Brad Cibane
Brad Cibane

White South Africans are victims too

On March 17 1992 the National Party, under former president FW de Klerk’s leadership, asked white South Africans a difficult question in the form of a referendum. The question was: “Do you support the continuation of the reform process which the state president began on February 2 1990 and which is aimed at a new constitution through negotiation?” So 85.08% of white South Africans pitched up to vote and 68.73% of them voted ”yes”.

The answer to the rather vague question seems apparent today but it wasn’t so in 1992. Not within the national culture in which white South Africans were brought up. Whites born in pre-1994 South Africa were brought up in a national culture that urged them to hate blacks and fear them. Blacks were stereotyped as barbaric savages inclined to criminal behaviour. From the early 1950s the National Party government had publicly harangued blacks as communists who would traverse private poverty and condemn the country to a Castro-sque style of government.

The country held its first democratic elections in 1994. The ANC won 63% of the vote and a lot of whites were unhappy with the result. We know this because of the mass exodus of whites. One source estimates that 800 000 whites have emigrated from South Africa since 1994. Many did so because of an unfounded fear of genocide, others because of racist inclinations.

That said, there are more than 4.5 million white South Africans today, over 9% of the population. Many of the remaining whites do not consider themselves European, Dutch or English — they consider themselves South Africans. They were born in South Africa, to South Africans. They know no other home. Moreover, many of the whites who remain in South Africa do so willingly. They choose to stay here, to build a country they consider just as much theirs.

The South African narrative is, almost exclusively, told from the black perspective. In this perspective, the ordinary white South African is guilty by association. From the black perspective, whites are no better than the complicit German who did not himself kill any Jews but simply sat back and said “oh what the heck, it’s Jews anyway”.

This perspective, in my view, is not the whole truth. While the apartheid institution was designed by whites for the benefit of whites, it did not appreciate dissent from whites. Joshua Lazerson’s Against the Tide: Whites in the Struggle against Apartheid provides a brief but powerful description of the plight of whites who dared to go against the tide. White dissenters were crushed just as brutally as the black dissenter.

Many whites in South Africa today accept that their ancestors perpetrated gross injustices against blacks for centuries. They accept that the illegal and inhuman apartheid system caused deep inequities. They accept the imperative of black psychological and economic empowerment, provided within a transparent legal framework. Many accept land reform and land restitution provided it is not done vengefully, annihilating our already waning national unity.

While the government has made noteworthy strides to uplift black South Africans there have been colossal failures. Unfortunately the government is rarely willing to admit the shortfalls of its policies. The government is rarely willing to admit the harmful effects of cadre deployment and corruption with impunity. It is rarely willing to accept that it got its priorities muddled. Instead, apartheid is the automatic stooge for the improper exercise of majoritarian democracy and the whites, as the former beneficiaries of apartheid, must inadvertently accept the blame.

The weapon of choice against whites, who are justly disillusioned with the government, is the notion of “white privilege”. It is indeed true that the apartheid institution benefited whites. It is also true that the playing field for the ordinary white and the ordinary black are not the same. But the infamous ”white privilege” did not make all whites billionaires — capable of changing the plight of poor blacks at the signing of a single cheque. Many whites live today, as they did during apartheid, from hand to mouth. They struggle each day to feed their families.

The effect of our democratic racial discourse has been to force whites to politely recoil on issues just as important to them. Gillian Schutte appealed to whites “to recognise that by jumping in on national debates that do not concern them they are usurping a platform for authentic black voices to air their grievances about our leadership”. While I don’t doubt Schutte’s sincerity, her appeal is telling.

Many blacks are suffering from a renewed feeling of powerlessness. Blacks have observed the liberation struggle change its course, from national empowerment to personal enrichment. They have observed the “rainbow nation” transform from a miraculous nation of hope to an oligarchical banana republic. I suspect that whites are victims of that same powerlessness, only much worse because they have narrower room for complaint.

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    • Adri

      Brad, you give me hope for a new better S A! Wish there more people like you. Keep up the bridge-building . Dave Harris I suggest that you familiarize yourself with statistics: 11 million people in S A ‘s language is Afrikaans. You are not telling the truth when you say the NP refused to integrate schools till after 1994. My children were in a state school during 1989/1992 where there were quiet a number of black and Indian pupils. What people refuse to believe is that in a study made 2 years ago by Helpende Hand, over 600 thousand white people live in poverty and a lot in “wit plakkerskampe” I have no reason to believe these figures are manufactured. Out of a population of less than 5 million that is quite a substantial percentage. As for comments (fraud, Harris ) that white people still deny that Apartheid was/is a crime and refuse to apologize, you must be from another planet. What about well known businessmen, mediapeople, churches, to people who signed books at public places?

    • Luddite

      Eish? an amazing spin by DH on the 1992 referendum results as a lukewarm endorsement for change,
      “Your figures, even though they appear to be questionable, still paint a bleak picture, since 63.73% of 85.06% means that barely over 50% wanted change.”

      Actually, that number would be 58% of the total eligible vote, still a clear majority even if every single one of the non-voters would have voted “no” …. do the math

      By that twisted logic, the ANC did worse off in the last (2009) general election garnering just on 50 % of the eligible vote (i.e. 65.9% with 76% voter turnout).

    • African

      Courageous and very charitable blog – which will contribute to nation building, and shows courage in being willing to go against the ‘received truths’ in SA politics. Most have responded positively to this. Only the poisonous racist ‘Harris’ trots out his tired propaganda drivel revealing his obsession with scapegoating minorities, as he has nothing else to say.

    • Charlotte

      Brad, your writing and thinking is insightful, intelligent and impelling.

      From the ‘non-racist, equal opportunity’ society envisaged by Nelson Mandela, it is the ‘reverse racism’ that has developed in the ‘ruling-party’ until the present Zuma-led-ANC Inc. (Arrogance, Corruption, Nepotism, Incompetence) that has dragged the country down to what would now appear to be an all-time low. …outrageous thievery and thuggery by government officials … rife unemployment, poverty, rape, crime, drugs …protest marches amounting to anarchy .. shameless police brutality.
      We have become the world’s talking-point.

      And with its ‘jobs-for-family and friends’, major mess-ups, and ‘no-accountability-but-acceptability’ (for government self-enrichment and getting-away-with it), the ANC will continue to pull the country down to an unimaginable future.
      Unless we all pull together and start pulling in a different direction, we are doomed to descend into Zuma-babwe … if we’re not already there.

      BEE now stands for Black Economic Embezzlement or Black Economic Entitlement – depending on whether you are riding the gravy train or relying on it.
      It is ‘reverse-apartheid’ at its BE best.

    • Judith

      Thank you Brad – if only the government’s slogan “Working together we will achieve more” were actually put into practice. If everyone who want to work together for a better future was included in the venture, we can achieve more. Restricting the opportunities to the elite few ensures failure and alienates many – both black and white. Teamwork should be the ideal not divisiveness

    • Nguni

      @ truth be known
      I agree, talking to young, educated blacks reveals a cynicism about the present govt which bodes well for the future. The uneducated youth are still clueless and talk like Malema. I’m sure this is why proper education is only receiving lip service by the ANC, thinking voters are turned off by their nonsense.

    • Adri

      @ Luddite, if you go back to Brad’s blog he said 68.30% voted yes, which is an even higher percentage. Harris in his comment by mistake or maybe deliberately changed the figure to 63.30%! Who is he trying to fool?

    • ConCision


      ‘Apartheid’ is the scapegoat
      The ANC consistently quote
      To sugarcoat their criminality
      And colour coat the vote

    • Dave Harris

      @Adri Please tell us what does your 11 million figure of Afrikaans speaking really means? Most Coloureds in the WCape who were forced to learn Afrikaans in order to pass their matric, have now almost universally adoped English as their preferred language since it improves their job prospects in an economy that is now more dependent on international business than ever before to be competitive. As for integrating schools before our independence, I would not call the token integration of blacks into white schools after Mandela’s release in 1991 as true integration! I do accept that a few hundred thousand whites now live in poverty after 1994, but why is this an issue when millions of blacks have been subjected to abject poverty for centuries?! Poverty is a byproduct of a capitalist market based economy – this is the model we have chose to adopt in our democracy.

      @Luddite My point is of the 58% of whites that voted for change, most of them simply toed the party line, since apartheid’s indoctrination created generation of obedient white voters who did anything the party said and preferred not to see the crimes against humanity committed by the apartheid system on a daily basis. So do these numbers really show that the “majority” of whites wanted change? I think not!

      And you’re right that 50% of our population voted for the ANC as opposed to 58.7million Americans who voted for Democratic Party yielding a mere 18.7% – hmmm, so it looks like the ANC has a stronger mandate…

    • Reducto

      @Harris: It is quite clear you have not spent much time in Cape Town outside the more wealthy areas. If you did some community service – as I have – in poorer areas, you would realise just how prevalent Afrikaans is.

      Also, you ignore the fact that the language of Afrikaans belongs just as much to the coloured people as it does to white Afrikaners. By trying to depict the language as solely a white language and ignoring the input of other races in its development, one might say you are guilty of “whitewashing” the history of the language.

      Also, your argument that those whites who voted for change only did to “to toe the party line” is not backed up by any facts, purely your own conjecture as to what they were thinking when they voted.

    • Camp Quatro

      Dave Harris; read up on the ANC’s Camp Quatro and get a life.

    • Jan Van Riebeeck

      Dear Dave Harris,

      If you actually took off your green, yellow and black tinted shades, you might start to look at your beloved ANC with a more critical eye, and realize the liberation party has become a self enrichment party, and instead of crying foul you look left, right and left again to put the blame anywhere else, especially at the feet of a white populace.

      I went to school in the 90’s, with the vast majority of my class being “non-white”, and also being forced to learn Afrikaans to pass matric. In 2001.

      And your sweeping, factless generalizations about “most” coloreds preferring english? How did you determine that? Is it because you said so? That seems the framework for most of your arguments.

      You are a broken record, bleeting the same nonsense over and over. Get a clue.

      Let me give you a generalization: Most South Africans want a better country, no matter who runs it.

      An efficient government, chosen by the people, for the people, who serve the people. Is that too much to ask?

      Apparently for you and the ANC, it would appear so.

    • russell

      If they weren’t victims before they certainly are now.

    • Havelock Vetinari

      Excellent post Mr. Cibane. You’ve mentioned how being indoctrinated through your childhood into a racist mindset is a major disadvantage in itself (and it’s one that takes more than an intellectual recognition of equality to eradicate). I’d also like to give a nod to the (likely unpopular but certainly arguable) position that in absolute terms – obviously not relative to non-whites – whites were also economically disadvantaged by apartheid:

      Firstly, I would posit that not many people think so little of themselves (or their parents, as it may be) that they don’t think they could have thrived in a fully competitive, racially inclusive labour market, or as entrepreneurs in an apartheid-free society.

      Secondly, the major economic effect of apartheid was to keep the majority of our population in poverty, limiting their participation in the economy, limiting the size (in value terms) of the South African marketplace, and thus restricting the prospects of financial success for everybody (whites included). In the classic economic metaphor, apartheid kept most of the pizza for the whites, but in doing so, limited the size of the pizza – having a small slice of a giant pizza is better than having all of a tiny one…

      … a generalisation of course, but a position to consider nonetheless.

    • Sheppy

      Thanks Brad, for saying what us whiteys are not allowed to.

    • Luddite

      @ Harris
      OMG, so now according to you, 68.73% not a majority? Really?

      This is sophistry even beyond your exceedingly high standards. Even if we concede the every single one of the outstanding 15% of the vote to the “No’s” (which is statistically impossible), are you seriously now trying to argue that 58% is not in fact a majority?
      As with any poll, the only votes that count are the ones cast; >60% in that case. > 80% voter turnout is extraordinary in any free vote, as your subsequent cherry-picked stat very nicely proves : )

      We can speculate until the cows come home why 68.73% of the vote was a “Yes”. (Thank God for us all it was). Your “sheeple argument” of toeing the part line could be conveniently applied to any majority of which you happened to disapprove.
      Whichever way you may spin it, the “Yes” vote in the 1992 referendum was a clear endorsement for change.

      Yet somehow by your rhetoric, you insist that the “Yes” vote was actually a “No” vote for the status quo? Well OK, if you say so, o sagacious one.

      Banality aside, your post reveals a blind arrogance in assuming to know the minds of any heterogenous group of people (and especially based on skin colour) better than they do… even if they happened to have voted the “right way” after all.

    • The Creator

      It’s also worth considering that many of the whites voting in the referendum probably thought that De Klerk had a white rabbit in his black hat which would somehow enable him to escape one-person, one-vote.

      Let’s not forget that once democracy was introduced, whites overwhelmingly rejected the National Party which they had overwhelmingly endorsed both in the referendum and in the 1994 election. Either the whites were all crazy, or they didn’t understand what they were voting for.

    • Lesego

      If only whites were so collectively critical about the apartheid government as they are about ANC, apartheid wouldn’t have been sustainable and their black counterparts on the other hand would be having no other excuse but to take them more seriously.

    • Garg Unzola

      Finally someone tells it like it is. Well done!

    • GrahamJ

      Poor Dave. It’s just that Americans are brighter and more politically aware. They achieve excellence in science and technology. Most South African can’t even spell them, thanks to ANC education.

    • http://http// Paul Whelan

      The trouble is not so much that the ANC is unwilling to admit its shortcomings, as that it dare not. One-party rule or monocracy brings with it many woes; that is one of the most poisonous of them.

      This fine article has received the support it has because it simply sets out the truth.

    • Lesego

      GrahamJ #

      “Poor Dave. It’s just that Americans are brighter and more politically aware. They achieve excellence in science and technology. Most South African can’t even spell them, thanks to ANC education.”

      ANC education?

    • Yaj

      Brad you are right. Good article. We as a country(black and white) are being destroyed by a ruling (ANC) elite and their corporate elite (predominantly white) masters and their disastrous neoliberal economic policies which ensure that the rich get richer and the poor poorer.

    • The Creator

      There’s a huge difference between black and white political powerlessness.

      Blacks genuinely thought they were throwing their weight behind a government that would do something for them, and have been voting for it over the last nineteen years in defiance of the media and the white political and economic elite.

      Whites have spent the last nineteen years trying to build up a coalition which would take political power away from the blacks, using the media and their political and economic elite (along with some hired black stooges).

      Now that the ANC is a busted flush, there is nothing that blacks can do, and therefore they are genuinely powerful, whereas whites are encouraged to think that one more push will put them in a position to reverse the 1994 settlement.

      The whites are mistaken for all sorts of reasons, and are going to get screwed if they ever win their political battle, but they are a lot happier than the blacks. That’s the good side of living in a fantasy world.

    • The Creator

      Er, for powerful, read powerless.

      I should stretch more sitting at the keyboard.

    • Jonas Barbaroosa

      Wow! Deeply insightful.
      To achieve clarity of this complexity one has to put aside your inhibitions first and then be able to entertain a thought without necessarily accepting it – the traits of a trained intellect.
      Excellent article and highly recommended.

    • Fonebone

      Lesego, your race based argument may be far more applicable to todays en bloc black vote for the ANC.
      If our politicians and civil servants were actually held to account rather than have endless excuses made for their indiscretions or incompetence, we just might be able to actually move the country forward for the better of all.
      But like Harris, you conveniently ignore the results of the 1992 referendum where the incumbent white minority overwhelmingly voted “yes” to effectively kill apartheid

    • Fonebone

      Graham, you should really spend some time in the US. It’ll be a real a eyeopener.

    • Camp Quatro


      “If only whites were so collectively critical about the apartheid government as they are about ANC, apartheid wouldn’t have been sustainable and their black counterparts on the other hand would be having no other excuse but to take them more seriously.”

      If the whole South African nation would right now collectively focus on our current problems, which are lack of leadership, incompetence, corruption, lack of policy implementation, lack of service delivery, etc. etc. we would get somewhere.

    • DeeGee

      @ Jan Van Riebeeck. Your opening paragraph to some extent implies that Harris may not be part of the self-enrichment you speak of. Don’t bite the hand that feeds and all that…. It is the only sensible explanation as to why he is so blindly loyal.

    • Camp Quatro

      PS. @Lesego

      Instead of looking at whether people are black or white before you take them seriously, you should decide whether their criticism or opinions are valid or not.

    • Brian B

      An underlying problem is that prior to 1994 the NP were in power for decades so most South Africans of all backgrounds subconsciously accepted the status quo.
      The ANC promised so much but have delivered relatively little.
      We now now subconsciously accept the ANC status quo.
      So we except for those who around in 1948! and 1994 have never voted an alternative party in …

    • ori

      I invite you to write on our movement new page. We are leading a young African leadership through Facebook, and we will be glad to have a short article on one of the social issues that you’re talking about.

    • c wandsworth

      Hi Brad

      Whites are victims too.

      As an example; Why are farm workers in the Western Cape not at least 20% white?
      Why are they not picked up in poor white areas – from street corners(those poor sunburnt people begging maybe?)- and loaded onto the back of a bakkie/truck, and paid R69 /day(oh wait its 109/day…maybe)?

      Someone jokingly said by the end of the week the farmer would slaughter a sheep and invite his white workers to the end of week braai, and the following week they’d be managers on the farm-all 20% of them. hahaha