A week or so ago, i received an email from an old friend of mine who is currently living outside of South Africa and who asked to remain anonymous. Let’s call him ‘Bob’. Bob emailed me some thoughts about the current situation in South Africa and his feeling as a white South African at this time.
As i read through Bob’s mail i had some strong reactions to some of the stuff he is saying, based on some of the continuing conversations i have had with some of my black friends and the new history of South Africa that i am starting to learn as i read books and have conversations with people. At the same time, i don’t doubt Bob’s sincerity and know a lot of other sincere white South Africans who are also genuinely saying and asking some of these things. So i decided to pass it on to a few of my friends who i have been having conversation with on these issues and see if they would come up with a response. A couple of them have and i will share their responses, starting tomorrow, but firstly i wanted to share Bob’s story and invite you to really try and hear what he is saying, not as an overt racist or troll or someone trying to stir, but someone who is genuinely feeling this way and asking these questions.
i would love for you to respond in the comments section, but i am going to carefully moderate this conversation so there will be no space for ridiculousness. This is an opportunity to hear and respond to some of the concerns and fears from a white South African at this time living overseas
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My writing is generally not brilliant (grammar and may be a bit jumbled). Hopefully my thoughts and questions will be clearly understood though.
I am a white South African and I feel I have no place in the country I grew up in and love. I generally love the people of South Africa no matter their background, race, creed or culture. I am though frustrated with what has been going on over the past couple of months.
The leaders only seem to be interested in making sure they are comfortable and wealthy, while most of the people of South Africa struggle to eke out a living. Crime is high, service delivery is worse than disgusting and parliament has become a global joke…one our own president seems to have a good laugh at.
However despite this all and after 20+ years its the fault of apartheid, the Dutch and the English. Let’s be honest it will take a great deal of time for South Africa to come right and for a while we were on a decent track, now we are in reverse. Maybe that is part of the cathartic process, but does it have to be?
I feel that even though I grew up towards the end of apartheid and I was brought up in a family that opposed it and did their bit to support the struggle, I am a racist by association and dont belong in South Africa.
I understand to the best that I can as a white person, white privilege. Yes I went to a decent school and college but my Dad worked damn hard to get me there and yes while he may have got his job because he was white he still had to sacrifice a lot to support us, by being away for 9 months of every year.
Whats interesting about Cape Town (and I can only speak from a cape townian perspective) is the culture cliques. English, Afrikaaner, Muslims, Christians, Coloured and Black South Africans stick together and will generally support people from their own community.
Is this racist? Perhaps. Maybe its just we as people like to hang out with people like us.
Recently there was a documentary in the UK presented by the person Blair brought in (trevor Phillips) as Deputy Chair of the Board of the National Equality Standard. In it he raised a number of interesting points. One of which was that, in the most diverse area in the UK, Leicester, they discovered something called sunset segregation. This is not imposed by government, politicians or law, but self imposed.
He noted that people would be more than happy to work in harmony and mutual respect for each other. Come home time if you got on a bus you would know which direction the bus was going in based on the majority of the people who were on the bus with you. What was also interesting was that even within minority groups there was further sub segregation, for example people from Pakistan were in one area and within that area people from different Pakistan regions tended to group together. (please note that I in no way do I support or agree with how one group of people live in worse conditions than others. Nor do I agree with the group areas act, this was just a point that I found interesting about self imposed segregation)
So what has this to do with Cape Town. Well as a business owner in Cape Town my so called white privilege was non existent. I wasnt part of the Jewish community and so wasnt able to find clients there. I wasnt black and so larger companies who use freelancers were hesitant to use me because they didnt want to loose their BEE status. Likewise as a non muslim my business practices and ethics clashed with there beliefs and so they wouldnt work with me. But I blame no one and angry at no one for this, its the way of the world and its up to me to do something about it and make sure that I succeed and provide for my family.
So with that background, what have I to be angry, upset, irritated about?
Recently there was a discussion I came across along the lines of “Its time James Bond was Black”. Now I have no problem with whether JB is Black pink blue or green, but I did have a question. Would there be just as big of a discussion around the question of “Its time Shaft was played by a white actor”.
The response I got was that Shaft was created because their were no roles at that time that were being written for black actors and so therefore my point was irrelevant as Shaft was created to balance and imbalance. I then asked the question about why black actors who were better connected or got scholarships to top academies were getting the majority of roles while other less connected black actors didnt get cast. This question was also rubbished.
Why should the discussion be about race every single time? What about the top movie producers hunting for talent in poorer communities and academies?
I understand the west has a lot to answer for, but every nation on earth has at some point and to different degrees has enslaved and mistreated other nations. I also fully appreciate that the wounds of apartheid are a lot fresher than when the Romans ruled the UK or Egyptian empire was built on the backs of slaves.
After this happened the whole Rhodes statue issue at UCT came into play. There has been a lot of anger around this issue and while he wasnt the best person in the world, he did contribute to South Africa and is part of our history. Was he a colonist yes, were his methods and policies wrong YES… But what about the tribes and people who were displaced, and killed by King Shaka, if you say Rhodes stole land, then by the same token so did Shaka.
Where is the anger and the demanding of Shaka’s statue to be removed?
But that isn’t really the point. Statues may fall , but history stands. I dont believe you can learn from history if you try and erase it and replace it with a modern history. Auschwitz has not been torn down but servers as a reminder and a monument.
However I strongly believe that this anger a is miss placed. What about the real issues facing South Africa? Poor service delivery, corrupt police and politicians.
I also see this to be a protest of convenience. If Rhodes caused so much pain and South Africans as a whole want to remove all trace of him, then surely the things that he left as a legacy should also be removed, the Rhodes scholarship and other western/European traits were a result of his rule… infrastructure, technology, clothes and so on.
To be honest I have no idea what the New South Africa wants. We constantly hear that whites and Europeans must get out of South Africa and that “Western Imperialism” and interference is not wanted. Yet EVERY day in the UK there are adverts asking for donations for medicines and mosquito nets for Africa, to sponsor a South African child so they can be educated, to donate money to build wells and fresh drinking water in rural areas and so on (all while african leaders use the money they do get from their citizens to make themselves rich, take expensive trips, buy luxuries and lavish properties. Instead of building schools, distributing text books, upgrading power stations and hospitals). Recently I saw a request to sign a petition on Facebook to get David Cameron to denounce the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa… but hang on… the message we hear from South Africa is that David Cameron must leave Africa alone.
Then there has also been the recent attacks in Kenya. A terrible atrocity and I condemn these attacks no matter where in the world these take place. The question though was asked why the West doesnt stand together united for Africa as they did for the French attacks and that African lives dont matter.
Well there is an incredibly close relationship between the US and Europe, closer than between Africa and the west. Ok Ok so that doesnt mean the West shouldnt stand with Africa…. Except the West is constantly being told by Africa to leave it alone.
I dont see Zuma and Mugabe walking linked armed with other African leaders after the Kenya attacks. So if African leaders dont show solidarity for their own union, why are people upset with the West for not doing so (especially as the west and Europeans are being told leave Africa alone). In fact (to my knowledge and stand to be corrected), while the xenophic attacks were taking place recently, Zuma and Mugabe were enjoying a dinner party in Mugabe’s honour, despite his human rights abuses against Zimbabweans (black and white).
It boils down to this…
I am white, I am made to feel ashamed of a history I had no control of and no one is interested in what a white person has to say because what ever they say or do is racist or from a point of white privilege. Yet Africa is happy to take my contribution whether it be a donation, or supporting a feeding scheme or giving free medical services to remote regions, then I am valued.
WHAT DOES SOUTH AFRICA WANT FROM ME AS AN ENGLISH SOUTH AFRICAN?
I am proud of the the positive history my community have and still make to South Africa. I cant be held to account for the VERY wrong policies that were put in place all those hundred odd years ago. I can though learn from their mistakes to ensure that my children dont grow up to one day impose and develop similar policies when they may be in power… in what ever country or community they are in.
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i will be sharing a response or two in the next few days – if you have one you would like to be considered as a post, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org otherwise feel free to share some thoughts in the comments section below, but play nice.