I Don’t Like Black People
I read an interesting article in one of the South African papers in the last week which got me thinking about the concept of nation-building. Afrikaner author Annelie Botes apparently said,” I don’t like black people, I don’t understand them. I know they are people just like me. I know they have the same rights as me. But I do not understand them. And then I do not like them. I avoid them because I am scared of them.” As a black person my natural reaction was anger and resentment at what I initially felt was a racist statement which is typical of untransformed, white South Africans. But as I reflected further on this issue I began to question my initial assumption and to wonder if there was anything fundamentally wrong with this statement at all.
Botes also blamed black people for South Africa’s violent crime problem, which had claimed the life of her neighbour. She also alleged that violence showed that blacks were, “angry because of their own incompetence.” Naturally this statement caused a huge uproar in race sensitive South Africa and the author was lambasted for daring to express her views. Having got past my initial angry reaction, I tried to look at this statement in the most objective manner possible and realised that there were important truths in it which we as South Africans need to acknowledge and address if we are ever truly going to attain the status of nationhood. Firstly it dawned on me that all this woman was doing was expressing an honest opinion that she holds about black people. She wasn’t singing “kill the black man” or mouthing off slogans like “one black man, one bullet.” She just simply said she does not like black people, she is afraid of black people and hence she avoids them as much as possible. She acknowledged that black people have rights just like she does. She acknowledged that black people are human beings like her, yet was very open and honest about her mistrust of black people and her fear of them
The problem with us as South Africans is that we don’t know how to get beyond emotive responses in order to deal with the heart of the matter when it comes to our public discourse. We would rather pretend that we are this “happy clappy” Rainbow Nation that is united until we are jolted back into reality by statement’s such as the one made by Annelie Botes. The truth of the matter is that race is still a big issue in South Africa, despite our denialism and our pretense of being reconciled and united. If we are ever going to successfully become a nation it is important that we learn to be honest with each other and allow the different race groups in South Africa to express their honest opinion about members of the opposite race and to begin this honest dialogue, without allowing our emotions to cloud the issue. I am sure that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the sentiments expressed by Annelie Botes reflect the views of quite a significant number of white South Africans. Many of them in their private conversations will openly admit that they fear black people, they don’t like black people and that they blame black people for the crime and incompetence that characterises post-Apartheid South Africa.
In order to become a nation we need to dialogue around these views, fears and concerns. We need to tackle them and address them with the aim of understanding each other better without resorting to emotive populism. Now I am not saying that we should allow people to openly promote racism and ideologies that divide and separate us. I am saying that we need a national dialogue that is open, truthful and brutally honest if we are ever going to truly become the united “Rainbow nation” that we aspire to be. Just as black South Africans have genuine concerns, fears and frustrations with white South Africans and the perceived lack of genuine “transformation” in the “new” South Africa, so do white South Africans have genuine concerns about black South Africans and their perceived culpability for the high levels of crime, corruption and incompetence that have come to define the “new’ South Africa. Now if you were to take of your “racial lenses” and try to look at the concerns of both races objectively, there are elements of truth in the perspectives and fears of both races about the other and the journey towards a united nationhood entails bringing these out into the public domain and addressing them in a manner that is mature and free of bias.
We black South Africans need to acknowledge (as tough a truth to swallow as it is) that most of the violent crime in this country is perpetuated by people of our race, most of the enterprises, organisations and structures that have been started or run by black people have been characterised by high levels of corruption and incompetence. This is an inconvenient truth that black South Africa needs to deal with. Now I am not saying that corruption, crime and incompetence are the preserve of black people only, but it would be difficult to argue against the fact that these three phenomena have been most prevalent where black people have been in charge.
White South Africans need to acknowledge that from a socio-economic perspective not much has changed for the black majority in South Africa and this breeds growing and increased frustration. For all the talk by white South Africans of BEE and Affirmative Action affecting their job prospects in present-day South Africa, the pure economic facts are that the white majority is in a better position post-Apartheid than during Apartheid. Black South Africans resent the apparent “lack of transformation” that this reflects. White South Africans also need to acknowledge that there is a perception that they have refused to come out of their “laager” in the post-Apartheid era and have instead chosen to close ranks and live almost as a separate society. Black people feel that they have made more of an attempt to reach across and understand white South Africans whilst white South Africans have remained in their comfort zone. Whether true or not, these are some of the perceptions that South Africans across the racial divide hold and if we are truly going to be a nation they need to be addressed in an open, honest manner without the different sides taking offense and throwing out emotive responses. We need to allow the Annelie Botes’s of this world to openly state that they “don’t like black people” without losing sight of the greater goal of building a ‘Rainbow nation.”
We also need to truthfully acknowledge that we don’t have to like each other in order to build a winning nation. We certainly have to respect each other’s right to exist and to dignity, to value each other as human beings, but whoever said we have to like each other in order to work together towards building a winning nation? Just for the record, I also have many issues with black people just like Annelie Botes yet that does not make me less committed to the vision of a united, prosperous South Africa anymore than it does for Annelie Botes.