Mmusi Maimane | Open letter to white South Africans

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One SA Movement leader and former DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
One SA Movement leader and former DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
Jan Gerber, News24

Mmusi Maimane has written an open letter to white South Africans, saying the rising trend of division and fearmongering should be rejected as the country tackles racialised politics. 


Dear white South Africans,

I write this open letter to those of you, the overwhelming majority, who want this country to work. To those who desire to build a united, reconciled South Africa that is an example to the world.

To those who are tired of being blamed for all South Africa's woes. To those who are incensed by the grand-scale theft and corruption within the government.

To those who feel homeless in their country of birth, without a political home and without a progressive voice representing their hope, dreams and ambitions.

To those who want to stay and play their part in bridging our racial, social and cultural divides.

To the bridge builders who don't see themselves in the divisive, racialised politics of today - whether on the side of the ANC and EFF, or the other side of the DA and the VF+.

This letter is an invitation to you. An invitation to a dialogue. To a conversation about a new way of bringing about change in this country we call our home.

Fear 

This stems out of a time I recently spent with my wife, a white South African woman, who expressed her genuine fears as to what her role is in today's South Africa. In particular, how our interracial marriage informs this.

You see, our union is an offence to black and white nationalists for different reasons. And each side will tell her a different narrative. On the left, she's told she is the enemy, yet on the right she's told she is being targeted and persecuted for simply having a white skin.

Both are of course untrue, yet this is a dilemma many white South Africans face today. And this is being fuelled by politicians - red, blue, green - the whole lot.

The beneficiaries of the race divisions are the extremist politicians and extremist movements, they are able to gain traction and funding from fanning the flames of racial divisions. In truth, it is not in their interests to find pathways to unity rather they are rewarded by the continuation and escalation of conflict.

Let's begin a new way, one in which we reject this rising trend of division and fearmongering, and roll up our sleeves to build a tolerant and progressive new majority.

First, let me be clear and unambiguous: my honest desire is for each one of us as citizens to be proud of our identity. No one should ever deny any citizen the right to do so. Be that black, white, gay, straight, Christian, atheist, Afrikaans or Zulu.

I believe strongly diversity is South Africa's great unique strength and the majority of citizens want to work together, despite our innate differences.

READ | Mmusi Maimane: We must reject race and culture wars

This is the continuation of our 1994 miracle that despite our yesterday, we never desired to kill or destroy each other but rather to build one nation. That resolve is being tested today as we speak, but it is one we should never lose or we risk poisoning future generations with fear and miseducation about others.

Let me also be frank, as a white South African you are as much a citizen of this country as any other citizen. Second class citizenry was left behind when we became a democracy in 1994.

However, being part of the nation doesn't mean you are only part of the good times when the Springboks win or when Jacob Zuma resigns. You are also a citizen in the bad times; you are a citizen when we are faced with our unequal society, one that left many black South Africans disadvantaged.

This is where I plead with you to do more. Sacrifice more. Be more intentional about how you can right the wrongs of the past. Instead of telling people to get over apartheid, help them get over the legacy of apartheid that still holds them and their loved ones back. Now more than ever, we need bridge builders.

This letter is not to condemn you or apportion blame but a genuine invitation to be part of the change. You may feel alienated and not know where to start - I urge you to start wherever you find yourself right now.

Our country has the highest level of unemployment in the world. This is no one's fault, but everyone's burden and responsibility. When we started the One South Africa Movement, we wanted to create a platform that breaks down divisions and promotes building a nation that prospers together and lives peacefully. Make no mistake, that will never materialise until we achieve a significant level of economic inclusion and shared prosperity.

The facts are uncomfortable, but that does not change them. Income distribution among black and white is at a six to one ratio. This means income for white South Africans is six times that of black South Africans.

When we reflect on economic inclusion, unemployment among white South Africans is at 6% while it is 40% for black South Africans. Quality of life is equivalent to that of First World countries for most white South Africans, and not because you are white but because of income.

This while the majority of people who are poor happen to be black. We cannot run away from this fact, and more so, we cannot run away from fixing it. That is how we bridge the trust deficit and build a united and inclusive South Africa.  

Education 

Educational outcomes mirror this inequality. My children are privileged to go to Quintile 5 public schools that are majority white. But they are not only majority white; they have access to a top-tier education, brilliant teachers who are dedicated, and a safe nurturing environment where they can flourish.

In comparison, my sister's children attend a Quintile 1 school. Her children have a fundamentally different experience from day one of school. Therefore, we must innovate as to how we create partnerships that build a fair education system for all citizens. We must unite in pursuit of these goals. Otherwise, we simply perpetuate the cycle of poverty based on race which we see now.

Socially, we all need to express the grace required to build our nation. True nation building extends to every facet of our lives. It is what happens in our homes and with the people we work with. Our attitudes must firstly demonstrate our shared interests rather than our demonisation of the other because of race. 

READ | Mmusi Maimane: Choose reconciliation over the politics of race and division

We cannot skip ahead to a non-racial South Africa without doing the hard work required to undo the injustices of apartheid, we have done some of that work but the job is incomplete. Our present goal should be to create a society that is racially cohesive, where there is empathy for injustices of the past, tolerance for difference and a deliberate pursuit of redress for those left behind.

Beyers Naudè's bold activism against the racial prejudice that existed in his church came at a heavy price and costly sacrifice. His own Afrikaner community isolated, ostracised and painfully victimised him. Needless to say, Oom Bey was a white South African who took a stance against apartheid under unbearable times. I wish to urge white compatriots to follow his gallant example as we fight for a united South Africa today.

As a South African, you are a critical part of the solution to our country's challenges. And failure to play your part has dire consequences for all 60 million South Africans. We have political parties beset on blaming you for all our problems and political parties who pretend to defend you against these.

Polarisation 

Political parties like the EFF/ANC and the DA/FF+ represent a polarisation of races. Indeed, this is the age of swart gevaar versus white monopoly capital. Let's not fall for it, we are better than this.

There is a new way. I am working to build a Movement for all South Africans. One South Africa, where we can work together and directly elect the best candidates to the government that represent all of us.

I want to tell you that there is hope. We are in the majority; the dividers are in the minority. We can fix the trust deficit between races in South Africa and we can achieve the dream of a united, prosperous and reconciled South Africa.

Because we know who South Africa really is.

South Africa is hope and change. South Africa is expression and action. South Africa is we can and we did.

South Africa is not just fighting, but finding something worth fighting for.

Let's begin. We have much work ahead.

Yours sincerely,

Mmusi Maimane (OSA chief activist).


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