By Hopewell Chin’ono
I have just landed in Nairobi-Kenya, my flight from Johannesburg to here made me reflect on something that has always been on my mind. I have plenty of South African friends on this page and also many folks who are interested in aviation like I do.
I love planes, I watch aircraft accident investigations religiously.
I even dated a pilot and our relationship was sustained by my love for what she does.
Can someone tell me, how come South African Airways always without fail (on my part except for once) has white pilots on deck.
I have only been on one flight of theirs which had a black first officer and I have never been on any other SAA flight, either captained by a black pilot or with a black first officer.
Is there racism at SAA or is it a reflection of white privilege which manifests itself through such skewed racial representation?
Or shall we call it racial misrepresentation?
I ask because such work places like flight cockpits should be representative of the racial demographics, especially 24 years into a postcolonial South Africa.
My nephew is a commercial captain(they like calling them commanders on SAA) on a Boeing 767 somewhere in Africa, he has told me about the painful struggles of breaking the glass ceiling for Black South Africans at SAA.
I heard a story in 2001 that the white pilots at SAA threatened to walk out of the airline enmasse in the 90s if Nelson Mandela had pushed a radical program of empowering black pilots at the airline.
2001 was a watershed year for blacks in South African Aviation, that is when SAA had its first black captain, 7 years after independence.
The ANC like ZIPRA in Rhodesia had trained a group of fighter pilots who could have simply converted to commercial flying post independence, but I am told that those chaps were blocked and never flew.
They ended up being government bureaucrats placated with fat cheques in exchange for their silence.
Mandela was a man of peace and the whites loved him for that, they called him a great man, perhaps because he didn’t upset the economic order which was underpinned by years of successive brutal and racist apartheid regimes.
So the Umkonto Wesizwe pilots hung their flying careers for political office.
Our very own Chipo Matimba was a an Air Force of Zimbabwe fighter pilot before she went commercial at Air Zimbabwe.
Now one would have thought that under Thabo Mbeki, with all that African Renaissance talk of his or Jacob Zuma with his empowerment threats, they would have done something to remedy this ugly racial reality.
You can’t have one racial group dominating an industry simply because of its historical and shall I say racist grip on aviation, it is simply unacceptable for both blacks and any decent and progressive white folks.
The ultimate test of independence and mental emancipation is the freedom for folks to be who they want to be without being inhibited by racial shackles.
Your ability should shape who you become not the colour if your skin.
I lived in Europe and the US for 11 years so I know that the struggle is real, but should it be the same on the mother continent too?
Now when we talk about human rights, sometimes we get bogged down on purely direct political issues, whilst ignoring these racial issues which are rooted in racist politics.
The inability to get where you want to be because of the colour of your skin is an abuse of human rights too!
The human rights warriors suddenly go silent when such issues are raised, WHY?
The end up leaving us at the mess of crooked and manipulative folks who make noise just to line their pockets.
There is nothing as demeaning as failing to attain your full potential due to a structural problem underpinned by a political or racial architecture.
When folks like Julius Malema raise these important legacy issues, they suddenly get traction and many middle class and elites wonder why!
It is because the majority of our people have yet to enjoy the same equal opportunities to life as the former colonizer and their very few black surrogates.
The blacks with a voice will be busy cutting Black Economic Empowerment deals in hotels across Sandton to worry about those who toil in the townships.
It is the same folks as was in Zimbabwe, there was NO deal cut without folks like Philip Chiyangwa getting a leg in.
Would such people care about what is worrying the township child in their pursuit for a better life or they simply care about showing off their toys and slay queens?
There is a name for them and we should use it more often to describe them.
They are called COMPRADORS!
Our intellectual class also hardly speaks out for fear of losing those Non Governmental grants and what they call FUNDING in this world of development economics.
They have trouble putting on a belt around their waists because they are eating on our behalf!
They steal and loot just as the proverbial African politician but they get away with it because their master wants them to take on the bigger fight to the corrupt and rapacious African politician.
Now struggling blacks have the unfortunate scenario of being in a circle of corrupt African political leadership, the compradors and the big waisted academics controlling the funding tapes.
The South African mainstream media is as captured as its aviation partner.
Everybody is too busy to notice that they are being flown day and night by one racial group.
To them, proximity to the white man is a sign of “arrival”.
There are exceptions of course, folks like Siphosami Malunga always speak out in deference of the little man, perhaps he gets it from his DNA being Sydney Malunga‘s progeny.
He alone can’t conquer the world of inequalities, we need many folks doing what the likes of the late Prof Sam Moyo did.
He spoke genuinely and spoke out not because he wanted anything in return, but because it was out of conviction.
Pity he had to go so early when there was and still is so much work to be done!
Bob Marley was NO fool when he sang Haile Selassie’s words in War.
“Until the philosophy, which holds one race superior and another inferior is permanently removed, there will be War!”
I hate to imagine that the South African black kids born in 1994 and then those born today have as little a chance of flying those beautiful birds out of O.R. Tambo airport as their grandfathers in 1980.
We will be reminded of the token blacks, but they are just that, symbols of tokenism!
We should speak with as much ferocity against these racist tendencies as we do against the proverbial African politician.
Both of them consign the black child to the dustbin of history as an inconsequential statistic!
We are tired of singing the same song, It Is Not Yet Uhuru!
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.
He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.
State of Mind has been nominated for a top award in Kenya. You can watch the documentary trailer below. Hopewell can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @daddyhope