What Can White South Africans Do?

This question keeps coming up.  After much wine and against my better judgment, I’ve decided to try answering it.

1.) Reparations

If our businesses can pay CEOs R100 million bonuses, we can afford justice for their employees, whose terms of labour were decided more by our country’s history than they were by the fair, non-exploitative labour practices we pretend they work under.

So white people and white-owned businesses can set up a model for reparations.  I don’t want to call it a “fund” because that sounds static, passive and dead.  We need something more participatory.

This model can be based on a simple pact between white people and members of other races: the more tax money is lost to state corruption, the less funds are available for reparations.  Conversely, the more white capital reneges on its pledge to make funds available for poverty alleviation and free high-quality decolonised tertiary education, the less accountable the black voting majority is for ensuring the state stays clean.

So if we want anything to change, reparations in exchange for holding the government accountable have to come on the table.  The one cannot possibly happen without the other.


Yesterday, one Ziniko Zini posted a status on Facebook that included this complaint:

“When did the ANC become custodians of blackness?  Whenever you criticise ANC you are labeled as anti-black.”

Much turns on who gets to define the word “corruption.”  I have argued in previous posts that any definition that abstractly, conveniently fails to take into account the  absence of reparations for colonialism-apartheid can only serve to shield the resultant status quo from transformation.  Or to put it simply, if you can recognise the ANC’s corruption but you cannot recognise the DA’s as it has been described on this blog on past posts, you do have an anti-black view of corruption.

A lot of white people think political/voting power should automatically translate into economic power for black people.

But how would that happen without reparations?  And why should political voting power mean better governance without reparations being made to ensure nobody is starting on a back foot?  If we say the improved governance happens

  • By trickle-down economics (DA), the rich would get richer and poor, poorer.  Apartheid economics would be reproduced.  There is nothing in it for those who started off disadvantaged
  • If by total state intervention, we become the communist regime the apartheid government predicted
  • If by some hybrid economic model, who gets to decide how far left or right the needle should land?

Do you see what is missing?  Redress.

To maintain the economy without disconnecting it from the rest of the world, we made black empowerment a secondary priority except in the case of a connected few.  Black “corruption” resulted.  For black success was only going to happen,

  • By trickle-down economics (DA) if black people were willing to be twice as good to get half as far as white people
  • Seldom by state intervention, or
  • Through corruption and connections

The only way around this, as I see it, is we de-sanitise the gains white business/people got under apartheid and call them what they are: stolen, to be returned.

So the first suggestion is reparations by the beneficiaries of apartheid in exchange for holding the government accountable by the voters.  Then you will see black voters teach one another just what is at stake: more than just the possibility of a better life, but also the upfront means for it.

2.) Repeat: Black Lives Matter

I often ask white friends to stand in front of a mirror and say, “#BlackLivesMatter” three times.  Not to explain it away but just to explain it; not to resist it, but to insist on it.

That’s when many of them begin doing what Christians call “manifesting”: dogs start barking; objects levitate.  The smell of sulphur fills the air.  They begin speaking in deep voices.  You get the idea.

There is nothing “different” or I-have-a-right-to-my-own-opinion about turning aside from the reality that black people are disproportionately targeted for violence in the U.S; from the reality that they bear the brunt of life-threatening structural inequalities in this country.  University students are being shot in #FeesMustFall protests.  Those kids are being sacrificed to white privilege.  Go ahead, roll your eyes: it is still true.  So this is racism.

Why is the exact wording around #BlackLivesMatter so important anyway?  Well, if you as a social justice activist are the first to help everyone reach an important milestone, other social justice activists who claim sympathy with your cause will pay homage to whatever rallying cry you used, by echoing it.  “[God] brought them to Adam to see what he would name them; and whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name” because first dibs.  Respect says genuine supporters will not correct, ignore or erase the first rallying cry.  They will not kill it by a thousand qualifications extrinsic to it, though they may use their own words to expand on your core concept in a sense consistent with it.

For if #BlackLivesMatter is true in any sense rooted in the real world which we share, we can only demonstrate our respect for it by echoing it without alteration, distortion or qualification.  We can accept in good faith that it does not mean #OnlyBlackLivesMatter but #BlackLivesMatterTOO.  That is the meaning consistent with the moment in which the cry arose.  Think about it if you must, but don’t overthink it.  White people generally have not overthought racist beliefs, so resistance at this point is problematic.

Nobody ever created an #AllLivesMatter rally except as a response to the traction gained by #BlackLivesMatter (or straight pride except as a response to gay pride); therefore, real social justice champions ought to echo the initial battle-cry of the underdogs revolting against oppression.  They shouldn’t echo alternatives created by those who are simply defending against disruptions of the status quo.  Don’t accept clichés that have kept an unjust world intact while giving the impression of improving it.

Google says #BlackLivesMatter was first popularised by Alicia Garza in mid-2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin.  Read about that injustice.  It happened overseas, but the world is getting smaller and strikingly similar patterns are emerging.  Those patterns indicate that white privilege was created on the back of black labour at cost to black lives.  Silence on this from white people is a loud, clear “Yes” to violence on black bodies.

Police officers only started coming clean about the racial and racist aspect of their work not because someone said #AllLivesMatter in general, but because someone zoomed in on #BlackLivesMatter in particular.

Nobody under the “we are all equal” banner has ever achieved anything like this or so graphically exposed and confronted prejudice.  This is why we suspect that “we’re all equal,” though true, is often used to neutralise those calling out specific issues at specific sites.

Though the permutations play out differently depending on where you are, #BlackLivesMatter is the starting template, and we need more white people to start saying it.  Loudly.

3.) Repeat After Me: “If It’s Not Intersectional, It’s Bullshit!”

Any of us could be the only thing standing between a casual joke and the next rape-and-disembowelment news headline.  So we must understand intersectional feminism, and live it.

If I type in who first used the word intersectionality, the internet immediately responds, “Intersectionality (or intersectional theory) is a term first coined in 1989 by American civil rights advocate and leading scholar of critical race theory, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw.  It is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.”

Intersectionality is a way of looking at the world too broad and important to describe in one sitting.  It lets us look at the world not through a lens that says, “this is either a race issue or a class issue” but one that lets us ask, “to what extent is this a race and a class and a  gender issue?” because intersectionality is the understanding that these oppressions can and do overlap.

So I’m not shy to ask that you spend at least 30 minutes a day reading on it.

4.) Repeat After Me: “If I’d Been Classified as White In the Old South Africa, I’m Still White”

It sounds helpful to say, “I don’t see race” but until apartheid’s effects are resolved, this is moral escapism.  Whatever you believe about race being an artificial construct, the effects of racism are still real.

5.) Recognise that Black Displacement, Black Pain, is Not an Accident: It’s an Accomplishment

Despite claims to the contrary by colonialists and the architects of apartheid, apartheid’s intention was to elevate white people by putting black people “in their place.”  So black pain is a white accomplishment to be owned.  Abel did not die because a rock fell on his head; he died because Cain struck his head with that rock, and that, hard enough to kill.

So, too, was black pain intentionally inflicted hard enough to persist decades after apartheid itself ended.

What’s happening today is not some mistake; it’s a testament to how serious the architects of apartheid were about ensuring that apartheid could neither be ended nor reversed.  So it is not too far off the mark to blame apartheid for many troubles after all these years.

You were not personally there when colonialists colonised and apartheidists aparthedised.  The beauty of it is you didn’t have to be for the legacy to be given to you as the gift that keeps on giving.

6.) Repeat After Me: “I Am A Born Self-Justifier. Moral Self-Preservation Is Practically Part of My Social DNA.  My Default Mode is White Apologist.”

If what I’m saying about black pain is true, do you really think the white conscience could live with it?  No!  It would hold on to the moral whiteness of being white.  But would the white individual be able to extricate himself or herself from the clutches of white privilege?  Again, no!

See how it is normal in many white people’s minds to see black people oppressed, silenced and side-lined, and then find rationalisations that allow them to live with what they’re seeing.

When black people are beaten by police or starving on roadsides, it’s just another day in paradise for a lot of them.  When dogs are beaten or rhinos are poached, however, their capacity to right wrongs is roused to full stature.  They know, on some level, that they can do this for other species but they cannot do it for their fellow man because it is then that they are the poacher to be brought to justice.

7.) Understand that Blurring the Rule for the Exception and Averages for Extremes Doesn’t Change History, Nor Does it Get You off The Hook

See 5.).

8.) Fees Must Fall and the Decolonisation of Curricula Must Commence

Look up “dead white men” or “Emmanuel Kant was a racist” and this will become clearer.  Oh, and free decolonised education is part-and-parcel of that reparations business (see 1.) so whatever high-and-mighty opinions you may have about the current Fees Must Fall protest, recognise it is happening because there was no plan for reparations.  That is why I say those students are being sacrificed to white privilege.

9.) There Wasn’t “Nothing” When White People First Got Here (or America, or Australia, etc. — You Get The Idea)

So these places were not discovered nor were the countries “built by white sweat, blood and tears” as many of you have been taught (see 6.).

What would you add to this list?   Let us talk.

Thank you.

Please follow and retweet: @SKhumalo1987


2 thoughts on “What Can White South Africans Do?

  1. Just found your blog. Amazing stuff. This is probably flippant but not sure so I’ll put it out there. As a white dude I certainly agree that reparations are morally justified. I just don’t know how, specifically, they could be made in a serious way because with this sort of thing the devil is really in the details. White people have done the crime, and reparations could be the “time” we deserve, but how long is the sentence and who decides? Who, specifically, needs to pay up and how much,specifically, recognizing that getting this right is a matter of justice to both sides and so the calculus is an important one. This is not to imply through the back door that doing it is too hard, and so isn’t worth doing, but to suggest that, maybe, there are better ways to repair the situation. Of course that sounds un-convincing coming from a criminal who might benefit from an alternate sentence. But nonetheless I think it may be true. Resentment destroys people. This world is fallen. And yet you guys are trying to build the kingdom on earth. That is bold and inspiring but I’m afraid also self-defeating. It causes you to burn books for free education, to steal from each other because it is “your turn to eat,” to defend the likes of al Bashir from racist courts in the name of African rights. Doesn’t it all strike you as really weird? Such huge and righteous ambition and yet…. Its not for me to say just sing a little Kumbaya and all will be better (it won’t) but sometimes you know…….its actually a good song, and singing elevates the soul.

  2. Awesome blog. Powerful voice. As a white (non-south african) dude I believe the case for reparations is morally compelling. Justice demands them. I am less clear on how they might be made in a just way. The time must fit the crime. Otherwise we are not talking about justice, but simply revenge. Justice is also only one way to restore harmony and not always the best or most practical. I think goals need to be clearly defined and prioritized. What do groups damaged by apartheid and colonialism want? If it is revolution that upends the entire so-called neo-liberal world order then good luck with that and get on with the business of taking your reparations by force. If it is justice within or evolving from the ANC established political order, then develop a detailed reparations plan that can be discussed and debated. Annoyance over continued white bigotry gets in the way. Too many in SA are still in some sort of 1994 shell-shock and the only ones who have actually accepted that they really do have political power are the likes of Zuma et. al. Maybe it grates hearing it from a white boy, but you guys do have the power now. White captial may be against you, but you beat that group in 1994 and can do it again if neccesary. If you would just stop fighitng anachronistic battles and not fall into the same shit you did last time (really Zupta?) you could really do some awesome stuff. I’m rooting for you anyway.

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