My previous post was on how upon hearing about Red October, I was surprised by my own reaction to the initiative. I also shared on how it exposed my own racial prejudice.
As I walked home on Monday I asked the five people I met on the way what they thought about Red October. I recorded a few quotes that I somehow failed to save, so some of the profound things I heard from people are lost forever- citizen journalism fail! But soon after I did jot down some views into my notebook that I want to share with you. While this is not intended to be an accurate and statistically correct representation of what people think across the ‘races’ think, I did try and spread things out. I chatted to five people – two white people and three black people. Of those people, three of them were female and two were male. All the people I spoke to are South African students.
Here are the thoughts I gathered:
What do you think of Red October?
Initially, the general view of Red October was negative but as the respondents explored the issue more, their answers became more balanced and they conceded that some of the issues raised by the cause are legitimate. One of the things that I found interesting was that both the white respondents I spoke to were very much against the campaign, whereas the black respondents were more open and balanced in their view.
Two of the respondents were of the view that this was just about a few white people who were upset at seeing their privilege taken away. One was upset about the fact that white people were being represented as not progressive, selfish and as people who see South Africa through a narrow and sheltered viewpoint.
When I asked her what her first reaction to this campaign was, a black female respondent said that she was angered and echoed the sentiments that I expressed in my previous post about how her own prejudices came to light.
One point that was raised was that while the concern about the prevalence of violent crime in the country is legitimate, this is an issue that all South Africans face – White, Black, Coloured, Indian, Chinese – and the campaign should have been an inclusive and collective one. I read an article online where one of the protestors commented and said that they were not only protesting for the protection of white people against violent crime but they were being a voice for all South Africans and wanted to urge all South Africans to stand up. Unfortunately, amongst all the reports and interviews with those at the forefront, this was a lone voice. A casual look at their website will tell you what this campaign is really about. At the bottom of the Home page is a photograph- all white men, women and children. It is clear in both the petition and the memorandum to the President that this is about the protection of “our rights”; “our people”; “our infrastructure”… Not that of all South Africans but of white South Africans!
The problem with this campaign is that it reeks of exclusivity. Is there anything wrong with exclusivity? There may be nothing wrong with it per se but in a country with a recent history of racial segregation and exclusion along colour lines, a cause that does the same thing will be seen as reinforcing the very thing that the Constitution, that this nation is trying to move away from. The impression is that this cause is being pursued by people who are either completely oblivious or deliberately insensitive to the economic and social circumstances that the majority of South Africans face.
One of the respondents made an important point about how Red October, while he disagrees with what it stands for, may be an indication of the general dissatisfaction of the people of South Africa and the a sign of the crisis that the country is in. While some may want to debate the question of whether the ANC government has failed or not, I want to focus on the truth of the notion that, in general, there is a spirit of dissatisfaction with where South Africa is. The labour strikes, the Marikana incident and even this morning’s SABC News report on illegal occupation of RDP housing all go to showing this. The organisers of Red October have failed to contextualise its ideals and place them in a conversation that is already going on, it falls short of the higher, unifying cause: that of justice for all mankind who are made in the image of God and are entitled to freedom, equality and dignity.
Do you think that white people are being oppressed?
All the respondents answered the question either by referring to the BBBEE (economic empowerment) policy and affirmative action policy or the violent crime against white people in South Africa, with specific reference to the farm murders that have taken place.
Two of the black respondents acknowledged the truth of the reports of the brutal murders on farms recently and in the past. One noted that South Africa has a serious problem with violent crime but questioned the notion that violence was being meted out along racial lines. A point that was repeated was that violence in South Africa was something all were being faced with – black on white violence, white on white, black on black, indian on black, and so on. In sum, white people are suffering under violent crime, but everyone else is too. The difference is the circumstances in which that violence plays out.
With regards to the economic question, all respondents expressed the view that, overall, white people are in a position of privilege as compared to the majority. Both of the white respondents I spoke to referred to the colonial and Apartheid legacy and how it had privileged white people over “non-whites”, particularly with regards to beneficial participation in the economy. One respondent rubbished the idea that white people are being oppressed economically and said that white people as a whole have enjoyed and continue to enjoy undeserved economic privileges, the fruit of which was the oppression and exploitation of the majority of the population.
On the question of whether the BBBEE policies were a form of reverse apartheid, one respondent said that white people have to recognise the inequalities that apartheid entrenched and the need to create a system by which a more fair distribution of resources can be achieved. She acknowledged that these policies did place white people at a disadvantage and that it was a form of discrimination but it was fair in that it served a legitimate purpose.
One respondent expressed the fact that the campaigners are of the view that their interests are being being ignored is an indication that some people are feeling marginalised and this is an issue that needs to be addressed by the government. I thought this was an important point, a point that I think goes to the crux of the issue.
My take on all of this
Having followed the Red October story one thing that is clear is that there are white South Africans who are frustrated with where South Africa is and are fearful about their future prospects in South Africa. The use of words like “white genocide” express this fear – the fear that white people will one day be completely excluded and will lose their voice, either through the having their lives taken away or their economic rights taken away.
It may be that because this cause is driven by fear and not hope that some of the points are illogical. An example of this is the misinterpretation of statistics which outline the murder rate in South Africa. A correct interpretation makes it clear that, in fact, more black people are killed per capita. Read this News24 article where this point is discussed.
I do think that there is evidence of some racially motivated violent incidents by black people on white people, particularly on farms – brutal, disgusting, inhumane and unjustifiable. And, in my opinion, the empowerment policies have empowered a few at the cost of many. But black people are paying the price for the corruption too. And this is not reverse apartheid. Lest we forget, we need to remind ourselves that apartheid involved the systematic degrading of human beings –
don’t sit here, sit there; this is your curfew, be indoors when the tower light comes on, never mind the fact that you’re 45 years old; this is where you can eat, here’s the plate you can eat out of, don’t touch the boss’s stuff; this is where you can hang out, you may drink this alcohol and not that one;
go to school here with people like you… how dare you speak that devil language in my presence?
look at the pretty 3 roomed house we’ve built for you,with a patch of lawn at the front, be grateful; use the outside toilet or better still, use a bucket;
walk on this side of the road and I’ll walk there; I’ll call you Doris because Nqobisile is too hard for me to say; and we’ll call you Jonathan now that you’re baptised – wear this and not that, walk, talk, look like a respectable young white man (although we both know you’ll never amount to that).
These things did not just affect people’s material or physical circumstances but they were like weapons, sometimes cutting through the heart like a sharp knife, quickly, leaving an open wound. But most often like a bludgeon, daily beating at one’s core, dulling one’s sense of self until you were numb, until you finally forgot and submitted. Until you forgot what it means to be a woman, a man, an African – what it means to be human.
One of the people I spoke to made a point about democracy that really struck me. He talked about how the fact that Red October could even happen was a testimony to how far South Africa has come. He drew a comparison between the June 16 images of the police shooting into unarmed masses of children, dogs tearing through flesh; and the images we saw last week: of people standing peacefully, releasing red balloons into the air as police stood watch, keeping the peace, protecting the protestors. This time around there were no arrests made after speeches or forced detentions or covered up police murders or censorship – people’s voices were heard on every side, conversations were started, Twitter wars and Facebook rants.
Freedom comes when we know what is right and we have the power to do it. In the pursuit of freedom, we will often find ourselves in the wrong, but we must reserve the right to be wrong, if only to bring us to a place where we are able to recognise truth when we see it. We will know the truth and the truth will set us free.
My hope was renewed once again, as well as my conviction that while all of mankind still have a long way to go – we have the promise of freedom, equality and dignity as beacons lighting the way.
And a just and loving God who wrote these on our hearts.
Thanks for reading.