Addressing the sins of SA’s racist past

2015-03-01 15:00

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‘Speaking as a 50-something white woman, I can attest that many of my peers feel that ‘handing over the country to black people’ was enough payback. I feel that, although I am aware of how I have benefited at the expense of others; there is often a feeling of helplessness when it comes to knowing how to ‘right’ this.

“I think one is often reduced to a state of inertia; it feels like the task is too big. An obvious remedy is to throw money at the ‘problem’ (for problem read guilt, not black people). The problem with this is that not all whites have spare cash. It is also a bit of a cop-out for those who can afford it.

“One area that all whites are privileged in is education. This is an obvious channel for payback. We need to look beyond the needs in our immediate community and help uplift schools in less fortunate areas.

“This can be teaching help, maintenance and food programmes.” – Jo Bruns, Paarl

In the article “Addressing the sins of SA’s racist past” by S’thembile Cele (City Press, March 1 2015), Jo Bruns was misquoted as saying that she felt “handing over the country to black South Africans” had been “enough payback”. In fact, Bruns said she did not agree with this notion held by some white South Africans. What she actually said was: “I feel that, although I am aware of how I have benefited at the expense of others; there is often a feeling of helplessness when it comes to knowing how to ‘right’ this.” City Press regrets the error and any inconvenience caused.

Gordon Mokgoroane (23), quotes from a recent court judgment to answer the question: “So it may be a historical fact that the innocent often have to account for sins committed before they were born or able to act independently.

“However, ‘innocence’ of conduct by one’s ancestors or predecessors – that in hindsight are widely recognised as morally repulsive – does not mean that the innocent have not over time benefited from injustice. One can benefit from a wrong without being guilty of wrongdoing.”

He adds: “I believe that white people should pay back the privilege. I think they should invest in black townships, in terms of education and social-development programmes. This would be a form of reparation of the past.

“The idea that money should be paid back is a good [one] but I think it should not be included in government finances – there should be a body that regulates how this money is used to pay back the privilege.”

‘If there’s one concept I truly believe in, it’s choosing humanity. I disagree with the ‘pay back the privilege’ campaign because, firstly, the white folk who are told to pay back the privilege now are not the ones who were the perpetrators in the past. Secondly, even if it is justified to pay back the privilege, that sets double standards.

“So unless [President Jacob] Zuma is also paying back his current privileges, one can’t expect only white people to pay back the privilege.

“We need to create a society in which choosing humanity becomes a priority. This means that we move forward by seeing each other as human beings and not the governmental boxes into which we are divided.

“We need a society that spreads ubuntu and embraces diversity. Paying back the privilege further divides our society and pushes humanity backwards.”

– Farai Mubaiwa (20), Stellenbosch

‘We do not know what a world without white domination and white privilege would look like. We can venture a guess that black people would not necessarily be the most disadvantaged in our society.

“A more accurate guess is that there would still be poor people in our society – not necessarily black, but still disadvantaged.

“There would be economic privilege – basically white privilege without the racialised aspect. The nature of capitalism ensures that there will always be the few who have and the many who do not, regardless of race.

“We can’t change how politics engineered society and skewed the racial dynamics of wealth. There will always be privilege in all forms and it’s a bit naive to think this could be corrected, because it’s so damn entrenched.

“An acknowledgment would go a long way, as would being part of building a fair and less imbalanced society, instead of complaining.”

– Sandy Majola (22), Sandton

‘Ithink a far more nuanced and interesting discussion around white privilege lies in the special privileges and benefits white people in South Africa enjoy – exclusively due to their race, irrespective of whether they are wealthy or poor.

“These are far more subtle things, such as not being followed around a shop by a security guard, not having trouble getting into fancy restaurants, not having difficulty breaking into ‘old [white] boys’ clubs’ in business, not being turned away from exclusive private schools, not being mistaken for a waiter or domestic worker, not being stopped by security patrols in your neighbourhood?...

“I don’t think they can pay back financially, but I do think white people have an obligation to be aware, because it is partly through white people remaining ignorant that they continue to enjoy the racial perceptions that give rise to privilege in the first place.”

– Mark Schoeman (23), Cape Town

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