Melanie Verwoerd

Time for white people to say: 'not in my name'

2018-05-02 08:08

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In 2003 during the American invasion of Iraq Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the top selling female band of all times, the Dixie Chicks, said the following at a concert in London: "We're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas."

The small clip went viral and those 12 words cost the group very dearly. Christian and independent radio stations boycotted their songs, sales of their albums plummeted, sponsors withdrew, concerts were cancelled, and their lives were under constant threat – all because the three women (who are also from Texas) dared to say: "Not in my name."

I was thinking about all of this last week after an effigy of MEC Panyaza Lesufi was hung in front of his office in Johannesburg – apparently by a group of white men protesting against the decision to declare certain Afrikaans schools dual medium.

Let me firstly say that one of the best things you can offer your child is the capacity to function in more than one language. I attended a dual medium primary school and became fairly fluent in English during that time – something I am very thankful for. My children are fluent in English and Afrikaans and also speak French (we are now trying to learn Xhosa as well). 

As much as I love the language of my birth and know that I still express the feelings of my heart best in Afrikaans, I also know that in order to participate constructively in the discussions of this country and the world, I need to be able to do that in more languages than just Afrikaans. But that more as an aside.

What really depressed me, is that every time a Penny Sparrow, Spur or KFC drive-through incident happens, it is taken as typical of all whites and particularly Afrikaners. 

But here's the thing: A huge number of whites and Afrikaners are deeply ashamed of what these guys do and say.

Of course, I understand the temptation to see this as typical of the white population – I often catch myself thinking the same – as happened again recently. I am frequently asked to take part on Afrikaans radio presumably because I represent an alternative position to that of the majority of listeners. 

One morning someone called in and criticised Mandela for being a terrorist and for being corrupt. I got hot under the collar and corrected him firmly, with a bit more passion than usual. I also told him why I felt his words were so hurtful and damaging to millions of people in the country.

Later in the programme I was asked how people could contact me and I gave out my email address. Expecting a barrage of hate mail, I immediately regretted doing it. As soon as the programme ended emails flooded in, but to my great surprise only one of the almost 100 emails criticised me. All the others thanked me for taking the man on. Every one of the writers expressed a level of shame and wanted the opportunity to say, "not in my name".

The problem is that very rarely do people say it out loud – possibly because they fear the reactions of family and friends. Believe me, I know it is not easy to speak out. Over the years I have lost many friends, I have been on hit lists, family ties have been broken and hate mail became a daily companion – all for speaking out.

But if there is one thing I know for sure, it is that it is time for whites to be brave and to say in large numbers: "Not in my name."

It is not good enough to march when we think Jacob Zuma is a bad president, but when whites do these evil things assume that our fellow citizens know that we are against it and therefore stay quiet. To repeat the much-quoted saying: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good wo/men to do nothing."

As whites and as Afrikaners, we have to let our fellow citizens know that we despise these actions. More importantly, we have to also let the perpetrators know that they do not represent us. They are a minority that are despised by not only the ANC or EFF, but by all of us. If we don’t, we will carry a large burden of responsibility for the ever increasing gap between the different races in our country.

This is the responsibility of every person in this country, but as the previous oppressors we do have a bigger obligation when some still exhibit these bigoted, racist actions of our forefathers.

So let me say to those who spew racism on social media and in conversations, those who hang effigies, those who write inflammatory messages to foreign MPs and those who exhibit the old flag: I am ashamed of you and you are NOT doing it in my name. What is more: I also know that you are not doing it in the name of millions of other white South Africans.

I (and others) will continue to say that, because we know if we don’t your evil will triumph.

And to the silent masses who need a bit of inspiration: Have a look at the documentary "Shut up and Sing" about the Dixie Chicks, who, by the way, went back to London after three years of hell. Their concert was as big as ever and at the end Natalie Maines bravely said: "We are still ashamed that our president comes from Texas."

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    race relations  |  white privilege  |  race

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