Tag Archive: saynotoxenophobia

My friend Tsholo commented on the Bob letter in the comments section, but her comment was so long and specific that i didn’t want it to be missed and so i asked her if it would be alright if i ran it as another post in this series and she said yes:


[Meet Tsholo: I am a 31 year old black female – lover of music and all things pink. Born and raised in the Free State (mostly) and now a permanent resident of Cape Town. My wish for Africa: Renaissance (that Africa would re-member itself and love itself), Unity (that we would embrace our diversity and learn to love each other), and Healing (that as we come together all of us as a people would heal from past scars, and from our current struggles)].

Feel free to not let this one go through…but I did really try to be civil and play nice…

1. “I am a white South African and I feel I have no place in the country I grew up in and love.”

The Freedom Charter clearly states that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white…” so maybe instead of waiting for people to make you feel welcomed/wanted in SA, you should just live in the knowledge that this is your home and no one has the right to say otherwise. If you love this country, stay and help build it.

2. “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. ”

Apartheid laws may have ended, but the effects…the legacy of Apartheid is still very much alive today. As you say yourself, “it will take a great deal of time for South Africa to come right”. I agree with you most of the politicians in power are there for their own benefit and not to serve their people. I’m gonna have to disagree, though, that “for a while we were on a decent track, now we are in reverse.” I don’t think we are moving in reverse at all. Things are still changing. We are moving forward. We might not like Zuma and the incumbent government – there’s so very many things I don’t agree with them on, and I do criticize them on those points – but I still acknowledge the good that they do. Sometimes those changes don’t directly affect me, but I see the good happening for others, and I acknowledge it.

3. “Well as a business owner in Cape Town my so called white privilege was non existent. I wasn’t part of the Jewish community and so wasn’t able to find clients there. I wasn’t black and so larger companies who use freelancers were hesitant to use me because they didn’t want to loose their BEE status. Likewise as a non Muslim my business practices and ethics clashed with their beliefs and so they wouldn’t 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.”

I don’t think you understand White Privilege as well as you think you do…maybe read up on what it actually means a bit more…

4. “Recently there was a discussion I came across along the lines of “It’s time James Bond was Black”. Would there be just as big of a discussion around the question of “It’s time Shaft was played by a white actor”.

The point of the discussion around a black James Bond was about representation in the media. Generally – unless it is a movie with an all black cast (a race themed movie, as they are called in the media regardless of the actual content), or a movie about slavery/apartheid – the only roles people of color get to play are designated black roles: the token black, the ratchet ghetto chick/fresh out of prison gangster, the maid, etc. Very rarely do you get a movie where black people just get to be people. And if the movie does feature regular black people doing regular people things, then it is promoted as a movie for black people aka The Best Man Holiday – a movie about 4 couples that just happen to be black – being called a race-themed movie by The New York Times or The Post or someone.

There is a movie being made right now where Scarlett Johansson will be playing the role of what was originally a Japanese woman…do you think that’s because they couldn’t find a Japanese woman who could act, or because they know that movies with white people make more money? “Exodus: Gods and Kings” was about Egyptians but the cast was all white (very tanned but still Caucasian) because the people who fund movies know that white audiences only go see movies with white people in them. Just look at the uproar caused by a middle-eastern man playing the role of Jesus…

5. “Statues may fall , but history stands. Auschwitz has not been torn down but serves as a reminder and a monument.”

Auschwitz stands, but Auschwitz is not celebrated. I could be wrong, but I doubt that if you walk through downtown Berlin you are going to find a giant statue of Hitler on a pedestal. The architects of Apartheid – the people who were behind Apartheid – are still celebrated in South Africa. Take a walk around Cape Town and all you see is monument after monument of such people behind held up as great leaders, being celebrated, being given places of honor in this “New South Africa”…which still looks a whole lot like the old one.

6. “However I strongly believe that this anger a is misplaced.”

The #RhodesMustFall movement was never about the statue in and of itself. It was about what the statue represents. Some people didn’t understand that, made no effort to actually listen to the people who started the movement, and therefore hijacked it and turned it into something it was not.

7. “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.”

I hear this comment a lot whenever colonization is rationalized/defended, and I have to wonder: do you think African’s were just sitting around twiddling their thumbs before white people came? Do you think we knew absolutely nothing? That we weren’t evolving as a people? That we didn’t know our own land? That generations upon generations survived by sheer will of waiting upon their white saviors? That their purpose on earth was to wait on the white man to tell them what to do? I’ll stop there…ok, wait, one more thing..
“Colonization didn’t bring progress to Africa. Colonization interrupted Africa’s progress.” Think on this for a bit…
Also, Rhodes brought us clothes??? lol!

8. “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…”

Africa doesn’t have a problem with Western Aid. Africa has a problem with Western Aid when there are strings attached. “We will help you but…” Western Aid comes with fine print…Africa must bow down to the West – conform to Western ideologies and principles – in order to receive aid from them, and that’s why Africa doesn’t want (to borrow your own word) “interference” from the West.

9. “In fact (to my knowledge and stand to be corrected), while the xenophobic attacks were taking place recently, Zuma and Mugabe were enjoying a dinner party in Mugabe’s honor, despite his human rights abuses against Zimbabweans (black and white).”

Pretty sure the attacks started after – I could be wrong, maybe I just heard about them late. And yes, Zuma took way too long to speak up on the attacks… and when he did he said some rather dumb things… sorry, I’m getting side-tracked.
I think you should go read up on the purpose of Mugabe’s visit, and the outcomes of that visit.

10. “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.”

You are white. You have White Privilege. No one has asked you to be ashamed on other people’s behalf, only that as a human being you recognize/acknoledge that you have been unfairly privileged. And if nobody is interested in hearing what you have to say because you’re white, why the heck did I just take time to not only read this, but to respond to it as well? *sigh*

Also, you are aware that black people also give donations and support humanitarian organizations, right? Your value should come from being human and being humane, your whiteness should have nothing to do with it. When you give to those who have less that you, your humanity is celebrated and welcomed, not your whiteness.

[To return to Bob’s original email and see a diversity of responses, click here] 

This is a response to yesterday’s shared anonymous letter, What About Bob? and so if you have not read that yet, start there and then come back here and continue. Alexa is a good friend of mine who has been involved in many of the conversations we have had on race, reconciliation, restitution and other terms that may not begin with R but this is stuff she is passionate about and doing her best to live well. She has also contributed to this blog on a number of occasions such as sharing about one person who gives her hope in South Africa, a personal shout out to South Africa as well as some thoughts from a married person to the single people in and around here life. So if you enjoy this, please go and check those out…

But in the meantime, here are some of her thoughts in response to Bob


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Dear Bob,

I read your letter to Brett and heard some of your frustration. Much of what you expressed are common themes that I have heard amongst the white community.

Just to contextualise me:

White, female, CpTownian, Have lived in a desert wilderness, have lived and working in Mozambique, have lived & worked in a corporate context in JHB, have worked in impoverished communities too in Cape Town & JHB. In South Africa, very sadly impoverished correlates with black and coloured.

One of the most helpful things I have ever heard said was that we need to talk about poverty and race without being racist – the reason I mention this is that the majority of people calling for change or transformation are people still living with poverty which looks and feels exactly like it did under apartheid. Yes in terms of the constitution we are all said to be equal but in terms of what life looks like we definitely don’t have the same starting blocks for whatever life journey we want to pursue. We need to recognise South Africa’s intersection of race and class if we are wanting to understand some of the current frustrations: Yes, it’s been 21 years, so it’s not ALL about what you or I do anymore, and we have leaders who serve themselves often rather than the country, but we also need to recognise the following:

Saying that “I am sorry, this was wrong,” doesn’t mean that I am guilty of implementing something bad. It does mean that I see your hurt, your anger and know that purely by being born into the family I was I had different starting blocks. Saying I am sorry is about recognising the untold hurt of the past and the frustrations of the present – many of which are due to the past.

Saying I am sorry or acknowledging that this was wrong goes beyond just ‘sorry’ – it’s also about being willing to ask and engage with how do we repair the past? Relationally, economically, socially?

Bob, as I read your letter, I was reminded of a conversation that I had with a (white) friend recently. Her statement to me was:

“I am not ugly to people, I am not just going to be friends with someone because they are different to me (that doesn’t feel sincere) and why can’t we be nice to each other? I am not political and don’t want to get political but I am tired of be past being hauled up and people looking at me when I wasn’t a part of it all.”

This friend really does believe that all people are equal and has been in situations where she was often the only white person at a party while she was studying, but as years have gone by, her friendships circles have shifted into areas of interest and remained quite pale in their diversity.

Parts of our conversation that unfolded after this was as follows:

* “If we truly want to see healing then actually we do need to be willing to befriend people whose stories are different to us. We need to be willing to be the uncomfortable ones who don’t always understand or fit in. It might not seem genuine initially but we can’t begin to understand the perspective or where we fit or don’t fit if we aren’t willing to listen and to hear and to be in spaces where things are understood differently to people who think like us.

Putting it differently if it came out that a friend had been in an abusive relationship for a long time and we weren’t aware of it, we would want to do everything we could to help that friend heal, to be safe, to get a GOOD fresh start and want to support and understand.

If we aren’t willing to start engaging with a friend whose story we don’t know or understand, even if we don’t identify with being abused or being the abuser, it is very hard to actually be a part of their healing.

The people we care about are the ones who we want to engage with. If we aren’t meeting and forming relationships with other people it’s really hard to develop any understanding of their story”

The reality is that the cracks in our story of unity are showing. We celebrated freedom together, but we never really healed together.

As the white community, very little about our lives actually changed, other than an increased competition in the workspace and perhaps seeing a greater mix of people (depending where we are in terms of relationship as well as geographically) socially.

Our story of unity for the most part has been a one sided story for most of us. We still weren’t, unless we asked to be told and were able to sit with the answers, aware of the cost to most of our peers and the broader South African community. In order to create a shared narrative, we need to go through the frustrating for some, redevelopment of a story where those were quiet get to speak and those of us who have already spoken get to listen.

I hate that before I have opened my mouth, perceptions exist about who I am or what I think. The reality though is that from a race perspective this has been there for years and the filter towards people of colour (regardless of their ethnicity) has been marred by different stereotypes or beliefs, which weren’t always positive. I think that as the white community we escaped this for the longest time due in part to the sameness of most of our contexts and now we are needing to recognise that we ALL have filters.

Ironically race has been the proverbial white elephant in the room and yet it’s us, as the white community who struggle to engage with it. #RhodesMustFall highlighted this in many ways – Shaka was violent yes, but in a very different context and story and all we seem to do by responding with Shaka is reveal this struggle.

Too often I have heard that the black community has been gracious, over and over, in wanting to engage and waiting for any kind of indication that the white community is wanting to see transformation and engage with, but that we aren’t standing up, and asking how and showing willingness to engage in these spaces. Too often I have heard it’s because we don’t want to let go of the benefits we enjoy still so that we can share the space better.

Anger and unresolved, unspoken, deep hurt from the past has to go somewhere – and if aren’t part of the somewhere, through listening, through being willing to be present with, then we will lose our sense of purpose in this.

I get frustrated, I get hurt at times when I perceive the anger to be switching to a place of hate but I am realising more and more that the more I engage, intentionally and listen, in these spaces that hope is returning.

We need you Bob and we need your wrestling. We need you to be asking the question of where and how you can contribute. We need you to stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of us wanting to see this change. We need you to stand quietly and listen and maybe even weep with us when people share their realities. We also need you to be speaking up and out and shouting that I want to be a part but I am not sure where.

We need you.

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[To read the original email from Bob, click here]

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