This column is reserved for white people only.
Relax. This isn’t as alarming as it sounds. It’s just that I have a few things to get off my sunken chest and it doesn’t apply to all who live in this magnificent brute of a country.
Right. Time to feed the trolls.
You – we – have been given another chance. Hard to believe, I know. We got our first Get Out of Genocide Free card in 1994, thanks, in part, to Nelson Mandela’s laudable attitude towards national reconciliation. Or perhaps it was simply the biggest case of Stockholm syndrome the world has ever seen.
Either way, the 1994 elections – and to a lesser extent the Soccer World Cup in 2010 – brought black and white people closer than ever. Sure, we fell apart soon after each event, but we had a taste of unity and it tasted good. Sweeter than hate, but not as sweet as revenge.
The likes of Steve Hofmeyr and Sunette Bridges would have it that the only reason black people haven’t killed us all by now is because bludgeoning is hard work and doesn’t pay very well.
I may be wrong, but what most black people were thinking in 1994 was, I imagine, very different to what most white people were thinking. If I had been, say, a middle-aged black man being allowed to vote for the very first time, I reckon that my immediate thoughts, as I folded my ballot paper with my X carefully inscribed in the block alongside the ANC’s logo, wouldn’t have been, “Yes! Now I can take my kids to Addington Beach.” No. I suspect my immediate thoughts would have been more along the lines of, “You fucking white bastards. Here we go. Payback time.”
The ANC won almost 63 percent of the vote. If ever there was a time to break out the champagne and pangas, that would have been it.
Prior to that, most white people were racists, consciously or otherwise. How could we not have been? Our neighbourhoods, schools, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, beaches, sports facilities and swimming pools were segregated by law right up until 1991. The only black people we ever came into contact with were our gardeners, maids and sellers of zol.
Black people were trouble. They must have been, otherwise they would have been allowed to live next door to us, right? Catch the same buses as us. Sit on the same park benches as us. Trouble is best avoided. And the government made it so easy for us to avoid trouble. Declare suburbs white by night. Confine the unrest to the townships. Then prevent the media from reporting on it. That way, nobody knows anything. Have elections every four years but don’t let the darkies vote and hope nobody notices. Come on. It’s a kind of democracy, right?
Eyes – narrowed through decades of fear, antipathy and suspicion – began opening as Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster prison on February 11, 1990, and didn’t immediately kill and eat a white baby. And, four years later, the cold hearts of many racists melted in the warm dawn of democracy. Well, if not melted, then certainly softened.
Pale hands, that once bore arms, began reaching out, slowly, hesitantly, when they heard this legendary terrorist say, hours after being released, “We call on our white compatriots to join us in the shaping of a new South Africa. The freedom movement is a political home for you too.”
What? Join them? After what we have done? There must be some mistake.
But there was no mistake. We were on the invitation – not as guests, but as locals. Comrades. Fellow citizens. And so we learned how to say hello and goodbye in Zulu and sing the first couple of bars of the new anthem and tell one darkie from another. But, because the centre of the dream was rooted in an ideal without solid foundations, it couldn’t hold. Soon enough, the barbarians were at the gates. Not, as one might think, clamouring for retribution, but merely seeking to redistribute the wealth that for so many years had been stockpiled in the suburbs.
And so, even in the minds of those of us who were prepared to forego our master race status in the name of fair play and giving those okes a break, the thieving bastards slowly but surely became thieving black bastards. The liberal veneer began flaking off faster than the gold on a Rolex bought on South Beach. Racial attitudes hardened quicker than superglue on a street kid’s nostrils.
“The vote not good enough, hey? Now you want our cars, money and jobs?”
And once we got wind of the fact that they were doing what all politicians do, only with a little less guile and finesse, our outrage could be contained only by the building of walls, both physical and metaphysical.
Boetie gaan weer border toe. Only this time, the borders were in our hearts and minds. I suppose the barricades were always there. They still are. We lower and lift them according to how aggrieved or magnanimous we feel.
Madiba’s death has, ironically, recharged our desolate souls. I have never seen so many pictures of white people crying over something that isn’t related to rugby. That must mean something.
In a recent blog post, Rhodes journalism professor Herman Wasserman said, “… we will have to move beyond reconciliation, wonderful as it is, to social justice, to equality in all its dimensions. There are many rivers still to cross. I am asking myself again: what can I do, what can I contribute?”
It’s a question all white people should be asking right now.
Standing on the balcony of Cape Town’s city hall hours after being released, Mandela told the crowd, “There must be an end to white monopoly on political power and a fundamental restructuring of our political and economic systems to ensure that the inequalities of apartheid are addressed and our society thoroughly democratised.”
Mind the gap.
We don’t know how much Christo Wiese – worth R27.4-billion – gives to charity. Nor do we know how much Patrice Motsepe (R22.5-billion) or the Royal Bafokeng Consortium (R7-billion) give to worthy causes. But this isn’t about them. That’s a different matter for another day.
When it comes to philanthropy, this is not the time for white millionaires and billionaires to be coy. Let your worth be seen, rich dudes. There are five million of us in this country – mostly upper middle class and comfortably off – and we need to grab every opportunity to show the other 45 million that we are serious about making amends.
The death of Madiba has given us another chance to do that – a rare thing on a continent that doesn’t easily hand out second chances.
I worked with a lovely fellow called Mdu a few years ago. We often went drinking after work. One night he told me about the time the security police arrested him in Joburg in the late ‘80s. It was a case of mistaken identity. He showed me the scars on the inside of his thighs where they had electrocuted him. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t hate white people. He guzzled his beer and laughed and told me about an Afrikaner constable who had treated him with respect and who eventually convinced his superiors that they had the wrong man and got him released.
So let’s start performing random acts of kindness upon strangers. Touch paws. Engage. It could have a knock-on effect beyond our imagining.
And let us no longer be divided by race or political affiliation when it comes to marching, booing or whatever else it takes to get the government to behave like servants, and not masters, of the people. Let them know that we are, from this moment on, holding them to the standards set by Nelson Mandela.
At worst, if the good ship RSA does flounder and sink under the weight of corruption, sloth and incompetence, we can at least go down as compatriots, preferably with a beer in hand, and not tearing each other’s faces off.