Grant Walliser
Grant Walliser

Some black and white truths

It’s hard not to feel a little bashed around on Thought Leader these days. Bashed by black guys calling white guys racist, white guys calling white guys racist and every now and then just being blind-sided for daring to ask people not to be cruel to animals. When you can twist cruelty to animals in China around into a racist, colonialist debate, then it is clearly time to examine the deep, burning issues that seem to dominate our daily thoughts as a nation.

Most of us writing and commenting here come from an entirely different era, a tough era, the apartheid era, the struggle and bush-war era. We didn’t probe feelings, address transformation and whine about crime; we shot each other and lost family. Let’s cut the crap and be honest here; that’s how it was! We grew up in different camps, fighting each other. This is one of the first decent public forums for open debate and interaction and all the dirt is predictably coming out. Perhaps we all just need a bit of cathartic straight speak. What we seem most incapable of, however, is seeing the other side of the story.

I thought I should give it a go. This is how I see things right now from both sides …

White people need to try actively and genuinely to understand the deeper afflictions brought on black people by years of apartheid, be sensitive to them and act in a reconciliatory and constructive manner instead of swaggering about the place denouncing and criticising any attempt at progress like a bunch of children not picked for the garden sports team but who think they could all captain it.

White people need to learn to put things into perspective and tone down the drama. They need to understand that progress in South Africa may not mimic the Western style of the past century, yet there will still be progress. They need to understand the scope and magnitude of the problem faced by our government, for it is truly daunting. It is easy to pronounce solutions from the sideline. It’s rather less easy to implement them cohesively and keep everyone happy. Voice your discontent as is your right, but cut the government some slack.

White people need to understand that black executives at Eskom warned the government about the impending power crisis. One of the key people who didn’t listen was white. Why is this still a racial issue? White people need to be very aware that resulting economic depression will not hit them hardest; poorer black people will inevitably suffer more.

White people need to realise that there are plenty of other countries in the world where crime, drug abuse, the economy and even the electricity are far worse than what we have here. Black people do not have a monopoly on crime. Many of the high-profile kingpins are white. Agliotti is white; Nel is white. White people need to realise that apartheid policy largely created the social mess that feeds the crime wave that they moan about. They need to come to terms with the fact that their family wealth, the target for much of the crime, was amplified on the backs of exploited black labour for hundreds of years — because it was.

White people need to admit that almost none of them did anything personally to fight against apartheid — feeding and housing your maid and gardener does not count, sorry white “struggle heroes”! They need to recognise that something needs to be done to improve the lot of poor South Africans and that it will mean sacrifice on their part. White people need to understand that a policy like BEE is required to kick-start black wealth so that everybody has an economic stake in our new democracy. Rules need to be stretched and broken for a while to patch up the past here; live with it.

White people need to understand that significant portions of land in South Africa must be redistributed in a fair and sustainable manner to black people, not just because it belonged to them historically, but also because they were deprived of the right to buy it and own it in modern times (when prices were much lower). White people need to understand that land is literally survival for many poor people who can only hope to subsist on it. There is no logical reason why fair and sustainable redistribution should be opposed and impeded.

White people need to take a long, hard look at what they gain and what they lose by venting their racist insecurities, often driven by tacky crackpot philosophy and dubious logic. Do any of you honestly believe that calling other people inferior or incapable is actually going to result in anything remotely positive? What results are you trying to achieve by espousing it exactly?

Black people can organise 2010 and it will be a success — start watching soccer; it’s the beautiful game. Who cares if we don’t win the thing? Just imagine Brazil versus Italy at a packed Ellis Park or Bafana Bafana versus Argentina at FNB Stadium in the quarterfinals. It’s huge and very exciting! By the way, black fans will not kill you if you go to FNB Stadium or Ellis Park to watch a local match. Try it, learn to blow a vuvuzela — it’s fun!

White people need to understand that anti-black rhetoric strengthens anti-white sentiment and sets us back as a nation. White people, you are not saints with the moral high ground and black people are not the enemy any more. Grow up!

And now let’s flip the coin over …

Black people need to realise that not every white person approved of apartheid, regardless of whether they felt compelled to fight the system actively or not (normal people choose survival and comfort over security police, phone taps, beatings and exile). It was a powerful system that encompassed everyone in South Africa, not just black people. When put to referendum, more than half of white people wanted to scrap apartheid. Those are damn good numbers; embrace them.

Black people need to realise that when white people call for heads to roll in the government over our current power crisis, many of them are calling for Alec Erwin’s pale head as well; they just can’t stand incompetence and they can’t understand why you would protect those who have let all of us down, black and white. Most whites are wary of JZ because of his rape and corruption charges and his machine-gun ditty, not because he is black. It’s not always a colour thing; most whites love and respect Madiba, so how does that tally?

Sure, there are white racists alive and well in the republic, but most white people are not racist and are keen to make South Africa work; don’t abuse that opportunity. The shocking and sickening murders at Skielik were racially motivated, no doubt. I suggest many of our farm murders are too. There are plenty of black racists out there too and whites don’t cry racism every five minutes. You do not have a monopoly on racial crime, violence and suffering. It’s being shared out in generous helpings across the colour spectrum.

Black people need to understand and then accept that the real root of white wealth was not simply colonial and apartheid exploitation. It was largely derived from the importing of high-level skills from more developed countries. Mines, shopping malls, banks, electricity, telecommunications and roads were not stolen from black people, as you conveniently like to state, and cannot, therefore, be “given back” or “taken back” in all fairness. Ideas, technology and skills that were imported from Europe gave the importers a huge economic edge, resulting in the accumulation of wealth greater than those who did not have access to these things. Apartheid served to amplify white wealth and now BEE serves to address that amplification.

Black people need to be sensitive to the fact that BEE by definition is a fundamentally unfair, empirically racist policy imposed on white people, and that it must have an end date — otherwise you are creating apartheid all over again. Non-racial harmony and BEE are mutually exclusive as theoretical constructs. Black people need to realise that the majority of white people are all for a multiracial South Africa and want to do their bit, but feel increasingly disenfranchised and discriminated against because of these policies.

Black people need to understand that a negotiated settlement, the South African miracle, means no revenge for apartheid since both sides came to the table and neither side won a war. Live with it; it’s a good thing even if it feels like a good, solid white thumping would have made you all feel better. Stop using the threat of it like a pointed stick to poke and prod to get reaction and then act surprised when reaction is what you get.

Black people actually need to start playing and watching more rugby and cricket and going to matches to prove that transformation is not just a big, spiteful “naughty-naughty boot” in the groin of the previous oppressor. It’s all very well demanding black players at the top level, but if so few black people play and support the game, where are they supposed to come from and how can you blame white people for not appointing them?

Black people need to understand that anti-white rhetoric strengthens anti-black sentiment and sets us back as a nation. Black people, you are not saints with the moral high ground and white people are not the enemy any more. Grow up!

Feel free to add your own ones, good people of Thought Leader. I know the points are much simplified. Each one could be the source of huge debate and probably several fistfights. The actual points only serve to show that there are major prejudices, high emotions and preconceived bull on both sides, not just your own precious, jealously guarded side.

Perhaps, to get to where we want to be, we need to change our focus a touch. In much the same way as the government is inflation targeting in economic terms, we should be reconciliation targeting in social terms. We all need to become involved in this, regardless of how we feel we have been wronged in the past, because it’s for the greater good of our society going forward. Squabbling like chickens in the yard over old seed that the mice have already eaten is getting us nowhere.

Let’s get consensus on BEE, land distribution, sport transformation, crime, HIV and all of our other regular explosive topics. Let’s put the “evils” of colonialism into context. Let’s realise that we are often judging the ancestors of those on both sides who forged our history and not the perpetrators themselves. That’s just crazy! Why should anyone be judged today by what somebody else did 350 years ago when life’s rules were so very different? Let’s find the issues that divide us and vent a bit so that all opinions are understood and heard, and then find the middle ground to go forward.

For facilitating this process alone, I think Thought Leader is serving a truly valuable purpose. It is a unique portal into the true feelings of our crazy people. It could be more demographically representative, sure, but to be fair I think the main views from all sides of the spectrum are represented here and get plenty of airtime. Far from getting depressed when I read some of the posts and comments here, I get hopeful because I see people discussing the things that really need resolution.