South Africa is on a precipice; and how we decide to move forward together is how history will remember us.
Where are we now?
I still see a country so divided on an issue that really we should all be standing together on; holding those in power accountable for stealing our resources.
So why aren’t we seeing that?
South Africa feels like a married couple – where either the husband or wife has been caught cheating but they are still living together. They’re staying together for the children; but because they haven’t dealt with the cheating, the fighting is incessant.
And now they’ve both lost their jobs.
It should stand that they do whatever they can to work together to survive the challenges ahead; but because the cheater is unable to fully understand the damage they did and wants to ‘simply move forward’ as though nothing happened, they seem to be a stuck record.
South Africa needs to listen right now to the few credible leaders we still have left, but there are two major issues we have:
- A credit downgrade tied to state capture and looting of our finances serves no one.
- We need to reconcile our past and forge a better way forward together.
Pravin Gordhan is not mincing his words anymore. Not only is he asking for an uprising, he’s doing so in a calm, collected and concentrated manner because he’s focused on what’s right for the country. For all 55 million people.
In light of his courage I think we can all follow his lead. It’s why I’m writing this. I think we should all (regardless of what party or race we belong to) ask ourselves an important question:
What type of country do we want for our children? ALL of our children.
The roots of such division
I can’t speak for the majority of this county but as a white male I can share thoughts as to why our country is still so divided from a white perspective. Why a crisis as big as a credit downgrade and our national treasury being looted doesn’t have everyone up in arms; why we aren’t all joining hands in unison to say “enough is enough”.
This next bit is specifically for whites in this country (and the migrators too actually) I hope this reaches the best part of your humanity and you go away thinking deeply about this. Our future depends on it.
If you’re wondering why we don’t understand why more black people aren’t standing up to Zuma; it’s because we don’t understand them.
And we’ve never really made an effort to either. I’m 37 and I’ve only started to try now.
So understand now that the deep seeded problems we have aren’t going away with a cabinet shuffle or new president for that matter.
We’ve all been on a sinking ship; it’s just that the previous cries of ‘we’re drowning’ below are being heard as the feet of the middle class start getting wet.
The purpose of this is to stimulate dialogue. Not to offend or make you feel guilty – if you do I think you need to look inside and ask why.
Let’s keep using the married couple analogy.
In this instance the major pillar of a relationship has been broken: trust.
Trust is not something you can easily get back. It takes time and commitment to build that back up. From both sides. It also takes an immense amount of communication to talk about everything from the honest truth of why you cheated, to how you felt being cheated on.
This takes adult conversation. It’s raw, hard, and will feel like pouring chili powder on an open gash.
Take the first step
The older I get the more I realise how many whites in South Africa (the cheaters) have never truly understood what pain and mental torture black people experienced during apartheid. Recognising my part in our society’s current ills, I’ve started speaking openly to friends and colleagues to ask what their personal experiences during apartheid were. I can’t change the past and that’s not why I’m doing this. I do feel, however, that understanding what they went through helps me understand actions and behaviours today.
That means I can be part of the solution and not a blockage in the system.
In every case, I could feel how those memories were still fresh in their minds. My skin went cold hearing what they experienced. Whether it was being scared of white people walking down the street; or simply playing outdoors and having to run inside because a cop car drove through the neighbourhood with policemen and their guns loaded firing shots.
There are many who spout forth how Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) is terrible and that they didn’t ‘benefit’ from apartheid. Maybe even express that they were poor under the old regime and feel now they are being ‘doubly punished’. Let me first clear up this confusion between your personal circumstance and white privilege.
- You may have been poor, but you could still choose what schools to attend and get fully educated (not a state forced bantu education); choose a hospital to be treated in; place to live.
- You may have been poor, but you were still issued a birth certificate with easily traceable paths to your family and your identity intact.
- I doubt you were kicked off your land/ out your home in the middle of the night and shipped off somewhere completely foreign to you; in the process potentially being separated from your family.
- You were never told that you were ‘less than’ another race and emotionally tortured.
Using personal circumstance to argue that you didn’t benefit from apartheid is like saying you also can’t swim but you’re the one with a life jacket around your neck.
If you read any of those (and there are countless more I can cite) and felt yourself saying ‘yes but…..’ or ‘I’m sick of being made to feel guilty’ then you are not reading (this article or any other for that matter) to learn and understand; but rather to simply reply. Probably to put forth your point of view which you believe is right.
Listen to understand. Not just to respond.
This is another symptom of why I think we are where we are. People want to be right rather than what’s right for the situation. The WHOLE of South Africa.
What can we do now?
This is another great article posted around what whites need to do in this country (read the full article here) and it talks about four mind set changes whites need to make, which I have summarised here:
- Farewell to innocence. Focus on fully understanding our dark past and the impact it’s had even if you personally didn’t do anything ‘bad’ – you were still a positive recipient of the principles in place. Admit that.
- Farewell to ignorance. “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse” and so too with racism and past injustices. Begin to understand.
- Farewell to arrogance. Stop posting replies online and using “Yes but…” when discussing current issues. It’s all connected; our current state didn’t ‘just happen’.
- YES to Africa. But finally, brother and sisters, compatriots, we as white South Africans not only need to say farewell (or NO) to these racist assumptions and habits. We also need to say YES to a new way of life, YES to our fellow South Africans.
All these things will help open proper dialogue channels instead of trying to justify one’s own innocence. Zuma is actually doing one thing right.
He’s like Aldara – a cream that draws cancer deep within the skin to the surface, revealing all the ugliness that was sitting beneath the surface.
Any discussion around Zuma should ordinarily be about him, but because our race issues and past haven’t been openly healed any discussion around him quickly becomes a race war. I don’t condone it – but I can understand why some black people sit back and, knowing he’s breaking the country, want to do nothing.
It’s the same reason people voted for Trump; why UK voters opted out of Europe.
When you’re already living in a world of shit, and someone comes along to shake up ‘the way things are normally done’, wouldn’t you also want to give it a try? I mean – when you have nothing to lose, why not?
Think about where you are reading this. Safely in a home you live in by yourself with running water and electricity.
Should you feel guilty about those luxuries? Nope, but understanding other people’s frustrations means we fight for everyone’s rights, not just when ours have been bumped.
Start understanding that in a marathon race you had a head start. Yes, we live in a world where we all have to work for what we want. I don’t live in a mansion because I can’t afford it; but then again I never studied my entire school career under candle light sharing a room with my brothers and sisters.
Thought for the article
You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it. You can’t understand someone else’s circumstances if you’ve never lived them. How often do we hear white people explaining what black people should do and thereby tell them how they should feel? Too often.
If you’ve ever been through our poorest parts of our cities at midday where unemployment and crime are rife, then ask yourself one question:
How strong would YOU be to be able to overcome your surroundings and get out of there if the tables were turned?
I have. And I don’t know if I’d be where I am today had the roles been reversed.
I personally believe now, after some deep thought, that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission missed an important part for this country to heal. ALL whites needed to go through it. To understand on a personal level the conditions people were subjected to. How they felt.
Think about how Germany sends all its children to concentration camps (even to this day).
Maybe then we wouldn’t be making such sweeping statements from behind our positions of privilege. I often feel people’s responses are like that quoted in pre-revolution France after hearing the poor people were starving because they didn’t have bread;
“Then let them eat cake”.
Privilege creates barriers to reality.
One of my colleagues told me I was the first person in 26 years to ask him questions about his background. That’s almost 10 000 days. I get it. White people are scared to broach a subject that implicates us in current day suffering. It’s easier to ‘get on with it’ and say the current government should do better thereby absolving ourselves of past injustices. Again – I don’t condone the government’s mismanagement of funds and corruption – that’s a separate issue. Understand how we got here and our roles in it.
Maybe taking a scientific approach would help people have dialogues rather than mudslinging contests. There’s always plenty of mud to throw and no one’s innocent. Remember the phrase “Let he who is free of sin cast the first stone”? I dated a wise woman who also taught me: “Throw a piece of dirt; lose a piece of ground”. These are all things we need to develop and understand before we enter difficult discussions because emotions are always going to run high.
And rightly so.
We all love this country and that is what we should be building the foundations on.
But if your son had been murdered and the murderer got a light sentence you would also find it difficult to ‘carry on’ with life.
Instead of being so quick to point out others’ ‘faults’, question why they don’t agree with what you believe to be right. Perhaps take some time to listen to them to understand how deep-seated racism has affected their lives – and still does today.
Let’s stand up and take step #1 and be accountable for the fact that we have privilege.
Then (and only then) can we walk side by side and work together to stitch up this fractured country and stand beside Pravin Gordhan against those trying to divide us further while they slink away into the darkness with all of our resources.
Is it worth arguing you’re right only to sit on the rubble of what’s left with a smirk on your face? Why not concede to what’s right for the country while you and everyone smile?
I vote for everyone smiling.
We need a revolution in our thinking – not just our government.
We need a revolution in our own behaviours – not just BEE in companies.
Who’s with me?