Tag Archive: John Scheepers

A short while ago i introduced this panel to you made up of friends of mine from South Africa who are from a variety of different race groups/backgrounds and then invited you to ask any race-related questions you might have. The opinions of the members of the panel are in no way expected to represent the thoughts, feelings and ideas of a whole race group or culture, nor are they anticipated to be complete expositions into the heart and soul and depth of every question asked. They are simply opinions, thoughts and feelings of that individual, who is someone i deeply respect and think is worth hearing from and collectively i hope they will bring a strong degree of variety and depth to answering every question we look at. Not every panel member will necessarily answer each question, but i am hoping to have a few different perspectives on each question we tackle.

Because the answers were slightly longer and worth thinking about a little more deeply, i decided to simply use the first question in this post and i may add some answers as more come in, but in the meantime:

QUESTION 1: [Dave Child]

 “As South Africans, in 2014, how do we begin to frame our identities (as whites, blacks, coloureds etc) in a young democracy with such a long and deep history of racial hatred and discrimination?”

Caley Daniels:

I think we’ve all experienced one or two human beings who are still caught up in the culture of discrimination. What’s sad to me is that it’s usually the opinion of the parents that has been passed on to the children – and I think that is where the problem lies: ignorance breeds ignorance (that’s what it boils down to – racism, sexism, homophobia, whatever). If there are still people of the previous generation whom we can’t rely on to lead us by example, then the change has to come from us. I take my stance from Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 4:12 (But this can apply to everyone in the context of the question) “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

I say this with the utmost respect for our parents’ and grandparents’ generations which includes individuals who have been through more than we could ever imagine! But we know better than to continue in those ways. We have better circumstances, and environment more peaceful than it was in their time. We should be building on that and using what’s in our hands right now: an opportunity to use acceptance to eradicate ignorance, discrimination and racial hatred.

Tony Nzanzah: 

That is an excellent question that will sadly be visited for thousands of years to come. The thing that is against us is that our past has been framed through the eyes of race and the reality is that some of these feelings are deeply entrenched.

All one has to do at times is to read one negative article about one of the politicians either from the left or right and follow the online comments. Some of the comments remind me how far we are to fully embrace diversity and celebrate it. I believe this journey of transformation takes root when I choose in my interactions to refrain from referring to “them” or “those people” to us and to see myself as part of the whole. It is probably easier said than done and the recent elections in South Africa were a good reminder. You see some of the racial profiling is sublimely entrenched in our society through the forms that we are forced to fill in that ask us to refer us to our racial tag.

We need to be comfortable with people with a different shade and as a Christian, I believe that we are all created equally. Yes, at times the access to resources plays a role in dividing us further. I need to learn to walk across the room and reach out to others and not feel that I have to be invited. It requires me to be comfortable first in my own skin before I can try to reach out to others. One of the influential post- apartheid presidents, Thabo Mbeki, penned the famous words, “I am an African.” In my own journey I tend to embrace my Africanness as a way to help bridge the huge cultural chasm that exists in South Africa. This to me is a new way of referring to who we are as people that see themselves better than just the pigmentation of their skin colour!

We need a new revolution of finding each other and identifying each other as an African. This is hard work that a lot of us refrain from embarking as this hard work comes with a sprinkling of pain and tears. I have cringed when I hear people from a different cultural group saying things as “I understand those people”; this comes out as condescending and out of touch with reality.

It is dangerous to believe that since one has tuned their taste buds to eat tripe or sheep heads this qualifies them to utter such patronising comments. We all need to undergo a cultural detox that removes preconceived ideologies that silently occupy our minds. The battle is really about how I free about myself as opposed to how others need to be freed. As Africans we need to divorce ourselves from victim mentality that only aims to imprison us in the past. The challenge is not out there in some leafy suburb or township but is in our minds. Fear is a powerful weapon that paralyses us as the unknown outcome can be more daunting. The Bible talks about ‘renewing our minds’ and this is a process that is needed to allow us to see each other beyond racial tags. This also speaks about our view of people.  

A utopia of a colourless society is a figment of our imagination but we need to learn to dance with each other to a new rhythm that celebrates our uniqueness as Africans. A perfect dance is only possible when dancers are willing to step on each other toes, laugh at their mistakes and be enriched by them. Come let’s go dancing!

John Scheepers:

 When it comes to identity our world has such a strong push to what I call unique conformity.  In a world drunk with the quest for individuality there exists somewhat paradoxically a co-dependant drive for conformity.  Somehow the uniqueness of racial identity is seen as an evil thing.  We must strive, we are often told, to “not see colour” anymore.  While this might be admirable when it comes to judging a person’s character or ability, it is not the whole picture when it comes to culture.  It is not wrong to understand, at least in part, your identity racially or culturally. But it is when you understand the values of your race or culture as the normalising values by which you may judge the value or worth of another culture that things go wrong.

The Bible celebrates both the unity (common humanity) and the diversity of our world.  The creation narrative displays both the unity of origin, of structure and of order as well as the diversity of animal and plant life.  Humanity is then given a cultural mandate to take up the raw materials of creation and to shape and use them to fill the earth with God’s glory.  Even sin cannot fully destroy that original intent with the result that in the picture language of Revelation the splendour of the nations are brought into the New Jerusalem.  The riches and beauty of every culture and every nation, I suspect, will somehow be redeemed and included into God’s new creation.  Note also that the picture of the redeemed people of God is not simply one homogeneous church service but a seething mass of diversity, people from every tribe, tongue and nation together under one King.  Equality and diversity are not mutually exclusive. 

As a Christian though, the ultimate thing is not my cultural identity but my identity in Christ.  For so many of us who call ourselves Christ followers, we have simply tacked our Christianity on to our cultural identity and values.  But the biblical picture is far more radical than that.  In Christ we have died to our old self riddled through with sin and self-interest and been raised to a new life of hope, joy and renewed identity.  My primary identity is now no longer rooted in my family, my culture or my race.  My primary identity is as a member of God’s new family, his new people through whom he is bringing hope and restoration to a broken and dying world. 

I do not stop being a white, English-speaking male but it is no longer that which primarily defines me.  I am now set free to, like Christ, lay down my life, my rights, my cultural markers, my skin colour, in service of those who are not like me.  I no longer define my brother by the colour of his skin or the language of his birth but by his inclusion into the people of God.  I have a new identity that both affirms the beauty of my culture or my people and yet sets me free to find my identity in a far bigger and more beautiful story than the shade of my skin.

Tasha Melissa Govender

Hi Dave, you know the question of identity is so tricky. There comes the process of defining identity and defining what constitutes as identity. As with everyone else, I can only give you my own opinion on what I believe it to be – it may be biased but I’ll try to be as honest as I possibly can. 

I identify myself first and foremost as a female and then as a South African. I always find there is a tendency to classifying ourselves by race and then nationality, I don’t necessarily agree with this – I simply see my Indian ethnicity as my heritage as opposed to my identity. 

Given our very young democracy, I feel the notion of identity falls into a very tricky arena. I think the crucial factor is that within a society that has so many different facets be it interracial relationships or individuals being adopted into families with different ethnicities than themselves there is a large arena in which the individual begins to define and determine their own identity. I may be simplifying it too much but I truly believe it depends on the individual and the space in which they feel comfortable calling home. At this point it now becomes the responsibilities of those the individual comes in contact with to be open to the possibility of this person identifying with something that may seem other than what they are. I really hope this made sense!

Do you have any thoughts, ideas or feelings to add? Please jump on to the comments section and voice them respectfully – we would LOVE to hear from you.

Did you find this question and answer helpful in any way? Well then please SHARE it across your social networks so more people can become a part of this conversation.

Is there a question you would like to ask the panel that relates to an aspect of race and culture? Pop it in an email and send it to me at brettfish@hotmail.com

[To continue to question 2 of the panel relating to ‘When will we be ‘over’ apartheid?, click here]

[To view other aspects of our race-related conversations on this blog, click here]

I am very excited to introduce this Panel of Race Experts… and by ‘Race Experts’ i mean friends of mine who happen to be from a variety of different race group backgrounds and are not claiming to be experts or to speak on behalf of their particular race in any way, shape or form. I have invited them to be on this panel because they are people who i respect and who are passionate about live and living well and South Africa and diversity, unity and a whole lot more. And so i thought having a bunch of different opinions and thoughts and ideas on some race-related questions might be hugely helpful in terms of getting these conversations going.

So without any further more ado about nothing, let me let them introduce themselves in the order in which they submitted their bios to me:


Tasha Melissa Govender: “I’m Tasha, a 27 year old female living, working and loving in beautiful South Africa! I find myself flitting between my day job of Social Media Branding Ninja and struggling-writer-waiting-to-be-noticed by night. The reasons I’ve been so keen to get involved in this discourse are varying. The most prominent being that I’m incredibly proud of my country’s history and the amazing strides our nation has made to right so many wrongs; and only by discussing issues, confusions and breaking away from stereotypes can we truly begin to move on. Chatting is healthy, we should do it more! And with a healthy dose of laughter, good humour and non-judgement will we begin to understand that whilst we may not look the same we’re all pretty much going through the same human experience. So excited!”


Tristan Pringle: I am a 20 something guy trying to figure out what it means to be a child of God. In the process I’m still learning how to respond to Jesus’ call to love God and to love people. I am totally in love with my fiancée Jess and together we plan on changing the world. My day job for the last while has been working in management at a law firm but soon I’m quitting the corporate world and starting to work for the church.

My passion for topics of a racial nature stems from my belief in a world where we can be just who we are without being ashamed of it. For 100’s of years there has been intentional division, along racial lines, by kings,empires and governments and it has deceived us into believing that the colour of our skin is an accurate descriptor of character, skill, wit and value. Off course all these are lies. We can only start to live in the truth when we are honest firstly with ourselves and then with others. And so we need a platform for fresh, honest and frank gospel charged discussions. If heaven is for every tongue, nation and tribe then we best start getting along because eternity is forever and your neighbour may be black.


John Scheepers: I’m John.  I’m 38 years old.  That makes me old enough to remember apartheid and too young to remember life without TV.  I drink my coffee too strong and talk too loudly.  I married way above myself and am the father to two boys.  They come with sound effects included in case you were wondering.  I rest my soul by walking on the mountain and raise my heart rate by watching Liverpool FC. 

I work for the East City Initiative.  A community outreach ministry based in the east city area of Cape Town with a particular focus on young people and addicts. 

Martin Luther is supposed to have said, “If you preach the gospel in all aspects with the exception of the issues which deal specifically with your time- you are not preaching the gospel at all.”  Racial reconciliation is at the heart of my faith because the Bible story is from beginning to end the story of the restoration of all things in Christ.  It is about the restoration of true humanity and dignity, about the reconciliation of people to God and to one another.  We follow Jesus, the truly superior one, who did not stand on his own rights or privileges but instead laid down his life so that we might find life.  To follow this Jesus in a South African context means that, according to Martin Luther, if we do not speak to issues of racial and social reconciliation we do not preach the gospel at all.  May God have mercy on us!



 Busi Ledibane: My name is Busi and I’m a student currently in my third year of a Bachelor of Theology in Community Leadership. 

I find it difficult to describe the type of person that I am but I think that there are a few things I can mention that most people who know me well would agree with. I am quite serious, sometimes a little too serious but I can be fun and goofy too 😉 I would have to know and feel comfortable around you though.
I am also very passionate about social justice, social development and South African politics. 
I am proud to be a South African. I am aware of the painful past of my country and I’m not afraid to engage in conversation about it. However, I’m also aware of how far my country has come and how far it still needs to go not just economically but socially and that’s why I want to get involved in this conversation about race. 
We are not completely healed and we need to admit that and only then can we move on. My hope is that while this will be a difficult conversation to have, it will ultimately lead to a point where we can see one another’s humanity and see how we are all the same; how we are indeed equal. 
But that kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight and that’s why we need to talk. Now.


Tony Nzanzah: My name is Tony Nzanzah and I am married with two children. I am passionate about life which entails getting to grips with issues that we would rather avoid in life. I strongly believe in principles of ‘ubuntu’ that celebrate the cohesion than individuality. The best way to find each other as people from different cultures is to take the time to listen to one another and after listening to apply those community building values.


 Caley Daniels: I’m a student of Language and Culture at Stellenbosch University. None can deny the weight of race-related things of our past as a country. And since human kind has a tendency to look at history but not learn from it, I feel it is important to look at where we are (in terms of race, discrimination, prejudice, diversity, acceptance etc) as a people (especially as young people) so that we know what we stand for and therefore what to fight for. (a cord of 3 (or 51.19 million) is not easily broken.


i have given them the first round of questions that you [the people out there] submitted and they are working furiously on them and hopefully within the next week i will have some answers to share with you…

In the meantime if you want to take a look at some of the posts written for me already by Tasha, John, Busi or Caleythen simply click any of their names here and do some catching up…

THE QUESTIONS [click on the to be taken to the answers]

[1]  “As South Africans, in 2014, how do we begin to frame our identities (as whites, blacks, coloureds etc) in a young democracy with such a long and deep history of racial hatred and discrimination?”

[2] When, if ever, will it be OK to be “over” apartheid? If possible put a number of years to your answer.

[2] We have seen our country go down hill. We have watched apartheid in reverse . reconciliation is fantasy. All that happens is now the blacks control and the whites still suffer and get the blame. With real reconciliation there would be tolerance and forgiveness. Instead as whites ,we are now wrong. How would you address this?

[4] Why do black men feel it’s okay to blatantly hit on/harass me? Is it a cultural thing ie. they hit on all young looking women on their own regardless of race/culture OR is it because I am of another race that my status as “other” makes me more “desirable” and less worthy of respect? If it’s cultural and “the norm” maybe I would feel less violated and nervous? 2nd question maybe for black women – how does one respond in these situations?? Cos I would give a white guy a sarcastic cut down…


One of the most insidious forms of racism or paternalism is to take the voice of another away from them.  I do not intend to speak for black people in this post and so rob them of their own dignity and humanity.  You see, I am white and so I can only ever speak as a white male. While I can resist speaking for another I can choose to speak with another so adding strength and tone to the richness of their own voice.  So this is not a post speaking for black people but just one white person speaking to another choosing to join my voice to speak with those who are not like me.


I am like you: I grew up a standard white guy in the 80’s.  Life was good on my whites only beaches.  Education was excellent at my whites only school.  I loved the freedom to ride my bike all over my whites only suburb and play in the streets unsupervised.  My family were not wealthy and my parents worked hard to put food on the table.  But we did enjoy the benefits of my dad’s job reservation, brilliant medical aid and standard working hours and conditions.  Not to mention relative proximity to our work.  I also sometimes find myself thinking of these days as the good old days and wistfully wishing for a similar childhood experience for my kids.  Except the whites only part because my kids aren’t.


But the truth is there was (and in many cases still is) a radically different childhood story for most people in our country.  The system of apartheid was as brilliant in its execution as it was evil in its intent.  The economic and social system was a masterstroke in creating social instability.  And the resulting poverty, migrant labour, absent fathers, informal settlements, crime, forced removals, gangsterism, substance abuse, lucrative trade in contraband, imprisonment, restricted movements, shootings and a live for the moment hedonism through sex and violence, bears testimony to its effectiveness.   Not forgetting the humiliation of the “Bantu education” system, designed to create a race of inferior servants to serve white privilege. While the law books may have been wiped clean Bantu education is alive and well today in the hearts and minds of millions of South Africans throughout our land.  Ah the good old days…


And yet… I am not like you: Please can you stop assuming that because I share the same pigment as you that I also share your political, racial or cultural views.  I cannot tell you how many times complete strangers have given me the “boys club” wink or nod followed by some disparaging remark about “the blacks”.  You don’t know me, so please do not presume to know what I think or feel.  If the criteria you are using to make your comment is the colour of my skin, then please look deeper. I am not like you.


The world is profoundly white-centric: White is normal in our world.  Do you know what skin colour is?  Do you know what the standard language of instruction is?   What is the international language of business?  An educated person is someone who has grasped the intricacies of a western education system. Our lives are governed by a western/white concept of time, achievement and community structure.  Yes that is just a reality and there is probably nothing I can do about it. But wake up! This world is not an equal world.  It is a white-centric world where white people have set the standards and the norms for all of us.  Is it the best system?  Who says?  Who gets to make that call?  Even biblical characters are normally assumed to be white.  Even some of our cherished biblical virtues we might find to be more white and western virtues than actual biblical ones…


I am not an idiot because I do not vote for your particular political party.  Politics in South Africa is far more complex and nuanced than many of my white friends care to acknowledge.  Our history has made it complex.  That history still informs life today in deeply significant ways.  We are a young democracy with many challenges and many obstacles. There is no singular saviour in South African politics. The charge often levelled at black people that they vote unthinkingly for the ANC is possibly true for many people.  But how many white people vote unthinkingly for the DA?


You are not colour-blind: I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this one.  Mostly from people whose friends all look like them as they hang out in places and live in areas where all the people mostly look like them.  If you live in South Africa, colour is an issue and we need to learn to engage with it with integrity, honesty and humility.  The claim to be colour-blind in my opinion is normally a plea to pretend everything is ok so we can ignore the hard conversations and escape to our white ghettos of privilege.  Or in its worst expression it normally goes something like this “I don’t see colour but…(insert disparaging remark about why black people do not live up to your expectations of how society should work).


White privilege is real:  if you are white you have and continue to benefit from the system of apartheid and its continued influence through attitudes, accrued social and economic capital as well as the continued crippling effects of apartheid policies.  You are regarded as smarter, trustworthier and harder working, until proven otherwise, if you are white.


Many of us may not have committed the sins of our fathers in the implementing, supporting or perpetuating of the apartheid state.  Nor were we guilty of courting evil’s shadowy twin sister quiet acquiescence.  But all of us who are white have benefited and continue to benefit from those sins. White Economic Empowerment was after all around long before Black Economic Empowerment.  So we may not in one sense be guilty of any crimes.  And you may resent the idea of being held accountable for other people’s sins but what we cannot deny is that we have benefited from those sins.  And while you could make a case for being not guilty, I would suggest that we have a far greater calling than proving our innocence and that is grabbing our responsibility to put right the sins from which we have benefited.  How?  Now that is a question we must ask together and a road we must be prepared to walk together if we are to emerge with any true answers.


If you are a Christian and you think talk of racial reconciliation and politics is taking away from preaching the gospel you need to read your Bible again.  The story line of the Bible is not simply about saving souls for heaven.  It is about the restoration of all things through Christ.  It is about the restoring of true humanity, of dignity and of brotherly love.  Sin deceived us with its promises of freedom, self-actualisation and satisfaction and instead led us into creating a world of injustice, hatred, prejudice and individual gain.  Jesus has come to rescue us not in order to take us away to some disembodied heaven in the clouds.  He has rescued us not only from the punishment for our sins but he has invited us to join with his far greater and more beautiful story of redemption, restoration and healing.


One day he will restore all things but now his kingdom has broken into history and he calls us to live new lives, lives that embody his kingdom of justice, mercy, peace, joy, beauty and reconciliation.  Racial and national reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel.  And we in the church ought to be leading the way.  Our Saviour is the one who is so unlike us, so truly superior to us and yet he laid down his life so that we might live, so that we might be restored to God and to one another.  And so the gospel leads us in this to lay down our lives for those not like us, to serve, to love, to give up our rights and privileges so that they who are not like us might also be restored to God and to us.


[For more great conversations on Race from all kinds of different angles and perspectives, click here]

%d bloggers like this: