i won’t lie, writing about Race in South Africa can feel a little daunting.
Especially when you have been out of the country for three years – one of the things i didn’t want to do was come charging in with all the answers and so i chose instead to use my little platform to create a space and invite some people to share their thoughts.
There have been a whole bunch of conversations about different aspects of Race that happened before we got home from three years in Americaland.
Upon coming home, a good and trusted friend, Linda Martindale, introduced me to Nkosi Gola and told me i had to connect with him and so i invited him to write a piece which he generously did and which you can read over here.
54 comments later [which never happens on my blog unless someone thinks i hate animals] the conversation has become so rich that some other posts have been happening over here.
What has blown me away [in the best of ways] has been how those who have engaged with the posts have done so with huge grace and humility – i’m not sure where the Trollpeople are vacationing this week, but their absence has allowed incredible dialogue to flow.
So first prize is that you take 30 minutes [or whatever it takes] and read Nkosi’s post and then Sindile’s and the comments that followed each of them. And then follow by reading the rest of the articles in this series which i am hoping will continue to grow.
But for those who won’t make the time to do that, i wanted to lift a few of the comments out and share them with you as they are just too good to not be seen by more people. This is seriously just a highlights package cos the conversation there is so so good, and these are not even necessarily the best of, but just some goodness i saw as i was reading through them again:
In response to Nkosi’s post we firstly have some excellent back and forth between him and Mike T which is just too much to stick in this post but go and check it out.
But also these:
In lieu of what Gola said, many white people have the misconception that when one speaks of justice and restitution they speak of purporting violence and crime against white people, however, that is not the case.
The real issue is that even though apartheid has “ended”, the black majority of the country still live in undignified, sub-standard and very poor conditions thanks to the institutions left behind by apartheid and other capitalist, fascist actions that were enacted against the black nation.
Now the effects of those are still felt today, were equality isn’t equality at all. Quoting from George Orwell’s book, The Animal Farm, they had six commandments, one stood out for me till today, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.
Now if we move away from the people we will never understand and resolve any issues regarding our society which is what the institutions of apartheid left behind. White minority still rules the country whether we choose to accept that or not. This is what is happening today, all those that are in power have moved away from the people and those who are in an unfair position of comfort with wealth they acquired in a very unfair manner. We live in a country with one of the highest income inequalities in the world, now if we keep on sugar coating things, the country or the majority will never heal nor move forward.
In isiXhosa we say, “isilonda siphila ngothunukwa”, meaning we need to go to where it hurts the most in order to heal of which many whites fear to do.
We are not purporting violence on the white nation but rather the reparation and the restoration of dignity and pride to the black nation.
Great to hear this perspective. I think, personally, there are a few issues.
1. Social justice and activism are actually not always the same thing. I think it’s important to note that a lot of activism is just self-righteous posturing that really favours those doing the activism more than the supposed people they are standing up for. Jesus was not an activist – I don’t seem him being one in any part of the scriptures. That ought to tell us to make a distinction between real social justice and today’s versions of it.
2. All fair and well until we get to the DA bit. I couldn’t care much for the DA, personally – I see them as nanny-statish for one, and too Western for another. This leads into my main point: Nkosi, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree. The problem isn’t the DA or the whiteness dynamic as much as the importing and veneration of Western thinking and ideas as superior and *right.* When we need South African solutions for South Africans, both the ANC, DA and most of the other options (and let’s face it, there aren’t really options) are selling us into the global, predominantly Western, market-driven individualistic narrative where success and economical power is basically the point of life. This is seen to be the saviour of our problems. Even our ties with China and socialism still perpetuate the same narrative: that economics is everything. This runs directly against the Gospel at every point – and churches have bought into it. Jesus was pro-poor, but not because he valued economics as highly as our current culture believes we all should.
To make my case a little more clear, I find it strange that on weekends our malls are full but our museums are struggling. We value the almighty Rand and the here-and-now more than we value our heritage and our future. As much as black guys want to talk about their heritage and their people, at every turn I’m seeing them sell themselves out to the economics-is-everything narrative. Old Zuma is a case in point: our highest form of leadership seems to think only in terms of Rands than in terms of Sense.
Important though to be clear that those of us who are Christians are not aiming for a Western or an African mindset (I am not sure if in many parts of South Africa we can even untangle them any more?) We must beware of making the Western mindset all wrong and the African all right in reaction to the opposite being (almost?) true for so long. We must aim to bring both of them under the scrutiny of Scripture and begin to develop a deeply biblical mindset. There is of course always the danger that one or the other tradition will dominate, as it has in the past, which is why I suggest that we need to learn to read Scripture in community with a variety of different racial, theological and economic voices and in so doing begin to get closer to understanding the heart of the passage.
Nkosi, I found your piece an interesting and informative read. Your highlight a number of things that South Africans, specifically white South Africans, should take note of if they are ever to understand and appreciate their black colleagues and neighbours.
I think you hit the nail on the head when you point out the communal worldview found in African cultures (e.g. the community taking responsibility for raising a child, not just the immediate family) versus the individualistic worldview so pervasive in western cultures. “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, but then, “I think, therefore I am”… Unfortunately, a failure to understand and accept another culture’s worldview is a great hindrance to unifying people from different backgrounds. Just as folk from a western background find it hard to accept that their black colleague or friend cannot be understood or interacted with in a vacuum, totally separate from their family, clan, neighbours, community, etc, people from an African background criticise white individuals’ attempts at reaching out to black individuals, trying to make a difference to the people they know while not being so interested in their whole community. Both groups still struggle to understand what is important to the other, criticising the other group for not focussing on the things they think are crucial and will take the country forward. I appreciate your perspective on this, and I think white folk should read and take it to heart. However, (and this is probably politically totally incorrect), might I suggest that your sharp rejection of some white people’s attempts at reaching out to black folk from within their own cultural worldview indicates a need for growth and understanding also in your perspective as a black South African?
Without wanting to sound critical, however, I do have a few issues with some of your points. First, I would like to understand what exactly you are suggesting when you talk about voluntary vs. enforced justice. I stand to be corrected, but the enforced justice you promote seems to suggest a communist framework. Is that in fact what you are saying? If so, I think that (and your strong criticism against the DA and Madiba/Tutu) is a major issue. Among other things, communism has time and again proved to be a model which eventually runs countries, their economies and people into the ground, causing untold suffering. Just think of the former USSR, Ethiopia, etc. You quote the early church in Acts as an ideal Christian example. However, it seems to me that their sharing their possessions with their brothers and sisters was an entirely voluntary (and commendable) act rather than an enforced, communist-type system. Ananias and Sapphira were told by the apostle Peter that their property was theirs to do with as they chose and that they did not have to sell it nor give the full price to the church. Their sin was in pretending that they had given the full amount, as many others had done willingly. Instead of some enforced political system of “justice” which can (and will) be abused, those early Christians seemed to obey their conscience, with everyone doing what they could, out of sincere love for their fellow believers and reverence for God.
I do agree wholeheartedly with you, however, that more can and must be done about the conscience of (in)justice in our world and also South Africa. That is such a vast and crucial topic that I do not even want to venture there in this already lengthy comment.
Also, I am not quite sure what you are trying to say about training. On the one hand, you seem to brush it off as a relatively low priority (with the right to urinate and play football on the land as apparently more crucial than training in how to develop it for the benefit of the whole nation). On the other hand, you accuse white people of withholding knowledge and skills transfer from black folk, apparently so they (the whites) can maintain their position of power. I am not sure that I understand what you are suggesting in this area.
Your point about the injustice of not having access to land is a very good one. Although I do take issue with your suggestions (or at least with what I understand them to be), I think the hurt and indignity of being treated as if one were not a part of the land, in this case specifically black South Africans, is hard to even imagine for those not affected by it. This cry should be heard loud and clear! This wound should be attended to with the necessary compassion and care. I do not think, however, I could get excited about a model that fails to also consider the long-term effects on the nation as a whole, setting the country on a course leading to abject poverty and suffering (as in famine and starvation, not just having too little). Two wrongs don’t make a right!
Then, I think claiming that Africans were living in peace before the Europeans arrived is not a very accurate statement. Bloodshed, wars, tribal rivalries (cattle raids, etc.), chasing other groups off their land, were most definitely not unknown in Africa before the advent of the colonial era. There are enough reliable accounts testifying that these things were as alive and well in Africa (and Southern Africa) as elsewhere in the world. I do not think it unfair to say that, being sinful human beings no different from anyone else, Africans have also caused injustice and suffering to others, the strong oppressing and exploiting the weak. No better nor any worse than any other humans sharing this planet. This of course is not at all meant to negate the wrongs committed by the colonial powers, especially in places such as Africa, the Americas, Southeast Asia and Australia. There is no doubt that black (South) Africans have suffered and been exploited by white colonialists for a long time. Let no-one claim that justice was done to the non-white people of South Africa under the previous regime! Let no-one despise the wound of the black South African soul.
So, these are my thoughts, and responses after reading your thought-provoking post. Perhaps I am misunderstanding some of what you are trying to say; I would be happy to be corrected if I am.
Peace, mzalwane. A o tlhabelwe ke letsatsi. Konke kube hele, kube chosi kuwe.
I just read all of this now. THANK YOU Nkosivumile. And everyone who engaged.
Sometimes we avoid the obvious answer because it is just unimaginable. Is that true for whites today?
Just want to point out a few things I’m taking away from this:
– Questioning the dominance of economics-related thinking in my own understanding of SA’s challenges, and
– The importance of not thinking that economic restoration is the only kind of restoration blacks (broad term) need. Yes, poverty and a sense of indignity seem to go together but the way people like you Nkosi talk about land redistribution is really driving home for me that healing of the black wound will be economic empowerment AND … everything else that we would want for our own families. It is embarassing that sometimes we simplify South Africa’s problem to just mean alleviating poverty.What do I want for my sister, for my husband? When someone asks me how is my sister or my husband, do I say “fine, they are earning an income”? No I think of how they are doing in their everything-ness, their holistic thing that the word “dignity” doesn’t begin to capture but it’s like dignity x wholeness x shalom. Now when that is what I want for everyone in SA, what action does that prompt in me?
And I mean talk to a successful rich black person, in government or business or wherever, and once they start to trust you, if they have been honest with themselves, this profound sense of worry and pain and guilt starts coming out because things are not yet okay and now they are somehow complicit. Which leads me to the second point
– I mean we are all told about Ubuntu the whole time but something about reading this conversation made me really how it is really Ubuntu at work in rich black people’s hearts and tells them it is not yet okay. I’m taking a deeper understanding of that away.
– I agree DA makes me sick because somewhere deep down on a psychological level everything is just so wrong. But sadly this conversation brings me no closer to articulating that in a way that other white people can hear. Either you sense it or you don’t, but that’s not very helpful.
– If neither ANC nor DA are really deeply considering “involuntary justice” then I am still searching dude. I look at Malema and I don’t see him ever getting the support of the black middle class whom I think we are going to need especially if 90% of whites are going to leave when involuntary justice happens. So, still searching. And until I can support a party that can bring structural change what do I do? Little personal things seem too small, but
– Let’s start with little personal things that seem too small like paying a living wage and investing in your employees’ children’s education (and not just maths and science; there’s a reason why blacks are drawn to history and politics, there is a search for meaning that has nothing to do with earning a good salary one day and who am I not to honour that?)… and for the sake of not focusing on economics, what else should we be using our power to do? Fund churches and counselling centres and social development things (it’s not soup kitchen when you’re helping families become more functional I think), fund and ATTEND reconciliation initiatives with your white face and ears and if need be, your tears.
– Listening with your soul, not just your educated brain, sorry if it sounds fluffy but it is real, I am finally starting to be able to read blogs like these and FIRST hear the soul and THEN hear the argument and consider its rationality. So much of our conversation as South Africans is coming from the base of our skull (you know that thing, I forget what it’s called, there where our survival instincts are), it’s no wonder we rarely make sense to each other.
I am not very good at challenging writers and asking them questions, but thank you for the opportunity to have listened and learned.
I just think that a lot of white South Africans still haven’t come into proper grasp with what modern day racism in SA is -it’s no longer a set of laws yes, but it’s very much structural – in private business corporations (such as media outlets), and universities (public and private) – I think moving forward is a huge barrier in that no is truly held accountable about how they really think and feel, I just think right now we are doing a decent job of merely “tolerating” each other there’s no sense of real solidarity -moving forward requires a lot of self awareness regarding who you are and understanding your innate sense of white privilege but with the same degree I also feel that as a black nation we need to do a lot of internal work & take responsibility and not let everything that has been a plight for the black man victimize and allow for sloppy thinking and actions,..ultimately I think it will all be down to self-awareness and if there’s no one holding you accountable then people will continue to have as much self-awareness as a rock .
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Next up was Sindile’s article…
And these responses:
Wow, this is a breath of fresh air on this topic.
I really like how you frame the solution not only in a non-racial way, but also in a way that highlights opportunities for individuals and businesses. It’s also great to use the sports example where people have thought about it but it isn’t as charged as some of the other topics.
I also really like that you value equal opportunity rather than equal representation. Even in an equal opportunity setting, it’s unlikely for their to be equal representation in every aspect of life, or even in every sport played, and yet it’s the representation that seems to draw so much focus.
I also like how you try and point out the opportunities for people and businesses to help solve the problem.
I want to hear more. I’m not sure what questions to ask but this is good stuff. It’s a pity we can’t vote for you
Great piece, Just Great!!!!!!!!
[i don’t know about you, but i suspect Nkosi liked this one?]
A well-written and thoughtful piece! I especially love the way you describe the sports situation in terms of the ability to compete and competition itself. However much most folk want to see transformation (and so they should) in South Africa, let’s face it: very few people turn on the telly to watch sports on a Saturday afternoon so they can be intellectually or morally challenged and stimulated to promote transformation. I daresay most folk simply want to relax and forget about the more serious aspects of life when they watch sports. Your suggestions make a lot of sense, without forgetting about the fun/recreational aspect of sports, and I think many would vote for you!
What you say about building relationships is also very encouraging. The world needs people to reach out to their fellow humans with dignity and respect for our common … well, humanity. 🙂
I wonder about your view on race meaning nothing, though. If mere skin colour were the issue, I would agree with you: it predisposes you to nothing in particular and is in a sense as insignificant as the shape of your eyes or the lines on the palms of your hands. These things do set you apart as YOU, but and they should not define you in a stereotypical way. However, I find the popular rhetoric of the day a little sad, whereby differences between cultures, genders, etc. are downplayed to the extent that humanity is portrayed as this vanilla flavour mass of little individuals. All the same, yet everyone rabidly unique and special. This is perhaps very philosophical, but I cannot get rid of the idea that the form of something is linked to its content. Of course, one can think of many examples where the shape/appearance of something/someone has nothing to do with its/their true character. But then there are many instances of the shape/appearance of an entity is a very real embodiment of their essence. The males of many cat species, for example, do quite well without a special hairdo, but somehow a bushy mane befits the glory and dignity of the lion, the king of the jungle, doesn’t it? One may argue that his mane is not part of his essential character, but I cannot shake the feeling that somehow it is … part of the essence of “lion”. In the same way (and please, I do not mean to push this to the point of being ridiculous), what we look like, what our language sounds like, the clothes we wear, all of this gives expression to some essence, does it not?
What I mean to say is that every culture, every ethnic group has or constitutes a piece of the great jigsaw puzzle which is humanity. Somehow, the uniqueness, the beauty, the wisdom, of every family, clan, tribe, ethnic group, culture, etc. contributes something to what it means to be human. In one sense, I am because we are, but then, too, we are because I am (and you are). I know how nasty racial/cultural stereotypes can be and what horrifying results these can have (Adolf Hitler comes to mind here) when our differences are blown up out of all proportion. However, I am saddened by the thought of a world where our differences — not just as individuals, but as social/ethnic/linguistic/cultural groups — fade into insignificance. Is variety not the spice of life? Is humanity not enriched by the perspectives shaped and nurtured in the hills of India, the jungles of the Pacific islands, the sands of Egypt, the savannas of Sub-Saharan Africa, the hidden valleys of the Andes, the windswept tundras of the North? I dream of a world, not where we are all the same (yet desperately trying to be unique), but where we are all true to who we are, proud of our heritage, in love serving and enriching others with the gifts bestowed on our people. For we are wonderfully different, yet members of the one human family.
So, I suppose what I am trying to say is let us not forget who we are or pretend that we are all the same. Rather, let us embrace our common humanity, confidently giving expression to it in the way we do best, lest our part in the great symphony of life grow silent. After all, are South Africans not claiming to be the “rainbow nation” (rather than the one drab, colourless, mixed hue after all the individual ingredients have sacrificed their colour)? And, as with anything in life, our sinful nature enables us to take this beautiful truth and twist it to hurt and alienate others, to seek to advance our own position. But then, the Holy Spirit of God can help us eliminate the negative, hurtful parts of our experience and offer the unique, good ones to our brothers and sisters for the common good.
Keep up the good work, and keep writing and making your voice heard!
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Like i said, there are too many great ones to put them all here but i hope in doing this some more people will read some more of the conversation and get involved and engaged cos this feels super uber helpful. It won’t be revolutionary until we actually see it transform to action, but this does feel like a good start.
Two immediate things that will help from here:
 Get people reading this stuff. Share it via your Facebook and Twitterer pages. Pin it to your Trest board. Invite engagement from your friends. Share it directly to someone’s wall you think will take it seriously and ask them to share their thoughts with you, or even better, with us via a comment on the blog.
 Who do you know who has a valuable voice on this topic? That of racial reconciliation and first steps in the New South Africa [which isn’t actually as new as it used to be] and moving forwards together and unity, justice and mercy and so on? Direct them to the blog and more importantly connect them to me like Linda did with her friend which got this ball rolling. Everyone’s voice is important, but some people just have a gift of expressing what they mean well or speaking wisdom or life into a situation. Introduce them to me.
Let’s continue this together.
We can NOT be silent any longer.