I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m starting to like Allan Boesak again. I went off him around about the time that Elna went on him.

Thing is, people like me need somebody to stand up for us, just as some of us (yes, whites!) spoke up for the oppressed back in the darkest days of apartheid. Because people like me, and it matters not whether we are rich, poor or in between, are discriminated against. This is why I am thinking of having myself reclassified as new black, and, like the Chinese, demanding reparation and special consideration from the ANC regime.

Now Allan Boesak, of all people, has stood up before a mass of people and said what so many South Africans are thinking. In a nutshell: that we all want to be equal. Period. That the ANC government is bringing back “racial divisions and ethnic categorisation”, and bringing “the language of ethnicity back into the speech of the movement”.

Boesak, more to the point, charged in his stirring Ashley Kriel Memorial Lecture this week that affirmative action had “taken on new forms of racial exclusion, ruthlessly and thoughtlessly throwing overboard the solidarity forged through years of struggle”.

This is so true. I know he was not talking specifically about whites, but we too (amazingly but truly) are ware South Africans and we deserve our place on this hot and fertile land. So let me state my feelings emphatically: as a white, male South African young enough (or not quite old enough) to hope to have some career left, I find myself at a disadvantage purely because of my race (well, OK, if I were female it would be of some small help). But when in 1994 I threw my modest weight behind the new dispensation, voting ANC and thrilling to the change as it surfed in on an exhilarating big wave, being discriminated against is not what I was signing up for. People like me, and I sure as hell am not alone, have been let down, and only because we are white.

When I voted for the ANC in 1994, I had a song for Madiba in my heart and a sunny flower of freedom on my sleeve. I was signing up for a South Africa in which there was freedom for all, a clean slate for all, equal — and I do mean equal — opportunity for every South African regardless of race or creed, and regardless of who was previously disadvantaged and who was not.

Equality is equality, and there can be no equivocation about it.

I supported, for some years, the notion of affirmative action (how could anybody with a conscience not?), because the bleeding-heart liberal in me felt we must sacrifice something to set things to rights, and a great deal of my heart still supports this line, if applied equitably and non-racially.

But it has all gone mad, and a line must be drawn somewhere, and soon.

Right now I feel to hell with affirmative action as it is currently construed. Clear the field and let us all jostle for our fair space in the thrum of South African life, while affirming those who are genuinely at a disadvantage regardless of their race. By which I mean: let us have affirmative action, but apply it on the basis of need, not race.

Here’s an illustration. A few years ago I was invited to a wedding reception where one of the friends of the groom was a young man of about 20 who was in a sports advancement programme, having been chosen for it because he was “coloured” and consequently “disadvantaged”. We had a good chat that evening — we were seated together at a round table for dinner — about his circumstances and my own. He was mightily embarrassed to have been chosen for the programme under his own particular circumstances, although it must be said he had accepted the favour.

We were indeed quite different, it turned out. His daddy was a multimillionaire businessman. Mine was a mine foreman turned alcoholic bum. My table-mate’s idea of a holiday was to fly to a world capital once a year, stay in fine hotels and dine in top restaurants. Mine at his age was not to have a holiday, what with an out-of-work daddy and having to leave school without matric so that I could work to help my mom pay the rent. We had even lived, some years earlier, on social welfare food parcels for several months at the worst of it all. If we were “privileged”, I found this hard to discern at the age of 14 — which, incidentally, is the age at which I first began to become politically aware of the grievances of my oppressed compatriots. This is not to gain sympathy. I am way beyond that situation now. But anything I have today (which is relatively modest) I have struggled for.

And yet I am discriminated against not because of my circumstances but because I am white. Because of my skin colour, I may be lucky to be offered a contract, but I am unlikely to find a proper job with medical aid and all those nice things reserved for people who are not of my race.

And yet I must sluk back comments of the kind I get on some of my blog posts telling me that this is my due for having back in those days “benefited” from “the spoils of apartheid”.

Boesak, bless him (am I really saying this?), now warns of the danger of the ANC “flirting with ethnicity” because it “does not solve differences, it entrenches them”. He adds that “when one strays from the narrow path of non-racialism, one inexorably moves into the camp of ethnic nationalism. Or one is pulled in.”

Most profoundly, Boesak says this: “That is why today, everywhere we look, it takes but the merest provocation for the ghosts of racism to rise and haunt us, because we have buried them in graves too shallow and too close to home.”

Now hear this, all of you who believe yourselves to be non-racial but who with blind nonchalance sideline people like me because we are white: I was born on this soil, I love this land. I belong here, and want to be wholly a part of this country for the remaining years of my life. I wish for no privilege that is not given to any other South African. I want no advantage, no bribe, no sweetener. I want only the same shot at anything that anybody else has, nothing more or less.

We are not free, any of us, if any among our number does not have absolute equality and freedom.

Right now we live in a partial democracy. My vote has been spat upon, my rights trampled under the feet of those who believe that because they were formerly disadvantaged, anyone of my skin colour must suffer now. It is our punishment, not for being racist, but for sharing the race and colour of the apartheid ideologues. Only because of the colour of our skin we are judged.

That some of us — no, let’s be honest, very many of us — loathed the apartheid system and yearned for it to be swept away by the tide of history is seemingly of no consequence. We are white. We must suffer. We must stand back. We must wait in line. We must be lesser citizens. Well, fuck that.

Of those who 14 years into the new dispensation will still argue that we must pay the price of affirmative action (for there is a price, and we are the ones paying it), I must ask this: At what stage will a line be drawn? When will there have been enough affirmative action, enough BEE? How will it be measured? Who will decide? Will there have to be a new Codesa to thrash out how and under what circumstances white people will again be allowed to have an equal shot at employment? Or will it never happen in our lifetime?

Must those of us with white skins die without knowing what it feels like to live in a truly free country? Because you see, we did not feel free, some of us whiteys, under apartheid, even though we were white. And it still does not feel free to some of us right now.

And for those of you who will sling arrows at me and remind me yet again that because of the sins of whites, the oppressed black masses must be given priority, be first in the queue, get most of the best jobs … remember my little story about the kid sitting next to me at that wedding reception. He was not alone.

In the absence of all of us — and I mean all of us — attaining our true and unfettered freedom, can somebody please tell me where I have to go to apply to be reclassified as new black?

Because if that’s how it has to be, I want some of the spoils.


Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman is a journalist, budding playwright and sometime chef. He's written two plays, An Influence of Ghosts and Blue Train Coming, and back in the day wrote loads of songs. He paints a bit in watercolours...

63 replies on “White is the new black; free the new black oppressed. Viva!”