Black victimhood, white melancholia

17 May 2007 | Story by Helen Swingler

Complex issue: Wits University's Prof Achille Mbembe, addressing a UCT audience yesterday. He spoke on race and transformation as part of the university's Respect campaign.

'Equality does not mean equal distribution of everything to everyone. It means the equal treatment of everyone and the granting of the same weight to everyone,' Professor Achille Mbembe told a UCT audience on 15 May.

His address, Black Victimhood, White Melancholia: The paradoxes of transformation in South Africa, is part of the Respect campaign, one intended to boost the culture of courtesy and mutual respect critical to ensuring transformation at UCT is kept on track.

He said recent discussions on issues of race and transformation at UCT reflected a richness in debate at the institution on a 'difficult and complex issue' for which there are no simplistic solutions.

Nonetheless, he warned against turning transformation into a purely managerial, quantitative exercise, where, in the higher education sector, it would be reduced to simply ensuring adequate numbers of blacks and women found places at universities.

'Transformation epitomises more than another post-apartheid project. We have to overcome whiteness and blackness in order to build an Afropolitan society.'

He said issues of race had turned the transformation debate into an acrimonious one.

'Transformation is a dangerous but necessary tool and we have to be vigilant about its ethical and practical implications.'

Mbembe is a research professor in history and politics at the University of the Witwatersrand and a senior researcher at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.