Being positive about South Africa: The White Kryptonite

Before I open what will surely be a can of worms I need to clarify that what I’m about to say is obviously not an all-encompassing blanket statement. I know that this observation (and maybe a bit of a rant) does not apply to all white South Africans and, in fact, it is my hope that many white South Africans who read this find solace in the fact we are not alone. Read this as both a call to action, and a condemnation of a very specific, but, unfortunately not uncommon, mindset prevalent among certain whites.

Now, with all that being said, here goes what will surely make me unpopular in the next few days.

As a white man, I often find myself in the company of other white people. As we socialise, the topic will inevitably veer towards politics and the state of the country. Now depending on the company, you are naturally expected to agree with the prevailing sentiment that everything is obviously going downhill. This is then followed by everyone’s carefully laid out Australian/Canadian/UK emigration plan. But then, suddenly, something unexpected happens: you don’t think South Africa is that bad and then you say the “P” word…you know which one I’m talking about: yes, positive. You’re positive about the future. Abruptly the conversation goes quiet, and people look at you as if you’ve just burst uninvited into an open casket funeral, walked up to the pew, and farted directly into the coffin. Being positive?! About South Africa! How DARE you! They recoil from you like a vampire from sunlight.

What then follows is a series of attacks (masquerading as arguments) filled with ironies, contradictions, opinions mistaken as facts, and some good old fashioned racism.

See, those who firmly believe South Africa is an irredeemable cesspool are somehow convinced that they’re the only ones who have their fingers on the pulse of truth. They believe that we (people who are positive) live in ivory towers and are completely incapable of reading the news. They’ll list all the easy low-hanging fruits: corruption, problematic crime levels, racial tension, and frightening inequalities (although the latter is often conveniently omitted), as if expecting that stating the obvious would suddenly awaken us from some imagined spell placed on us by the Unicorn King from Happy Gumdrop Land. 

“Wow! Really? There’s crime and corruption! And it’s on the news! Oh my goodness! How foolish I’ve been! I’ve been reading the back of cereal boxes to get my daily dose of news! How blind I’ve been!”

The easiest go-to argument is crime. We have a lot crime, and I am very aware of that. However, more often than not, those who complain about the crime have, at worst, been the victims of robbery or petty theft. Statistically speaking, living in your leafy suburb still makes you considerably less susceptible to real violent crime than someone who lives in an informal settlement. Regardless, with a self-righteous sneer they’ll proclaim “well, if you’re a victim of violent crime, then you’ll change your tune”.

Well yes, I have been the victim of a violent crime, and nearly lost both my parents. Did that make me turn my back on South Africa? No, if anything that simply made me aware how prevalent crime is, and that it transgresses boundaries of race, wealth, and privilege. And yes, I also know friends who lost loved ones due to crime, and they’re still here, sticking through the thick and thin.

Then there’s the usual ANC, corruption, and political mismanagement argument. It’s a well-rehearsed litany of complaints (many which are valid, unfortunately) listing all the government’s failings: Zuma, mismanagement, nepotism, junk status, lack of foreign investment etc. And yes, these are all real issues, I’m not trying to sweep these, or any of the above mentioned problems under the carpet. But I find that for this subset of whites there is absolutely no desire to remove their blinkers or change their vantage point. They fail to even entertain the idea that there are many South African, even in the ANC who actually do want to see South Africa prosper. For all the party’s MANY failings, what did they do when they lost the municipal elections: they took it on the chin. Was there wide spread anarchy and nationwide destruction? No. It was a much needed wakeup call for the party do some much needed fumigation.

Despite their atrocious governance, they still respect due process and the sanctity of the constitution. Remember when the Protection of State Information Bill was on the table? Where is it now? We hardly even hear of it. If our country was beyond corrupt, would something like the Zondo Commision even happen? Doubtful. With Zuma and his cronies being driven from their hidey holes, its evident someone is trying to fix this shattered porcelain plate, regardless of how long it might take. Do I have faith in the ANC? That’s dubious, but I do believe that within their ranks are good people, and they’re going to at least give fixing SA a shot.

We also have a very robust, aggressive, and ethically sound media that truly embody their role as society’s watchdog. Sure corruption and political misdeeds happen, but we, the citizens of South Africa, know about these. Why? Because our media hold the powerful accountable and have not kowtowed to government pressure. No, the last time the media was the government’s lapdog was during the apartheid years, just saying.

But then there is also just some good old fashioned racism. See, for many (not all, I hate to have to repeat this) white people living in South Africa, black will always be synonymous with incompetence. Blackness is also the reason for all their woes, if something goes wrong, it must’ve been a black person’s fault. Now the irony here is almost palpable. They see South Africa as a country on the verge of some black-opalypse, yet they sit comfy in their middleclass suburban homes, drive their cars to work, and binge-watch House of Cards on Netflix.

The suffering of the majority is of little consequence, but when a teacher from Schweizer-Reneke gets suspended on charges of racism it’s an injustice for the history books. Yet when a court of law declared her suspension be lifted, silence, not a word. Very seldom do these people praise our judicial system which, despite what many white people think, is fair, non-partisan, and racially unbiased.

When a white person is the victim of crime, then it’s cries of genocide and systematic slaughter of all Caucasians. But when horrific acts of criminality happen in black communities, well then it’s fine because, you know, that's "expected". They see crime as black-on-white, and seldom as South African-on-South African.

I found that there is also a very strong correlation between these people and the sharing of fake news: if they find a story from that publishes a story about Julius Malema eating a white baby, they’ll share it in an instant, because it fits their world view of black savagery. 

For these people no matter what good happens in the country, if a black person is somehow involved, they’ll be suspicious or believe there something foul afoot. I’m pretty sure if Jesus Christ came down to earth and he turned out to be black, there would be a good old fashioned Nazi-esque Bible burning.

Then, finally, it’s actually just easier to be negative. It’s easy to look at the situation at hand and see that as the only indicator of where we’re going. Even in Hans Rosling’s book Factfulness South Africans are rated as the 4th most negative people in a survey of over 30 countries. We seem to relish in hating our country. Because, being positive is hard. You have to zoom out, you have to take the long view, and you have to try empathy and seeing things from the other’s perspective. You have to check your biases and realise that facts and opinions aren’t one in the same. And this is hard. Challenging your belief structure is a colossal feat.

You also need to stop using shareable memes as a basis for your arguments, this should be self-evident.

For what it’s worth, Rosling also pointed out that, despite what we may believe the state of the world to be, it’s actually better off than it was 20 years ago. More people are educated; there is less war, less famine, and new diseases being cured. Hell, I remember when HIV was a fatal disease, and now it’s a chronic disease. And South Africa is also part of this mix.

But if it’s easier to go about your day being negative and resenting your country, go ahead, but don’t assume you’re not also wearing the same blindfold you accuse us positive whiteys of wearing.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
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