Where whites fail

2009-07-06 00:00

DESCRIBED as “one of the most controversial books of the year”, a new book by Charles Cilliers is on the shelves: For Whites Only. What White people think about the New South ­Africa, published by X Concepts Publications, 2009.

I heard him being interviewed on the radio recently and I was impressed enough to go out and buy the book on the strength of the interview.

For starters, the cover is not attractive. In fact, it is fairly repulsive. I suppose neither is the ­subject — and that is the point. It is a colour cartoon of a man urinating on a food tray, placed on a toilet. The foodtray is labelled “reconciliation”. The cartoon has obvious reference to the ghastly prank some white students in the Reitz residence of the University of the Free State played (and filmed) on some black workers in the institution. Be that as it may.

In the book, Cilliers deals with a range of “white” issues — such as, “My domestic worker is my best friend”, “I never benefited from apartheid”, “I always disagreed with apartheid”, “Affirmative action is reverse racism” and the one we all know — “When ­Nelson Mandela dies, chaos is going to be let loose in the country” (aka the Night of the Long Knives).

On radio, the author was sharp. A little bit too “Cairp Tahn” University sounding for my immediate liking — but razor sharp. He says the kinds of things most white people really hate hearing, such as, that actually, the country is in a much better place now than when they were running the show. That there is no way that your domestic worker is your best friend. That every white person benefited personally and comprehensively from apartheid. That affirmative ­action is necessary to get the historically skewed situation (which white people made) corrected, and that it is highly unlikely that a frail, retired, 90-year-old is ­holding the whole thing together, and that this kind of belief is a prime example of the unfathomable unwillingness of white South Africans to change.

There is a certain self-righteousness in the writing which I found a bit tedious. Particularly when he records conversations in which he put his father right on various matters. I found it a tad galling, despite the fact that I agree wholeheartedly with what he is saying. Indeed, he often puts his finger on the nub of the matter much better than I ever could. But that doesn’t make some of the style any less irritating.

My own view is much in agreement with Cilliers — that the political settlement which took place in the country favoured white people far too much and it failed to deal with the sense of entitlement, arrogance and almost criminal ignorance which abides to this day in most white heads and families. I suppose that was the price of peace at the time. But surely not anymore. We are 15 years down the line and white South Africans, in the main, still think black South Africans are lazy slobs; that every one of them is a criminal or a would-be criminal; and that the government is full of crooks because they are black; and that present-day crime has no relation whatsoever to the madness of the system white people invented, imposed and were happy to sacrifice almost anything and anyone for.

The point Cilliers makes is that most White South Africans have not really changed at all. The problem is, if they don’t change pretty soon, another dynamic may well kick into play. That scenario is not unlike the one playing itself out in Zimbabwe — where whites (and anyone in opposition, regardless of colour) are made into perennial scapegoats by a band of thugs and brigands, masquerading as revolutionary leadership. Cilliers’s point is that there isn’t a hell of a lot of time left for white people in this country to actually make friends with black people, so that together, we can craft a unified future.

I am grateful to Gordon Brown and David Cameron and the mostly white band of crooks they have leading their parties, for providing us with the comedy of errors which has been the case in British politics recently. I have been interested in the lack of comparison which white people in this country made with politicians in Britain. — the same people who usually dismiss our politicians as a band of incompetent crooks and who hanker for all things “civilised” (read British, European, Afrikaner or what-have-you).

And please, this is not to say that crime isn’t a problem and that idiots and lazy people don’t get employed, or that corruption isn’t becoming overwhelming. It always was a problem and it ­always will be a problem. It just isn’t a racial problem. That’s all. The racial problem in this country remains unchanged. It is still a white problem, by and large. That is what this book is about.

• Michael Worsnip is director: 2010 World Cup Unit, Western Cape Province, Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport. He writes in his personal capacity.

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