Are whites folding their arms?

2013-07-14 14:00

In an interview with Al Jazeera last month, Reverend Frank Chikane, the former director-general in the presidency under Thabo Mbeki and author of The Things That Could Not Be Said, commented: “I thought blacks and whites would work together but since (FW) de Klerk left, I have the feeling that the whites in the country have folded their arms and are waiting for this black government to change the country.”

On the other hand, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga recently said: “To suddenly see a group of white adults organising black children with half-truths can only be opportunistic, patronising and simply dishonest to say the least.”

Yoliswa Dwane, the chairperson of social advocacy group Equal Education, the organisers of the march in question, was quick to hit back, describing Motshekga’s statement as an attack on nonracism, the Constitution and the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

So, are whites damned if they do and damned if they don’t? Why is race so often the issue? Is race being used to divert attention from the real issues?

Futurefact finds that the spirit of the “rainbow nation” and Mandela’s legacy of peace, reconciliation and racial harmony are intact among all races.

Eight out of 10 white South Africans (and similar proportions of all South Africans) agreed that “black and white people in South Africa need each other to survive and prosper” and that all South Africans are equal regardless of race, religion or political belief.

Nine out of 10 whites feel they belong in South Africa and three-quarters are proud to call themselves South Africans.

Nonetheless, despite the peaceful transition to a fully democratic society (but in keeping with the “folded arms” analogy), Futurefact finds that white South Africans are comparatively more guarded when it comes to their commitment.

Part of the reason could be the post-1994 decision to “fast-track” other than white South Africans to make up for the inequalities of the past.

Policies such as BEE and affirmative action were part of this conscious process.

So, even though they may understand the rationale behind such policies, it would seem that the result has been to make some whites feel somewhat excluded and less inclined to lend their whole-hearted support.

Similarly, the finding that some black South Africans continue to harbour relatively high levels of resentment towards white South Africans could be adding to a sense of alienation felt by some whites and contributing to their “arm-folding”.


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