Tag Archive: What about Bob

My friend Dre, who shared some excellent feedback to Bob’s first email over here, responded to his latest response in a comment but i asked her if i could rather share it as a post cos everyone should read this, especially but not solely, Bob. Dre for president!:


Bob, you didn’t respond to MY post! *sniff sniff* I feel so left out! (kidding, I’ll be fine 😉 But seriously, I do appreciate your response to the discussions in general. I think that, based on this post, you definitely seem ‘further along the journey’ than you did in your original mail, which, intentionally or not, had a much more ranty, almost arrogant tone. Here, however, you show a willingness to listen and engage (despite a few ‘yes buts’ 😉 which is great.

However, I also respect Megan’s point of view – her original comment and the one above, in that I am also getting a little tired of ‘educating’ white South Africans on race. Mainly because I’m still reading, listening and learning too, and as Megan says, it’s up to us to do the work, not demand that others ‘help’ us. Read news articles and opinions from all sources (not just news24 or iol, people!) Go to public lectures at your nearest university. Have robust discussions with friends of all backgrounds. Read some books about South Africa (Brett has some good suggestions on this blog).

Sometimes I feel like some white South Africans are not truly asking questions to learn more, but rather to defend their current viewpoints. So I’d say to Bob and all those who are asking similar questions about race and their place in South Africa, just look at your motives. Are you prepared for hard answers? Are you prepared to be uncomfortable? (I’m not saying you’re not, Bob, just addressing this also to others who might have similar questions.)

Lastly, I feel like a lot of the points you mentioned in your previous post and this one have a lot to do with ‘big’ issues – foreign aid, government corruption, economic inequality etc. these are obviously important, and if we are in a position to do so, we can make a difference on that level too… but often that can be quite overwhelming. What I’d humbly suggest is, if you want to feel that you ‘belong’ in South Africa, start acting small rather than only debating big (and again, this is not just for Bob, and I need to do this more too!).

Get involved in something that brings you into contact with those from a different background and race, maybe even something that helps to alleviate suffering or just helps out those who haven’t had your advantages. If you’re involved in a church, that can be a good place to connect with ongoing projects that help the poor, for instance. Ask around. Use your skills and resources, even if it’s only your time.

Instead of asking: “where do I stand as a white South African”, ask “Who needs me to stand alongside them?” And in the process, your perspective on the country and your ‘belonging’ will change – not that it’ll be easy or comfortable or simple, but it will help.

Thanks for engaging, Bob and others – it’s been an important conversation, I think!

[To read the original email and any of the responses, click here] 


About two weeks ago i published an email from a friend of mine who is white, male, South African and presently living in the UK who had some thoughts, feelings, questions and frustrations about life in South Africa and some of the conversations we’d been having on here. i shared his email under the guise of ‘Bob’ and invited a few of my friends to respond, all of which you can catch up with over here [worth a read!]. Bob has taken it all in and had some time to think about it and compose some follow up thoughts, which you are again invited to respond to in the nicest of let’s-all-see-if-we-can-somehow-learn-from-this-and-be-transformed fashion in the comments section [or if you want to respond in a post, email me]. So here is some more from ‘Bob’:

It’s been a great discussion and I have learnt a lot from it. I think one of the main things learnt is that maybe a more humble less frustrated approach should have been taken.

I tend to take things as I see them, when it comes to a starting point and so the points I raised were points that I have read in other news, blogs and comments. These points struck a nerve with me and in order for me to get my head around things I thought it best to start by putting those points out there in order to get feedback and better understand the issues.

There have been so many great responses as blog posts and comments and these have given me a lot to think over. Some have been eye opening and given me a lot to think over and adjust my way of seeing things and others have prompted further questions, the “I see what you are saying, but…” type ones. My responses to these are not to say I disagree with you, but rather it is my way of eliminating things in order to come to a more balanced point of view. Its just how my mind works (rightly or wrongly). As an example there are many ways to join wood, however only one way is fit for the purpose that you need wood joined for. I generally will try multiple ways before giving in and using the right way, because only then does it make sense to me.

I thought the best way to respond would be to answer each person at a time, rather than jumping around posts and comments. I have not responded to all points raised, this is not to say that what was posted by various people was not taken notice of, it was.

I had also come up with a number of responses to various people and points. However following reading a link that Brett sent me (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/good-men-project/why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism_b_7183710.html –  AN EXCELLENT READ!!!!!), some of my responses seemed very insignificant all of a sudden. So it was back to the drawing board and here is what I came up with.

I would like to say that, though I may not get everything right I am genuinely here looking to make sense of things, understand, learn and grow… so please bear with me and the way my mind works…

Megan – As my harshest critic I thought I would start with your post [Find comment in comments section here]

You had some pretty harsh words for me and at first I actually thought you were a troll and had to ask Brett. After your rant you said… “hate your pronouncements that are from the voice of knowing better, without doing a thing to engage, understand, imagine, talk and listen.”

I never claimed to know better and what you are criticising me for “without doing a thing to engage, understand, imagine, talk and listen”, is the very thing I am doing. I can’t listen or engage without asking the questions that I have. My questions are based on where I am at in my journey (which albeit is probably the very start of it). I genuinely want to understand and grow more and that was what I had to go on to start. They were questions based on initial observations and thoughts based on my point of view and by asking those questions I can listen and reshape my thoughts and points of view.

While I think that sometimes a direct “Hey brother catch a wake up” is needed. I do think that your approach does nothing for the conversation especially to encourage a white person to get involved. Your comment is more likely to drive people back to square one and not engage for fear of being berated for wanting to engage.

ChevsLife [Find comment in comments section here]

I really liked your comment and it really got what I was thinking with regards to (amongst other points) government exploiting the poor and apartheid, to maintain power and serve their own interests. I think that is where a lot of my frustration lies, in that I see (at the moment and I am not saying I am right) government using race to divide us in order to distract people from the issues that government isnt dealing with.

Alexa [Read blog post response here]

You made an excellent point about recognising the past issues but not needing to feel guilty about it. I think a lot of people white/better- well-off do feel guilty about the past or (from a non racial point) their better lot in life versus those less well off. This means that they don’t want to be engaged with people who aren’t as lucky as they are, more often than not because they don’t know and don’t have the tools to deal with the uncomfortableness of the situation. Even those who started from a point of disadvantage and worked dam hard to get to that “middle class”/wealthier state feel guilty and are then seen as turning their back on where they came from. It’s a difficult one and if people don’t realise that they have nothing to feel guilty about, when it comes to the actions of others, they will be more defensive. By removing guilt but recognising someones plight and seeing them as people, we can form strong real honest relationships.

I also agree that engagement without fear of condemnation is important. I am not saying that this will be any less uncomfortable or that it’s about the white perspective, but many post apartheid whites were brought up with a way of thinking. This way of thinking in most cases misses out key information and life experiences, so I think that it is about working with white people to alter their way of thinking to include histories, life experiences and understanding of others points of view without condemnation, as condemnation breeds guilt and guilt breeds defensiveness and no interest to engage.

I think associating with people unlike us when we are the odd one out (no matter the group make up, 1 person from a race group with a bunch of people from another or a poorer person in amongst a group of wealthy people) will always be uncomfortable and that person will be mistrusted by the group. Why? Because that one person is different and the group as a whole doesn’t know that persons motivations for being there.

I have spent a number of nights, spending time with friends in Langa at shebeens (not the mainstream ones) and in Manenberg. i felt massively uncomfortable because those that didn’t know me, didn’t trust me. Cops (1 coloured 1 black) pulled me over when leaving Manenberg wanting to know what I was doing there, was I buying drugs? The same for entering Langa, we were told by our friends that they would meet us at a certain point and escort us in… not something my black friends needed to do when they came to visit me.

I think you were spot on about us celebrating together but not healing together.

I am wanting to engage and I don’t see myself as losing power as I don’t have that much power and wealth anyway, but yes I do see what you are saying, especially from those whites who have IMMENSE wealth. I do though have a follow on question from this though. What about the black leadership of the country and the black super wealthy, they don’t want change either because that will mean possibly losing their power and wealth?

Stephan [Find comment in comment section here]

I don’t think it’s about giving up what we have worked hard for, it’s about doing our bit to help lift up our brother or sister. I think it’s a shift that humanity needs to do as whole and its not unique to South Africa or even Africa and I don’t think that it has anything to do with race (although in Africa the wealth gap is clearly defined by race because of the past). So many of us live beyond our needs or have more than enough to provide for our family and secure their future. I also think that we should enjoy the finer things in life, especially if we have worked hard to achieve them. But do we NEED everything? Should our success mean paying people poorly so we make a better profit? I don’t think so.

Marlyn [Read blog response here] 

I am not trying to play victim, I am though wanting to understand things from a different perspective. I am not a victim but I am confused about where I stand in South Africa.

I make no argument that I haven’t benefitted from the past. I have.

Yes, I have visited Langa and Manenberg and felt uncomfortable and treated suspiciously as an outsider.

I agree totally, I need to acknowledge the suffering of the past, but what I don’t understand and what frustrates me is that the suffering continues from the very people who fought the suffering of the past.

I think there is also a difference between someone saying “Get over it” and saying “move forward”. Structures remain in place because those in power allow them to. I am not saying go to opposite extremes, but they do need to be addressed in a balanced and methodical way.

I genuinely don’t see race, I see people. But yes the apartheid government did engineer things, which the effects of are still present today, so with that said my outlook may differ or be skewed but that is what I am wanting to work on.

I totally agree UCT (and others) do need more black (female) professors, deans and so on. So why then isn’t there this change? Especially as the chancellor is a black women. Surely she has that power to employ a more balanced faculty?

You raise an excellent point about invisible privilege factors and a lot of whites do need further education about this, because it doesn’t even appear on our day to day radar.

I totally agree with you about the conditions the vast majority of South Africans had to live and grow up in during apartheid. But what about now…It was the current government who disbanded the specialised anti gang and drug police units, the current government who is not building or upgrading schools, it is the current government who is leaving tens of thousands of school books in warehouses and not delivering them to schools in need, it’s the current government whose ward councillors are charging people for the keys to their free home in poor communities and it’s the current government who hasn’t significantly increased minimum wage or put proper HR regulations in place.

You also mention the opportunities of White people in the suburbs getting in decent schools and having a better start in life. On the whole I agree with this, but it’s not entirely accurate. If I were to live in the same house that I grew up in, firstly there is no way I could afford to buy there and secondly they would struggle to get into Rondebosch or SACS as we would be outside the catchment area, even though I went to Rondebosch. These catchment areas have been reduced to accommodate pupils for poorer more disadvantaged areas, who have just as much right to that eduction. I agree that the balance is still not there, but it is getting there and should get there faster.

Looking at ANC corruption and business, I hear what you are saying, but…

  • ANC corruption is what we hear about pretty much all the time, by what I hope is a balanced unbiased media
  • Why hasn’t the government increased minimum wage?
  • Why are HR regulations and hiring processes so poor? My wife, who is in HR is constantly amazed and shocked that people need to attached a photo to their application, or questions about disabilities are asked or job adverts are placed “Seeking experienced 20-30 female”.
  • Labourers and domestic workers need better wages and more fairer wages

I would like to also point out that I was referring to small white owned businesses (the ones that operate fairly). It’s only the big multinationals who have the money for the legal clout to skirt around things to maintain power. I now source work for the business from the UK and we try to use bright people who have started life from a disadvantaged point for contracts. We then work with them to help them develop as self employed individuals and going on to find and manage other contracts from within SA and the rest of the world.

With regards to your point on donations. Yes the west offers (and in some cases assumes that Africa needs it), but if South Africa doesn’t want it they are free to make the choice to say no thanks. Not sure if you are aware but the UK has committed £170 million (I may be off by a couple of million) of its regional aid budget to South Africa for 2015/16 with a yearly top up of £80 million each year thereafter with no plans to cap that. If SA doesn’t want it then tell the UK, there are plenty of impoverished areas in the UK (to the same extent as South Africa) that could REALLY do with it.

Of course there are strings attached, same goes for the aid/investment from China (or the aid from SA to other African countries), but once again it’s our leaders who accept the terms. What confuses is that on the one hand the west is called on for this that and the other and then they are told not to interfere and get out of Africa. It’s the swapping of one imperialistic agenda for another (western for eastern – china tells SA not to give the Dalai Lama visa or small mineral mining, carried out by Chinese miners and not employing local people)

I agree my humanity may be damaged, which is why I am on this path to change that. Its not easy when it comes to self reflection and imbedded unaware thoughts.

Tsholo [Read blog response here]

Thanks for calling me on my statement of “moving in reverse”. That was very much a point of vent first, think later. I totally agree with you regarding white privilege and still working to try get my head around it there is a lot to breakthrough and fully understand and not having the opportunity to experience it from the other side does not make it any easier to grasp… but I continue to try.

Thank you for your perspective of the statue issue. I have never seen them as a celebration but as markers of points in history. I can see now how they are used to celebrate and that in so doing continue to cause upset. point taken view changed.

I found your perspective on “What Colonialism brought to SA” really great and never thought about it in that way in that Africa’s progress was interrupted, but surely the same could be said for other nations, countries and people across history, what makes Africa so special in this regard? Is it because in terms of history it’s relatively fresh still?. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Africans were sitting on their thumbs waiting to be rescued and I apologise if that’s how it came out. The question was very much based on other arguments I have heard from “one-sided-ness” and want to understand more from a more balanced perspective.

On your aid to Africa with strings attached point, I covered this in my response to Marlyn.

Yes I am well aware that black people donate and do humanitarian things, apologies if you thought that was a point of criticism. I guess what I was interested in was when you donate and so on, is it view with skepticism or if a wealthy black person donates is it seen as a guilt payment?

When I give, I do so because I want to give back and help where I can, but then I am told by some that whites don’t belong. So my humanity is based on me being white.

Conclusion – Sorry If I didnt get to respond to you all… 

…as you can see I have written a small book and there is loads more that is swimming around in mind. I guess the point is that I have taken everything that has been said on board and am now able to start to see things from a more informed perspective.

I will continue to listen and digest. I am now able to have those conversations with people and better understand where they are coming from.

I think the thing for a lot of whites is that they dont understand or see the difference between racial acceptance and racism. If you havent yet read http://www.huffingtonpost.com/good-men-project/why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism_b_7183710.htm read it.

I have a long way to go and I am sure that my comments, questions and reflections above are probably not totally there yet. I am though asking the questions to change my perspective and outlook.

I won’t be responding further, I will though be reading any further responses with interest, listening hard and trying to correct areas that need correction in my life.

Sorry Megan if I am not quite as far along as you might like, but every journey needs to start somewhere.

[for Andrea’s response to this piece, click here]

[To return to the original mail by Bob and a link to all the responses that have followed, click here]

Martha, like Tsholo and Dre, was someone else who shared some thoughts in the comments section of the ‘What about Bob?’ conversation and i didn’t want her words to be missed so i asked her to expand it into a longer post and here it is:


[I am a young Black South African lady, working in a male dominant industry and studying towards my Bcom Degree. Very much active member of the society and believing in transformation.]

How It All Feels

When I first read Bob’s letter I thought he is actually whining but then again I thought that is the problem with people today, when you raising your thought, opinions is either you are an idiot, racist, illiterate or you are just too lazy. What I am about to write might upset few people but then again I know there are certain people who are going to understand my thoughts and please note this is what I AM thinking and feeling, what is familiar with me.

South Africa today is still the same as South Africa long time ago, the difference is that things are not done publicly like before instead it is all in the shadows, take note of the few points below:

1. Majority of them ‘’think they are helping us by giving us jobs’’ true that but just because you are black you should earn less than your white colleague who does the same job as you. (white privilege)

2. Where is the respect as fellow humans, every time I go into a salon dominated by white folks, I get those looks, I might interpret them in my own way ‘’Can she afford it? Is she here to rob us?’’ those are the kind of faces I get and every time it makes me wonder should I somaar leave or stay and hold my head up mos I am here to do my business. The at the corner we have old tannies whispering and holding their purses too tight, is this how we need to behave towards each other?

3. Some people rather drive to North gate Mall where as the have Westgate mall just 5 mins away, I have this chat with all my friends(black & white), fellow white South Africans believe some black people love to live like animals, but then correct me if I am wrong, all races we all have people who are rather ‘’out of their lanes’’ as I may call it. Not all black people are bad as much as not all white people are bad.

4. On several occasions I have witnessed black brothers and sisters treated so unhuman but as a citizen I am allowed to call to order such behaviours. They are being shouted at, called names, working without lunch, some of them have more 10 years experience though they are being lead by a fresh graduate form school who from my thinking and his actions he was taught he is more superior than his fellow human beings, what do we call that? Is this the rainbow nation we always telling people about, then you wonder why black people have unions and they are striking

5. On the striking matter, please correct me and make me aware as I am still learning and I am very much open to criticism, not a lot of white people engage in striking, is it because they are privileged? In a sense that most things they need, they have them?

6. South Africa introduce some BBBEE, is it working to benefit black people I don’t think so, white people still finds a way to open businesses with names familiar to black population…I know white people need to make a living and most of them got some nice lekker R50 000 SAVED some where…can they please live in a location, or a rural area just a month to see what black people really go through daily because of the apartheid that insisted black people to have limited resources.

7. Our black brothers also are not helping this whole situation by being corrupt,To be honest these days we are living for the sake of we have been granted lifes, other than that we have no spirit of fighting and being together, I know some people need us to be equal but how? How do we move on from this time?

8. I believe the is a bunch out there who believes we shall have peace in South Africa, but when? My white friend cannot walk in Ekasi without being exposed to some idiots who think the world belongs to them, I cannot walk in the suburbs without being stopped by the blockwatchers and searching me, how do we move on?

9. Fact is majority of black people are suffering and the minority of white people are suffering, I have concluded but not yet given up, we will never reach common ground with our modern mentality…as much as we are going to dispute this whole race issue, it’s a very long journey of finding the common human behaviors of how we relate. I have not forgotten we have other races in our country, I read about their ordeals and I am familiar with them.

Above are just few things, I actually could write 20 pages about my experience, but I believe in hearing other people’s thoughts.

[If you missed any of the posts in this conversation, they are all linked to the starting email over here]

My friend Dre [actually Andrea Thorpe] has been commenting at various places in the ‘What about Bob?’ conversation and so i asked her if she’d be up to sharing some thoughts of her own…


[I’m a white, English-speaking South African. I was born in the Eastern Cape in the ‘80s. I studied Journalism and Media Studies and English at Rhodes University, and later completed my Masters in English at Stellenbosch. I’m now roughly halfway through my PhD in English at Queen Mary University of London. I’m writing my thesis on South African literature, specifically, on South African writers writing in London from 1948 onwards, and so I spend a lot of time, while living in London, thinking and writing about South Africa. (It’s very meta.)]

I’m writing this as a follow-up to ‘Bob’s’ letter that Brett shared. I don’t want to do a point-for-point response as others have already done, so thoroughly. As Tsholo, particularly, has eloquently pointed out, some of Bob’s ideas about progress and colonialism are problematic, probably racist (e.g. that colonialism ‘saved’ Africa from itself.) One of the commenters on Bob’s post said it even more pointedly, calling him “ignorant” and “bigoted”. And I’ve asked, in my comments on Tsholo’s post, whether we should actually entertain or even respond to such conservative ideas? Is Bob reaching out for answers, or attempting to justify his privilege and prejudice?

More than anything, Bob’s post seems almost tiresomely familiar. I’m thinking of inventing a new game called ‘White South African Opinion Piece Bingo (2015 Edition)’, which would include boxes like ‘Rhodes Wasn’t Such a Bad Oke’; ‘What About Xenophobia, Hey?’; ‘Reverse Racism is Totally a Thing’; ‘I Know This is Politically Incorrect but I’m Just Saying it Like it Is’; ‘The Country is Going to the Dogs and All They Care about Are Statues’ and ‘Privileged? What, Me?’

Okay, I’m being facetious. But my point is that perhaps these posts are coming from a common place, a shared emotional, psychological impetus, which is maybe worth addressing. This feeling is best summed up by this passage in Bob’s letter:

“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 whatever they say or do is racist or from a point of white privilege” and again ,”I am a racist by association and don’t belong in South Africa”.

I read this as expressing two key sentiments: ‘I feel ashamed, and ‘I feel left out’. And what I hear beneath the rambling about government and Mugabe and statues (by Bob and by others) is this:

1) ‘Poor me, I don’t belong’:

Do you really feel as though you don’t belong, or is that your self-pity talking? You have all the rights of a citizen, and furthermore, you are white and therefore privileged.

During apartheid, black South Africans were forcibly removed from their homes, were often forced into exile and were denied the full rights of citizenship. They were truly made to feel as if they didn’t “belong”. Furthermore, in many places, black South Africans still feel excluded. For instance, many black students are marginalised by the structures and cultures of our elite universities: #Rhodesmustfall at UCT, The Black Student Movement at Rhodes and Open Stellenbosch are therefore focused on making our universities truly inclusive.

I think, as white South Africans, we are included more than excluded by South African society. I personally care more about those who, 21 years after the end of apartheid, still feel materially excluded from key sectors, (especially since it’s my field, in higher education) than I do about Bob’s existential crisis of belonging.

2) ‘I feel excluded from discussions about race because they’re not about me’:

I think a lot of white South Africans try and derail discussions about race (“race isn’t important”, “apartheid is over” etc.) because they feel left out, irrelevant. Bluntly, it’s not about you. Apartheid did not disadvantage you. The global imbalance of power cantilevers in your direction. So while you can listen and learn and contribute, debates about race are not going to put you – or people like you – in the centre.

3) ‘It makes me uncomfortable when my whiteness is made visible’:

Discussions about white privilege make white people uncomfortable because they are used to thinking of themselves as ‘just a person’ and are not used to having their race matter. Of course, race doesn’t ‘matter’ – we shouldn’t stereotype or generalise based on the category of skin colour – but it has consequences in terms of the economic, political and social power it’s entailed, historically. That doesn’t mean you have to feel ashamed about this: it’s just a fact. Also, having privilege does not automatically make you racist: it’s not acknowledging this privilege which is problematic.

4) ‘I don’t like it when people accuse me of racism’:

We’d all like to think of ourselves as tolerant, good people. But even if we try really hard to be non-prejudiced, our immersion in South African society (hey, in the very imbalanced world) has a way of coming out of the woodwork. Racism is not just about disliking black people. Racist ideology hides itself in a whole series of assumptions about ‘culture’, ‘civilisation’, education, the West and Africa, identity and so on. If we want to be better South Africans, better humans, we need to able to acknowledge, and hopefully transform, our deep-seated ideas about race.

I know I can always do better. I make mistakes and reveal skewed assumptions I didn’t even know I held, all the time. Example: I’m not even sure if it’s okay for me to write this post. Maybe it’s inappropriate of me to speak on behalf of black South Africans. Maybe I’ve made generalisations or over-simplified certain issues. Maybe not, but it’s worth asking the question. (So let me know what you think.)

It can be uncomfortable carrying out this mental ideology check, constantly, but it’s essential. Of course it’s not just about ideas: ideology can (and should, if it’s beneficial) translate into action, but your mind is a good place to start, I think.

What ABOUT Bob?

Maybe it’s pointless to respond to people like Bob. Maybe they don’t want to change, because that would mean accepting the possibility of a transformed South Africa which might not fit their needs and wants. But I hope that this discussion, sparked by Bob’s letter, can open our eyes to our own assumptions, and can help us to look beyond our own insecurities and emotions, so that we can truly, humbly listen and empathise.

When our kneejerk reactions to being told uncomfortable truths about race and privilege are defensiveness and self-pity, we miss out on an opportunity to really engage with our fellow South Africans, to acknowledge their pain and our shared, difficult history, and to make our country better.

[This is becoming a long conversation, but there is a lot of greatness and importance in here and so we need to keep on with it – get involved in the comments section, bring your friends to look and if you want to find your way to the beginning of it all with links to all the consequent pieces, click here]

So those of you who follow my blog will be aware that i received an email from a friend who wanted to remain anonymous but was wrestling with some questions and issues as a white South African who is currently living overseas but looking in. i published Bob’s email over here.

i then invited some of my friends to respond and so far Alexa [white woman], Marlyn [coloured guy] and Tsholo [black woman] have shared some of their thoughts as well as a number of other people in the comment sections of each post.

And then i got this email from another white friend, Colette, which takes this whole conversation in a bit of a different direction so i thought i would include it:


[My name is Colette. I’m a young, white South African with a passion for my country. I’ve worked in various contexts and currently am self – employed in the adult education sector.]

Having read through ‘Bob’s’ story as well as the comments and the other related posts, I had mixed reactions. For the most part I’m in tears.

1. I know that this issue is never going to be an easy one and, for all that I may not fully agree with everything, I am still grateful to see someone have the courage to say what they think even when it is not necessarily ‘politically correct’. To the commenter who called him ‘an idiotic, arrogant, ignorant, bigoted, whining racist’ I have to ask how this helps the situation? I don’t agree with his point of view but insulting him doesn’t help to change it. I think part of the problem is that many people are too scared to speak out and voice what they are thinking because they are too scared of the response. I know that is why I tend to lurk – reading posts but not responding. I want to ask questions, to understand other perspectives and ask for input but how can I do that when I risk being dropped on from a dizzy height because I’m still trying to unpack my understanding of race and otherness. According to the hierarchy of needs, the issues that we are trying to address only come once the practical needs have been met. We all spend most of our time doing whatever we need to do survive and this does cloud our perceptions of the world. Trying to grapple with the challenges of a broken society is hard, let’s at least give grace to people who are asking questions and trying to understand.

2. Dealing with race and otherness is something that we all face. I will never truly know what it means to be black in South Africa. I can empathise, spend time in the townships, do a thousand other things but I know that it is never really the same. I try my best – please forgive me when I don’t ‘get it’ and let me to grow by correcting me. I’m trying to look beyond my stereotypes but I need help.

3. My heart breaks for this country because I see how much hurt and suffering is still out there. And sometimes I am paralysed by the magnitude of the problems. I don’t know where to begin so I do nothing. I want to be able to help every person I see but I know that it’s not practical. I work in the field of adult education and see so many people who are who are trying to better themselves by taking the opportunities given to them but I also see those who waste opportunities and believe that they should be given everything without working for it. It’s very difficult to help people who don’t want to be helped…

4. The issue of white privilege is something that I’m guessing I still don’t fully understand but I’m trying. And yes, I do often feel guilty for it. I know I’m a white middle class South African but please see beyond the stereotype. I would love to be able change things and, where I can, I will try. There’s a lot more I would love to say but I don’t know how to. I’m writing this as a young, white, South African who has a lot of questions but I want to listen and to understand as best I can.

Kind regards,

Colette Tennison

[To return to the beginning of the story and have access to all the posts, click here]

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] 

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