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Nine things white people can do to help transform South Africa

In tribute to Mandela’s vision for a world that is rid of racism, I have created this list of nine things white people can do to assist in the transformation of South Africa.

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (Mandela)

Examine history
By examining our history and not denying it we will understand how the past resulted in white privilege at the expense of an entire nation of people and how this still plays out in structural racism today.

Understand structural oppression
We are recipients of unmerited privileges on a global scale by virtue of our skin colour. Once we know and recognise this reality we can then fight for a system where no one is privileged according to their skin colour or gender.

Shake guilt
Guilt never did anything for anyone. It is self-centred and unfairly demands that the victim comfort the perpetrator. Shake your guilt and replace it with a passion for change and equality.

It takes years of reflection to undo the indoctrination of the whiteness construct and we can so easily slip into learned non-reflexive assumptions and language that reproduces racism.

Be fearless in correcting unconscious racism in yourself if it is pointed out to you by a person of colour. Do not brand the recipients of your unconscious slip-ups “oversensitive” or “racist” because they have called out or responded to your racism. We are all human and not perfect, so be kind to yourself and to the diverse people you interact with.

Speak out
Speak out against racism whenever and wherever you see it. Never ignore racism. By calling it out you are challenging the dominant discourse and making room for a new discourse that is open and equal.

Be aware
Be aware of how the media institution pushes a certain anti-black view of the world and how it mostly lays the blame for all social ills at the feet of black people. White hegemony has everything to do with the lack of transformation and poverty in this country too.

Listen to and be guided by those who are oppressed by whiteness.

White people have been the default of social relations and public discourse for so long that many are unwilling to listen to other views. This often plays out in public arena in South Africa. White, and particularly white male, gatekeepers, have the privilege of being heard and often they actively resist the views of black people and women.

Look around you and ask yourself if what you see is fair. Ask yourself if your psyche could endure the social conditions of deprivation and perpetual oppression that the poor are forced to withstand? Ask yourself if you could handle being blamed for all crime as if this is a natural condition of being white? Ask yourself how you would respond in a white saturated corporate environment as a black person who is forced to work at least ten times harder just to prove that he or she is worthy of the position. Ask how you would survive in the face of the dominant discourse of whiteness that reflected back to you limited, depressing and untrue reflections of yourself.

By asking these hard questions you begin to understand the negative and limiting impact of the whiteness construct on people who are not white.

Make a commitment
Make a lifelong commitment to unlearning personal racism and deconstructing structural racism. When you no longer ignore racism you become an agent for change.

By transforming yourself you help transform the world into one that can leave a legacy of love, diversity and egalitarianism to the next generations.


  • Feminist, filmmaker, writer, poet, activist and author, Gillian Schutte has a degree in African politics, an MA in Creative Writing and a Film Director's qualification from the Binger Institute, Netherlands. Winner of the Award of Excellence for her documentary entry to the Society for Visual Anthropology Festival in Washington, 2005, and author of the novel After Just Now -- Schutte fearlessly and creatively tackles issues of race, identity, sexuality and social justice in her multimedia work. She is founding member of Media for Justice co-owner of handHeld Films. and co producer of the online Reality TV series The Schutte Singiswas'.


  1. Just a dude Just a dude 12 December 2013

    Majesty Mnyandu #

    Looking at the language you use, I can see you are not South African. Also, where you are based is reflected in the link from your name. There was no call or expectation for white South Africans to leave South Africa. You have no understanding of South Africa or South Africans. Many white South Africans did indeed leave – many returned, many did not. White South Africans cannot just queue at airports and harbours and arrive in Europe and queue there and have a passport handed to them… There are very many foreigners and immigrants in South Africa from very many different country. There are over four million white people BORN here. This is a multiracial, multicultural country. It’s best to understand Mandela’s vision before we comment: UNITY.

  2. Noek vanBiljon Noek vanBiljon 13 December 2013

    Give it to me, baby, but I am a troubled old man, because Mark Twain haunts me: “if desire came with opportunity, who would escape hanging?”
    I some times call racism in fun and some times in anger but never with conviction for I am a racist myself. I can not rage in righteous indignation against the pedophile, the rapist and the murderer because I see the ghostly shape of a man holding out his hand towards me and in it a stone, a smooth comfortable stone. I was not born a racist, but by the age of thirteen I was a thorough little racist and I have striven for eighty years to hold that tiger down. I can not blame my parents for they never showed racism. Perhaps my definition of racism is out of kilter. It is such an easy simple, superficial swear word that hides a deceptive complexity for me. If I should visit an Eskimo in his igloo he would offer me a delicious bowl of maggots on seal and his wife for the night. I would gag on the maggots but I would not decline his wife in spite of my pro-feministic stance. Racism is but a part of cultural conditioning, the easy part. All it needs is a good eye. Culture is by nature conservative and by definition prejudiced. If a man should say that he is not culturally conditioned or that he has shaken off his cultural conditioning I will say nothing, I will just look at him. My culture is not superior, it is just home and when I meet another culture I bow with hospitality, courtesy, civility, magnanimity and respect.

  3. Freedom Freedom 23 December 2013

    A load of balderdash. Black, white, white, black blah blah blah. A vacuous smokescreen. Voters of ALL races in SA can do one thing – one thing only – to ‘transform’ SA from a state crippled by a predatory, criminal elite bent on destroying the economy and every civil liberty including freedom of thought and speech. Vote out this criminal party and transform SA into a normal democracy – and a free country.

  4. Pastor Changa Pastor Changa 31 December 2013

    I want to add to the list

    10. Whites must make effort to participate in national events and all sports ,not just cricket or rugby.This will help a lot to eliminate perceptions among South Africans
    11.Learn from what happened in Zimbabwe.Whites were late in participation for change and it led to Farm invasions and the rest is history
    12.It will take White Community initiatives under a genuine Leadership, like Rhema Church leader Ray to help whites in total not partial integration into society.You may ask the other Church leaders to call for a series of national healing, where White Community Elders should ask for public apology and forgiveness for the sins of ApartheidZimbabwe never got the opportunity to heal from the scars of colonialism and this is why things fell apart

  5. Majesty Mnyandu Majesty Mnyandu 8 January 2014

    To Just a Dude

    This is not Just a Multiracial country, we made it multiracial please do not speak of me as if I am a baseless racist that is disturbing a beautiful natural state of people that were created multiracial. If you check my initial comment thoroughly it is based on the reality that the NAZI Germans were asked to leave France after D-Day. but we did not.
    I dislike the notion of white people thinking they are still in south Africa because they are smarter than us. They are here because we are not barbaric like them who were able to build what they called a civilization using chained human beings. So please do not quote multirationalism as if it was the real aim that what people came to the soil of my ancestors.Our reconciliation must be based on appreciating us for not retaliating.

    Your asking if migrating to Europe is simple is a racist comment if migrating to africa in first place was simple.

  6. Nancy Peters Nancy Peters 9 January 2014

    I believe it all rests in character and being of humanity as a whole. As Mandela said,” if people can be taught to hate they can be taught to love”. That is the bottom line. When humanity respects, listens, learns from and care about each other, tis is where love can flourish. But we know that doesn’t happen very often. Witness the wars, and atrocities performed by all races in all parts of the world from the beginning of time. We can love, help, believe and do what we can do, but this is a forever effort in this world and one that we need to continue.

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