A while back, I penned a letter titled, “Dear White People in South Africa” and it raised mixed discussions, some marred by bigoted racism of the worst kind from the white community and a patch of disorganized apologetic voices from black people. It seems, to be a progressive in our society; you must walk on the fine thread of diplomatic engagement, which in many cases obfuscates the truth about our history, today’s materialistic conditions and our shortcomings as a collective society of South Africa.
Why is there such resistance to the black vs white discussion in South Africa? Perhaps, I must answer the question that says, “Is it necessary to have a discussion along racial lines?” Shortly, it is very important to confront our racial differences. We have always had a race-based discourse in this country, even though it was camouflaged by the notion of a ‘rainbow nation’. A rainbow is a naturally occurring beautiful thing made up of various colours sticking side-by-side to each other. A rainbow is not manmade, it births itself as a storm or heavy rain subsides. Following the apartheid storm that had showered South Africa with decades of hard racism that separated our country, it must have been a fitting exercise to liken the ‘new’ South Africa to a rainbow. A rainbow nation could have only been possible if the progression towards integration of all the races that exist in our land was natural. This integration would have been natural only if all races were openly negotiating in good faith, with the former oppressing race admitting and undoing its heinous acts of the past.
A growing number of black people go around accusing ANC leaders as having sold out black people in the CODESA negotiations. Is there merit in these claims? It only takes an inspection on the materialistic conditions of the many black people to arrive to a conclusion that says; yes indeed black people were sold out. The mineral wealth and many industries in the country seem to have no meaningful impact in the transformation of lives of ordinary black people. Often, the white community – to showcase progress – points me to the few politically connected black people who were given shares and wealth by some white business moguls in order to tame the activist spirit within these blacks. A prime example of this project must be Cyril Ramaphosa. This former trade unionist and Secretary-General of the ANC now has guts enough to even bid R18 million on a Buffalo. He also has a seat in the boardroom of Lonmin, which saw a massacre with the killing of around 44 people in total in the recent protest action. What has this former leader of the people done to advocate for the transformation of working and living conditions of poor – hard working – black people within Lonmin mines? Nothing! He has been absorbed by capitalism, capitalism in South Africa is largely both white, and foreign white owned.
The hegemonic global capitalism is white owned and this ugly reality permeates itself to our local context in South Africa. What makes the South African reality even much direr is because of the past we come from. There is an erroneous expectation that, a South Africa that was defined by racist discourse and development can now simply overlook the embedded heritage and legacy of that past. 18 years is simply not enough. Equally, undoing that racist past means that we must have an open and robust racial discourse today in order to fully comprehend how each race fits in the whole picture of the kind of South Africa we want to live in. We know we want a non-racial society, yet we never define how we ought to get there when the race, which represents the former oppressors, still seats with arrogant voices of correctness about their past contributions as a race. This is not about individuals, unfortunately, colonialism and apartheid tainted all members of the white community, and these were racial interventions after all. In 1913, there was legislation of land ownership and trading along racial lines, in 1948 there was enactment of a racist regime. Now, a democratic South Africa led by a black majority government must focus on equalising the plane between black and white people, by having a bias towards improving the conditions of black people.
My “Dear White People in South Africa” letter was simply echoing sentiments held by many progressive South Africans, both black and white. It happened to be a brutally crafted piece of writing, which rattled many cages and unfortunately brought out some uncouth racists. I have however also managed to meet and engage progressive white people as a result of that letter; white people who acknowledge that the racial tension currently in existence cannot go unattended to for much longer. It is in this context that in the next article I will discuss what is it that can be done to rehabilitate this racially divided society. The black vs white debate cannot be avoided. Dr Mamphela Ramphele wrote in The Sunday Independent that, “Black and white South Africans need to have tough conversation about how to heal the socially engineered wounds that resulted from that reality [of apartheid]. These wounds continue to undermine our ability to reach for our dream [of a rainbow nation] as a nation.” However, the white arrogant voice impatiently agitates us black people to move on and forget about apartheid, without providing a concrete path on how this moving on must happen. The black apologist voice, led by Ferial Haffajee in response to my letter, immediately brushes off the discussion on the need for redistribution of land and wealth in order to even out scales. The black apologist voice indirectly acts as backup singers to the choir of the white arrogant voices.
Alistair McKay (a white young man), wrote in the City Press – which Haffajee (excuse her amnesia) edits – that “Too many have just coasted along since 1994 and expected the country to just “move on”, without realising how much we have to work on ourselves to build a new nation.” Many white people did a lot of coasting along after 1994 to an extent that they coasted in a plane that was of different realities compared to those of black people. This resulted in the white community attaining an obscure reality about the racial discourse in South Africa, it made them live with an unrealistic consciousness about the state of our nation and this has resulted in them being unable to grasp the growing anger amongst black people towards the white community.
McKay argues that he growingly feels and observes the racialisation of our society when saying, “South Africa is angry at the moment and many are giving up on reconciliation.” This white young man is one of the few progressive white people who truly understand the need for redress as he captures that apartheid was “a ruthless, evil, cold and dehumanising system of structural oppression, deprivation and violence.” Furthermore, he explains that, “Apartheid desensitised white South Africans to human suffering and filled most of them with an unthinking sense of superiority and fear.” This sense of superiority displayed itself in the responses I received from some white people. They arrogantly said black people should be grateful for all the advancements from education to infrastructure that white people had introduced to the then supposedly “barbaric black people”, which coincidentally happen to be our great grandfathers and yet us black people of today should not take insult to this ignorant and arrogant posture.
Every society has its pace of progression, the arrival of white people in South Africa robbed the natives a natural process of growth. We must reject categorically the assumption that black people would still be living in the same conditions as they were, in the 1700s. The arrival of white people tempered with the organic intellectual development of black people, as they now deferred their sense of intellectual vigour and innovativeness to the new masters of thought – the white people. The white people then became definers and gatekeepers of knowledge, leading to a situation whereby black people would have to verify the correctness of their thoughts with these new settlers. There was a greater tragedy in the arrival of white people, the colonisation and apartheidisation of knowledge and innovation in this country. This is mainly what the Black Consciousness Movement wished to tackle. One news24 reader arrogantly said they introduced us to the wheel, yet he fails to acknowledge that the black people of the 1700s were ploughing, cooking, innovating and drinking as they saw fit to their satisfaction at the time – they were no less human.
Max du Preez warned in one of his columns in The Mercury that, there is “an attempt to reinterpret history in order to deodorize the nasty smell of apartheid.” It seems there was a spray called Apartheid, its odour was released by the likes of Verwoed and Botha, now that aroma continues to linger in our atmosphere. It is an odour that white people and black apologists must acknowledge its existence and work collectively with black people on setting it adrift from our society’s atmosphere. In one column I argued that the problem in South Africa is that we preached tolerance of one another and not acceptance; “The problem with tolerance is that; tolerance asks of people to suppress, bottle and conceal their anger, prejudice and resentment, without dealing with these negative traits.” The time to deal with these negative traits (anger, prejudice and resentment) has come and it starts with white people beginning to learn and understand consciously the plight and derelict state of many black people’s lives. Black apologists who want to be comfortably trusted by white people must not stand in the way of this journey. These black apologists continue to urge us conscious black people to drop this ‘unprogressive’ racial debate – this is their way of proving to white people that there are good black people; however, they unfortunately don’t represent the majority sentiments within the black community. Truth and openness shall set us free.
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