Press "Enter" to skip to content

Dear white liberalist person,

I get it.

I totally understand. The whole “white in a post-colonial, post-apartheid South Africa” thing. The terribleness of carrying the burden of your racist ancestors, for no other reason than being the wrong colour in the wrong place. The irony of having to prove your non-racist views at every turn thanks to things that happened before you were even born, despite the fact that you are well and truly not racist. It can’t be easy.

But I understand. I know. Because I’m your friend. You know, the type cynically known as the Token Black Guy. The one you enthusiastically point to whenever your Mzansiness is called into question. The one who gets to play wing, otherwise a field of only white okes playing rugby might smaak a bit too much of that other time. The one your grandfather embarrasses by loudly proclaiming “whatever happened to names like Smith?” because he can’t pronounce my surname. The one you play Nkalakatha for so he also feels in. I sympathise and I honestly feel angry on your behalf. I am living, breathing proof of how well you’ve embraced the new diaspora, aren’t I?

As if being a caring, sensitive, non-racist, non-sexist white person in post-apartheid South Africa wasn’t hard enough, that meanie Verashni goes and totally skeeves you out by writing that unfair column, mocking you. No way, bru. I mean, why do they keep banging on and on about race this and race that 16 years after the totally cool, new South Africa was born and 20 years after Mandela was released from jail? All that stuff doesn’t matter any more, surely? Isn’t that the point of the new Mzansi? Black, white, orange, green, purple — we’re all the same now. Aren’t we? It makes more sense these days to define demographics by economic standing, seeing as how there are so many, ahem, black diamonds around, doesn’t it?

I totally get it. In fact, I downright love some of the things you do. Like how you bought into the whole “One Nation, One Soul, One Beer, One Goal” vibe with heady abandon. Yaay, we’re all one big, happy-clappy bunch now, swaying gently to Freshlyground. I get why you don’t understand why people still insist on thinking, acting and staying within their racial boundaries, as if there were still a Group Areas Act of the mind. I can explain. You see, no one is really a South African. Not in the way you are, my dear non-racist, non-sexist, all-inclusive white person are. One is first Zulu/Xhosa/Sotho/Afrikaans before one is a South African. Mandela didn’t make that go away. Having no uniquely South African culture to fall back upon (honestly now, who’s going to claim Britishness, with all the historical baggage, handlebar moustaches and pith helmets?) you seized upon the eclectic Rainbow Nation identity, only to find that the rest of South Africa wasn’t joining in. You’ll have to bear with us, your less progressive countrymen for a bit longer. We’ll catch on, eventually. In the meantime, I suppose you’ll just have to deal with the irritation of trying to be non-racist in a country that consistently refuses to move on.

I know you’re a well-meaning bunch. You’re a charitable lot who try to do your bit for your less fortunate fellow South Africans. That’s why I tend to look the other way when the annoying traits — according to Verashni, and others, including this writer — rear their ugly heads. The entire more-hip-than-thou effort. The Rocking the Daisies, tattered T-shirt, single malt pretentious douchebaggery. (Yeah yeah, I know. Generalising.) I can put up with the self-congratulatory smugness, the angst-ridden navel gazing, the inability to accept that sometimes you can be wrong as well, and be it far from me to shoot down earnestness, but can’t you be a little less pretentious? Some of us really don’t care about your edgy music and all that. But I know you mean no harm. You’re really into this Rainbow Nation spiel. That’s the beauty of our brand new democracy — no race, culture, sex, political formation or suburban book club is beyond ridicule.

So yeah, let’s put it all behind us, shall we. Let’s simply move on. Black, white, orange, green, purple. We’re all the same now. Let’s pretend that 16 years of democracy can wash away hundreds of years of injustice and inhumanity. Let’s all act as if all is well, because that makes things less awkward for everyone.

I totally, totally understand.

Much love and thanks for those Ray-Bans,



  • Sipho Hlongwane

    Sipho Hlongwane is a journalist and columnist for the Daily Maverick. He is an avid fan of jelly beans, Top Gear, Arsenal and thinks that South Africans tend to take themselves a little too seriously. [email protected]