The same thing will mean different things to different people. The same sentence will evoke different memories, emotions and constructs depending on who reads it. For this reason, it is very difficult to write about race, religion or politics. My view is unique, because I had a unique life. What I can state boldly can not be understood by some and should not be repeated by others. I wonder if there could ever be a concise way to communicate the heart of my thoughts? The next few paragraphs might reveal that.
I understand Biko in a certain way. I believe his radicalism and separateness was needed under a regime where whites had all the power. I guess, the thing Biko fought for, one man one vote and all that that would entail, changes the rules of how he should be read. He spoke of sitting down at an African table. When? When Apartheid ended and we have black people running their own country, or when all blacks are richer than all whites?
Here is a question I doubt many radicals like to answer: When should we sit around the table and be brothers and sisters? I see a lot of struggling around me these days, some of it blatant, most of it hidden. When you want to struggle, it means that you normally feel ‘under’ the one you are struggling against. So for some, apartheid will never be over. For those, Biko will always be a call to fighting. As for me, I am done fighting and struggling. Nevertheless, in respect of those bearing anger and hurt, I will employ Biko in a literal sense, without considering context, and I will turn to my own people, I will write this piece for whites only. I write to whites only, because a white man dares not have anything to say to a black man… I say that with a sad smile of irony, not because I think it should be so, but because it is what I hear and read every day. So, this is for whites only, I am allowed to talk to whites, as an Afrikaner.
I have a few normative and moderate assumptions and I have a few radical assumptions. These basic beliefs I hold isolates and estranges almost every single person I come across. Let me drop the bombs and if you are still around after that we can deconstruct and reconstruct in order to find an appropriate current stance: First, although I am not a fan of historical ’Christianity’ or mainstream churches, I am a fanatical believer in what the historical figure of Jesus taught. I sum that up with don’t be selfish, live for others: to reach love, start with respect. Nothing more and nothing less. Screw the little rules and regulations. Get the big idea right. This should impact all areas of our lives, especially our work, money, families and social activities. If you are not serious about this basic move towards others, you can never understand my position. You cannot understand my politics if you don’t understand my religion, because the two are not separate and the latter trumps the former every day, every time.
Let’s plunge right into our continent and it’s realities: I can love Africa and it’s people, I can live here, my family can be rooted here for 300 years and call it home. I can say all humans descend from Africa, so my ancestors are from Africa, went to Europe and came back. I can do and choose and associate all I want, but, the reality is: as a white man in Africa I will never be at home. Not because it should be so or I want it to be so (it is obviously the only home I know), but because of hundreds of years of evil and uncivility, the chance of me being at home in Africa will not happen in the next 600 years. The price white people have to pay for their cleverness, dominance and incivility is to forfeit ever being ‘at home’. Our punishment is not BBBEE, our ultimate punishment is to never be able to be at home.
Never mind the story of the Bushman kicked out by migrants from central or northern Africa, that is not a story for us… the comparison of movement and dominance and disrespect for ‘weaker’ indigenous people will help you nothing, forget about it, it is a dead-end, simply because you are the one thinking about it. Your story, the one you can not escape, is the story of Europeans (read white) coming to Africa (read black). 300 years of colonialism will require 600 years of non-colonialism to even out. Just as 80 years of apartheid will require at least 160 years of non-apartheid to even out. I am using general figures and large statements here, not to make a specific prediction, but as metaphorical constructs to illustrate a principle. If you bully me for 10 years, then I grow up and become bigger than you, I will also bully you for ten years, but probably more, because you scarred me. If I get given a stick, but I never really grew stronger than you, I might try to beat you up for much more than ten years, because I still do not feel stronger.
Africa will perpetuate distrust and resentment indefinitely. It is just too easy for radicals to point to colour and spread hatred, fear, distrust and resentment. You have to expect that and deal with that, or leave. The fact that we can leave already infuriate others and should tell us something about privilege. Opposed to easy hatred and distrust stands love. I say love, not ubuntu, since I have heard many times that ubuntu is a construct f how black people lived together; xenophobia amongst black Africans revealed the death of ubuntu in practice. 60% of South African declared that they wil never house a refugee of war. Ubuntu, like Robert Gabriel had a great start, but is currently in danger of dying. So I stick to love, not ubuntu. Love is so much more illusive and harder to feel and live than hatred. Forgiveness is so much more elusive than hunger for mob justice. A Tutu will never win a black crowd when confronted with a Malema, no matter the merits of their intellect or lives. Until the average African is richer, better educated, stronger, smarter and more disciplined than the average white person, the ghosts of the past will not disappear. How long will that take? How long that will take depends on two things: how much whites want to protect and how much blacks want to compete. Note, I say compete- not blame or demand.
I comment here on black sentiments I see and hear, not to teach or advise any black man, but to illuminate the reality for my fellow Afrikaner. As long as black Africans feel angry and resentful, the white man will not be welcome, the white man will not be welcomed. If you are suborn, like most of us Afrikaners are, you will say I don’t need their welcome. It’s my country too, I have a right. Once you catch yourself saying that, know that you are the cause of the problem and you are the one giving fuel to black radicals (read red barrette). History does not afford the white man strength. Black people, despite 20 years of voting the ANC into Power and occupying all branches of government, do not feel free, because whites still have the money. (read economic freedom). Do’t be silly and think of poor whites in squatter camps or Patrice or Cyril. The average black is way poorer and less educated than the average white. That makes many people angry. And even if you think that anger should in part be self-directed or at their own leaders, the easy and constant target of that anger will be the whites. Most whites, by their actions and words perpetuates and gives legitimacy to the anti-white sentiment.
Blacks will remain distrustful and hateful at large. Unless miracles happen. Mandela was maybe one tenth of a miracle, but because there was no white Mandela that could lead white South Africans to a grateful response to kindness and mercy, the next black leaders were naturally less miraculous. White people found in Mandela, relief. We never had the consciousness and intelligence to publicly express our gratitude in words and in actions. We took grace for granted. Perhaps due to stupid right wingers who said this was our country which we built. Reality check for whites: we didn’t give anything up in 1994. We should have. Not being pro-active and voluntary, is now coming back to bite us. Roelf and FW stopped the madness, that was their job. There was no-one to grab the white imagination and lead us into true integration, sharing and reconstruction. Mandela came forward, people applauded, but no one joined him. Where was the white leader to match Madiba in brave moral leadership? In a microcosm this still happens every day in South Africa. Individuals grow and become enlightened, they make the Madiba move, they reach out. But being new at it, the lack of reciprocity, the persistence of blame and spreading of hate, soon makes the young human rediscover their white or blackness. Again, trapped in colour. Humanity lost. How many good people don’t give up? Besides being victims and prisoners to crime, we are all in prisons created by our skins.
These paragraphs created context for and eluded to my next big belief: as a white person, you don’t deserve anything. The saying ‘the world doesn’t owe you anything’ is particularly relevant for whites in Africa: This country does not owe you anything. Your tax money is not there to build you roads, it is there to fix the mess of apartheid. Whether JZ builds Nkandla or schools, does not change that. If blacks want to take Potch university or Stellenbosh, give it to them, make it English. That already happened to the RAU where I studies, that is now the infamous UJ. If you want an Afrikaans university, build it yourself, without state subsidies. Let is go… We are in a time, and era where many crazy and silly things will happen. A mix of protest and Chivas, shacks and Maseratis will characterize a phase of mixed excitement, confusion, party and funerals… until the drunken honeymoon is over and things become normal and pragmatic. That time of rational rebuilding is not here yet. And don’t expect it to arrive soon. People are still angry and hurt, they feel they ‘deserve’ some relief after years of torture. Give them a break.
The big question the state of affairs leads us to ask is: where does this leave me as white person in South Africa? Let’s get the easy answer out of the way: if it is all too much for you, leave: go to Australia, England, USA or wherever you feel you will be happy. If you stay because you think SA is still the place on earth you think you can have the highest quality life for the least effort, then stay but shut the fuck up about black people. If you stay because you feel called to do so, either by birth loyalty or religious beliefs, then there are some avenues to explore that can help you on your journey. I find myself here, in this paradoxical place where I can hear myself say: ‘I belong here’, although I also hear a voice in my head reflecting hidden sentiments of Mzansi saying : ‘you do not belong here’. This tension of being home, but not at home has more of a nagging and niggling effect than we realize. One can quickly feel sorry for yourself, but smart people know that the easiest way to look stupid is for a privilege white to feel sorry for themselves amongst a word of suffering black Africans. So swallow or hide the self-pity, quickly, before you look stupid. Feeling sorry is one of the things we lost in the repayment of our past sins.
It is my opinion that, as a white person, you can only make sense of staying in South Africa, if you believe in a bigger, better picture and if you are willing, no, dedicated to making that work. The trick is, that this better bigger picture is a mental construct, a picture in our heads. That is what you stick to, believe in, fight for. The white man’s struggle is to keep the dream alive that one day, we will be able to sit as brothers, equal around an African table. Perhaps envisioning a Mendela-esque figure serving us communion of bread or pap, with wine or black label as we share our humanity. To keep the dream alive, we need to be prepared: the reality that you face around you every day will shit on the dream. Criminals raping and stealing, taxis driving like selfish bastards, poor people too poor to know they are littering, corrupt tenders buying Ferrari’s, loud mouths and empty heads with red barrettes, marching and dancing masses, corrupt politicians, disregard for courts and law, denial of media freedom and balance, extreme poverty of millions, unemployment, bad roads, failing electricity, scarce water, mall robberies, HIV-Aids, drunken denialism, football games starting late because fans can’t show up on time, hilarious accents on TV reading elementary speeches so slow you can’t keep up or quotas in sports teams… these are all things white people will see, or think they see, and if any of these affect your belief in the dream of The Rainbow Nation, then realize this: you are not believing in the dream, you are still trapped in expecting a reality in the material word around you, that suits you.
If you get upset by things around you that the majority of black people are not getting upset about, you should realize that instead of believing in a beautiful dream for ‘one-day’ you are in fact projecting your immediate desires onto a situation that can not satisfy your demand. And projecting unrealistic expectations too quickly onto a situation or a person is a sure way to make things worse. As a white, you need to learn to take a punch, without retaliation, getting angry or feeling despair. That is how you keep the dream alive- by giving it up. For now. Please don’t think I’m a schizophrenic person devoid of feeling. This giving up on the dream is terribly sad and painful and the extent of sadness depends on the extent to which you have and are willing to fight for this dream. It’s bloody sad, that’s why it’s so easy to get angry and depressed. Still, we can not remain children who throw our toys when we don’t get our way. We have to grow up and be smart. The first step in this smartness is to make changes in our expectations and time-lines.
If being smart was easy, everyone would have been smart. So here is the tricky part. Not expecting the dream today does not mean not expecting the dream. I said it’s tricky. Knowing and being prepared today to face tough and silly things does not mean we do not look out for beautiful and good things every hour of every day. Not expecting gratitude and kindness does not mean we do not look for every opportunity to be kind and grateful. And here the tricky context of white survival intersects with an old truth: the darker the surrounding the greater the light from a flame. The very thing that wants to make you give up becomes the thing that draws you to the dream. The very thing that wants to make you feel abandoned, scared and hopeless- becomes the thing that activates hope, courage and dedication. These things can not be sustainably faked. You need a very deep commitment and resilience born from gratitude and self-knowledge, or the winds of change will upset you as it’s discomfort trumps its potential. In a way, Mzansi only has space for radicals, radical believers of good and beauty. If you believe in beauty and goodness with 70%, our country will defecate on that you think you hold dear. If you believe in beauty and goodness 100%, nothing can affect your love and humanity, because you believe more in the ideal than in your expectation of an immediately happy life.
We cannot change the big picture. We don’t have to change the big picture because the pig picture will always reflect the sum of all the little pictures. One of the first bridges one has to cross on the road of making a difference is to realize how very small our influence is and how little we can achieve. In a sense you have to give up, before you can start. Don’t read that to fast, it is excruciating to give up on your desire to make good. Once we have left the childish desire to change the world behind, we can engage our immediate reality with more clarity. As a whitey, you will meet different kinds of black people, there are not just blacks and clearly realizing different types and groupings will help you survive and thrive. There are different groups of whites and blacks in response to and depending a myriad of situations. The one I want to elaborate on now deals with the legacy of colonialism and apartheid. Most people will agree that white privilege exist. History left white people in a position of power and advantage. Despite a black government and BEE, what is between our ears, leaves whites privileged and to use a more blatant word: lucky. We are privileged, not because we are inherently stronger or smarter, that is just the way history played out, that one racial group devised structures that benefited them in the long run. That structuring was not morally justifiable and today we face the predicament where our strength is our problem. Blacks are happy to talk about privilege, but none wants to call it what it is: strength. Strength is the manifestation of power- whites and blacks could do well to be real and blatant about the problem, if they wish to move on with authenticity. To this problem, of white power, black people will react in different ways:
1.) Some will deny it, the very idea of admitting whites are privileged, connected, educated, strong or smart bothers them and they will say ‘all is equal’ let’s play. 2.) Some blacks will admit the privilege and differences and blame whites for it while refusing help or collaboration. They say whites caused the problems, so only blacks can fix it. Whites should not try to help. 3.) Some blacks will affirm white privilege and ask whites to assist them reach an equal level. 4.) Some blacks are too poor and destroyed to articulate any opinion on the matter, they just try and survive without engaging all these constructs.
There are two groups therefore that wants you to do nothing when it comes to rebuilding. They might want to ignore you, they might want to punish you or they might want to take your things. They are tricky groups to deal with, because although it is easy to say ‘ok, I won’t help you or mix with you, good luck’, others will be more aggressive and you will have to decide when to flee, when to protect and when to hand over whatever they want. I think, at times we have to do all of the above. Yes, you can take my university, yes, you can take my farm, no, you cannot take my house or car, no you cannot have my wife, I won’t talk to you about my feelings on this matter, no, I can’t become stupid or unread on your behalf, no you can’t hit me, yes you can strike, but I can avoid that, etc. Many tricky responses and decisions needed in reply to the black people that think you are not good and who will not ask you for collaboration. The biggest danger is to respond to this group with equal animosity or aggression. Don’t get angry. Take the metaphorical punch. We will need to sacrifice many things. And we need to know exactly what we are not willing to give up. For me, getting a job from government is not a human right, sometimes you must even except a hijacking or housebreak for pragmatic and survival reasons. But as a white person you are still a human being and although there are many more areas to pay back, there are also areas where we can say no. Sometimes I will listen to generalized accusations and insults, because it helps to bring about healing. Sometimes, I will walk away from hatred, because it is not good for anyone. These two groups that wants nothing from whites, do not really want nothing from whites. They want a lot, they just don’t want to give the whites the satisfaction of giving it, not to mention the satisfaction of being asked. I have sympathy for that, because I am a stubborn individual and my natural inclination is also towards this type of proud hardkoppigheid.
Although I should be able to give a warm, sympathetic and sincere smile to the above group and wish them well in their homogenous struggle, I should never allow their sentiments to affect the way I behave to the other two groups. Just as no arrogant white person can speak on behalf of all other whites, so no clever black person can speak on behalf of all other blacks. It’s funny that those who criticize the most (on either side) normally does and sacrifice the least. In fact, before I listen to people, I want to see how they organize their lives and how much they sacrifice for who. Of the two groups that do not prohibit whites from helping, the easy group is the third, the one that point blank says: I want to learn from you and connect to you until I catch up or overtake. This group can be engaged and helped easily. When it comes to them the burden is on us, to strive towards equality and not perpetuating power and patronizing paternalism. When we help we fight for our own freedom and we have to be humble helpers learning as much as we teach. How to help without harm is a long topic by itself, but at least there are two sides that wish to collaborate.
The last group, that of poor and uneducated blacks that say nothing as they try to survive requires lots of wisdom, discernment or plain guesswork! Some, although they don’t know how to say it or are too scared to ask, needs your help as fellow human being and you should help. I will give three examples: an injured person hit by a car lies next to the road bleeding- you help, even without being asked. A disabled or desperately defeated person requires food, clothes or shelter for survival, you have abundance- so you help. A person who has been brainwashed all whites are bad and who fears white people might need a sign of humble compassion so you reach out, pay school fees, make an anonymous donation or react in a way you feel shows reasonable human response, you make the first move across historical and racial divides. Then there are others who might be trapped in poverty, but they need to find ways to lift themselves up by themselves or that needs to be lifted by other black people, so they can become free from feelings of racial inferiority. Sometimes we have to do nothing indeed.
Here lies the secret: do not allow one group to influence your reaction and response to another group. If you feed a sick homeless person, don’t assume a young black academic needs anything from you. If a black diamond tells you whites should leave blacks alone, don’t let that stop you from making friends or giving money away. Treat every single person, every single face in front of you on their own terms. Respect the individual in front of you and respond appropriately to his or her opinions, needs or desires. “Take it or leave it”: can you say that without resentment? Can you be praised or insulted wearing the same smile of compassion and love on your face? As members of the white tribe of Africa, we have many issues and shadows to deal with. Extraordinary braveness is required to conserve our own humanity, not to mention the humanity of those around us. Anger and frustration, fear and despair speak of weakness- we need to grow up and be so strong that we can be weak.
So, to the angry and confused whites, let us learn to lay down our lives. Most of us claim to follow Jesus. We need to decide if Jesus is fake or if He is everything. Our country takes away the middle ground, you and I will be crazy Jesus freaks or practical atheists. I don’t always know which one I am, or even which one I want to be. But I know what I don’t want to be: I do not want to be a practical atheist living for myself and my small group of biological or linguistic clan members. I want to follow the Famous one who modelled love for the Other- Who died for others. Ironically, as an Afrikaner (not being a Jew) I am the Other He died for.
Can we proclaim to be Christians and not follow Him? In South Africa, we need to decide if we will be seduced by rhetoric of rights and demands or if we want to follow Jesus and live for others, picking up our cross every day? There is no better place to live as a true Christian. It is all or nothing. You are either self focused and live to preserve your own little group, or you are inspired by Jesus who reaches out and beyond- sacrificing everything. Jesus is calling you: ‘catch me if you can’. He won’t stop loving and reaching out, no matter how you cry or complain. Get with the (His) programme or stay behind. Walala wasala, if you sleep you stay behind. We do not have great white leaders today. Each of us have to take up the responsibility of stepping out: in response to Jesus’ love and Mandela’s grace- as a white Christian South African, you have to lay down many natural inclinations and start the hidden journey to love. We have to take our old ideas of Afrikaner culture and language to the cross and discover new ways of being, just like our forefathers did when they got on a boat, from Europe to the Cape, we need to prepare ourselves for a journey into a new world. The door to the new world is respect. If you respect yourself, learn to respect others. Don’t be naïve, don’t be hard.
I will try to run this race. Saying this is a commitment, a scary declaration that I will try. To my white Christian counterparts: I won’t beg you, nor will I wait for you. Catch me if you can. Walala wasala.
To any black brother or sister that were insane enough to read through these ramblings of a lost Umlungu, my overall sentiment to black people is the following: catch us if you can, and for those who want help, I will try to give my best for you to overtake me. For those who do not want my help or friendship, see you on the other side.