Max du Preez

Weighing the benefits

2008-05-07 08:39

Max du Preez

I've been a columnist for more than a decade, lately contributing to two newspaper groups and two magazines. But writing a column in cyberspace is completely different.

Columnists in the print media are happy if a particular column generates one letter to the editor in reaction. It is seen as proof that your column is being read.

Where my most controversial newspaper columns would sometimes elicit three or four letters, I can get more than a hundred responses from News24 readers within the first few hours of the column being published. (Those that aren't published on the website get sent straight to me.)

Yes, it's great to have such strong and immediate feedback. Some of the responses are really intelligent and considered, even if they're sometimes very critical of my opinions.

But here's my gripe of the week. Too many of the responses are entirely predictable and shows how prejudiced and stuck in our ways South Africans have become.

When I wrote about Thabo Mbeki's scandalous behaviour regarding Zimbabwe, almost all black readers defended him and questioned my bona fides - you're a white racist, that's why, some would state outright.

At the same time all the white reactionaries would crawl out of the woodwork and applaud my criticism - many adding that South Africa under the ANC was heading the same way as Zim.

This is true for almost every one of the columns I have written for News24 over the last year or so. The darkies applaud me when I criticise whites or condemn some form of racism, and the whiteys call me an ANC arse licker or a communist traitor. And when I criticise the ANC or some black personality or institution, the whiteys applaud me and the darkies call me a racist.

Thank goodness for those of you who don't fall into this stereotype. My hopes for normality in our society in my lifetime rest on people like you.

Letting rip

I was having lunch with a few white people on Sunday when I was reminded of this phenomenon. The cartoonist Zapiro had a cartoon in the Sunday Times with the words "Some of the whites who did not benefit from apartheid" on top of a completely blank space.

One white guy let rip: This is hate speech, why do people have the right to insult whites but not blacks, this is completely untrue, blah blah blah. And the other pale ones joined in explaining how they did not benefit from apartheid.

I looked at them and at their cars in the driveway. They were all a lot richer than I am - my car was the only one in the driveway that cost under R350 000 and I was the only one without a huisie by die see. Several of them had children at university or living abroad. The wealthiest one among them inherited the family business which his grandfather started.

Now let me talk for myself for a minute here. I benefited tremendously from apartheid, as did my parents and my children. My father was a fairly well-off businessman and I never knew one single day of hunger or shame because of a lack of appropriate clothes.

I went to good schools and to a good university (Stellenbosch) afterwards. By the time I was 25, I had been to Europe three times.

I walked into my first job (at the Cape newspaper Die Burger) straight after my last exam. I've had a good career. My children have never had a day without healthy meals and good clothes and my two adult children now have good jobs and successful, happy lives.

If my father had been born from a family of black peasant farmers in a Bantustan somewhere or of labourers in a squatter camp during the worst days of apartheid, what would have been the chances of me having a life like that? Zero. Zilch.

I probably would have been jailed for resisting apartheid as a youth or even shot. Or I would simply have become a farm worker or a labourer living in a squatter camp myself.

No big deal

I also have a laatlammetjie who was born long after 1994. She cannot take any blame for what my generation and my father's generation did through apartheid.

But there is also no way I can say she did not benefit from apartheid. Most of her friends and school mates live in squalor in the township and their parents are labourers or domestic workers. She is a privileged child because of my privilege and that of my parents. And that privilege came with our white skins during the apartheid era.

It's no big deal admitting all this to oneself. But it does change the way one looks at this society today. It tends to make one slightly more thankful and humble.

Having said all this, I must add that I'm equally irritated by the fact that those black people who most often and most aggressively remind white South Africans of their "wealth" are not the workers or the poor.

Like Thabo Mbeki who keeps harping on about the "two nations, one white and rich and the other black and poor", they are mostly black South Africans with lots of power and lots of money.

Perhaps it is also time for the new black elite to come clean on their privileged lives and stop bitching while there's a BMW or two parked in the garage.

Send your comments to Max.

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