White privilege, black poverty and the DA offer

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Mmusi Maimane's comments about white privilege and black poverty has understandably put people on the defensive and offensive, and attracted praise and rebuke.

Discourse on race today exposes our hypersensitivities, and how far we are off the "Madiba-track" we started together in 1994. Mention of "black", "brown" (broadly Coloured, Khoi, San, Malay, Indian, etc.) or "white" predictably reduces debate to finger-pointing and name-calling.  

South Africans are better than this.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, despite intent, was an opportunity lost. It merely taped a plaster over a deep, raw and septic wound. Across racial groups, we feel the unresolved hurt and anger caused by a history of oppression and division. 

Twenty-four years of ANC government has betrayed us all. Political leadership has been irresponsible by dividing instead of uniting, blaming instead of taking responsibility for its own failures, and increasing inequality rather than "together moving South Africa forward".

White individuals feel their sense of belonging is threatened. Brown individuals feel disregarded by the binary talk of white and black. Black individuals still feel excluded, and their hurt and anger is ignored. 

This is why the DA must lead. Despite the early manipulation of his remarks, Maimane has decisively led the DA and South Africa to put racial inequality first on the agenda for deliberation.   

We must not shy away from this duty, because it will not abate. Neglected, it could escalate into civil violence. If we each share our individual stories and listen with empathy we can find solutions to realise our hopes for one South Africa for all.

When two people are feuding, it takes just one of the parties to dissipate tension by taking the responsibility to reach out. One small step to facilitate a giant leap toward authentic reconciliation.

Race science generated white supremacist beliefs that justified the oppression and persecution of non-whites. Centuries of colonial settlement entrenched aggregate structural euro-centric domination in global society, economy, and politics. 

We need not apologise, feel guilty or vilified. The sins of our forefathers are not our own. 

There are many poor white and rich black individuals, but they form statistical margins. Statistics show us that in a 400m race white people generally had a 4 second head start and fewer hurdles to clear.

Acknowledging white privilege does not mean white individuals have not suffered hunger, homelessness or hardship, nor does it take away from historical facts that white individuals were conquered, enslaved and oppressed; but this is not a qualification of the fact white privilege is real. 

I had the white privilege of a wide selection of dolls that reflected my image; today I hardly find toy people that match that of my son's. The shampoo in hotels cater for my hair-type, but not my son's.

My selection of haircare products is an aisle long, while my son's is lumped in the "ethnic" section. "Nude" refers to the colour of underwear, stockings or makeup that matches my skin tone.

If I mark "white" on a loan application, this holds more weight than my payslip, because it is assumed I have more collateral.

Similarly, it is a privilege to have "ability". I can walk up a flight of stairs, but someone in a wheelchair cannot.

A "language" privilege is easily finding news, textbooks, government gazettes, in a language I understand. My articulation of English infers I am educated and competent.

Men dominating decision making positions and earning 27% more than their female colleagues is "male privilege". 

This is why we purposefully redress these imbalances by building ramps, translating and expanding language usage, and focus gender equality and empowerment.  

It would be moot to agree that these privileges exist, but not concede on white privilege.

Importantly, these redress measures are not privileges, not even manufactured privilege.

Admitting these privileges does not undermine the value, talent and self-made successes of disabled, English speaking, women, or non-white individuals. Many individuals without privilege have exceled through their own talent, tenacity and toil.

The DA's fight on the land issue is a case in point. Historically, white individuals had a legislated privilege of owning land. This does not mean all white people owned land. We know non-white individuals were forcefully removed from their homes and their right to own land outlawed. This contributed to black poverty.

The DA wants to protect property rights in terms of section 25 of the Constitution, while expediting land reform and restitution to redress a past injustice. Redress does not seek to "take away" from individuals who have already worked hard to use opportunity to become successful, but raise the standard of living of individuals excluded from opportunity.

The Constitution of South Africa is fundamental to the DA and is the source document for articulating the DA's values and liberal policy. In the main, we believe South Africans genuinely recognise the injustices of the past. It is a small step forward to acknowledge white privilege and a giant leap toward real healing of the divisions of our past.

Acknowledging white privilege does not take away from honouring all those who suffered for liberating our country, respecting those who worked to build South Africa, or from believing South Africa belongs to all those who live in it.

The DA values reconciliation to bring real effect to the intention of our Constitution. The most powerful resource we have as a country is the energy of individual South Africans, united in diversity, working together in shared hope for a shared goal. Valuing diversity amplifies this belief. 

The DA value of redress demands neither apology nor self-flagellation, and it does not suggest individuals are victims or helpless. The value stems from recognising broad social, political and economic disadvantage. This informs policy intent on reducing inequality by purposely giving hand-up opportunity to individuals who need it. 

The DA I joined is bold, resolute and unapologetic of its values. We demand to be judged by history, not misrepresentation or condemnation. We also believe that when politicking is put aside, South Africans share these values.

The DA has made proclamations on other sensitive issues in the past. We have the security and strength in our policies that intend to address the injustices of the past.  

Our mission is to remove the ANC from government so that we can implement our policies.

To initiate the total change we need we must rip off the plaster, dig out the rotting flesh, and heal our wound. We need to affirm white privilege exists, that the face of poverty is black, and that there is a historical juxtaposition between the two.

The DA's vision, and South Africans' shared hope of one South Africa for all depends on it.

- Stander is a Member of Parliament and DA shadow deputy minister for women in the Presidency.

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

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