Dear White People

Actually, to be less vague, people of European descent. It does not matter that your ancestors arrived on boats from different European nations, or that many of ours moved south from the Niger-Congo – or what is known today as Cameroon and Eastern Nigeria – until their settlements reached the southernmost tip of the continent; and let us not forget those of mixed descent, as well as the Indians, Malaysians and many others whose forefathers were carried away from their homes in the Orient and Far East by the captains of the slave trade. Coming back to the point, it does not matter that you came from Europe. What matters is that for over three hundred years your people oppressed us (and still oppress us in subtler forms today), and it sucked. And we are still staggering from the devastating effects colonialism and apartheid had on the diverse black communities of this country. As a result, it is no surprise that a decade-and-a-half into this new era we are still very bitter and angry.

But I am not writing to make you feel guilty about this, nor do I want to scare you into leaving the country for fear of being lynched by an angry mob. No, I believe that this country is your home as much as it is mine, and you should stay. Anyhow, isn’t home where you decide it is? Mankind has been settling new lands and calling these places home since the beginning. On top of this, the mountains, forests and plains are completely indifferent to the century-wide narratives people groups across the world have constructed in order to lay claim to whatever piece of fertile land they decided to call theirs over the ages. History aside, you are here in South Africa; make yourselves at home— although, I think this exhortation is better said to black people: you are free in South Africa; make yourselves at home.

It’s been a precarious thing to be South African in this historical moment. The country is no longer the home we once knew (and this is a very good thing), but it is also not quite the home we dreamed about— at least, not yet. The eternal optimist in me believes that we can still get there, that we can achieve the seemingly impossible task of becoming an integrated society. It will be a deeply unsettling process, but it can be done.

With this in mind, I wanted to write a little note of forgiveness to continue the good work the honourable men and women who fought for our freedom started. Without going into the gory details right now (although, we’re going to have to sit down together and work through them at some point in the future), let me put it simply: I forgive you. And I hope that everyone else who has been wounded by the oppression of your fathers and their fathers – and their fathers, etc. – would also forgive you. This is not to say that every white person was and is an oppressor. There were a great handful of men and women who played their part in the fight against the injustice they witnessed around them, but they were the exception and not the rule. Most of white South Africa sat in complicit silence during those awful days, good people doing nothing while their nation reeled beneath the weight of institutional oppression. But those days found their somewhat-happy end and are now over, though much still remains to be done.

I wish in life there were happy endings, but in most cases there are just endings (and then the final end, which will be both terrible and glad). In-between all the ends and new starts there is only bitter work and sweat, and perhaps the achievement of some small measure of progress when we arrive at the moment to pass the baton on to the next generation. During the gap when everyday life takes place, though, we can choose to ignore the deepening fissures in our society and pretend that South Africa is not moving toward some cataclysm, or we can start working to make things right. Together. The worst possible outcome of our efforts would be that we saw for the first time the depths of the siff, racist hatred many of us harbour in our hearts against each other. At least, then, at that impasse we would be faced with a simple choice: do we vent our mutual loathing in a season of unbridled violence, or do we heal? I opt for healing. So let’s try, okay?

Kambani Ramano

Kambani Ramano

refusing to let history encumber him, Kambani has gone off to do something wonderful...

3 thoughts on “Dear White People

  • August 11, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Every human being is capable of forgiving, however the economic status of former colonized often prompts the exhuming of  the graves, where we find ourselves dealing with gory, sensitive issues emanating from colonial, suppressive deeds of years gone by. How do you forgive if subtle, systematic colonialism is in place, further entrenching abject poverty,suffering ,landlessness and strife amongst Afrikans, that is the question though? Or if you do for that matter, how do you benefit?

  • August 11, 2011 at 11:32 am

    @Sithembiso: I wonder how the Boers came to forgive the English after the second freedom war? I mean they experienced “systemic colonialism, abject poverty and landlessness” on equal amounts and yet somehow managed to overcome all of this AND build a truly spectacular country (structurally speaking).

    @Kambani: How do you propose to engage in this healing process? And how will this be different from what the TRC attempted to do? Moreover, what do you think of the third option: self-enforced apartheid, where whites and black are separated by their own choosing (although not compulsory). The reason I’m asking this is because there’s currently a movement of Afrikaners, one with a fair amount of support, to secede (within the confines of the SA constitution, at least initially) from South Africa into their own demarcated area.

  • August 12, 2011 at 5:03 am

    South Africa is a blessed place – sun, beauty, resources, people.  It is also cursed by a legacy that overwhelms all attempts at nation building.  This legacy transfixes the minds of its people, they do not seem to be able to avert their gaze from the horror; there is no vision of a happy future to which people can aspire.  The injustices are great and cannot be wished away.  Kambani eloquently paints the picture – and the country is reminded every day by the disparities that currently exist among the various groups.

    The irony is that apartheid has so scarred the people, they are unable to look to the future without thinking about ways to overcome the injustices of the past.  It seems to me that the country is trying to grow with its head turned backward and, as a consequence, is failing to respond fully to the challenges of the future.  More than that, by fixating on the wrong problem, it is likely that that the wrong choices will continue to be made, with dire consequences for the country as a whole.  After 17 years, there has been no transformation.

    In order to overcome divisiveness and the terrible disparities it is necessary that there be a huge investment in education and infra-structure in order to ensure that each and every child, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity, is prepared to be a contributing member of society, be creative, and be self-reliant.  I.e. SA must invest in its greatest asset, its people.  A vision of the future that is sanitized of the past must somehow be created.  That would be a virtuous transformation!


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