Let go of the anger


Max du Preez

Sometimes, just sometimes, I have a weak moment where I think: yes, perhaps those who want whites to just shut up and only comment on their “own affairs” have a point.

Last week I wrote on social media that I accept that people who throw excrement in public places have legitimate causes - like the removal of Cecil John Rhodes’s statue from UCT, something I have proposed for years.

But then I asked whether these poo protestors ever stop and think about what poor worker would have to clean up after them. Doesn’t that amount to disrespecting workers, I asked.

A bucket of poo was immediately dumped on my head. How dare I, a white male, prescribe to black people how they should protest against colonialism and apartheid? Surely I must be a racist if I don’t simply shut up or agree with any methods used to protest.

Don't shut up and be quiet

On Sunday I expressed my sadness at the passing of minister Collins Chabane on Facebook and Twitter. Within an hour I was inundated by white reactions that Chabane was probably drunk; that he was driving too fast and thus did not care about the laws of the country; that South Africa was becoming a banana republic. Vitriol, rather than empathy with the death of an exemplary public figure. I simply had to remove my posts from Facebook and Twitter.

No, of course I don’t believe white people and other minorities should shut up and be quiet in a little corner. It would be in nobody’s interests if whites were to retreat into a volkstaat of the mind.

I don’t even have to add that those of us who benefited from the historical oppression of the black majority should be sensitive about what we say in public and how we say it so we won’t give unnecessary offence or are misunderstood. Any utterance smacking of denial of the impact of apartheid or of continued white privilege is offensive.

But it is time we found other ways of talking to each other. We specialise in outrage and blind anger. We are all victims. We scream at each other and insult each other. And we don’t get anywhere. We just get more worked up and unhappy. Reasonable and reconciliatory approaches are condemned as selling out or sucking up.

Too many whites moan about the deterioration of service delivery and about corruption without acknowledging that their quality of life today is higher than two decades ago and that much of the country is still functioning very well. Too many are so caught up in their arrogant cocoons to see that the only real poverty and suffering are among the black majority. Sensitive issues such as affirmative action, black economic empowerment, crime and farm attacks are abused as sjamboks wielded indiscriminately and with great anger.

Just under the surface, is the feeling I mostly get, lies the feeling that “black” equals “incompetent”.

Too many voices from the black community simply focus on white privilege with little attention being paid to how the governments since 1994 have failed to bring about a more just society. Too few articulate what they think should be done to create a society where most citizens feel happy and acknowledged.

It is too simplistic to simply blame the white community in 2015 of perpetuating black poverty after 1994.

Be more honest and realistic

Brad Cibane wrote in a column for News24 Voices last week: “White South Africans need to hold up their end of the negotiated settlement. Equal sharing of resources (like land and minerals), equal access to the economy and a commitment to majoritarian democracy are essential components of the compromise.”

I, too, wish that white business people would go the extra mile to give black people more access to the economy and pay their employees properly.

But how does Cibane propose that resources like land and minerals be shared equally? Should this not happen as part of a government-led process rather than whiteys abandoning their property? Any project aimed at broadening the base of wealth should be shepherded by the elected government of the day. And there are ample examples that prove that simply taking away from some and giving to others can have seriously detrimental unintended consequences.

Opinion formers from all quarters should be more honest about the real roots of people’s frustrations and anger, and more realistic about what could practically be done to get to a state where most citizens feel that their aspirations and dreams can be fulfilled.

We should choose a better future above self-righteousness and anger for the sake of anger.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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