Excerpt from Antjie Krog, A Change of Tongue (Random House, Johannesburg, 2003)


Antjie Krog is one of my favourite authors especially on being white in SA. I can across this passage again she hits the nail on the head. Her analysis is spot on!




The more I listen, the more I hear people using the word ‘transformation’ as if it has a generally agreed
meaning. They also use it interchangeably with ‘change’ and even ‘metamorphosis’…I am beginning to
see a kind of hierarchy: change…metamorphosis…transformation.

This is confirmed by the industrial psychologist I consult. Change and transformation are not the same
thing. You may appoint a new manager, or get a new name for your firm or you country, without
changing direction, without changing the ‘firmament’. Things have been changed but not transformed.
Transformation means that the same unit undergoes an internal change. Replacing white people with
black people is therefore not transformation in itself. If these newly appointed black people bring
another vision with them, or the white people already employed by the firm develop a new vision or
attitude because of a name change, then transformation is taking place. If black people replace white
people but the same structures, systems, visions and attitudes are retained, you merely have change.

This is why black people say nothing has changed and white people feel everything has changed. Black
people are appointed in positions, and then everybody assumes that the firm has been transformed.
See! We have a black face here, and two white women. These new black appointees often find
themselves caught up in the existing structures and ways of thinking, which causes them to behave not
very differently to the whites. That’s why you often hear black people saying that those at the top have
sold out. It isn’t true. The faces have changed, but the company has not been transformed. In order to
deal with the lack of transformation, the newly appointed blacks often say that they have no power: the
whites who appointed them took away the power of these positions, or the previous incumbents
somehow took the power with them.

The whites, on the other hand, see that they are being replaced by blacks. They do not have the same
convenient access as before, because they do not have the connections with the black officials that they
used to have with the white ones. For them, everything has therefore changed. But they also confuse
change with transformation. They are convinced that because everything has changed, it has also been
transformed – and look what a big mess it is. Blacks are incompetent, they say. They have all the power,
but they can’t get anything done with it.

Transformation processes tend to follow the same pattern. There is a specific agent for bringing about
the change, and this agent follows a specific route. The route usually crosses a boundary, leading from
one domain to another, and creates a new structure, which may be very diverse or uneven.

Marx had another definition of transformation. The superstructures can only change if the underlying
economic base changes. This normally takes a revolution. The difference between a revolution and a
coup d’état is that in the second instance only the rulers change, not the systems or structures. Some
would argue that what we have had in this country is more like a coup d’état than the quiet revolution we
hear so much about. Others claim that the days of revolution are over, as no country has the freedom
any more to change its entire economic base.

We do not use the word ‘transformation’ in psychology, says the psychiatrist I interview. We talk of
personal growth or development. We assume that a person cannot transform, actually should not
transform, or change his essence. That would make him no longer himself, make him lose his sense of
self and disintegrate, fall apart. Accommodate a variety of identities, yes. Transformation, no. It seems,
then, that one can transform an institution or a country only by changing its essence.