Our place in South Africa

2008-02-26 00:00

The letters “Critical expats are right” from the 26-year-old Morag Cunningham in The ­Witness of February 21 and “We are not wanted” from Chris de Lange of February 22, and the “Everyday Heroes” article on February 22 front page have reference.

Although personal experiences of family attacks and tragedies are deeply respected, and as deeply regretted, I don’t believe the negative testimonies of people like Cunningham and De Lange can be allowed to stand unchallenged.

I know many readers, including myself, will have responded instinctively to Cunningham’s words with sympathy, anger and understanding, but the issues are more complex, and require deeper reflection. The positive article about the return of the stolen car, and the Sweetwaters community’s rebellion against crime, is an indication that we so easily use our tar brushes indiscriminately.

White South Africans must unfortunately live with the legacy of our forerunners’ actions. Many of us still have a settler mentality, by and large, which prevents us from embracing the good and bad of our country of birth. Many of our compatriots are running off to countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States, where native populations were brutally decimated by the early settlers to the point that they are now a minority in a land they once called their own.

Here in South Africa our forefathers did not resort to such extremes, probably because they were a relatively small group in a vast land. The result was ultimately similar though, being a dispossessed native population who lost their land and life. Only here they are a majority. A hungry, irritated, but amazingly patient majority!

Our early settlers missed the chance when there was still some goodwill left in the early 20th century to establish a wealthy country which cared for its entire population. With the discovery of gold, diamonds, coal and other ­mineral wealth we could have created an educated population focused on building a strong economic base of manufacturing and beneficiation, as did the Asian tigers after World War 2. Unfortunately we are a nation of ­farmers, miners, bankers, bookkeepers, preachers, civil servants, teachers and players. We have few visionaries. We raped our land of primary produce, content to feed the privileged one-tenth of the population, while throwing crumbs to the other brutally suppressed nine-tenths on whom we depended for cheap labour. That was only yesterday.

During these early days of a democracy based on universal franchise we have, amazingly, not suffered the sort of tribal and racial conflict on a ­military-type scale experienced elsewere in Africa, and in places such as Europe and America — conflicts which resulted in brutal atrocities against civilians on a wide scale, even genocide.

We have a crime problem, it is true. And some criminals are unnecessarily brutal. We have a massive unemployment problem, and an uncontrolled illegal alien problem. We have a massive education problem, and an equally massive skills shortage problem. We have a society and government focused on short-term gain and not long-term growth and prosperity. These are our own legacies.

To run, or to whinge petulantly that we are not wanted, is to ignore the role we played in creating and perpetuating the problems.

We have a responsibility to ourselves, our fellow countrymen and our children, to find a way through this mess with goodwill, vision and determination. We need to dig deep and stay the distance. We reap what we sow and we need to sow more carefully, notwithstanding the difficulties facing us. That is our human legacy. Success against the odds…

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