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If you think you’re white, liberate yourself now

In case you were not aware, the white nation is dead in South Africa. It does not exist, not anymore.

In fact, there has not been a time in over three centuries when so-called white people have been so on the defensive and their superiority complex shattered. After all, the only thing that made most of them arrogant or think they were superior was their supposed “whiteness” or skin colour. I know you will want to lecture me about unfair generalisation but, hey, just wait.

It would seem that in the so-called New South Africa there is no white person who is proud of being “white”, whatever that means. In fact, the notion of whiteness has always been a myth. Whites are not and have never been a homogeneous group.

Over the last two decades of democracy and freedom, far too few of them define themselves in terms of their race, language group or even the much vaunted Afrikaner tribe. If truth be told, the Afrikaner nation is dead. It had to die for a more inclusive and all-embracing society to emerge.

According to Development Indicators, less than 9% of people in South Africa use race as a self-descriptor. Presumably, the number of whites who gleefully gloat in their whiteness must be very low. Instead, together with so-called black counterparts who had to fight, suffer imprisonment, exile and murder, there are now over 52% of the national population that identifies itself as South African citizens above all else. No matter how we want to look at it, this signals the death of the white race.

Thus the hurling of accusations and allegations against white people in this New South Africa – a favourite past-time among bitter and angry blacks – is aimed at a dying or non-existent group. If whites continued to exist in this country, millions of them would have come forward to plead guilty for economic inequality, dispossession and land loss in the country. Many more would have come forward to confess to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

So, this notion of whiteness is, largely, based on assumptions. We do need to critically re-examine what we mean by white, if that notion is still applicable in a non-racial society.

For a very long time, “white” people were recognised by their physical appearance. But this has radically changed in this new society in transition as it has been proven, for instance, that many whites have African DNA. This makes them … er, black or African, if you like.

I don’t believe that whites are attracted to each other because of their skin colour. Presumably, just like other human beings, it is more about interpersonal chemistry or shared values. But we cannot overlook factors like geographical proximity and fear of the unknown among them. Also, many are still afraid of venturing outside the self-imposed laager. The fact is, many people who consider themselves “whites” are self-delusional and living in the laager in their heads. They find the New South Africa quite bewildering, confusing and frightening. It is something that whites, especially in this country, have not been prepared for.

In our efforts at nation building and social cohesion, it would be most appropriate to see so-called whites as South Africans, first. Everything else is secondary. What this means is that if you are a South African citizen who owes allegiance to the country you can go on to be anything else that you choose to be. This is a free country. Also, there is absolutely nothing special about being so-called white.

The last 20 years have further splintered the heterogeneous classes or groups of so-called white identity. If you think about it, whites have always been divided and disunited on the basis of language, religion, regionalism, origin, class, educational status, material accumulation, geographical location and many other attributes. Even the Afrikaner nation comprised of the Dutch, French, German and other little European groups, if you will.

What we need to acknowledge and recognise is that there are no longer any group rights in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. As a result, the fragmentation of the white community has been brought to the fore. Okay, if this so-called whiteness has ever existed, it has always been different, diverse and multiple.

The new forms or identities of whiteness espoused by Solidarity or Freedom Front Plus, for example, are not exhaustive. They are an example of the diversity and complexity of whiteness. There is not one but many white identities, if we must entertain the false notion.

To put it more strongly, there is no single individual – including FW de Klerk, Pieter Mulder, Helen Zille or anyone who considers themselves a white leader – who can tell us what whiteness is or how it is to be represented. In fact, blackness has ceased to exist. Or, at least, it has splintered into diverse categories that do not necessarily meet.

For the most part, the last two decades have witnessed the absorption of so-called whites into a New South African nation that is grappling with its new identity. As a result, whites have integrated into the global village with new and innovative lifestyles, outlooks and values. This simply discourages the determination of whiteness based on race or skin colour.

Needless to say, in a non-racial country it is backward and primitive to hold on to and promote identity based on race or ethnicity. Yet much of the inability of so-called whites to take their rightful place in a non-racial society, that which prevents them from cultivating and promoting human identity is this misguided importance place on racial or ethnic identity. But that is dead.

It is time that we acknowledge, recognise and reassert that whites are not and have never been a homogeneous group. This was merely Hendrik Verwoerd’s delusional political strategy inspired by Hitlerite tendencies to organise whites against an imaginary “swaart gevaar”. It is so primitive, backward, outdated and not quite practical in today’s world for anyone to think of themselves as “white”.

If you thought you were white, liberate yourself, now. You can choose to be anything else you want to be but white. Whites belong to the 1900s. We are moving towards African Agenda 2063. You can be part of it or left behind.


  • Sandile Memela is a journalist, writer, cultural critic, columnist and civil servant. He lives in Midrand.


  1. Karen Burgess Karen Burgess 10 October 2014

    Thanks Sandile. I live in Europe at the moment and living here it became most clear to me that I am African, South African, and even though I’m “white” I will never be a European. Its easier for a “black” person born in Europe to be a European.

  2. Heinrich Heinrich 10 October 2014

    At last. Some little light shining through – albeit with a black bias.

    There IS no black and there IS no white and there IS no colour in between. We are all South Africans. But try telling that to some politicians, especially ANC politicians , whose entire existence depends on racial polarisation.

    …”the number of whites who gleefully gloat in their whiteness “…? Where are they? I still have to meet one. Do they belong to the White Lawyers Association, the White Management Forum, The White Taxi Organization? Do they punt White Economic Empowerment and promote White Consciousness?

  3. V_3 V_3 10 October 2014

    “there are no longer any group rights in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa”
    AA and BEE are group rights

    “Helen Zille or anyone who considers themselves a white leader”
    Wrong again:
    Zille knows that her party is the most diverse (in terms of race/colour) in South Africa if not Africa. She would consider herself the leader of ALL those who follow her.

    ” Yet much of the inability of so-called whites to take their rightful place in a non-racial society, that which prevents them from cultivating and promoting human identity is this misguided importance place on racial or ethnic identity.”
    Even more wrong:
    Whites are being herded into a group by the ZANC’s neo-apartheid legislation.

    You can be part of it
    Still wrong:
    See previous comment

    Sandile, your verwoerdianship is showing. Along with your dishonesty

  4. Dries Dries 10 October 2014

    Uhhh… Sandile, I’ve got news for you; the lack of homogeneity amongst white people has never exactly been a secret, you know. You do remember that whole fracas we had here slightly more than a century ago? Guess what? Things haven’t really changed!

  5. Cam Cameron Cam Cameron 11 October 2014

    You’re no expert on white, Sandile.

  6. Ophthal Ophthal 11 October 2014

    Sandile, remember that whites can still be defined in juxtaposition with blacks when corruption is under consideration.

  7. nguni nguni 11 October 2014

    Finally, Memela wakes up to what thinking whites have known all along. You guys were fixated on this whiteness thing, get over it.

  8. Jon Quirk Jon Quirk 11 October 2014

    The arrogance and aggression in this piece speaks of deep-seated insecurity and inferiority.

    Why does the author not approach it from the stance of a comparison of the actual achievements?

    When people of colour actually start to meaningfully participate and contribute in the areas of science, technology, philosophical thought, then claims of having arrived have some resonance.

    This bleating article in no way contributes or is helpful to what ought to be a meaningful discussion.

  9. Joseph Coates Joseph Coates 11 October 2014

    Don’t open a Pandora box, you maybe viciously verbally attacked or given other facts that you have overlooked.
    1 English speaking “whites’ had very little power in the “apartheid” government”
    2 What about the LIBERAL Afrikaner, who , because of their convections became exiled or, became totally annihilated in the Afrikaans society of the day.
    3 Check USA’s historic past with dealing with their issues.
    These are just a few pointers for you.

    By 2026 I won’t be around, likely pushing up daisies.

  10. Pieter Steenekamp Pieter Steenekamp 11 October 2014

    You say people should not think of themselves as whites. That’s fair.
    If you then also say people should not think of themselves as “blacks”, then I support you.
    But if you don’t accept people thinking of themselves as whites but you accept people thinking of themselves as blacks then you are a racist.
    For the record: I think of myself as a citizen of the world, neither white nor black nor African.

  11. bernpm bernpm 11 October 2014

    “In case you were not aware, the white nation is dead in South Africa.” There has never been a “white nation” in the world. Most white people have been identified by their nationality.

    “Whites are not and have never been a homogeneous group.” Indeed, they differ from one nationality to another.

    “For a very long time, “white” people were recognized by their physical appearance.” They still are in areas where they share their existence with people who show other prominent skin colors and sometimes other bodily features.

    “In OUR(?) efforts at nation building and social cohesion, it would be most appropriate to see so-called whites as South Africans, first.” Please tell that the ANC government and some other groupings calling themselves “BLACK this” and “BLACK that” so that all South Africans could get on with their lives without having to go to the courts to claim their statutory equality as in job allocations.

    In one of my comments on a previous article, I mentioned that you suffer from a black inferiority complex. I congratulate you with some of the reasoning in this article. It shows that you are on the right way to overcome this inferiority feeling as many darker skinned Africans have already done.
    Keep it up.

  12. Brianb Brianb 11 October 2014

    When you start advocating that people deny their heritage and background you are sure to cause a stir.

    Which is probably what you are trying to do.

    Your commentary is becoming repetitive and tedious and is certainly not contributing to harmony.

    If South Africa is to reach its full potential , everyone’s participation is imperative.

    The mainstream of South Africans get on with one another .

    It is only the pseudo intellectual fringe and the radical minorities who seek disunity and conflict.

  13. Cachunk Cachunk 11 October 2014

    I started out hating this, but ended-up loving it! Nice piece. From an (ex) white.

  14. GrahamJ GrahamJ 11 October 2014

    Fact is, Sandile, for a long time only whites paid significant taxes and this had to pay for ALL education and healthcare, black and white. The Nats built the largest hospital in the world for Soweto, they built universities from which Nelson Mandela graduated. Bantu education teachers taught as well as they could, they didn’t deliberately do a half baked job. That is just urban myth.

    Read the following article written by a South African University and see the real reason why education was a problem:

    This is what we have to fix. Give myth a miss.

  15. willers willers 11 October 2014

    The irony of your article Sandile is that i think your advice applies more to black people. The indigenous cultures are now being confronted with change in terms of the constitution in aspects such initiation rites, feminism and gay rights and the traditional leaders are finding it difficult to adapt whereas many whites like sewer rats have grown fatter and wealthier because they had no choice but to adapt and embrace the change.
    Many years ago as a young white Afrikaner I very much shared your sentiments and hardly saw anything good in what my culture stood for.It is interesting with age how in hindsight I can appreciate some of the values that I inherited. As an atheist vegetarian , who mostly speak English I hardly fit the Afrikaner stereotype , yet my pride is in being part of a group of people who are made up of many races, who came from many parts of the world and named themselves after the continent they ended up in. Mostly I’m pride of the fact that were able to admit that we were wrong and loved South Africa enough to not let the country burn to the ground when changed happened as as is the case in many Middle Eastern countries at the moment.
    Yes there still is a small rightwing group that’s clinging to the past , but on the ground what I’m witnessing are people who are just getting on with it and making the most of what life and this country has to offer.

  16. Rory Short Rory Short 11 October 2014

    I happen to have a white skin and be English speaking but I have always seen myself as South African first and foremost. The South African identity that I espouse includes everybody who identifies with South Africa and as a consequence it was not one which was publicly acknowledged during the Apartheid era. Now things are different and becoming more and more so. My heart swells with delight as I hear the huge variety of people who just accept that they are South Africans no matter what their different backgrounds might be.

  17. Joe Average Joe Average 11 October 2014

    Thanks Sandile. Great article.

    But surely what you say here applies to all South Africans no matter or how dark or light their skins, not only ‘whites’: “Needless to say, in a non-racial country it is backward and primitive to hold on to and promote identity based on race or ethnicity. Yet much of the inability of so-called whites to take their rightful place in a non-racial society, that which prevents them from cultivating and promoting human identity is this misguided importance place on racial or ethnic identity. But that is dead.”

    ‘Racial divisions’ are promoted by politicians and capitalist industrialists (power mongers/megalomaniacs) to garner votes/support. Nothing more, nothing less.

    And politicians that divide SA on the basis of race should be rejected as charlatans by all thinking people.


  18. Davel Davel 11 October 2014

    So Sandile, to follow through with your line of reasoning – there is no longer any such thing as a so-called black nation in South Africa. We are all simply South Africans. If that is the reality then we have certainly made huge strides…though I’m not entirely convinced that’s the case. If you thought you were black, liberate yourself, now.

  19. Jeff Brown Jeff Brown 12 October 2014

    Oh Mr Memela, irony must be your middle name: “Thus the hurling of accusations and allegations against white people in this New South Africa – a favourite past time among bitter and angry blacks – is aimed at a dying or non-existent group.”

    I find your articles pathetically bigoted, but always enjoy a good giggle at your intellectually bereft and misanthropic expense.

    Shine on you crazy comrade. Viva.

  20. Trevor Trevor 13 October 2014

    Mischievous letter, I think; with a dollop of gloating. Hard to find any goodwill in it. In point of fact, you cannot prescribe away the colour of one’s skin, and I can’t think why anyone shouldn’t be happy with the colour he/she is.

  21. Joe Joe 13 October 2014

    I disagree entirely with the last response from Mr Brown and wish to state for Mr Memela – your articles are not bigoted – they are highly intellectual – and I see no misanthropy. People of all races find value in them. I think the responses from some people are generally angry and they don’t really read what you say. The meaning of ‘dying group’ which you made clear was not ant-white but anti having a ‘white identity’ was totally lost. Thank you Mr Memela for your patience.

  22. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 13 October 2014

    I don’t really understand this article. White South Africans have always been first, and foremost, South African. Our ancestors came here to get away from prosecution, persecution and bigotry (how we ended up being what we tried to escaped from is a whole ‘nother story). You can accuse us of many things but we have always been passionately South African. We have never considered ourselves ‘European’. Europe is alien to us.

  23. Philip Philip 13 October 2014

    Good piece of writing designed to stimulate very heated debate as journo’s try to do. I am very white, need factor 50 to go in the sun, and I am a nice person too. I am not proud of what whites have done in Nazi Germany, Bosnian war, Australia, or our country but I am still white and not ashamed one bit. We did not die off, we are here, we can now be called a market dominant minority if you also like.

  24. mina mina 20 October 2014

    I can’t think of a time that white South Africans have seen themselves as a white group. We’ve always been South African first, then Afrikaner, English, or whatever. Seems like this notion of a collective white group in SA has always been a black notion. White or black has always just been a way of describing a skin colour, not a group of people.

  25. Roy Clarke Roy Clarke 20 October 2014

    I am quite surprised that some of the white commenters have perceived this article as racist. I have never defined myself by my skin colour and don’t think many of my friends and colleagures do, but am certainly very conscious of my cultural heritage and the role it has played in my psyche. I have found it quite difficult at times to understand or grasp the power of the idea of Blackness but I suppose that it has to a large extent been caused by oppression by colonial power/slavery etc.
    A thought provoking article

  26. Simon Howell Simon Howell 20 October 2014

    The thinking behind this article is deeply flawed, to the extent that its refutation can be said in a single sentence, one which is conceptual and has nothing to do with race relations:

    The logic by which you critique ‘whiteness’ is replicated in your justification for the privileging of ‘blackness’.

    Remember, in each invocation of contrasting ‘colours’, you necessarily invoke that which you seek to critique – an understanding of that which is ‘black’ is premised on an understanding of that which is ‘white’ (and vice versa). Consequently, in attempting to reveal the logic by which the ‘white’ has excluded the ‘black’, you inadvertently end up producing the very racial categories you seek to undermine, which are (ironically), exclusionary.

    This type of logic does not really ‘contribute’ to contemporary conversations – it relies on them for thoroughly banal ends. I see it often – there are innumerable critiques and complaints of the perception of Africa as some homogenous entity, as a ‘country’, yet those critiques invariably talk of ‘the west’ as if itself were consistent or unified, which is as homogenising. I normally enjoy your work. I must say however that this is thoroughly lacklustre.

  27. NDR NDR 21 October 2014

    It would be good just to have South Africans not people of colour of their skin.

    The fact is that white is notionally associated with superiority yet black with laziness & inferiority. But I always hold a view that ‘an individual” is the result and product of his of her immediate environment from inception. Being disadvantaged suppresses all positivity and creativity of the person despite the colour of the skin but I draw that conclusion from what I witness in mostly from day to day living experience with communities that are classified as poorest of the poor.

    socio economic conditions of the past and of the present has all to do with the kind of the society we have today. these are inextricably intertwined in a sense that you can not deal with one aspect then expect the rest to be resolved on it own. perfection is subject to entirety objective approach to the fundamental questions and paradox of artificial barriers.

    We have all laws, regulations, legislations, policies, guidelines, strategic frameworks you name them but truth is they all not translate to essence.

  28. arnaud arnaud 2 November 2014

    So Steve Hofmeyer was found to be the first man without a brain at Groote Schuur. Truth is, he donated his brain to Sandile Memela.

  29. Andre Gerber Andre Gerber 21 August 2015

    Good news article. Wonder if ill qualify for a free house now that im not white any more.

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