sex worker is not met with the same disdain and compassion of the waitress? Has South Africa become an “us versus them” situation? I personally don’t think it’s gotten to that point. But improvement needs to be had in relations between South Africans.
I suppose the key is to always be in a state of self-evaluation, of our attitude, our response to issues and to others and to hold each other accountable for these very things.