Debate: Here’s a reconciliation check list for white people

2015-03-23 12:15

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“I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating.” – Reverend Stephen Khumalo in Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country.

Listen to black conversations these days and the anger is unmistakable. There is the obvious anger at the state of affairs in the country – corruption, bad governance, load shedding and the state of education.

But there is another, more perilous, anger, whose consequences none of us can predict – the anger at white South Africa. At no point since the birth of democracy has this been so palpable.

It is a scary thought that the more the idea of a nonracial, nonsexist democratic South Africa has become entrenched, the more the gulf between black and white has grown in real life.

So why should black South Africans be so angry at white South Africans two decades after Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared we were all one harmonious rainbow nation?

The colours are fading.

Why is it, so many years after the nation’s founding president, Nelson Mandela, told us at his inauguration “the time for healing of the wounds has come” and “the moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come”, are we moving further apart?

Mondli Makhanya (left) from City Press and former Rapport editor Tim du Plessis debate what blacks and whites should do. Picture: Nelius Rademan

The answer is simple. White South Africa does not want to bridge the chasms and heal the wounds. There is deep denial about culpability for the evils of the past, a refusal to accept that apartheid benefited all whites, and a resistance to mechanisms of redress.

Furthermore, there is a firm unwillingness to integrate into society and an expectation it is black South Africa that should integrate into white South Africa.

Twenty-one years after they thought they were liberated from apartheid, blacks are finding it was whites who were liberated from the burden of being formal oppressors and became free to enjoy their accumulated privilege with a clean conscience.

So what should white South Africans do to ensure that, when they eventually turn to loving, their black counterparts will not have already given their hearts to hating?

»?Accept the sins of the past. It is dishonest to blame just Hendrik Verwoerd, BJ Vorster and PW Botha for apartheid. Whites must acknowledge – to themselves first – that by commission or omission, they participated in apartheid.

They must accept that they or their forebears endorsed apartheid by voting overwhelmingly for the National Party and its like-minded party’s election in successive elections at national and municipal level.

White South Africans must accept that, by accepting segregation, unquestioningly sending their sons to fight in the military and treating fellow countrymen as “the other”, they were implementers of the system.

There is no need for a national apology, as some have suggested. Individual introspection and personal contrition will go a long way towards changing attitudes and passing on new values to the youth.

» Accept redress and restitution. Apartheid systematically subjugated blacks and turned them into lesser humans. The legacy of the system can, therefore, not be undone with a magic wand. It has to be done systemically. Different forms of restitution – from employment equity to black economic empowerment – are necessary. Transformation must not be seen as a war against whites, but a process towards normalising society.

»?Recognise racism and fight it in your own circles. It is easy to condemn those who use the k-word, openly discriminate against darker countrymen and beat up blacks. But most racism takes place in boardrooms and workplaces. It seeks to perpetuate white dominance, and happens almost instinctively when employment and promotion decisions are taken, and when power is dished out in corporations. Whites who truly believe in transformation should recognise this instinctive racism within themselves and check their actions against it.

»?Do not see whiteness as the norm. Too often, whites feel there is something abnormal when they are outnumbered. So they will flee a neighbourhood, take their kids out of a school and avoid leisure spots where there are “too many blacks”. In a formal or informal gathering, they will hang on nervously and bolt back to their “normality” as soon as the function is over. There is a need for whites to change their view of what normality is.

»?Respect South African cultures and languages. Whites generally look down on South African languages other than English and Afrikaans. To them these are primitive and to be treated with derision.

They will work harder to pronounce a complicated French word than a phonetically simpler Nguni word.

A Russian surname will flow so smoothly out of their mouths, while they could not be bothered to pronounce a basic Sotho name.

»?Integrate into society. Since the 1995 rugby World Cup, black South Africans embraced white sportsmen as their own heroes. Your average sports-loving black South African can easily name the stars in a Bulls vs Sharks line-up.

Ask your average sports-loving white South African who the stars were in a Soweto derby and you will get a blank stare. They just could not care less about the popular culture enjoyed by the majority.

»?Stop seeing corruption and incompetence as a black thing. When whites whisper about the things going wrong in society, there is a not-so-hidden message of “look what THEY are doing to the country”. Corruption and incompetence are everybody’s problem.

Read Tim du Plessis’ response here.

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