By Andrew Tudhope
As an educated person, I think it is possible for me to lose touch with the reality of the world around me while I search for abstract truths; be they mathematical, economical, philosophical or literal. I can use such education to find many attacks on Vlismas’ article. His tone is too severe for me, a little too condemnatory considering his position as a white man attacking white people. I pick out a possible grammatical error and start to build a picture of an angry man slowly losing grasp on rational argument. But, my God, I read “how quiet you go when our government authorises the execution — on a shit-strewn koppie, via their own law enforcement — of people who pose a threat to the profitability of their silent partners” and I am forced to admit how true it is of my own reaction.
I can barely bring myself to read past “shit-strewn koppie” — this isn’t my country is it? This is surely a scene from the Apartheid Museum somehow resurrected; the spirits of the innocent come back to haunt our corrupt hearts? And I do mean “our”. Vlismas is absolutely right: the ANC government’s and their silent partners’ corruption is equal in scale only to my own corruption in thinking that, having been born just three years before the official end of apartheid I am guilt-free. Yet, if I ignored Marikana, if I didn’t read a single report on it until a month after the actual event, am I any better than my father and grandfather? These men were certainly not the “perpetrators of apartheid” but we’ve all had enough lessons on what happened to know that white (especially English) denialist discourse was a very big contributing factor to the upkeep of apartheid.
This is my biggest worry. We may have had so much apartheid shoved down our throats that we are desensitised to the horror it really constituted. Read “if your child was in that mob, you would agree to a sentence of three in the back, and a final breath on a bed of turds?” and hear what Vlismas is actually saying, without concentrating on how it’s said. This is horrific, in the fullest possible meaning of the word. How can I have passed over something like this as if it barely happened?
I, like many respondents to the article, also want to assert my right to individualism which my western education has told me I have, over and over again. I want to scream that I’m not racist, that I try to help, try to understand instead of simply dismissing. But I’m guilty of not having heard about Andries Tatane; murdered by police in Ficksburg last year and of not caring enough to even read anything about Marikana until yesterday.
My grandfather, who is undoubtedly a good man, made the mistake of forgiving the boers because he “knew some of them, and they weren’t so bad”. How similar does this sound to the modern phrase you hear in almost every affluent white home; “I have lots of black friends. It’s the other blacks that the cause the trouble”. What we really mean by “other” is “poor” — that angry face we see on the side of the road which scares us so because we pretend like we can’t understand where the anger comes from; when really we know that the same separations still exist. Now we just discriminate in terms of class.
“It’s these uneducated blacks” I’ve heard some friends claim, “ruining the country”. Yet we, the elite, continue to ensure that our children get the best education, by setting up systems outside of government control, and not caring in the least that the majority of children don’t receive anything like an acceptable education. I want to ask these friends if, sitting in a politics or economics or philosophy lecture, the words “democracy is based on a majority rule” are hollow to them. These people, our people, the people striking at Marikana, and in Cape Town, and Ficksburg and a hundred other places are the majority! We cannot use our education selectively; we, the white and black elite, are not the majority. So if we truly believe in the free-market, democratic system our supposedly “beautiful” Constitution so upholds, now is the time to start acting on it.
Most white people in SA can read so I suggest using this ability to find out about Marikana. Read some of the new political rhetoric arising from the Marikana crisis. Some of the terminology (“post-neoliberalism”) is a bit too much for me and PAC-like calls of “blacks first” quite frankly scare me, but I believe it to be important that I am aware of its existence. Only if we start to attempt to understand the anger of the working class and actually treat these people with some common decency and respect, despite their being less educated and consequently less world-wise than us, will we be able to heal the wound Marikana has left.
I want to cry out and ask if whites realise just how close we are to a serious breakdown. Look at what people are saying in the wake of government brutality to its own people and one cannot fail to notice that working class unhappiness is again overflowing into the avenues of revolution. We naively think that we should not be the targets of such a revolution. Surely it should be the ANC elite who get the axe (or panga, if you prefer) we ask, playing the innocent choir boy? However, I feel as complicit as the ANC in the plight of these people after reading Vlismas’ article. How can we kick up such a fuss about Woolworths (a private business which should be able to do what it likes by our own ideology!) when our country teeters on the edge of another working-class uprising?
Again, if you don’t like his tone, remember the man is trying to stir up opinion. This is the key. We must all become informed before we can generate such opinions. Even if I disagree with Vlismas (which I don’t), I feel I owe it to any conception of South Africa that I have to at least read the material and find out about what’s really happening before I dismiss him as a “comedian” or some other such absurdity as a few respondents do.
Others argue that it has been 18 years since the end of apartheid so when will all the playing fields be level? I want to ask these people if they remember how long apartheid officially lasted for (1948-1994 or 46 years) and how much longer black people have been oppressed for (1913 Land Act etc). True, this is not a game of tit-for-tat, but BEE and AA and all the other acronyms are still in existence because, despite the lapse in time, the playing fields are still not level. You are truly living in another reality if you believe otherwise and should read no further than this. We can only have done with these acronyms when they have been effective, and the only way they will be effective is if we actually act like one group of people instead of a rambling bunch of incoherent, albeit individual, idiots.
We need to take responsibility for our country, and realise that “our” is the intersection of “theirs” and “mine”. If we are not to be excluded by another working-class struggle, we must open our arms first. Nelson Mandela cannot help this time and there are no third chances, so I say it’s time to finally take responsibility for our white legacy. This is not to say we should be ashamed of our legacy, but we should not be proud of it nor should we seek to replicate it in our, and future, generations.
How many times must we learn that discrimination, ON ANY GROUNDS, is a basic human-rights abuse?
So wake up, white South Africa! Wake up and actually smell the “bed of turds” upon which your imported English roses precariously cling to life! Don’t forget that the rose cannot grow without the soil just as the soil can aspire to nothing without the rose. Instead of condemning violent protests, we should attempt to understand the real reasons for the anger behind them. The ANCYL may have incited some of the protests in Cape Town, but people need to be angry already to join such protests with the vigour they have. It is this root anger we should try and come to terms with and heal. Don’t just turn the page, feel the implications of Vlismas’ article. Guilt is not a weakness, it’s a distinguishing sign of moral understanding in a country where too few are ever wrong and the majority ceaselessly suffers.
My name is Andrew Tudhope. I am a Rhodes University third year student majoring in physics, applied maths and English. I grew up in Johannesburg, but now live in the Eastern Cape. I am 21 years old.