i have loved the conversation going on in the comments section of the blog piece Nkosi wrote for me on First Steps White South Africans can make towards a really new South Africa. My friend Lex passed on a response from her friend, Sindile, which i thought would be good to use as a standalone post as i’m sure it will also generate some good conversation. So we would love to hear from you and please take part in the spirit of working towards transformation that has been so strong thus far. But this is what Sindile Vabaza had to say on the matter.
Let me begin by saying that the title of this piece bothers me a lot because embedded within it are some potentially tricky issues which are often left untouched.
Who gets to define this really new South Africa and who gives them this right and before that can we in any real sense talk about what people can do to bring this promised land about without agreeing on some baseline requirements?
That is what I want to focus on.
What I believe we need to agree on as South Africans.
Firstly I think we need to stress that important issues of challenging Apartheid’s spatial legacy, of redress, of land and of economic and social transformation have to be rooted and situated in the historical narrative of the liberation movement, namely that South Africa is a grand project in non-racialism and non-sexism, a nation that seeks to cast off the restrictive, bigoted, racist, sexist and homophobic past and become a place where there is neither ‘black’ domination or ‘white’ domination, a place where all South Africans have the right to self define and self actualise and reach their potential.
In framing it in that context, we must then look at all the numerous ways in which we must change society to achieve that end.
It seems to me that one of the main reasons many white people do not want to talk about hot button issues like those mentioned above is that they are often framed out of their proper historical context and dripping with racial antagonism.
We must all admit that the debates in this country are dripping with racial antagonism.
One of the ways I have serendipitously avoided and have remained untainted by this antagonism is that over the years I have built meaningful relationships with people from different racial backgrounds. This experience conditioned my sensitivity to multiple perspectives and vantage points that exist within and about the country.
There is simply no substitute for relationship.
What these relationships have led me to doing is going on a journey to finding a principled approach to the country’s problem but one that takes into account that there needs to be a measure of self-interest if we want people to change their minds and behaviour, in fact how I present different issues to people is conditioned by the insights I have gained from this approach.
Let’s take the issue of transformation in sport for example. Many people fall at the issue of quotas. I personally disagree with quotas but fully support transformation.
Sport has two basic elements:
The ability to compete and competition itself.
Not being serious about transformation means that a large sector of society(mostly young, poor black athletes cannot compete on a fair basis with their economically well off counterparts) and quotas kill the competition aspect itself by entitling a sector of society to a sport’s team.
The proper response to this inequality is development and intensive skills transfer programs with coaches in disadvantaged areas(a self-interest point for them), what this also does is open up the possibilities of growing rugby as a game both sportingly and commercially(a self-interest point for administrators and white south africans in general who support the game). Growing the sport this way means that rugby can become not only a unifying force in the country, it will mean that rugby players can be kept by smaller unions, meaning increased competition and a bigger talent pool for both super rugby and the Springboks(a self-interest point for all South Africans and something which achieves the end goals of the country as a whole)
This kind of thinking can be applied to a whole number of social issues and can serve in some instances in moving the needle forward on an issue, in others it can solve the seemingly intractable conundrums and in others it can make solutions incredibly obvious.
This is why I believe this kind of baseline agreement between all of us as South Africans is so important. It gives us a foundation point from which to debate and work issues out without being fearful of being labelled ‘racist’ or ‘token black’ or whatever other labels. It also gives us a uniting point from which we can unanimously reject lunatics like Steve Hofmeyr and movements like Red October.
Combined with relationship building I believe this kind of thing can be a powerful tool with which South Africans in all their varying contexts can begin imagining a different and better future for us all especially future generations, because no empty rules and suggestions can ever substitute for the real humanity that comes from mutuality, understanding and indeed respect and love, and that’s the point, there are no rules to how white people and black people should interact because our skin colour is fundamentally meaningless(an evolutionary by-product of the weather), it is our base instincts and the architects of racialism like the Apartheid government that made us believe that such a thing is a dividing point for humanity; like the machines of Matrix, they constructed a false world for us while draining our souls and our humanity and using some of us for cheap slave labour for their uber capitalist projects.
Race says nothing of who you really are because it predisposes a person towards nothing and in fact is a slave to other concerns like culture, politics, economics and geography.
So what should white people do in this country? Same thing as everyone else: do the difficult work of reclaiming their humanity and situating themselves in the larger narrative and dream of non-racialism that undergirds this nation at it’s most fundamental level